Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: GLOBALFOUNDRIES

Taking a Fresh Look at GLOBALFOUNDRIES

It has been a while since we last talked about GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and it is high time to do so.  So why the long wait between updates?  Well, I think the long and short of it is a lack of execution from their stated roadmaps from around 2009 on.  When GF first came on the scene they had a very aggressive roadmap about where their process technology will be and how it will be implemented.  I believe that GF first mentioned a working 28 nm process in a early 2011 timeframe.  There was a lot of excitement in some corners as people expected next generation GPUs to be available around then using that process node.

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Fab 1 is the facility where all 32 nm SOI and most 28 nm HKMG are produced.

Obviously GF did not get that particular process up and running as expected.  In fact, they had some real issues getting 32 nm SOI running in a timely manner.  Llano was the first product GF produced on that particular node, as well as plenty of test wafers of Bulldozer parts.  Both were delayed from when they were initially expected to hit, and both had fabrication issues.  Time and money can fix most things when it comes to process technology, and eventually GF was able to solve what issues they had on their end.  32 nm SOI/HKMG is producing like gangbusters.  AMD has improved their designs on their end to make things a bit easier as well at GF.

While shoring up the 32 nm process was of extreme importance to GF, it seemingly took resources away from further developing 28 nm and below processes.  While work was still being done on these products, the roadmap was far too aggressive for what they were able to accomplish.  The hits just kept coming though.  AMD cut back on 32nm orders, which had a financial impact on both companies.  It was cheaper for AMD to renegotiate the contract and take a penalty rather than order chips that it simply could not sell.  GF then had lots of line space open on 32 nm SOI (Dresden) that could not be filled.  AMD then voided another contract in which they suffered a larger penalty by opting to potentially utilize a second source for 28 nm HKMG production of their CPUs and APUs.  AMD obviously was very uncomfortable about where GF was with their 28 nm process.

During all of this time GF was working to get their Luther Forest FAB 8 up and running.  Building a new FAB is no small task.  This is a multi-billion dollar endeavor and any new FAB design will have complications.  Happily for GF, the development of this FAB has gone along seemingly according to plan.  The FAB has achieved every major milestone in construction and deployment.  Still, the risks involved with a FAB that could reach around $8 billion+ are immense.

2012 was not exactly the year that GF expected, or hoped for.  It was tough on them and their partners.  They also had more expenses such as acquiring Chartered back in 2009 and then acquiring the rather significant stake that AMD had in the company in the first place.  During this time ATIC has been pumping money into GF to keep it afloat as well as its aspirations at being a major player in the fabrication industry.

Continue reading our editorial on the status of GLOBALFOUNDRIES going into 2013 and beyond!!

Author:
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Not a simple answer

After publishing the Frame Rating Part 3 story, I started to see quite a bit of feedback from readers and other enthusiasts with many requests for information about Vsync and how it might affect the results we are seeing here.  Vertical Sync is the fix for screen tearing, a common artifact seen in gaming (and other mediums) when the frame rendering rate doesn’t match the display’s refresh rate.  Enabling Vsync will force the rendering engine to only display and switch frames in the buffer to match the vertical refresh rate of the monitor or a divisor of it.  So a 60 Hz monitor could only display frames at 16ms (60 FPS), 33ms (30 FPS), 50ms (20 FPS), and so on.

Many early readers hypothesized that simply enabling Vsync would fix the stutter and runt issues that Frame Rating was bringing to light.  In fact, AMD was a proponent of this fix, as many conversations we have had with the GPU giant trailed into the direction of Vsync as answer to their multi-GPU issues. 

In our continuing research on graphics performance, part of our Frame Rating story line, I recently spent many hours playing games on different hardware configurations and different levels of Vertical Sync.  After this time testing, I am comfortable in saying that I do not think that simply enabling Vsync on platforms that exhibit a large number of runt frames fixes the issue.  It may prevent runts, but it does not actually produce a completely smooth animation. 

To be 100% clear - the issues with Vsync and animation smoothness are not limited to AMD graphics cards or even multi-GPU configurations.  The situations we are demonstrating here present themselves equally on AMD and NVIDIA platforms and with single or dual card configurations, as long as all other parameters are met.  Our goal today is only to compare a typical Vsync situation from either vendor to a reference result at 60 FPS and at 30 FPS; not to compare AMD against NVIDIA!!

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In our initial research with Frame Rating, I presented this graph on the page discussing Vsync.  At the time, I left this note with the image:

The single card and SLI configurations without Vsync disabled look just like they did on previous pages but the graph for GTX 680 SLI with Vsync on is very different.  Frame times are only switching back and forth between 16 ms and 33 ms, 60 and 30 instantaneous FPS due to the restrictions of Vsync.  What might not be obvious at first is that the constant shifting back and forth between these two rates (two refresh cycles with one frame, one refresh cycle with one frame) can actually cause more stuttering and animation inconsistencies than would otherwise appear.

Even though I had tested this out and could literally SEE that animation inconsistency I didn't yet have a way to try and demonstrate it to our readers, but today I think we do.

The plan for today's article is going to be simple.  I am going to present a set of three videos to you that show side by side runs from different configuration options and tell you what I think we are seeing in each result.  Then on another page, I'm going to show you three more videos and see if you can pinpoint the problems on your own.

Continue reading our article on the effects of Vsync on gaming animation smoothness!!

Manufacturer: Enermax USA

Introduction and Features

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In this review we are going to take a detailed look at one of the latest case offerings from Enermax, the Giant Ostrog GT, a fortress for your hardware. The new Ostrog GT is a mid-tower case that incorporates advanced cooling features along with support for multiple, extended length VGA cards.  The Ostrog GT enclosure features a clear acrylic side window, comes with a classic black finish inside and out, and is available with either Red or Blue accent colors. The Ostrog GT comes with two 140mm LED intake fans in the front and one 120mm exhaust fan on the back with optional locations for up to twelve fans along with support for a 240/280mm liquid cooling radiator.

Note: Ostrog is a Russian term for a small fortress – now you know! 

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(Courtesy of Enermax)

Ostrog GT Mid-Tower Gaming Case Key Features (Courtesy of Enermax)

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Continue reading our review of the Enermax Ostrog GT Case!!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Nerdytec

Gaming on your Couch

Sometimes really unique products come across our door step and we just love to tell our readers about things that might normally fall outside the PC hardware field.  The COUCHMASTER, essentially a piece of furniture made for gaming, is one of those items.

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The COUCHMASTER, produced by a German company called Nerdytec, is a device built to help gamers use a mouse and keyboard while sitting on a couch and gaming in large screen environments.  It has a pair of foam-stuffed side block that hold up a wood-constructed center panel that puts your mouse and keyboard at a comfortable angle. 

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Cable routing is made simple with Velcro removable panels under the keyboard and mouse and some versions of COUCHMASTER include a 4-port USB hub for connecting input devices, audio headsets, etc.  The only that didn't work in our testing were external hard drives - just not enough power coming from the USB 3.0 connection through the include extension cable.

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I played the entirety of Bioshock Infinite with the COUCHMASTER, and other than getting some odd looks from my wife, couldn't think of a more impressive and comfortable way to play PC games from a distance and without a standard desk setup.

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I would love to see some changes like the addition of recessed drink holders on the sides, but otherwise, the only drawback to Nerdytec's COUCHMASTER is the price; it starts at $170 or so USD.

Check out the full video review posted below!!

UPDATE: The CouchMaster is now for sale in the US now!

Author:
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

What to look for and our Test Setup

Because of the complexity and sheer amount of data we have gathered using our Frame Rating performance methodology, we are breaking it up into several articles that each feature different GPU comparisons.  Here is the schedule:

 

Today marks the conclusion of our first complete round up of Frame Rating results, the culmination of testing that was started 18 months ago.  Hopefully you have caught our other articles on the subject at hand, and you really will need to read up on the Frame Rating Dissected story above to truly understand the testing methods and results shown in this article.  Use the links above to find the previous articles!

To round out our Frame Rating testing in this interation, we are looking at more cards further down the product stack in two different sets.  The first comparison will look at the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 graphics cards in both single and dual-card configurations.  Just like we saw with our HD 7970 vs GTX 680 and our HD 7950 vs GTX 660 Ti testing, evaluating how the GPUs compare in our new and improved testing methodology in single GPU configurations is just as important as testing in SLI and CrossFire.  The GTX 660 ($199 at Newegg.com) and the HD 7870 ($229 at Newegg.com) are the closest matches in terms of pricing though both card have some interesting game bundle options as well.

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AMD's Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

Our second set of results will only be looking at single GPU performance numbers for lower cost graphics cards like the AMD Radeon HD 7850 and Radeon HD 7790 and from NVIDIA the GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GTX 650 Ti BOOST.  We didn't include multi-GPU results on these cards simply due to time constraints internally and because we are eager to move onto further Frame Rating testing and input testing. 

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NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 660


If you are just joining this article series today, you have missed a lot!  If nothing else you should read our initial full release article that details everything about the Frame Rating methodology and why we are making this change to begin with.  In short, we are moving away from using FRAPS for average frame rates. We are using a secondary hardware capture system to record each frame of game play as the monitor would receive them. That recorded video is then analyzed to measure real world performance.

Because FRAPS measures frame times at a different point in the game pipeline (closer to the game engine) its results can vary dramatically from what is presented to the end user on their display.  Frame Rating solves that problem by recording video through a dual-link DVI capture card that emulates a monitor to the testing system and by simply applying a unique overlay color on each produced frame from the game, we can gather a new kind of information that tells a very unique story.

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The capture card that makes all of this work possible.

I don't want to spend too much time on this part of the story here as I already wrote a solid 16,000 words on the topic in our first article and I think you'll really find the results fascinating.  So, please check out my first article on the topic if you have any questions before diving into these results today!

Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 2GB
AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST 2GB
AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB
AMD Radeon HD 7790 1GB
Graphics Drivers AMD: 13.2 beta 7
NVIDIA: 314.07 beta
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

On to the results! 

Continue reading our review of the GTX 660 and HD 7870 using Frame Rating!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The P8Z77X-I Deluxe is ASUS' high-powered answer to the small form factor crowd. Through some unique design decisions and an upright daughter-board, ASUS was able to cram a full 10-phase digital power delivery system into this board without sacrificing any other integrated components. It's nice to see a manufacturer step up and design a mini-ITX board in the same vein as its full-sized counterpart. We put the board through our normal gamut of tests to see how well this mighty Mini-ITX board sized up with its full-sized brethren. At a retail list price of $219, the P8Z77-I Deluxe needs to prove its worth against the full sized boards.

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS designed a full 10 phases of digital power, housed in the board's upright daughter card sitting parallel to the CPU cooler. The P8Z77-I Deluxe with its high-end power plant is packed full of features, including SATA 2, SATA 3, e-SATA, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0 ports for storage devices. Networking capabilities include an Intel GigE NIC, a Broadcom dual-port 802.11n adapter, and a Broadcom Bluetooth adapter. The board also features a single PCI-Express x16 slot for graphics cards and other expansion cards.

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Courtesy of ASUS

Continue reading our review of the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard!

What to Look For, Test Setup

Because of the complexity and sheer amount of data we have gathered using our Frame Rating performance methodology, we are breaking it up into several articles that each feature different GPU comparisons.  Here is the schedule:

We are back again with another edition of our continued reveal of data from the capture-based Frame Rating GPU performance methods.  In this third segment we are moving on down the product stack to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti and the AMD Radeon HD 7950 - both cards that fall into a similar price range.

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I have gotten many questions about why we are using the cards in each comparison and the answer is pretty straight forward: pricing.  In our first article we looked at the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and the GeForce GTX 680 while in the second we compared the Radeon HD 7990 (HD 7970s in CrossFire), the GeForce GTX 690 and the GeForce GTX Titan.  This time around we have the GeForce GTX 660 Ti ($289 on Newegg.com) and the Radeon HD 7950 ($299 on Newegg.com) but we did not include the GeForce GTX 670 because it sits much higher at $359 or so.  I know some of you are going to be disappointed that it isn't in here, but I promise we'll see it again in a future piece!


If you are just joining this article series today, you have missed a lot!  If nothing else you should read our initial full release article that details everything about the Frame Rating methodology and why we are making this change to begin with.  In short, we are moving away from using FRAPS for average frame rates or even frame times and instead are using a secondary hardware capture system to record all the frames of our game play as they would be displayed to the gamer, then doing post-process analyzation on that recorded file to measure real world performance.

Because FRAPS measures frame times at a different point in the game pipeline (closer to the game engine) its results can vary dramatically from what is presented to the end user on their display.  Frame Rating solves that problem by recording video through a dual-link DVI capture card that emulates a monitor to the testing system and by simply applying a unique overlay color on each produced frame from the game, we can gather a new kind of information that tells a very unique story.

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The capture card that makes all of this work possible.

I don't want to spend too much time on this part of the story here as I already wrote a solid 16,000 words on the topic in our first article and I think you'll really find the results fascinating.  So, please check out my first article on the topic if you have any questions before diving into these results today!

Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB
Graphics Drivers AMD: 13.2 beta 7
NVIDIA: 314.07 beta
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

 

On to the results! 

Continue reading our review of the GTX 660 Ti and HD 7950 using Frame Rating!!

Manufacturer: Oyen Digital

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of Oyen Digital

Oyen Digital, a popular manufacturer of portable storage enclosures and devices, provided us with its MiniPro™ eSATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure for testing USB 3.0 enhanced mode on the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard. This enclosure offers support for USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA ports in conjunction with a 2.5" hard drive. We put this enclosure on the test bench with the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe board to test the performance limits of the device. The MiniPro™ enclosure can be found at your favorite e-tailer for $39.95.

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Oyen Digital

The MiniPro™ SATA / USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure is a simple aluminum enclosure supporting any 2.5" form factor hard drive up to SATA III speeds. The enclosure itself supports USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA connections. Because of its use of the ASMedia 1053e chipset for USB 3.0 support, the enclosure supports both USB 3.0 normal mode transfer speeds and UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) mode transfer speeds. UASP mode is a method of bulk transfer for USB 3.0 connections that increases transfer speeds through the use of parallel simultaneous packet transfers. Per our sources at ASUS, UASP can be explained as follows:

The adoption of the SCSI Protocol in USB 3.0 provides its users with the advantage of having better data throughput than traditional BOT (Bulk-Only Transfer) protocol, all thanks to its streaming architecture as well as the improved queuing (NCQ support) and task management, which eliminated much of the round trip time between USB commands, so more commands can be sent simultaneously. Moreover, thanks to the multi-tasking aware architecture, the performance is further enhanced when multiple transfers occur.
The downside of UASP is that the receiving device (Flash drive/external hard drive etc) must also be UASP enabled for the protocol to work. This requires checking your peripherals before purchase. However since UASP is an industry standard, the device support for ASUS UASP implementation is not restricted to a particular controller manufacturer or device type, so the overall number of peripherals available should undoubtedly grow.

Technical Specifications (taken from the Oyen Digital website)

Ports

eSATA 6G (Up to 6.0 Gbps)
USB 3.0: (Up to 5.0 Gbps)

Interface

SATA III (up to 15mm SATA 2.5" HDD/SSD)

Chipset

USB 3.0
ASMedia 1053e

eSATA
ASMedia 1456pe

Weight

10 oz.

Certifications

CE, FCC

Requirements

Windows XP/Vista/7/8 & above; MAC OS 10.2 & above; Linux 2.4.22 & above

Continue reading our review of the Oyen Digital MiniPro™ enclosure!

Manufacturer: NVIDIA

NVIDIA releases the GeForce GT 700M family

NVIDIA revolutionized gaming on the desktop with the release of its 600-series Kepler-based graphics cards in March 2012. With the release of the GeForce GT 700M series, Kepler enters the mobile arena to power laptops, ultrabooks, and all-in-one systems.

Today, NVIDIA introduces four new members to its mobile line: the GeForce GT 750M, the GeForce GT 740M, the GeForce GT 735M, and the GeForce GT 720M. These four new mobile graphics processors join the previously-released members of the GeForce GT 700m series: the GeForce GT 730M and the GeForce GT 710M. With the exception of the Fermi-based GeForce GT 720M, all of the newly-released mobile cores are based on NVIDIA's 28nm Kepler architecture.

Notebooks based on the GeForce GT 700M series will offer in-built support for the following new technologies:

Automatic Battery Savings through NVIDIA Optimus Technology

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Automatic Game Configuration through the GeForce Experience

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Automatic Performance Optimization through NVIDIA GPU Boost 2.0

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Continue reading our release coverage of the NVIDIA GTX 700M series!

Summary Thus Far

Because of the complexity and sheer amount of data we have gathered using our Frame Rating performance methodology, we are breaking it up into several articles that each feature different GPU comparisons.  Here is the schedule:

Welcome to the second in our intial series of articles focusing on Frame Rating, our new graphics and GPU performance technology that drastically changes how the community looks at single and multi-GPU performance.  In the article we are going to be focusing on a different set of graphics cards, the highest performing single card options on the market including the GeForce GTX 690 4GB dual-GK104 card, the GeForce GTX Titan 6GB GK110-based monster as well as the Radeon HD 7990, though in an emulated form.  The HD 7990 was only recently officially announced by AMD at this years Game Developers Conference but the specifications of that hardware are going to closely match what we have here on the testbed today - a pair of retail Radeon HD 7970s in CrossFire. 

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Will the GTX Titan look as good in Frame Rating as it did upon its release?

If you are just joining this article series today, you have missed a lot!  If nothing else you should read our initial full release article that details everything about the Frame Rating methodology and why we are making this change to begin with.  In short, we are moving away from using FRAPS for average frame rates or even frame times and instead are using a secondary hardware capture system to record all the frames of our game play as they would be displayed to the gamer, then doing post-process analyzation on that recorded file to measure real world performance.

Because FRAPS measures frame times at a different point in the game pipeline (closer to the game engine) its results can vary dramatically from what is presented to the end user on their display.  Frame Rating solves that problem by recording video through a dual-link DVI capture card that emulates a monitor to the testing system and by simply applying a unique overlay color on each produced frame from the game, we can gather a new kind of information that tells a very unique story.

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The capture card that makes all of this work possible.

I don't want to spend too much time on this part of the story here as I already wrote a solid 16,000 words on the topic in our first article and I think you'll really find the results fascinating.  So, please check out my first article on the topic if you have any questions before diving into these results today!

 

Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN 6GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 4GB
AMD Radeon HD 7970 CrossFire 3GB
Graphics Drivers AMD: 13.2 beta 7
NVIDIA: 314.07 beta (GTX 690)
NVIDIA: 314.09 beta (GTX TITAN)
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

 

On to the results! 

Continue reading our review of the GTX Titan, GTX 690 and HD 7990 using Frame Rating!!

How Games Work

 

Because of the complexity and sheer amount of data we have gathered using our Frame Rating performance methodology, we are breaking it up into several articles that each feature different GPU comparisons.  Here is the schedule:

 

Introduction

The process of testing games and graphics has been evolving even longer than I have been a part of the industry: 14+ years at this point. That transformation in benchmarking has been accelerating for the last 12 months. Typical benchmarks test some hardware against some software and look at the average frame rate which can be achieved. While access to frame time has been around for nearly the full life of FRAPS, it took an article from Scott Wasson at the Tech Report to really get the ball moving and investigate how each frame contributes to the actual user experience. I immediately began research into testing actual performance perceived by the user, including the "microstutter" reported by many in PC gaming, and pondered how we might be able to test for this criteria even more accurately.

The result of that research is being fully unveiled today in what we are calling Frame Rating – a completely new way of measuring and validating gaming performance.

The release of this story for me is like the final stop on a journey that has lasted nearly a complete calendar year.  I began to release bits and pieces of this methodology starting on January 3rd with a video and short article that described our capture hardware and the benefits that directly capturing the output from a graphics card would bring to GPU evaluation.  After returning from CES later in January, I posted another short video and article that showcased some of the captured video and stepping through a recorded file frame by frame to show readers how capture could help us detect and measure stutter and frame time variance. 

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Finally, during the launch of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan graphics card, I released the first results from our Frame Rating system and discussed how certain card combinations, in this case CrossFire against SLI, could drastically differ in perceived frame rates and performance while giving very similar average frame rates.  This article got a lot more attention than the previous entries and that was expected – this method doesn’t attempt to dismiss other testing options but it is going to be pretty disruptive.  I think the remainder of this article will prove that. 

Today we are finally giving you all the details on Frame Rating; how we do it, what we learned and how you should interpret the results that we are providing.  I warn you up front though that this is not an easy discussion and while I am doing my best to explain things completely, there are going to be more questions going forward and I want to see them all!  There is still much to do regarding graphics performance testing, even after Frame Rating becomes more common. We feel that the continued dialogue with readers, game developers and hardware designers is necessary to get it right.

Below is our full video that features the Frame Rating process, some example results and some discussion on what it all means going forward.  I encourage everyone to watch it but you will definitely need the written portion here to fully understand this transition in testing methods.  Subscribe to your YouTube channel if you haven't already!

Continue reading our analysis of the new Frame Rating performance testing methodology!!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

The GTX 650 Ti Gets Boost and More Memory

In mid-October NVIDIA released the GeForce GTX 650 Ti based on GK106, the same GPU that powers the GTX 660 though with fewer enabled CUDA cores and GPC units.  At the time we were pretty impressed with the 650 Ti:

The GTX 650 Ti has more in common with the GTX 660 than it does the GTX 650, both being based on the GK106 GPU, but is missing some of the unique features that NVIDIA has touted of the 600-series cards like GPU Boost and SLI.

Today's release of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST actually addresses both of those missing features by moving even closer to the specification sheet found on the GTX 660 cards. 

Our video review of the GTX 650 Ti BOOST and Radeon HD 7790.

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Option 1: Two GPCs with Four SMXs

Just like we saw with the original GTX 650 Ti, there are two different configurations of the GTX 650 Ti BOOST; both have the same primary specifications but will differ in which SMX is disabled from the full GK106 ASIC.  The newer version will still have 768 CUDA cores but clock speeds will increase from 925 MHz to 980 MHz base and 1033 MHz typical boost clock.  Texture unit count remains the same at 64.

Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST graphics card!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ARM

 

ARM is a company that no longer needs much of an introduction.  This was not always the case.  ARM has certainly made a name for themselves among PC, tablet, and handheld consumers.  Their primary source of income is licensing CPU designs as well as their ISA.  While names like the Cortex A9 and Cortex A15 are fairly well known, not as many people know about the graphics IP that ARM also licenses.  Mali is the product name of the graphics IP, and it encompasses an entire range of features and performance that can be licensed by other 3rd parties.

I was able to get a block of time with Nizar Romdhane, Head of the Mali Ecosystem at ARM.  I was able to ask a few questions about Mali, ARM’s plans to address the increasingly important mobile graphics market, and how they will compete with competition from Imagination Technologies, Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.

 

We would like to thank Nizar for his time, as well as Phil Hughes in facilitating this interview.  Stay tuned as we are expecting to continue this series of interviews with other ARM employees in the near future.

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

A New GPU with the Same DNA

When we talked with AMD recently about its leaked roadmap that insinuated that we would not see any new GPUs in 2013, they were adamant that other options would be made available to gamers but were coy about about saying when and to what degree.  As it turns out, today marks the release of the Radeon HD 7790, a completely new piece of silicon under the Sea Islands designation, that uses the same GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture as the HD 7000-series / Southern Islands GPUs with a handful of tweaks and advantages from improved clock boosting with PowerTune to faster default memory clocks.

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To be clear, the Radeon HD 7790 is a completely new ASIC, not a rebranding of a currently available part, though the differences between the options are mostly in power routing and a reorganization of the GCN design found in Cape Verde and Pitcairn designs.  The code name for this particular GPU is Bonaire and it is one of several upcoming updates to the HD 7000 cards. 

Bonaire is built on the same 28nm TSMC process technology that all Southern Islands parts are built on and consists of 2.08 billion transistors in a 160 mm2 die.  Compared to the HD 7800 (Pitcairn) GPU at 212 mm2 and HD 7700 (Cape Verde) at 120 mm2, the chip for the HD 7790 falls right in between.  And while the die images above are likely not completely accurate, it definitely appears that AMD's engineers have reorganized the internals.

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Bonaire is built with 14 CUs (compute units) for a total stream processor count of 896, which places it closer to the performance level of the HD 7850 (1024 SPs) than it does the HD 7770 (640 SPs).  The new Sea Islands GPU includes the same dual tessellation engines of the higher end HD 7000s as well and a solid 128-bit memory bus that runs at 6.0 Gbps out the gate on the 1GB frame buffer.  The new memory controller is completely reworked in Bonaire and allows for a total memory bandwidth of 96 GB/s in comparison to the 72 GB/s of the HD 7770 and peaking theoretical compute performance at 1.79 TFLOPS.

The GPU clock rate is set at 1.0 GHz, but there is more on that later.

Continue reading our review of the Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 7790 1GB Bonaire GPU!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of MSI

With the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt, MSI took an award winning design and tweaked it to bring an affordable Thunderbolt-based solution to the masses without sacrificing on quality or performance. We put this board through our grueling battery of tests to validate the board's performance promises. The MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt can be found at your favorite retailer for the reasonable price of $169.99.

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Courtesy of MSI

The Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt sports a simple design and layout with some of the bells and whistles found on the higher priced boards omitted to keep the feature set intact and the price to a minimum. MSI includes the following features in the Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt's design: SATA 2 and SATA 3 ports; a Realtek GigE NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots for up to tri-card support; USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports; and a single Thunderbolt port in the rear panel. For an in-depth overview on Thunderbolt technology and its advantages over other interconnect technologies, please see our review here.

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Courtesy of MSI

Continue reading our review of the MSI Z77A-GD45 motherboard!!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

AM3+ Last Gasp?

 

Over the past several years I have reviewed quite a few Asus products.  The ones that typically grab my attention are the ROG based units.  These are usually the most interesting, over the top, and expensive products in their respective fields.  Ryan has reviewed the ROG graphics cards, and they have rarely disappointed.  I have typically taken a look at the Crosshair series of boards that support AMD CPUs.

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Crosshair usually entails the “best of the best” when it comes to features and power delivery.  My first brush with these boards was the Crosshair IV.  That particular model was only recently taken out of my primary work machine.  It proved itself to be an able performer and lasted for years (even overclocked).  The Crosshair IV Extreme featured the Lucid Hydra chip to allow mutli-GPU performance without going to pure SLI or Crossfire.  The Crosshair V got rid of Lucid and added official SLI support and it incorporated the Supreme FX II X-Fi audio.  All of these boards have some things in common.  They are fast, they overclock well, and they are among the most expensive motherboards ever for the AMD platform.

So what is there left to add?  The Crosshair V is a very able platform for Bulldozer and Piledriver based parts.  AMD is not updating the AM3+ chipsets, so we are left with the same 990FX northbridge and the SB950 southie (both of which are essentially the same as the 890FX/SB850).  It should be a simple refresh, right?  We had Piledriver released a few months ago and there should be some power and BIOS tweaks that can be implemented and then have a rebranded board.  Sounds logical, right?  Well, thankfully for us, Asus did not follow that path.

The Asus Crosshair V Formula Z is a fairly radical redesign of the previous generation of products.  The amount of extra features, design changes, and power characteristics make it a far different creature than the original Crosshair V.  While both share many of the same style features, under the skin this is a very different motherboard.  I am rather curious why Asus did not brand this as the “Crosshair VI”.  Let’s explore, shall we?

Click here to read the entire review on the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Exposes Richland

When we first heard about “Richland” last year, there was a little bit of excitement from people.  Not many were sure what to expect other than a faster “Trinity” based CPU with a couple extra goodies.  Today we finally get to see what Richland is.  While interesting, it is not necessarily exciting.  While an improvement, it will not take AMD over the top in the mobile market.  What it actually brings to the table is better competition and a software suite that could help to convince buyers to choose AMD instead of a competing Intel part.

From a design standpoint, it is nearly identical to the previous Trinity.  That being said, a modern processor is not exactly simple.  A lot of software optimizations can be applied to these products to increase performance and efficiency.  It seems that AMD has done exactly that.  We had heard rumors that the graphics portion was in fact changed, but it looks like it has stayed the same.  Process improvements have been made, but that is about the extent of actual hardware changes to the design.

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The new Richland APUs are branded the A-5000 series of products.  The top end is the A10-5750M with HD-8650 integrated graphics.  This is still the VLIW-4 based graphics unit seen in the previous Trinity products, but enough changes have been made with software that I can enable Dual Graphics with the new Solar System based GPUs (GCN).  The speeds of these products have received a nice boost.  As compared to the previous top end A10-4600, the 5750 takes the base speed from 2.3 GHz to 2.5 GHz.  Boost goes from 3.2 GHz up to 3.5 GHz.  The graphics portion takes the base clock from 496 MHz up to 533 MHz, while turbo mode improves over the 4600 from 685 MHz to 720 MHz.  These are not staggering figures, but it all still fits within the 35 watt TDP of the previous product.

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One other important improvement is the ability to utilize DDR-3 1866 memory.  Throughout the past year we have seen memory densities increase fairly dramatically without impacting power consumption.  This goes for speed as well.  While we would expect to see lower power DIMMs be used in the thin and light categories, expect to see faster DDR-3 1866 in the larger notebooks that will soon be heading our way.

Click here to read more about AMD's Richland APUs!

Manufacturer: SilverStone

Introduction and Features

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SilverStone recently added the 600W ST60F-G power supply to their Strider Plus series. The Strider Plus ST60F-G is fully modular and housed in a compact enclosure that is only 140mm (5.5") deep for easy integration. The ST50F-P and ST60F-P are certified 80 Plus Bronze while the ST60F-PS and ST75F-P are certified 80 Plus Silver.  We will be taking a detailed look at the ST60F-PS 600W power supply in this review.

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Here is what SilverStone has to say about their new Strider Plus ST60F-PS PSU: “The ST60F-PS is the world smallest modular ATX PSU with a 140mm depth which has also eased installation. In addition to 80Plus Silver level efficiency (80Plus Gold at 230VAC), all models are built to meet very high standards in electrical performance so they have ±3% voltage regulation and ripple & noise, and high amperage single +12V rail. Other notable features included are 24/7 40°C continuous output capacity, low-noise 120mm fan, and multiple sets of PCI-E cables. For enthusiasts that are looking for the power supply with all the right features to make a high performing and aesthetically pleasing system, the Strider Plus series reaches the goal with maximum satisfaction.

SilverStone ST60F-PS  Power Supply Key Features:

• Compact design with a depth of 140mm for easy integration
• 600 watt continuous power output 24/7 at 40°C
• 80Plus Silver certified with 80 Plus Gold level efficiency at 230VAC
• Strict ±3% voltage regulation with low AC ripple and noise
• Class leading +12V rail with up to 49A (588W)
• Active PFC (up to 0.99)
• Universal AC input (90-264 VAC) full range
• 100% modular cables
• Silent running 120mm fan
• Protections: OCP, OVP, OPP, OTP, UVP, and SCP
• MSRP $105 USD

Please continue reading our SilverStone ST60F-PS power supply review!

Subject: Storage

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

Last year we did a combined review of the ioSafe SoloPRO and the Synology Diskstation 212+ NAS solution. The ioSafe handled the function of disaster-hardened storage, capable of withstanding a typical building fire along with the resulting drenching from your friendly neighborhood fire department, while the DiskStation made the USB-connected ioSafe available to the network and added numerous additional features as part of its excellent DSM software suite, offering many features to both both home and business users:

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The whole time I was working on that article, I kept wondering how cool it would be if both items were combined into one unit. You could then get the additional benefit of multi-drive redundancy *and* the disaster-proof protection offered by the ioSafe. Well, that just happened:

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Behold the ioSafe N2!

Read on for the full review!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Sony

An AIO and Tablet Design

When new and interesting architectures and technology are developed, it enables system designers to build creative designs and systems for consumers.  With its renewed focus on power efficiency as well as performance, Intel has helped move the industry towards new form factors like the Next Unit of Computing and the evolution of the All-in-One design.

Today we are taking a look at the new Sony VAIO Tap 20 system, an AIO that not only integrates a 10-point touch screen on a 20-in 1600x900 resolution display and an Ivy Bridge architecture ultra low voltage processor, but also a battery to make the design semi-mobile and ripe for inclusion in high-tech homes. 

Check out our quick video overview below and then follow that up with a full pictorial outline and some more details!

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This isn't Sony's first foray into all-in-one PCs of course but it is among the first to combine this particular set of features.  In what is essentially an Ultrabook design with a large screen, the Tap 20 combines an Ivy Bridge Core i5 processors, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 750GB hard drive.  Here is the breakdown:

 

Sony VAIO Tap 20 System Setup
CPU Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 (1 x SODIMM)
Hard Drive 750GB XXRPM HDD (2.5-in)
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card Intel HD 4000 Processor Graphics
Display 1600x900 20-in touch screen (10 point)
Power Supply External
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n WiFi
I/O 2 x USB 3.0
SD / Memory Stick card reader
Headphone / Mic connection
Operating System Windows 8 x64

 

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The display is pretty nice with a 1600x900 reoslution though I do wish we had seen a full 1080p screen for HD video playback.  As with most touch screens, the display quality is under that of a non-touch IPS monitor but even up close (as you tend to use touch devices) you'll be hard pressed to find any imperfections.  Viewing angles are great as well which allows for better multi-person usage. 

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On the left we find the power connection and a hard wired Ethernet connection that compliments the integrated 802.11n WiFi.

Continue reading our review of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 AIO!!!