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AMD Gives a Glimpse of the Near Future
AMD has released an updated roadmap for these next two years, and the information contained within is quite revealing of where AMD is going and how they are shifting their lineup to be less dependent on a single manufacturer. The Financial Analyst Day has brought a few surprises of where AMD is headed, and how they will get there. Rory Read and Mark Papermaster have brought a new level of energy to the company that seemingly has been either absent or muted. Sometimes a new set of eyes on a problem, or in this case the attitudes and culture of a company, can bring about significant changes for the positive. From what we have seen so far from Rory and company is a new energy and direction for AMD. While AMD is still sticking to their roots, they are looking to further expand upon their expertise in some areas, all the while being flexible enough to license products from other companies that are far enough away from AMD's core competence that it pays to license rather than force engineers to re-invent the wheel.
The roadmaps cover graphics, desktop, mobile, and server products through 2013.
This first slide is a snapshot of the current and upcoming APU lineup. Southern Islands is the codename for the recently released HD 7000 series of desktop parts. This will cover products from the 7700 level on up to the top end 7990. Of great interest are the Brazos 2.0 and Hondo chips. AMD had cancelled the "Krishna" series of chips which would have been based on Bobcat cores up to 4 on 28 nm. Details are still pending, but it seems Brazos 2.0 will still be 40 nm parts but much more refined so they can be clocked higher and still pull less power. Hondo looks to be the basic Brazos core, but for Ultra Low Power (lower clocks, possibly disabled units, etc.) which would presumably scale to 5 watts and possibly lower.
3 NV for DCII
The world of video cards is a much changed place over the past few years. Where once we saw only “sticker versions” of cards mass produced by a handful of manufacturers, we are now seeing some really nice differentiation from the major manufacturers. While the first iterations of these new cards are typically mass produced by NVIDIA or AMD and then distributed to their partners for initial sales, these manufacturers are now more consistently getting their own unique versions out to retail in record time. MSI was one of the first to put out their own unique designs, but now we are seeing Asus becoming much more aggressive with products of their own.
The DirectCU II line is Asus’ response to the growing number of original designs from other manufacturers. The easiest way to categorize these designs is that they straddle nicely the very high end and extreme products like the MSI Lightning series and those of the reference design boards with standard cooling. These are unique designs that integrate features and cooling solutions that are well above that of reference cards.
DirectCU II applies primarily to the cooling solutions on these boards. The copper heatipipes in the DirectCU II cooler are in direct contact with the GPU. These heatpipes then are distributed through two separate aluminum fin arrays, each with their own fan. So each card has either a dual slot or triple slot cooling solution with two 80 mm fans that dynamically adjust to the temperature of the chip. The second part of this is branded “Super Alloy Power” in which Asus has upgraded most of the electrical components on the board to match higher specifications. Hi-C caps, proadlizers, polymer caps, and higher quality chokes round out the upgraded components which should translate into more stable overclocked performance and a longer lifespan.
Tahiti Gets Clipped
It has been just over a month since we first got our hands on the AMD Southern Islands architecture in the form of the Radeon HD 7970 3GB graphics card. It was then a couple of long weeks as we waited for the consumer to get the chance to buy that same hardware though we had to admit that the $550+ price tags were scaring many away. Originally we were going to have both the Radeon HD 7970 and the Radeon HD 7950 in our hands before January 9th, but that didn't pan out and instead the little brother was held in waiting a bit longer.
Today we are reviewing that sibling, the Radeon HD 7950 3GB GPU that offers basically the same technology and feature set with a slightly diminished core and a matching, slightly diminished price. In truth I don't think that the estimated MSRP of $449 is going to really capture that many more hearts than the $549 price of the HD 7970 did, but AMD is hoping that they can ride their performance advantage to as many profits as they can while they wait for NVIDIA to properly react.
Check out our video review right here and then continue on to our complete benchmarking analysis!!
Southern Islands Gets Scaled Back a Bit
As I said above, the Radeon HD 7950 3GB is pretty similar to the HD 7970. It is based on the same 28nm, DirectX 11.1, PCI Express 3.0, 4.31 billion transistor GPU and includes the same massive 3GB frame buffer as its older brother. The Tahiti GPU is the first of its kind of all of those facets but it has a few of the computational portions disabled.
If you haven't read up on the Southern Islands architecture, or Tahiti GPU based around it, you are missing quite a bit of important information on the current lineup of parts from AMD. I would very much encourage you to head over to our Radeon HD 7970 3GB Tahiti review and look over the first three pages as it provides a detailed breakdown of the new features and the pretty dramatic shift in design that Southern Islands introduced to the AMD GPU team.
Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging
Today we're going to take a look at a pair of SSD models from Patriot. While they both share the same SandForce controller, that's where the differences end. This won't be your typical review - because this time we're pitting an Async IMFT flash unit against a Toshiba Toggle-mode flash unit:
We're also tossing a few OCZ and Intel models into the mix. The OCZ Vertex 3 and Agility 3 will again share the same SandForce controller, but OCZ has been known to add many performance tweaks to their firmware. This will give us a chance to see the 'baseline' SandForce firmware in action.
Patriot has their drive specs spread out over several pages. Here's a consolidated list for these two models. We will be reviewing a 120GB sample from each of the two product lines.
- Wildfire 120GB:
-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 555MB/s read | 520MB/s Write
-Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned)
- Wildfire 240GB:
-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 555MB/s read | 520MB/s Write
-Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned)
- Wildfire 480GB:
-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 540MB/S Read | 450MB/S Write*
-Max Random Write IOPS: Max 4K Random IOPS: 40K*
- Pyro 60GB:
- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 520MB/s read | 490MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 80,000 (4K aligned).
- Pyro 120GB:
- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 550MB/s read | 515MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned).
- Pyro 240GB:
- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 550MB/s read | 515MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned).
I've highlighted a few outlier specs in the above list. While the Pyro sees the now expected dip in performance when transitioning from 120GB down to 60GB - due to a reduction in the communication channels to the (fewer) flash chips, the Wildfire sees a seemingly opposite and more drastic effect. This is not due to a change in the number of data paths - it's a limit inherent in the SandForce controller itself, and is not limited to Toggle-mode flash. The difference caused by the Toggle-mode flash is the missing 60GB model - caused by the intermix of capacity points and configuration needed for this different type of flash memory.
Introduction, Thin Is Flimsy
If there was anything that can be pointed to as “the” thing CES was about, it’s the ultrabook. These thin and portable laptops were presented by Intel with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. Intel’s message is clear. Ultrabooks are here, and you’re going to like them.
Such a highly coordinated effort on the part of Intel is unusual. Sure, they’ve pushed industry standards before. But the company’s efforts have usually been focused on a specific technology, like USB. The last time Intel put serious effort into trying to change how system builders constructed their systems was when Intel pushed for the BTX form factor.
BTX was an attempt to address problems the company was having with its Pentium 4 processors, which tended to consume a lot of power and therefor run hot. The push for the ultrabook is also an attempt in address a (perceived) problem. In this case the issue at hand is portability, both in in terms physical system size and battery endurance.
Intel announced some interesting new smartphone and tablet reference designs at CES 2012. These are signs that the company is making headway in this area. But the products based on those reference designs aren’t out yet, and it will probably take a few years for Intel to gain significant market share even if it does manage to offer x86 processors that can beat ARM in smartphones and tablets. In the meantime, Intel needs to provide slim, responsive and portable systems that can distract consumers from tablets.
So we have the ultrabook.
Q4-2012 In a Nutshell
Tis the reporting season. Yes, that time of year when some of the major players in the computing world get together and tell us all how well they did this past quarter. Ok, so they do not necessarily get together to announce results, but they sure time them that way. Today was AMD’s turn (and Apple’s), and the results were not nearly as positive as what Intel had to offer a few days ago.
Q4 2011 was flat in terms of revenue as compared to Q3. The company had gross revenue of $1.69 billion and had a net income loss of $177 million. That net income is not necessarily a bad result, but more on that later. Margins rose to 46%, which is still a far cry from Intel’s 65% for the past quarter. Gross revenue was up 2% from last year, which considering the marketplace and Intel’s dominance, is a solid win for AMD.
When we start talking about non-GAAP results, AMD had a net income of $138 million. The difference between those two numbers (a loss vs. a nice profit) is that the loss came from one time writeoffs. AMD has lowered its stake in GLOBALFOUNDRIES to 8.8%, and in so doing incurred a hefty charge. This is not so much money lost as it is lost value in the company.
Guess what? Overclocked.
The NVIDIA GTX 580 GPU, based on the GF110 Fermi architecture, is old but it isn't forgotten. Released in November of 2010, NVIDIA had held the single GPU performance grown for more than a year before it was usurped by AMD and the Radeon HD 7970 just this month. Still, the GTX 580 is a solid high-end enthusiast graphics card that has wide spread availability and custom designed, overclocked models from numerous vendors making it a viable option.
Gigabyte sent us this overclocked and custom cooled model quite a while ago but we had simply fallen behind with other reviews until just after CES. In today's market the card has a bit of a different role to fill - it surely won't be able to pass up the new AMD Radeon HD 7970 but can it fight the good fight and keep NVIDIA's current lineup of GPUs more competitive until Kepler finally shows himself?
The Gigabyte GTX 580 1.5GB Super Overclock Card
With the age of the GTX 580 designs, Gigabyte had plenty of time to perfect their PCB and cooler design. This model, the Super Overclock (GV-N580SO-15I), comes in well ahead of the standard reference speeds of the GTX 580 but sticks to the same 1.5 GB frame buffer.
The clock speed is set at 855 MHz core and 1025 MHz memory, compared to the 772 MHz core speed and 1002 MHz clock rate of the reference design. That is a very healthy 10% clock rate difference that should equate to nearly that big of a gap in gaming performance where the GPU is the real bottleneck.
I got your $13.9 Billion over here...
Intel had a record quarter. Are we tired of hearing that yet? I guess that depends on who a person is investing with. Earlier this quarter Intel warned that their results could be negatively affected by the current hard drive shortage that we are experiencing. Apparently, this was a factor, but it did not stop Intel from still having a record quarter.
Q4 2011 turned out to be gangbusters for Intel. They reported gross revenue of $13.9 billion, which is significantly higher than the expected $13.74 billion analysts were predicting. Net income came in at $3.4 billion with an impressive 65.5% gross margin. The overall year was also record setting at $54 billion gross revenue and $12.9 billion net income. For comparison, AMD has a gross revenue of about $6.8 billion and a net income of around $300 million. 2010 was a record year for Intel in that they surpassed $40 billion in revenue for the first time in the company’s history, and this year saw revenue over $10 billion higher. Intel is certainly hitting their stride, and they do not look to slow down anytime soon.
The Prime seems to have no trouble achieving notable firsts. It was the first tablet with a Tegra 3 processor to go to retail, and now it’s the first tablet to have official Ice Cream Sandwich support. The update, scheduled originally for January 12th, actually went live after a surprise announcement on January 9th during Nvidia’s CES conference.
Since we still have our Prime review unit, this update provides us with a unique opportunity to compare Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich side-by-side on the same device. This update is important for the Prime - and all upcoming Android tablets - because the operating system is something that’s currently holding back a number of products with great hardware.
Honeycomb was never an OS that impressed me. It’s often jerky, lacks elegance, and has poor app support. So long as Honeycomb was the version of Android shipping on tablets there was simply no chance for an Android tablet to defeat the iPad 2. The software simply wasn’t up to the high standard set by iOS.
Ice Cream Sandwich is a chance at redemption. The rumors have spread like wildfire. Various sources have reported improvements including better multi-core support, a faster web browser, improved notifications and much more. Official announcements have generally limited themselves to commenting on feature improvements, however - going into the ICS update I didn’t have any expectations for performance improvements because none were ever provided by Google. Nvidia also never set any expectations about the improvements, if any, we’d see from Tegra 3 processors running ICS.
Now that the Prime is updated we can test ICS out for ourselves. Let’s jump in, starting with the interface updates.
Configuration and Exterior
Puget Systems has slowly grown to be one of our favorite system builders for those looking to buy rather than build their own PC. Using off-the-shelf components might seem like a negative but in our mind mixing an upgrade path with small niche features like noise dampening material and a great overall customer buying experience really hit the spot. For the Sandy Bridge-E launch late in 2011 Puget wanted to send over something just a bit different than normal - a workstation class computer.
The result is the Genesis I based on the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition processor from Intel, the ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard, 32GB of memory and 250GB Intel 510 SSD.
Puget Systems Build Process
One of my favorite things about the Puget Systems system purchase process is the customer service you get. The website isn't anything unusual but is completely functional for even novice users. Despite my knowledge of hardware I actually appreciate the fact that Puget does NOT inundate buyers with a selection of 30 motherboards and even the graphics card options are limited to a handful of selected "best choice" by the staff.
We have previously taken a look at Serenity and Deluge systems from Puget and have been impressed with the build quality and attention to detail they apply. Each build is continually updated throughout the process and communicated to the buyer via emails with a site portal for photos of your specific rig and even including thermal images of the PC running under load and idle. It is nice touches like this that really show the company cares about its customers and wants to them to feel attached to the process.
Cooler Master Aims to Impress
Right at the start of 2012, Cooler Master released a new case that was trumpeted as an "Ultra ATX" design. And while the name itself is purely a Cooler Master creation, the Cosmos II chassis fits the name more than anything we have seen in recent memory. Even though we posted this video on our PC Perspective YouTube channel before CES, I didn't get a chance to write up this short post and embed our host of images below.
This is an impressive chassis design with tons of features and great layout decisions that needs to be seen to be understood - hence the video review below!
Cooler Master's new Cosmos II case is going to cost you $349 and while that price is extremely high, the fact is this is designed exactly for the PC builder that doesn't want to compromise on anything. It weights nearly 50 pounds without a single component installed and feels like it could take more than its fair share of beating without showing damage. Still, it is unique and stylish enough to look good at the same time.
If you have the space and the money for the Cosmos II, then you will undoubtedly be happy with the purchase.
If you still want to see some photos of the Cosmos II, I have included an assortment of them below along with some descriptions and notes.
Introduction, Features, Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Corsair
Corsair expanded their product line exponentially in 2011 by adding a variety of PC components like mechanical keyboards, gaming mice, performance CPU coolers, desktop and headset sound systems, solid state drives, and their trademark system memory modules. One of the truest innovations we saw from Corsair this year was their self-contained watercooling units. Corsair developed the H100 to be their flagship CPU cooler that uses a dual-radiator configuration to bring enthusiasts an efficient and responsive cooling solution.
Courtesy of Corsair
The Corsair H100 debuted in June 2011 and is the only self-contained watercooling unit on the market that sports a massive 240mm radiator and digital fan control buttons to adjust the CPU cooler for quiet, performance, and balanced modes. This CPU cooler retails for around $119 before shipping at most vendors, but many enthusiasts wonder how it stacks up against other comparable options from Corsair, Antec, and Thermaltake. Personally, I would also like to see what performance differences I will see using the H100 against a few of the top air-cooled heatsinks I have in our office.
Introduction and Design
As a writer and laptop reviewer, I am constantly bombarded with the chance to look at new laptops. These are the latest and supposedly greatest the industry has to offer. Comparing these modern laptops with each other provides you, the reader, with information about what you should buy today. But it doesn’t provide a wider perspective throughout the years.
There’s a long line of common complaints that are leveled at modern laptops including poor display quality, underwhelming build quality, and crappy keyboards. Certainly, there seem to be room for improvement in these areas on many laptops. Yet nostalgia has a tendency to obscure our view of the past. Was that laptop you used to own really superior to anything on the market today? Or is your memory clouded by the good times you had using it at a friend’s LAN party or writing an important paper twelve hours before it was due?
To find out, we’re going to step into the past and do a review of a nearly five-year-old laptop, the Acer Extensa 5420. This 15.4” laptop was not a top-of-the-line model when it was put on sale in 2007. It was the very picture of mainstream computing, a completely average dual-core laptop with discrete graphics that typically sold for between $500 and $600, depending on the configuration.
Retail-ready HD 7970
We first showed off the power of the new AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB graphics card in our reference review posted on December 22nd. If you haven't read all about the new Southern Islands architecture and the Tahiti chip that powers the HD 7970 then you should already be clicking the link above to my review to get up to speed. Once you have done so, please return here to continue.
Welcome back, oh wise one. Now we are ready to proceed. By now you already know that the Radeon HD 7970 is the fastest GPU on the planet, besting the NVIDIA GTX 580 by a solid 20-30% in most cases. For our first retail card review we are going to be looking at the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation that overclocks the GPU and memory clocks slightly and offers a new cooler that promises to be more efficient and quieter.
Let's put XFX to the test!
The XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition Double Dissipation
Because of the use of a completely custom cooler, the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation looks completely different than the reference model we tested last month though the feature set remains identical. The silver and black motif works well here.
Introduction, Design and Ergonomics
The original ASUS Eee Pad Transformer was a bit of an upset in the tablet market. Before its launch, there was no particular reason to believe that ASUS would be able to provide a better product than any of the many other PC manufacturers entering the Android tablet fray. Sure, I like most of the ASUS products that I’ve been able to review, and I believe they have some good engineers. But they also had no experience beyond a few Windows tablets and convertible tablets.
Yet they were successful. At the time I called the Transformer "the best Android tablet on the market today” and gave it with a Gold Award. Consumers apparently agreed, as it flew off shelves with such speed that ASUS has decided to debut a follow-up only half a year after the original hit the market.
A New Chip for a New Year
When Intel launched the Sandy Bridge-E platform in November, there were three processors listed on the specification sheet. The Core i7-3960X is the flagship, 6-core processor with the ~$1000 price tag, the Core i7-3930K still had 6-cores but a much lower cost and similar clock speeds and the Core i7-3820 was the only quad-core option and was listed for a Q1 release. We reviewed the Core i7-3930K in December and found that it offered nearly the same performance as the more expensive unit at about half the price.
Today we are getting a preview of the Core i7-3820 that will be released likely in early February and will come with a much more reasonable price tag of $285 to fill out the LGA2011 socket. The question that we must ask then is can the quad-core Core i7-3820 compete against the currently available quad-core Sandy Bridge parts that fit in the widely available LGA1155 socket? We not only have to consider performance but also the features of each platform as well as the total cost.
Same Feature Set, New Die
While most of the features of the Core i7-3820 are going to be identical to those of the previous SNB-E processors we have seen, there are some important differences with this chip. Let's see what is familiar first. The Core i7-3820 is based on the Sandy Bridge-E design that works on the LGA2011 socket and the X79 chipset and motherboards currently on the market. It includes a quad-channel memory controller and 40 lanes of PCI Express that are actually capable of PCIe 3.0 speeds. HyperThreading is still enabled so you are getting the benefit of being able to run twice as many threads as you have cores.
There are some very important changes on this CPU as well though starting with a quad-core design. This directly pits this Sandy Bridge-E part against the currently existing Sandy Bridge processors running on the Z68/P67 chipset and LGA1155 socket. Also, the L3 cache on the Core i7-3820 is at 10MB, 5MB less than the Core i7-3960X and 2MB less than the Core i7-3930K. We are basically talking about a processor that bridges the gap between the original SNB and newer SNB-E parts and it creates some interesting battles and comparisons.
Corsair Carbide Series
Corsair's successful entry into the case world has taken quite a few people by surprise including consumers and many competitors in the case market. With the first Corsair Obsidian series, the 800D, Corsair standardized many features that were only seen in much more niche products like cable routing openings on the motherboard tray and fan filters. Since that release in September of 2009 we have seen the 600T in the Graphite series as well as the 700D and 650D added to the Obsidian.
When Corsair showed us the first versions of the Carbide series in Taiwan during Computex 2011, it was finally addressing the primary complaint that many had about its cases: price. The Carbide 500R can be found today for about $139 and the 400R for under $100.
The Corsair Carbide 400R (left) and 500R White (right)
Check out our video review of the pair of Carbide cases below!
You can find the Corsair Carbide cases for sale directly on the Corsair.com website or at Newegg.com:
My preference would be to get the 400R model with the noticeable price difference (relatively speaking) as it offers nearly identical performance and features, minus the larger side fan, very basic fan controller and removable drive cages. Both are top notch designs for the low-cost gamer though and earn our PC Perspective Gold Award!
Aaah memory. It has been some time since we last had a memory review, and for good reason. Memory got pretty boring. Ten years ago this was not the case. DDR was just fresh on the scene and we were starting to see memory speeds and bandwidths get to a place where it would have a significant effect on performance. Latencies were of utmost importance, and the fastest 22.214.171.124 DIMMs running at DDR 400 speeds were often quite expensive. Then things sort of mellowed out. DDR-2 did not exactly bring faster performance over DDR initially, and it was not until DDR-2 800 and 1066 speeds that we actually saw a significant boost over previous gen DDR 1. DDR-3 brought even more yawns. With the jump to integrated memory controllers from both AMD and Intel, DDR-3 speeds were nearly meaningless.
The primary reason for this rather vanilla time in the memory market was that of individual bandwidth needs for CPU cores. Most research into this issue points to an individual CPU core needing only 3 to 4 GB/sec of bandwidth to support its data needs. AMD and Intel have gone to great lengths to increase the efficiency of not only their memory controllers and prefetchers, but also the internal caches so fewer main memory accesses are needed. So essentially a quad core processor would really only need upwards of 12 to 13 GB/sec of bandwidth in real world scenarios. DDR-3 1333 memory modules in a dual channel configuration would be able to support that kind of bandwidth quite easily. So what exactly was the point of having faster memory? Also, CPUs using DDR-3 memory are not as sensitive to latencies as we have seen in previous generations of parts.
Introduction and Features
Seasonic has a well earned reputation for producing some of the best PC power supplies on the planet. Over the years, Seasonic has been the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) of choice for companies like Corsair, PC Power & Cooling, and XFX to name just a few. But Seasonic also markets power supplies under their own brand name. The new Platinum-860 and Platinum-1000 are Seasonic's newest and most advanced PSUs to date and the Platinum-1000 is their first 1kW unit. Both power supplies are based on Seasonic's X Series line, which has brought several major advancements to the standard PC power supply platform since its introduction two years ago.
• Proprietary circuit design delivers High efficiency (80Plus Gold or Platinum certified)
• Full modular DC Connector Module features integrated VRMs (3.3V and 5V)
• Hybrid Silent Fan Control (3 modes of operation: Fanless, Silent and Cooling)
• High-quality Sanyo Denki San Ace dual ball bearing fan with PWM
• High-reliability 105°C grade A capacitors and solid polymer capacitors
Introduction and Design
Back in June of 2011, we reviewed AMD’s new Llano mobile processor line by taking a look at a testbed system. The overall review was favorable, but it was also based on the best AMD had to offer, a quad-core A8-3500M processor running alongside a separate Radeon discrete GPU.
If you take a tour through your local electronics retailer, you’ll find that this is not the most common combination of parts on store shelves. The less expensive and less powerful A4 and A6 processors are more common. In our original Llano laptop review, I theorized that these would remain competitive at their respective price points, but we didn’t have the opportunity to test a laptop equipped with the less expensive hard.
Now, via the ASUS K53T, we finally have a chance to thoroughly examine a mid-range Llano laptop.
Get notified when we go live!