Subject: Processors | February 5, 2016 - 11:44 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Intel, Skylake, overclocking, cpu, Non-K, BCLK, bios, SKY OC, asrock, Z170
ASRock's latest batch of motherboard BIOS updates remove the SKY OS function, which permitted overclocking of non-K Intel processors via BCLK (baseclock).
The news comes amid speculation that Intel had pressured motherboard vendors to remove such functionality. Intel's unlocked K parts (i5-6600K, i7-6700K) will once again be the only options for Skylake overclocking on Z170 on ASRock boards (assuming prior BIOS versions are no longer available), and with no Pentium G3258 this generation Intel is no longer a budget friendly option for enthusiasts looking to push their CPU past factory specs.
(Image credit: Hexus.net)
It sounds like now would be a good time to archive that SKY OS enabled BIOS update file if you've downloaded it - or simply refrain from this BIOS update. What remains to be seen of course is whether other vendors will follow suit and disable BCLK overclocking of non-K processors. This had become a popular feature on a number of Z170 motherboards on the market, but ASRock may have been in too weak a position to battle Intel on this issue.
AMD Keeps Q1 Interesting
CES 2016 was not a watershed moment for AMD. They showed off their line of current video cards and, perhaps more importantly, showed off working Polaris silicon, which will be their workhorse for 2016 in the graphics department. They did not show off Zen, a next generation APU, or any AM4 motherboards. The CPU and APU world was not presented in a way that was revolutionary. What they did show off, however, hinted at the things to come to help keep AMD relevant in the desktop space.
It was odd to see an announcement about the stock cooler that AMD was introducing, but when we learned more about it, the more important it was for AMD’s reputation moving forward. The Wraith cooler is a new unit to help control the noise and temperatures of the latest AMD CPUs and select APUs. This is a fairly beefy unit with a large, slow moving fan that produces very little noise. This is a big change from the variable speed fans on previous coolers that could get rather noisy and leave temperatures that were higher in range than are comfortable. There has been some derision aimed at AMD for providing “just a cooler” for their top end products, but it is a push that is making them more user and enthusiast friendly without breaking the bank.
Socket AM3+ is not dead yet. Though we have been commenting on the health of the platform for some time, AMD and its partners work to improve and iterate upon these products to include technologies such as USB 3.1 and M.2 support. While these chipsets are limited to PCI-E 2.0 speeds, the four lanes available to most M.2 controllers allows these boards to provide enough bandwidth to fully utilize the latest NVMe based M.2 drives available. We likely will not see a faster refresh on AM3+, but we will see new SKUs utilizing the Wraith cooler as well as a price break for the processors that exist in this socket.
Subject: Processors | January 24, 2016 - 12:19 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Tigerlake, rumor, report, processor, process node, Intel, Icelake, cpu, Cannonlake, 10 nm
A report from financial website The Motley Fool discusses Intel's plan to introduce three architectures at the 10 nm node, rather than the expected two. This comes after news that Kaby Lake will remain at the present 14 nm, interrupting Intel's 2-year manufacturing tech pace.
(Image credit: wccftech)
"Management has told investors that they are pushing to try to get back to a two-year cadence post-10-nanometer (presumably they mean a two-year transition from 10-nanometer to 7-nanometer), however, from what I have just learned from a source familiar with Intel's plans, the company is working on three, not two, architectures for the 10-nanometer node."
Intel's first 10 nm processor architecture will be known as Cannonlake, with Icelake expected to follow about a year afterward. With Tigerlake expected to be the third architecture build on 10 nm, and not coming until "the second half of 2019", we probably won't see 7 nm from Intel until the second half of 2020 at the earliest.
It appears that the days of two-year, two product process node changes are numbered for Intel, as the report continues:
"If all goes well for the company, then 7-nanometer could be a two-product node, implying a transition to the 5-nanometer technology node by the second half of 2022. However, the source that I spoke to expressed significant doubts that Intel will be able to return to a two-years-per-technology cycle."
(Image credit: The Motley Fool)
It will be interesting to see how players like TSMC, themselves "planning to start mass production of 7-nanometer in the first half of 2018", will fare moving forward as Intel's process development (apparently) slows.
Are Computers Still Getting Faster?
It looks like CES is starting to wind down, which makes sense because it ended three days ago. Now that we're mostly caught up, I found a new video from The 8-Bit Guy. He doesn't really explain any old technologies in this one. Instead, he poses an open question about computer speed. He was able to have a functional computing experience on a ten-year-old Apple laptop, which made him wonder if the rate of computer advancement is slowing down.
I believe that he (and his guest hosts) made great points, but also missed a few important ones.
One of his main arguments is that software seems to have slowed down relative to hardware. I don't believe that is true, but I believe it's looking in the right area. PCs these days are more than capable of doing just about anything in terms of 2D user interface that we would want to, and do so with a lot of overhead for inefficient platforms and sub-optimal programming (relative to the 80's and 90's at the very least). The areas that require extra horsepower are usually doing large batches of many related tasks. GPUs are key in this area, and they are keeping up as fast as they can, despite some stagnation with fabrication processes and a difficulty (at least before HBM takes hold) in keeping up with memory bandwidth.
For the last five years to ten years or so, CPUs have been evolving toward efficiency as GPUs are being adopted for the tasks that need to scale up. I'm guessing that AMD, when they designed the Bulldozer architecture, hoped that GPUs would have been adopted much more aggressively, but even as graphics devices, they now have a huge effect on Web, UI, and media applications.
These are also tasks that can scale well between devices by lowering resolution (and so forth). The primary thing that a main CPU thread needs to do is figure out the system's state and keep the graphics card fed before the frame-train leaves the station. In my experience, that doesn't scale well (although you can sometimes reduce the amount of tracked objects for games and so forth). Moreover, it is easier to add GPU performance, compared to single-threaded CPU, because increasing frequency and single-threaded IPC should be more complicated than planning out more, duplicated blocks of shaders. These factors combine to give lower-end hardware a similar experience in the most noticeable areas.
So, up to this point, we discussed:
- Software is often scaling in ways that are GPU (and RAM) limited.
- CPUs are scaling down in power more than up in performance.
- GPU-limited tasks can often be approximated with smaller workloads.
- Software gets heavier, but it doesn't need to be "all the way up" (ex: resolution).
- Some latencies are hard to notice anyway.
Back to the Original Question
This is where “Are computers still getting faster?” can be open to interpretation.
Tasks are diverging from one class of processor into two, and both have separate industries, each with their own, multiple goals. As stated, CPUs are mostly progressing in power efficiency, which extends (an assumed to be) sufficient amount of performance downward to multiple types of devices. GPUs are definitely getting faster, but they can't do everything. At the same time, RAM is plentiful but its contribution to performance can be approximated with paging unused chunks to the hard disk or, more recently on Windows, compressing them in-place. Newer computers with extra RAM won't help as long as any single task only uses a manageable amount of it -- unless it's seen from a viewpoint that cares about multi-tasking.
In short, computers are still progressing, but the paths are now forked and winding.
Subject: Processors | November 13, 2015 - 06:40 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: X99, processor, LGA2011-v3, Intel, i7-6950X, HEDT, Haswell-E, cpu, Broadwell-E
Intel's high-end desktop (HEDT) processor line will reportedly be moving from Haswell-E to Broadwell-E soon, and with the move Intel will offer their highest consumer core count to date, according to a post at XFastest which WCCFtech reported on yesterday.
Image credit: VR-Zone
While it had been thought that Broadwell-E would feature the same core counts as Haswell-E (as seen on the leaked slide above), according to the report the upcoming flagship Core i7-6950X will be a massive 10 core, 20 thread part built using Intel's 14 nm process. Broadwell-E is expected to provide an upgrade to those running on Intel's current enthusiast X99 platform before Skylake-E arrives with an all-new chipset.
WCCFtech offered this chart in their report, outlining the differences between the HEDT generations (and providing a glimpse of the future Skylake-E variant):
Intel HEDT generations compared (Credit: WCCFtech)
It isn't all that surprising that one of Intel's LGA2011-v3 processors would arrive on desktops with 10 cores as these are closely related to the Xeon server processors, and Haswell based Xeon CPUs are already available with up to 18 cores, though priced far beyond what even the extreme builder would probably find reasonable (not to mention being far less suited to a desktop build based on motherboard compatibility). The projected $999 price tag for the Extreme Edition part with 10 cores would mark not only the first time an Intel desktop processor reached the core-count milestone, but it would also mark the lowest price to attain one of the company's 10-core parts to date (Xeon or otherwise).
Subject: Processors | November 5, 2015 - 09:30 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SoC, report, processor, mobile apu, leak, FX-9830PP, cpu, Bristol Ridge, APU, amd
A new report points to an entry from the USB implementors forum, which shows an unreleased AMD Bristol Ridge SoC.
(AMD via VideoCardz.com)
Bristol Ridge itself is not news, as the report at Computer Base observes (translation):
"A leaked roadmap had previously noted that Bristol Ridge is in the coming year soldered on motherboards for notebooks and desktop computers in special BGA package FP4."
(USB.org via Computer Base)
But there is something different about this chip as the report point out the model name FX-9830P pictured in the USB.org screen grab is consistent with the naming scheme for notebook parts, with the highest current model being FX-8800P (Carrizo), a 35W 4-thread Excavator part with 512 stream processors from the R7 GPU core.
(BenchLife via Computer Base)
No details are available other than information from a leaked roadmap (above), which points to Bristol Ridge as an FP4 BGA part for mobile, with a desktop variant for socket FM3 that would replace Kaveri/Godavari (and possibly still an Excavator part). New cores are coming in 2016, and we'll have to wait and see for additional details (or until more information inevitably leaks out).
Update, 11/06/15: WCCFtech expounds on the leak:
“Bristol Ridge isn’t just limited to mobility platforms but will also be featured on AM4 desktop platform as Bristol Ridge will be the APU generation available on desktops in 2016 while Zen would be integrated on the performance focused FX processors.”
WCCFtech’s report also included a link to this SiSoftware database entry for an engineering sample of a dual-core Stoney Ridge processor, a low-power mobile part with a 2.7 GHz clock speed. Stoney Ridge will reportedly succeed Carrizo-L for low-power platforms.
The report also provided this chart to reference the new products:
Subject: Processors | October 23, 2015 - 02:21 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Xeon D, SoC, rumor, report, processor, Pentium D, Intel, cpu
Intel's Xeon D SoC lineup will soon expand to include 12-core and 16-core options, after the platform launched earlier this year with the option of 4 or 8 cores for the 14 nm chips.
The report yesterday from CPU World offers new details on the refreshed lineup which includes both Xeon D and Pentium D SoCs:
"According to our sources, Intel have made some changes to the lineup, which is now comprised of 13 Xeon D and Pentium D SKUs. Even more interesting is that Intel managed to double the maximum number of cores, and consequentially combined cache size, of Xeon D design, and the nearing Xeon D launch may include a few 12-core and 16-core models with 18 MB and 24 MB cache."
The move is not unexpected as Intel initially hinted at an expanded offering by the end of the year (emphasis added):
"...the Intel Xeon processor D-1500 product family is the first offering of a line of processors that will address a broad range of low-power, high-density infrastructure needs. Currently available with 4 or 8 cores and 128 GB of addressable memory..."
Current Xeon D Processors
The new flagship Xeon D model will be the D-1577, a 16-core processor with between 18 and 24 MB of L3 cache (exact specifications are not yet known). These SoCs feature integrated platform controller hub (PCH), I/O, and dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and the initial offerings had up to a 45W TDP. It would seem likely that a model with double the core count would either necessitate a higher TDP or simply target a lower clock speed. We should know more before too long.
For futher information on Xeon D, please check out our previous coverage:
- New Intel Xeon D Broadwell Processors Aimed at Low Power, High Density Servers @ PC Perspective.
- Xeon D Podcast Discussion at 0:40:35 (YouTube or downloadable audio).
Subject: Processors | October 12, 2015 - 12:24 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: servers, qualcomm, processor, enterprise, cpu, arm, 24-core
Another player emerges in the CPU landscape: Qualcomm is introducing its first socketed processor for the enterprise market.
Image credit: PC World
A 24-core design based on 64-bit ARM architecture has reached the prototype phase, in a large LGA package resembling an Intel Xeon CPU.
From the report published by PC World:
"Qualcomm demonstrated a pre-production chip in San Francisco on Thursday. It's a purpose-built system-on-chip, different from its Snapdragon processor, that integrates PCIe, storage and other features. The initial version has 24 cores, though the final part will have more, said Anand Chandrasekher, Qualcomm senior vice president."
Image credit: PC World
Qualcomm built servers as proof-of-concept with this new processor, "running a version of Linux, with the KVM hypervisor, streaming HD video to a PC. The chip was running the LAMP stack - Linux, the Apache Web server, MySQL, and PHP - and OpenStack cloud software," according to PC World. The functionality of this design demonstrate the chip's potential to power highly energy-efficient servers, making an obvious statement about the potential cost savings for large data companies such as Google and Facebook.
Subject: Processors | August 8, 2015 - 05:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Skylake, Intel, delid, CPU die, cpu, Core i7-6700K
PC Watch, a Japanese computer hardware website, acquired at least one Skylake i7-6700K and removed the heatspreader. With access to the bare die, they took some photos and tested a few thermal compound replacements, which quantifies how good (or bad) Intel's default thermal grease is. As evidenced by the launch of Ivy Bridge and, later, Devil's Canyon, the choice of thermal interface between the die and the lid can make a fairly large difference in temperatures and overclocking.
Image Credit: PC Watch
They chose the vice method for the same reason that Morry chose this method in his i7-4770k delid article last year. This basically uses a slight amount of torque and external pressure or shock to pop the lid off the processor. Despite how it looks, this is considered to be less traumatic than using a razer blade to cut the seal, because human hands are not the most precise instruments and a slight miss could damage the PCB. PC Watch, apparently, needed to use a wrench to get enough torque on the vice, which is transferred to the processor as pressure.
Image Credit: PC Watch
Of course, Intel could always offer enthusiasts with choices in thermal compounds before they put the lid on, which would be safest. How about that, Intel?
Image Credit: PC Watch
With the lid off, PC Watch mentioned that the thermal compound seems to be roughly the same as Devil's Canyon, which is quite good. They also noticed that the PCB is significantly more thin than Haswell, dropping in thickness from about 1.1mm to about 0.8mm. For some benchmarks, they tested it with the stock interface, an aftermarket solution called Prolimatech PK-3, and a liquid metal alloy called Coollaboratory Liquid Pro.
Image Credit: PC Watch
At 4.0 GHz, PK-3 dropped the temperature by about 4 degrees Celsius, while Liquid Metal knocked it down 16 degrees. At 4.6 GHz, PK-3 continued to give a delta of about 4 degrees, while Liquid Metal widened its gap to 20 degrees. It reduced an 88 C temperature to 68 C!
Image Credit: PC Watch
There are obviously limitations to how practical this is. If you were concerned about thermal wear on your die, you probably wouldn't forcibly remove its heatspreader from its PCB to acquire it. That would be like performing surgery on yourself to remove your own appendix, which wasn't inflamed, just in case. Also, from an overclocking standpoint, heat doesn't scale with frequency. Twenty degrees is a huge gap, but even a hundred MHz could eat it up, depending on your die.
It's still interesting for those who try, though.
Introduction and Test Hardware
The PC gaming world has become divided by two distinct types of games: those that were designed and programmed specifically for the PC, and console ports. Unfortunately for PC gamers it seems that far too many titles are simply ported over (or at least optimized for consoles first) these days, and while PC users can usually enjoy higher detail levels and unlocked frame rates there is now the issue of processor core-count to consider. This may seem artificial, but in recent months quite a few games have been released that require at least a quad-core CPU to even run (without modifying the game).
One possible explanation for this is current console hardware: PS4 and Xbox One systems are based on multi-core AMD APUs (the 8-core AMD "Jaguar"). While a quad-core (or higher) processor might not be techincally required to run current games on PCs, the fact that these exist on consoles might help to explain quad-core CPU as a minimum spec. This trend could simply be the result of current x86 console hardware, as developement of console versions of games is often prioritized (and porting has become common for development of PC versions of games). So it is that popular dual-core processors like the $69 Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition (G3258) are suddenly less viable for a future-proofed gaming build. While hacking these games might make dual-core CPUs work, and might be the only way to get such a game to even load as the CPU is checked at launch, this is obviously far from ideal.
Is this much CPU really necessary?
Rather than rail against this quad-core trend and question its necessity, I decided instead to see just how much of a difference the processor alone might make with some game benchmarks. This quickly escalated into more and more system configurations as I accumulated parts, eventually arriving at 36 different configurations at various price points. Yeah, I said 36. (Remember that Budget Gaming Shootout article from last year? It's bigger than that!) Some of the charts that follow are really long (you've been warned), and there’s a lot of information to parse here. I wanted this to be as fair as possible, so there is a theme to the component selection. I started with three processors each (low, mid, and high price) from AMD and Intel, and then three graphics cards (again, low, mid, and high price) from AMD and NVIDIA.
Here’s the component rundown with current pricing*:
- AMD Athlon X4 860K - $74.99
- AMD FX 8350 - $165.93
- AMD FX 9590 (with AIO cooler) - $259.99
- Intel Core i3-4130 - $118
- Intel Core i5-4440 - $184.29
- Intel Core i7-4790K - $338.99
Graphics cards tested:
- AMD Radeon R7 260X (ASUS 2GB OC) - $137.24
- AMD Radeon R9 280 (Sapphire Dual-X) - $169.99
- AMD Radeon R9 290X (MSI Lightning) - $399
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti (OEM) - $149.99
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 (OEM) - $235
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 (ASUS STRIX) - $519
*These prices were current as of 6/29/15, and of course fluctuate.