Author:
Manufacturer: MSI

Mini-ITX Sized Package with a Full Sized GPU

PC components seem to be getting smaller.  Micro-ATX used to not be very popular for the mainstream enthusiast, but that has changed as of late.  Mini-ITX is now the hot form factor these days with plenty of integrated features on motherboards and interesting case designs to house them in.  Enthusiast graphics cards tend to be big, and that is a problem for some of these small cases.  Manufacturers are responding to this by squeezing every ounce of cooling performance into smaller cards that more adequately fit in these small chassis.

msi760_01.jpg

MSI is currently offering their midrange cards in these mini-ITX liveries.  The card we have today is the GTX 760 Mini-ITX Gaming.  The GTX 760 is a fairly popular card due to it being fairly quick, but not too expensive.  It is still based on the GK104, though fairly heavily cut down from a fully functional die.  The GTX 760 features 1152 CUDA Cores divided into 6 SMXs.  A fully functional GK104 is 1536 CUDA Cores and 8 SMXs.  The stock clock on the GTX 760 is 980 MHz with a boost up to 1033 MHz.

The pricing for the GTX 760 cards is actually fairly high as compared to similarly performing products from AMD.  NVIDIA feels that they offer a very solid product at that price and do not need to compete directly with AMD on a performance per dollar basis.  Considering that NVIDIA has stayed very steady in terms of marketshare, they probably have a valid point.  Overall the GTX 760 performs in the same general area as a R9 270X and R9 280, but again the AMD parts have a significant advantage in terms of price.

The challenges for making a high performing, small form factor card are focused on power delivery and thermal dissipation.  Can the smaller PCB still have enough space for all of the VRMs required with such a design?  Can the manufacturer develop a cooling solution that will keep the GPU in the designed thermal envelope?  MSI has taken a shot at these issues with their GTX 760 Mini-ITX OC edition card.

Continue reading our review of the MSI GTX 760 Mini-ITX Graphics Card!!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Steiger Dynamics

Overview

Often times, one of the suggestions of what to do with older PC components is to dedicate it to a Home Theater PC. While in concept this might seem like a great idea, you can do a lot of things with full control over the box hooked up to your TV, I think it's a flawed concept.

With a HTPC, some of the most desired traits include low power consumption, quiet operation, all while maintaining a high performance level so you can do things like transcode video quickly. Older components that you have outgrown don't tend to be nearly as efficient as newer components. To have a good HTPC experience, you really want to pick components from the ground up, which is why I was excited to take a look at the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC.

As it was shipped to us, our Maven Core is equipped with an Intel Core i5-4690K and an NVIDIA GTX 980. By utilizing two of the most power efficient architectures available, Intel's Haswell and NVIDIA's Maxwell, the Maven should be able to sip power while maintaining low temperature and noise. While a GTX 980 might be overkill for just HTPC applications, it opens up a lot of possibilities for couch-style PC gaming with things like Steam Big Picture mode.

IMG_9996.JPG

From the outside, the hand-brushed aluminum Steiger Dynamics system takes the form of traditional high-end home theater gear. At 6.85-in tall, or almost 4U if you are comfortable with that measurement system, the Maven Core is a large device, but does not stand out in a collection of AV equipment. Additionally, when you consider the standard Blu-Ray drive and available Ceton InfiniTV Quad PCIe CableCARD tuner giving this system the capability of replacing both a cable set top box and dedicated Blu-Ray player all together, the size becomes easier to deal with.

Digging deeper into the hardware specs of the Maven Core we find some familiar components. The Intel Core i5-4690K sits in an ASUS Z97-A motherboard along with 8GB of Corsair DDR3-1866 memory. For storage we have a 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD paired with a Western Digital 3TB Hard Drive for mass storage of your media.

IMG_0061.JPG

Cooling for the CPU is provided by a Corsair H90 with a single Phanteks fan to help keep the noise down. Steiger Dynamics shipped our system with a Seasonic Platinum-series 650W power supply, including their custom cabling option. For $100, they will ship your system with custom, individually sleeved Power Supply and SATA drive cables. The sleeving and cable management are impressive, but $100 would be a difficult upsell of a PC that you are likely never going to see the inside of.

As we mentioned earlier, this machine also shipped with a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe CableCARD tuner. While CableCARD is a much maligned technology that never really took off, when you get it working it can be impressive. Our impressions of the InfiniTV can be found later in this review.

Continue reading our review of the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC!

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction

DSC_0484 (Large).JPG

When Intel revealed their miniature PC platform in 2012, the new “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC) was a tiny motherboard with a custom case, and admittedly very little compute power. Well, maybe not so much with the admittedly: “The Intel NUC is an ultra-compact form factor PC measuring 4-inch by 4-inch. Anything your tower PC can do, the Intel NUC can do and in 4 inches of real estate.” That was taken from Intel’s NUC introduction, and though their assertion was perhaps a bit premature, technology does continue its rapid advance in the small form-factor space. We aren’t there yet by any means, but the fact that a mini-ITX computer can be built with the power of an ATX rig (limited to single-GPU, of course) suggests that it could happen for a mini-PC in the not so distant future.

With NUC the focus was clearly on efficiency over performance, and with very low power and noise there were practical applications for such a device to offset the marginal "desktop" performance. The viability of a NUC would definitely depend on the user and their particular needs, of course. If you could find a place for such a device (such as a living room) it may have been worth the cost, as the first of the NUC kits were fairly expensive (around $300 and up) and did not include storage or memory. These days a mini PC can be found starting as low as $100 or so, but most still do not include any memory or storage. They are tiny barebones PC kits after all, so adding components is to be expected...right?

DSC_0809 (Large).JPG

It’s been a couple of years now, and the platform continues to evolve - and shrink to some startlingly small sizes. Of the Intel-powered micro PC kits on today’s market the LIVA from ECS manages to push the boundaries of this category in both directions. In addition to boasting a ridiculously small size - actually the smallest in the world according to ECS - the LIVA is also very affordable. It carries a list price of just $179 (though it can be found for less), and that includes onboard memory and storage. And this is truly a Windows PC platform, with full Windows 8.1 driver support from ECS (previous versions are not supported).

Continue reading our look at the ECS LIVA Mini PC!!

Author:
Manufacturer: Firaxis

A Civ for a New Generation

Turn-based strategy games have long been defined by the Civilization series. Civ 5 took up hours and hours of the PC Perspective team's non-working hours (and likely the working ones too) and it looks like the new Civilization: Beyond Earth has the chance to do the same. Early reviews of the game from Gamespot, IGN, and Polygon are quite positive, and that's great news for a PC-only release; they can sometimes get overlooked in the games' media.

For us, the game offers an interesting opportunity to discuss performance. Beyond Earth is definitely going to be more CPU-bound than the other games that we tend to use in our benchmark suite, but the fact that this game is new, shiny, and even has a Mantle implementation (AMD's custom API) makes interesting for at least a look at the current state of performance. Both NVIDIA and AMD sent have released drivers with specific optimization for Beyond Earth as well. This game is likely to be popular and it deserves the attention it gets.

Testing Process

Civilization: Beyond Earth, a turn-based strategy game that can take a very long time to complete, ships with an integrated benchmark mode to help users and the industry test performance under different settings and hardware configurations. To enable it, you simple add "-benchmark results.csv" to the Steam game launch options and then start up the game normally. Rather than taking you to the main menu, you'll be transported into a view of a map that represents a somewhat typical gaming state for a long term session. The game will use the last settings you ran the game at to measure your system's performance, without the modified launch options, so be sure to configure that before you prepare to benchmark.

The output of this is the "result.csv" file, saved to your Steam game install root folder. In there, you'll find a list of numbers, separated by commas, representing the frame times for each frame rendering during the run. You don't get averages, a minimum, or a maximum without doing a little work. Fire up Excel or Google Docs and remember the formula:

1000 / Average (All Frame Times) = Avg FPS

It's a crude measurement that doesn't take into account any errors, spikes, or other interesting statistical data, but at least you'll have something to compare with your friends.

settings.jpg

Our testing settings

Just as I have done in recent weeks with Shadow of Mordor and Sniper Elite 3, I ran some graphics cards through the testing process with Civilization: Beyond Earth. These include the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 290X only, along with SLI and CrossFire configurations. The R9 290X was run in both DX11 and Mantle.

  • Core i7-3960X
  • ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79
  • 16GB DDR3-1600
  • GeForce GTX 980 Reference (344.48)
  • ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II (14.9.2 Beta)

Mantle Additions and Improvements

AMD is proud of this release as it introduces a few interesting things alongside the inclusion of the Mantle API.

  1. Enhanced-quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA): Improves anti-aliasing quality by doubling the coverage samples (vs. MSAA) at each AA level. This is automatically enabled for AMD users when AA is enabled in the game.
     
  2. Multi-threaded command buffering: Utilizing Mantle allows a game developer to queue a much wider flow of information between the graphics card and the CPU. This communication channel is especially good for multi-core CPUs, which have historically gone underutilized in higher-level APIs. You’ll see in your testing that Mantle makes a notable difference in smoothness and performance high-draw-call late game testing.
     
  3. Split-frame rendering: Mantle empowers a game developer with total control of multi-GPU systems. That “total control” allows them to design an mGPU renderer that best matches the design of their game. In the case of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis has selected a split-frame rendering (SFR) subsystem. SFR eliminates the latency penalties typically encountered by AFR configurations.

EQAA is an interesting feature as it improves on the quality of MSAA (somewhat) by doubling the coverage sample count while maintaining the same color sample count as MSAA. So 4xEQAA will have 4 color samples and 8 coverage samples while 4xMSAA would have 4 of each. Interestingly, Firaxis has decided the EQAA will be enabled on Beyond Earth anytime a Radeon card is detected (running in Mantle or DX11) and AA is enabled at all. So even though in the menus you might see 4xMSAA enabled, you are actually running at 4xEQAA. For NVIDIA users, 4xMSAA means 4xMSAA. Performance differences should be negligible though, according to AMD (who would actually be "hurt" by this decision if it brought down FPS).

Continue reading our article on Civilization: Beyond Earth performance!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

02-board_0.jpg

Courtesy of MSI

MSI upped the ante with their X99S Gaming 9 AC board, combining their black and red Dragon-inspired design with support for the newest Intel LGA2011-3 socket processors and DDR4 memory modules. The board features heat sinks over all the expected areas as well as a large LED-lit heat sink over the X99 chipset. MSI also integrates an armor-style overlay covering their audio components and an overlay cover for their rear panel. One of their most interesting additions is the MSI Streaming Engine, touted to assist with graphics encoding to make up for the lack of the integrated graphics processor in the Haswell-E CPUs. As a flagship board, the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC comes at a flagship price with an MSRP of $429.99.

03-profile-1.jpg

Courtesy of MSI

04-profile-oc-essentials.jpg

Courtesy of MSI

MSI integrated an 8-phase digital power delivery system into the X99S Gaming 9 AC, combining Hi-C and Dark capacitors with super ferrite chokes for optimal power delivery with enhanced power efficiency characteristics. The board includes the following integrated features: eight SATA 3 ports; one SATA Express port; one M.2 PCIe x4 32 Gb/s port; a Qualcomm® Atheros Killer E2205 NIC; Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; five PCI-Express x16 slots; a 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, and OC-Genie buttons; Slow Mode boot, Multi-BIOS, OC Genie mode, and Audio Power switches; Realtek audio solution with isolated audio PCB and Nichicon audio capacitors; dedicated per-channel headphone OP-AMPs; integrated V-Check voltage measurement points; Streaming Engine with integrated AVerMedia HD H.264 encoding chip; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

05-rear-panel_0.jpg

Courtesy of MSI

Continue reading our review of the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

GeForce GTX 980M Performance Testing

When NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 graphics cards last month, part of the discussion at our meetings also centered around the mobile variants of Maxwell. The NDA was a bit later though and Scott wrote up a short story announcing the release of the GTX 980M and the GTX 970M mobility GPUs. Both of these GPUs are based on the same GM204 design as the desktop cards, though as you should have come to expect by now, do so with lower specifications than the similarly-named desktop options. Take a look:

  GTX 980M GTX 970M
GTX 980
(Desktop)
GTX 970
(Desktop)
GTX 880M
(Laptop)
CUDA Cores 1536 1280 2048 1664 1536
Core (MHz) 1038 924 1126 1050 954
Perf. (TFLOP) 3.189 2.365 4.612 3.494 2.930
Memory Up to 4GB Up to 3GB 4GB 4GB 4GB/8GB
Memory Rate 2500 MHz 2500 MHz 7.0 (GT/s) 7.0 (GT/s) 2500 MHz
Memory Width 256-bit 192-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Architecture Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Kepler
Process Node 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
DirectX Version 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 11.0

Just like the desktop models, GTX 980M and GTX 970M are built on the 28nm process technology and are tweaked and built for power efficiency - one of the reasons the mobile release of this product is so interesting.

With a CUDA core count of 1536, the GTX 980M has 33% fewer shader cores than the desktop GTX 980, along with a slightly lower base clock speed. The result is a peak theoretical performance of 3.189 TFLOPs, compared to 4.6 TFLOPs on the GTX 980 desktop. In fact, that is only slightly higher than the GTX 880M based on Kepler, that clocks in with the same CUDA core count (1536) but a TFLOP capability of 2.9. Bear in mind that the GTX 880M is using a different architecture design than the GTX 980M; Maxwell's design advantages go beyond just CUDA core count and clock speed.

notebook1.jpg

The GTX 970M is even smaller, with a CUDA core count of 1280 and peak performance rated at 2.365 TFLOPs. Also notice that the memory bus width has shrunk from 256-bit to 192-bit for this part.

As is typically the case with mobile GPUs, the memory speed of the GTX 980M and GTX 970M is significantly lower than the desktop parts. While the GeForce GTX 980 and 970 that install in your desktop PC will have memory running at 7.0 GHz, the mobile versions will run at 5.0 GHz in order to conserve power.

From a feature set stand point though, the GTX 980M/970M are very much the same as the desktop parts that I looked at in September. You will have support for VXGI, NVIDIA's new custom global illumination technology, Multi-Frame AA and maybe most interestingly, Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR). DSR allows you to render a game at a higher resolution and then use a custom filter to down sample it back to your panel's native resolution. For mobile gamers that are using 1080p screens (as our test sample shipped with) this is a good way to utilize the power of your GPU for less power-hungry games, while getting a surprisingly good image at the same time.

Continue reading our review of the GeForce GTX 980M Mobile GPU!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Kingwin

Introduction and Features

2-Cloning.jpg

EZ-Clone in Standalone disk-cloning mode

Kingwin’s new EZ-Clone (Model: USI-2535CLU3) is a HDD/SSD adapter that can be used as a standalone disk-cloning device or as an external hard drive adapter. When used in standalone mode, the self-powered EZ-Cone can quickly clone one SATA/IDE drive to a new SATA drive in minutes (IDE to SATA or SATA to SATA) without being connected to a PC.

3-Ext-adapter.jpg

EZ-Clone being used as an external drive adapter

When used as an external drive adapter the EZ-Clone provides connectors for attaching two SATA drives (SSD or HDD) and one IDE hard drive in 2.5” or 3.5” form factors. The EZ-Clone adapter connects to a PC using the high-speed USB 3.0 interface. When used as an external drive adapter, the user can access up to two external drives at the same time (two SATA drives or one SATA and one IDE drive).

Kingwin EZ-Clone Key Features: (from the Kingwin website)
•    EZ-Clone model: USI-2535CLU3
•    External USB 3.0 to dual-SATA & single-IDE clone adapter
•    Standalone disk duplicator with One-Touch Clone Button (no PC required)
•    Supports 2.5” and 3.5” IDE and SATA drives (HDD or SSD)
•    Compatible with SATA I/II/III (1.5/3.0/6.0 Gbps)
•    SATA Drive Hot-swap compatibility
•    Supports hard drives up to 3TB disk size
•    Dual output power supply with standard 4-pin and SATA power connectors
•    Up to 5 Gbps data transfer rate with USB 3.0 (also compatible with USB 2.0)
•    USB Plug-and-play capability
•    2 Drive LEDs (red) and four Clone Progress LEDs (blue)
•    Screw-less, easy to attach connectors
•    Windows and Mac OS compatible (no driver installation required)
•    1-Year Warranty from Kingwin
•    MSRP $39.99 USD ($33.99 from Amazon.com, Oct. 2014)

4-usi_2535clu3_2.jpg

Please continue reading our review of the Kingwin EZ-Clone HDD/SSD adapter!!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction

** Edit **

The tool is now available for download from Samsung here. Another note is that they intend to release an ISO / DOS version of the tool at the end of the month (for Lunix and Mac users). We assume this would be a file system agnostic version of the tool, which would either update all flash or wipe the drive. We suspect it would be the former.

** End edit **

As some of you may have been tracking, there was an issue with Samsung 840 EVO SSDs where ‘stale’ data (data which had not been touched for some period of time after writing it) saw slower read speeds as time since written extended beyond a period of weeks or months. The rough effect was that the read speed of old data would begin to slow roughly one month after written, and after a few more months would eventually reach a speed of ~50-100 MB/sec, varying slightly with room temperature. Speeds would plateau at this low figure, and more importantly, even at this slow speed, no users reported lost data while this effect was taking place.

900x900px-LL-4985de76_2014-09-1720.18.26TestresultsforC_0.png

An example of file read speeds slowing relative to file age.

Since we first published on this, we have been coordinating with Samsung to learn the root causes of this issue, how they will be fixed, and we have most recently been testing a pre-release version of the fix for this issue. First let's look at the newest statement from Samsung:

Because of an error in the flash management software algorithm in the 840 EVO, a drop in performance occurs on data stored for a long period of time AND has been written only once. SSDs usually calibrate changes in the statuses of cells over time via the flash management software algorithm. Due to the error in the software algorithm, the 840 EVO performed read-retry processes aggressively, resulting in a drop in overall read performance. This only occurs if the data was kept in its initial cell without changing, and there are no symptoms of reduced read performance if the data was subsequently migrated from those cells or overwritten. In other words, as the SSD is used more and more over time, the performance decrease disappears naturally.  For those who want to solve the issue quickly, this software restores the read performance by rewriting the old data. The time taken to complete the procedure depends on the amount of data stored.

This partially confirms my initial theory in that the slow down was related to cell voltage drift over time. Here's what that looks like:

threshold shift.png

As you can see above, cell voltages will shift to the left over time. The above example is for MLC. TLC in the EVO will have not 4 but 8 divisions, meaning even smaller voltage shifts might cause the apparent flipping of bits when a read is attempted. An important point here is that all flash does this - the key is to correct for it, and that correction is what was not happening with the EVO. The correction is quite simple really. If the controller sees errors during reading, it follows a procedure that in part adapts to and adjusts for cell drift by adjusting the voltage thresholds for how the bits are interpreted. With the thresholds adapted properly, the SSD can then read at full speed and without the need for error correction. This process was broken in the EVO, and that adaptation was not taking place, forcing the controller to perform error correction on *all* data once those voltages had drifted near their default thresholds. This slowed the read speed tremendously. Below is a worst case example:

840 EVO 512 test hdtach-2-.png

We are happy to say that there is a fix, and while it won't be public until some time tomorrow now, we have been green lighted by Samsung to publish our findings.

Continue reading our look at the new Samsung 840 EVO performance restoration process!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

02-board.jpg

Courtesy of GIGABYTE

The Z97X-UD5H motherboard is one of the middle tier offerings in GIGABYTE's channel line of boards. GIGABYTE updated the previous revision of their UD5H board, integrating the Intel Z97 Express chipset as well as updated heat sink and power circuitry design. At an MSRP of $189.99, the Z97X-UD5H offers a premium feature set at an affordable price.

03-board-profile.jpg

Courtesy of GIGABYTE

04-board-specs.jpg

Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE designed the board in accordance with the latest revision of their Ultra Durable design specifications, integrating a 12-phase digital power system so that the board would remain stable under any operating conditions. Ultra Durable brings several high-end power components into the board's design: International Rectifier (IR) manufactured PowIRstage™ ICs and PWM controllers, Nippon Chemi-con manufactured Black Solid capacitors with a 10k hour operational rating at 105C, 15 micron gold plating on the CPU socket pins, and two 0.070mm copper layers embedded into the PCB for optimal heat dissipation. The Z97X-UD5H motherboard includes the following integrated features: six SATA 3 ports; one SATA Express 10 Gb/s ports; one M.2 10 Gb/s port; dual Gigabit NICs - an Intel I217-V NIC and a Qualcomm® Atheros Killer E2201 NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slot; two PCI-Express x1 slots; two PCI slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, and CMOS clear buttons; Dual-Bios and active BIOS switches; integrated voltage measurement points; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

05-rear-panel.jpg

Courtesy of GIGABYTE

Continue reading our review of the GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

SLI Setup and Testing Configuration

The idea of multi-GPU gaming is pretty simple on the surface. By adding another GPU into your gaming PC, the game and the driver are able to divide the workload of the game engine and send half of the work to one GPU and half to another, then combining that work on to your screen in the form of successive frames. This should make the average frame rate much higher, improve smoothness and just basically make the gaming experience better. However, implementation of multi-GPU technologies like NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire are much more difficult than the simply explanation above. We have traveled many steps in this journey and while things have improved in several key areas, there is still plenty of work to be done in others.

As it turns out, support for GPUs beyond two seems to be one of those areas ready for improvement.

IMG_9993.JPG

When the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 launched last month my initial review of the product included performance results for GTX 980 cards running in a 2-Way SLI configuration, by far the most common derivative. As it happens though, another set of reference GeForce GTX 980 cards found there way to our office and of course we needed to explore the world of 3-Way and 4-Way SLI support and performance on the new Maxwell GPU.

The dirty secret for 3-Way and 4-Way SLI (and CrossFire for that matter) is that it just doesn't work as well or as smoothly as 2-Way configurations. Much more work is put into standard SLI setups as those are by far the most common and it doesn't help that optimizing for 3-4 GPUs is more complex. Some games will scale well, others will scale poorly; hell some even scale the other direction.

Let's see what the current state of high GPU count SLI is with the GeForce GTX 980 and whether or not you should consider purchasing more than of these new flagship parts.

Continue reading our performance review of 3-Way and 4-Way SLI with the GTX 980!!

Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and Features

Corsair recently released three new HXi Series Fully Modular power supplies: the HX1000i, HX850i, and the HX750i. All three power supplies are 80 Plus Platinum certified and support the Corsair Link digital interface. Corsair continues to offer a full line of high quality power supplies, memory components, cases, cooling components, SSDs and accessories to market for the PC enthusiast and professional alike. In this review we will be taking a detailed look at the HXi Series 1000W fully modular power supply.

2-HX1000i_AC_side.jpg

All three of the new Corsair HXi Series power supplies are optimized for silence and high efficiency. Zero RPM fan mode means the fan doesn’t spin until the PSU is under heavy load, and the fan itself is custom-designed by Corsair for low noise operation even at high loads. Flat ribbon-style black cables are fully modular to facilitate fast, clean builds.

The Corsair HXi Series is built with high-quality components, including all Japanese electrolytic capacitors, and is guaranteed to deliver clean, stable, continuous power, even at ambient temperatures as high as 50°C. HXi Series users can also install Corsair Link software to monitor power usage, efficiency, and fan speed.

80 Plus Platinum: High Efficiency – Low Heat HXi Series PSUs are 80 Plus Platinum certified, making them among the most efficient on the market. With efficiency of at least 92% at 50% load, your PC will remain cool and quiet, potentially saving money in the process.

Corsair Link Ready While the HXi is an analog power supply, it features a built in analog to digital bridge to communicate vital information to the Corsair Link software via USB. This allows the user to monitor and log fan speed, current and voltage of the +3.3V, +5V, and +12V rails, monitor power out, display power in and efficiency, and enable/disable OCP on the +12V rails.

Zero RPM Fan Mode offers silent operation at low to moderate loads. Thanks to a highly efficient design, the HXi Series power supplies generate minimal heat and are able to operate in a silent, zero RPM Fan Mode for up to 40% of the PSU’s maximum load (at 25°C room temperature). This means the HXi power supply can be completely silent while the PC is performing less intensive tasks. As the load and temperatures rise within the PSU, the thermally controlled fan gradually spins up for quiet operation even during more demanding computing.

Optimized for Low Noise Corsair continues to branch out beyond memory and power supplies and is paying close attention to fans and their applications. Within a PSU, the most important feature of a fan is high static pressure, allowing the fan to push air through the relatively high density of components. The NR135P intake fan was specifically designed to move more air through the power supply components with less noise. Fan blades are properly balanced to prevent resonance at higher RPMs and the fan features fluid dynamic bearings for quiet operation and long life.

In addition to the specially designed Corsair cooling fan the components on the HXi Series PCB are laid out to allow air to easily flow between them. The HXi PSUs also include fully modular cables made flat for easy installation and reduced airflow resistance.

3-HX1000i_DC_side.jpg

Corsair HX1000i PSU Features summary:

•    1,000W continuous DC output (up to 50°C)
•    7-Year Warranty and Comprehensive Customer Support
•    80 PLUS Platinum certified, at least 92% efficiency under 50% load
•    Corsair Link ready for real-time monitoring and control
•    Fully modular cables for easy installation
•    Flat ribbon-style, low profile cables help optimize airflow
•    Zero RPM Fan Mode for silent operation up to 40% load
•    Quiet fluid dynamic fan bearing for long life and quiet operation
•    High quality components including all Japanese electrolytic capacitors
•    Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
•    Safety Protections : OCP, OVP, UVP, SCP, OTP, and OPP
•    MSRP for the HX100i : $229.99 USD

Please continue reading our review of the Corsair HX1000i PSU!!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

02-profile-armor.jpg

Courtesy of ASUS

The ASUS Maximus VII Formula motherboard is one of the newest members of the ROG (Republic of Gamers) product line, integrating several new features to elevate the board to an entirely new level over is predecessor. From outward appearance the Maximus VII Formula looks very similar to its previous revision, the Maximus VI Formula. However, ASUS made some under-the-hood enhancements and minor layout adjustments to the board, utilizing the functionality of the integrated Intel Z97 chipset. The Maximus VII Formula comes with a premium MSRP of $369.00, but is well worth the cost given the premium feature set and performance potential of the board.

03-board-fly-apart.jpg

Courtesy of ASUS

04-power.jpg

Courtesy of ASUS

05-audio.jpg

Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS designed the Maximus VII Formula motherboard with a top-rated 8-phase digital power delivery system, combining 60A-rated BlackWing chokes, NexFET MOSFETs with a 90% efficiency rating, and 10k Japanese-source Black Metallic capacitors, for unprecedented system stability under any circumstance. Additionally, ASUS integrate their updated SupremeFX Formula audio system for superior audio fidelity through the integrated audio ports. The Maximus VII Formula contains the following features integrated into its design: six SATA 3 ports; an M.2 (NGFF) 10 Gb/s port integrated into the ASUS mPCIe Combo III card; two SATA Express 10 Gb/s ports; an Intel I218V GigE NIC; an AzureWave (Broadcomm chipset) 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controller integrated into the ASUS mPCIe Combo III card; three PCI-Express Gen3 x16 slots; three PCI-Express Gen2 x1 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, Keybot, MemOK!, BIOS Flashback, ROG Connect, and Sonic SoundStage buttons; Probelt voltage measurement points; OC Panel support; SupremeFX Formula 2014 audio solution; CrossChill Hybrid air and water cooled VRM copper-based cooling solution; ROG Armor overlay; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Maximus VII Formula motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: Rebellion

Quick Performance Comparison

Earlier this week, we posted a brief story that looked at the performance of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on the latest GPUs from both NVIDIA and AMD. Last week also marked the release of the v1.11 patch for Sniper Elite 3 that introduced an integrated benchmark mode as well as support for AMD Mantle.

I decided that this was worth a quick look with the same line up of graphics cards that we used to test Shadow of Mordor. Let's see how the NVIDIA and AMD battle stacks up here.

For those unfamiliar with the Sniper Elite series, the focuses on the impact of an individual sniper on a particular conflict and Sniper Elite 3 doesn't change up that formula much. If you have ever seen video of a bullet slowly going through a body, allowing you to see the bones/muscle of the particular enemy being killed...you've probably been watching the Sniper Elite games.

screen3.jpg

Gore and such aside, the game is fun and combines sniper action with stealth and puzzles. It's worth a shot if you are the kind of gamer that likes to use the sniper rifles in other FPS titles.

But let's jump straight to performance. You'll notice that in this story we are not using our Frame Rating capture performance metrics. That is a direct result of wanting to compare Mantle to DX11 rendering paths - since we have no way to create an overlay for Mantle, we have resorted to using FRAPs and the integrated benchmark mode in Sniper Elite 3.

Our standard GPU test bed was used with a Core i7-3960X processor, an X79 motherboard, 16GB of DDR3 memory, and the latest drivers for both parties involved. That means we installed Catalyst 14.9 for AMD and 344.16 for NVIDIA. We'll be comparing the GeForce GTX 980 to the Radeon R9 290X, and the GTX 970 to the R9 290. We will also look at SLI/CrossFire scaling at the high end.

Continue reading our performance results in Sniper Elite 3!!

Manufacturer: be quiet!

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

be quiet! is a relative new comer to the US computer component market with an award-winning reputation for high quality power supplies and components in their native Germany. Recently, they have branched out into the highly competive cooling space with their Dark Rock and Shadow Rock cooler lines. The Dark Rock Pro 3 is the newest member of their Dark Rock cooler line, featuring a massive dual tower radiator and dual fan design. The Shadow Rock Slim is a recent addition to their Shadow Rock line, featuring a smaller footprint single radiator design to maximize motherboard compatibility with the cooler. The Dark Rock Pro 3 comes with a premium MSRP of $89.99, while the Shadown Rock Slim is available at an MSRP of $49.99.

02-darkrock-pro3-profile.png

Courtesy of be quiet!

03-darkrock-pro3-sideview.png

Courtesy of be quiet!

As a flagship solution, the Dark Rock Pro 3 cooler has most of the nice to haves to find on top-end coolers from other manufactures - copper base plate and heat pipes, nickel plating on all copper surfaces, thick dual radiator construction, dual fans, and a massive amount of heat pipes to wick the heat away from the CPU surface as fast as possible. be quiet! developed the cooler using dual fans, a 120mm front fan and a 135mm inner fan. Heat is transfered from the copper base plate to the dual aluminum radiators by a dense array of seven copper heat pipes. All surfaces are nickel coated for corrosion protection and scratch resistance with the nickel plating black colored to give the cooler a sleek and menacing appearance.

Continue reading our review of the be quiet! CPU air coolers!

Manufacturer: NVIDIA

If there is one message that I get from NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 900M-series announcement, it is that laptop gaming is a first-class citizen in their product stack. Before even mentioning the products, the company provided relative performance differences between high-end desktops and laptops. Most of the rest of the slide deck is showing feature-parity with the desktop GTX 900-series, and a discussion about battery life.

nvidia-maxwell-mobile-logo.jpg

First, the parts. Two products have been announced: The GeForce GTX 980M and the GeForce GTX 970M. Both are based on the 28nm Maxwell architecture. In terms of shading performance, the GTX 980M has a theoretical maximum of 3.189 TFLOPs, and the GTX 970M is calculated at 2.365 TFLOPs (at base clock). On the desktop, this is very close to the GeForce GTX 770 and the GeForce GTX 760 Ti, respectively. This metric is most useful when you're compute bandwidth-bound, at high resolution with complex shaders.

The full specifications are:

  GTX 980M GTX 970M
GTX 980
(Desktop)
GTX 970
(Desktop)
GTX 880M
(Laptop)
CUDA Cores 1536 1280 2048 1664 1536
Core (MHz) 1038 924 1126 1050 954
Perf. (TFLOP) 3.189 2.365 4.612 3.494 2.930
Memory Up to 4GB Up to 3GB 4GB 4GB 4GB/8GB
Memory Rate 2500 MHz 2500 MHz 7.0 (GT/s) 7.0 (GT/s) 2500 MHz
Memory Width 256-bit 192-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Architecture Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Kepler
Process Node 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
DirectX Version 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 11.0

As for the features, it should be familiar for those paying attention to both desktop 900-series and the laptop 800M-series product launches. From desktop Maxwell, the 900M-series is getting VXGI, Dynamic Super Resolution, and Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA). From the latest generation of Kepler laptops, the new GPUs are getting an updated BatteryBoost technology. From the rest of the GeForce ecosystem, they will also get GeForce Experience, ShadowPlay, and so forth.

For VXGI, DSR, and MFAA, please see Ryan's discussion for the desktop Maxwell launch. Information about these features is basically identical to what was given in September.

nvidia-maxwell-battery.jpg

BatteryBoost, on the other hand, is a bit different. NVIDIA claims that the biggest change is just raw performance and efficiency, giving you more headroom to throttle. Perhaps more interesting though, is that GeForce Experience will allow separate one-click optimizations for both plugged-in and battery use cases.

The power efficiency demonstrated with the Maxwell GPU in Ryan's original GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 review is even more beneficial for the notebook market where thermal designs are physically constrained. Longer battery life, as well as thinner and lighter gaming notebooks, will see tremendous advantages using a GPU that can run at near peak performance on the maximum power output of an integrated battery. In NVIDIA's presentation, they mention that while notebooks on AC power can use as much as 230 watts of power, batteries tend to peak around 100 watts. Given that a full speed, desktop-class GTX 980 has a TDP of 165 watts, compared to the 250 watts of a Radeon R9 290X, translates into notebook GPU performance that will more closely mirror its desktop brethren.

nvidia-maxwell-mobile-designs.jpg

Of course, you probably will not buy your own laptop GPU; rather, you will be buying devices which integrate these. There are currently five designs across four manufacturers that are revealed (see image above). Three contain the GeForce GTX 980M, one has a GTX 970M, and the other has a pair of GTX 970Ms. Prices and availability are not yet announced.

Author:
Manufacturer: WB Games

Testing Notes

In what can most definitely be called the best surprise of the fall game release schedule, the open-world action game set in the Lord of the Rings world, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has been receiving impressive reviews from gamers and the media. (GiantBomb.com has a great look at it if you are new to the title.) What also might be a surprise to some is that the PC version of the game can be quite demanding on even the latest PC hardware, pulling in frame rates only in the low-60s at 2560x1440 with its top quality presets.

ShadowOfMordor-2014-10-03-14-12-17-99_0.jpg

Late last week I spent a couple of days playing around with Shadow of Mordor as well as the integrated benchmark found inside the Options menu. I wanted to get an idea of the performance characteristics of the game to determine if we might include this in our full-time game testing suite update we are planning later in the fall. To get some sample information I decided to run through a couple of quality presets with the top two cards from NVIDIA and AMD and compare them.

Testing Notes

Without a doubt, the visual style of Shadow of Mordor is stunning – with the game settings cranked up high the world, characters and fighting scenes look and feel amazing. To be clear, in the build up to this release we had really not heard anything from the developer or NVIDIA (there is an NVIDIA splash screen at the beginning) about the title which is out of the ordinary. If you are looking for a game that is both fun to play (I am 4+ hours in myself) and can provide a “wow” factor to show off your PC rig then this is definitely worth picking up.

Continue reading our performance overview of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

Introduction and Test System Setup

A while ago, in our review of the WD Red 6TB HDD, we noted an issue with the performance of queued commands. This could potentially impact the performance of those drives in multithreaded usage scenarios. While Western Digital acted quickly to get updated drives into the supply chain, some of the first orders might have been shipped unpatched drives. To be clear, an unpatched 5TB or 6TB Red still performs well, just not as well as it *could* perform with the corrected firmware installed.

DSC05778.JPG

We received updated samples from WD, as well as applying a firmware update to the samples used in our original review. We were able to confirm that the update does in fact work, and brings a WD60EFRX-68MYMN0 to the identical and improved performance characteristics of a WD60EFRX-68MYMN1 (note the last digit). In this article we will briefly clarify those performance differences, now that we have data more consistent with the vast majority of 5 and 6TB Reds that are out in the wild.

Test System Setup

We currently employ a pair of testbeds. A newer ASUS P8Z77-V Pro/Thunderbolt and an ASUS Z87-PRO. Storage performance variance between both boards has been deemed negligible.

PC Perspective would like to thank ASUS, Corsair, and Kingston for supplying some of the components of our test rigs. 

 
Hard Drive Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-4770K
Motherboard ASUS P8Z77-V Pro/TB / ASUS Z87-PRO
Memory Kingston HyperX 4GB DDR3-2133 CL9
Hard Drive G.Skill 32GB SLC SSD
Sound Card N/A
Video Card Intel® HD Graphics 4600
Video Drivers Intel
Power Supply Corsair CMPSU-650TX
Operating System Windows 8.1 X64 (Update 1)
  • PCMark Vantage and 7
  • Yapt
  • IOMeter
  • HDTach *omitted due to incompatibility with >2TB devices*
  • HDTune
  • PCPer File Copy Test

Read on for the updated performance figures of the WD 6TB Red.

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Design

P8020019.jpg

A little over a year ago, we posted our review of the Lenovo Y500, which was a gaming notebook that leveraged not one, but two discrete video adapters (2 x NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M in SLI, to be exact) to achieve respectable gaming performance at a reasonable price point (around $1,200 at the time of the review).

Well—take away nearly a pound of weight (to 5.7 lbs), slim the case down to around an inch thick, update the chipset, and remove one video card, and you’ve got the Lenovo Y50 Touch, which ought to be able to improve upon the Y500 in nearly every area if the specifications add up to typical results. Here’s the full list of what our review unit includes:

specs.png

While the GTX 860M (2 GB) is a far cry from, say, the GTX 880M (8 GB) we had the pleasure of testing in MSI’s GT70 2PE, it’s still a very capable card that should provide satisfactory results without breaking the bank (or the back). The rest of the spec sheet is conventional fare for a budget gaming notebook, with the only other surprise being the inclusion of a touchscreen—an option which replaces the traditional matte LCD panel in the standard Y50.

The configuration we received has already been slightly updated to include a CPU that’s a nudge better than the i7-4700HQ: the i7-4710HQ (which gains it 100 MHz in Turbo Boost clock rate). Otherwise, the specs are identical, and the street price is very close to that of the Y500 we originally reviewed: $1,139. Currently, an extra 10 bucks will also score you an external DVD+/-RW drive, and just 90 bucks more will boost your GTX 860M’s VRAM to 4 GB (from 2 GB) and your system RAM to 16 GB from 8 GB. That’s really not a bad deal at all.

Continue reading our review of the Lenovo Y50 Touch Gaming Notebook!!

Author:
Manufacturer: EVGA

Installation and Overview

While once a very popular way to cool your PC, the art of custom water loops tapered off in the early 2000s as the benefits of better cooling, and overclocking in general, met with diminished returns. In its place grew a host of companies offering closed loop system, individually sealed coolers for processors and even graphics cards that offered some of the benefits of standard water cooling (noise, performance) without the hassle of setting up a water cooling configuration manually.

A bit of a resurgence has occurred in the last year or two though where the art and styling provided by custom water loop cooling is starting to reassert itself into the PC enthusiast mindset. Some companies never left (EVGA being one of them), but it appears that many of the users are returning to it. Consider me part of that crowd.

IMG_9943.jpg

During a live stream we held with EVGA's Jacob Freeman, the very first prototype of the EVGA Hydro Copper was shown and discussed. Lucky for us, I was able to coerce Jacob into leaving the water block with me for a few days to do some of our testing and see just how much capability we could pull out of the GM204 GPU and a GeForce GTX 980.

Our performance preview today will look at the water block itself, installation, performance and temperature control. Keep in mind that this is a very early prototype, the first one to make its way to US shores. There will definitely be some changes and updates (in both the hardware and the software support for overclocking) before final release in mid to late October. Should you consider this ~$150 Hydro Copper water block for your GTX 980?

Continue reading our preview of the EVGA GTX 980 Hydro Copper Water Block!!

Manufacturer: Seasonic

Introduction and Features

2-P-Banner.jpg

Today we have a double header for your reading enjoyment. Not one, but two Platinum Series power supplies from Seasonic. The two latest additions to Seasonic’s flagship product line are the Platinum 1050W and Platinum 1200W PSUs. The power supplies feature tight voltage regulation (±1~2%), quiet operation (fanless mode), and high efficiency (80Plus Platinum certified). Both PSUs are fully modular and come backed by a 7-year warranty.

Seasonic is a well known and highly respected OEM that produces some of the best PC power supplies on the market today. In addition to supplying power supplies to many big-name companies who re-brand the units with their own name, Seasonic also sells a full line of power supplies under the Seasonic name. Both new power supplies feature an improved Hybrid Fan control circuit and upgraded copper conduction bars on the main PCB, which together help increase efficiency and performance.

3-Front-cables.jpg

Seasonic Platinum 1050W & 1200W Special Features

Ultra Tight Voltage Regulation Improved load voltage regulation keeps the voltage fluctuations on the 12V output within +2% and -0% (no negative tolerance), and on the 3.3V and 5V outputs between +1% and -1%, which (under 80 Plus load conditions) results in smooth and stable operation.

Seasonic Hybrid Silent Fan Control The industry first, advanced three-phased thermal control balances between silence and cooling. The Hybrid Silent Fan Control provides three operational stages: Fanless, Silent and Cooling Mode.  In addition, a selector switch is provided to allow for manual selection between the Seasonic S2FC (fan control without Fanless Mode) or S3FC (fan control including Fanless Mode).

Reduced Cooling Fan Hysteresis is achieved by a new fan control IC, which optimizes how frequently the fan switches on and off. At 25°C ambient temperature the fan turns on when the load rises above 30% (±5%) and turns off when the load drops below 20% % (±5%). Due to this lag in response the fan switches on and off less frequently, which reduces power loss in Fanless and Silent Mode.

Dual Copper Conduction Bars on the power supply PCB help reduce impedance and minimize voltage drop, which further improves efficiency and performance.

80Plus Platinum The Platinum 1050W & 1200W power supplies are certified in accordance to the 80PLUS organization's Platinum standards, offering performance and energy savings with up to ≥92% efficiency and a true power factor of greater than 0.9 PF.

Full Modular Design (DC to DC) The Seasonic Platinum Series power supplies feature an integrated DC connector panel with onboard VRM (Voltage Regulator Module) that enables not only near perfect DC-to-DC conversion with reduction of current loss/impedance and increase of efficiency but also a fully modular DC cabling that enables maximum flexibility of integration and forward compatibility.

Seasonic Platinum Series 1050W & 1200W PSU Key Features:

•    80Plus Platinum certified super high efficiency
•    Ultra tight voltage regulation
•    Fully Modular Cable design with flat ribbon-style cables
•    Seasonic DC Connector Panel with integrated VRMs
•    DC to DC Converter design
•    Hybrid Silent Fan Control (3 modes of operation: Fanless, Silent and Cooling)
•    High-quality Sanyo Denki San Ace dual ball bearing fan with PWM
•    Ultra-tight voltage regulation (+2% and -0% +12V rail)
•    Dual copper conduction bars on PCB for improved efficiency and performance
•    Supports multi-GPU technologies
•    Conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors
•    High reliability 105°C Japanese made electrolytic capacitors
•    ErP Lot 6 2013 compliant and Intel Haswell processor ready
•    High current Gold plated terminals with Easy Swap connectors
•    Active PFC (0.99 PF typical) with Universal AC input
•    7-Year manufacturer's warranty worldwide

Please continue reading our Seasonic Platinum 1050W & 1200W power supply review!