Four High Powered Mini ITX Systems
Thanks to Sebastian for helping me out with some of the editorial for this piece and to Ken for doing the installation and testing on the system builds! -Ryan
Update (1/23/16): Now that that AMD Radeon R9 Nano is priced at just $499, it becomes an even better solution for these builds, dropping prices by $150 each.
While some might wonder where the new Radeon R9 Nano fits in a market that offers the AMD Fury X for the same price, the Nano is a product that defines a new category in the PC enthusiast community. It is a full-scale GPU on an impossibly small 6-inch PCB, containing the same core as the larger liquid-cooled Fury X, but requiring 100 watts less power than Fury X and cooled by a single-fan dual-slot air cooler.
The R9 Nano design screams compatibility. It has the ability to fit into virtually any enclosure (including many of the smallest mini-ITX designs), as long as the case supports a dual-slot (full height) GPU. The total board length of 6 inches is shorter than a mini-ITX motherboard, which is 6.7 inches square! Truly, the Nano has the potential to change everything when it comes to selecting a small form-factor (SFF) enclosure.
Typically, a gaming-friendly enclosure would need at minimum a ~270 mm GPU clearance, as a standard 10.5-inch reference GPU translates into 266.7 mm in length. Even very small mini-ITX enclosures have had to position components specifically to allow for these longer cards – if they wanted to be marketed as compatible with a full-size GPU solution, of course. Now with the R9 Nano, smaller and more powerful than any previous ITX-specific graphics card to date, one of the first questions we had was a pretty basic one: what enclosure should we put this R9 Nano into?
With no shortage of enclosures at our disposal to try out a build with this new card, we quickly discovered that many of them shared a design choice: room for a full-length GPU. So, what’s the advantage of the Nano’s incredibly compact size? It must be pointed out that larger (and faster) Fury X has the same MSRP, and at 7.5 inches the Fury X will fit comfortably in cases that have spacing for the necessary radiator.
Finding a Case for Nano
While even some of the tiniest mini-ITX enclosures (EVGA Hadron, NCASE M1, etc.) offer support for a 10.5-in GPU, there are several compact mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-length graphics card due to their small footprint. While by no means a complete list, here are some of the options out there (note: there are many more mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-height or dual-slot expansion card at all, such as slim HTPC enclosures):
|Cooler Master||Elite 110||$47.99, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-O5||$377, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q01||$59.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q03||$74.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q07||$71.98, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q30||$139.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q33||$134.99, Newegg.com|
|Rosewill||Legacy V3 Plus-B||$59.99, Newegg.com|
The list is dominated by Lian Li, who offers a number of cube-like mini-ITX enclosures that would ordinarily be out of the question for a gaming rig, unless one of the few ITX-specific cards were chosen for the build. Many other fine enclosure makers (Antec, BitFenix, Corsair, Fractal Design, SilverStone, etc.) offer mini-ITX enclosures that support full-length GPUs, as this has pretty much become a requirement for an enthusiast PC case.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 2, 2015 - 01:00 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon software, radeon, driver, crimson, catalyst, amd
For as long as I can remember, the AMD (previously ATI) graphics driver was know as Catalyst. The Catalyst Control Center (CCC) offered some impressive features, grew over time with the Radeon hardware but it had more than its share of issues. It was slow, it was ugly and using it was kind of awful. And today we mourn the passing of Catalyst but welcome the birth of "Radeon Software" and the first iteration if it, Crimson.
Starting with the next major driver release from AMD you'll see a major change the speed, design and usability of the most important interface between AMD and its users. I want to be clear today: we haven't had a chance to actually use the software yet, so all of the screenshots and performance claims are from an AMD presentation to the media last week.
Let's start with new branding: gone is the AMD Catalyst name, replaced by "Radeon Software" as the overarching title for the software and driver packages that AMD releases. The term "Crimson Edition" refers to the major revision of the software and will likely be a portion of the brand that changes with the year or with important architectural changes. Finally, the numeric part of the branding will look familiar and represents the year and month of release: "15.11" equates to 2015, November release.
With the new brand comes an entire new design that AMD says targets simplicity, ease of use and speed. The currently available Catalyst Control Center software is none of those so it is great news for consumers that AMD has decided to address it. This is one of AMD's Radeon Technology Group SVP Raja Koduri's pet projects - and it's a great start to a leadership program that should spell positive momentum for the Radeon brand.
While the Catalyst Control Center was written in the aging and bloated .Net coding ecosystem, Radeon Software is designed on QT. The first and most immediate advantage will be startup speed. AMD says that Radeon Software will open in 0.6 seconds compared to 8.0 seconds for Catalyst on a modestly configured system.
The style and interface look to be drastically improved with well defined sections along the top and settings organized in a way that makes them easy to find and address by the user. Your video settings are all in a single spot, the display configuration is on its as well, just as they were with Catalyst, but the look and feel is completely different. Without hands on time its difficult to say for sure, but it appears that AMD has made major strides.
There are some new interesting capabilities as well, starting with per-game settings available in Game Manager. This is not a duplication of what GeForce Experience does in terms of adjust in-game settings, but it does allow you to set control panel-specific settings like anti-aliasing, texture filtering quality, vertical sync. This capability was around in the previous versions of Catalyst but it was hard to utilize.
Overdrive, the AMD-integrated GPU overclocking portion of Radeon Software, gets a new feature as well: per-game overclocking settings. That's right - you will now be able to set game-specific overclocking settings for your GPU that will allow you to turn up the power for GTA V while turning things down for lower power consumption and noise while catching up on new DLC for Rocket League. I can see this being an incredibly useful feature for gamers willing to take the time to customize their systems.
There are obviously more changes for Radeon Software and the first iteration of it known as Crimson, including improved Eyefinity configuration, automatic driver downloads and much more, and we look forward to playing around with the improved software package in the next few weeks. For AMD, this shows a renewed commitment to Radeon and PC gaming. With its declining market share against the powerful NVIDIA GeForce brand, AMD needs these types of changes.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Displays | October 24, 2015 - 08:16 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: ROG Swift, refresh rate, pg279q, nvidia, GTX 980 Ti, geforce, asus, 165hz, 144hz
In the comments to our recent review of the ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q G-Sync monitor, a commenter by the name of Cyclops pointed me in the direction of an interesting quirk that I hadn’t considered before. According to reports, the higher refresh rates of some panels, including the 165Hz option available on this new monitor, can cause power draw to increase by as much as 100 watts on the system itself. While I did say in the review that the larger power brick ASUS provided with it (compared to last year’s PG278Q model) pointed toward higher power requirements for the display itself, I never thought to measure the system.
To setup a quick test I brought the ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q back to its rightful home in front of our graphics test bed, connected an EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti (with GPU driver 358.50) and chained both the PC and the monitor up to separate power monitoring devices. While sitting at a Windows 8.1 desktop I cycled the monitor through different refresh rate options and then recorded the power draw from both meters after 60-90 seconds of time to idle out.
The results are much more interesting than I expected! At 60Hz refresh rate, the monitor was drawing just 22.1 watts while the entire testing system was idling at 73.7 watts. (Note: the display was set to its post-calibration brightness of just 31.) Moving up to 100Hz and 120Hz saw very minor increases in power consumption from both the system and monitor.
But the jump to 144Hz is much more dramatic – idle system power jumps from 76 watts to almost 134 watts – an increase of 57 watts! Monitor power only increased by 1 watt at that transition though. At 165Hz we see another small increase, bringing the system power up to 137.8 watts.
Interestingly we did find that the system would repeatedly jump to as much as 200+ watts of idle power draw for 30 seconds at time and then drop back down to the 135-140 watt area for a few minutes. It was repeatable and very measurable.
So, what the hell is going on? A look at GPU-Z clock speeds reveals the source of the power consumption increase.
When running the monitor at 60Hz, 100Hz and even 120Hz, the GPU clock speed sits comfortably at 135MHz. When we increase from 120Hz to 144Hz though, the GPU clock spikes to 885MHz and stays there, even at the Windows desktop. According to GPU-Z the GPU is running at approximately 30% of the maximum TDP.
Though details are sparse, it seems pretty obvious what is going on here. The pixel clock and the GPU clock are connected through the same domain and are not asynchronous. The GPU needs to maintain a certain pixel clock in order to support the required bandwidth of a particular refresh rate, and based on our testing, the idle clock speed of 135MHz doesn’t give the pixel clock enough throughput to power anything more than a 120Hz refresh rate.
Pushing refresh rates of 144Hz and higher causes a surprsing increase in power draw
The obvious question here though is why NVIDIA would need to go all the way up to 885MHz in order to support the jump from 120Hz to 144Hz refresh rates. It seems quite extreme and the increased power draw is significant, causing the fans on the EVGA GTX 980 Ti to spin up even while sitting idle at the Windows desktop. NVIDIA is aware of the complication, though it appears that a fix won’t really be in order until an architectural shift is made down the road. With the ability to redesign the clock domains available to them, NVIDIA could design the pixel and GPU clock to be completely asynchronous, increasing one without affecting the other. It’s not a simple process though, especially in a processor this complex. We have seen Intel and AMD correctly and effectively separate clocks in recent years on newer CPU designs.
What happens to a modern AMD GPU like the R9 Fury with a similar test? To find out we connected our same GPU test bed to the ASUS MG279Q, a FreeSync enabled monitor capable of 144 Hz refresh rates, and swapped the GTX 980 Ti for an ASUS R9 Fury STRIX.
The AMD Fury does not demonstrate the same phenomenon that the GTX 980 Ti does when running at high refresh rates. The Fiji GPU runs at the same static 300MHz clock rate at 60Hz, 120Hz and 144Hz and the power draw on the system only inches up by 2 watts or so. I wasn't able to test 165Hz refresh rates on the AMD setup so it is possible that at that threshold the AMD graphics card would behave differently. It's also true that the NVIDIA Maxwell GPU is running at less than half the clock rate of AMD Fiji in this idle state, and that may account for difference in pixel clocks we are seeing. Still, the NVIDIA platform draws slightly more power at idle than the AMD platform, so advantage AMD here.
For today, know that if you choose to use a 144Hz or even a 165Hz refresh rate on your NVIDIA GeForce GPU you are going to be drawing a bit more power and will be less efficient than expected even just sitting in Windows. I would bet that most gamers willing to buy high end display hardware capable of those speeds won’t be overly concerned with 50-60 watts of additional power draw, but it’s an interesting data point for us to track going forward and to compare AMD and NVIDIA hardware in the future.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 07:19 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, amd, nvidia, steam os
Steam Machines powered by SteamOS are due to hit stores in the coming months and in order to get the best performance you need to make sure that the GPU inside the machine plays nicely with the new OS. To that end Phoronix has tested 22 GPUs, 15 NVIDIA ranging from a GTX 460 straight through to a TITAN X and seven AMD cards from an HD 6570 through to the new R9 Fury. Part of the reason they used less AMD cards in the testing stems from driver issues which prevented some models from functioning properly. They tested Bioshock Infinite, both Metro 2033 games, CS:GO and one of Josh's favourites, DiRT Showdown. The performance results may not be what you expect and are worth checking out fully. As well Phoronix put in cost to performance findings, for budget conscious gamers.
"With Steam Machines set to begin shipping next month and SteamOS beginning to interest more gamers as an alternative to Windows for building a living room gaming PC, in this article I've carried out a twenty-two graphics card comparison with various NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon GPUs while testing them on the Debian Linux-based SteamOS 2.0 "Brewmaster" operating system using a variety of Steam Linux games."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- MSI GeForce GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING @ [H]ard|OCP
- Gigabyte GTX 950 Xtreme @ Modders-Inc
- The EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid Review @ Hardware Canucks
- MSI GTX 980 Ti Sea Hawk Review @ Hardware Canucks
- EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti FTW Graphics Card Review @ Techgage
- PNY GTX 950 2GB @ eTeknix
- MSI GTX 980 Ti Lightning 6GB @ Kitguru
- PowerColor Devil 13 Dual Core R9 390 @ [H]ard|OCP
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 05:49 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: tape out, rumor, report, Radeon 400 Series, radeon, graphics card, gpu, Ellesmere, Baffin, amd
Details are almost nonexistent, but a new report claims that AMD has reached tape out for an upcoming Radeon 400 series of graphics cards, which could be the true successor to the R9 200-series after the rebranded 3xx cards.
Image credit: WCCFtech
According to the report:
"AMD has reportedly taped out two of its next-gen GPUs, with "Ellesmere" and "Baffin" both taping out - and both part of the upcoming Radeon 400 series of video cards."
I wish there was more here to report, but if this is accurate we should start to hear some details about these new cards fairly soon. The important thing is that AMD is working on the new performance mainstream cards so soon after releasing what was largely a simple rebrand accross much of the 300-series GPUs this year.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 04:29 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: r9 nano, mITX, mini-itx, graphics card, gpu, asus, amd
AMD's Radeon R9 Nano is a really cool product, able to provide much of power of the bigger R9 Fury X without the need for more than a standard air cooler, and doing so with an impossibly tiny size for a full graphics card. And while mini-ITX graphics cards serve a small segment of the market, just who might be buying a white one when this is released?
According to a report published first by Computer Base in Germany, ASUS is releasing an all-white AMD R9 Nano, and it looks really sharp. The stock R9 Nano is no slouch in the looks department as you can see here in our full review of AMD's newest GPU, but with this design ASUS provides a totally different look that could help unify the style of your build depending on your other component choices. White is just starting to show up for things like motherboard PCBs, but it's pretty rare in part due to the difficulty in manufacturing white parts that stay white when they are subjected to heat.
There was no mention on a specific release window for the ASUS R9 Nano White, so we'll have to wait for official word on that. It is possible that ASUS has also implemented their own custom PCB, though details are not know just yet. We should know more by the end of next month according to the report.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 21, 2015 - 11:18 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: water cooling, nvidia, liquid cooled, GTX 980 WATERFORCE, GTX 980, GPU Water Block, gigabyte, AIO
Gigabyte has announced the GeForce GTX 980 WATERFORCE water-cooled graphics card, and this one is ready to go out of the box thanks to an integrated closed-loop liquid cooler.
In addition to full liquid cooling, the card - model GV-N980WAOC-4GD - also features "GPU Gauntlet Sorting", meaning that each card has a binned GTX 980 core for better overclocking performance.
"The GTX 980 WATERFORCE is fitted with only the top-performing GPU core through the very own GPU Gauntlet Sorting technology that guarantees superior overclocking capabilities in terms of excellent power switching and thermal efficiency. Only the strongest processors survived can be qualified for the GTX 980 WATERFORCE, which can fulfill both gaming enthusiasts’ and overclockers’ expectations with greater overclocking headroom, and higher, stable boost clocks under heavy load."
The cooling system for the GTX 980 WATERFORCE begins with a full-coverage block that cools the GPU, RAM, power delivery, without the need for any additional fan for board components. The tubes carrying liquid to the radiator are 45 cm SFP, which Gigabyte says "effectively prevent...leak(s) and fare a lower coolant evaporation rate", and the system is connected to a 120 mm radiator.
Gigabyte says both the fan and the pump offer low noise output, and claim that this cooling system allows the GTX 980 WATERFORCE to "perform up to 38.8% cooler than the reference cooling" for cool and quiet gaming.
The WATERFORCE card also features two DVI outputs (reference is one dual-link output) in addition to the standard three DisplayPort 1.2 and single HDMI 2.0 outputs of a GTX 980.
Pricing and availability have not been announced.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 15, 2015 - 04:01 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: nvidia, geforce experience, beta drivers
NVIDIA just released a new driver, version 358.50, with an updated version of GeForce Experience that brings about some interesting changes to the program. First, let's talk about the positive changes, including beta access to the updated NVIDIA Share utility and improvements in GameStream.
As we detailed first with the release of the GeForce GTX 950, NVIDIA is making some impressive additions to the ShadowPlay portion of GeForce Experience, along with a rename to NVIDIA Share.
The idea is to add functionality to the Shadowplay feature including an in-game overlay to control the settings and options for local recording and even an in-overlay editor and previewer for your videos. This allows the gamer to view, edit, snip and then upload those completed videos to YouTube directly, without ever having to leave the game. (Though you’ll obviously want to pause it before going through that process.) Capture and “Instant Replay” support is now capable of 4K / 60 Hz capture and upload as well – nice!
Besides added capability for the local recording portion of Share, NVIDIA is also adding some new features to mix. NVIDIA Share will now allow for point to point stream sharing, giving you the ability to send a link to your friend that they can open in a web browser and watch the game that you are playing with very low latency. You could use this as a way to show your friend that new skill you learned for Rocket League, to try and convince him to pick up his own copy or even just for a social event. It supports voice communication for the ability to talk smack if necessary.
But it goes beyond just viewing the game – this point to point streaming allows the remote player to take over the controls to teach the local gamer something new or to finish a difficult portion of the game you might be stuck on. And if the game supports local multiplayer, you can BOTH play as the remote gaming session will emulate a second attached Xbox / SHIELD controller to the system! This does have a time limit of 1 hour as a means to persuade game developers and publishers to not throw a hissy-fit.
The demo I saw recently was very impressive and it all worked surprisingly well out of the box.
Fans of NVIDIA local network GameStream might enjoy the upgrade to support streaming games at 4K 60 FPS - as long as you have an NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV device connected to a 4K capable TV in your home. Clearly this will make the visual presentation of your games on your television more impressive than ever and NVIDIA has added support for 5.1 channel surround sound pass through.
There is another change coming with this release of GFE that might turn some heads surrounding the frequently updated "Game Ready" drivers NVIDIA puts out for specific game launches. These drivers have been a huge part of NVIDIA's success in recent years as the day one experience for GeForce users has been improved over AMD in many instances. It is vital for drivers and performance to be optimal on the day of a game's release as many enthusiast gamers are the ones going through the preloading process and midnight release timings.
Future "Game Ready" drivers will no longer be made available through GeForce.com and instead will ONLY be delivered through GeForce Experience. You'll also be required to have a validated email address to get the downloads for beta drivers - though NVIDIA admitted to me you would be able to opt-out of the mailing list anytime after signing up.
NVIDIA told media that this method of driver release was planning for stuff in the future but gamers would be getting early access to new features, chances to win free hardware and the ability to take part in the driver development process like never before. Honestly though, this is a way to get users to sign up for a marketing mailing list that has some specific purpose going forward. Not all mailing lists are bad obviously (have you signed up for the PC Perspective Live! Mailing List yet?!?) but there is bound to be some raised eyebrows over this.
NVIDIA says that more than 90% of its driver downloads today already come through GeForce Experience, so changes to the user experience should be minimal. We'll wait to see how the crowd reacts but I imagine once we get past the initial shock of the change over to this system, the roll outs will be fast, clean and simple. But dammit - we fear change.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 14, 2015 - 03:24 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: radeon, dx12, DirectX 12, Catalyst 15.10 beta, catalyst, ashes of the singularity, amd
The AMD Catalyst 15.9 beta driver was released just two weeks ago, and already AMD is ready with a new version. 15.10 is available now and offers several bug fixes, though the point of emphasis is DX12 performance improvements to the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark.
Highlights of AMD Catalyst 15.10 Beta Windows Driver
- Ashes of the Singularity - DirectX 12 Quality and Performance optimizations
- Video playback of MPEG2 video fails with a playback error/error code message
- A TDR error or crash is experienced when running the Unreal Engine 4 DirectX benchmark
- Star Wars: Battlefront is able to use high performance graphics when launched on mobile devices with switchable graphics
- Intermittent playback issues with Cyberlink PowerDVD when connecting to a 3D display with an HDMI cable
- Ashes of the Singularity - A 'Driver has stopped responding' error may be experienced in DirectX 12 mode
- Driver installation may halt on some configurations
- A TDR error may be experienced while toggling between minimized and maximized mode while viewing 4K YouTube content
- Ashes of the Singularity may crash on some AMD 300 series GPUs
- Core clock fluctuations may be experienced when FreeSync and FRTC are both enabled on some AMD CrossFire systems
- Ashes of the Singularity may fail to launch on some GPUs with 2GB Video Memory. AMD continues to work with Stardock to resolve the issue. In the meantime, deleting the game config file helps resolve the issue
- The secondary display adapter is missing in the Device Manager and the AMD Catalyst Control Center after installing the driver on a Microsoft Windows 8.1 system
- Elite: Dangerous - poor performance may be experienced in SuperCruise mode
- A black screen may be encountered on bootup on Windows 10 systems. The system will ultimately continue to the Windows login screen
The driver is available now from AMD's Catalyst beta download page.
Last month NVIDIA introduced the world to the GTX 980 in a new form factor for gaming notebook. Using the same Maxwell GPU, the same performance levels but with slightly tweaked power delivery and TDPs, notebooks powered by the GTX 980 promise to be a noticeable step faster than anything before it.
Late last week I got my hands on the updated MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G, the first retail ready gaming notebook to not only integrate the new GTX 980 GPU but also an unlocked Skylake mobile processor.
This machine is something to behold - though it looks very similar to previous GT72 versions, this machine hides hardware unlike anything we have been able to carry in a backpack before. And the sexy red exterior with MSI Dragon Army logo blazoned across the back definitely help it to stand out in a crowd. If you happen to be in a crowd of notebooks.
A quick spin around the GT72S reveals a sizeable collection of hardware and connections. On the left you'll find a set of four USB 3.0 ports as well as four audio inputs and ouputs and an SD card reader.
On the opposite side there are two more USB 3.0 ports (totalling six) and the optical / Blu-ray burner. With that many USB 3.0 ports you should never struggle with accessories availability - headset, mouse, keyboard, hard drive and portable fan? Check.