Introduction and Specifications
Several weeks ago, during an episode of the PC Perspective Podcast, we talked about a new all-in-one machine from MSI with a focus on gaming. Featuring a quad-core Intel Haswell processor and a GeForce GTX 980M GPU, the MSI AG270 2QE takes the best available hardware for mobile gaming and stuffs them into a machine with an integrated 1080p touch screen. The result is likely to be the most potent gaming AIO that you will find available; it should be more than capable of tackling modern games at the integrated panel's 1920x1080 resolution.
A gaming all-in-one is an interesting idea - a cross between the typical gaming desktop and a gaming laptop, an AIO splits the difference in a couple of interesting ways. It's more portable than a desktop and monitor combination for sure, but definitely heavier and bulkier than MSI's own GT72 for example. The AG270 offers a much larger screen (at 1080p) than any gaming notebook on its own, which improves the overall gaming experience without the need for additional hardware. While not ideal, it is totally feasible to take the AG270 with you to a neighbor's house for some LAN party action.
So what do you get with the MSI AG270 2QE, and more specifically, with the 037US kit we are reviewing today? Let's find out.
Continue reading our review of the MSI AG270 2QE-037US gaming all-in-one!!
It has been a couple of months since the release of the GeForce GTX 970 and the GM204 GPU that it is based on. After the initial wave of stock on day one, NVIDIA had admittedly struggled to keep these products available. Couple that with rampant concerns over coil whine from some non-reference designs, and you could see why we were a bit hesitant to focus and spend our time on retail GTX 970 reviews.
These issues appear to be settled for the most part. Finding GeForce GTX 970 cards is no longer a problem and users with coil whine are getting RMA replacements from NVIDIA's partners. Because of that, we feel much more comfortable reporting our results with the various retail cards that we have in house, and you'll see quite a few reviews coming from PC Perspective in the coming weeks.
But let's start with the MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Gaming card. Based on user reviews, this is one of the most popular retail cards. MSI's Gaming series of cards combines a custom cooler that typically runs quieter and more efficient than reference design, and it comes with a price tag that is within arms reach of the lower cost options as well.
The MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Gaming
MSI continues with its Dragon Army branding, and its associated black/red color scheme, which I think is appealing to a wide range of users. I'm sure NVIDIA would like to see a green or neutral color scheme, but hey, there are only so many colors to go around.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 14, 2014 - 11:46 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: sli, nvidia, N980X3WA-4GD, maxwell, GTX 980, gigabyte, geforce, 3-way
Earlier this week, a new product showed up on Gigabyte's website that has garnered quite a bit of attention. The GA-N980X3WA-4GD WaterForce Tri-SLI is a 3-Way SLI system with integrated water cooling powered by a set of three GeForce GTX 980 GPUs.
That. Looks. Amazing.
What you are looking at is a 3-Way closed loop water cooling system with an external enclosure to hold the radiators while providing a display full of information including temperatures, fans speeds and more. Specifications on the Gigabyte site are limited for now, but we can infer a lot from them:
- WATERFORCE :3-WAY SLI Water Cooling System
- Real-Time Display and Control
- Flex Display Technology
- Powered by NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPU
- Integrated with 4GB GDDR5 memory 256-bit memory interface(Single Card)
- Features Dual-link DVI-I / DVI-D / HDMI / DisplayPort*3(Single Card)
- BASE: 1228 MHz / BOOST: 1329 MHz
- System power supply requirement: 1200W(with six 8-pin external power connectors)
The GPUs on each card are your standard GeForce GTX 980 with 4GB of memory (we reviewed it here) though they are running at overclocked base and boost clock speeds, as you would hope with all that water cooling power behind it. You will need a 1200+ watt power supply for this setup, which makes sense considering the GPU horsepower you'll have access to.
Another interesting feature Gigabyte is listing is called GPU Gauntlet Sorting.
With GPU Gauntlet™ Sorting, the Gigabyte SOC graphics card guarantees the higher overclocking capability in terms of excellent power switching.
Essentially, Gigabyte is going to make sure that the GPUs on the WaterForce Tri-SLI are the best they can get their hands on, with the best chance for overclocking higher than stock.
Setup looks interesting - the radiators and fans will be in the external enclosure with tubing passing into the system through a 5.25-in bay. It will need to have quick connect/disconnect points at either the GPU or radiator to make that installation method possible.
Pricing and availability are still unknown, but don't expect to get it cheap. With the GTX 980 still selling for at least $550, you should expect something in the $2000 range or above with all the custom hardware and fittings involved.
Can I get two please?
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 13, 2014 - 12:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, gtx 960, maxwell
It is possible that a shipping invoice fragment was leaked for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960. Of course, an image of text on a plain, white background is one of the easiest things to fake and/or manipulate, so take it with a grain of salt.
The GTX 960 is said to have 4GB of RAM on the same, 256-bit bus. Its video outputs are listed as two DVI, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort, making this graphics card useful for just one G-Sync monitor per card. If I'm reading it correctly, it also seems to have a 993 MHz base clock (boost clock unlisted) and an effective 6008 MHz (1500 MHz actual) RAM clock. This is slightly below the 7 GHz (1750 MHz actual) of the GTX 970 and GTX 980 parts, but it should also be significantly cheaper.
The GeForce GTX 960 is expected to retail in the low-$200 price point... some day.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 03:45 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: asus, strix, GTX 970 STRIX DirectCU II OC, GTX 970, nvidia, maxwell
When ASUS originally kicked off their new STRIX line they gained popularity not only due to the decent overclock and efficient custom cooler but also because there was only a small price premium over the base model. At a price of $400 on Amazon the card has a price inline with other overclocked models, some base models can be up to $50 less. [H]ard|OCP investigated this card to see what benefits you could expect from the model in this review, comparing it to the R290 and 290X. Out of the box the card runs at a core of 1253 -1266MHz and memory of 7GHz, with a bit of overvolting they saw a stable core of 1473 - 1492MHz and memory of 7.832GHz.
With the new price of the 290X dipping as low as $330 it makes for an interesting choice for GPU shoppers. The NVIDIA card is far more power efficient and the fans operate at 0dB until the GPU hits 65C, which [H] did not see until after running at full load for a time and even then the highest their manually overclocked card hit was 70C. On the other hand the AMD card costs $70 less and offers very similar performance. It is always nice to see competition in the market.
"Today we examine ASUS' take on the GeForce GTX 970 video card. We have the ASUS GTX 970 STRIX DirectCU II OC video card today, and will break down its next-gen performance against an AMD Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X. This video card features 0dB fans, and many factors that improve its chance of extreme overclocking."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Alien: Isolation - Video Card Performance @ [H]ard|OCP
- GTX 970 Roundup (EVGA, GALAX, Gigabyte) @ Hardware Canucks
- MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G Review @ OCC
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 @ X-bit Labs
- MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G @ X-bit Labs
- Gainward GTX 980 & GTX 970 Phantom @ Legion Hardware
- NZXT Kraken G10 Graphics Adapter: Cooler, and also Quieter @ Silent PC Reivew
- AMD's Windows Catalyst Driver Remains Largely Faster Than Linux Drivers @ Phoronix
- HIS R9 285 IceQ X2 OC 2GB GDDR5 Video Card Review @ Madshrimps
- Sapphire R9 290X Vapor X 8GB CF @ Kitguru
- Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 8GB @ eTeknix
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 28, 2014 - 12:09 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: maxwell, GTX 970, geforce, coil whine
Coil whine is the undesirable effect of electrical components creating audible noise when operating. Let's look to our friends at Wikipedia for a concise and accurate description of the phenomenon:
Coil noise is, as its name suggests, caused by electromagnetic coils. These coils, which may act as inductors or transformers, have a certain resonant frequency when coupled with the rest of the electric circuit, as well as a resonance at which it will tend to physically vibrate.
As the wire that makes up the coil passes a variable current, a small amount of electrical oscillation occurs, creating a small magnetic field. Normally this magnetic field simply works to establish the inductance of the coil. However, this magnetic field can also cause the coil itself to physically vibrate. As the coil vibrates physically, it moves through a variable magnetic field, and feeds its resonance back into the system. This can produce signal interference in the circuit and an audible hum as the coil vibrates.
Coil noise can happen, for example, when the coil is poorly secured to the circuit board, is poorly damped, or if the resonant frequency of the coil is close to the resonant frequency of the electric circuit. The effect becomes more pronounced as the signal passing through the coil increases in strength, and as it nears the resonant frequency of the coil, or as it nears the resonant frequency of the circuit. Coil noise is also noticed most often when it is in the humanly audible frequency.
Coil noise is also affected by the irregularities of the magnetic material within the coil. The flux density of the inductor is effected by these irregularities, causing small currents in the coil, contaminating the original signal. This particular subset of is sometimes referred to as magnetic fluctuation noise or the Barkhausen effect. Coil noise can also occur in conjunction with the noise produced by magnetostriction.
Gamers that frequently upgrade their graphics cards may have been witness to this problem with a particular install, or you might have been one of the lucky ones to never deal with the issue. If your computer sits under your desk, in a loud room or you only game with headphones, it's also possible that you just never noticed.
Possibly offending inductors?
The reason this comes up to today is that reports are surfacing of GeForce GTX 970 cards from various graphics card vendors exhibiting excessive coil whine or coil noise. These reports are coming in from multiple forum threads around the internet, a collection of YouTube videos of users attempting to capture the issue and even official statements from some of NVIDIA's partners. Now, just because the internet is talking about it doesn't necessarily mean it's a "big deal" relative to the number of products being sold. However, after several Twitter comments and emails requesting we look into the issue, I thought it was pertinent to start asking questions.
As far as I can tell today, GTX 970 cards from multiple vendors including EVGA, MSI and Gigabyte all have users reporting issues and claims of excessive coil noise. For my part here, I have two EVGA GTX 970 cards and an MSI GTX 970, none of which are producing sound at what I would call "excessive" levels. Everyone's opinion of excessive noise is going to vary, but as someone who sits next to a desk-high test bed and hears hundreds of cards a year, I am confident I have a good idea of what to listen for.
We are still gathering data on this potential issue, but a few of the companies mentioned above have issued official or semi-official statements on the problem.
The coil whine issue is not specific to 900 series, but can happen with any high end GPU and that MSI is looking in to ways to minimize the issue. If you still have concern regarding this issue, then please contact our RMA department.
We have been watching the early feedback on GTX 970 and inductor noise very closely, and have actively taken steps to improve this. We urge anyone who has this type of concern to contact our support so we can address it directly.
We’re aware of a small percentage of users reporting excessive “coil whine” noises and are actively looking into the issue.
We are waiting for feedback from other partners to see how they plan to respond.
Since all of the GTX 970 cards currently shipping are non-reference, custom built PCB designs, NVIDIA's input to the problem is one mostly of recommendations. NVIDIA knows that it is their name and brand being associated with any noisy GeForce cards so I would expect a lot of discussions and calls being had behind closed doors to make sure partners are addressing user concerns.
Interestingly, the GeForce GTX 970 was the one card of this Maxwell release where all of NVIDIA's partners chose to go the route of custom designs rather than adopting the NVIDIA reference design. On the GTX 980, however, you'll find a mix of both and I would wager that NVIDIA's reference boards do not exhibit any above average noise levels from coils. (I have actually tested four reference GTX 980s without coil whine coming into play.) Sometimes offering all of these companies the option to be creative and to differentiate can back-fire if the utmost care isn't taken in component selection.
Ironically the fix is simple: a little glue on those vibrating inductor coils and the problem goes away. But most of the components are sealed making the simple fix a non-starter for the end user (and I wouldn't recommend doing that anyway). It does point to a lack of leadership from board manufacturers that are willing to skimp on hardware in such a way to make this a big enough issue that I am sitting here writing about this today.
As an aside, if you hear coil whine when running a game at 500-5000 FPS, I don't think that counts as being a major problem for your gaming. I have seen a video or two running a DX9 render test at over 4500 FPS - pretty much any card built today will make noises you don't expect when hitting that kind of performance level.
As for my non-official discussions on the topics with various parties, everyone continues to reiterate that the problem is not as widespread as the some of the forum threads would have you believe. It's definitely higher than normal, and getting public acknowledgements from EVGA and MSI basically confirms that, but one person told me the complaint and RMA levels are where they were expected to be consider the "massively fast sell out rates" the GTX 970 is experiencing.
Of course, AMD isn't immune to coil whine issues either. If you remember back to the initial launch of the Radeon R9 290X and R9 290, we had similar coil whine issues and experienced those first hand on reference card designs. (You can see a video I recorded of an XFX unit back in November of 2013 here.) You can still find threads on popular forums from that time period discussing the issue and YouTube never seems to forget anything, so there's that. Of course, the fact that previous card launches might have seen issues along the same line doesn't forgive the issue in current or later card releases, but it does put things into context.
So, let's get some user feedback; I want to hear from GTX 970 owners about their experiences to help guide our direction of research going forward.
A Civ for a New Generation
Turn-based strategy games have long been defined by the Civilization series. Civ 5 took up hours and hours of the PC Perspective team's non-working hours (and likely the working ones too) and it looks like the new Civilization: Beyond Earth has the chance to do the same. Early reviews of the game from Gamespot, IGN, and Polygon are quite positive, and that's great news for a PC-only release; they can sometimes get overlooked in the games' media.
For us, the game offers an interesting opportunity to discuss performance. Beyond Earth is definitely going to be more CPU-bound than the other games that we tend to use in our benchmark suite, but the fact that this game is new, shiny, and even has a Mantle implementation (AMD's custom API) makes interesting for at least a look at the current state of performance. Both NVIDIA and AMD sent have released drivers with specific optimization for Beyond Earth as well. This game is likely to be popular and it deserves the attention it gets.
Civilization: Beyond Earth, a turn-based strategy game that can take a very long time to complete, ships with an integrated benchmark mode to help users and the industry test performance under different settings and hardware configurations. To enable it, you simple add "-benchmark results.csv" to the Steam game launch options and then start up the game normally. Rather than taking you to the main menu, you'll be transported into a view of a map that represents a somewhat typical gaming state for a long term session. The game will use the last settings you ran the game at to measure your system's performance, without the modified launch options, so be sure to configure that before you prepare to benchmark.
The output of this is the "result.csv" file, saved to your Steam game install root folder. In there, you'll find a list of numbers, separated by commas, representing the frame times for each frame rendering during the run. You don't get averages, a minimum, or a maximum without doing a little work. Fire up Excel or Google Docs and remember the formula:
1000 / Average (All Frame Times) = Avg FPS
It's a crude measurement that doesn't take into account any errors, spikes, or other interesting statistical data, but at least you'll have something to compare with your friends.
Our testing settings
Just as I have done in recent weeks with Shadow of Mordor and Sniper Elite 3, I ran some graphics cards through the testing process with Civilization: Beyond Earth. These include the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 290X only, along with SLI and CrossFire configurations. The R9 290X was run in both DX11 and Mantle.
- Core i7-3960X
- ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79
- 16GB DDR3-1600
- GeForce GTX 980 Reference (344.48)
- ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II (14.9.2 Beta)
Mantle Additions and Improvements
AMD is proud of this release as it introduces a few interesting things alongside the inclusion of the Mantle API.
- Enhanced-quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA): Improves anti-aliasing quality by doubling the coverage samples (vs. MSAA) at each AA level. This is automatically enabled for AMD users when AA is enabled in the game.
- Multi-threaded command buffering: Utilizing Mantle allows a game developer to queue a much wider flow of information between the graphics card and the CPU. This communication channel is especially good for multi-core CPUs, which have historically gone underutilized in higher-level APIs. You’ll see in your testing that Mantle makes a notable difference in smoothness and performance high-draw-call late game testing.
- Split-frame rendering: Mantle empowers a game developer with total control of multi-GPU systems. That “total control” allows them to design an mGPU renderer that best matches the design of their game. In the case of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis has selected a split-frame rendering (SFR) subsystem. SFR eliminates the latency penalties typically encountered by AFR configurations.
EQAA is an interesting feature as it improves on the quality of MSAA (somewhat) by doubling the coverage sample count while maintaining the same color sample count as MSAA. So 4xEQAA will have 4 color samples and 8 coverage samples while 4xMSAA would have 4 of each. Interestingly, Firaxis has decided the EQAA will be enabled on Beyond Earth anytime a Radeon card is detected (running in Mantle or DX11) and AA is enabled at all. So even though in the menus you might see 4xMSAA enabled, you are actually running at 4xEQAA. For NVIDIA users, 4xMSAA means 4xMSAA. Performance differences should be negligible though, according to AMD (who would actually be "hurt" by this decision if it brought down FPS).
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 21, 2014 - 06:42 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: maxwell, nvidia, gaming, mini ITX, small form factor, GTX 970, GM204, gigabyte
Gigabyte has announced a new miniature graphics card based around NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 970 GPU. The upcoming card is a dual slot, single fan design that is even shorter than the existing GTX 970 graphics cards (which are fairly short themselves). Officially known as the GV-N970IXOC-4GD, the miniaturized GTX 970 will be available for your small form factor (Mini ITX) systems in November for around $330.
The new Mini ITX compatible graphics card packs in a factory overclocked GeForce GTX 970 processor, 4GB of video memory, a custom PCB, and a custom WindForce-inspired cooler into a graphics card that is smaller than any of the existing GTX 970 cards. Gigabyte is using a custom design with a single 8-pin PCI-E power connector instead of two 6-pin connectors from the reference design or the 6-pin plus 8-pin from manufacturers like EVGA. The single power connector means less cabling to route (and
successfully attempt to hide heh) and better small form factor PSU compatibility. The cooler is an aluminum fin array with three copper heatpipes paired with a single shrouded fan.
The tiny card comes factory overclocked at 1076 MHz base and 1216 MHz boost, which is a respectable boost over the reference specifications. For reference, the GeForce GTX 970 processor is a 28nm chip using NVIDIA's GM204 "Maxwell" architecture with 1664 CUDA cores clocked at 1051 MHz base and 1178 MHz boost. It appears that Gigabyte has left the 4GB of GDDR5 untouched at 7.0 GT/s.
|Gigabyte GTX 970 Mini ITX||
Reference GTX 970
|Core (MHz) Boost||1216||1178|
|Memory Rate||7.0 (GT/s)||7.0 (GT/s)|
|PCI-E Power||1x 8-pin||2x 6-pin|
The display output on the miniature Gigabyte card differs slightly from the reference design with the addition of a DVI-D connection.
- 3 x DisplayPort
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x DVI-I
- 1 x DVI-D
According to Gigabyte, its custom cooler resulted in lower temperatures versus the reference design. The company claims that when running Metro: Last Light, the Mini ITX Gigabyte GTX 970 GPU ran at 62°C versus a reference design hitting 76°C running the same game. If true, the Gigabyte cooler is capable of keeping the card significantly cooler while taking up less space (though fan speeds and sound levels were not mentioned, nor compared to other custom coolers).
The small form factor friendly GTX 970 is coming next month with a MSRP of $329.99. Are you excited?
GeForce GTX 980M Performance Testing
When NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 graphics cards last month, part of the discussion at our meetings also centered around the mobile variants of Maxwell. The NDA was a bit later though and Scott wrote up a short story announcing the release of the GTX 980M and the GTX 970M mobility GPUs. Both of these GPUs are based on the same GM204 design as the desktop cards, though as you should have come to expect by now, do so with lower specifications than the similarly-named desktop options. Take a look:
|GTX 980M||GTX 970M||
|Memory||Up to 4GB||Up to 3GB||4GB||4GB||4GB/8GB|
|Memory Rate||2500 MHz||2500 MHz||7.0 (GT/s)||7.0 (GT/s)||2500 MHz|
Just like the desktop models, GTX 980M and GTX 970M are built on the 28nm process technology and are tweaked and built for power efficiency - one of the reasons the mobile release of this product is so interesting.
With a CUDA core count of 1536, the GTX 980M has 33% fewer shader cores than the desktop GTX 980, along with a slightly lower base clock speed. The result is a peak theoretical performance of 3.189 TFLOPs, compared to 4.6 TFLOPs on the GTX 980 desktop. In fact, that is only slightly higher than the GTX 880M based on Kepler, that clocks in with the same CUDA core count (1536) but a TFLOP capability of 2.9. Bear in mind that the GTX 880M is using a different architecture design than the GTX 980M; Maxwell's design advantages go beyond just CUDA core count and clock speed.
The GTX 970M is even smaller, with a CUDA core count of 1280 and peak performance rated at 2.365 TFLOPs. Also notice that the memory bus width has shrunk from 256-bit to 192-bit for this part.
As is typically the case with mobile GPUs, the memory speed of the GTX 980M and GTX 970M is significantly lower than the desktop parts. While the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 that install in your desktop PC will have memory running at 7.0 GHz, the mobile versions will run at 5.0 GHz in order to conserve power.
From a feature set stand point though, the GTX 980M/970M are very much the same as the desktop parts that I looked at in September. You will have support for VXGI, NVIDIA's new custom global illumination technology, Multi-Frame AA and maybe most interestingly, Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR). DSR allows you to render a game at a higher resolution and then use a custom filter to down sample it back to your panel's native resolution. For mobile gamers that are using 1080p screens (as our test sample shipped with) this is a good way to utilize the power of your GPU for less power-hungry games, while getting a surprisingly good image at the same time.
SLI Setup and Testing Configuration
The idea of multi-GPU gaming is pretty simple on the surface. By adding another GPU into your gaming PC, the game and the driver are able to divide the workload of the game engine and send half of the work to one GPU and half to another, then combining that work on to your screen in the form of successive frames. This should make the average frame rate much higher, improve smoothness and just basically make the gaming experience better. However, implementation of multi-GPU technologies like NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire are much more difficult than the simply explanation above. We have traveled many steps in this journey and while things have improved in several key areas, there is still plenty of work to be done in others.
As it turns out, support for GPUs beyond two seems to be one of those areas ready for improvement.
When the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 launched last month my initial review of the product included performance results for GTX 980 cards running in a 2-Way SLI configuration, by far the most common derivative. As it happens though, another set of reference GeForce GTX 980 cards found there way to our office and of course we needed to explore the world of 3-Way and 4-Way SLI support and performance on the new Maxwell GPU.
The dirty secret for 3-Way and 4-Way SLI (and CrossFire for that matter) is that it just doesn't work as well or as smoothly as 2-Way configurations. Much more work is put into standard SLI setups as those are by far the most common and it doesn't help that optimizing for 3-4 GPUs is more complex. Some games will scale well, others will scale poorly; hell some even scale the other direction.
Let's see what the current state of high GPU count SLI is with the GeForce GTX 980 and whether or not you should consider purchasing more than one of these new flagship parts.