Build and Upgrade Components

Spring is in the air! And while many traditionally use this season for cleaning out their homes, what could be the point of reclaiming all of that space besides filling it up again with new PC hardware and accessories? If you answered, "there is no point, other than what you just said," then you're absolutely right. Spring a great time to procrastinate about housework and build up a sweet new gaming PC (what else would you really want to use that tax return for?), so our staff has listed their favorite PC hardware right now, from build components to accessories, to make your life easier. (Let's make this season far more exciting than taking out the trash and filing taxes!)

While our venerable Hardware Leaderboard has been serving the PC community for many years, it's still worth listing some of our favorite PC hardware for builds at different price points here.

Processors - the heart of the system.

No doubt about it, AMD's Ryzen CPU launch has been the biggest news of the year so far for PC enthusiasts, and while the 6 and 4-core variants are right around the corner the 8-core R7 processors are still a great choice if you have the budget for a $300+ CPU. To that end, we really like the value proposition of the Ryzen R7 1700, which offers much of the performance of its more expensive siblings for a really compelling price, and can potentially be overclocked to match the higher-clocked members of the Ryzen lineup, though moving up to either the R7 1700X or R7 1800X will net you higher clocks (without increasing voltage and power draw) out of the box.

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Really, any of these processors are going to provide a great overall PC experience with incredible multi-threaded performance for your dollar in many applications, and they can of course handle any game you throw at them - with optimizations already appearing to make them even better for gaming.

Don't forget about Intel, which has some really compelling options starting even at the very low end (Pentium G4560, when you can find one in stock near its ~$60 MSRP), thanks to their newest Kaby Lake CPUs. The high-end option from Intel's 7th-gen Core lineup is the Core i7-7700K (currently $345 on Amazon), which provides very fast gaming performance and plenty of power if you don't need as many cores as the R7 1700 (or Intel's high-end LGA-2011 parts). Core i5 processors provide a much more cost-effective way to power a gaming system, and an i5-7500 is nearly $150 less than the Core i7 while providing excellent performance if you don't need an unlocked multiplier or those additional threads.

Continue reading our Spring Buyer's Guide for selections of graphics cards, motherboards, memory and more!

Manufacturer: Phononic

Introduction: A Hybrid Approach

The Hex 2.0 from Phononic is not your typical CPU cooler. It functions as both a thermoelectric cooler (TEC) - which you may also know as a Peltier cooler - and as a standard heatsink/fan, depending on CPU load. It offers a small footprint for placement in all but the lowest-profile systems, yet it boasts cooling potential beyond other coolers of its size. Yes, it is expensive, but this is a far more complex device than a standard air or even all-in-one liquid cooler - and obviously much smaller than even the most compact AiO liquid coolers.

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“The HEX 2.0 combines a proprietary state-of-the-art high performance thermoelectric module with an innovative heat exchanger. The small form factor CPU cooler pioneers a new category of cooling technology. The compact design comfortably fits in small chassis, including mini-ITX cases, while delivering cooling capacity beyond that of much larger coolers.”

Even though it does not always need to function as such, the Hex 2.0 is a thermoelectric cooling device, and that alone makes it interesting from a PC hardware enthusiast point of view (at least mine, anyway). The 'active-passive' approach taken by Phononic with the Hex 2.0 allows for greater performance potential that would otherwise be possible from a smaller TEC device, though our testing will of course reveal how effective it is in actual use.

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HEX 2.0 features an Active-Passive design (Credit: Phononic)

The goal for the HEX 2.0 CPU cooler was to provide similar cooling performance to all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or the very largest fan-heat sinks in a package that could fit into the smallest PC form factors (like miniITX). The active-passive design is what makes this possible. By splitting the CPU heat into two paths, as shown in Figure 1 (Ed. the above image), the thermoelectric device can be sized at an optimal point where it can provide the most benefit for lowering CPU temperature without having to be large enough to pump the entire CPU thermal load. We also designed electronic controls to turn off the thermoelectric heat pump at times of low CPU load, making for an energy efficient cooler that provides adequate cooling with zero power draw at low CPU loads. However, when the CPU is stressed and the CPU heat load increases, the electronic controls energize the thermoelectric heat pump, lowering the temperature of the passive base plate and the CPU itself. The active-passive design has one further benefit – when used in conjunction with the electronic controls, this design virtually eliminates the risk of condensation for the HEX 2.0.

Continue reading our review of the Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric CPU Cooler!

AMD Ryzen Community Update Addresses Windows 10 Thread Scheduling, SMT Performance, and More

Subject: Processors | March 13, 2017 - 08:48 PM |
Tagged: Windows 7, windows 10, thread scheduling, SMT, ryzen, Robert Hallock, processor, cpu, amd

AMD's Robert Hallock (previously the Head of Global Technical Marketing for AMD and now working full time on the CPU side of things) has posted a comprehensive Ryzen update, covering AMD's official stance on Windows 10 thread scheduling, the performance implications of SMT, Windows power management settings, and more. The post in its entirety is reproduced below, and also available from AMD by following this link.

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(Begin statement:)

It’s been about two weeks since we launched the new AMD Ryzen™ processor, and I’m just thrilled to see all the excitement and chatter surrounding our new chip. Seems like not a day goes by when I’m not being tweeted by someone doing a new build, often for the first time in many years. Reports from media and users have also been good:

  • “This CPU gives you something that we needed for a long time, which is a CPU that gives you a well-rounded experience.” –JayzTwoCents
  • Competitive performance at 1080p, with Tech Spot saying the “affordable Ryzen 7 1700” is an “awesome option” and a “safer bet long term.”
  • ExtremeTech showed strong performance for high-end GPUs like the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, especially for gamers that understand how much value AMD Ryzen™ brings to the table
  • Many users are noting that the 8-core design of AMD Ryzen™ 7 processors enables “noticeably SMOOTHER” performance compared to their old platforms.

While these findings have been great to read, we are just getting started! The AMD Ryzen™ processor and AM4 Platform both have room to grow, and we wanted to take a few minutes to address some of the questions and comments being discussed across the web.

Thread Scheduling

We have investigated reports alleging incorrect thread scheduling on the AMD Ryzen™ processor. Based on our findings, AMD believes that the Windows® 10 thread scheduler is operating properly for “Zen,” and we do not presently believe there is an issue with the scheduler adversely utilizing the logical and physical configurations of the architecture.

As an extension of this investigation, we have also reviewed topology logs generated by the Sysinternals Coreinfo utility. We have determined that an outdated version of the application was responsible for originating the incorrect topology data that has been widely reported in the media. Coreinfo v3.31 (or later) will produce the correct results.

Finally, we have reviewed the limited available evidence concerning performance deltas between Windows® 7 and Windows® 10 on the AMD Ryzen™ CPU. We do not believe there is an issue with scheduling differences between the two versions of Windows.  Any differences in performance can be more likely attributed to software architecture differences between these OSes.

Going forward, our analysis highlights that there are many applications that already make good use of the cores and threads in Ryzen, and there are other applications that can better utilize the topology and capabilities of our new CPU with some targeted optimizations. These opportunities are already being actively worked via the AMD Ryzen™ dev kit program that has sampled 300+ systems worldwide.

Above all, we would like to thank the community for their efforts to understand the Ryzen processor and reporting their findings. The software/hardware relationship is a complex one, with additional layers of nuance when preexisting software is exposed to an all-new architecture. We are already finding many small changes that can improve the Ryzen performance in certain applications, and we are optimistic that these will result in beneficial optimizations for current and future applications.

Temperature Reporting

The primary temperature reporting sensor of the AMD Ryzen™ processor is a sensor called “T Control,” or tCTL for short. The tCTL sensor is derived from the junction (Tj) temperature—the interface point between the die and heatspreader—but it may be offset on certain CPU models so that all models on the AM4 Platform have the same maximum tCTL value. This approach ensures that all AMD Ryzen™ processors have a consistent fan policy.

Specifically, the AMD Ryzen™ 7 1700X and 1800X carry a +20°C offset between the tCTL° (reported) temperature and the actual Tj° temperature. In the short term, users of the AMD Ryzen™ 1700X and 1800X can simply subtract 20°C to determine the true junction temperature of their processor. No arithmetic is required for the Ryzen 7 1700. Long term, we expect temperature monitoring software to better understand our tCTL offsets to report the junction temperature automatically.

The table below serves as an example of how the tCTL sensor can be interpreted in a hypothetical scenario where a Ryzen processor is operating at 38°C.

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Power Plans

Users may have heard that AMD recommends the High Performance power plan within Windows® 10 for the best performance on Ryzen, and indeed we do. We recommend this plan for two key reasons: 

  1. Core Parking OFF: Idle CPU cores are instantaneously available for thread scheduling. In contrast, the Balanced plan aggressively places idle CPU cores into low power states. This can cause additional latency when un-parking cores to accommodate varying loads.
  2. Fast frequency change: The AMD Ryzen™ processor can alter its voltage and frequency states in the 1ms intervals natively supported by the “Zen” architecture. In contrast, the Balanced plan may take longer for voltage and frequency (V/f) changes due to software participation in power state changes.

In the near term, we recommend that games and other high-performance applications are complemented by the High Performance plan. By the first week of April, AMD intends to provide an update for AMD Ryzen™ processors that optimizes the power policy parameters of the Balanced plan to favor performance more consistent with the typical usage models of a desktop PC.

Simultaneous Multi-threading (SMT)

Finally, we have investigated reports of instances where SMT is producing reduced performance in a handful of games. Based on our characterization of game workloads, it is our expectation that gaming applications should generally see a neutral/positive benefit from SMT. We see this neutral/positive behavior in a wide range of titles, including: Arma® 3, Battlefield™ 1, Mafia™ III, Watch Dogs™ 2, Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI, For Honor™, Hitman™, Mirror’s Edge™ Catalyst and The Division™. Independent 3rd-party analyses have corroborated these findings.

For the remaining outliers, AMD again sees multiple opportunities within the codebases of specific applications to improve how this software addresses the “Zen” architecture. We have already identified some simple changes that can improve a game’s understanding of the "Zen" core/cache topology, and we intend to provide a status update to the community when they are ready.

Wrap-up

Overall, we are thrilled with the outpouring of support we’ve seen from AMD fans new and old. We love seeing your new builds, your benchmarks, your excitement, and your deep dives into the nuts and bolts of Ryzen. You are helping us make Ryzen™ even better by the day.  You should expect to hear from us regularly through this blog to answer new questions and give you updates on new improvements in the Ryzen ecosystem.

(End statement.)

Such topics as Windows 7 vs. Windows 10 performance, SMT impact, and thread scheduling will no doubt still be debated, and AMD has correctly pointed out that optimization for this brand new architecture will only improve Ryzen performance going forward. Our own findings as to Ryzen and the Windows 10 thread scheduler appear to be validated as AMD officially dismisses performance impact in that area, though there is still room for improvement in other areas from our initial gaming performance findings. As mentioned in the post, AMD will have an update for Windows power plan optimization by the first week of April, and the company has "already identified some simple changes that can improve a game’s understanding of the 'Zen' core/cache topology, and we intend to provide a status update to the community when they are ready", as well.

It is refreshing to see a company publicly acknowledging the topics that have resulted in so much discussion in the past couple of weeks, and their transparency is commendable, with every issue (that this author is aware of) being touched on in the post.

Source: AMD
Manufacturer: RockIt Cool

Introduction

Introduction

With the introduction of the Intel Kaby Lake processors and Intel Z270 chipset, unprecedented overclocking became the norm. The new processors easily hit a core speed of 5.0GHz with little more than CPU core voltage tweaking. This overclocking performance increase came with a price tag. The Kaby Lake processor runs significantly hotter than previous generation processors, a seeming reversal in temperature trends from previous generation Intel CPUs. At stock settings, the individual cores in the CPU were recording in testing at hitting up to 65C - and that's with a high performance water loop cooling the processor. Per reports from various enthusiasts sites, Intel used inferior TIM (thermal interface material) in between the CPU die and underside of the CPU heat spreader, leading to increased temperatures when compared with previous CPU generations (in particular Skylake). This temperature increase did not affect overclocking much since the CPU will hit 5.0GHz speed easily, but does impact the means necessary to hit those performance levels.

Like with the previous generation Haswell CPUs, a few of the more adventurous enthusiasts used known methods in an attempt to address the heat concerns of the Kaby Lake processor be delidding the processor. Unlike in the initial days of the Haswell processor, the delidding process is much more stream-lined with the availability of delidding kits from several vendors. The delidding process still involves physically removing the heat spreader from the CPU, and exposing the CPU die. However, instead of cooling the die directly, the "safer" approach is to clean the die and underside of the heat spreader, apply new TIM (thermal interface material), and re-affix the heat spreader to the CPU. Going this route instead of direct-die cooling is considered safer because no additional or exotic support mechanisms are needed to keep the CPU cooler from crushing your precious die. However, calling it safe is a bit of an over-statement, you are physically separating the heat spreader from the CPU surface and voiding your CPU warranty at the same time. Although if that was a concern, you probably wouldn't be reading this article in the first place.

Continue reading our Kaby Lake Relidding article!

Report: Leaked AMD Ryzen 7 1700X Benchmarks Show Strong Performance

Subject: Processors | February 21, 2017 - 10:54 AM |
Tagged: ryzen, rumor, report, R7, processor, leak, IPC, cpu, Cinebench, benchmark, amd, 1700X

VideoCardz.com, continuing their CPU coverage of the upcoming Ryzen launch, has posted images from XFASTEST depicting the R7 1700X processor and some very promising benchmark screenshots.

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(Ryzen 7 1700X on the right) Image credit XFASTEST via VideoCardz

The Ryzen 7 1700X is reportedly an 8-core/16-thread processor with a base clock speed of 3.40 GHz, and while overall performance from the leaked benchmarks looks very impressive, it is the single-threaded score from the Cinebench R15 run pictured which really makes this CPU look like major competition for Intel with IPC.

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Image credit XFASTEST via VideoCardz

An overall score of 1537 is outstanding, placing the CPU almost even with the i7-6900K at 1547 based on results from AnandTech:

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Image credit AnandTech

And the single-threaded performance score of the reported Ryzen 7 1700X is 154, which places it above the i7-6900K's score of 153. (It is worth noting that Cinebench R15 shows a clock speed of 3.40 GHz for this CPU, which is the base, while CPU-Z is displaying 3.50 GHz - likely indicating a boost clock, which can reportedly surpass 3.80 GHz with this CPU.)

Other results from the reported leak include 3DMark Fire Strike, with a physics score of 17,916 with Ryzen 7 1700X clocking in at ~3.90 GHz:

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Image credit XFASTEST via VideoCardz

We will know soon enough where this and other Ryzen processors stand relative to Intel's current offerings, and if Intel will respond to the (rumored) price/performance double whammy of Ryzen. An i7-6900K retails for $1099 and currently sells for $1049 on Newegg.com, and the rumored pricing (taken from Wccftech), if correct, gives AMD a big win here. Competition is very, very good!

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Chart credit Wccftech.com

Source: VideoCardz

Report: AMD Ryzen Performance in Ashes of the Singularity Benchmark

Subject: Processors | February 3, 2017 - 08:22 PM |
Tagged: titan x, ryzen, report, processor, nvidia, leak, cpu, benchmark, ashes of the singularity, amd

AMD's upcoming 8-core Ryzen CPU has appeared online in an apparent leak showing performance from an Ashes of the Singularity benchmark run. The benchmark results, available here on imgur and reported by TechPowerUp (among others today) shows the result of a run featuring the unreleased CPU paired with an NVIDIA Titan X graphics card.

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It is interesting to consider that this rather unusual system configuration was also used by AMD during their New Horizon fan event in December, with an NVIDIA Titan X and Ryzen 8-core processor powering the 4K game demos of Battlefield 1 that were pitted against an Intel Core i7-6900K/Titan X combo.

It is also interesting to note that the processor listed in the screenshot above is (apparently) not an engineering sample, as TechPowerUp points out in their post:

"Unlike some previous benchmark leaks of Ryzen processors, which carried the prefix ES (Engineering Sample), this one carried the ZD Prefix, and the last characters on its string name are the most interesting to us: F4 stands for the silicon revision, while the 40_36 stands for the processor's Turbo and stock speeds respectively (4.0 GHz and 3.6 GHz)."

March is fast approaching, and we won't have to wait long to see just how powerful this new processor will be for 4K gaming (and other, less important stuff). For now, I want to find results from an AotS benchmark with a Titan X and i7-6900K to see how these numbers compare!

Source: TechPowerUp
Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Introduction

Cooler Master's MasterLiquid Maker 92 is a unique liquid CPU cooler that fits all of its parts into one cluster atop the processor, and does it with a clever, hinged construction that allows it to be switched from an upright to a horizontal position at will. While the Maker 92 only occupies about as much space as a large tower air cooler in its upright position, the ability to fold it down provides both enhanced clearance and the option of directing airflow down to help cool motherboard components. But the big question for this cooler is just how effective can a closed-loop system be when it’s this compact? We’re about to find out!

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Let's get part out if the way right off the bat: specialty small form-factor products generally don't offer competitive price/performance numbers, and critics are quick to point to this aspect of SFF computing. The small form-factor side of enthusiast PC building is a pretty small niche, and a product like the Maker 92 might not be for you; but what is important to consider when looking at a specialty product like this is the performance for its size, as designs of the most compact cooling components typically sacrifice something in this regard given their reduced surface area, smaller fan diameter, etc.

Most SFF solutions for processor cooling are of the air variety, with liquid being an option if a given enclosure supports your AiO (or custom loop) cooling of choice. Ultra low-profile CPU air coolers are popular for slim builds, and a product like the Maker 92 isn’t going to replace one of these if your enclosure of choice has a very low profile. Any system using a standard height PCI Express graphics card will work, though that top fan may have to come off depending on the case - which of course will affect cooling performance (in theory, anyway). But enough speculation! Let’s take a close look at this cooler and test out the fit and cooling prowess in both orientations.

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Continue reading our review of the Cooler Master MasterLiquid Maker 92 CPU cooler!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD
Tagged: Zen, ryzen, processor, cpu, amd

Ryzen coming in 2017

As much as we might want it to be, today is not the day that AMD launches its new Zen processors to the world. We’ve been teased with it for years now, with trickles of information at event after event…but we are going to have to wait a little bit longer with one more tease at least. Today’s AMD is announcing the official branding of the consumer processors based on Zen, previously code named Summit Ridge, along with a clock speed data point and a preview of five technology that will help it be competitive with the Intel Core lineup.

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The future consumer desktop processor from AMD will now officially be known as Ryzen. That’s pronounced “RISE-IN” not “RIS-IN”, just so we are all on the same page. CEO Lisa Su was on stage during the reveal at a media event last week and claimed that while media, fans and AMD fell in love with the Zen name, it needed a differentiation from the architecture itself. The name is solid – not earth shattering though I foresee a long life of mispronunciation ahead of it.

Now that we have the official branding behind us, let’s get to the rest of the disclosed information we can reveal today.

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We already knew that Summit Ridge would ship with an 8 core, 16 thread version (with lower core counts at lower prices very likely) but now we know a frequency and a cache size. AMD tells us that there will be a processor (the flagship) that will have a base clock of 3.4 GHz with boost clocks above that. How much above that is still a mystery – AMD is likely still tweaking its implementation of boost to get as much performance as possible for launch. This should help put those clock speed rumors to rest for now.

The 20MB of cache matches the Core i7-6900K, though obviously with some dramatic architecture differences between Broadwell and Zen, the effect and utilization of that cache will be interesting measure next year.

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We already knew that Ryzen will be utilizing the AM4 platform, but it’s nice to see it reiterated a modern feature set and expandability. DDR4 memory, PCI Express Gen3, native USB 3.1 and NVMe support – there are all necessary building blocks for a modern consumer and enthusiast PC. We still should see how many of these ports the chipset offers and how aggressive motherboard companies like ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte are in their designs. I am hoping there are as many options as would see for an X99/Z170 platform, including budget boards in the $100 space as well as “anything and everything” options for those types of buyers that want to adopt AMD’s new CPU.

Continue reading our latest preview of AMD Zen, now known as Ryzen!

AMD's Upcoming Socket AM4 Pictured with 1331 Pins

Subject: Processors | September 19, 2016 - 10:35 AM |
Tagged: Socket AM4, processor, FX, cpu, APU, amd, 1331 pins

A report from Hungarian site HWSW (cited by Bit-Tech) has a close-up photo of the new AMD AM4 processor socket, and it looks like this will have 1331 pins (go ahead and count them, if you dare!).

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Image credit: Bit-Tech via HWSW

AMD's newest socket will merge the APU and FX series CPUs into this new AM4 socket, unlike the previous generation which split the two between AM3+ and FM2+. This is great news for system builders, who now have the option of starting with an inexpensive CPU/APU, and upgrading to a more powerful FX processor later on - with the same motherboard.

The new socket will apparently require a new cooler design, which is contrary to early reports (yes, we got it wrong, too) that the AM4 socket would be compatible with existing AM3 cooler mounts (manufacturers could of course offer hardware kits for existing cooler designs). In any case, AMD's new socket takes more of the delicate copper pins you love to try not to bend!

Source: Bit-Tech

AMD Announces Joint Venture with NFME

Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2016 - 12:33 AM |
Tagged: SoC, nfme, gpu, cpu, amd

Nantong Fujitsu Microelectronics Co., Ltd. (NFME) is a Chinese company that packages and tests integrated circuits. Recently, AMD has been working with China to reach that large market, especially given their ongoing cash concerns. This time, AMD sold 85% of its stake in two locations, AMD Penang, Malaysia and AMD Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, to NFME and formed a joint venture with them, called TF-AMD Microelectronics Sdn Bhd.

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I see two interesting aspects to this story.

First, AMD gets about $320 million USD in this transaction, after taxes and fees, and it also retains 15% of this venture. I am curious whether this will lead to a long-term source of income for AMD, even though the press release claims that this structure will be “cost neutral”. Either way, clearing a third of a billion dollars should help AMD to some extent. That equates to about two-to-three quarters of net-loss for the company, so it gives them about six-to-nine extra months of life on its own. That's not too bad if the transaction doesn't have any lasting consequences.

Second, NFME now has access to some interesting packaging and testing technologies. NFME's website claims that this allows them to handle dies up to 800mm2, substrates with up to 18 layers, and package sizes up to 75mm. These specifications sound like it pulls from their GPU experience, which could bring all of that effort and knowledge to completely different fields.

The press release states that 1,700 employees will be moved from AMD to this venture. They do not state whether any jobs are affected over and above this amount, though.