Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | November 5, 2013 - 09:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, grid, AWS, amazon
Amazon Web Services allows customers (individuals, organizations, or companies) to rent servers of certain qualities to match their needs. Many websites are hosted at their data centers, mostly because you can purchase different (or multiple) servers if you have big variations in traffic.
I, personally, sometimes use it as a game server for scheduled multiplayer events. The traditional method is spending $50-80 USD per month on a... decent... server running all-day every-day and using it a couple of hours per week. With Amazon EC2, we hosted a 200 player event (100 vs 100) by purchasing a dual-Xeon (ironically the fastest single-threaded instance) server connected to Amazon's internet backbone by 10 Gigabit Ethernet. This server cost just under $5 per hour all expenses considered. It was not much of a discount but it ran like butter.
This leads me to today's story: NVIDIA GRID GPUs are now available at Amazon Web Services. Both companies hope their customers will use (or create services based on) these instances. Applications they expect to see are streamed games, CAD and media creation, and other server-side graphics processing. These Kepler-based instances, named "g2.2xlarge", will be available along side the older Fermi-based Cluster Compute Instances ("cg1.4xlarge").
It is also noteworthy that the older Fermi-based Tesla servers are about 4x as expensive. GRID GPUs are based on GK104 (or GK107, but those are not available on Amazon EC2) and not the more compute-intensive GK110. It would probably be a step backwards for customers intending to perform GPGPU workloads for computational science or "big data" analysis. The newer GRID systems do not have 10 Gigabit Ethernet, either.
So what does it have? Well, I created an AWS instance to find out.
Its CPU is advertised as an Intel E5-2670 with 8 threads and 26 Compute Units (CUs). This is particularly odd as that particular CPU is eight-core with 16 threads; it is also usually rated by Amazon at 22 CUs per 8 threads. This made me wonder whether the CPU is split between two clients or if Amazon disabled Hyper-Threading to push the clock rates higher (and ultimately led me to just log in to an instance and see). As it turns out, HT is still enabled and the processor registers as having 4 physical cores.
The GPU was slightly more... complicated.
NVIDIA control panel apparently does not work over remote desktop and the GPU registers as a "Standard VGA Graphics Adapter". Actually, two are available in Device Manager although one has the yellow exclamation mark of driver woe (random integrated graphics that wasn't disabled in BIOS?). GPU-Z was not able to pick much up from it but it was of some help.
Keep in mind: I did this without contacting either Amazon or NVIDIA. It is entirely possible that the OS I used (Windows Server 2008 R2) was a poor choice. OTOY, as a part of this announcement, offers Amazon Machine Image (AMI)s for Linux and Windows installations integrated with their ORBX middleware.
I spot three key pieces of information: The base clock is 797 MHz, the memory size is 2990 MB, and the default drivers are Forceware 276.52 (??). The core and default clock rate, GK104 and 797 MHz respectively, are characteristic of the GRID K520 GPU with its 2 GK104 GPUs clocked at 800 MHz. However, since the K520 gives each GPU 4GB and this instance only has 3GB of vRAM, I can tell that the product is slightly different.
I was unable to query the device's shader count. The K520 (similar to a GeForce 680) has 1536 per GPU which sounds about right (but, again, pure speculation).
I also tested the server with TCPing to measure its networking performance versus the cluster compute instances. I did not do anything like Speedtest or Netalyzr. With a normal cluster instance I achieve about 20-25ms pings; with this instance I was more in the 45-50ms range. Of course, your mileage may vary and this should not be used as any official benchmark. If you are considering using the instance for your product, launch an instance and run your own tests. It is not expensive. Still, it seems to be less responsive than Cluster Compute instances which is odd considering its intended gaming usage.
Regardless, now that Amazon picked up GRID, we might see more services (be it consumer or enterprise) which utilizes this technology. The new GPU instances start at $0.65/hr for Linux and $0.767/hr for Windows (excluding extra charges like network bandwidth) on demand. Like always with EC2, if you will use these instances a lot, you can get reduced rates if you pay a fee upfront.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | November 4, 2013 - 03:36 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, steam os, CES 2014
I guess The Verge, with its Steam Machine photos, prove all three next-gen consoles (trollolol) are designed to look like home theater devices. Of course you will never be able to purchase a Steam Machine from Valve but, since they are releasing their CAD files, I am sure at least one Steam Machine will be exactly to reference spec.
Image Source: The Verge
And, for the record, I think the reference enclosure is classy. Living room appliances suit a lot better than kitchen ones.
On a serious note: pictures of the internals. The beta Steam Machines will contain full desktop components aligned in such a way that each has its own sector to breathe from. The hottest parts intake and exhaust as far away from one another as possible. This makes the chassis relatively wide and short: a video card's length, in depth; about 3 expansion slots, tall; and about 3 PCIe cards height, wide. The actual measurements are 12" x 12" x 3" (W x D x H).
Photo Credit: The Verge
This is mostly possible because the GeForce Titan GPU is mounted upside-down and parallel with the motherboard. I have never experienced a 90-degree PCIe extension slot but, according to Josh Walrath, this is a common accessory in servers (especially 1U and 2U racks). The Titan intakes downward into a relatively unoccupied section of the case and exhausts out the back.
The Verge also had some things to say about the Steam Controller. The design motivations are interesting but I will leave that discussion to the original article (this news post will be long enough when I'm done with it). There are two points that I would like to bring up, though:
The first is a clarification of the original Steam Controller announcement: Valve will produce and sell Steam Controller on its own. This was originally a big question mark as it could water down how "reference" Valve's controller actually is. With Valve taking all-the-reins, the hardware looks more set in stone.
Will Valve still allow OEMs to learn from their design? Who knows.
The second is also interesting.
What Valve left out of the Steam Controller is almost as intriguing as what went in. Though Valve co-founder Gabe Newell told us that the company wanted to put biometric sensors into game controllers, the team discovered that hands weren't a good source of biofeedback since they were always moving around. However, the team hinted to me — strongly — that an unannounced future VR headset might measure your body's reaction to games at the earlobe. Such a device could know when you’re scared or excited, for instance, and adjust the experience to match.
Seeing Google, Valve, and possibly Apple all approach content delivery, mobile, home theater, and wearable computing... simultaneously... felt like there was a heavy link between them. This only supports that gut feeling. I believe this is the first step in a long portfolio integrating each of these seemingly unrelated technologies together. We should really watch how these companies develop these technologies: especially in relation to their other products.
Stay tuned for CES 2014 in early January. This will be the stage for Valve's hardware and software partners to unbutton their lips and spill their guts. I'm sure Josh and Ryan will have no problems cleaning it all up.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | November 1, 2013 - 04:49 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows rt, Surface 2
The Surface 2 is what happened to the Surface RT. Microsoft decided that "RT" has no place on this product except, of course, its software ("Windows RT") because they painted themselves into a corner on that one. The message is something like, "It's Windows RT 8.1 but not Windows 8.1; in fact, you cannot run that software on it". I expect, and you probably know I have voiced, that this all is a moot point in the semi-near future (and that sucks).
Microsoft's "Official" Surface 2 overviews.
Paul Thurrott down at his Supersite for Windows reviewed Surface 2 in terms of the original Surface RT. The inclusion of Tegra 4 was a major plus for him yielding "night and day" improvement over the previous Tegra 3. In fact, he thinks that everything is at least as good as the original. There is not a single point on his rubric where the Surface RT beats its successor.
Of course there is a single section where the Surface 2 lacks (it is shared with the Surface RT and I think you can guess what it is). The ecosystem, apps for Windows RT, is the platform's "Achilles Heel". It is better than it once was, with the inclusion of apps like Facebook, but glaring omissions will drive people away. He makes this point almost in passing but I, of course, believe this is a key issue.
It is absolutely lacking in key apps, and you will most likely never see such crucial solutions as full Photoshop, iTunes, or Google Chrome on this platform. But if we're being honest with ourselves here, as we must, these apps are, for better or worse, important. (The addition of Chrome alone would be a huge win for both Windows RT and Surface 2.)
You are paying Microsoft to not let you install third party browsers. Literally.
Not only does this limit its usefulness but it also reduces the pressure to continue innovation. Why add developer features to Internet Explorer when you can control their use with Windows Store? Sure, Internet Explorer has been on a great trajectory since IE9. I would say that versions 10 and especially 11 could be considered "top 3" contenders as app platforms.
The other alternative is the web, and this is where Internet Explorer 11 plays such a crucial role. While many tier-one online services—Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Cloud Player and Prime Video, and so on—are lacking native Windows RT aps, the web interfaces (should) work fine, and IE 11 is evolving into a full-featured web app platform that should present a reasonable compromise for those users.
Only if Microsoft continues their effort. No-one else is allowed to.
Now that I expanded that point, be sure to check out the rest of Paul Thurrott's review. He broke his review down into sections, big and small, and stuck his opinion wherever he could. Also check out his preview of the Nokia Lumia 2520 to see whether that (if either device) is worth waiting for.
Subject: Systems | October 31, 2013 - 01:45 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Lenovo, Erazer X700
Early this week a deal on the Lenovo Erazer X700 Gaming System was posted and now you can have a chance to see how it performs at Benchmark Reviews. The bundle it arrives with is rather impressive, a backlit keyboard and a gaming mouse which you can modify the weight to your preference. While the external aesthetics are interesting it is the internals that we want to know about, especially the watercooling which is revealed below. It performed well but their are some caveats you should read about in the review if you imagine yourself buying this system and upgrading it in the future.
"It’s been years since I’ve bought a pre-built desktop computer, so I was interested in the opportunity to check out the Erazer X700 Gaming System that Lenovo offered to us to review. The Erazer occupies a space between the sub-$500 generic boxes most people are satisfied with and the expensive boutique systems at the other end of the scale."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Alienware X51 R2 Desktop Gaming System Review @ Legit Reviews
- UK Gaming Computers Flagship Minos Mini PC System @ eTeknix
- Aria GLADIATOR Sparta i5 4.40GHz Overclocked Bundle @ Kitguru
- CyberpowerPC Infinity Achilles Pro @ eTeknix
- MSI AG2712A All-In-One Gaming PC @ Kitguru
- Asus M51AC-US015S Review @ TechReviewSource
- Apple iMac 21.5 inch and 27 inch 2013 review: the Haswell generation @ Hardware.info
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | October 22, 2013 - 07:10 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: seasonic, Power Supplies, mining, bitcoin, asic
Seasonic (Sea Sonic Electronics) has announced a design win that will see its power supplies used in HashFast’s bitcoin mining rigs. The upcoming HashFast mining rigs feature the company’s “Golden Nonce” ASIC(s) and all-in-one water coolers. HashFast has a single ASIC Baby Jet and multi-ASIC Sierra rig. Both units will be available December 15 starting at $2,250 and $6,300 respectively.
The Seasonic power supplies are high efficiency models with Japanese capacitors and at least 80 PLUS Bronze. On the high end, Seasonic has PSUs that are up to 93% efficient. HashFast stated that it chose Seasonic for its mining rigs because of the build quality and efficiency. The Baby Jet and Sierra mining rigs allow users to overclock the ASICs, and the systems can be rather demanding on PSUs.
The Golden Nonce ASIC is a 28nm chip that is rated at 400 GHash/s and 0.65 Watts per Gigahash.
Beyond that, the companies have not gone into specifics. It is good news for Seasonic, and should mean a stable system for bitcoin miners (the 93% efficiency rating is nice as well, as it means less wasted electricity and slightly more bitcoin mining profit).
The full press blast is below for reference.
Read more about Bitcoin @ PC Perspective!
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | October 14, 2013 - 09:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Lenovo, hp, dell, tablets
About 81 million PCs were sold in the third quarter of this year; a decline of 8 percent from the same quarter of last year. This is according to reports from Windows IT Pro who averaged figures from IDC and Gartner.
The firms, however, were expecting somewhere between a 9 and 10 percent drop.
A further decline (in global shipments) is still expected to occur next year. Tablet sales have slowed from projections, albeit still on a growing trend, due to emerging markets and the simplification of generic content consumption. Our viewers probably extend beyond the generic but many others do not, for whatever number of reasons, use their devices except for media and text-based web browsing; as such, customers are more hesitant to replace their PCs.
Lenovo, HP, and Dell were 1-2-3 in terms of worldwide PC sales with each experiencing slight growth. HP is very near to Lenovo in terms of unit sales, less than a quarter million units separating the two, although I would expect Lenovo would have wider margins on each unit sold. HP extends further into the low value segments. Acer and ASUS had a sharp decline in sales.
Unfortunately, the article does not give any specific details on the tablet side. They did not reach their projections.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 11, 2013 - 06:36 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, Steam Controller
Jeff Bellinghausen, former Chief Technology Officer at Sixense, currently works for Valve with their hardware initiative. He will be provide the voice over for today's controller walkthrough video. Four very different games are shown with very input configurations.
As a little background, Sixense partnered with Valve and Razer to develop the Hydra motion controller. I had a strong feeling that this technology would form the basis of the Steam hardware experience when first rumors of "The Steam Box" circulated. Clearly, either I was wrong or Valve dumped the prototype for their current (slightly more standard) gamepad.
Yet at least one of the engineering minds behind it kept with Steam OS.
The first and third games shown are Portal 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive, respectively. Portal 2 is operating in keyboard and mouse "legacy mode" where sliding your right thumb emulates the movement of a mouse and the left thumb activates a virtual D-Pad. This input method seems to have some sort of throw velocity when you quickly swipe your thumb across the pad and release although I obviously have not directly experienced it.
On the other hand, CounterStrike does not require auto aim.
Civilization V has the left thumb pad bound to map scroll and the right thumb pad controlling mouse movement. While precise, I could see speed being a problem for a game such as Starcraft 2. It seems to be slightly slower than a mouse. I would like to see someone learn the controller and attempt to ladder for a relevant amount of time.
Speaking of speed to complement precision: Papers, Please blends both thumbs into a single mouse movement. This highlights what, at least I guess, is the entire point of the new controller: allow new schemes to be tested.
Certainly, there are a bunch of possibilities even before the design leaves Valve's hands.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | October 10, 2013 - 06:59 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: amd, nvidia, Intel, Steam Machine
This should be little-to-no surprise for the viewers of our podcast, as this story was discussed there, but Valve has confirmed AMD and Intel graphics are compatible with Steam Machines. Doug Lombardi of Valve commented by email to, apparently, multiple sources including Forbes and Maximum PC.
Last week, we posted some technical specs of our first wave of Steam Machine prototypes. Although the graphics hardware that we've selected for the first wave of prototypes is a variety of NVIDIA cards, that is not an indication that Steam Machines are NVIDIA-only. In 2014, there will be Steam Machines commercially available with graphics hardware made by AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel. Valve has worked closely together with all three of these companies on optimizing their hardware for SteamOS, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
Ryan and the rest of the podcast crew found the whole situation, "Odd". They could not understand why AMD referred the press to Doug Lombardi rather than circulate a canned statement from him. It was also weird why NVIDIA had an exclusive on the beta program with AMD being commercially available in 2014.
As I have said in the initial post: for what seems to be deliberate non-committal to a specific hardware spec, why limit to a single graphics provider?
Get your wallet ready
While I was preparing for the release of Intel's Core i7 Ivy Bridge-E processors last month ORIGIN PC approached me about a system review based on the new platform. Of course I rarely pass up the opportunity to spend some time with unreasonably fast PC hardware so I told them to send something over that would impress me.
This system did.
The ORIGIN PC Millennium custom configuration is one of the flagship offerings from the boutique builder and it will hit your wallet nearly as hard as it will your games and applications. What kind of hardware do you get for $4200 these days?
- ORIGIN PC Millennium
- Intel Core i7-4930K (OC to 4.5 GHz)
- ASUS Rampage IV Gene mATX motherboard
- Custom Corsair H100i 240mm water cooler
- 16GB (4 x 4GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 memory
- 2 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB SLI
- 2 x Samsung 840 Pro 128GB SSD (RAID 0)
- 1TB Western Digital Black HDD
- Corsair AX1200i power supply
- Corsair Obsidian 350D case
- Windows 8
Our custom build was designed to pack as much processing power into as small a case as possible and I think you'll find that ORIGIN did a bang up job here. By starting with the Corsair 350D micro ATX chassis yet still including dual graphics cards and an overclocked IVB-E processor, the results are going to impress.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 9, 2013 - 12:24 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Kenilworth, New Jersey – October 9, 2013 (9:00am EST) - MAINGEAR, an award-winning PC system builder of custom gaming desktops and notebooks has been working closely with AMD and EA to build two exclusive branded flagship systems that will sport the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics solutions to offer the best PC gaming experience for the highly anticipated BATTLEFIELD 4 game.
The flagship MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops will be equipped with the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card that harnesses the visionary GCN architecture, providing higher clockspeeds on the whim and offering better performance on high performance for PC gamers such as BF4. The SHIFT will offer two R9 290X cards in CrossFire with options to configure up to 3 cards, while the F131 will start with one R9 290X and configurable up to two cards in CrossFire. This new generation of AMD graphics provides the best gaming experience possible with maximum detail settings enabled. The AMD Radeon R9 290X architecture offers the horsepower necessary to support ultra-resolution 4K gaming with smooth and consistent frame rates. Loaded with up to 4GB of memory and with AMD TrueAudio Technology that offers more immersive audio, gamers won’t miss anything and will hear every pin drop and explosion. The exclusive MAINGEAR BF4 SHIFT and F131 with Radeon R9 GPUs combined with AMD’s FX 590 unlocked CPU processor will be the top choice for gaming.
These elegant PCs will feature exclusive Battlefield 4 aesthetics including artwork that is illustrated on the side panel of the SHIFT and laser etched on the F131. The SHIFT will include subtle touches of the iconic Battlefield 4 orange color on the exterior and interior and the MAINGEAR logo on the front panel on the F131 will have an orange glow. Both systems will have an exclusive wallpaper of Battlefield 4 artwork on the desktop and of course a game code that comes with the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics while supplies last.
“Powered by the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card, the latest and greatest in graphics technology, the MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops are ready for combat in ‘Battlefield 4’,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager, Graphics Business Unit, AMD. “The partnership between AMD and MAINGEAR delivers high performance rigs designed to bring the finest PC gaming experience for ultra-enthusiasts.”
"We're pleased to work with AMD and EA on these exclusive Battlefield 4 systems featuring the exciting AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. AMD has been a great technology partner and the new Radeon R9 290X is a fantastic addition to our award winning lineup of high performance gaming PCs. Forward-looking technologies like TrueAudio and especially Project Mantle show AMD's commitment to gaming. And bundling Battlefield 4 is just icing on the cake!"
The special edition MAINGEAR Battlefield 4 SHIFT and F131 desktops are available for pre-orders today. The SHIFT starts at $3,789 with two AMD Radeon R9 290X in CrossFire while the F131 starts at $2,199 with one AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. All MAINGEAR system receive lifetime labor and phone support with one to three year hardware warranty For more information, go to: www.maingear.com/bf4