Author:
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.

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!!

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

Subject: Processors | November 13, 2013 - 02:35 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 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 7, 2013 - 11:41 PM |
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

The custom R9's have arrived

Subject: Graphics Cards | October 10, 2013 - 12:29 PM |
Tagged: radeon, r9 270x, GCN, sapphire, toxic edition, factory overclocked

We saw the release of the reference R9s yesterday and today we get to see the custom models such as the Sapphire TOXIC R9 270X which Legit Reviews just finished benchmarking.  The TOXIC sports a 100MHz overclock on both GPU and RAM as well as a custom cooler with three fans.  While it remains a two slot GPU it is longer than the reference model and requires a full foot of clearance inside the case.  Read on to see what kind of performance boost you can expect and how much further you can push this card.

sapphire-amd-r9-270x-645x486.jpg

"When it comes to discrete graphics, the $199 price point is known as the gamer’s sweet spot by both AMD and NVIDIA. This is arguably the front line in the battle for your money when it coming to gaming graphics cards. The AMD Radeon R9 270X is AMD’s offering to gamers at this competitive price point. Read on to see how it performs!"

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Hello again Tahiti

Subject: Graphics Cards | October 8, 2013 - 02:30 PM |
Tagged: amd, GCN, graphics core next, hd 7790, hd 7870 ghz edition, hd 7970 ghz edition, r7 260x, r9 270x, r9 280x, radeon, ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP

AMD's rebranded cards have arrived, though with a few improvements to the GCN architecture that we already know so well.  This particular release seems to be focused on price for performance which is certainly not a bad thing in these uncertain times.  The 7970 GHz Edition launched at $500, while the new R9 280X will arrive at $300 which is a rather significant price drop and one which we hope doesn't damage AMD's bottom line too badly in the coming quarters.  [H]ard|OCP chose the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP to test, with a custom PCB from ASUS and a mild overclock which helped it pull ahead of the 7970 GHz.  AMD has tended towards leading off new graphics card families with the low and midrange models, we have yet to see the top of the line R9 290X in action yet.

Ryan's review, including frame pacing, can be found right here.

H_1381134778LXpy2pFUWk_1_6_l.jpg

"We evaluate the new ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP video card and compare it to GeForce GTX 770 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. We will find out which video card provides the best value and performance in the $300 price segment. Does it provide better performance a than its "competition" in the ~$400 price range?"

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: [H]ard|OCP
Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

The AMD Radeon R9 280X

Today marks the first step in an introduction of an entire AMD Radeon discrete graphics product stack revamp. Between now and the end of 2013, AMD will completely cycle out Radeon HD 7000 cards and replace them with a new branding scheme. The "HD" branding is on its way out and it makes sense. Consumers have moved on to UHD and WQXGA display standards; HD is no longer extraordinary.

But I want to be very clear and upfront with you: today is not the day that you’ll learn about the new Hawaii GPU that AMD promised would dominate the performance per dollar metrics for enthusiasts.  The Radeon R9 290X will be a little bit down the road.  Instead, today’s review will look at three other Radeon products: the R9 280X, the R9 270X and the R7 260X.  None of these products are really “new”, though, and instead must be considered rebrands or repositionings. 

There are some changes to discuss with each of these products, including clock speeds and more importantly, pricing.  Some are specific to a certain model, others are more universal (such as updated Eyefinity display support). 

Let’s start with the R9 280X.

 

AMD Radeon R9 280X – Tahiti aging gracefully

The AMD Radeon R9 280X is built from the exact same ASIC (chip) that powers the previous Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition with a few modest changes.  The core clock speed of the R9 280X is actually a little bit lower at reference rates than the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition by about 50 MHz.  The R9 280X GPU will hit a 1.0 GHz rate while the previous model was reaching 1.05 GHz; not much a change but an interesting decision to be made for sure.

Because of that speed difference the R9 280X has a lower peak compute capability of 4.1 TFLOPS compared to the 4.3 TFLOPS of the 7970 GHz.  The memory clock speed is the same (6.0 Gbps) and the board power is the same, with a typical peak of 250 watts.

280x-1.jpg

Everything else remains the same as you know it on the HD 7970 cards.  There are 2048 stream processors in the Tahiti version of AMD’s GCN (Graphics Core Next), 128 texture units and 32 ROPs all being pushed by a 384-bit GDDR5 memory bus running at 6.0 GHz.  Yep, still with a 3GB frame buffer.

Continue reading our review of the AMD Radeon R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X!!!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Earth Shattering?

AMD is up to some interesting things.  Today at AMD’s tech day, we discovered a veritable cornucopia of information.  Some of it was pretty interesting (audio), some was discussed ad-naseum (audio, audio, and more audio), and one thing in particular was quite shocking.  Mantle was the final, big subject that AMD was willing to discuss.  Many assumed that the R9 290X would be the primary focus of this talk, but in fact it very much was an aside that was not discussed at any length.  AMD basically said, “Yes, the card exists, and it has some new features that we are not going to really go over at this time.”  Mantle, as a technology, is at the same time a logical step as well as an unforeseen one.  So what all does Mantle mean for users?

mantle_diag_01.jpg

Looking back through the mists of time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the individual 3D chip makers all implemented low level APIs that allowed programmers to get closer to the silicon than what other APIs such as Direct3D and OpenGL would allow.  This was a very efficient way of doing things in terms of graphics performance.  It was an inefficient way to do things for a developer writing code for multiple APIs.  Microsoft and the Kronos Group had solutions with Direct3D and OpenGL that allowed these programmers to develop for these high level APIs very simply (comparatively so).  The developers could write code that would run D3D/OpenGL, and the graphics chip manufacturers would write drivers that would interface with Direct3D/OpenGL, which then go through a hardware abstraction layer to communicate with the hardware.  The onus was then on the graphics people to create solid, high performance drivers that would work well with DirectX or OpenGL, so the game developer would not have to code directly for a multitude of current and older graphics cards.

Read the entire article here.

Move over Intel, AMD has an announcement too

Subject: General Tech | September 10, 2013 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: Steppe Eagle, SoC, Hierofalcon, GCN, Bald Eagle, amd, Adelaar

AMD have announced their new mobile roadmap and have changed their naming scheme drastically for these new processors.  The first of their ARM based processors will be called Hierofalcon and feature up to eight Cortex A57 processors capable of hitting 2GHz with a pair of 64-bit ECC DDR3 or DDR4 memory channels.  It will be a true SoC and feature both network and PCIe controllers as well as support for ARM's TrustZone.  Bald Eagle will have Steamroller cores and will be low TDP processors with a maximum of 35W and allow you to configure the maximum TDP to even lower levels if you so wish.  The final announcement dealt with the new GCN-based embedded series of GPUs called Adelaar which arrive in three different packages, a multi-chip module, a mobile PCIe module and a discrete GPU.  You can glean a bit more about these new families at DigiTimes.  

1_b.jpg

"AMD has disclosed its roadmap for the embedded computing market, as it becomes the first company to offer both ARM and x86 processor solutions for low-power and high-performance embedded compute designs. The new lineup includes two x86 accelerated processing units (APUs) and CPUs, a high-performance ARM system-on-chip (SoC) and a new family of discrete AMD Embedded Radeon graphics processing units (GPUs) expected to launch in 2014."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: DigiTimes

GCN-Based AMD 7000 Series GPUs Will Fully Support DirectX 11.2 After Driver Update

Subject: Graphics Cards | August 25, 2013 - 10:24 PM |
Tagged: amd, Windows 8.1, microsoft, directx 11.2, graphics cards, gaming, GCN

Earlier this month, several websites reported that AMD’s latest Graphics Core Next (GCN) based graphics cards (7000 series and 8000 series OEM lines) would not be compatible with the Windows 8.1-only DirectX 11.2 API. This was inferred from a statement made by AMD engineer Laylah Mah in an interview with c1 Magazin.

AMD Radeon 7970 GHz Edition.jpg

An AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition.

Fortunately, the GCN-based cards will fully support DirectX 11.2 once an updated driver has been released. As it turns out, Microsoft’s final DirectX 11.2 specification ended up being slightly different than what AMD expected. As a result, the graphics cards do not currently fully support the API. The issue is not one of hardware, however, and an updated driver can allow the GCN-based 7000 series hardware to fully support the latest DirectX 11.2 API and major new features such as tiled resources.

The updated driver will reportedly be released sometime in October to coincide with Microsoft’s release of Windows 8.1. Specifically, Maximum PC quoted AMD in stating the following:

"The Radeon HD 7000 series hardware architecture is fully DirectX 11.2-capable when used with a driver that enables this feature. AMD is planning to enable DirectX 11.2 with a driver update in the Windows 8.1 launch timeframe in October, when DirectX 11.2 ships. Today, AMD is the only GPU manufacturer to offer fully-compatible DirectX 11.1 support, and the only manufacturer to support Tiled Resources Tier-2 within a shipping product stack.”

So fret not, Radeon 7000-series owners, you will be able to fully utilize DX 11.2 and all its features once games start implementing them, and assuming you upgrade to Windows 8.1.

Source: Maximum PC

PowerColor Releases Devil HD 7870 Graphics Card

Subject: Graphics Cards | July 16, 2013 - 02:52 AM |
Tagged: powercolor, devil hd 7870, hd 7870, amd, GCN

Nearly a year ago, PowerColor launched the massive “Devil 13” Radeon HD 7990 graphics card. Now, the company is releasing a new Devil-series single GPU card called the Devil HD 7870. This card combines a huge dual slot, triple fan HSF with a factory overclocked Graphics Core Next-based Radeon HD 7870 GPU.

Powercolor Devil HD 7870 Graphics Card.jpeg

The upcoming Devil HD 7870 features a factory overclocked 7870 “Pitcairn” GPU clocked at 1100 MHz and 2GB of GDDR5 clocked at 1250 MHz. As a refresher, the 7870 has 1,280 stream processors, 80 Texture Units, and 32 ROPs along with a 256-bit memory bus. The reference AMD Radeon HD 7870 graphics card has a GPU clockspeed of 1000 MHz and memory clockspeed of 1200 MHz.

To differentiate its card, PowerColor is pairing the factory overclocked GPU and memory with a triple fan (four heatpipe and aluminum fin stack) cooler similar in design to the Devil 13’s HSF. The card also features PowerColor’s “Platinum Power Kit” which entails a 7+1+1 power phase with digital VRMs and so-called “Super Capacitors.” PowerColor claims that its triple fan cooler runs 25% cooler and 18% quieter than the reference AMD cooler.

Powercolor Devil HD 7870.jpeg

The Devil HD 7870 offers up a DL-DVI, DVI, HDMI, and two Mini-DisplayPort video outputs. It is powered by two 6-pin PCI-E power connectors.

There is no word on pricing or availability, but expect the Devil-branded card to come at a premium (possibly around $270 MSRP).

Read more about AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture at PC Perspective.

Source: PowerColor