Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2015 - 02:07 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: pcper, podcast, video, usb 3.1, Broadwell, Intel, nuc, Samsung, 840 evo, asus, Strix Tactic Pro, GTX 970, directx12, dx12
PC Perspective Podcast #338 - 02/26/2015
Join us this week as we discuss more USB 3.1 Devices, Broadwell NUC, another 840 Evo fix and more!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Allyn Malventano, and Sebastian Peak
Program length: 1:46:04
EVGA Contest Winner!
Week in Review:
News item of interest:
Question: Alex from Sydney
Just a quick question regarding DirectX 12. I’m planning to buy a new graphics card soon but I want a DirectX 12 card for all the fancy new features so I’m considering either the GTX 970 or 980, the question I have is are these real DirectX 12 cards? Since DirectX 12 development is still ongoing how can these cards be fully DirectX 12 complaint?
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Quiet, Efficient Gaming
The last few weeks have been dominated by talk about the memory controller of the Maxwell based GTX 970. There are some very strong opinions about that particular issue, and certainly NVIDIA was remiss on actually informing consumers about how it handles the memory functionality of that particular product. While that debate rages, we have somewhat lost track of other products in the Maxwell range. The GTX 960 was released during this particular firestorm and, while it also shared the outstanding power/performance qualities of the Maxwell architecture, it is considered a little overpriced when compared to other cards in its price class in terms of performance.
It is easy to forget that the original Maxwell based product to hit shelves was the GTX 750 series of cards. They were released a year ago to some very interesting reviews. The board is one of the first mainstream cards in recent memory to have a power draw that is under 75 watts, but can still play games with good quality settings at 1080P resolutions. Ryan covered this very well and it turned out to be a perfect gaming card for many pre-built systems that do not have extra power connectors (or a power supply that can support 125+ watt graphics cards). These are relatively inexpensive cards and very easy to install, producing a big jump in performance as compared to the integrated graphics components of modern CPUs and APUs.
The GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti have proven to be popular cards due to their overall price, performance, and extremely low power consumption. They also tend to produce a relatively low amount of heat, due to solid cooling combined with that low power consumption. The Maxwell architecture has also introduced some new features, but the major changes are to the overall design of the architecture as compared to Kepler. Instead of 192 cores per SMK, there are now 128 cores per SMM. NVIDIA has done a lot of work to improve performance per core as well as lower power in a fairly dramatic way. An interesting side effect is that the CPU hit with Maxwell is a couple of percentage points higher than Kepler. NVIDIA does lean a bit more on the CPU to improve overall GPU power, but most of this performance hit is covered up by some really good realtime compiler work in the driver.
Asus has taken the GTX 750 Ti and applied their STRIX design and branding to it. While there are certainly faster GPUs on the market, there are none that exhibit the power characteristics of the GTX 750 Ti. The combination of this GPU and the STRIX design should result in an extremely efficient, cool, and silent card.
Followers of PC Perspective have likely seen a pair of stories previewing the upcoming performance and features of USB 3.1. First we got our hands on the MSI X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard and were able to run through our very first hands-on testing with USB 3.1 hardware. The motherboard had built-in USB 3.1 support and a device that was configured with a RAID-0 of Intel SSD 730 Series drives.
We followed that up with a look at the ASUS USB 3.1 implementation that included a PCIe add-on card and a dual-drive mSATA device also in RAID-0. This configuration was interesting because we can theoretically install this $40 product into any system with a free PCI Express slot.
Performance was astounding for incredibly early implementations, reaching as high as 835 MB/s!
In that last article I theorized that it would be some time before we got our hands on retail USB 3.1 hardware but it appears I wasn't giving the industry enough credit. ASUS passed us a list of incoming devices along with release schedules. There are 27 devices scheduled to be released before the end of April and ~35 by the middle of the year.
It's a daunting table to look at, so be prepared!
The product categories are mostly dominated by the likes of the a USB 3.1 to 2.5-in adapter; that would be useful but you aren't going to top out the performance of the USB 3.1 with a single 2.5-in SATA device. Iomaster has one listed as a "USB 3.1 to MSATA & M2 SSD enclosure" which could be more interesting - does it accept PCI Express M.2 SSDs?
Minerva Innovation has a couple of interesting options, all listed with pairs of mSATA or M.2 ports, two with Type-C connections. What we don't know based on this data is if it supports PCIe M.2 SSDs or SATA only and if it supports RAID-0.
A couple more list dual SATA ports which might indicate that we are going to see multiple hard drives / SSDs over a single USB 3.1 connection but without RAID support. That could be another way to utilize the bandwidth of USB 3.1 in a similar way to how we planned to use Thunderbolt daisy chaining.
We don't have pricing yet, but I don't think USB 3.1 accessories will be significantly more expensive than what USB 3.0 devices sell for. So, does this list of accessories make you more excited to upgrade your system for USB 3.1?
Just over a week or so ago Allyn spent some time with the MSI X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard, a fact that might seem a little odd to our frequent readers. Why would our storage editor be focusing on a motherboard? USB 3.1 of course! When we visited MSI at CES in January they were the first company to show working USB 3.1 hardware and performance numbers that we were able duplicate in our testing when MSI sent us similar hardware.
But ASUS is in this game as well, preparing its product lines with USB 3.1 support courtesy of the same ASMedia controller we looked at before. ASUS has a new revision of several motherboards planned with integrated on-board USB 3.1 but is also going to be releasing an add-in card with USB 3.1 support for existing systems.
Today we are going to test that add-in card to measure ASUS' implementation of USB 3.1 and see how it stacks up to what MSI had to offer and what improvements and changes you can expect from USB 3.0.
USB 3.1 Technology Background
Despite the simple point denomination change in USB 3.1, also known as SuperSpeed+, the technological and speed differences in the newest revision of USB are substantial. Allyn did a good job of summarizing the changes that include a 10 Gbps link interface and a dramatic drop in encoding overhead that enables peak theoretical performance improvements of 2.44x compared to USB 3.0.
USB 3.1 is rated at 10 Gbps, twice that of USB 3.0. The little-reported-on nugget of info from the USB 3.1 specification relates to how they classify the raw vs. expected speeds. Taking USB 3.0 as an example, Superspeed can handle a raw 5Gbps data rate, but after subtracting out the overhead (packet framing, flow control, etc), you are left with ~450MB/s of real throughput. Superspeed+ upgrades the bit encoding type from 8b/10b (80% efficient) to 128b/132b (97% efficient) *in addition to* the doubling of raw data rate. This means that even after accounting for overhead, Superspeed+’s best case throughput should work out to ~1.1GB/s. That’s not a 2x speed improvement – it is actually 2.44x of USB 3.0 speed. Superspeed+ alright!
The ASUS STRIX TACTIC PRO is a premium mechanical gaming keyboard featuring Cherry MX Brown switches and some serious style.
Keyboards are a very personal thing, and as this is one of the three primary interfaces with the system itself (along with the mouse and display), feel will help decide the experience. Without a doubt mechanical keyboard have become very popular with enthusiasts, but as more manufacturers have started offering them - and the market has begun to saturate - it becomes much more difficult to pick a starting point if you're new to the game. To further complicate a buying decision there are different types of key switches used in these keyboards, and each variety has its own properties and unique feel.
And on the subject of key switches, this particular keyboard built with the brown variety of the Cherry MX switches, and ASUS offers the option of Cherry MX Black, Blue, and Red switches with the STRIX TACTIC PRO as well. Our own Scott Michaud covered the topic of key switches in great detail last year, and that article is a great starting point that helps explain the different types of switches available, and how they differ.
The Cherry MX Brown switch in action
I'll go into the feel of the keyboard on the next page, but quickly I'll say that MX Brown switches have a good feel without being too "clicky", but they are certainly more stiff feeling than a typical membrane keyboard. While it's impossible to really describe how the keyboard will feel to a particular user, we can certainly cover the features and performance of this keyboard to help with a purchasing decision in this crowded market. At $150 the STRIX TACTIC PRO carries a premium price, but as you'll see this is also a premium product.
Subject: Graphics Cards | February 16, 2015 - 11:04 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SFF, nvidia, mini-ITX GPU, mini-itx, gtx 960, graphics, gpu, geforce, asus
ASUS returns to the mini-ITX friendly form-factor with the GTX 960 Mini (officially named GTX960-MOC-2GD5 for maximum convenience), their newest NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 graphics card.
Other than the smaller size to allow compatibility with a wider array of small enclosures, the GTX 960 Mini also features an overclocked core and promises "20% cooler and vastly quieter" performance from its custom heatsink and CoolTech fan. Here's a quick rundown of key specs:
- 1190 MHz Base Clock / 1253 MHz Boost Clock
- 1024 CUDA cores
- 2GB 128-bit GDDR5 @ 7010 MHz
- 3x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x DVI output
No word on the pricing or availability of the card just yet. The other mini-ITX version of the GTX 960 on the market from Gigabyte has been selling for $199.99, so expect this to run somewhere between $200-$220 at launch.
ASUS has reused this image from the GTX 970 Mini launch, and so have I
The product page is up on the ASUS website so availability seems imminent.
Subject: Mobile | February 16, 2015 - 03:54 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: zenbook, UX305, ultraportable, ips display, core m, asus, 5Y10
ASUS has announced the availability and pricing for the ZenBook UX305, and the specifications are quite exceptional for the price. Not content to compete on hardware specs alone the design of the notebook is a miniscule 0.48” thick, making the UX305 the world’s thinnest ultraportable notebook according to ASUS.
As impressive as the slim profile of the aluminum design might be, it is more impressive to look over the main specifications of the $699 UX305:
- Intel Core M 5Y10 processor
- 8GB of LPDDR3 memory
- 256GB SSD
- 13.3-inch 1920x1080 IPS display (matte finish)
I'll let that sink in for a moment. Quite an impressive list given the MSRP for these specifications is, again, only $699. At this price it's going to be very difficult to beat the UX305 considering what’s under the hood, as this configuration contains double the memory and storage space compared to many ultraportables in this price class. And 1080p IPS on top of everything is just icing on the cake. Battery life should be very good considerin the processor the heart of this is Intel's newest low-power Broadwell-based Core M (the 5Y10), which features HD 5300 graphics and a TDP of just 4.5W. Moreover, the processor is passively cooled and the notebook features a completely fanless design for silent operation.
Since there are no fans to expell heat ASUS has made it a point to promise that the palm rest will always stay cool thanks to their “IceCool technology” (whatever that is - but I really hope it’s an ice cube cooling system). The UX305 is powered by a 45Wh Lithium Polymer battery that has a claimed 10-hour battery life, and the notebook features 802.11ac wireless, three USB 3.0 ports, and includes a USB Ethernet adapter (a nice touch). ASUS is also touting a premium sound system with this notebook, employing a B&O ICEpower amplifier and enhanced with their proprietary “SonicMaster audio”. Rounding out the feature list is an SD card reader and 720p webcam.
The notebook weighs in at 2.6 Lbs, and this configuration of the UX305 is available immediately (listed on their official store). With the surprisingly low MSRP it sounds like this ZenBook will be a solid choice for anyone looking for the latest notebook tech on a budget, and depending on performance and real-world battery life it could just be that mythical MacBook Air "killer" (if you're ok with Windows 8 over OS X, of course).
Subject: Motherboards | February 12, 2015 - 03:01 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: motherboard, Kaveri, Intel Gig-E, FM2+, DDR-3 2133, crossblade ranger, audio, asus, A88X
It has been a while since Josh reviewed the ASUS Crossblade Ranger so it seems appropriate to put up a reminder that there are some impressive AMD boards out there with The Tech Report's review of the board. This board has just about everything except an M.2 port, from the Asus SupremeFX 2014 with high end caps and EMI shielding to HDMI, DVI, and VGA display outputs to a BIOS button on the backplate which allows you to update the upgrade the motherboard's firmware without a CPU or RAM installed. Check out the full review to get a list of the other features as well as a glimpse into the personality traits the board displayed during testing.
"Asus' Crossblade Ranger is a tweaker-friendly, top-of-the-line motherboard for AMD's Socket FM2+ processors. We kicked the tires and turned up the clocks to see whether the Ranger lives up to its top billing."
Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:
- ASUS Rampage V Extreme Review @ OCC
- ASRock X99 OC Formula @ HardwareHeaven
- ASRock Fatal1ty X99M Killer mATX @ Kitguru
- ASRock X99X Killer @ HardwareHeaven
- ASUS X99-PRO Haswell-E Motherboard Review @ Hardware Canucks
- MSI's X99S MPower @ The Tech Report
A baker's dozen of GTX 960
Back on the launch day of the GeForce GTX 960, we hosted NVIDIA's Tom Petersen for a live stream. During the event, NVIDIA and its partners provided ten GTX 960 cards for our live viewers to win which we handed out through about an hour and a half. An interesting idea was proposed during the event - what would happen if we tried to overclock all of the product NVIDIA had brought along to see what the distribution of results looked like? After notifying all the winners of their prizes and asking for permission from each, we started the arduous process of testing and overclocking a total of 13 (10 prizes plus our 3 retail units already in the office) different GTX 960 cards.
Hopefully we will be able to provide a solid base of knowledge for buyers of the GTX 960 that we don't normally have the opportunity to offer: what is the range of overclocking you can expect and what is the average or median result. I think you will find the data interesting.
The 13 Contenders
Our collection of thirteen GTX 960 cards includes a handful from ASUS, EVGA and MSI. The ASUS models are all STRIX models, the EVGA cards are of the SSC variety, and the MSI cards include a single Gaming model and three 100ME. (The only difference between the Gaming and 100ME MSI cards is the color of the cooler.)
To be fair to the prize winners, I actually assigned each of them a specific graphics card before opening them up and testing them. I didn't want to be accused of favoritism by giving the best overclockers to the best readers!
It has been an abnormal week for us here at PC Perspective. Our typical review schedule has pretty much flown out the window, and the past seven days have been filled with learning, researching, retesting, and publishing. That might sound like the norm, but in these cases the process was initiated by tips from our readers. Last Saturday (24 Jan), a few things were brewing:
- Ryan was informed by NVIDIA that the memory layout of the GTX 970 was different than expected.
- The huge (now 168 page) overclock.net forum thread about the Samsung 840 EVO slowdown was once again gaining traction.
- Someone got G-Sync working on a laptop integrated display.
We had to do a bit of triage here of course, as we can only research and write so quickly. Ryan worked the GTX 970 piece as it was the hottest item. I began a few days of research and testing on the 840 EVO slow down issue reappearing on some drives, and we kept tabs on that third thing, which at the time seemed really farfetched. With those two first items taken care of, Ryan shifted his efforts to GTX 970 SLI testing while I shifted my focus to finding out of there was any credence to this G-Sync laptop thing.
A few weeks ago, an ASUS Nordic Support rep inadvertently leaked an interim build of the NVIDIA driver. This was a mobile driver build (version 346.87) focused at their G751 line of laptops. One recipient of this driver link posted it to the ROG forum back on the 20th. A fellow by the name Gamenab, owning the same laptop cited in that thread, presumably stumbled across this driver, tried it out, and was more than likely greeted by this popup after the installation completed:
Now I know what you’re thinking, and it’s probably the same thing anyone would think. How on earth is this possible? To cut a long story short, while the link to the 346.87 driver was removed shortly after being posted to that forum, we managed to get our hands on a copy of it, installed it on the ASUS G751 that we had in for review, and wouldn’t you know it we were greeted by the same popup!
Ok, so it’s a popup, could it be a bug? We checked NVIDIA control panel and the options were consistent with that of a G-Sync connected system. We fired up the pendulum demo and watched the screen carefully, passing the machine around the office to be inspected by all. We then fired up some graphics benchmarks that were well suited to show off the technology (Unigine Heaven, Metro: Last Light, etc), and everything looked great – smooth steady pans with no juddering or tearing to be seen. Ken Addison, our Video Editor and jack of all trades, researched the panel type and found that it was likely capable of 100 Hz refresh. We quickly dug created a custom profile, hit apply, and our 75 Hz G-Sync laptop was instantly transformed into a 100 Hz G-Sync laptop!
Ryan's Note: I think it is important here to point out that we didn't just look at demos and benchmarks for this evaluation but actually looked at real-world gameplay situations. Playing through Metro: Last Light showed very smooth pans and rotation, Assassin's Creed played smoothly as well and flying through Unigine Heaven manually was a great experience. Crysis 3, Battlefield 4, etc. This was NOT just a couple of demos that we ran through - the variable refresh portion of this mobile G-Sync enabled panel was working and working very well.
At this point in our tinkering, we had no idea how or why this was working, but there was no doubt that we were getting a similar experience as we have seen with G-Sync panels. As I digested what was going on, I thought surely this can’t be as good as it seems to be… Let’s find out, shall we?