Subject: Processors | June 15, 2017 - 04:00 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: xeon scalable, xeon, skylake-x, skylake-sp, skylake-ep, ring, mesh, Intel
Though we are just days away from the release of Intel’s Core i9 family based on Skylake-X, and a bit further away from the Xeon Scalable Processor launch using the same fundamental architecture, Intel is sharing a bit of information on how the insides of this processor tick. Literally. One of the most significant changes to the new processor design comes in the form of a new mesh interconnect architecture that handles the communications between the on-chip logical areas.
Since the days of Nehalem-EX, Intel has utilized a ring-bus architecture for processor design. The ring bus operated in a bi-directional, sequential method that cycled through various stops. At each stop, the control logic would determine if data was to be the collected to deposited with that module. These ring bus stops are located at memory controllers, CPU cores / caches, the PCI Express interface, memory controllers, LLCs, etc. This ring bus was fairly simple and easily expandable by simply adding more stops on the ring bus itself.
However, over several generations, the ring bus has become quite large and unwieldly. Compare the ring bus from Nehalem above, to the one for last year’s Xeon E5 v5 platform.
The spike in core counts and other modules caused a ballooning of the ring that eventually turned into multiple rings, complicating the design. As you increase the stops on the ring bus you also increase the physical latency of the messaging and data transfer, for which Intel compensated by increasing bandwidth and clock speed of this interface. The expense of that is power and efficiency.
For an on-die interconnect to remain relevant, it needs to be flexible in bandwidth scaling, reduce latency, and remain energy efficient. With 28-core Xeon processors imminent, and new IO capabilities coming along with it, the time for the ring bus in this space is over.
Starting with the HEDT and Xeon products released this year, Intel will be using a new on-chip design called a mesh that Intel promises will offer higher bandwidth, lower latency, and improved power efficiency. As the name implies, the mesh architecture is one in which each node relays messages through the network between source and destination. Though I cannot share many of the details on performance characteristics just yet, Intel did share the following diagram.
As Intel indicates in its blog on the mesh announcements, this generic diagram “shows a representation of the mesh architecture where cores, on-chip cache banks, memory controllers, and I/O controllers are organized in rows and columns, with wires and switches connecting them at each intersection to allow for turns. By providing a more direct path than the prior ring architectures and many more pathways to eliminate bottlenecks, the mesh can operate at a lower frequency and voltage and can still deliver very high bandwidth and low latency. This results in improved performance and greater energy efficiency similar to a well-designed highway system that lets traffic flow at the optimal speed without congestion.”
The bi-directional mesh design allows a many-core design to offer lower node to node latency than the ring architecture could provide, and by adjusting the width of the interface, Intel can control bandwidth (and by relation frequency). Intel tells us that this can offer lower average latency without increasing power. Though it wasn’t specifically mentioned in this blog, the assumption is that because nothing is free, this has a slight die size cost to implement the more granular mesh network.
Using a mesh architecture offers a couple of capabilities and also requires a few changes to the cache design. By dividing up the IO interfaces (think multiple PCI Express banks, or memory channels), Intel can provide better average access times to each core by intelligently spacing the location of those modules. Intel will also be breaking up the LLC into different segments which will share a “stop” on the network with a processor core. Rather than the previous design of the ring bus where the entirety of the LLC was accessed through a single stop, the LLC will perform as a divided system. However, Intel assures us that performance variability is not a concern:
Negligible latency differences in accessing different cache banks allows software to treat the distributed cache banks as one large unified last level cache. As a result, application developers do not have to worry about variable latency in accessing different cache banks, nor do they need to optimize or recompile code to get a significant performance boosts out of their applications.
There is a lot to dissect when it comes to this new mesh architecture for Xeon Scalable and Core i9 processors, including its overall effect on the LLC cache performance and how it might affect system memory or PCI Express performance. In theory, the integration of a mesh network-style interface could drastically improve the average latency in all cases and increase maximum memory bandwidth by giving more cores access to the memory bus sooner. But, it is also possible this increases maximum latency in some fringe cases.
Further testing awaits for us to find out!
Subject: General Tech | June 13, 2017 - 07:02 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: vpro, SFF, sbc, modular computer, Intel, computex, compute card
Launched earlier this year at CES, Intel’s credit card sized Compute Cards will begin shipping in August. Intel and its partners used Computex to show off the Compute Card itself along with prototype and concept devices based around the new platform.
techtechtech opened up the Core M3-7Y30 equipped Compute Card at Computex.
As a quick refresher, the Compute Card is a full PC in a small card shaped form factor measuring 95mm x 55mm x 5mm that features an Intel SoC, DDR3 RAM, solid state storage, wireless connectivity, and standardized I/O (one USB-C and a proprietary Intel connector sit side by side on one edge of the card). The small cards are designed to slot into devices that will use the Compute Card as their brains for smart home automation, appliances, industrial applications, smart whiteboards, and consumer products such as tablets, notebooks, and smart TVs.
At its Computex press events, Intel revealed details on specifications. The initial launch will include four Compute Card SKUs with two lower end and two higher end models. All four of the cards are equipped with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and either 64GB of eMMC or 128GB SSD storage. The two lower end SKUs use Intel Wireless-AC 7265 while the more expensive models have Intel Wireless-AC 8265 (both are 2x2 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2). Processor options from top to bottom include the 7th generation Intel i5-7Y57, Core m3-7Y30, Pentium N4200, and Celeron N3450. Enterprise customers will appreciate the TPM support and security features. Reportedly, the Compute Cards will start at $199 for the low-end model and go up to $499+ for the higher end cards.
Intel partners Dell, HP, and Lenovo were reportedly not ready to show off any devices but will launch Compute Card compatible devices at some point. ECS, Foxconn, LG Display, NexDock, Sharp, and others did have prototype devices at Computex and have announced their support for the platform. The Compute Card concept devices shown off include tablets, laptops, All In Ones, digital signage, kiosks, and a monitor stand dock that lets the user add their own monitor and have an AIO powered by a Compute Card. Other uses include ATMs, smart whiteboards, mini PCs for desktop and HTCP uses, and docks that would allow business user sand students to have a single PC with storage that they could take anywhere and get work done. Students could plug their Compute Card into a laptop shell, computer lab PC, whiteboard for presentations, their home dock, and other devices..
(My opinions follow:)
It is an interesting concept that has been tried before with smartphones (and Samsung is currently trying with its S8 and docks) but never really caught on. The promise and idea of being able to easily upgrade a smart TV, computer, smart appliance, home security system, ect without having to replace the entire unit (just upgrading the brains) is a great one, but thus far has not really gained traction. Similarly, the idea of a single PC that you carry everywhere in your pocket and use whatever display you have handy has been promised before but never delivered. Perhaps Intel can drive this modular PC idea home and we could finally see it come to fruition. Unexpectedly absent from the list of partners is Asus and Samsung. Samsung I can understand since they are trying to do their own thing with the S8 but I was a bit surprised to see Asus was not out front with a Compute Card support as they were Intel's partner with its Zenfone and they seem like a company with a good balance of R&D and manufacturing power but nimble enough to test out new markets. The other big PC guys (Dell, HP, and Lenovo) aren't ready with their devices yet either though so I guess we will just have to see what happens in terms of support and adoption. The other thing that could hold the Compute Card back is that Intel will reportedly allow manufacturer lock-in where devices and Compute Cards can be made to only work with hardware from the same manufacturer. Restricting interoperability might hurt the platform, but it might aslo creat less confusion for consumers with the onus being on each manufacturer to actually support an upgrade path I guess.
What are your thoughts on the Compute Card?
Subject: Systems | June 12, 2017 - 07:00 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: radeon, PC, Optane, nvidia, Intel, geforce, gaming, desktop, dell, Core X-Series, Core i9, Area-51, amd, alienware
Dell has announced upcoming Alienware Area-51 gaming desktops featuring Intel's new Core X-Series processors, with CPU options up to the 10-core Intel Core i9 7900X and GPU configurations up to dual GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or triple Radeon RX 580 graphics.
"The Alienware Area-51 is our flagship gaming desktop, in this next generation, a new Intel architecture based on ‘Skylake-X’ technology has come to the high end desktop arena; Intel introduces the new Intel Core XSeries processors with a new level of Intel Core i9 options.
Gamers looking for the best that Intel has to offer that love gaming and have creative hobbies that employ resource intensive applications should anticipate the new Area-51 with Intel Core X-series processors. Geared to deliver the best gaming experiences in 4K, 8K and in VR environments, this new rig is powered for gamers running applications that prioritize clock with the 10-core option running at speeds of up to 4.5GHz using stock settings.
The Area-51 featuring Intel Core X-Series is ideal for customers who explore the world of megatasking, doing many system demanding tasks at the same time, and are looking for a complete, reliable solution from a trusted brand."
The Area-51 desktops feature (from Dell):
- Iconic triad high quality, uniquely engineered chassis built to deliver exceptional airflow, thermal management, and user ergonomics for daily use and future upgrades
- Supports NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire graphics technology, with dual and triple GPU options
- Introduces Intel Optane Memory technology and M.2 SSD storage options to Area-51
- Built for gaming enthusiast wanting the absolute best gaming performance played with a VR, 4k or 8k display
- Designed with power supplies that provide modular cabling and a 1500W option with 80 Plus Gold efficiency for clean and efficient power
- Alienware Command Center includes AlienFX, AlienAdrenaline, AlienFusion, Thermal and Overclocking Controls
- Intel X299 w/unlocked BIOS for overclocking, CPU Socket R4 (2066 pins)
- Processor Options:
- Intel Core i7 7800X (6-core, 8.25MB Cache, up to 4.0GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
- Intel Core i7 7820X (8-core, 11MB Cache, up to 4.5GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
- Intel Core i9 7900X (10-core, 13.75MB Cache, up to 4.5GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
- Single Video Card Options
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti
- Liquid Cooled NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
- AMD Radeon RX 570 or RX 580
- Multi GPU Options
- Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti (NVIDIA SLI Enabled)
- Triple AMD Radeon RX 570 or RX 580 (AMD Crossfire Enabled)
- Memory Support
- 4x 288-Pin DDR4 UDIMM Slots
- 8GB DDR4 at 2667MHz standard, additional memory available up to 64GB of quad-channel 2667MHz or 2933MHz (HyperX)
- Storage Options
- Single drive: 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s or 256GB - 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD
- Dual drive: 128GB - 1TB M.2 SATA SSD (Boot) + 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (Storage)
- Intel Optane Accelerated Options
- 16GB Intel Optane memory accelerated 1TB 7200RPM HDD
- 32GB Intel Optane memory accelerated 1TB - 2TB 7200RPM HDD
- Slot-Loading Dual-Layer DVD Burner (DVD±RW) (Standard)
- Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Disc Reader (BD-ROM, DVD±RW, CD-RW)
- Internal High-Definition 7.1 Audio (Standard)
- Dual Killer E2500 Intelligent Networking (Gigabit Ethernet NIC)
- Dell 1820 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1 or Killer 1535 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1
- Front Ports
- 2x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
- 3.5 mm headphone and 3.5 mm Mic Port
- Media Card Reader
- Rear Ports
- 2x RJ-45 Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 2x Hi-Speed USB 2.0
- 6x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
- 1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A
- 1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C w/ 15W PowerShare technology
- 1x SPDIF Digital Output (TOSLINK)
- 1x Line-In (blue port)
- 1x Front L/R / Headphone (green port)
- 1x Center Channel / Subwoofer (orange port)
- 1x L/R Rear Surround (black port)
- 1x L/R Side Surround (white port)
- Operating System:
- Windows 10 Home (64-bit) (Standard)
- Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)
The release date and pricing have not been announced, but Dell states these Intel Core X-series desktops "will be available late summer" with pricing information soon to come.
Editor’s Note: After our review of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell contacted us about our performance results. They found our numbers were significantly lower than their own internal benchmarks. They offered to send us a replacement notebook to test, and we have done so. After spending some time with the new unit we have seen much higher results, more in line with Dell’s performance claims. We haven’t been able to find any differences between our initial sample and the new notebook, and our old sample has been sent back to Dell for further analysis. Due to these changes, the performance results and conclusion of this review have been edited to reflect the higher performance results.
It's difficult to believe that it's only been a little over 2 years since we got our hands on the revised Dell XPS 13. Placing an emphasis on minimalistic design, large displays in small chassis, and high-quality construction, the Dell XPS 13 seems to have influenced the "thin and light" market in some noticeable ways.
Aiming their sights at a slightly different corner of the market, this year Dell unveiled the XPS 13 2-in-1, a convertible tablet with a 360-degree hinge. However, instead of just putting a new hinge on the existing XPS 13, Dell has designed the all-new XPS 13 2-in-1 from the ground up to be even more "thin and light" than it's older sibling, which has meant some substantial design changes.
Since we are a PC hardware-focused site, let's take a look under the hood to get an idea of what exactly we are talking about with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
|Dell XPS 13 2-in-1|
|Screen||13.3” FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch display|
|CPU||Core i5-7Y54||Core i7-7Y75|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 615|
|Storage||128GB SATA||256GB PCIe|
|Network||Intel 8265 802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
1 x Thunderbolt 3
|Connectivity||USB 3.0 Type-C
USB 3.0 x 2 (MateDock)
|Audio||Dual Array Digital Microphone
Stereo Speakers (1W x 2)
|Weight||2.7 lbs ( 1.24 kg)|
|Dimensions||11.98-in x 7.81-in x 0.32-0.54-in
(304mm x 199mm x 8 -13.7 mm)
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home / Pro (+$50)|
One of the more striking design decisions from a hardware perspective is the decision to go with the low power Core i5-7Y54 processor, or as you may be familar with from it's older naming scheme, Core M. In the Kaby Lake generation, Intel has decided to drop the Core M branding (though oddly Core m3 still exists) and integrate these lower power parts into the regular Core branding scheme.
Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 04:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, linux, vulkan, Intel, mesa, feral interactive
According to Phoronix, Alex Smith of Feral Interactive has just published a few changes to the open source Intel graphics driver, which allows their upcoming Dawn of War III port for Linux to render correctly on Vulkan. This means that the open-source Intel driver should support the game on day one, although drawing correctly and drawing efficiently could be two very different things -- or maybe not, we’ll see.
It’s interesting seeing things go in the other direction. Normally, graphics engineers parachute in to high-end developers and help them make the most of their software for each respective, proprietary graphics driver. In this case, we’re seeing the game studios pushing fixes to the graphics vendors, because that’s how open source rolls. It will be interesting to do a pros and cons comparison of each system one day, especially if cross-pollination results from it.
Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 02:35 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: msi, SFF, barebones, nuc, kaby lake, Intel, Optane, computex
MSI recently introduced a new member of its Cubi small form factor barebones PC lineup. The Cubi 3 is a fanless PC that is build around Intel’s Kaby Lake-U processors and will arrive sometime this fall.
The Cubi 3 is a bit larger than its predecessors, but with the larger enclosure MSI was able to achieve a fanless design for up to (U series) Core i7 processors. The SFF PC sports a brushed aluminum case that shows off the top of the CPU heatsink through vents that run around the top edge of the case. There are two flat antennas for Wi-Fi and Bluetooh integrated into the left and right sides of the case.
FanlessTech reports that the MSI Cubi 3 will sport 15W Kaby Lake-U processors from low end Celerons up to Core i7 models. These parts are dual core parts with HyperThreading (2c/4t) with 3 MB or 4 MB of L3 cache and either HD (615 or 620) or Iris Plus (640 or 650) integrated graphics. The processor is paired with two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for up to 32 GB of 2133 MHz memory, an M.2 2280 SSD (there is even Intel Optane support), and a single 2.5” drive.
The Cubi 3 has an audio jack and two USB 3.0 ports up front, and what appears to be two USB 2.0 ports on the left side. Rear I/O includes one HDMI, one DisplayPort, two more USB 3.0, two Gigabit Ethernet, two COM ports, and one power jack for the 65W AC power adapter.
There is no word on pricing yet, but it is slated to begin production in August with availability this fall.
It is always nice to see more competition in this niche fanless SFF space, and the little box would not look out of place on a desk or even in the living room. What are your thoughts?
Introduction and First Impressions
The LIVA family of mini PCs has been refreshed regularly since its introduction in 2014, and the LIVA Z represents a change to sleek industrial design as well as the expected updates to the internal hardware.
The LIVA Z we have for review today is powered by an Intel Apollo Lake SoC, and the product family includes SKUs with both Celeron and Pentium processors. Our review unit is the entry-level model with a Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB memory, and 32GB storage. Memory and storage support are improved compared to past LIVAs, as this is really more of a mini-PC kit like an Intel NUC, as the LIVA Z includes an M.2 slot (SATA 6.0 Gbps) for storage expansion, and a pair of SODIMM slots support up to 8 GB of DDR3L memory (a single 4GB SODIMM is installed by default).
The LIVA Z is a very small device, just a bit bigger than your typical set-top streaming box, and like all LIVAs it is fanless; making it totally silent in operation. This is important for many people in applications such as media consumption in a living room, and like previous LIVA models the Z includes a VESA mount for installation on the back of a TV or monitor. So how does it perform? We will find out!
Introduction, How PCM Works, Reading, Writing, and Tweaks
I’ve seen a bit of flawed logic floating around related to discussions about 3D XPoint technology. Some are directly comparing the cost per die to NAND flash (you can’t - 3D XPoint likely has fewer fab steps than NAND - especially when compared with 3D NAND). Others are repeating a bunch of terminology and element names without taking the time to actually explain how it works, and far too many folks out there can't even pronounce it correctly (it's spoken 'cross-point'). My plan is to address as much of the confusion as I can with this article, and I hope you walk away understanding how XPoint and its underlying technologies (most likely) work. While we do not have absolute confirmation of the precise material compositions, there is a significant amount of evidence pointing to one particular set of technologies. With Optane Memory now out in the wild and purchasable by folks wielding electron microscopes and mass spectrometers, I have seen enough additional information come across to assume XPoint is, in fact, PCM based.
XPoint memory. Note the shape of the cell/selector structure. This will be significant later.
While we were initially told at the XPoint announcement event Q&A that the technology was not phase change based, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and it is likely that Intel did not want to let the cat out of the bag too early. The funny thing about that is that both Intel and Micron were briefing on PCM-based memory developments five years earlier, and nearly everything about those briefings lines up perfectly with what appears to have ended up in the XPoint that we have today.
Some die-level performance characteristics of various memory types. source
The above figures were sourced from a 2011 paper and may be a bit dated, but they do a good job putting some actual numbers with the die-level performance of the various solid state memory technologies. We can also see where the ~1000x speed and ~1000x endurance comparisons with XPoint to NAND Flash came from. Now, of course, those performance characteristics do not directly translate to the performance of a complete SSD package containing those dies. Controller overhead and management must take their respective cuts, as is shown with the performance of the first generation XPoint SSD we saw come out of Intel:
The ‘bridging the gap’ Latency Percentile graph from our Intel SSD DC P4800X review.
(The P4800X comes in at 10us above).
There have been a few very vocal folks out there chanting 'not good enough', without the basic understanding that the first publicly available iteration of a new technology never represents its ultimate performance capabilities. It took NAND flash decades to make it into usable SSDs, and another decade before climbing to the performance levels we enjoy today. Time will tell if this holds true for XPoint, but given Micron's demos and our own observed performance of Intel's P4800X and Optane Memory SSDs, I'd argue that it is most certainly off to a good start!
A 3D XPoint die, submitted for your viewing pleasure (click for larger version).
Subject: Motherboards | June 1, 2017 - 01:05 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: x299, motherboard, LGA 2066, Intel, computex 2017, computex, aorus
GIGABYTE has announced their premium X299 AORUS motherboards at Computex with some impressively high-end features (more so the higher you go up the list). The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 sits atop a lineup that includes the X299 AORUS Gaming 7, X299 AORUS Ultra Gaming, and X299 AORUS Gaming 3, giving buyers plenty of options for their new Intel Core X-series CPU build.
The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 motherboard at the GIGABYTE booth
The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 (pictured above), along with the Gaming 7, feature GIGABYTE's Dual Armor design (these motherboards have their own backplate!), triple M.2 slots, dual Gigabit LAN and Killer 1535 Wi-Fi onboard, RGB lighting effects, and some seriously high-end sound for a motherboard.
An audio enthusiast won't be disappointed with specs like a 32-bit/384kHz ESS SABRE DAC (ES9018), TI Burr-Brown OP-Amp, audiophile-grade capacitors, and gold-plated audio jacks (among other hi-fi goodies).
A full comparison of the X299 AORUS Gaming motherboards is available below in this 'easy to read' image of a spec table (sorry!):
The lighting effects from the high-end Gaming models include digital LEDs, PCIe LED lighting, and a 'PCH Accent Overlay' for a very well-illuminated motherboard (if you like that sort of thing). GIGABYTE lists multiple programmable lighting zones, 8 different lighting effects, a pair of RGBW light strip headers, and support for digital LED strips among the many software-controlled lighting features with these boards. The durability features include the AORUS Base Plate (pictured below) and M.2 Thermal Guard, which provides your high performance M.2 SSDs with some measure of cooling.
The AORUS Base Plate is like a GPU backplate for your motherboard
As with other X299 motherboard launches, pricing and release dates were not available at Computex so we will have to wait a little longer for that information.
Make an X299 AORUS Gaming motherboard the heart of your next wall-mounted PC build!
Subject: General Tech | June 1, 2017 - 12:33 PM | Alex Lustenberg
Tagged: x299, WD, VROC, video, Vega, toshiba, Threadripper, snapdragon 835, ryzen mobile, qnap, podcast, nvidia, msi, max-q, Killer xTend, Intel, evga, Core i9, asus, asrock, arm, amd, agesa, a75, A55
PC Perspective Podcast #452 - 01/01/17
Join us for talk about Computex 2017 and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano
Peanut Gallery: Alex Lustenberg, Ken Addison
Week in Review:
News items of interest:
0:55:00 RX Vega pushed to end of July (SIGGRAPH), FE on June 27th