CES 2014: CyberPowerPC Steam Machine Series Coming In 2H 2014

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 6, 2014 - 11:53 PM |
Tagged: steambox, steam os, Steam Machine, Cyberpower, CES 2014, CES

Today, CyberPowerPC announced its series of SteamOS-powered Steam Machines. Set to be available in the second half of this year, the Steam Machine series will come in several customizable models ranging in price from $499 to $699.

All models share a custom Steam Machine gaming case, a 500GB 7200RPM mechanical hard drive, 8GB of DDR3 memory clocked at 1600MHz, Valve's Steam OS, and a bundled Steam Controller. From there, the systems differ by processor, graphics, and networking hardware.

CYBERPOWERPC Steam Machine.JPG

On the low end, the $499 CyberPowerPC Steambox is powered by a dual core AMD A6-6400K Richland APU clocked at 3.9GHz, a Radeon R9 270 graphics card with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and a Mini-ITX motherboard with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support.

Stepping up to the $699 mark gets you Intel and NVIDIA hardware in the form of a dual core/quad threaded Intel Core i3-4330 CPU clocked at 3.5GHz and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The networking is also upgraded to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

CyberPowerPC Steam Machine Specification List.png

The chassis is a white case with black front panel and green LEDs. A Valve logo is on the top of the case. It certainly has a gaming console look that should sit well in your entertainment center. The front of the case has three USB 3.0 ports and two audio jacks. Personally, I look at the case and am reminded of classic cartridge-loading game consoles due to the cutout/depressed gray accent.

As always, stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information as it becomes available!

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: CyberPower

CES 2014: Gigabyte's New SFF BRIX Pro Comes With Iris Pro 5200 Graphics

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 6, 2014 - 10:59 PM |
Tagged: SFF, iris pro, Intel, gigabyte, CES 2014, CES, brix pro, brix

Gigabyte is showing off a new small form factor BRIX-series PC at CES this week. This new BRIX Pro computer offers up desktop-level performance in a tiny form factor (approximately 4.2” width x 4.5” length x 2” height).

The BRIX Pro is available as a DIY kit that comes with a black or red chassis, choice of either Intel i7 4770R or Intel i5 4570R processor, mini PCI-E Wi-Fi card, and power adapter/cable. In addition to the CPU performance offered by the Haswell processor, the big news here is that the BRIX Pro ships with the processor-integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200. This GPU is the high-end model that comes with 64MB of eDRAM. Considering how rare the Iris Pro GPU with embedded DRAM has been in desktop PCs, having it available in the BRIX platform is good news for enthusiasts!

Gigabyte BRIX Pro with Intel Iris 5200 Graphics.png.png

Gigabyte claims that the BRIX Pro is capable of 3D gaming and is compatible with content creation/production applications. Additionally, it can output 4K resolutions over HDMI thanks to the Iris Pro 5200 GPU (at least the desktop and video, most gaming is out at 4K).

From there, users can add their own memory, mSATA SSD, and 2.5” SATA III drive. There is a mPCIe slot as well, but it is used by the 802.11ac Wi-Fi + BT 4.0 card.

Gigabyte BRIX Pro Internals.png

Photo courtesy Allyn Malventano (PC Perspective).

External IO on the BRIX Pro includes two USB 3.0 ports and a combination analog headphone/digital S/PDIF jack on the front. On the back of the SFF PC, users have two USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet jack, one Mini DisplayPort output, one HDMI video output, a DC power input, and a Kensington lock.

Gigabyte has not revealed pricing or availability information, but it should be coming out sooner rather than later in 2014. When it does become available, there will be two models: the GB-BXi7-4770R and the GB-BXi5-4570R.

Gigabyte BRIX Pro SFF PC.png

Photo courtesy Allyn Malventano (PC Perspective).

The BRIX Pro looks to be a powerhouse for its size, though I am curious about the noise levels produced by the cooling fan needed to keep the high end processor cool. Overall though, the BRIX Pro looks to be a nice addition to the compact BRIX PC lineup, and I am looking forward to reviews of it. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information as it becomes available. 

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: Gigabyte

CES 2014: Maingear Launches Tiny APU-Powered "Spark" Steambox PC

Subject: Systems | January 6, 2014 - 09:30 PM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, SteamOS, steambox, SFF, maingear, CES 2014, CES

Not content to let Digital Storm have all the fun with SteamOS, MAINGEAR has launched a small form factor SPARK Steambox PC! Clad in the traditional red and black colors of Maingear, the Spark is a stylish gaming system powered by an AMD APU that is about the size of an Intel NUC. Maingear is offering the system with Valve's Linux-based SteamOS as well as Microsoft's Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems. 

MG-Spark-hero.png

The Steambox PC measures 4.5" x 4.23" x 2.34" and weighs 0.98 pounds. The system has a vivid red and black design with large mesh vents on the sides and rear panel. IO includes two USB 3.0 ports and two audio jacks on the front as well as one HDMI, one Mini DisplayPort, one Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports on the rear IO panel. The design is striking and likely to appeal to gamers though it may clash with your other A/V equipment in the entertainment center (which really comes down to personal tastes).

MG-Spark-ports.png

Despite the small size, Maingear has managed to pack a respectable amount of PC hardware into the Spark. The SFF Steambox is powered by an AMD A8-5557M APU (four threads) clocked at 2.1GHz base and 3.1GHz turbo along with an AMD Radeon R9 M275X graphics card with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and up to 16GB of DDR3 1600MHz memory (two SO-DIMMs). Storage includes a single SATA III 6Gbps port (with room in the case for a single 2.5" drive) and one mSATA slot that supports SSDs up to 256GB. The Spark does support Gigabit Ethernet, but it also comes with a pre-installed Mini-PCIe card that provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands) and Bluetooth 4.0. Users will be able to customize the RAM and storage options, but the other specifications are not user-configurable.

MG-Spark-specs.png

The Maingear Spark will be available for purchase in late Q1 2014 for an as-yet-undisclosed price. For what it's worth, Maingear has stated that the tiny Spark gaming PC will an "affordable PC solution."

Personally, depending on price, I am interested in this steam machine as I rather like the aesthetics and the internal hardware should be sufficient for basic gameplay on the hardware itself and game streaming from my main desktop when that feature becomes available.

What do you think about Maingear's miniscule APU-powered Steam Machine?

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: Maingear

CES 2014: Digital Storm Bolt II SFF Steam Machine

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2014 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: SteamOS, Digital Storm, CES 2014, CES

Another big expectation coming into CES, this year, was the announcement of Steam Machines. We have already seen a few announcements but most of those were just teasers of what is to come at the event. Unlike our fears with G-Sync, many of the products we have seen differ from one-another and attack specific niches. One attaches to the back of your TV while another is a pretty beefy system with a console price-tag.

Digital-Storm-Bolt-II.jpg

This one is another small form factor (SFF) machine that includes both SteamOS and Windows to access both libraries. The Digital Storm Bolt II goes after the high end with a factory-overclocked CPU and easily accessible (their claim, I cannot form an opinion without using it) graphics card, storage, optical drive, and cooling system. They do stress the cooling capabilities of their SFF design so it would seem that was their development priority.

I am somewhat confused about the default dual-install, however. Everything special about SteamOS will be ported to the Steam Client so the main advantage of leaving Windows would be to access Linux-exclusive games. That does not seem like much of a market at least for the moment. I expect that, unless Microsoft completely blows away their own foot, anything that comes out for SteamOS will also be released on Windows. I would expect this feature to come much further down the line. It is certainly not a bad thing, however, apart from a little recovered harddrive space.

Apparently the device will be available soon, this month, with an $1899 MSRP.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

(ZDNet) Windows 7 End-of-Life Dates

Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 8, 2013 - 11:14 PM |
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 7

Users of Windows 7, current and planned, have a few dates to remember. First, as of October 30th, Microsoft has stopped selling retail (boxed) packages of that operating system. Second, OEMs can continue to sell systems with Windows 7 preloaded for a year after that date (October 30th, 2014). Third, the operating system will receive typical updates until January 13th, 2015. Fourth, security fixes will be provided until January 14th, 2020. Oddly, Microsoft's website disagrees with Mary Jo Foley's timeline; I expect it might just be out of date.

Windows XP is creeping towards the oblivion as April slowly arrives. The 8th of that month marks the end of security updates and other forms of utter chaos for machines with a vibrant green Start button. With Microsoft essentially turning a blind eye to unpatched exploits, it will become progressively more unsafe to use XP except in well controlled (virtualized, firewalled, etc.) instances.

Windows8TheEndLogo.png

But, according to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Microsoft will not sell them a retail copy of the Windows 7 any more (as of October 30th, 2013). The official Windows Product Lifecycle guide, however, still lists this date as "To be determined". Either Microsoft is very slow (updating their warning website after the date passes) or it was a much softer deadline than the editorial claims. Most of the Amazon product pages are for third party resellers, except for Windows 7 Pro Full, so it might just be clearing stock. Who knows.

OEMs will have a much easier time, however. Microsoft will continue allowing them to sell Windows 7 with new PCs for another year, until October 30th 2014. Again, this date is unlisted from the Windows Product Lifecycle guide.

It will all need to come to an end at some point though. Windows XP lost mainstream support back in April 14th, 2009; the same will come of Windows 7 in a little over a year: January 13th, 2015. That said, beyond new versions of Internet Explorer, Windows 7 has not been receiving too many updates as it stands. With DirectX now considered a core feature of Windows, the last couple of revisions are exclusive to the latest release. We still have Firefox and Chrome when they pull IE from our cold dead hands. I feel weird writing this...

The most devastating date, which XP users are about to face, is the end of extended support. Come January 14th, 2020, Microsoft will not longer provide security updates. Users of Windows 7 will need to be extra cautious and only deploy it in well controlled environments.

Like for me, if Microsoft continues going down the Windows Store path, a VM on a Linux machine.

Source: ZDNet

PiixL Jetpack Mounts To Your TV

Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 7, 2013 - 04:04 AM |
Tagged: SteamOS, PiixL Jetpack

This is what an open ecosystem does best.

piixl-jetpack-outside.jpg

The Jetpack, by British PC developer Piixl, is a computer that can attach to the back of a TV. If your TV stands on its own, the Jetpack clings to the television's unused wall mount point. If you were intending to mount your TV on the wall, the PC can reside between the two. These are the user needs that can only be addressed by allowing organizations (large companies, small businesses, hobbyist groups, and individuals) to explore in the niches either to "scratch their own itch"or differentiate their product.

The computer is branded mostly for SteamOS but can also be installed with a full version of Windows or Linux (which you can then install a Steam Client on). It is looking more and more like Valve is successful in herding OEMs.

piixl-jetpack-inside.jpg

The internals of this computer are quite interesting. It looks like they are attaching a 2-wide videocard 90-degrees to a mini-ITX motherboard with the other components spaced out around those two parts. Their official media claims that they will support any GPU (I assume they are not considering ones with extra- thick coolers) which should make future upgrades easy.

I may never purchase a Steam machine but I am excited that they exist. The purpose for the PC ecosystem is that every user with any need can find or create a solution. That is why general purpose computation devices exist: perform whatever information storage or manipulation the user desires. I do not have many of the needs that these boxes satisfy... but some people do and there should be systems available for them.

The Verge claims that the Jetpack will be available in January. I can sense a theme for CES 2014.

Source: PiixL

MSI Announces a 3K Gaming and a 3K Workstation Notebook

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | December 5, 2013 - 02:47 PM |
Tagged: WQHD+, msi, 3K

High resolution displays are very nice to have especially when you are looking at text and symbols (or edges of 3D geometry). WQHD+ is one of the resolutions classified under the 3K moniker with dimensions of 2880 x 1620. It has slightly more pixels than 1440p.

MSI - 3K.jpg

MSI has launched two notebooks with a 15.6" display in this resolution: one gaming and one workstation. Both laptops are remarkably similar except for a few key differences.

Both laptops include:

  • Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU (2.4 GHz w/ 3.4 GHz Turbo)
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 15.6" 2880x1620 (16:9) display
  • 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
  • Killer E2200 networking (yes, the workstation too)
  • Killer N1202 a/b/g/n wireless (yes, workstation too)
  • SDXC card reader
  • HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, etc.
  • Backlit Keyboard from SteelSeries

The GT60 2OD-261US (Gaming) also includes:

  • Windows 8
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M GPU (4GB)
  • Blu-ray reader

The GT60 2OKWS-278US (Workstation) instead includes:

  • Windows 7 Professional
  • NVIDIA Quadro K3100M (4GB)
  • Blu-ray recorder

These laptops are currently available at two price points: $2200 for the gaming version and $2800 for the workstation. Press release after the break!

Source: MSI

iBuyPower Steam Machine: $499?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 5, 2013 - 02:38 AM |
Tagged: amd, r9 270, Steam Machine, SteamOS

I cannot see how they will be making any money at this but, next year, iBuyPower will launch their first Steam Machine. At the price of $499, the same as an Xbox One, you will get an AMD CPU bundled with a discrete Radeon R9 270 graphics card.

ibuypower-steam-machine_0.jpg

Image Credit: The Verge

Oh, and Valve's controller will be included in that price.

Sure, they can save money on the free operating system, but that still looks pretty awesome. In terms of actual dimensions, the case is said to be between the size of the PS4 and the Xbox one. Frankly, if you like the look of home theater appliances, this could be a nice twist on that aesthetic. It will also come with a 500GB hard drive. Don't worry, though: it is a PC. If there is a USB 3.0 port anywhere on it, you can attach a giant drive for your games.

And the power supply is internal, too!

iBuyPower is expected to ship this device at some point in 2014 along with a wave of other Steam Machines. Prepare for many of these innovations to come out of CES.

Source: The Verge

Does your NUC need a nice quiet home?

Subject: Systems | November 28, 2013 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: htpc, fanless, nuc, Logic Supply, LGX ML300

Logic Supply's LGX ML300 lineup offers you choices from an empty case to a pre-built system costing over $1000, allowing to pick and choose the HTPC system you want.  The case is completely fanless and the system sent to Silent PC Review consisted of a Core i5-3427U, 8GB DDR3-1333 and a 128GB mSATA SSD.  The outputs offer enough choice for most users, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, two mini DisplayPort a mini-HDMI and gigabit LAN.  Thermal performance was great with this case compared to some previous NUCs and SPCR had no issues with overheating during their tests.

SPCR_ml300b.jpg

"A slim, silent, fanless case for an Intel NUC with room enough for a 2.5" drive is Logic Supply's latest passively cooled project. With the right NUC innards, it becomes a perfect ultra-mini media PC with both zippy performance and enough storage space."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

(IHS) New Consoles Not Nearly As Expensive As Last Time

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 27, 2013 - 12:18 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, IHS

Parts and labor costs have surfaced for the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Last time around, both Microsoft and Sony were bleeding over a hundred dollars each time a console was produced and sold before you even consider research, development, support, and so forth. This time, both are fluttering around the break-even point.

Console fans commonly say, "You cannot build an equivalent gaming PC for what I can get a console for." My response has been, "Correct and neither can Sony or Microsoft; they are bleeding to gouge you later. Add up those license fees and PC gaming is often cheaper." That may change.

PS4-01.png

Easier for developers... and their CFO.

Also, check out our teardowns (and reassembly!!!) of the PS4 and the Xbox One.

While it has not changed that PC gaming can still be cheaper, because it has less middlemen demanding license fees, the consoles might not be losing as much money. Last week, IHS iSuppli inventoried the Playstation 4 and determined that it costs Sony around $381 USD for every $399 console they sell. The Xbox One has also had its turn: $471 USD for the $499 device.

Update #1 (12/4/2013): IHS Electronics 360 contacted me about their full iSuppli teardown report and video for the PS4 (also the Xbox One, but that was not mentioned in their email).

This may seem a lot, but the $499 launch PS3 (20GB) cost Sony $805.85 in parts and labor. The Xbox 360 was less devastating for Microsoft at a cost of $525 for their $399 console. None of these fees include research, development, support, store markup (if they are allowed any), etc.

The last generation of consoles, despite its length, may or may not have delivered any profit for either party. The recent several quarters of profits are easily offset by many more of losses. I expect that neither company is interested in repeating the last generation. It hurt.

But the consoles, despite being cheaper than last time, could still have a reasonable lifespan. A large chunk of the original PS3 bill of materials was the hardware "Emotion Engine" (most links are broken by now but I believe it was about as much per chip as the Cell processor). The consoles are now based upon commodity PC hardware. They can finally take advantage of the competition between other companies to focus their research and development costs on the platform itself.

Source: iSuppli

A fresh new season of system recommendations

Subject: Systems | November 25, 2013 - 03:31 PM |
Tagged: DIY, system build

It is once again time for The Tech Report to refresh their recommended system builds.  This is a perfect time to do it as we have recently seen the new generation of GPUs from both AMD and NVIDIA.  Gamers looking to build a machine from scratch or to complete a partial upgrade can utilize these recommendations in addition to our HWLB.  Make sure to also check out the new mobile sidekicks section to get an idea of other hardware you might want to pick up as well.

fallguide-money.jpg

"We've updated our four staple builds to account for all of the latest hardware releases, including the arrival of new graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Video: How to Build a Gaming PC: OS Install, Steam Setup

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 25, 2013 - 01:35 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, video, r9 270x, ps4, playstation 4, fx 6300, amd, 200r

Over the past week or so, we have been slowly putting together a guide to help interested readers select, build and now install everything necessary to build the perfect PC to compete against the new console generation.  

In the first part, Josh and I discussed the new console architectures and how they were similar, and different, from modern PC gaming systems.  We also discussed a couple of specific build outs that we thought were price competitive with the Xbox One and the PS4 while also offering quite a bit more performance and flexibility for the user.  

  Gaming Build PlayStation 4 Xbox One
Processor AMD FX-6300 6-core CPU - $109 8-core Jaguar APU 8-core Jaguar APU
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ - $59 Custom Custom
Memory Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB 1866 MHz (2 x 4GB) - $80 8GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3
Graphics Card Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X 2GB - $199 1152 Stream Unit APU 768 Stream Unit APU
Storage Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200 RPM HDD - $64 500GB 5400 RPM 500GB
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case - $59 Custom Custom
Power Supply Corsair CX 600 watt 80+ Bronze - $69 Internal External
Optical Drive Pioneer Blu-ray Reader - $49 Blu-ray Blu-ray
OS Windows 8.1 OEM - $98 Custom, FreeBSD Custom, Windows
Peak Compute 2,690 GFLOPS 1,840 GFLOPS 1,270 GFLOPS
Total Price $780 - Amazon $399 - Amazon $499 - Amazon

In part 2, we recorded a video of me actually assembling the parts (or nearly the same parts) in the build to show users that might be intimidated by the process exactly how easy it is to build a PC from scratch.

Today, we finalize our journey with the installation of the operating system, setup of the Steam gaming platform and even how easy it is to run the PC when attached to a TV.  

After briefly discussing the BIOS and UEFI on the motherboard, installing Windows 8.1 and then running the latest Steam client on the new PC, a brief demonstration of Metro: Last Light running in Big Picture Mode takes place.  With that we can demonstrate the power of the PC and the flexibility it truly offers over even the latest consoles.

I hope this set of videos has been useful for our readers that might have been interested in the idea of a gaming PC but were worried or unsure of their own ability to get the job done.  I think we have demonstrated that the entire process is easy, fun and rewarding - and can be done in a single afternoon as long as you order the right parts. 

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or feedback - and happy building!!

osintall.jpg

Xbox One Teardown - Microsoft still hates you

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 22, 2013 - 08:02 PM |
Tagged: video, teardown, xbox one, APU, amd, xbox, xb1

Last week we brought a teardown of the new Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) console and this week we do the same for Microsoft's new Xbox One console. 

In this video, which is a recording of our live stream that started last night at 12:30am EST, you'll see us unbox the Xbox One, turn it on, play with the new Kinect, take it apart and put it back together.  And this time we didn't even break anything - though removing the plastic clips on the Xbox One are particularly more annoying and time consuming than the screws on the PS4.

xboxmb.jpg

Though they are out of stock, Amazon.com appears to be getting additional Xbox One consoles in stock pretty regularly, so keep an eye out.

Video: How to Build a Gaming PC to Beat the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 22, 2013 - 07:45 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, video, r9 270x, ps4, playstation 4, fx 6300, amd, 200r

After Josh and I discussed and debated which components would be best suited for a low cost gaming PC to compete with the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One, Ken and I set about to create a video to show those users nervous about the idea of building a PC how easy it can be. 

Though Josh and I built systems at $550 and $750 price tags that compare to the new gaming consoles in different ways, for this build I thought it was best to focus on the higher performance, though higher priced option, detailed below.

  Gaming Build PlayStation 4 Xbox One
Processor AMD FX-6300 6-core CPU - $109 8-core Jaguar APU 8-core Jaguar APU
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AM3+ - $59 Custom Custom
Memory Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB 1866 MHz (2 x 4GB) - $80 8GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3
Graphics Card AMD Radeon R9 270X 2GB - $209
(Alternate: ASUS GTX 760 - $259)
1152 Stream Unit APU 768 Stream Unit APU
Storage Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200 RPM HDD - $64 500GB 5400 RPM 500GB
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case - $59 Custom Custom
Power Supply Corsair CX 600 watt 80+ Bronze - $69 Internal External
Optical Drive Pioneer Blu-ray Reader - $49 Blu-ray Blu-ray
OS Windows 8.1 OEM - $98 Custom, FreeBSD Custom, Windows
Peak Compute 2,690 GFLOPS 1,840 GFLOPS 1,270 GFLOPS
Total Price $790 - Amazon Full Cart $399 - Amazon $499 - Amazon

The links above will take you to the Amazon pages if you want duplicate our setup for a system of your own. 

If you have never built a PC before, gaming or otherwise, it can be a little intimidating to see the list of parts you need to order.  But don't fear!  The build process is surprisingly easy if you pick the right parts and have the right help.  The video below will detail the exact installation process for the components listed above (or close proximity thereof) to get you up and running! 

If you happen to have missed the video where Josh and I discuss the REASONS for selecting the above hardware, I have included it below as well.  Stay tuned in the next day or so for our video that shows the operating system installation process, Steam installation, gaming and Big Picture Mode.

Tokyo Tech Goes Green with KFC (NVIDIA and Efficiency)

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | November 21, 2013 - 09:47 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, tesla, supercomputing

GPUs are very efficient in terms of operations per watt. Their architecture is best suited for a gigantic bundle of similar calculations (such as a set of operations for each entry of a large blob of data). These are the tasks which also take up the most computation time especially for, not surprisingly, 3D graphics (where you need to do something to every pixel, fragment, vertex, etc.). It is also very relevant for scientific calculations, financial and other "big data" services, weather prediction, and so forth.

nvidia-submerge.png

Tokyo Tech KFC achieves over 4 GigaFLOPs per watt of power draw from 160 Tesla K20X GPUs in its cluster. That is about 25% more calculations per watt than current leader of the Green500 (CINECA Eurora System in Italy, with 3.208 GFLOPs/W).

One interesting trait: this supercomputer will be cooled by oil immersion. NVIDIA offers passively cooled Tesla cards which, according to my understanding of how this works, suit very well to this fluid system. I am fairly certain that they remove all of the fans before dunking the servers (I figured they would be left on).

By the way, was it intentional to name computers dunked in giant vats of heat-conducting oil, "KFC"?

Intel has done a similar test, which we reported on last September, submerging numerous servers for over a year. Another benefit of being green is that you are not nearly as concerned about air conditioning.

NVIDIA is actually taking it to the practical market with another nice supercomputer win.

Other NVIDIA Supercomputing News:

Source: NVIDIA

Sony Playstation 4 (PS4) Teardown and Disassembly

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 15, 2013 - 02:42 PM |
Tagged: video, teardown, ps4, playstation 4, APU, amd

Last night Ken and I headed over the local Best Buy to pick up my preorder of the new Playstation 4.  What would any hardware geek immediately do with this hardware?  Obviously we take a screwdriver to it and take it apart.

In this video, which is a recording of our live stream that started last night at 12:30am EST, you'll see us unbox the PS4, turn it on, take it apart and put it back together.  And I only had to fix one piece with gaffers tape, so there's that.

ps4teardown.jpg

(We'll have a collection of high-resolution photos later today as well.)

Though they are out of stock, Amazon.com appears to be getting more PS4s in stock pretty regularly, so keep an eye out if you are interested in picking one up still.

Happy Friday!

NVIDIA Grid GPUs Available for Amazon EC2

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | November 5, 2013 - 09:33 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, grid, AWS, amazon

Amazon Web Services allows customers (individuals, organizations, or companies) to rent servers of certain qualities to match their needs. Many websites are hosted at their data centers, mostly because you can purchase different (or multiple) servers if you have big variations in traffic.

I, personally, sometimes use it as a game server for scheduled multiplayer events. The traditional method is spending $50-80 USD per month on a... decent... server running all-day every-day and using it a couple of hours per week. With Amazon EC2, we hosted a 200 player event (100 vs 100) by purchasing a dual-Xeon (ironically the fastest single-threaded instance) server connected to Amazon's internet backbone by 10 Gigabit Ethernet. This server cost just under $5 per hour all expenses considered. It was not much of a discount but it ran like butter.

nvidia-grid-bracket.png

This leads me to today's story: NVIDIA GRID GPUs are now available at Amazon Web Services. Both companies hope their customers will use (or create services based on) these instances. Applications they expect to see are streamed games, CAD and media creation, and other server-side graphics processing. These Kepler-based instances, named "g2.2xlarge", will be available along side the older Fermi-based Cluster Compute Instances ("cg1.4xlarge").

It is also noteworthy that the older Fermi-based Tesla servers are about 4x as expensive. GRID GPUs are based on GK104 (or GK107, but those are not available on Amazon EC2) and not the more compute-intensive GK110. It would probably be a step backwards for customers intending to perform GPGPU workloads for computational science or "big data" analysis. The newer GRID systems do not have 10 Gigabit Ethernet, either.

So what does it have? Well, I created an AWS instance to find out.

aws-grid-cpu.png

Its CPU is advertised as an Intel E5-2670 with 8 threads and 26 Compute Units (CUs). This is particularly odd as that particular CPU is eight-core with 16 threads; it is also usually rated by Amazon at 22 CUs per 8 threads. This made me wonder whether the CPU is split between two clients or if Amazon disabled Hyper-Threading to push the clock rates higher (and ultimately led me to just log in to an instance and see). As it turns out, HT is still enabled and the processor registers as having 4 physical cores.

The GPU was slightly more... complicated.

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NVIDIA control panel apparently does not work over remote desktop and the GPU registers as a "Standard VGA Graphics Adapter". Actually, two are available in Device Manager although one has the yellow exclamation mark of driver woe (random integrated graphics that wasn't disabled in BIOS?). GPU-Z was not able to pick much up from it but it was of some help.

Keep in mind: I did this without contacting either Amazon or NVIDIA. It is entirely possible that the OS I used (Windows Server 2008 R2) was a poor choice. OTOY, as a part of this announcement, offers Amazon Machine Image (AMI)s for Linux and Windows installations integrated with their ORBX middleware.

I spot three key pieces of information: The base clock is 797 MHz, the memory size is 2990 MB, and the default drivers are Forceware 276.52 (??). The core and default clock rate, GK104 and 797 MHz respectively, are characteristic of the GRID K520 GPU with its 2 GK104 GPUs clocked at 800 MHz. However, since the K520 gives each GPU 4GB and this instance only has 3GB of vRAM, I can tell that the product is slightly different.

I was unable to query the device's shader count. The K520 (similar to a GeForce 680) has 1536 per GPU which sounds about right (but, again, pure speculation).

I also tested the server with TCPing to measure its networking performance versus the cluster compute instances. I did not do anything like Speedtest or Netalyzr. With a normal cluster instance I achieve about 20-25ms pings; with this instance I was more in the 45-50ms range. Of course, your mileage may vary and this should not be used as any official benchmark. If you are considering using the instance for your product, launch an instance and run your own tests. It is not expensive. Still, it seems to be less responsive than Cluster Compute instances which is odd considering its intended gaming usage.

Regardless, now that Amazon picked up GRID, we might see more services (be it consumer or enterprise) which utilizes this technology. The new GPU instances start at $0.65/hr for Linux and $0.767/hr for Windows (excluding extra charges like network bandwidth) on demand. Like always with EC2, if you will use these instances a lot, you can get reduced rates if you pay a fee upfront.

Official press blast after the break.

Source: NVIDIA

(The Verge) Valve's Steam Machine and Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | November 4, 2013 - 03:36 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, steam os, CES 2014

I guess The Verge, with its Steam Machine photos, prove all three next-gen consoles (trollolol) are designed to look like home theater devices. Of course you will never be able to purchase a Steam Machine from Valve but, since they are releasing their CAD files, I am sure at least one Steam Machine will be exactly to reference spec.

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Image Source: The Verge

And, for the record, I think the reference enclosure is classy. Living room appliances suit a lot better than kitchen ones.

On a serious note: pictures of the internals. The beta Steam Machines will contain full desktop components aligned in such a way that each has its own sector to breathe from. The hottest parts intake and exhaust as far away from one another as possible. This makes the chassis relatively wide and short: a video card's length, in depth; about 3 expansion slots, tall; and about 3 PCIe cards height, wide. The actual measurements are 12" x 12" x 3" (W x D x H).

Steam-Machine-Open.jpg

Photo Credit: The Verge

This is mostly possible because the GeForce Titan GPU is mounted upside-down and parallel with the motherboard. I have never experienced a 90-degree PCIe extension slot but, according to Josh Walrath, this is a common accessory in servers (especially 1U and 2U racks). The Titan intakes downward into a relatively unoccupied section of the case and exhausts out the back.

The Verge also had some things to say about the Steam Controller. The design motivations are interesting but I will leave that discussion to the original article (this news post will be long enough when I'm done with it). There are two points that I would like to bring up, though:

The first is a clarification of the original Steam Controller announcement: Valve will produce and sell Steam Controller on its own. This was originally a big question mark as it could water down how "reference" Valve's controller actually is. With Valve taking all-the-reins, the hardware looks more set in stone.

Will Valve still allow OEMs to learn from their design? Who knows.

The second is also interesting.

What Valve left out of the Steam Controller is almost as intriguing as what went in. Though Valve co-founder Gabe Newell told us that the company wanted to put biometric sensors into game controllers, the team discovered that hands weren't a good source of biofeedback since they were always moving around. However, the team hinted to me — strongly — that an unannounced future VR headset might measure your body's reaction to games at the earlobe. Such a device could know when you’re scared or excited, for instance, and adjust the experience to match.

Seeing Google, Valve, and possibly Apple all approach content delivery, mobile, home theater, and wearable computing... simultaneously... felt like there was a heavy link between them. This only supports that gut feeling. I believe this is the first step in a long portfolio integrating each of these seemingly unrelated technologies together. We should really watch how these companies develop these technologies: especially in relation to their other products.

Stay tuned for CES 2014 in early January. This will be the stage for Valve's hardware and software partners to unbutton their lips and spill their guts. I'm sure Josh and Ryan will have no problems cleaning it all up.

Source: The Verge

(WinSupersite) Surface 2 Reviewed

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | November 1, 2013 - 04:49 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, Surface 2

The Surface 2 is what happened to the Surface RT. Microsoft decided that "RT" has no place on this product except, of course, its software ("Windows RT") because they painted themselves into a corner on that one. The message is something like, "It's Windows RT 8.1 but not Windows 8.1; in fact, you cannot run that software on it". I expect, and you probably know I have voiced, that this all is a moot point in the semi-near future (and that sucks).

Microsoft's "Official" Surface 2 overviews.

Paul Thurrott down at his Supersite for Windows reviewed Surface 2 in terms of the original Surface RT. The inclusion of Tegra 4 was a major plus for him yielding "night and day" improvement over the previous Tegra 3. In fact, he thinks that everything is at least as good as the original. There is not a single point on his rubric where the Surface RT beats its successor.

Of course there is a single section where the Surface 2 lacks (it is shared with the Surface RT and I think you can guess what it is). The ecosystem, apps for Windows RT, is the platform's "Achilles Heel". It is better than it once was, with the inclusion of apps like Facebook, but glaring omissions will drive people away. He makes this point almost in passing but I, of course, believe this is a key issue.

It is absolutely lacking in key apps, and you will most likely never see such crucial solutions as full Photoshop, iTunes, or Google Chrome on this platform. But if we're being honest with ourselves here, as we must, these apps are, for better or worse, important. (The addition of Chrome alone would be a huge win for both Windows RT and Surface 2.)

I agree that this is the problem with the Windows RT platform and, in Google Chrome's case, the blame belongs to no-one but Microsoft. They will explicitly deny any web browser unless it is a reskin of Internet Explorer (using the "Trident" rendering system and their Javascript engine). You will not see full Firefox or full Google Chrome because Gecko, Servo, Webkit, and Blink are not allowed to be installed on end-user machines.

You are paying Microsoft to not let you install third party browsers. Literally.

Not only does this limit its usefulness but it also reduces the pressure to continue innovation. Why add developer features to Internet Explorer when you can control their use with Windows Store? Sure, Internet Explorer has been on a great trajectory since IE9. I would say that versions 10 and especially 11 could be considered "top 3" contenders as app platforms.

The other alternative is the web, and this is where Internet Explorer 11 plays such a crucial role. While many tier-one online services—Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Cloud Player and Prime Video, and so on—are lacking native Windows RT aps, the web interfaces (should) work fine, and IE 11 is evolving into a full-featured web app platform that should present a reasonable compromise for those users.

Only if Microsoft continues their effort. No-one else is allowed to.

Now that I expanded that point, be sure to check out the rest of Paul Thurrott's review. He broke his review down into sections, big and small, and stuck his opinion wherever he could. Also check out his preview of the Nokia Lumia 2520 to see whether that (if either device) is worth waiting for.

Lenovo's gaming series, meet the Erazer

Subject: Systems | October 31, 2013 - 01:45 PM |
Tagged: Lenovo, Erazer X700

Early this week a deal on the Lenovo Erazer X700 Gaming System was posted and now you can have a chance to see how it performs at Benchmark Reviews.  The bundle it arrives with is rather impressive, a backlit keyboard and a gaming mouse which you can modify the weight to your preference.  While the external aesthetics are interesting it is the internals that we want to know about, especially the watercooling which is revealed below.  It performed well but their are some caveats you should read about in the review if you imagine yourself buying this system and upgrading it in the future.

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"It’s been years since I’ve bought a pre-built desktop computer, so I was interested in the opportunity to check out the Erazer X700 Gaming System that Lenovo offered to us to review. The Erazer occupies a space between the sub-$500 generic boxes most people are satisfied with and the expensive boutique systems at the other end of the scale."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems