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 - 08:00 AM | 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: General Tech | October 29, 2015 - 03:22 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: podcast, video, Samsung, 950 PRO, NVMe, asus, ROG Swift, pg279q, g-sync, nvidia, amd, steam, steam link, valve
PC Perspective Podcast #373 - 10/29/2015
Join us this week as we discuss the Samsung 950 Pro, ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q, Steam Link and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the Store
- RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
- MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Sebastian Peak
Program length: 1:25:18
Week in Review:
News item of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 03:19 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 - 01:49 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 - 12:29 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: General Tech | October 22, 2015 - 02:38 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Merlin Falcon, Excavator, carrizo, amd
On your latest flight you may have noticed some branding on the displays powering the schedules and in-flight entertainment, or perhaps if you were flying to Vegas you didn't notice it until you were playing the slots. If you were paying attention you would have noticed that the display was powered by AMD, as are many POS, medical and even military displays. A new series of Excavator based processors was announced today, the Merlin Falcon which has four Excavator cores, a Radeon third-gen GCN GPU and support for both DDR3 and DDR4 RAM.
Yes that is right, the first DDR4 chip from AMD is arriving but you won't be running it in your desktop. You should probably be jealous as this processor will have HSA 1.0, hardware based HEVC/H.265 video decode, DirectX 12 support and even the ARM co-processor that provides AMD's new Secure Processor feature. There is more at The Register if you follow the link.
"AMD will today unveil Merlin Falcon, its latest R-series processor aimed at industrial systems, medical devices, gambling machines, digital signs, military hardware, and so on."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- SanDisk, Toshiba to jointly make 3D flash memory @ DigiTimes
- Michael Dell berates Microsoft's Nadella about high price of Surface tablet @ The Inquirer
- Square Enix To Concentrate On Remaking Their Back Catalog @ Slashdot
- Marvell, Longsys partner to make SSDs @ DigiTimes
- IoT's sub-GHz 802.11ah Wi-Fi will be dead on arrival, warn analysts @ The Register
- Amazon Fire TV Review @ Hardware Secrets
Subject: Processors | October 19, 2015 - 11:28 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Zen, SoC, processor, imac, APU, apple, amd
Rumor: Apple to Use AMD SoC for Next-Gen iMac News about AMD has been largely depressing of late, with the introduction of the R9 Fury/Fury X and Nano graphics cards a bright spot in the otherwise tumultuous year that was recently capped by a $65 million APU write down. But one area where AMD has managed to earn a big win has been the console market, where their APUs power the latest machines from Microsoft and Sony. The combination of CPU and a powerful GPU on a single chip is ideal for those small form-factor designs, and likewise it would be ideal for a slim all-in-one PC. But an iMac?
Image credit: Apple
A report from WCCFtech today points to the upcoming Zen architecture from AMD as a likely power source for a potential custom SoC:
"A Semi-custom SOC x86 for the iMac would have to include a high performance x86 component, namely Zen, in addition to a graphics engine to drive the visual experience of the device. Such a design would be very similar to the current semi-custom Playstation 4 and XBOX ONE Accelerated Processing Units, combining x86 CPU cores with a highly capable integrated graphics solution."
Those who don't follow Apple probably don't know the company switched over almost exclusively to AMD graphics a short time ago, with NVIDIA solutions phased out of all discrete GPU models. Whether politically motivated or simply the result of AMD providing what Apple wanted from a hardware/driver standpoint I can't say, but it's still a big win for AMD considering Apple's position as one of the largest computer manufacturers - even though its market share is very low in the highly fragmented PC market overall. And while Apple has exclusively used Intel processors in its systems since transitioning away from IBM's PowerPC beginning in 2006, the idea of an AMD custom APU makes a lot of sense for the company, especially for their size and heat constrained iMac designs.
Image credit: WCCFtech
Whether or not you'd ever consider buying an iMac - or any other computer from Apple, for that matter - it's still important for the PC industry as a whole that AMD continues to find success and provide competition for Intel. Consumers can only benefit from the potential for improved performance and reduced cost if competition heats up between Intel and AMD, something we really haven't seen on the CPU front in a few years now. With CEO Lisa Su stating that AMD "had secured two new semi-custom design wins" In their recent earnings call it could very well be that we will see Zen in future iMacs, or in other PC all-in-one solutions for that matter.
Regardless, it will be exciting to see some good competition from AMD, even if we will have to wait quite a while for it. Zen isn't ready yet and we have no indication that any such product would be introduced until later next year. It will be interesting to see what Intel might do to compete given their resources. 2016 could be interesting.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 14, 2015 - 11:24 AM | 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.
Subject: Editorial | October 12, 2015 - 06:51 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: XR341CK, Star Wars Battlefront, freesync, battlefront, amd, acer
I just happened to be doing some testing on the Acer XR341CK 34-in 3440x1440 FreeSync monitor with a 75 Hz refresh rate and started taking some screenshots. I have no real reason to do this, but I thought I might as well share some images from what I believe to be one of the most impressive looking games in a long time. Below I have included a handful of full resolution screenshots from the two multiplayer maps currently available in the nearly-over Battlefront beta.
If you are a Star Wars fan and you haven't tried out the free beta, you owe it to yourself to do so. The combination of classic music, well known ships and locations, and simple to understand gameplay that is exciting and rewarding make this a fantastic experience thus far. I eagerly await the full release next month!
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