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Manufacturer: Sapphire

Another retail card reveals the results

Since the release of the new AMD Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 graphics cards, we have been very curious about the latest implementation of AMD's PowerTune technology and its scaling of clock frequency as a result of the thermal levels of each graphics card.  In the first article covering this topic, I addressed the questions from AMD's point of view - is this really a "configurable" GPU as AMD claims or are there issues that need to be addressed by the company? 

The biggest problems I found were in the highly variable clock speeds from game to game and from a "cold" GPU to a "hot" GPU.  This affects the way many people in the industry test and benchmark graphics cards as running a game for just a couple of minutes could result in average and reported frame rates that are much higher than what you see 10-20 minutes into gameplay.  This was rarely something that had to be dealt with before (especially on AMD graphics cards) so to many it caught them off-guard.

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Because of the new PowerTune technology, as I have discussed several times before, clock speeds are starting off quite high on the R9 290X (at or near the 1000 MHz quoted speed) and then slowly drifting down over time.

Another wrinkle occurred when Tom's Hardware reported that retail graphics cards they had seen were showing markedly lower performance than the reference samples sent to reviewers.  As a result, AMD quickly released a new driver that attempted to address the problem by normalizing to fan speeds (RPM) rather than fan voltage (percentage).  The result was consistent fan speeds on different cards and thus much closer performance.

However, with all that being said, I was still testing retail AMD Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 cards that were PURCHASED rather than sampled, to keep tabs on the situation. 

Continue reading our article on retail variance in R9 290X clock speeds and performance!!

Data mining Mantle at APU 13

Subject: General Tech | November 26, 2013 - 12:46 PM |
Tagged: amd, Mantle, apu13

The Tech Report learned quite a bit about Mantle at APU 13, focusing much more deeply on what Mantle is and how it will work.  To think of it as a replacement for DirectX is a good start as it is an API but it also changes how your system interacts with your GPU.  The briefing delves into to the technical side, describing the context-based execution model which Mantle uses to give you proper access to assign tasks to multiple processors or other resources as the memory interface is also completely revamped.   There are four pages describing Mantle for your reading pleasure here and with the strong early adoption it would be worth your time to learn more about it.

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"At its APU13 developer conference in San Jose, California, AMD invited journalists and developers to listen to hours worth of keynotes and sessions by Mantle's creators and early adopters. We sat through all of it—and talked to some of those experts one on one—in order to get a sense of what Mantle does, how it will impact performance, and what its future may hold."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

So Apparently Some R9 290 Cards Can Flash in to a 290X?

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 26, 2013 - 03:18 AM |
Tagged: R9 290X, r9 290, amd

Multiple sites are reporting that some AMD's Radeon R9 290 cards could be software-unlocked into 290Xs with a simple BIOS update. While the difference in performance is minor, free extra shader processors might be tempting for some existing owners.

"Binning" is when a manufacturer increases yield by splitting one product into several based on how they test after production. Semiconductor fabrication, specifically, is prone to constant errors and defects. Maybe only some of your wafers are not stable at 4 GHz but they can attain 3.5 or 3.7 GHz. Why throw those out when they can be sold as 3.5 GHz parts?

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This is especially relevant to multi-core CPUs and GPUs. Hawaii XT has 2816 Stream processors; a compelling product could be made even with a few of those shut down. The R9 290, for instance, permits 2560 of these cores. The remaining have been laser cut or, at least, should have been.

Apparently certain batches of Radeon R9 290s were developed with fully functional Hawaii XT chips that were software locked to 290 specifications. There have been reports that several users of cards from multiple OEMs were able to flash a new BIOS to unlock these extra cores. However, other batches seem to be properly locked.

This could be interesting for lucky and brave users but I wonder why this happened. I can think of two potential causes:

  • Someone (OEMs or AMD) had too many 290X chips, or
  • The 290 launch was just that unprepared.

Either way, newer shipments should be properly locked even from affected OEMs. Again, not that it really matters given the performance differences we are talking about.

Source: WCCFTech

Video: How to Build a Gaming PC: OS Install, Steam Setup

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 25, 2013 - 01:35 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, video, r9 270x, ps4, playstation 4, fx 6300, amd, 200r

Over the past week or so, we have been slowly putting together a guide to help interested readers select, build and now install everything necessary to build the perfect PC to compete against the new console generation.  

In the first part, Josh and I discussed the new console architectures and how they were similar, and different, from modern PC gaming systems.  We also discussed a couple of specific build outs that we thought were price competitive with the Xbox One and the PS4 while also offering quite a bit more performance and flexibility for the user.  

  Gaming Build PlayStation 4 Xbox One
Processor AMD FX-6300 6-core CPU - $109 8-core Jaguar APU 8-core Jaguar APU
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ - $59 Custom Custom
Memory Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB 1866 MHz (2 x 4GB) - $80 8GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3
Graphics Card Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X 2GB - $199 1152 Stream Unit APU 768 Stream Unit APU
Storage Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200 RPM HDD - $64 500GB 5400 RPM 500GB
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case - $59 Custom Custom
Power Supply Corsair CX 600 watt 80+ Bronze - $69 Internal External
Optical Drive Pioneer Blu-ray Reader - $49 Blu-ray Blu-ray
OS Windows 8.1 OEM - $98 Custom, FreeBSD Custom, Windows
Peak Compute 2,690 GFLOPS 1,840 GFLOPS 1,270 GFLOPS
Total Price $780 - Amazon $399 - Amazon $499 - Amazon

In part 2, we recorded a video of me actually assembling the parts (or nearly the same parts) in the build to show users that might be intimidated by the process exactly how easy it is to build a PC from scratch.

Today, we finalize our journey with the installation of the operating system, setup of the Steam gaming platform and even how easy it is to run the PC when attached to a TV.  

After briefly discussing the BIOS and UEFI on the motherboard, installing Windows 8.1 and then running the latest Steam client on the new PC, a brief demonstration of Metro: Last Light running in Big Picture Mode takes place.  With that we can demonstrate the power of the PC and the flexibility it truly offers over even the latest consoles.

I hope this set of videos has been useful for our readers that might have been interested in the idea of a gaming PC but were worried or unsure of their own ability to get the job done.  I think we have demonstrated that the entire process is easy, fun and rewarding - and can be done in a single afternoon as long as you order the right parts. 

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or feedback - and happy building!!

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Xbox One Teardown - Microsoft still hates you

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 22, 2013 - 08:02 PM |
Tagged: video, teardown, xbox one, APU, amd, xbox, xb1

Last week we brought a teardown of the new Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) console and this week we do the same for Microsoft's new Xbox One console. 

In this video, which is a recording of our live stream that started last night at 12:30am EST, you'll see us unbox the Xbox One, turn it on, play with the new Kinect, take it apart and put it back together.  And this time we didn't even break anything - though removing the plastic clips on the Xbox One are particularly more annoying and time consuming than the screws on the PS4.

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Though they are out of stock, Amazon.com appears to be getting additional Xbox One consoles in stock pretty regularly, so keep an eye out.

Video: How to Build a Gaming PC to Beat the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 22, 2013 - 07:45 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, video, r9 270x, ps4, playstation 4, fx 6300, amd, 200r

After Josh and I discussed and debated which components would be best suited for a low cost gaming PC to compete with the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One, Ken and I set about to create a video to show those users nervous about the idea of building a PC how easy it can be. 

Though Josh and I built systems at $550 and $750 price tags that compare to the new gaming consoles in different ways, for this build I thought it was best to focus on the higher performance, though higher priced option, detailed below.

  Gaming Build PlayStation 4 Xbox One
Processor AMD FX-6300 6-core CPU - $109 8-core Jaguar APU 8-core Jaguar APU
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ - $59 Custom Custom
Memory Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB 1866 MHz (2 x 4GB) - $80 8GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3
Graphics Card AMD Radeon R9 270X 2GB - $209
(Alternate: ASUS GTX 760 - $259)
1152 Stream Unit APU 768 Stream Unit APU
Storage Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200 RPM HDD - $64 500GB 5400 RPM 500GB
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case - $59 Custom Custom
Power Supply Corsair CX 600 watt 80+ Bronze - $69 Internal External
Optical Drive Pioneer Blu-ray Reader - $49 Blu-ray Blu-ray
OS Windows 8.1 OEM - $98 Custom, FreeBSD Custom, Windows
Peak Compute 2,690 GFLOPS 1,840 GFLOPS 1,270 GFLOPS
Total Price $790 - Amazon Full Cart $399 - Amazon $499 - Amazon

The links above will take you to the Amazon pages if you want duplicate our setup for a system of your own. 

If you have never built a PC before, gaming or otherwise, it can be a little intimidating to see the list of parts you need to order.  But don't fear!  The build process is surprisingly easy if you pick the right parts and have the right help.  The video below will detail the exact installation process for the components listed above (or close proximity thereof) to get you up and running! 

If you happen to have missed the video where Josh and I discuss the REASONS for selecting the above hardware, I have included it below as well.  Stay tuned in the next day or so for our video that shows the operating system installation process, Steam installation, gaming and Big Picture Mode.

(JPR) NVIDIA Regains GPU Market Share

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 22, 2013 - 06:26 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, jpr, amd

Jen Peddie Research (JPR) reports an 8% rise in quarter-to-quarter shipments of graphics add-in boards (AIBs) for NVIDIA and a decrease of 3% for AMD. This reverses the story from last quarter where NVIDIA lost 8% and AMD gained. In all, NVIDIA holds over half the market (64.5%).

But, why?

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JPR attributed AMD's gains seen last quarter to consumers who added a discrete graphics solution to systems which already contain an integrated product. SLi and Crossfire were noted but pale in comparison. I expect that Never Settle to have contributed heavily. This quarter, the free games initiative was reduced with the new GPU lineup. For a decent amount of time, nothing was offered.

At the same time, NVIDIA launched the GTX 780 Ti and their own game bundle. While I do not believe this promotion was as popular as AMD's Never Settle, it probably helped. That said, it is still probably too early to tell whether the Battlefield 4 promotion (or Thief's addition to Silver Tier) will help them regain some ground.

The other vendors, Matrox and S3, were "flat to declining". Their story is the same as last quarter: they less than (maybe much less than) 7000 units. On the whole, add-in board shipments are rising from last quarter; that quarter, however, was a 5.4% drop from the one before.

Source: JPR
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Subject: Systems
Manufacturer:

The 7 Year Console Refresh

Be sure you jump to the second page to see our recommendations for gaming PC builds that are inexpensive yet compete well with the capabilities and performance of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!!

The consoles are coming!  The consoles are coming!  Ok, that is not necessarily true.  One is already here and the second essentially is too.  This of course brings up the great debate between PCs and consoles.  The past has been interesting when it comes to console gaming, as often the consoles would be around a year ahead of PCs in terms of gaming power and prowess.  This is no longer the case with this generation of consoles.  Cutting edge is now considered mainstream when it comes to processing and graphics.  The real incentive to buy this generation of consoles is a lot harder to pin down as compared to years past.

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The PS4 retails for $399 US and the upcoming Xbox One is $499.  The PS4’s price includes a single controller, while the Xbox’s package includes not just a controller, but also the next generation Kinect device.  These prices would be comparable to some low end PCs which include keyboard, mouse, and a monitor that could be purchased from large brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy.  Happily for most of us, we can build our machines to our own specifications and budgets.

As a directive from on high (the boss), we were given the task of building our own low-end gaming and productivity machines at a price as close to that of the consoles and explaining which solution would be superior at the price points given.  The goal was to get as close to $500 as possible and still have a machine that would be able to play most recent games at reasonable resolutions and quality levels.

Continue reading our comparison of PC vs. PS4 vs. Xbox One Hardware Comparison: Building a Competing Gaming PC!!

Sony Playstation 4 (PS4) Teardown and Disassembly

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 15, 2013 - 02:42 PM |
Tagged: video, teardown, ps4, playstation 4, APU, amd

Last night Ken and I headed over the local Best Buy to pick up my preorder of the new Playstation 4.  What would any hardware geek immediately do with this hardware?  Obviously we take a screwdriver to it and take it apart.

In this video, which is a recording of our live stream that started last night at 12:30am EST, you'll see us unbox the PS4, turn it on, take it apart and put it back together.  And I only had to fix one piece with gaffers tape, so there's that.

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(We'll have a collection of high-resolution photos later today as well.)

Though they are out of stock, Amazon.com appears to be getting more PS4s in stock pretty regularly, so keep an eye out if you are interested in picking one up still.

Happy Friday!

AMD's Holiday Game + GPU Bundles

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 14, 2013 - 07:54 PM |
Tagged: never settle forever, never settle, battlefield 4, amd

UPDATE (11/14/2013): After many complaints from the community about the lack of availability of graphics cards that actually HAD the Battlefield 4 bundle included with them, AMD is attempting to clarify the situation.  In a statement sent through email, AMD says that the previous information sent to press "was not clear and has led to some confusion" which is definitely the case.  While it was implied that all customers that bought R9 series graphics cards would get a free copy of BF4, when purchased on or after November 13th, the truth is that "add-in-board partners ultimately decide which select AMD Radeon R9 SKUs will include a copy of BF4."

So, how are you to know what SKUs and cards are actually going to include BF4?  AMD is trying hard to setup a landing page at http://amd.com/battlefield4 that will give gamers clear, and absolute, listings of which R9 series cards include the free copy of the game.  When I pushed AMD for a timeline on exactly when these would be posted, the best I could get was "in the next day or two." 

As for users that bought an R9 280X, R9 270X, R9 270, R9 290X or R9 290 after the announcement of the bundle program changes but DID NOT get a copy of BF4, AMD is going to try and help them out by offering up 1,000 Battlefield 4 keys over AMD's social channels.  The cynic in me thinks this is another ploy to get more Facebook likes and Twitter followers, but in truth the logistics of verifying purchases at this point would be a nightmare for AMD.  Though I don't have details on HOW they are going to distribute these keys, I certainly hope they are going to find a way to target those users that were screwed over in this mess.   Follow www.facebook.com/amdgaming or www.twitter.com/amdradeon for more information on this upcoming promotion.

AMD did send over a couple of links to cards that are currently selling with Battlefield 4 included, as an example of what to look for:

As far as I know, the board partners will also decide which online outlets to offer the bundle through, so even if you see the same SKU on Amazon.com, it may not come with Battlefield 4 as well.  It appears in this case, and going forward, extreme caution is in order when looking for the right card for you.

END UPDATE (11/14/2013)

AMD announced the first Never Settle on October 22nd, 2012 with Sleeping Dogs, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, and 20% off of Medal of Honor: Warfighter. The deal was valued at around $170. It has exploded since then to become a choose-your-own-bundle across a variety of tiers.

This bundle is mostly different.

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Basically, apart from the R7 260X (I will get to that later), all applicable cards will receive Battlefield 4. This is a one-game promotion unlike Never Settle. Still, it is one very good game that will soon be accelerated with Mantle in an upcoming patch. It should be a good example of games based on Frostbite 3 for at least the next few years.

The qualifying cards are: R9 270, R9 270X, R9 280, R9 280X, R9 290, and R9 290X. They must be purchased from a participating retailer beginning November 13th.

The R7 260X is slightly different because it is more familiar to Never Settle. It will not have access to a free copy of Battlefield 4. Instead, the R7 260X will have access to two of six Never Settle Forever Silver Tier games: Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, Sniper Elite (V2), Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, DiRT 3, and (for the first time) THIEF. It is possible that other silver-tier Never Settle Forever owners, who have yet to redeem their voucher, might qualify as well. I am not sure about that. Regardless, THIEF was chosen because the developer worked closely with AMD to support both Mantle as well as TrueAudio.

Since this deal half-updates Never Settle and half-doesn't... I am unsure what this means for the future of the bundle. They seem to be simultaneously supporting and disavowing it. My personal expectation is that AMD wants to continue with Never Settle but they just cut their margins too thin with this launch. This will be a good question to revisit later in the GPU lifecycle when margins become more comfortable.

What do you think? Does AMD's hyper-aggressive hardware pricing warrant a temporary suspension of Never Settle? I mean, until today, they were being purchased without any bundle what-so-ever.

Qualifying R9-Series Cards (purchased after Nov 13 from participating retailers) can check out AMD's Battlefield 4 portal.

Qualifying R7 260X owners, on the other hand, can check out the Never Settle Forever portal.

Source: AMD