Subject: Processors | July 9, 2014 - 05:42 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: nvidia, msi, Luxmark, Lightning, hsa, GTX 580, GCN, APU, amd, A88X, A10-7850K
When I first read many of the initial AMD A10 7850K reviews, my primary question was how would the APU act if there was a different GPU installed on the system and did not utilize the CrossFire X functionality that AMD talked about. Typically when a user installs a standalone graphics card on the AMD FM2/FM2+ platform, they disable the graphics portion of the APU. They also have to uninstall the AMD Catalyst driver suite. So this then leaves the APU as a CPU only, and all of that graphics silicon is left silent and dark.
Who in their right mind would pair a high end graphics card with the A10-7850K? This guy!
Does this need to be the case? Absolutely not! The GCN based graphics unit on the latest Kaveri APUs is pretty powerful when used in GPGPU/OpenCL applications. The 4 cores/2 modules and 8 GCN cores can push out around 856 GFlops when fully utilized. We also must consider that the APU is the first fully compliant HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) chip, and it handles memory accesses much more efficiently than standalone GPUs. The shared memory space with the CPU gets rid of a lot of the workarounds typically needed for GPGPU type applications. It makes sense that users would want to leverage the performance potential of a fully functioning APU while upgrading their overall graphics performance with a higher end standalone GPU.
To get this to work is very simple. Assuming that the user has been using the APU as their primary graphics controller, they should update to the latest Catalyst drivers. If the user is going to use an AMD card, then it would behoove them to totally uninstall the Catalyst driver and re-install only after the new card is installed. After this is completed restart the machine, go into the UEFI, and change the primary video boot device to PEG (PCI-Express Graphics) from the integrated unit. Save the setting and shut down the machine. Insert the new video card and attach the monitor cable(s) to it. Boot the machine and either re-install the Catalyst suite if an AMD card is used, or install the latest NVIDIA drivers if that is the graphics choice.
Windows 7 and Windows 8 allow users to install multiple graphics drivers from different vendors. In my case I utilized a last generation GTX 580 (the MSI N580GTX Lightning) along with the AMD A10 7850K. These products coexist happily together on the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard. The monitor is attached to the NVIDIA card and all games are routed through that since it is the primary graphics adapter. Performance seems unaffected with both drivers active.
I find it interesting that the GPU portion of the APU is named "Spectre". Who owns those 3dfx trademarks anymore?
When I load up Luxmark I see three entries: the APU (CPU and GPU portions), the GPU portion of the APU, and then the GTX 580. Luxmark defaults to the GPUs. We see these GPUs listed as “Spectre”, which is the GCN portion of the APU, and the NVIDIA GTX 580. Spectre supports OpenCL 1.2 while the GTX 580 is an OpenCL 1.1 compliant part.
With both GPUs active I can successfully run the Luxmark “Sala” test. The two units perform better together than when they are run separately. Adding in the CPU does increase the score, but not by very much (my guess here is that the APU is going to be very memory bandwidth bound in such a situation). Below we can see the results of the different units separate and together.
These results make me hopeful about the potential of AMD’s latest APU. It can run side by side with a standalone card, and applications can leverage the performance of this unit. Now all we need is more HSA aware software. More time and more testing is needed for setups such as this, and we need to see if HSA enabled software really does see a boost from using the GPU portion of the APU as compared to a pure CPU piece of software or code that will run on the standalone GPU.
Personally I find the idea of a heterogeneous solution such as this appealing. The standalone graphics card handles the actual graphics portions, the CPU handles that code, and the HSA software can then fully utilize the graphics portion of the APU in a very efficient manner. Unfortunately, we do not have hard numbers on the handful of HSA aware applications out there, especially when used in conjunction with standalone graphics. We know in theory that this can work (and should work), but until developers get out there and really optimize their code for such a solution, we simply do not know if having an APU will really net the user big gains as compared to something like the i7 4770 or 4790 running pure x86 code.
In the meantime, at least we know that these products work together without issue. The mixed mode OpenCL results make a nice case for improving overall performance in such a system. I would imagine with more time and more effort from developers, we could see some really interesting implementations that will fully utilize a system such as this one. Until then, happy experimenting!
Subject: Editorial | June 12, 2014 - 02:28 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: Z97X-SOC Force, video, titan z, radeon, project tango, podcast, plextor, nvidia, Lightning, gtx titan z, gigabyte, geforce, E3 14, amd, 4790k, 290x
PC Perspective Podcast #304 - 06/12/2014
We have lots of reviews to talk about this week including the GeForce GTX TITAN Z, Core i7-4790K, Gigabyte Z97X-SOC Force, E3 News and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom and Allyn Maleventano
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0:03:45 Podcast #305 with David Hewlett!
Week in Review:
News items of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
0:57:40 Ryan: Ken's Switching Hardware
1:02:15 Josh: This saved me last weekend.
1:04:00 Allyn: Sony DSC-RX10
With the GPU landscape mostly settled for 2014, we have the ability to really dig in and evaluate the retail models that continue to pop up from NVIDIA and AMD board partners. One of our favorite series of graphics cards over the years comes from MSI in the form of the Lightning brand. These cards tend to take the engineering levels to a point other designers simply won't do - and we love it! Obviously the target of this capability is additional overclocking headroom and stability, but what if the GPU target has issues scaling already?
That is more or less the premise of the Radeon R9 290X Lightning from MSI. AMD's Radeon R9 290X Hawaii GPU is definitely a hot and power hungry part and that caused quite a few issues at the initial release. Since then though, both AMD and its add-in card partners have worked to improve the coolers installed on these cards to improve performance reliability and decrease the LOUD NOISES produced by the stock, reference cooler.
Let's dive into the latest to hit our test bench, the MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning.
The MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning
MSI continues to utilize the yellow and black color scheme that many of the company's high end parts integrate and I love the combination. I know that both NVIDIA and AMD disapprove of the distinct lack of "green" and "red" in the cooler and box designs, but good on MSI for sticking to its own thing.
The box for the Lightning card is equal to the prominence of the card itself and you even get a nifty drawer for all of the included accessories.
We originally spotted the MSI R9 290X Lightning at CES in January and the design remains the same. The cooler is quite large (and damn heavy) and is cooled by a set of three fans. The yellow fan in the center is smaller and spins a bit faster, creating more noise than I would prefer. All fan speeds can be adjusted with MSI's included fan control software.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | January 9, 2014 - 01:40 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: CES, CES 2014, msi, 290x, radeon, amd, Lightning, R9 290X
The MSI Lightning series of graphics cards continues to be one of the best high end enthusiast lines available as we have seen with our reviews of the MSI GeForce GTX 780 Lightning and the R7970 Lightning. At CES this week in Las Vegas the company was showcasing the upcoming card in the series based on the latest AMD Hawaii GPU.
The MSI R9 290X Lightning features an updated triple cooler design and heat pipe cooler that appears to be truly impressive. If the weight of the card is any indication, this GPU should be running considerably cooler than most of the competition.
MSI has included a dual BIOS option, updated Military Class 4 components and hardware but be prepared to sacrifice three slots of your motherboard to this monster. Power requirements are interesting with a pair of 8-pin power connectors and a single 6-pin connector, though the 6-pin is going to optional.
The power of the card still comes from AMD's latest R9 290X Hawaii GPU, so you can be sure you'll have enough gaming power for just about any situation. We implored MSI to make sure that the overclocks of this card, probably in the 1050-1100 MHz range, are maintained consistently through extended game play to avoid any awkward variance discussions.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
A New TriFrozr Cooler
Graphics cards are by far the most interesting topic we cover at PC Perspective. Between the battles of NVIDIA and AMD as well as the competition between board partners like EVGA, ASUS, MSI and Galaxy, there is very rarely a moment in time when we don't have a different GPU product of some kind on an active test bed. Both NVIDIA and AMD release reference cards (for the most part) with each and every new product launch and it then takes some time for board partners to really put their own stamp on the designs. Other than the figurative stamp that is the sticker on the fan.
One of the companies that has recently become well known for very custom, non-reference graphics card designs is MSI and the pinnacle of the company's engineering falls into the Lightning brand. As far back as the MSI GTX 260 Lightning and as recently as the MSI HD 7970 Lightning, these cards have combined unique cooling, custom power design and good amount of over engineering to really produce a card that has few rivals.
Today we are looking at the brand new MSI GeForce GTX 780 Lightning, a complete revamp of the GTX 780 that was released in May. Based on the same GK110 GPU as the GTX Titan card, with two fewer SMX units, the GTX 780 easily the second fastest single GPU card on the market. MSI is hoping to make the enthusiasts even more excited about the card with the Lightning design that brings a brand new TriFrozr cooler, impressive power design and overclocking capabilities that basic users and LN2 junkies can take advantage of. Just what DO you get for $750 these days?
Spicing up the GTX 670
The Power Edition graphics card series from MSI is a relatively new addition to its lineup. The Power Edition often mimics that of the higher-end Lightning series, but at a far lower price (and perhaps a smaller feature set). This allows MSI to split the difference between the reference class boards and the high end Lightning GPUs.
Doing this allows users a greater variety of products to choose from, and to better tailor users' purchases by their needs and financial means. Not everyone wants to pay $600 for a GTX 680 Lightning, but what if someone was able to get similar cooling, quality, and overclocking potential for a much lower price? This is what MSI has done with one of its latest Power Edition cards.
The GTX 670 Power Edition
The NVIDIA GTX 670 cards have received accolades throughout the review press. It is a great combination of performance, power consumption, heat production, and price. It certainly caused AMD a great amount of alarm, and it hurriedly cut prices on the HD 7900 series of cards in response. The GTX 670 is a slightly cut-down version of the full GTX 680, and it runs very close to the clock speed of its bigger brother. In fact, other than texture and stream unit count, the cards are nearly identical.
Will it Strike Again?
It can now be claimed that we are arguably in our 4th generation of Lightning products from MSI. It can also be claimed that the 3rd generation of products really put that brand on the mainstream map. The R6970 and N580GTX (and XE version) set new standards for enthusiast grade graphics cards. Outstanding construction, unique pcb design, high quality (and quantity) of components, and a good eye for overall price have all been hallmarks of these cards. These were honestly some of my favorite video cards of all time. Call me biased, but I think when looking through other reviews those writers felt much the same. MSI certainly hit a couple of homeruns with their three Lightning offerings of 2011.
Time does not stand still. Resting on laurels is always the surest way to lose out to more aggressive competitors. It is now 2012 and AMD has already launched the latest generation of HD 7000 chips, with the top end being the HD 7970. This particular product was launched in late December, but cards were not available until January 9th of 2012. We are now at the end of March where we see a decent volume of products on the shelves, as well as some of the first of the non-reference designs hitting the streets. Currently Asus has its DirectCU II based 7970, but now we finally get to see the Lightning treatment.
MSI has not sat upon their laurels it seems. They are taking an aggressive approach to the new Lightning series of cards, and they implement quite a few unique features that have not been seen on any other product before. Now the question is did they pull it off? Throwing more features at something does not necessarily equal success. The increase in complexity of a design combined with other unknowns with the new features could make it a failure. Just look at the R5870 Lightning for proof. That particular card tread new ground, but did so in a way that did not adequately differentiate itself from reference HD 5870 designs. So what is new and how does it run? Let us dig in!
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 6, 2012 - 08:55 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Twin Frozr, R7970, R7870, msi, Lightning, hd 7950, hd 7850, HD 77750, hd 7770, hawk
The Romanian site Lab 501 was able to snap some shots and get some information about the latest generation of custom built graphics products from MSI. We had actually talked to Alex Chang of MSI about what Twin Frozr IV would bring to the table, but today we actually get to see the (nearly) finished parts.
It looks as if MSI is changing around their color scheme, but the heatsink remains as big as the previous generation's. (image courtesy of Lab 501)
The products shown were of course only the AMD based parts, as the NVIDIA Kepler products are still under wraps (but apparently should see the light of day later this month). MSI is giving the full Twin Frozr IV treatment to every HD 7750 and above part. The HD 7970 is getting the Lightning edition with all the bells and whistles, while the HD 7870 is going under the Hawk brand.
We have few details about what all Twin Frozr IV includes, but it keeps the propeller blades and the anti-dust technology that we first saw in the N580GTX Lightning. From the shots we have, it does not appear that they will be using the temperature sensitive fan units that actually change color when going above 45C.
They were able to take a good shot of the board without the heatsink, and it is just as jam packed as the previous Lightning products. (image courtesy of Lab 501)
The Lightning will feature a total of 4 Display Ports and 2 DVI ports, so it can support up to 6 monitors at once. This appears similar to what Asus did with the EAH6950 and EAH6970 cards that were recently reviewed here. The Hawk will only feature 2 Display Ports, HDMI, and DVI-I. The rest of the lineup looks like reference based cards with custom Twin Frozr IV coolers.
It is good to see MSI continues with the more affordable Hawk brand. (image courtesy of Lab 501)
Of particular interest is the board design of the Lightning card. It is simply jam packed with power regulation components and the new "Twin Form-in-One" bracing system which supports both sides of the PCB with metal plates to minimize warping, improve cooling, and funnel airflow. Looking at the back of the card reveals the plate having a nice sized hole in it which would be perfect for another fan to cool all of the components on the back. More digging has informed us that it is actually a removable "GPU Reactor Core". More details should be available soon.
MSI's Alex Chang Speaks Up
MSI was founded in 1986 and started producing motherboards and video cards for the quickly growing PC market. Throughout the life of the company they have further diversified their offerings to include barebones systems, notebooks, networking/communication devices, and industrial products. While MSI has a nice base of products, they are still primarily a motherboard and video card company. In the past 10 years MSI has become one of the top brands in North America for video cards, and they have taken a very aggressive approach to design with these products.
I had the chance to send MSI quite a few questions concerning their video card business and how they develop their products.
What is your name, title, and how long have you worked at MSI?
My name is Bob, and I’m…. actually, I’m just Alex Chang. I’m the Associate Marketing Manager. I’ve been with the company for 2 years.
Typically how long does it take from the original reference design card release to when we can first expect to see a Twin Frozr III based card hit retail? How much longer does it take to create the “Lightning” based products?
Historically, we’ve seen the introduction of a non-reference thermal solution within 2-4 weeks of product launch. As an example, GTX580 was launched in November 2010, and by December there was already a reference PCB GTX580 w/ the Twin Frozr II cooler.
In the case of Lightning cards, the development timeframe is longer due to more R&D, validation, and procurement of components. With GTX580, the timeframe was around 6 months, but moving forward MSI is pulling in the launch timeframe of our flagship products.
A Thing of Beauty
Tired of hearing about MSI’s latest video cards? Me neither! It seems we have been on a roll lately with the latest and greatest from MSI, but happily that will soon change. In the meantime, we do have another MSI card to go over. This one is probably the most interesting of the group so far. It also is very, very expensive for a single GPU product. This card is obviously not for everyone, but there is a market for such high end parts still.
The N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition is the latest entry to the high end, single GPU market. This is an area that MSI has been really leading the way in terms of features and performance. Their Lightning series, since the NVIDIA GTX 2x0 days, has been redefining that particular market with unique designs that offer tangible benefits over reference based cards. MSI initially released the N580GTX Lightning to high accolades, but with this card they have added a few significant features.
Continuing reading our review of the MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition!!
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