The Wolfensteins of Vulkan in the spotlight

Subject: General Tech | November 15, 2017 - 02:12 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Wolfenstein 2, vulkan, amd, nvidia

[H]ard|OCP took a close look at the new Wolfenstein game, covering the new graphics options which appear in the menus as well as the bugs that could be caused by then, not to mention the benchmarking.  For this Vulkan game they chose three AMD cards and four NVIDIA cards to test with a variety of thsoe options enabled as well as looking at the effect resolution has on your performance.  As we have seen in other recent games, AMD's Vega 64 is a strong contender at 4K resolutions, surpassing the GTX 1080 but not quite matching its 1080 Ti brother.  It is also worth noting this game loves VRAM, in fact 8GB is not enough for Uber settings.  Read through the full review for performance numbers as well as insight into the best graphics settings to chose.

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"Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is out; this new game uses the id Tech 6 game engine and Vulkan API to give you a great gaming experience on the PC with today’s latest GPUs. We will compare performance features, see what settings work best, find what is playable in the game and compare performance among several video cards."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

A win for the rebels against EA's Empire

Subject: General Tech | November 14, 2017 - 05:09 PM |
Tagged: gaming, ea, Star Wars Battlefront 2

Loot boxes may look good on paper as a way to generate extra revenue from a game but in reality they are incredibly unpopular with those who buy games.  Originally EA had set the price of unlocking your first playable hero at 60,000 in game credits.  According to the math done in the article Slashdot linked to, that would entail around 40 hours of gameplay assuming you never used any for the various other unlocks EA charges credits for.  As EA limits the amount of credits you can earn at one time in arcade mode, most of those hours would need to be spent in multiplayer games as opposed to enjoying the game in peace and quiet.  Of course, you could always pay money for them, $450 or so would unlock a hero.

In this case EA actually listened to their prospective customers, dropping the credit requirements for heroes by 75%; the loot boxes remain of course.

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"Most importantly, Electronic Arts today announced that they are reducing the number of credits needed to unlock top characters in the game by 75 percent. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now cost 15,000 credits. Emperor Palatine, Chewbacca and Leia Organa will now cost 10,000 and Iden will cost 5,000."

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Source: Slashdot
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Iceberg Interactive

A quiet facade

Iceberg Interactive, whom you may know from games like Killing Floor or the Stardrive series have released a new strategy game called Oriental Empires, and happened to send me a copy to try out.

On initial inspection it resembles recent Civilization games but with a more focused design as you take on a tribe in ancient China and attempt to become Emperor, or at least make your neighbours sorry that they ever met you.  Until you have been through 120 turns of the Grand Campaign you cannot access many of the tribes; not a bad thing as that first game is your tutorial.  Apart from an advisor popping up during turns or events, the game does not hold your hand and instead lets you figure out the game on your own.

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That minimalist ideal is featured throughout the entire game, offering one of the cleanest interfaces I've seen in a game.  All of the information you need to maintain and grow your empire is contained in a tiny percentage of the screen or in a handful of in game menus.  This plays well as the terrain and look of the campaign map is quite striking and varies noticeably with the season.

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Spring features cherry blossom trees as well as the occasional flooding.

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Summer is a busy season for your workers and perhaps your armies.

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Fall colours indicate the coming of winter and snow.

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Which also shrouds the peaks in fog.  The atmosphere thus created is quite relaxing, somewhat at odds with many 4X games and perhaps the most interesting thing about this game.

In these screenshots you can see the entire GUI that gives you the information you need to play.  The upper right shows your turn, income and occaisonally a helpful advsor offering suggestions.  Below that you will find a banner that toggles between displaying three lists.  The first is of your cites and their current build queues and population information, the second lists your armies compositions and if they currently have any orders while the last displays any events which effect your burgeoning empire.  The bottom shows your leader and his authority which, among other things, indicates the number of cities you can support without expecting quickly increasing unrest. 

The right hand side lets you bring up the only other five menus which you use in this game.  From top to bottom they offer you diplomacy, technology, Imperial edicts you can or have applied to your Empire, player statistics to let you know how you are faring and the last offering detailed statistics of your empire and those competing tribes you have met.

Next, a bit about the gameplay mechanics.

What is the best GPU to beat Nazis with?

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2017 - 03:26 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Wolfenstein 2, the new colossus, nvidia, amd, vulkan

Wolfenstein II The New Colossus uses the Vulkan API which could favour AMD's offerings however NVIDIA have vastly improved their support so a win is not guaranteed.  The Guru of 3D tested the three resolutions which most people are interested in, 1080p, 1440p and 4K on 20 different GPUs in total.  They also took a look at the impact of 4-core versus 8-core CPUs, testing the i7-4790K, i7-5960K as well as the Ryzen 7 1800X and even explored the amount of VRAM the game uses.  Drop by to see all their results as well as hints on dealing with the current bugs.

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"We'll have a peek at the PC release of Wolfenstein II The New Colossus for Windows relative towards graphics card performance. The game is 100% driven by the Vulkan API. in this test twenty graphics cards are being tested and benchmarked."

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Source: Guru of 3D

Intel Announces New CPUs Integrating AMD Radeon Graphics

Subject: Processors | November 6, 2017 - 02:00 PM |
Tagged: radeon, Polaris, mobile, kaby lake, interposer, Intel, HBM2, gaming, EMIB, apple, amd, 8th generation core

In what is probably considered one of the worst kept secrets in the industry, Intel has announced a new CPU line for the mobile market that integrates AMD’s Radeon graphics.  For the past year or so rumors of such a partnership were freely flowing, but now we finally get confirmation as to how this will be implemented and marketed.

Intel’s record on designing GPUs has been rather pedestrian.  While they have kept up with the competition, a slew of small issues and incompatibilities have plagued each generation.  Performance is also an issue when trying to compete with AMD’s APUs as well as discrete mobile graphics offerings from both AMD and NVIDIA.  Software and driver support is another area where Intel has been unable to compete due largely to economics and the competitions’ decades of experience in this area.

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There are many significant issues that have been solved in one fell swoop.  Intel has partnered with AMD’s Semi-Custom Group to develop a modern and competent GPU that can be closely connected to the Intel CPU all the while utilizing HBM2 memory to improve overall performance.  The packaging of this product utilizes Intel’s EMIB (Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge) tech.

EMIB is an interposer-like technology that integrates silicon bridges into the PCB instead of relying upon a large interposer.  This allows a bit more flexibility in layout of the chips as well as lowers the Z height of the package as there is not a large interposer sitting between the chips and the PCB.  Just as interposer technology allows the use of chips from different process technologies to work seamlessly together, EMIB provides that same flexibility.

The GPU looks to be based on the Polaris architecture which is a slight step back from AMD’s cutting edge Vega architecture.  Polaris does not implement the Infinity Fabric component that Vega does.  It is more conventional in terms of data communication.  It is a step beyond what AMD has provided for Sony and Microsoft, who each utilize a semi-custom design for the latest console chips.  AMD is able to integrate the HBM2 controller that is featured in Vega.  Using HBM2 provides a tremendous amount of bandwidth along with power savings as compared to traditional GDDR-5 memory modules.  It also saves dramatically on PCB space allowing for smaller form factors.

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EMIB provides nearly all of the advantages of the interposer while keeping the optimal z-height of the standard PCB substrate.

Intel did have to do quite a bit of extra work on the power side of the equation.  AMD utilizes their latest Infinity Fabric for fine grained power control in their upcoming Raven Ridge based Ryzen APUs.  Intel had to modify their current hardware to be able to do much the same work with 3rd party silicon.  This is no easy task as the CPU needs to monitor and continually adjust for GPU usage in a variety of scenarios.  This type of work takes time and a lot of testing to fine tune as well as the inevitable hardware revisions to get thing to work correctly.  This then needs to be balanced by the GPU driver stack which also tends to take control of power usage in mobile scenarios.

This combination of EMIB, Intel Kaby Lake CPU, HBM2, and a current AMD GPU make this a very interesting combination for the mobile and small form factor markets.  The EMIB form factor provides very fast interconnect speeds and a smaller footprint due to the integration of HBM2 memory.  The mature AMD Radeon software stack for both Windows and macOS environments provides Intel with another feature in which to sell their parts in areas where previously they were not considered.  The 8th Gen Kaby Lake CPU provides the very latest CPU design on the new 14nm++ process for greater performance and better power efficiency.

This is one of those rare instances where such cooperation between intense rivals actually improves the situation for both.  AMD gets a financial shot in the arm by signing a large and important customer for their Semi-Custom division.  The royalty income from this partnership should be more consistent as compared to the console manufacturers due to the seasonality of the console product.  This will have a very material effect on AMD’s bottom line for years to come.  Intel gets a solid silicon solution with higher performance than they can offer, as well as aforementioned mature software stack for multiple OS.  Finally throw in the HBM2 memory support for better power efficiency and a smaller form factor, and it is a clear win for all parties involved.

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The PCB savings plus faster interconnects will allow these chips to power smaller form factors with better performance and battery life.

One of the unknowns here is what process node the GPU portion will be manufactured on.  We do not know which foundry Intel will use, or if they will stay in-house.  Currently TSMC manufactures the latest console SoCs while GLOBALFOUNDRIES handles the latest GPUS from AMD.  Initially one would expect Intel to build the GPU in house, but the current rumor is that AMD will work to produce the chips with one of their traditional foundry partners.  Once the chip is manufactured then it is sent to Intel to be integrated into their product.

Apple is one of the obvious candidates for this particular form factor and combination of parts.  Apple has a long history with Intel on the CPU side and AMD on the GPU side.  This product provides all of the solutions Apple needs to manufacture high performance products in smaller form factors.  Gaming laptops also get a boost from such a combination that will offer relatively high performance with minimal power increases as well as the smaller form factor.

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The potential (leaked) performance of the 8th Gen Intel CPU with Radeon Graphics.

The data above could very well be wrong about the potential performance of this combination.  What we see is pretty compelling though.  The Intel/AMD product performs like a higher end CPU with discrete GPU combo.  It is faster than a NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti and trails the GTX 1060.  It also is significantly faster than a desktop AMD RX 560 part.  We can also see that it is going to be much faster than the flagship 15 watt TDP AMD Ryzen 7 2700U.  We do not yet know how it compares to the rumored 65 watt TDP Raven Ridge based APUs from AMD that will likely be released next year.  What will be fascinating here is how much power the new Intel combination will draw as compared to the discrete solutions utilizing NVIDIA graphics.

To reiterate, this is Intel as a customer for AMD’s Semi-Custom group rather than a licensing agreement between the two companies.  They are working hand in hand in developing this solution and then both profiting from it.  AMD getting royalties from every Intel package sold that features this technology will have a very positive effect on earnings.  Intel gets a cutting edge and competent graphics solution along with the improved software and driver support such a package includes.

Update: We have been informed that AMD is producing the chips and selling them directly to Intel for integration into these new SKUs. There are no royalties or licensing, but the Semi-Custom division should still receive the revenue for these specialized products made only for Intel.

Source: Intel

Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One X ...

Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2017 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, console, gaming, xbox one x, model numbers gone wild

AMD will once again benefit from the launch of a new console, the Xbox One X is powered by eight Jaguar cores running at 2.3 GHz and 40 custom AMD CUs which run at 1172 MHz which will provide six teraflops of processing power.  Ars Technica took the new console for a spin and were quite impressed, in theory.  The XbOX does offer proper 4k HDR video output, assuming you have the TV for it, however most of the available games do not offer both so you might be somewhat disappointed with a title such as Halo3.  On the other hand, all games do look better on the X1X and perform quite well.  Drop by for a large number of screenshots comparing the Xbone to the XbxX and details on which games benefit the most from the new device.

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"When it comes to hard numbers, the Xbox One X definitely merits Microsoft’s marketing hype as “the most powerful console ever.” Microsoft has pulled out the stops in squeezing stronger components into the same basic architecture of the four-year-old Xbox One."

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Source: Ars Technica

Star Wars as a service; EA's evisceration of Visceral

Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2017 - 03:28 PM |
Tagged: Star Wars, visceral, ea, gaming, Ragtag

EA revealed something which those of us who follow the industry have known for sometime; they are not in the business of selling games, instead they offer 'games as a service'.  What that translates into is a business model that has no interest in selling a game that they cannot continue to milk income from for a long time after its release.  This specifically impacts single player games, as one cannot attempt to turn them into the next big eSports title and not many people are willing to shell out extra cash for horse armour.  That attitude created an incredibly unfriendly work environment and lead to issues with employee retention as well as resources for the development of the game.  EA responded to Kotaku, who researched the fall of Ragtag and Visceral with a statement containing absolutely nothing, which you can read here.

This is an example of the changing attitude of several large game development companies, who are not satisfied with the income from a games release nor additional income from DLC and who instead want every game they release to be a permanent source of income.  How exactly one is supposed to have the time to play one game for as long envision so and to keep purchasing new releases which are also intended to be continually played is unclear. 

Thankfully there are holdouts such as Paradox and Creative Assembly who find ways to extend the life of older games and make money at it; without the expectation that you buy a new game, along with DLC and add-ons every single year as well as continue to play last years model.

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"The demos weren’t enough. Former Visceral employees don’t know when EA made the decision to shut down their studio, but on October 17, 2017, it became official. Visceral, which employed around 80 people, was no more."

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Source: Kotaku

Microsoft Now Supports Original Xbox Games On Xbox One

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2017 - 08:33 PM |
Tagged: xbox one x, xbox one s, xbox one, xbox, upscaling, gaming, console, backwards compatible

Microsoft is adding original Xbox games to its backwards compatibility program with 13 games available now with more on the way in spring of next year. Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X owners will soon be able to play a curated selection of original Xbox games at higher resolutions and with improved color details.

Microsoft claims that original Xbox games will run with up to four times the pixel count on Xbox One (and One S) and up to 16 times the pixels on Xbox One X. Gamers will be able to use their original Xbox game disc to play or they can purchase the older titles in digital form from the Microsoft Store. Original features like co-op and System Link will work, but there is no Xbox Live service support which means online multiplayer will not work. Further, Microsoft notes that players will not earn any achievements when playing original Xbox games.

The first batch of original Xbox games includes:

  1. BLACK
  2. BloodRayne 2
  3. Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
  4. Dead to Rights
  5. Fuzion Frenzy
  6. Grabbled by the Ghoulies
  7. King of Fighters Neowave
  8. Ninja Gaiden Black
  9. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  10. Psychonauts
  11. Red Faction II
  12. Sid Meier's Pirates!
  13. KOTOR (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)

While I have not played most of those games, I played a ton of Red Faction II with my brother, and fondly remember KOTOR on the PC. The video above shows a comparison between the original KOTOR running on Xbox and the backwards compatible enhanced version of the game running on Xbox One, and the visual difference is impressive (still not as good as it can look on the PC with mods though heh) with the game being significantly sharper with deeper colors (the original Xbox game looks extremely blurry and washed out by comparison).

It is a small list currently, but there are some gems on the launch list, and I am interested to see how the games look running on the Xbox One X. Hopefully the frame rates and loading times can also be improved ;-). As an added bonus Microsoft also pointed out that Xbox Game Pass members can grab Ninja Gaiden Black for free.

Microsoft claims that gamers have spent 700 million hours playing the 400 backwards compatible Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. There is certainly interest and it seems Microsoft is watching the numbers carefully which will be important for gamers in getting the Redmond-based company to continue adding support for additional classics.

Also read:

Source: Microsoft

If you are going to play this game at high resolution it is your Destiny 2 buy a Vega

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2017 - 02:16 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, gaming, destiny 2, amd, 4k, 1440p

In their testing of the new PC port of Destiny 2, The Guru of 3D made some interesting discoveries.  The first is that at 1080p, the game's performance can be somewhat limited by your CPU, but not at 1440p or higher resolutions.  The second finding is the impressive showing of AMD's Vega 64 and 56 at 1440p and 4K, which both outperform the GTX 1080.  It may be that NVIDIA will release an optimized driver and repeat the improvements seen in Forza 7 but for now AMD is in the lead.  

Drop by for their full review.

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"We test that PC enhanced Destiny 2 for Windows relative towards graphics card performance with the latest AMD/NVIDIA graphics card drivers. Multiple graphics cards are being tested and benchmarked. We have a look at performance with the newest graphics cards and technologies."

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Source: Guru of 3D

ASUS Announces ROG Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming Mini-ITX Motherboards for AMD Ryzen

Subject: Motherboards | October 20, 2017 - 12:25 AM |
Tagged: X370-I Gaming, strix, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, gaming, B350-I Gaming, amd, AM4

While Intel users have long enjoyed the option of a premium ASUS ROG mini-ITX experience, AMD Ryzen owners are now on equal footing with the annoucement of a pair of mITX gaming boards with premium features. ASUS has apparently been working on these for a while now, and they think they will be worth the wait.

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"Mini-ITX boards are among the most difficult to produce. Their diminutive 6.7” x 6.7” dimensions leave little real estate for slots and ports, let alone the extra features that make ROG unique. We’re not willing to compromise your experience for a compact footprint, so it takes some time and creativity to make everything fit. But it’s worth the effort, because our new Strix X370-I Gaming and Strix B350-I Gaming motherboards for Socket AM4 raise the bar for small-form-factor Ryzen builds. They match the cutting-edge features of their full-sized siblings, including liquid-ready cooling and addressable RGB lighting, and they combine an M.2 SSD heatsink and amped-up audio on an innovative riser card."

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The motherboards both feature a 6-phase VRM design, which ASUS says is the same as their full-sized AM4 motherboards, with memory support of up to DDR4-3600. One-click overclocking is provided via the ASUS "5-Way Optimization technology", which can calibrate fan curves in addition to tuning CPU speeds. Speaking of fans, there are three PWM fan headers, one of which is configured by default for a liquid cooling pump.

An interesting design choice was made in the interest of space, as the sound card (S1220A codec) and an M.2 slot (PCIe Gen 3 x4) are part of a shared riser card:

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"The Republic of Gamers has a history of working around Mini-ITX limitations by building up with additional circuit boards. Our Maximus Impact series made room for upgraded audio with a dedicated riser, and the Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming go one step further with an M.2 Audio Combo card that contains both SupremeFX sound and M.2 storage. This small PCB is sandwiched between isolated heatsinks for an M.2 drive and the platform chipset, ensuring effective cooling without taking up too much space."

ASUS Aura Sync RGB lighting effects are on board, as is an 802.11ac Wi-Fi solution with 2x2 antenna and integrated Bluetooth. Connectivity includes a pair of USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, Gigabit LAN, and multi-channel audio on the rear panel, with 4x SATA ports, dual M.2 slots (one on the rear as well as the riser card), and headers for both USB 3.0 and 2.0 onboard.

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The ASUS ROG Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming motherboards will "be available starting late-October in the United States with pricing to be released in the coming weeks" according to ASUS.

Source: ASUS