Big Power, Small Size
Though the mindset that a small PC is a slow PC is fading, there are still quite a few readers out there that believe the size of your components will indicate how well they perform. That couldn't be further from the case, and this week we decided to build a small, but not tiny, PC to showcase that small can be beautiful too!
Below you will find a complete list of parts and components used in our build - but let me say right off the bat, to help alleviate as much vitriol in the comments as possible, there are quite a few ways you could build this system to either get a lower price, or higher performance, or quieter design, etc. Our selections were based on a balance of both with a nod towards expansion in a few cases.
Take a look:
|MicroATX Gaming Build|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4790K - $334
Corsair Hydro Series H80i - $87
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 - $127|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3-2133 - $88|
|Graphics Card||EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW - $399|
|Storage||Samsung 250GB 850 EVO - $139
Western Digital 2TB Green - $79
|Case||Corsair Carbide Series Air 240 - $89|
|Power Supply||Seasonic Platinum 860 watt PSU - $174|
|OS||Windows 8.1 x64 - $92|
|Total Price||$1602 - Amazon Full Cart|
The starting point for this system is the Intel Core i7-4790K, the top-end Haswell processor for the Z97 chipset. In fact, the Core i7-4790K is a Devil's Canyon part, created by Intel to appease the enthusiast looking for an overclockable and high clocked quad-core part. This CPU will only lag behind the likes of the Haswell-E LGA2011 processors, but at just $340 or so, is significantly less expensive. Cooling the 4790K is Corsair's Hydro Series H80i double-thickness self contained water cooler.
For the motherboard I selected the Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5, a MicroATX motherboard that combines performance and features in a mATX form factor, perfect for our build. This board includes support for SLI and CrossFire, has audio OP-AMP support, USB ports dedicated for DACs, M.2 storage support, Killer networking and more.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | December 28, 2014 - 09:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: radeon, nvidia, gtx, geforce, amd
According to an anonymous source of WCCFTech, AMD is preparing a 20nm-based graphics architecture that is expected to release in April or May. Originally, they predicted that the graphics devices, which they call R9 300 series, would be available in February or March. The reason for this “delay” is a massive demand for 20nm production.
The source also claims that NVIDIA will skip 20nm entirely and instead opt for 16nm when that becomes available (which is said to be mid or late 2016). The expectation is that NVIDIA will answer AMD's new graphics devices with a higher-end Maxwell device that is still at 28nm. Earlier rumors, based on a leaked SiSoftware entry, claim 3072 CUDA cores that are clocked between 1.1 GHz and 1.39 GHz. If true, this would give it between 6.75 and 8.54 TeraFLOPs of performance, the higher of which is right around the advertised performance of a GeForce Titan Z (only in a single compute device that does not require distribution of work like what SLI was created to automate).
Will this strategy work in NVIDIA's favor? I don't know. 28nm is a fairly stable process at this point, which will probably allow them to get chips that can be bigger and more aggressively clocked. On the other hand, they pretty much need to rely upon chips that are bigger and more aggressively clocked to be competitive with AMD's slightly more design architecture. Previous rumors also hint that AMD is looking at water-cooling for their reference card, which might place yet another handicap against NVIDIA, although cooling is not an area that NVIDIA struggles in.
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 17, 2014 - 09:19 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: geforce, nvidia, 347.09 beta
The 347.09 beta driver is out, which will help performance in Elite: Dangerous and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. If you use GeForce Experience they will install automatically otherwise head to the driver page to manually install them. Project CARS should also benefit from this new beta and you will be able to enable 3D on Alien: Isolation, Elite: Dangerous, Escape Dead Island, Far Cry 4 and Middle-Earth - Shadow of Mordor. NVIDIA's new incremental updates, called GeForce Game Ready will mean more frequent driver updates with less changes than we have become accustomed to but do benefit those playing the games which they have been designed to improve.
As with the previous WHQL driver, GTX 980M SLI and GTX 970M SLI on notebooks does not function and if you do plan on updating your gaming laptop you should disable SLI before installing them. You can catch up on all the changes in this PDF.
It has been a couple of months since the release of the GeForce GTX 970 and the GM204 GPU that it is based on. After the initial wave of stock on day one, NVIDIA had admittedly struggled to keep these products available. Couple that with rampant concerns over coil whine from some non-reference designs, and you could see why we were a bit hesitant to focus and spend our time on retail GTX 970 reviews.
These issues appear to be settled for the most part. Finding GeForce GTX 970 cards is no longer a problem and users with coil whine are getting RMA replacements from NVIDIA's partners. Because of that, we feel much more comfortable reporting our results with the various retail cards that we have in house, and you'll see quite a few reviews coming from PC Perspective in the coming weeks.
But let's start with the MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Gaming card. Based on user reviews, this is one of the most popular retail cards. MSI's Gaming series of cards combines a custom cooler that typically runs quieter and more efficient than reference design, and it comes with a price tag that is within arms reach of the lower cost options as well.
The MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Gaming
MSI continues with its Dragon Army branding, and its associated black/red color scheme, which I think is appealing to a wide range of users. I'm sure NVIDIA would like to see a green or neutral color scheme, but hey, there are only so many colors to go around.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 29, 2014 - 09:57 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: pcie, PCI Express, nvidia, mini-itx, GTX 970, graphics card, geforce, directcu mini, DirectCU, asus
ASUS has announced a tiny new addition to their GTX 970 family, and it will be their most powerful mini-ITX friendly card yet with a full GeForce GTX 970 GPU.
Image credit: ASUS
The ASUS 970 DirectCU Mini card will feature a modest factory overclock on the GTX 970 core running at 1088 MHz (stock 1050 MHz) with a 1228 MHz Boost Clock (stock 1178 MHz). Memory is not overclocked and remains at the stock 7 GHz speed.
The GTX 970 DirectCU Mini features a full backplate. Image credit: ASUS
The ASUS GTX 970 DirectCU Mini uses a single 8-pin PCIe power connector in place of the standard dual 6-pin configuration, which shouldn’t be a problem considering the 150W spec of the larger connector (and 145W NVIDIA spec of the 970).
Part of this complete mITX gaming breakfast. Image credit: ASUS
The tiny card offers a full array of display outputs including a pair of dual-link DVI connectors, HDMI 2.0, and DisplayPort 1.2. No word yet on pricing or availability, but the product page is up on the ASUS site.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 14, 2014 - 11:46 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: sli, nvidia, N980X3WA-4GD, maxwell, GTX 980, gigabyte, geforce, 3-way
Earlier this week, a new product showed up on Gigabyte's website that has garnered quite a bit of attention. The GA-N980X3WA-4GD WaterForce Tri-SLI is a 3-Way SLI system with integrated water cooling powered by a set of three GeForce GTX 980 GPUs.
That. Looks. Amazing.
What you are looking at is a 3-Way closed loop water cooling system with an external enclosure to hold the radiators while providing a display full of information including temperatures, fans speeds and more. Specifications on the Gigabyte site are limited for now, but we can infer a lot from them:
- WATERFORCE :3-WAY SLI Water Cooling System
- Real-Time Display and Control
- Flex Display Technology
- Powered by NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPU
- Integrated with 4GB GDDR5 memory 256-bit memory interface(Single Card)
- Features Dual-link DVI-I / DVI-D / HDMI / DisplayPort*3(Single Card)
- BASE: 1228 MHz / BOOST: 1329 MHz
- System power supply requirement: 1200W(with six 8-pin external power connectors)
The GPUs on each card are your standard GeForce GTX 980 with 4GB of memory (we reviewed it here) though they are running at overclocked base and boost clock speeds, as you would hope with all that water cooling power behind it. You will need a 1200+ watt power supply for this setup, which makes sense considering the GPU horsepower you'll have access to.
Another interesting feature Gigabyte is listing is called GPU Gauntlet Sorting.
With GPU Gauntlet™ Sorting, the Gigabyte SOC graphics card guarantees the higher overclocking capability in terms of excellent power switching.
Essentially, Gigabyte is going to make sure that the GPUs on the WaterForce Tri-SLI are the best they can get their hands on, with the best chance for overclocking higher than stock.
Setup looks interesting - the radiators and fans will be in the external enclosure with tubing passing into the system through a 5.25-in bay. It will need to have quick connect/disconnect points at either the GPU or radiator to make that installation method possible.
Pricing and availability are still unknown, but don't expect to get it cheap. With the GTX 980 still selling for at least $550, you should expect something in the $2000 range or above with all the custom hardware and fittings involved.
Can I get two please?
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 13, 2014 - 12:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, gtx 960, maxwell
It is possible that a shipping invoice fragment was leaked for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960. Of course, an image of text on a plain, white background is one of the easiest things to fake and/or manipulate, so take it with a grain of salt.
The GTX 960 is said to have 4GB of RAM on the same, 256-bit bus. Its video outputs are listed as two DVI, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort, making this graphics card useful for just one G-Sync monitor per card. If I'm reading it correctly, it also seems to have a 993 MHz base clock (boost clock unlisted) and an effective 6008 MHz (1500 MHz actual) RAM clock. This is slightly below the 7 GHz (1750 MHz actual) of the GTX 970 and GTX 980 parts, but it should also be significantly cheaper.
The GeForce GTX 960 is expected to retail in the low-$200 price point... some day.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 10:07 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, Unity, pcper, nvidia, live, GTX 980, geforce, game stream, assassins creed
UPDATE: If you missed the live stream event: good news! We have it archived up on YouTube now and embeded below for your viewing pleasure!
Assassin's Creed Unity is shaping up to be one of the defining games of the holiday season, with visuals and game play additions that are incredible to see in person. Scott already wrote up a post that details some the new technologies found in the game along with a video of the impressive detail the engine provides. Check it out!
To celebrate the release, PC Perspective has partnered with NVIDIA to host a couple of live game streams that will feature some multi-player gaming fun as well some prizes to giveaway to the community. I will be joined by some new NVIDIA faces to take on the campaign in a cooperative style while taking a couple of stops to give away some hardware.
Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA
5pm PT / 8pm ET - November 11th
Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!
Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:
- 5 x Assassin's Creed Unity Steam Keys
- 10 x NVIDIA SLI Bridges - From NVIDIA Direct
- 1 x ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q G-Sync Monitor - PC Perspective Review
- 1 x Acer XB280HK 28-in 4K G-Sync Monitor - PC Perspective Review
Another awesome prize haul!! How do you win? It's really simple: just tune in and watch the Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA! We'll explain the methods to enter live on the air and anyone can enter from anywhere in the world - no issues at all!
So stop by Tuesday night for some fun, some gaming and the chance to win some goods!
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 28, 2014 - 12:09 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: maxwell, GTX 970, geforce, coil whine
Coil whine is the undesirable effect of electrical components creating audible noise when operating. Let's look to our friends at Wikipedia for a concise and accurate description of the phenomenon:
Coil noise is, as its name suggests, caused by electromagnetic coils. These coils, which may act as inductors or transformers, have a certain resonant frequency when coupled with the rest of the electric circuit, as well as a resonance at which it will tend to physically vibrate.
As the wire that makes up the coil passes a variable current, a small amount of electrical oscillation occurs, creating a small magnetic field. Normally this magnetic field simply works to establish the inductance of the coil. However, this magnetic field can also cause the coil itself to physically vibrate. As the coil vibrates physically, it moves through a variable magnetic field, and feeds its resonance back into the system. This can produce signal interference in the circuit and an audible hum as the coil vibrates.
Coil noise can happen, for example, when the coil is poorly secured to the circuit board, is poorly damped, or if the resonant frequency of the coil is close to the resonant frequency of the electric circuit. The effect becomes more pronounced as the signal passing through the coil increases in strength, and as it nears the resonant frequency of the coil, or as it nears the resonant frequency of the circuit. Coil noise is also noticed most often when it is in the humanly audible frequency.
Coil noise is also affected by the irregularities of the magnetic material within the coil. The flux density of the inductor is effected by these irregularities, causing small currents in the coil, contaminating the original signal. This particular subset of is sometimes referred to as magnetic fluctuation noise or the Barkhausen effect. Coil noise can also occur in conjunction with the noise produced by magnetostriction.
Gamers that frequently upgrade their graphics cards may have been witness to this problem with a particular install, or you might have been one of the lucky ones to never deal with the issue. If your computer sits under your desk, in a loud room or you only game with headphones, it's also possible that you just never noticed.
Possibly offending inductors?
The reason this comes up to today is that reports are surfacing of GeForce GTX 970 cards from various graphics card vendors exhibiting excessive coil whine or coil noise. These reports are coming in from multiple forum threads around the internet, a collection of YouTube videos of users attempting to capture the issue and even official statements from some of NVIDIA's partners. Now, just because the internet is talking about it doesn't necessarily mean it's a "big deal" relative to the number of products being sold. However, after several Twitter comments and emails requesting we look into the issue, I thought it was pertinent to start asking questions.
As far as I can tell today, GTX 970 cards from multiple vendors including EVGA, MSI and Gigabyte all have users reporting issues and claims of excessive coil noise. For my part here, I have two EVGA GTX 970 cards and an MSI GTX 970, none of which are producing sound at what I would call "excessive" levels. Everyone's opinion of excessive noise is going to vary, but as someone who sits next to a desk-high test bed and hears hundreds of cards a year, I am confident I have a good idea of what to listen for.
We are still gathering data on this potential issue, but a few of the companies mentioned above have issued official or semi-official statements on the problem.
The coil whine issue is not specific to 900 series, but can happen with any high end GPU and that MSI is looking in to ways to minimize the issue. If you still have concern regarding this issue, then please contact our RMA department.
We have been watching the early feedback on GTX 970 and inductor noise very closely, and have actively taken steps to improve this. We urge anyone who has this type of concern to contact our support so we can address it directly.
We’re aware of a small percentage of users reporting excessive “coil whine” noises and are actively looking into the issue.
We are waiting for feedback from other partners to see how they plan to respond.
Since all of the GTX 970 cards currently shipping are non-reference, custom built PCB designs, NVIDIA's input to the problem is one mostly of recommendations. NVIDIA knows that it is their name and brand being associated with any noisy GeForce cards so I would expect a lot of discussions and calls being had behind closed doors to make sure partners are addressing user concerns.
Interestingly, the GeForce GTX 970 was the one card of this Maxwell release where all of NVIDIA's partners chose to go the route of custom designs rather than adopting the NVIDIA reference design. On the GTX 980, however, you'll find a mix of both and I would wager that NVIDIA's reference boards do not exhibit any above average noise levels from coils. (I have actually tested four reference GTX 980s without coil whine coming into play.) Sometimes offering all of these companies the option to be creative and to differentiate can back-fire if the utmost care isn't taken in component selection.
Ironically the fix is simple: a little glue on those vibrating inductor coils and the problem goes away. But most of the components are sealed making the simple fix a non-starter for the end user (and I wouldn't recommend doing that anyway). It does point to a lack of leadership from board manufacturers that are willing to skimp on hardware in such a way to make this a big enough issue that I am sitting here writing about this today.
As an aside, if you hear coil whine when running a game at 500-5000 FPS, I don't think that counts as being a major problem for your gaming. I have seen a video or two running a DX9 render test at over 4500 FPS - pretty much any card built today will make noises you don't expect when hitting that kind of performance level.
As for my non-official discussions on the topics with various parties, everyone continues to reiterate that the problem is not as widespread as the some of the forum threads would have you believe. It's definitely higher than normal, and getting public acknowledgements from EVGA and MSI basically confirms that, but one person told me the complaint and RMA levels are where they were expected to be consider the "massively fast sell out rates" the GTX 970 is experiencing.
Of course, AMD isn't immune to coil whine issues either. If you remember back to the initial launch of the Radeon R9 290X and R9 290, we had similar coil whine issues and experienced those first hand on reference card designs. (You can see a video I recorded of an XFX unit back in November of 2013 here.) You can still find threads on popular forums from that time period discussing the issue and YouTube never seems to forget anything, so there's that. Of course, the fact that previous card launches might have seen issues along the same line doesn't forgive the issue in current or later card releases, but it does put things into context.
So, let's get some user feedback; I want to hear from GTX 970 owners about their experiences to help guide our direction of research going forward.
A Civ for a New Generation
Turn-based strategy games have long been defined by the Civilization series. Civ 5 took up hours and hours of the PC Perspective team's non-working hours (and likely the working ones too) and it looks like the new Civilization: Beyond Earth has the chance to do the same. Early reviews of the game from Gamespot, IGN, and Polygon are quite positive, and that's great news for a PC-only release; they can sometimes get overlooked in the games' media.
For us, the game offers an interesting opportunity to discuss performance. Beyond Earth is definitely going to be more CPU-bound than the other games that we tend to use in our benchmark suite, but the fact that this game is new, shiny, and even has a Mantle implementation (AMD's custom API) makes interesting for at least a look at the current state of performance. Both NVIDIA and AMD sent have released drivers with specific optimization for Beyond Earth as well. This game is likely to be popular and it deserves the attention it gets.
Civilization: Beyond Earth, a turn-based strategy game that can take a very long time to complete, ships with an integrated benchmark mode to help users and the industry test performance under different settings and hardware configurations. To enable it, you simple add "-benchmark results.csv" to the Steam game launch options and then start up the game normally. Rather than taking you to the main menu, you'll be transported into a view of a map that represents a somewhat typical gaming state for a long term session. The game will use the last settings you ran the game at to measure your system's performance, without the modified launch options, so be sure to configure that before you prepare to benchmark.
The output of this is the "result.csv" file, saved to your Steam game install root folder. In there, you'll find a list of numbers, separated by commas, representing the frame times for each frame rendering during the run. You don't get averages, a minimum, or a maximum without doing a little work. Fire up Excel or Google Docs and remember the formula:
1000 / Average (All Frame Times) = Avg FPS
It's a crude measurement that doesn't take into account any errors, spikes, or other interesting statistical data, but at least you'll have something to compare with your friends.
Our testing settings
Just as I have done in recent weeks with Shadow of Mordor and Sniper Elite 3, I ran some graphics cards through the testing process with Civilization: Beyond Earth. These include the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 290X only, along with SLI and CrossFire configurations. The R9 290X was run in both DX11 and Mantle.
- Core i7-3960X
- ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79
- 16GB DDR3-1600
- GeForce GTX 980 Reference (344.48)
- ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II (14.9.2 Beta)
Mantle Additions and Improvements
AMD is proud of this release as it introduces a few interesting things alongside the inclusion of the Mantle API.
- Enhanced-quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA): Improves anti-aliasing quality by doubling the coverage samples (vs. MSAA) at each AA level. This is automatically enabled for AMD users when AA is enabled in the game.
- Multi-threaded command buffering: Utilizing Mantle allows a game developer to queue a much wider flow of information between the graphics card and the CPU. This communication channel is especially good for multi-core CPUs, which have historically gone underutilized in higher-level APIs. You’ll see in your testing that Mantle makes a notable difference in smoothness and performance high-draw-call late game testing.
- Split-frame rendering: Mantle empowers a game developer with total control of multi-GPU systems. That “total control” allows them to design an mGPU renderer that best matches the design of their game. In the case of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis has selected a split-frame rendering (SFR) subsystem. SFR eliminates the latency penalties typically encountered by AFR configurations.
EQAA is an interesting feature as it improves on the quality of MSAA (somewhat) by doubling the coverage sample count while maintaining the same color sample count as MSAA. So 4xEQAA will have 4 color samples and 8 coverage samples while 4xMSAA would have 4 of each. Interestingly, Firaxis has decided the EQAA will be enabled on Beyond Earth anytime a Radeon card is detected (running in Mantle or DX11) and AA is enabled at all. So even though in the menus you might see 4xMSAA enabled, you are actually running at 4xEQAA. For NVIDIA users, 4xMSAA means 4xMSAA. Performance differences should be negligible though, according to AMD (who would actually be "hurt" by this decision if it brought down FPS).