The Tech Report's summertime build recommendations

Subject: Systems | July 3, 2013 - 04:30 PM |
Tagged: system guide, system build

The PCPer Hardware Leaderboard is not the only system guide to get a summer refresh, The Tech Report have recently updated their recommended builds to include new pricing and more importantly the new hardware that has been launched.  The Econobox is powered by an i3-3220 and a GTX 650 Ti with an estimated cost of $600, with an alternative AMD system that could be configured.  The Sweet Spot has a Core i5-4430 on ASUS' Z87-K with an HD 7870 for a hair over $1000 while the Editor's Choice is about $1500 and sports better hardware all around.  For the real beast you need to read through to the Double Stuff workstation which sports the best of the best; check them all out here.

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"Over a few short months, we've seen the arrival of Intel's Haswell processors, AMD's Richland APUs, and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 700 series. In this latest edition of the TR system guide, we've revamped our builds to take these launches—and other pricing and availability changes—into account."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

PVC Load Letter? The Crap Does That Mean?

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 28, 2013 - 03:11 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, MakerBot, BUILD 2013, BUILD

Even Microsoft believes that 3D printing is a cool movement.

Windows 8.1 will include native support for the 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutting devices. According to a stage demo at BUILD, Microsoft expects printing in 3D will be as easy as printing in 2D. It might be hard to think of more than a few practical applications for a home user to have access to such hardware, but often people will not realize when they avoid what could have been easily solved with the right tools.

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Windows 8.1 will add the following features for its implementation:

  • A standardized driver model for 3D Printers, CNC machines, and laser cutting devices
  • APIs for apps to interface with the above drivers
  • Device apps and extensions through the Windows Store
  • Job spooling and queuing
  • Easy ways to query what the device and its capabilities

The reliance upon the Windows Store might tell the larger tale. It appears that Microsoft is giving the nod to the maker community, not out of excitement, but to enable app developers to interface with these devices. Could the "modern" Windows APIs provide enough flexibility for 3D printing apps to exist without Microsoft's support? What about the next classification of peripherals?

All pondering aside...

The demo involved Antoine Leblond, of Microsoft, printing a vase from a MakerBot Replicator 2. According to TechCrunch, MakerBot will not only invade Windows 8.1 but also be stocked at Microsoft Stores. This is a solid retail win for the maker movement, giving users a chance throw one of these in the back seat of the car and drive it home from the store.

Source: TechCrunch

The Titan's Overthrown. Tianhe-2 Supercomputer New #1

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Systems | June 26, 2013 - 10:27 PM |
Tagged: supercomputing, supercomputer, titan, Xeon Phi

The National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho, China, will host the the world's fastest supercomputer by the end of the year. The Tianhe-2, English: "Milky Way-2", is capable of nearly double the floating-point performance of Titan albeit with slightly less performance per watt. The Tianhe-2 was developed by China's National University of Defense Technology.

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Photo Credit: Top500.org

Comparing new fastest computer with the former, China's Milky Way-2 is able to achieve 33.8627 PetaFLOPs of calculations from 17.808 MW of electricity. The Titan, on the other hand, is able to crunch 17.590 PetaFLOPs with a draw of just 8.209 MW. As such, the new Milky Way-2 uses 12.7% more power per FLOP than Titan.

Titan is famously based on the Kepler GPU architecture from NVIDIA, coupled with several 16-core AMD Opteron server processors clocked at 2.2 GHz. This concept of using accelerated hardware carried over into the design of Tianhe-2, which is based around Intel's Xeon Phi coprocessor. If you include the simplified co-processor cores of the Xeon Phi, the new champion is the sum of 3.12 million x86 cores and 1024 terabytes of memory.

... but will it run Crysis?

... if someone gets around to emulating DirectX in software, it very well could.

Source: Top500

What's new on the Hardware Leaderboard?

Subject: Systems | June 20, 2013 - 03:43 PM |
Tagged: hwlb, Richland, haswell

It has been quite a long time since we have seen new processors on the HWLB, Ivy Bridge has enjoyed a long reign as the most powerful consumer chip for high end and mid-range machines and the A10 -5800K Trinity has been on the Low End machine since its initial release.  All three system recommendations have now change with the release of Haswell and Richland.

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Starting with the most affordable machine, the $455 Low End machine is now powered by the brand new AMD A8-6600K Richland, not the fast chip but a good compromise if you insist on picking up a discrete GPU for hybrid Crossfire.  If you skip that GPU you can opt to spend $30 for the A10-6800K and reduce the total cost of the system by $35.  MSI's FM2-A85XA-G65 motherboard will provide a stable platform to run on but please update the BIOS to take full advantage of Richland's new features.

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The Mid-Range system has moved up to Haswell, perhaps not a great upgrade from an existing Ivy Bridge system but perfect for a new build.  The i5-4670K is the lowest priced unlocked chip from Intel, a good choice considering the lockdown on overclocking on the non-K parts.  MSI's Z87-G43 was chosen for the flexibility of output ports but it does only sport a single 16x PCIe slot, if you expect to upgrade to a system with dual GPUs the 4670K would be a bottleneck and you are better off saving your pennies for the High End system.  Also new is the XFX Double D HD 7870 GHz and Block Edition which sports a custom cooling solution to go with its hefty factory overclock.  This system offers you a lot of ways to tweak performance and if you are just starting to dabble in overclocking this system would be a great place to start.

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Intel has finally dethroned the i7-3770K which lasted longer than just about any other part has on the HWLB, the new i7-4770K is now available with the wide variety of new features offered by Haswell.  The chip also needs a new home and the very impressive, and golden, ASUS Z87-EXPERT is perfect for this chip as it sports a huge amount of SATA 6Gbps, USB 3.0, and audio ports along with PCIe 16x and Thunderbolt.  Also new this month is NVIDIA's GTX770 which will offer you all the performance of the GTX680 but at the same price as the previous pick, the GTX 670.

The Dream system remains mostly unchanged for now, Ivy Bridge E just offers more power for the truly extreme user.  Keep your eye out for updates though, there are more releases scheduled this year that could make it onto the PCPer HWLB!

Giada D2308 Is a SFF Router-Sized Mini PC With Haswell CPU and a Discrete GPU

Subject: Cases and Cooling, Systems | June 20, 2013 - 12:42 AM |
Tagged: Intel, haswell, gtx 650, giada

Giada Technology has launched a new small form factor desktop PC with its upcoming D2308. The successor to the Giada D2305, the D2308 is a tiny PC that can be used for a variety of workloads. The mini PC, with up to a 70W system TDP, features an Intel "Haswell" processor and a discrete NVIDIA GPU (most likely mobile parts), which makes it a fairly powerful machine for the size!

The D2308 is enclosed in a black chassis with curved edges. Three Wi-Fi antennas stick up from the back of the PC. It looks rather like a home router or the mintBox PC, actually.

Giada D2308 SFF Mini PC.jpg

Internally, the Giada D2308 uses an Intel Core-i5 or Core i7 Fourth Generation Core CPU, a NVIDIA GTX 650 GPU with 1GB of video memory, up to 16GB DDR3 memory (in two SODIMM slots), a Realtek ALC662 5.1 HD audio codec, TPM module support, and two mini-PCI-E connectors for things like wireless cards or storage drives. The SFF PC can also accommodate a single 2.5" mechanical hard drive or SSD.

According to eTeknix, external IO includes two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.0 ports, a SD card reader, two HDMI video outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and analog audio outputs. Pricing and availability have not yet been announced.

I have reached out to Giada for more information on the small form factor PC, but did not hear back from them in time for publication. I will update this post if the company responds to our questions. Although the D2308 is not a fan-less PC, it appears to have good hardware and would do well at a variety of HTPC, desktop, or office PC tasks.

Update: A Giada PC representative responded to our request for more information to let us know that the SFF PC uses the fourth generation Core i5/i7 processors and HM87 chipset along with NVIDIA GTX 650 graphics. It should be available towards the end of July.

Source: ETeknix

Logic Supply Launches New LGX ML250 Fanless PC

Subject: Cases and Cooling, Systems | June 19, 2013 - 03:33 PM |
Tagged: Passive, Logic Supply, Ivy Bridge, fanless

Logic Supply recently responded to customer requests for a high-end passively cooled system with its new LGX ML250 fanless PC. The new system is intended for industrial and mobile computing work where you need a rugged system that can be used in a wide range of environments.

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The LGX ML250 uses a metal chassis that doubles as a heatsink for the CPU. On the front of the case is a single power button and two USB 2.0 ports. On the rear IO panel, users are presented with:

  • 2 x COM ports
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DVI
  • 1 x PS/2
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 2 x RJ45 LAN jacks
  • 3 x analog audio outputs

Internally, the fanless PC uses an ASRock IMB-170 motherboard, Intel Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge CPUs, up to 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 memory, and (up to) either a 1TB mechanical hard drive or 120GB SLC SSD for two SATA drive slots.

CPU options include the Sandy Bridge Celeron B810, the Ivy Bridge Core i3-3120ME, or the Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3610ME at 2.7GHz. The PC also includes Wi-Fi via a mini-PCI-E card. It can be pre-installed with your choice of Windows 7/8 or Ubuntu Linux operating systems. The LGX ML250 is rated for 40-degrees Celsius environmental temperatures.

Mr Walsh of Logic Supply stated that the company received numerous requests for a sub-$1000 machine with decent specs, IO, and with a fanless design. "The default config uses one of the new industrial-series ASRock boards -- the IMB170. From what I can tell, few IPC companies are using these boards in fanless systems, which is amazing given their price/performance specs."

The ML250 starts at $773 and is available for pre-order now. The price tag is steep, but it is a full system that is mostly aimed at industrial applications.

Source: Logic Supply

E3 2013: Microsoft can ban your Xbox One library

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2013 - 03:16 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, microsoft, ea, E3 13, E3

Update: Microsoft denies the statements from their support account... but this is still one of the major problems with DRM and closed platforms in general. It is stuff like this that you let them do.

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Electronic Arts knows that they need to shake their terrible public image.

Welcome to Microsoft's PR strategy for the Xbox One.

Consumers, whether they acknowledge it or not, fear for the control that platform holders have over their content. It was hard for many to believe that having your EA account banned for whatever reason, even a dispute with a forum moderator, forfeited your license to games you play through that EA account. Sounds like another great idea for Microsoft to steal.

Not stopping there, later on in the thread they were asked what would happen in the event of a security breach. You know, recourse before destroying access to possibly thousands of dollars of content.

While not a "verified account", @xboxsupport is.

They acknowledge ownership of this account in the background image there.

Honestly, there shouldn't have been any doubt that these actually are Microsoft employees.

... Yikes.

At this point, we have definitely surpassed absurdity. Sure, you typically need to do something fairly bad to have Microsoft stop charging your for Xbox Live. Removing access to your entire library of games, to me, is an attempt to limit cheating and the hardware community.

Great, encourage spite from the soldering irons, that works out well.

Don't worry, enthusiasts, you know the PC loves you.

Gaming as a form of entertainment is fundamentally different than gaming as a form of art. When content is entertainment, its message touches you without any intrinsic value and can be replaced with similar content. Sometimes a certain piece of content, itself, has specific value to society. It is these times where we should encourage efforts by organizations such as GoG, Mozilla and W3C, Khronos, and many others. Without help, it could be extremely difficult or impossible for content to be preserved for future generations and future civilizations.

It does not even need to get in the way of the industry and its attempt to profit from the gaming medium; a careless industry, on the other hand, can certainly get in the way of our ability to have genuine art. After all, this is the main reason why I am a PC gamer: the platform allows entertainment to co-exist with communities who support themselves when the official channels do not.

Of course, unless Windows learns a little something from the Xbox. I guess do not get your Windows Store account banned in the future?

E3 2013: Dell Alienware X51 Gaming Desktop Refresh

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 13, 2013 - 04:17 AM |
Tagged: E3, E3 13, dell, alienware, alienware x51

The launch of Haswell led to many new product launches, and so did E3. The overlap? The Alienware X51 gaming desktop has been refreshed with some very compelling components at a surprisingly compelling price.

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Unfortunately, there is a slight difference between the Canadian and the American offerings; it is not a case of one citizen paying more than the another, however, as things are more shuffled around than outright better. Our Canadian readers start with a base price of $1499.99, and Americans start out at $1449.99. Americans can spend an extra $100 to upgrade their DVD reader to a Blu-Ray drive, Canadians get Blu-Ray by default. Therefore, if you desire a Blu-Ray drive, it is $50 cheaper to be Canadian; otherwise, it is $50 cheaper to be American.

Whether you are Canadian or American, I would personally recommend spending the extra $100 upgrading your RAM from 8GB to 16 GB. Sure, 8GB is a lot, but the extra can go a long way especially with the direction that web browsers have been heading. You each, also, have the option of spending $300 and receiving a 256GB SSD albeit also at the expense of, beyond the $300, reducing your 2TB HDD down to a slower, 5400RPM 1TB drive.

In all, this actually looks quite compelling for someone who wishes to have a console-esque form-factor near their TV. Unfortunately there are currently no Ubuntu-based options for this X51, although you may freely ($0) choose between Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and Windows 8 64-bit.

Source: Dell

WWDC 13: Dissecting Apple's New Hardware Changes. MacBook Air and the new Mac Pro.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 11, 2013 - 04:06 AM |
Tagged: wwdc 13, MacBook Air, Mac Pro, apple

Sometimes our "Perspective" is needed on Apple announcements because some big points just do not get covered by the usual sources. Other times, portions of the story can be relevant to our readers. This is one of those days where both are true. Either side should review our thoughts and analysis of Apple's recent ultrabook and, especially, their upcoming desktop offerings.

The MacBook Air has been, predictably, upgraded Intel's Haswell processors. Battery life is the first obvious benefit of the CPU, and that has been well reported. The 11-inch MacBook Air gains an extra four hours of battery life, usable for up to 9 hours between charges. The extra space on the 13-inch MacBook Air allows it to last 12 hours between charges.

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Less discussed, both MacBook Airs will contain Intel's Iris iGPU more commonly known as Intel HD 5000. You cannot get Intel HD 5000 graphics without selecting a BGA socket component which you would install by soldering it in place. While there are several better solutions from competing GPU vendors, Apple will have one of the first shipping implementations of Haswell's canonical graphics processor. Iris is said to have double the performance of previous generation Ivy Bridge graphics for a fraction of its power consumption.

Also included in the MacBook Air is an 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi network adapter and Bluetooth 4.0. Apple is not typically known to introduce new standards and often lags severely behind what is available on the PC unless they had a hand in trademarking it, USB 3.0 being the obvious and recent example.

The specifications will be somewhat customizable, the user is able to select between: an i5 and an i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128, 256, or 512GB SSD. It has shipped the day it was announced with base prices ranging between $999 for an entry-level 11-inch and $1099 for an entry-level 13-inch.

But now we move on to the dying industry, desktop PCs, where all innovation has died unless it is to graft a touch interface to anything and everything.

"Can't innovate any more, my ass", grunts Phil Schiller, on the keynote stage.

Whether you like it, or think "innovation" is the best word, it's a legitimate new design some will want.

While the new Mac Pro is not a system that I would be interested in purchasing, for issues I will outline soon, these devices are what some users really want. I have been a very strong proponent of OEM devices as they highlight the benefit of the PC industry: choice. You can purchase a device, like the new Mac Pro, from a vendor; alternatively, you can purchase the components individually to assemble yourself and save a lot of money; otherwise, you can hire a small business computer store or technician.

We need more companies, like Apple, to try new devices and paradigms for workstations and other high-performance devices. While it is less ideal for Apple to be the ones coming up with these redesigns, Apple's platform encourages applications to be vendor-specific (only run on a Mac), it can still benefit the PC industry by demonstrating that life and demand still exists; trying something new could reap large benefits. Not everyone wants to have a full ATX case with discrete components but still want workstation performance, and that is okay.

Now when it comes to actual specifications, the typical coverage glossed over what could be easily approximated by a trip to Wikipedia and Google. Sure, some may have been in a rush within the auditorium, but still.

The specifications are:

  • Intel Xeon E5-2600 V2-class CPU, Ivy Bridge-E, 12 cores max (suggests single-socket)
  • 4-channel DDR3 ECC RAM, apparently 4 DIMMS which suggests 4x16GB (Max).
  • Dual FirePro GPUs, 4096 total shaders with 2x6GB GDDR5.
  • PCIe SSD
  • Thunderbolt 2, USB3.0, and WiFi ac (+ a/b/g/n??), Bluetooth 4.0

Now the downside is that basically anything you wish to add to the Mac Pro needs to be done through Thunderbolt, Bluetooth 4.0, or USB 3.0. When you purchase an all-in-one custom design, you forfeit your ability to reach in and modify the components. There is also no mention of pricing, and for a computer with this shoplist you should expect to pay a substantial invoice even without "The Apple Tax", but that is not the point of purchasing a high-end workstation. Apple certainly put in as close to the best-of-the-best as they could.

Now could people stop claiming the PC is dead and work towards sustaining it? I know people love stories of jarring industry shifts, but this is ridiculous.

Source: Apple

E3 2013: Bludgeon that horse again! Xbox One DRM

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 08:46 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, E3 13, E3

So heading up to E3, Microsoft decided to drop their DRM bombshell so it would get buried over the next couple of days. In terms of permissiveness, the Xbox One is not nearly as bad as feared; of course, it is still terrible in certain ways.

Microsoft will allow games to be played offline on the Xbox One... for 24 hours. If your internet connection has been offline for longer than that period (unclear whether the timer starts when internet goes out or from last update) then your system will be locked to live TV and disc-based movies. Games and apps, even ones which should have no online functionality, will cease to function until you reconnect with Xbox servers.

This also means that if the Xbox servers have an outage lasting between 24 hours and "taken offline forever", all gaming and apparently apps will cease to function on the Xbox One.

And people wonder why I freak out about Windows Store.

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It's like if Wall-E grew a Freddie Mercury

But at least they will allow some level of used-game transfer... if the publisher agrees. Check out this statement from Microsoft Studios:

In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers. Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers. Microsoft does not receive any compensation as part of this. In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.

So this will be an interesting experiment: how will revenue and profitability be affected for game publishers who deny used game sales? I honestly expect that used game sales actually promote the purchasing of more games and that initiatives to limit used game transfers will reduce user engagement. Of course Microsoft is now taking all of the flak from Sony, who may or may not be considering the same practice, but I am sure at least Microsoft is hoping that everyone will forget this when shiny new trailers erase the collective gamer memory.

In return, however, Microsoft is being fairly permissive when it comes to how many users can be licensed on a single disk. Up to ten family members are allowed access to your collective library.

And, after all, it should not be a surprise that a console game disappears when Microsoft shuts down their servers: consoles were always designed to be disposable. I have been proclaiming that for quite some time. The difference is now, people cannot really deny it.

Source: Microsoft