Subject: Motherboards | August 5, 2014 - 05:14 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: msi, Z97S SLI Plus
MSI's Z97S SLI Plus has a very clean socket area with nothing intruding into the space around it allowing for the use of a wide variety of CPU coolers. Three 16x PCIe 3.0 slots will support multiple GPU configurations and the pair of PCIe 2.0 and PCI lots leave you a lot of space for add-in cards. Possibly the best feature is the bootable M.2 slot for the newest type of SSDs but for others perhaps it will be the overclocking features which [H]ard|OCP were quite impressed with. The only warning is to avoid installing the full suite of software that MSI shipped with this board, otherwise you will spend time uninstalling the software you do not want on your machine.
"MSI once again brings us a solid, stable, and reliable motherboard with some great overclocking and positions it in the multi-GPU category. Usually when we see marketing moves like this we think of $200, $300, or even $400 motherboards. This MSI platform rings in at the $138 mark, which spikes this motherboard in the value category as well."
Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:
- MSI Z97I Gaming AC mini-ITX Motherboard Review @ Techgage
- ASUS Z97-DELUXE Motherboard @ Hardware Secrets
- ECS Z97 Machine Motherboard Review @ Madshrimps
- Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE @ techPowerUp
- MSI Z97 Gaming 9 AC @ Kitguru
- Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force Overclocking Motherboard Review @ Hardware Asylum
- MSI Z97 MPower Overclocking Motherboard Review @ Hardware Asylum
- Gigabyte GA-Z97N Gaming 5 Mini ITX @ Hardwareoverclock
- Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE Review @ OCC
- ASUS Z97-PRO Motherboard @ Hardware Secrets
- Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK Motherboard Review @HiTech Legion
Redefining Price/Performance with AMD Motherboards
Motherboards are fascinating to me. They always have been. I remember voraciously reading motherboard reviews in the mid-90s. I simply could not get enough of them. Some new chipset from SiS, VIA, or ALi? I scoured the internet for information on them and what new features they would bring to the table. Back then motherboards did not have the retail presence they do now. The manufacturers were starting to learn to differentiate their products and cater to the enthusiasts who would not only buy and support these products, but also recommend them to friends/family/the world.
Today motherboards are really the foundation for any PC build. Choosing a motherboard is no longer just picking up some whitebox board that has a 440 BX chipset. Now users are much more active in debating what kind of features they need, what kind of feedback has this manufacturer received from consumers, what kind of ratings the board has on Amazon or Newegg. Features like build quality or overclocking performance sway users from company to company and product to product.
In the past 15 years or so we have seen some pretty rigid guidelines for pricing of motherboards. The super cheap “PC Chips” style motherboards existed below the $90 range. The decent, but unexciting motherboards with the bare minimum of features would go from $90 to $150. The $150 and beyond products were typically considered enthusiast class motherboards with expanded features, better build quality, and more robust power delivery options. Thankfully for consumers, this model is being shaken up by the latest generation of products from AMD.
MSI insures that everything is nicely packed and protected in their black and red box.
I mentioned in the previous Gigabyte G1.Sniper.A88X review that AMD and its partners do not have the luxury of offering a $150 and above FM2+ motherboard due to the nature (and pricing) of the latest FM2+ APUs. I am fairly sure the amount of people willing to spend $200 on a motherboard to house a $179 APU that seemingly overclocks as well on a cheap board as it does a more expensive one (meaning, not very well at all) is pretty low. If there is one bright side to the latest Kaveri APUs, it is that the graphics portion is extremely robust in both graphics and OpenCL applications. The hope for AMD and users alike is that HSA will in fact take off and provide a significant performance boost in a wide variety of applications that typically require quite a bit of horsepower.
Subject: Processors | July 9, 2014 - 09:42 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!
The Radeon R9 280
Though not really new, the AMD Radeon R9 280 GPU is a part that we really haven't spent time with at PC Perspective. Based on the same Tahiti GPU found in the R9 280X, the HD 7970, the HD 7950 and others, the R9 280 fits at a price point and performance level that I think many gamers will see as enticing. MSI sent along a model that includes some overclocked settings and an updated cooler, allowing the GPU to run at its top speed without much noise.
With a starting price of just $229 or so, the MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming graphics cards has some interesting competition as well. From the AMD side it butts heads with the R9 280X and the R9 270X. The R9 280X costs $60-70 more though and as you'll see in our benchmarks, the R9 280 will likely cannibalize some of those sales. From NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 760 is priced right at $229 as well, but does it really have the horsepower to keep with Tahiti?
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of MSI
The MSI Z97 XPower motherboard is the flagship board in their Overclocking Series line of motherboards, optimized over the previous version XPower board to take advantage of the Intel Z97 Express chipset and Intel 5th generation Core processors. The design and the layout of the board remain reminiscent of that from the Z87 XPower with several components shifted to other locations to open up space and other switched out to be replaced by updated technologies. The most obvious changes to the board are the inclusion of integrated water barbs in the CPU VRM sink and the reduction of the integrated CPU power phases to 16 (from 32-power phases on the previous generation board). The board's color scheme is less diverse as well, with all integrated components colored to match the black and yellow theme. At a base MSRP of $399.99, the Z97 XPower carries a premium price to match its premium feature set.
Courtesy of MSI
Courtesy of MSI
The Z97 XPower motherboard was designed with 16 digital power phases for powering the CPU. The board alos comes standard with MSI's Military Class 4 digital components to maximize the board's performance potential, including Hi-C and Dark capacitors with super ferrite chokes and DrMOS MOSFET chips. To aid in cooling the CPU power circuitry and integrated PLX, MSI included a hybrid cooling solution into the sinks surrounding the CPU socket. The heat sinks can use traditional air cooling, or be hooked into an existing water loop using the provided 3/8" barbs.MSI integrated in the following components into the Z97 XPower's design: 10 SATA 3 ports; one M.2 10 Gb/s ports; an Intel I218-V GigE NIC; an Intel 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth adapter; five PCI-Express x16 slots for up to quad-card NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire support; two PCI-Express x1 slots; a 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, BIOS reset, cpu ratio control, base clock control, OC Genie, power discharge, and Go2BIOS buttons; Slow Mode boot,OC Genie mode, DirectOC mode, Multi-BIOS, and PCIe control switches; Realtek audio solution with isolated audio PCB and Nippon Chemi-con audio capacitors; dedicated per-channel headphone OP-AMPs; integrated V-Check voltage measurement points; hybrid VRM cooling solution; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.
Courtesy of MSI
Subject: General Tech | June 26, 2014 - 06:36 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: xeon, video, seiki, podcast, nvidia, msi, Intel, HDMI 2.0, gt70 2pe, gt70, gameworks, FX-9590, displayport 1.3, coolermaster, amd, 4k
PC Perspective Podcast #306 - 06/26/2014
Join us this week as we discuss our Budget PC Shootout, the Coolermaster Elite 110, an AMD GameWorks competitor 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
Welcome to our beta podcast!
Quakecon is coming up, as is our Hardware Workshop!
Week in Review:
0:24:00 Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler Review
News items of interest:
0:42:00 You got your FPGA in my Xeon!
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Subject: Motherboards | June 25, 2014 - 09:02 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Z97 Gaming 7, msi, LGA1150, Intel Z97, haswell, gaming series
Morry recently reviewed MSI's Z97 Gaming 7 motherboard but if for some reason you would like a second option you can drop by [H]ard|OCP for their review. The systems tested vary slightly and the benchmarks run are slightly different such as [H]'s deferred procedure call latency test. Their overclocking results were also in a similar range, hitting 4.7GHz on their 4770K with the RAM hitting 2400MHz. Read through both reviews because the results you see, the more you know and ...
"We’ve been fans of MSI’s "Gaming" series for some time now. The Z97 Gaming 7 has big shoes to fill and competition is heating up as competitors take a page from MSI’s book and bring some of respective offerings into parity with MSI’s price points. Does MSI still have what it takes to rule this particular market? We are about to find out."
Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:
- ASRock Z97 Extreme4 Motherboard @ Hardware Secrets
- Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 @ eTeknix
- MSI Z97I GAMING AC @ TechPowerUp!
- Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE Motherboard Review @ Modders-Inc
- Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE Motherboard Review @HiTech Legion
- ASUS Z97I-PLUS @ eTeknix
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper M5 Motherboard Review @ Madshrimps
Subject: Graphics Cards | June 9, 2014 - 06:53 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: amd, r9 280, msi, R9 280 GAMING OC, factory overclocked
[H]ard|OCP has just posted a review of MSI's factory overclocked
HD7950 R9 280 GAMING OC card, with a 67MHz overclock on the GPU out of the box bringing it up to the 280X's default speed of 1GHz. With a bit of work that can be increased, [H]'s testing was also done at 1095MHz with the RAM raised to 5.4GHz which was enough to take it's performance just beyond the stock GTX 760 it was pitted against. Considering the equality of the performance as well as the price of these cards the decision as to which to go can be based on bundled games or personal preference.
"Priced at roughly $260 we have the MSI R9 280 GAMING OC video card, which features pre-overclocked performance, MSI's Twin Frozr IV cooling system, and highest end components. We'll focus on performance when gaming at 1080p between this boss and the GeForce GTX 760 video card!"
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Gigabyte R7 250X OC 1GB GDDR5 @ Madshrimps
- HIS R7 250X iCooler 1GB GDDR5 @ Madshrimps
- PowerColor Radeon R9 295X2 Review @ OCC
- MSI Radeon R9 280 OC Review @ TechwareLabs
- Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X OC Review @ Hardware Canucks
- AMD Kaveri Mobile APU Preview - FX-7600P with Radeon R7 Graphics @ Legit Reviews
- The Performance-Per-Watt, Efficiency Of GPUs On Open-Source Drivers @ Phoronix
- Testing 60+ Intel/AMD/NVIDIA GPUs On Linux With Open-Source Drivers @ Phoronix
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 740: I'd Rather Have Maxwell @ Phoronix
- NVIDIA’s GTX TITAN Z; GK110 Squared @ Hardware Canucks
Subject: General Tech, Systems | June 7, 2014 - 06:44 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: msi, all-in-one, Kabini
MSI has just announced an updated all-in-one PC which they hope you find... Adora-able? If you thought that joke was terrible, then it gets worse: I stole it from their product page. The Adora20 3M is based on an AMD E2-3800, which is a quad-core Kabini APU. Its built-in Radeon HD 8280 will not be able to play most modern games as it is unable to keep 30 FPS in either DOTA 2 or Diablo III at the screen's native (1600x900) resolution. This will be a GPU for web browsing and video decoding tasks.
The device, itself, is built into a 19.5-inch touchscreen display and comes with Windows 8.1. It has two integrated 3W speakers from Creative and a one-megapixel webcam. It also has mic in, headphone out, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, two more pairs of USB 2.0 ports (one pair on the side and one pair on the back), an HDMI-out port, gigabit Ethernet, and an SD card reader (no maximum card size listed). It also has Wireless-N. An SSD will be available on some units, but not every one. A TV tuner is also optional.
The Adora design is marketed as a slim design that about nine-tenths (9/10) of an inch at its thickest. The point seems to be that it is a full desktop PC in a TV form factor. They do not mention whether it supports VESA wall mounts (and its pictures suggest that it does not). Its kickstand looks handy, but I cannot really find a compelling reason for a thin monitor that is just going to lean on its kickstand all day.
It could be a good deal, however, if it is priced appropriately. Unfortunately, we do not have details on pricing or availability yet. If cheap enough, this could be very compelling for a kiosk or a kitchen/office nook. I still question whether those use cases would care about it being less than an inch thick, but I guess it would be a nice bonus.
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.