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Subject: Systems
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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.

ps4apu.jpg

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.

ps4teardown.jpg

(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.

AMD-holiday-bundle.png

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

AMD Mantle Deep Dive Video from AMD APU13 Event

Subject: Graphics Cards | November 13, 2013 - 09:54 PM |
Tagged: video, Mantle, apu13, amd

While attending the AMD APU13 event, an annual developer conference the company uses to promote heterogeneous computing, I got to sit in during a deep dive on the AMD Mantle, a new hardware level API first announced in September.  Rather than attempt to re-explain what was explained quite well, I decided to record the session on video and then intermix the slides presented in a produced video for our readers.

The result is likely the best (and seemingly first) explanation of how Mantle actually works and what it does differently than existing APIs like DirectX and OpenGL.

Also, because we had some requests, I am embedding the live blog we ran during Johan Andersson's keynote from APU13.  Enjoy!

AMD Releases 2014 Mobile APU Details: Beema and Mullins Cut TDPs

Subject: Processors | November 13, 2013 - 05:35 PM |
Tagged: Puma, Mullins, mobile, Jaguar, GCN, beema, apu13, APU, amd, 2014

AMD’s APU13 is all about APUs and their programming, but the hardware we have seen so far has been dominated by the upcoming Kaveri products for FM2+.  It seems that AMD has more up their sleeves for release this next year, and it has somewhat caught me off guard.  The Beema and Mullins based products are being announced today, but we do not have exact details on these products.  The codenames have been around for some time now, but interest has been minimal since they are evolutionary products based on Kabini and Temash APUs that have been available this year.  Little did I know that things would be far more interesting than that.

apu13_01.png

The basis for Beema and Mullins is the Puma core.  This is a highly optimized revision of Jaguar, and in some ways can be considered a new design.  All of the basics in terms of execution units, caches, and memory controllers are the same.  What AMD has done is go through the design with a fine toothed comb and make it far more efficient per clock than what we have seen previously.  This is still a 28 nm part, but the extra attention and love lavished upon it by AMD has resulted in a much more efficient system architecture for the CPU and GPU portions.

The parts will be offered in two and four core configurations.  Beema will span from 10W to 25W configurations.  Mullins will go all the way down to “2W SDP”.  SDP essentially means that while the chip can be theoretically rated higher, it will rarely go above that 2W envelope in the vast majority of situations.  These chips are expected to be around 2X more efficient per clock than the previous Jaguar based products.  This means that at similar clock speeds, Beema and Mullins will pull far less power than that previous gen.  It should also allow some higher clockspeeds at the top end 25W area.

apu13_02.png

These will be some of the first fanless quad cores that AMD will introduce for the tablet market.  Previously we have seen tablets utilize the cut down versions of Temash to hit power targets, but with this redesign it is entirely possible to utilize the fully enabled quad core Mullins.  AMD has not given us specific speeds for these products, but we can guess that they will be around what we see currently, but the chip will just have a lower TDP rating.

AMD is introducing their new security platform based on the ARM Trustzone.  Essentially a small ARM Cortex A5 is integrated in the design and handles the security aspects of this feature.  We were not briefed on how this achieves security, but the slide below gives some of the bullet points of the technology.

apu13_03.png

Since the pure-play foundries will not have a workable 20 nm process for AMD to jump to in a timely manner, AMD had no other choice but to really optimize the Jaguar core to make it more competitive with products from Intel and the ARM partners.  At 28 nm the ARM ecosystem has a power advantage over AMD, while at 22 nm Intel offers similar performance to AMD but with greater power efficiency.

This is a necessary update for AMD as the competition has certainly not slowed down.  AMD is more constrained obviously by the lack of a next-generation process node available for 1H 2014, so a redesign of this magnitude was needed.  The performance per watt metric is very important here, as it promises longer battery life without giving up the performance people received from the previous Kabini/Temash family of APUs.  This design work could be carried over to the next generation of APUs using 20 nm and below, which hopefully will keep AMD competitive with the rest of the market.  Beema and Mullins are interesting looking products that will be shown off at CES 2014.

apu13_04.png

Source: AMD

AMD Kaveri's Fast... But Less Than Expected.

Subject: General Tech, Processors | November 12, 2013 - 06:50 PM |
Tagged: Kaveri, apu13, amd

AMD will deliver its latest round of APUs (Kaveri) on January 14th. These processors, built on a 28nm process, will combine the Steamroller architecture on the CPU with HSA-compliant Graphics Core Next (GCN) cores on the GPU. Together they are expected to bring 856 GFLOPs of computational performance.

AMD-Kaveri.jpg

Thomas Ryan at SemiAccurate, however, remembers that AMD expected over a TeraFLOP.

Of course Kaveri has been a troubled chip for AMD. At this point Kaveri is over a year late and most of that delay is due to a series of internal issues at AMD rather than technical problems. But now with the knowledge that Kaveri missed AMD’s internal performance targets by about 20 percent it’s hard to be very positive about AMD’s next big-core APU.

The problem comes from a reduction in the clock rate AMD expected back in February 2012. Steamroller was expected to reach 4 GHz but that has been slightly reduced to 3.7 GHz; this is obviously a small impact from a compute standpoint (weakened by just under10 GFLOPs). The GPU, on the other hand, was cut from 900MHz down to 720 MHz; its performance was reduced by a whole 25% (Update: 20%. Accidentally divided by 720 instead of 900). Using AMD's formula for calculating FLOP performance, Kaveri's 856 GFLOP rating corresponds to an 18% reduction from the original 1050 GFLOP target.

But, personally, I am still positive about Kaveri.

The introduction of HSA features into mainstream x86 processors has begun. The ability to share memory between the CPU and the GPU could be a big deal, especially for tasks such as AI and physics. AI especially interests me (although I am by no means an expert) because it is a mixture of branching and parallel instructions. The HSA model could, potentially, operate on the data with whichever architecture makes sense. Currently, synchronizing CPU and GPU memory is very costly; you could easily spend most of your processing time budget waiting for memory transfers.

856 GFLOPs is a definite reduction from 1050 GFLOPs. Still, if Kaveri (and APUs going forward) can effectively nullify the latencies involved with GPGPU work, an Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7 4960X has an instruction throughput of ~160 GFLOPs.

And before you say it: Yes, I know, Ivy Bridge-E can be paired with fast discrete graphics. This combination is ideal for easily separated tasks such as when the CPU prepares a frame and then a GPU draws it; you get the best of both worlds if both can keep working.

But what if your workload is a horrific mish-mash of back-and-forth serial and parallel? That is where AMD might have an edge.

Source: SemiAccurate

Video: Battlefield 4 Running on AMD A10 Kaveri APU and Image Decoder HSA Acceleration

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | November 12, 2013 - 06:10 PM |
Tagged: amd, Kaveri, APU, video, hsa

Yesterday at the AMD APU13 developer conference, the company showed off the upcoming Kaveri APU running Battlefield 4 completely on the integrated graphics.  I was able to push the AMD guys along and get a little more personal demo to share with our readers.  The Kaveri APU had some of its details revealed this week:

  • Quad-core Steamroller x86
  • 512 Stream Processor GPU
  • 856 GFLOPS of theoretical performance
  • 3.7 GHz CPU clock speed, 720 MHz GPU clock speed

AMD wanted to be sure we pointed out in this video that the estimate clock speeds for FLOP performance may not be what the demo system was run at (likely a bit lower).  Also, the version of Battlefield 4 here is the standard retail version and with further improvements from the driver team as the upcoming Mantle API implementation will likely introduce even more performance for the APU.

The game was running at 1920x1080 with MOSTLY medium quality settings (lighting set to low) but the results still looked damn impressive and the frame rates were silky and smooth.  Considering this is running on a desktop with integrated processor graphics, the game play experience is simply unmatched.  

Memory in the system was running at 2133 MHz.

The second demo looks at the image decoding acceleration that AMD is going to enable with Kaveri APUs upon release with a driver.  Essentially, as the demonstration shows in the video, AMD is overwriting the integrated Windows JPG decompression algorithm with a new one that utilizes HSA to accelerate on both the x86 and SIMD (GPU) portions of the silicon.  For the most strenuous demo that used 22 MP images saw a 100% increase in performance compared to the Kaveri CPU cores alone.

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

More Details from Lisa Su

The executives at AMD like to break their own NDAs.  Then again, they are the ones typically setting these NDA dates, so it isn’t a big deal.  It is no secret that Kaveri has been in the pipeline for some time.  We knew a lot of the basic details of the product, but there were certainly things that were missing.  Lisu Su went up onstage and shared a few new details with us.

kaveri.jpg

Kaveri will be made up of 4 “Steamroller” cores, which are enhanced versions of the previous Bulldozer/Trinity/Vishera families of products.  Nearly everything in the processor is doubled.  It now has dual decode, more cache, larger TLBs, and a host of other smaller features that all add up to greater single thread performance and better multi-threaded handling and performance.   Integer performance will be improved, and the FPU/MMX/SSE unit now features 2 x 128 bit FMAC units which can “fuse” and support AVX 256.

However, there was no mention of the fabled 6 core Kaveri.  At this time, it is unlikely that particular product will be launched anytime soon. 

Click to read the entire article here!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

An issue of variance

AMD just sent along an email to the press with a new driver to use for Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 testing going forward.  Here is the note:

We’ve identified that there’s variability in fan speeds across AMD R9 290 series boards. This variability in fan speed translates into variability of the cooling capacity of the fan-sink.

The flexibility of AMD PowerTune technology enables us to correct this variability in a driver update. This update will normalize the fan RPMs to the correct values.

The correct target RPM values are 2200RPM for the AMD Radeon R9 290X ‘Quiet mode’, and 2650RPM for the R9 290. You can verify these in GPU-Z.

If you’re working on stories relating to R9 290 series products, please use this driver as it will reduce any variability in fan speeds. This driver will be posted publicly tonight.

Great!  This is good news!  Except it also creates some questions. 

When we first tested the R9 290X and the R9 290, we discussed the latest iteration of AMD's PowerTune technology. That feature attempts to keep clocks as high as possible under the constraints of temperature and power.  I took issue with the high variability of clock speeds on our R9 290X sample, citing this graph:

clock-avg.png

I then did some digging into the variance and the claims that AMD was building a "configurable" GPU.  In that article we found that there were significant performance deltas between "hot" and "cold" GPUs; we noticed that doing simple, quick benchmarks would produce certain results that were definitely not real-world in nature.  At the default 40% fan speed, Crysis 3 showed 10% variance with the 290X at 2560x1440:

Crysis3_2560x1440_OFPS.png

Continue reading our coverage of the most recent driver changes and how they affect the R9 290X and R9 290!!

AMD Releases Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.2 Driver To Correct Performance Variance Issue of R9 290 Series Graphics Cards

Subject: Graphics Cards, Cases and Cooling | November 8, 2013 - 02:41 AM |
Tagged: R9 290X, powertune, hawaii, graphics drivers, gpu, GCN, catalyst 13.11 beta, amd, 290x

AMD recently launched its 290X graphics card, which is the new high-end single GPU solution using a GCN-based Hawaii architecture. The new GPU is rather large and incorporates an updated version of AMD's PowerTune technology to automatically adjust clockspeeds based on temperature and a maximum fan speed of 40%. Unfortunately, it seems that some 290X cards available at retail exhibited performance characteristics that varied from review units.

Retail versus Review Sample Performance Variance Testing.jpg

AMD has looked into the issue and released the following statement in response to the performance variances (which PC Perspective is looking into as well).

Hello, We've identified that there's variability in fan speeds across AMD R9 290 series boards. This variability in fan speed translates into variability of the cooling capacity of the fan-sink. The flexibility of AMD PowerTune technology enables us to correct this variability in a driver update. This update will normalize the fan RPMs to the correct values.

The correct target RPM values are 2200RPM for the AMD Radeon R9 290X "Quiet mode", and 2650RPM for the R9 290. You can verify these in GPU-Z. If you're working on stories relating to R9 290 series products, please use this driver as it will reduce any variability in fan speeds. This driver will be posted publicly tonight.

From the AMD statement, it seems to be an issue with fan speeds from card to card causing the performance variances. With a GPU that is rated to run at up to 95C, a fan limited to 40% maximum, and dynamic clockspeeds, it is only natural that cards could perform differently, especially if case airflow is not up to par. On the other hand, the specific issue pointed out by other technology review sites (per my understanding, it was initially Tom's Hardware that reported on the retail vs review sample variance) is  an issue where the 40% maximum on certain cards is not actually the RPM target that AMD intended.

AMD intended for the Radeon R9 290X's fan to run at 2200RPM (40%) in Quiet Mode and the fan on the R9 290 (which has a maximum fan speed percentage of 47%) to spin at 2650 RPM in Quiet Mode. However, some cards 40% values are not actually hitting those intended RPMs, which is causing performance differences due to cooling and PowerTune adjusting the clockspeeds accordingly.

Luckily, the issue is being worked on by AMD, and it is reportedly rectified by a driver update. The driver update ensures that the fans are actually spinning at the intended speed when set to the 40% (R9 290X) or 47% (R9 290) values in Catalyst Control Center. The new driver, which includes the fix, is version Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.2 and is available for download now. 

If you are running a R9 290 or R9 290X in your system, you should consider updating to the latest driver to ensure you are getting the cooling (and as a result gaming) performance you are supposed to be getting.

Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.2 is available from the AMD website.

Also read:

Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information on the Radeon R9 290 series GPU performance variance issue as it develops.

Image credit: Ryan Shrout (PC Perspective).

Source: AMD