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The First 28nm GPU Architecture
It is going to be an exciting 2012. Both AMD and NVIDIA are going to be bringing gamers entirely new GPU architectures, Intel has Ivy Bridge up its sleeve and the CPU side of AMD is looking forward to the introduction of the Piledriver lineup. Today though we end 2011 with the official introduction of the AMD Southern Islands GPU design, a completely new architecture from the ground up that engineers have been working on for more than three years.
This GPU will be the first on several fronts: the first 28nm part, the first cards with support for PCI Express 3.0 and the first to officially support DirectX 11.1 coming with Windows 8. Southern Islands is broken up into three different families starting with Tahiti at the high-end, Pitcairn for sweet spot gaming and Cape Verde for budget discrete options. The Radeon HD 7970 card that is launching today with availability in early January is going to be the top-end single GPU option, based on Tahiti.
Let's see what 4.31 billion transistors buys you in today's market. I have embedded a very short video review here as well for your perusal but of course, you should continue down a bit further for the entire, in-depth review of the Radeon HD 7970 GPU.
Southern Islands - Starting with Tahiti
Before we get into benchmark results we need to get a better understanding of this completely new GPU design that was first divulged in June at the AMD Fusion Developer Summit. At that time, our own
lovely and talented Josh Walrath wrote up a great preview of the architecture that remains accurate and pertinent for today's release. We will include some of Josh's analysis here and interject with anything new that we have learned from AMD about the Southern Islands architecture.
When NVIDIA introduced the G80, they took a pretty radical approach to GPU design. Instead of going with previous VLIW architectures which would support operations such as Vec4+Scalar, they went with a completely scalar architecture. This allowed a combination of flexibility of operation types, ease of scheduling, and a high utilization of compute units. AMD has taken a somewhat similar, but still unique approach to their new architecture.
Galaxy Continues the MDT Push
One of the key selling points for the AMD Radeon series of graphics cards the last few generations has been Eyefinity - the ability to run more than two displays off of a single card while also allowing for 3+ display gaming configurations. NVIDIA-based solutions required a pair of GPUs running in SLI for this functionality, either standard SLI or the "SLI-on-a-card" solutions like the GTX 590.
However, another solution has appeared from Galaxy, an NVIDIA partner that has created a series of boards with the MDT moniker - Multi-Display Technology. Using a separate on-board chip the company has created GTX 560 Ti, GTX 570 and GTX 580 cards that can output to 4 or 5 monitors using only a single NVIDIA GPU, cutting down on costs while offering a feature that no other single-GPU solution could.
Today we are going to be reviewing the Galaxy GeForce GTX 570 MDT X4 card that promises 4 display outputs and a triple-panel seamless gaming surface option for users that want to explore gaming on more than a single monitor inside the NVIDIA ecosystem.
Speed Bumps and Unlocked Processors
AMD has announced the latest members of their fairly successful APU series for both the desktop and the mobile markets. The original release in June of this year saw the first fully integrated 32 nm APUs from AMD. These proved to be quite popular with their decent CPU performance and outstanding integrated graphics speed and quality. The launch was not entirely smooth for AMD though, even though the company had been shipping products to partners and OEMs for some months.
The desktop saw limited SKUs, and the availability of the top end parts was disappointing to say the least. AMD and their partners at GLOBALFOUNDRIES were not able to produce enough usable chips to supply demand. Quantities were tight throughout the summer, and the mobile market did not see as big of a boost for AMD as was hoped. AMD did get a lot of new business though, as the thermal and power envelopes of these A-series chips were able to match that of Intel.
As the neighborhoods are adorned with lights and reindeer decorations, and the airwaves are ringing with Christmas carols, one realizes that it is that time of year again! Although December arrived much faster than any of us at PC Perspective expected, there is no doubt that time to purchase gifts is running short and this year is almost over.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, the PC Perspective team got into a discussion about items and services that we would want for Christmas and that we felt would make really great gifts for our loved ones. And thus the PC Perspective Holiday Gift Guide 2011 was born!
The Low Cost Sandy Bridge-E
In the conclusion to my original story looking at the performance characteristics of the Sandy Bridge-E platform, I wrote this:
I am most interested in the Core i7-3930K (as I think most of you will be), but we are going to have to wait a bit to see if we can get performance and power results for that part.
Well good readers, I am here with that information! After getting my hands on the Core i7-3930K processor that makes up the other 50% of the available options for the X79 chipset motherboards, I can definitively say that THIS is the processor you want. Unless you are crazy-go-nuts rich.
With a clock speed only about 2.5% lower than its bigger brother yet a price that is 44% lower, the LGA2011 socket definitely has its enthusiast favorite.
The Sandy Bridge-E Summary
I am not going to bother reprinting everything that we discussed about the new Sandy Bridge-E processor architecture, the X79 chipset and platform changes here though if you haven't read about them before today, you should definitely take a look at my earlier article.
Here is a quicker summary:
The answer might surprise you, but truthfully not a whole lot has changed. In fact, from a purely architectural stand point (when looking at the x86 processor cores), Sandy Bridge-E looks essentially identical to the cores found in currently available Sandy Bridge CPUs. You will see the same benefits of the additional AVX instruction set in applications that take advantage of it, a shared L3 cache that exists between all of the cores for data coherency and the ring bus introduced with Sandy Bridge is still there to move data between the cores, cache and uncore sections of the die.
Turbo Boost technology makes a return here as well with the updated 2.0 version in full effect - there are more steppings in scalability on this part than on the Nehalem or Westmere CPUs.
The Eleven Hundred Case from Antec
Antec has been making a fairly strong push back into the enthusiast market as of late by sponsoring specific gaming events like Blizzcon and by preparing and releasing new products in the company's very popular lines of chassis. We have already taken a look at the Antec P280 case and in truth the Eleven Hundred we are looking at today is VERY similar to it. It is constructed on the same base chassis but has some interesting changes on the doors, the front panel and cooling options.
Even more than just new products, Antec as a company is moving in the right direction internally, addressing customer complaints and re-focusing the company to its core demographics. Company representative Jessie Lawrence actually sat down with me for an interview (our first edition of The Inside Perspective) last month where talked about new products and how Antec could improve its product line to gain the attention of the enthusiast crowd again. Based on that discussion it would seem that Antec is aiming to be one of the leaders in cases again.
Today we are looking the beginnings of this promise, the Antec Eleven Hundred. While the P280 was built towards a user that wants a particularly quiet computing experience, the Eleven Hundred finds itself targeted at performance users; those of us that want more fans, more cooling. With a retail price of about $120, the Eleven Hundred should find its way into quite a few gaming PCs.
Look below for our video review of the new case and keep reading for a collection of photos and more input on the design!!
I think the new Antec Eleven Hundred will be exactly the case that a lot of our readers want to see. While not officially a full tower case, with support for 13-in graphics cards and XL-ATX motherboards, there won't be many people that don't find enough room in this design. The inclusion of the grommetted routing openings and the HUGE CPU back plane hole are definitely great features to find their way to the Antec lineup. Things like USB 3.0 front panel connections, dedicated 2.5-in drive bays and the eight (8!!) available 120mm fan location really round out the Eleven Hundred.
Personally, I still find the mix of performance and quiet design features on the P280 more appealing, though that will depend on your system goals and individual preferences.
Introduction and Specifications
AMD's Fusion technology has worked out well for the company in 2011 and many vendors have reaped the benefits by including this platform in their mini ITX motherboards and netbook offerings. Gigabyte found room in their product line to feature this chipset in its GA-E350N-USB3. We received one of these boards for review to see how it stacks up against other E-350 mini ITX boards available today.
The GA-E350N-USB3 can be purchased for around $89.99 (after mail-in rebate from Newegg) and includes an AMD dual-core E-350 1.6GHz processor with an integrated Radeon HD 6310 GPU and support for USB 3.0, SATA3, and a PCI-E x16 slot for add-on video cards or other PCI-E devices. AMD developed the Brazos platform to directly compete with Intel's Atom and NVIDIA's ION technologies for the top slot this year's netbooks, notebooks, and some entry-level desktop solutions.
Introduction and Features
OCZ recently introduced the ZS Series power supplies, which are targeted towards value-oriented gaming systems. The ZS Series complements OCZ's High Performance and Max Performance power supplies and provides an affordable entry point for PC enthusiasts on a budget who still want good efficiency along with NVIDIA SLI or ATI CrossFire support.
The new ZS-Series currently includes three different power supplies ranging in output capacity from 550W up to 750W. The ZS-750 we have up for review today features 750W of continuous output power, is 80 Plus Bronze certified and incorporates all hard-wired cables with four PCI-E connectors. The OCZ ZS Series 750W PSU is currently selling for $84.99 USD (October 2011).
Introduction and Design
When I think of inexpensive workhorse laptops, Inspiron is one of the first names that comes to mind. This may partially be because HP remains oddly committed to a strange number-based naming scheme that’s as easy to remember as my second cousin’s birthday, but it’s also because the Inspiron is as common as rice. In college, they seemed to be the most popular Windows PC by far, and they’re still sold by most brick-and-mortar electronics stores despite Dell’s significant online presence.
Part of the reason for this popularity is price, and that means Inspirons are often competent, but can also be a bit dull. There’s always exceptions to the rules, however, and Dell has decided to spice up the brand with the new Inspiron 14z. Starting at $599, this “thin and powerful” laptop could be appealing consumers who want to get on the slim-and-sexy train for cheap, but trying to cram a lot of hardware in a small chassis with an inexpensive price can sometimes result in compromises. Did Dell have to cut corners to make this possible?
Introduction: Griefing the grieving
PC Gaming has been on its death bed for years -- if you believe the countless debates that have occurred most commonly over the last decade. The drum beat roared from the masses: “Why game on the PC anymore when you could just buy a console?” The focus of conversation was set upon the attack and defense of the PC as a viable platform at all, let alone the platform of choice. The question that swarms naggingly through my brain is quite the opposite: “In the long run, why game on a console?” The concept that consoles are better than PCs, given a fraction of the support that consoles receive, is about to die; console supporters are in various levels of grief.
U mad Mario Bros.?
I am an avid, though this editorial may suggest livid, video game supporter. My first exposure to video gaming was mixed between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the family 80286. I have equally fond memories with the keyboard as with the gamepad. The balance between console and PC was level throughout my life until just a few years ago when I carefully thought the situation over. The PC is now my platform of choice.
Back in 2006, storage tech talk was intermittently buzzy with a few different innovations. One was wrapped around the pending release of Windows Vista, particularly two bullets on its feature list: ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive. In parallel with all of the Ready_____ talk, many tech pundits asked why it would be necessary to have the flash talk to Windows through special drivers. Why couldn't the flash memory just act like a larger RAM cache already present on?
A prototype ReadyBoost-enabled HDD by Samsung.
The answer, which nobody was aware of at that time, was that management of flash memory was a tricky thing to do successfully. It would not be until several years later that SSD's would (mostly) beat the issues of Long Term Performance and other issues that crop up when attempting to store randomly written data onto a device that can only be erased in relatively large blocks.
ReadyDrive required a special 'Hybrid' disk drive to be connected to and recognized by Windows Vista, containing both spinning platters and flash memory. Vista would then place frequently used small files on the flash. Since flash memory has negligible access times when compared to seek times of a HDD, the drive overall would boot significantly faster. Other tasks using those cached system files also saw a benefit. While ReadyDrive looked great on paper, there were very few devices ever released that could take advantage of it. Seagate was the earliest to release such a drive, and their Momentus 5400 PSD laptop drive did not see the light of day until Vista was nearly a full year old.
Introduction and Design
Ultrabooks are now on store shelves, but that doesn’t mean the more traditional ultraportables are dead - not by a long shot. Thin may be cool, but the high price premium attached to ultrabooks means that they will, at least for now, be a niche product. Meanwhile, the workhorse 13.3” ultraportable will remain popular.
One of the most accomplished manufacturers of this type of laptop is ASUS, which has been building U-Series ultraportables for several years now. We’ve generally given them high marks here, but now there is a new model to check out, the updated U36. Unlike the stylish U33 Bamboo, this model is a tough, simple laptop that seems to take ques from Lenovo’s ThinkPads. Has this compromised the series? Let’s find out.
Introduction and Features
Our test bench has seen a flood of Z68-based enthusiast motherboards this fall and ASRock added their flagship Z68 Extreme 7 Gen 3 board to the top of the pile for testing. The Extreme 7 Gen 3 pulls out all the stops for extreme enthusiasts and ultra overclockers by arming this board with next-gen PCI-E 3.0 support and an NVIDIA NF200 chip to allow users to run dual graphics cards at PCI-E x16/x16 mode and three graphics cards at x16/x8/x8 respectively.
This $275 board brings with it a lot of features that users have been begging for like a graphical Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), Intel's Smart Response techology, dual gigabit LAN capabilities, and support for six USB 3.0 and six SATA 3 devices. They also didn't skimp on the power components by adding premium gold caps that are made in Japan and considered by many to be luxury capacitors.
Introduction, Features, Technical Specifications
Performance CPU coolers have been saturating the market in bunches this year, and Thermaltake added the FrioOCK to the fray to compete against other high-end heatsinks geared toward overclockers and power PC users. We wasted no time installing the FrioOCK in our LGA 1155 teset bench to see how it stacks up against other extreme air-cooled CPU coolers!
The FrioOCK is a universal CPU cooler that supports a variety of socket types from Intel (LGA1366, LGA1155, LGA1156, and LGA775) and AMD (AM3, AM2+, AM2). This heatsink uses a dual-tower design with six copper heatpipes to dissipate heat from the processor. The unit also sports two 130mm fans in a push-pull configuration to wisk heat away from the CPU.
A Temporary Card with a Permanent Place in Our Heart
Today NVIDIA and its partners are announcing availability of a new graphics card that bridges the gap between the $230 GTX 560 Ti and the $330 GTX 570 currently on the market. The new card promises to offer performance right between those two units with a price to match but with a catch: it is a limited edition part with expected availability only through the next couple of months.
When we first heard rumors about this product back in October I posited that the company would be crazy to simply call this the GeForce GTX 560 Ti Special Edition. Well...I guess this makes me the jackass. This new ~$290 GPU will be officially called the "GeForce GTX 560 Ti with 448 Cores".
The GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core Edition
The GeForce GTX 560 Ti with 448 cores is actually not a GTX 560 Ti at all and in fact is not even built on a GF114 GPU - instead we are looking at a GF110 GPU (the same used on the GeForce GTX 580 and GTX 570 graphics cards) with another SM disabled.
GeForce GTX 580 Diagram
The above diagram shows a full GF110 GPU sporting 512 CUDA cores and the full 16 SMs (simultaneous multiprocessors) along with all the bells and whistles that go along with that $450 card. This includes a 384-bit memory bus and a 1.5 GB frame buffer that all adds up to still being the top performing single graphics card on the market today.
Introduction, Design and Ergonomics
The tablet market is starting to heat up. After a long period of dominance by the iPad and its long line of Android imitators, we have new competitors looking to spoil the tablet world order. On the high-end we have the incoming volley of buff Tegra 3 based products, and on the low end with have the Kindle Fire, a simple $199 tablet that seems to prefer that its users don’t think for a second about the hardware inside.
That’s actually a bit odd, because the hardware inside is at least competitive. Though priced $300 less than the cheapest iPad 2, the Fire offers a dual core processor at the same clock speed of 1 GHz. It also provides 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage, neither of which will blow away competitors, but all of which is competitive. While the 7” size of the Fire means there is simply less tablet to build, it’s impressive that Amazon has managed to cram reasonably impressive hardware into one of the cheapest Android tablets on the market today.
Hardware is only a small part of equation, however. Amazon really intends the Fire to be a portal to its world of services, which includes ebooks, streaming video, apps and much more. This is very much a walled garden, even more so than Apple’s iPad, and for it to work the spoils of the garden need to be damn good. Let’s see if $200 is really a good value given that users must buy into Amazon’s services as well.
Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging
A few months back, OCZ acquired Indilinx. Ever since, we've been wondering if the next generation Indilinx offering could stand up to the competition, who has made leaps and bounds since the first generation SSD controllers were released.
- 128GB Max Performance
- 256GB Max Performance
- 512GB Max Performance
- 1TB Max Performance
Here's a basic block diagram of the new Everest controller from Indilinx. All of the usual bits are present, of particular note being the ability to drive 8 channels, with each channel rated at 4-way. This should mean an Everest could theoretically drive 32 flash chips.
Welcome to The Inside Perspective
Welcome! The Inside Perspective is a new series on PC Perspective that will take you further behind the scenes of the industry than we typically go, with interviews of industry personnel. I hope you find these discussions to be both informative as well as eye opening into the world behind the reviews, behind the press releases and the marketing speak that everyone sees on a daily basis. http://pcper.com/tip
The Inside Perspective 001 - Antec's Jessie Lawrence
Antec was at one time the leader in enthusiast and gamer case design and much of what the company built years ago, like the P180 series, has endured years of modifications to remain relevant and these chassis remain some of the favorites of our staff. However, in the past several years, the case world has seen new entrants, new designs and new feature sets that Antec has been slow to adopt and as such they have fallen out of the leaders position in the mind-set of enthusiasts, even if they haven't in sales in revenue.
With the release of the new P280 and Eleven Hundred cases though (the former of which we have already reviewed) Antec is hoping to make a resurgence into the enthusiast market. And while I definitely was impressed with the P280 there is still some work to do and, luckily, Antec knows it and is moving forward in the right direction.
Recently, Antec's Communications Manager Jessie Lawrence stopped by the office and we sat down for a small interview to ask him about the new case designs, what he likes about working in this cut throat industry and how Antec plans to stem the tides against the competition.
While we are getting The Inside Perspective started, we are including it in our PC Perspective Podcast RSS feed. Also, the video version which we would encourage you to check out can be seen below, embedded via YouTube. You can be sure to find all of our episodes of The Inside Perspective at http://pcper.com/tip
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
- RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
- MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file
- Video - See YouTube embed below (RSS to come soon!)
Host: Ryan Shrout
Guest: Jessie Lawrence, Antec
Program Length: 13:49
- 01:08 Introduction
- 02:15 Questions about new P280 and Eleven Hundred Cases
- 04:40 Target audience for each new case
- 05:50 Background with Jessie Lawrence
- 09:20 Memorable moments in the industry
- 11:20 How can Antec return to enthusiast roots?
- 13:45 Conclusion
Antec pushes forward
Sometimes, when you right something correctly the first time, it still fits:
Antec is one of the most storied brands when it comes to enthusiast class components like cases and power supplies. Unfortunately, the whims of the gamer change on a breeze as most will swap between company allegiances whenever the performance or features dictate. Antec has fallen into this trap over the last few years as many in the community moved on from the likes of the ever-present P180 to newer and more innovative designs from other companies. Having realized this internally and making moves to take care of that slide, Antec is going to start producing some modern cases with improved specifications.
I wrote those words as the introduction to our Antec SOLO II review and they still stand true. The SOLO II was a good case for its small size but the new Antec P280 attempts to reenergize the excitement around the Performance One series of cases, well known for the P180/190 lineage. The P280 continues with specific features like the 270 degree swinging door and sound dampening material but does it offer up enough additional features to catch the competition that has passed Antec?
Check out our video review below and continue reading if you want to see a collection of still photos and our final thoughts!
Overall, I think the new Antec P280 is a great case for the price, coming in at $139 (and likely lower) at launch. The case offers what I would now call "staple" features like the grommeted cable routing openings around the motherboard and a large CPU cooler installation opening while keeping what made the Performance One series of cases great including sound dampening material on the front door and side panels and the classic swinging door. Extras like the dedicated 2.5-in drive bays, rubber feet for the standard 3.5-in HDDs, 9 expansion slots and the side access fan filter for the power supply really show that Antec is moving in the right direction again.
Introduction, Campaign Testing
As you might have noticed, we’re a bit excited about Battlefield 3 here at PC Perspective. It promised to pay attention to what PC gamers want, and shockingly, it has come through. Dedicated servers and huge multi-player matches are supported, and the browser based interface is excellent.
If we’re honest, a lot of our hearts have been stirred simply by the way the game looks. There aren’t many titles that really let a modern mid-range graphics card stretch its legs, even at 1080p resolution. Battlefield 3, however, can be demanding - and it looks beautiful. Even with the presets at medium, it’s one of the most attractive games ever.
But what does this mean for laptops? Has the resident laptop reviewer at PC Perspective, I know that gaming remains a challenge. The advancements over the last few years have been spectacular, but even so, most of the laptops we test can’t run Just Cause 2 at a playable framerate even with all detail set to low and a resolution of just 1366x768.
To find out if mobile gamers were given consideration by the developers of Battlefield 3, I installed the game on three different laptops. The results only go to show how far mobile gaming has come, and has far it has to go.