Introduction and Design
Although the target market and design emphasis may be different, there is one thing consumer and business-grade laptops have in common: a drift away from processing power and toward portability and efficiency. At the risk of repeating our introduction for the massive MSI GT72 gaming notebook we reviewed last month, it seems that battery life, temperature, and power consumption get all the attention these days. And arguably, it makes sense for most people: it’s true that CPU performance gains have in years past greatly outstripped the improvements in battery life, and that likewise performance gains could be realized far more easily by upgrading storage device speed (such as by replacing conventional hard drives with solid-state drives) than by continuing to focus on raw CPU power and clock rates. As a result, we’ve seen many mobile CPU speeds plateauing or even dropping in exchange for a reduction in power consumption, while simultaneously cases have slimmed and battery life has jumped appreciably across the board.
But what if you’re one of the minority who actually appreciates and needs raw computing power? Fortunately, Lenovo’s ThinkPad W series still has you covered. This $1,500 workstation is the business equivalent of the consumer-grade gaming notebook. It’s one of the few designs where portability takes a backseat to raw power and ridiculous spec. Users shopping for a ThinkPad workstation aren’t looking to go unplugged all day long on an airplane tray table. They’re looking for power, reliability, and premium design, with function over form as a rule. And that’s precisely what they’ll get.
Beyond the fairly-typical (and very powerful) Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPU—often found in gaming PCs and workstations—and just 8 GB of DDR3-1600 MHz RAM (single-channel) is a 256 GB SSD and a unique feature to go along with the WQHD+ display panel: built-in X-Rite Pantone color sensor which can be used to calibrate the panel simply by closing the lid when prompted. How well this functions is another topic entirely, but at the very least, it’s a novel idea.
Subject: General Tech | March 5, 2015 - 03:22 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: vulkan, vive, video, valve, titan x, strix, Silverstone, shield, Samsung, rv05, re vive, raven, podcast, nvidia, Nepton 240M, liquidvr, Khronos, Intel, htc, gtx 960, glnext, coolermaster, amd, 750ti
Join us this week as we discuss the NVIDIA SHIELD and Titan X, AMD Mantle, OpenGL Vulkan, and much more from GDC!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, Scott Michaud and Ken Addison
Program length: 1:22:13
Week in Review:
News item of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Jeremy: Um, I don’t know, SteamOS sales I guess?
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 4, 2015 - 05:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: GDC, gdc 15, nvidia, epic games, ue4, unreal engine 4, PhysX, apex
NVIDIA and Epic Games have just announced that Unreal Engine 4 developers can view and modify the source of PhysX. This also includes the source for APEX, which is NVIDIA's cloth and destruction library. It does not include any of the other libraries that are under the GameWorks banner, but Unreal Engine 4 does not use them anyway.
This might even mean that good developers can write their own support for third-party platforms, like OpenCL. That would probably be a painful process, but it should be possible now. Of course, that support would only extend to their personal title, and anyone who they share their branch with.
If you are having trouble finding it, you will need to switch to a branch that has been updated to PhysX 3.3.3 with source, which is currently just “Master”. “Promoted” and earlier seem to be back at PhysX 3.3.2, which is still binary-only. It will probably take a few months to trickle down to an official release. If you are still unable to find it, even though you are on the “Master” branch, the path to NVIDIA's source code is: “Unreal Engine/Engine/Source/ThirdParty/PhysX/”. From there you can check out the various subdirectories for PhysX and APEX.
NVIDIA will be monitoring pull requests sent to that area of Unreal Engine. Enhancements might make it back upstream to PhysX proper, which would then be included in future versions of Unreal Engine and anywhere else that PhysX is used.
In other news, Unreal Engine 4 is now free of its subscription. The only time Epic will ask for money is when you ship a game and royalties are due. This is currently 5% of gross revenue, with the first $3000 (per product, per calendar quarter) exempt. This means that you can make legitimately free (no price, no ads, no subscription, no microtransactions, no Skylander figurines, etc.) game in UE4 for free now!
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 4, 2015 - 01:10 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: titan x, nvidia, maxwell, gtx, geforce, gdc 15, GDC
For those of you worried that GDC would sneak by without any new information for NVIDIA's GeForce fans, Jen-Hsun Huang surprised everyone by showing up at the Epic Games' keynote with Tim Sweeny to hijack it.
The result: the first showing of the upcoming GeForce TITAN X based on the upcoming Maxwell GM200 GPU.
JHH stated that it would have a 12GB frame buffer and was built using 8 billion transistors! There wasn't much more information than that, but I was promised that the details would be revealed sooner rather than later.
Any guesses on performance or price?
Jen-Hsun signs the world's first TITAN X for Tim Sweeney.
Kite Demo running on TITAN X
UPDATE: I ran into the TITAN X again at the NVIDIA booth and was able to confirm a couple more things. First, the GPU will only require a 6+8-pin power connections, indicating that NVIDIA is still pushing power efficiency with GM200.
Also, as you would expect, the TITAN X will support 3-way and 4-way SLI, or at very least has the SLI bridges to support it.
Finally, a SHIELD Console
NVIDIA is filling out the family of the SHIELD brand today with the announcement of SHIELD, a set-top box powered by the Tegra X1 processor. SHIELD will run Android TV and act as a game playing, multimedia watching, GRID streaming device. Selling for $199 and available in May of this year, there is a lot to discuss.
Odd naming scheme aside, the SHIELD looks to be an impressive little device, sitting on your home theater or desk and bringing a ton of connectivity and performance to your TV. Running Android TV means the SHIELD will have access to the entire library of Google Play media including music, movies and apps. SHIELD supports 4K video playback at 60 Hz thanks to an HDMI 2.0 connection and fully supports H.265/HEVC decode thanks to Tegra X1 processor.
Here is a full breakdown of the device's specifications.
|NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications|
|Processor||NVIDIA® Tegra® X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell™ GPU with 3GB RAM|
|Video Features||4K Ultra-HD Ready with 4K playback and capture up to 60 fps (VP9, H265, H264)|
|Audio||7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI
High-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI and USB
High-resolution audio upsample to 24-bit/192hHz over USB
|Wireless||802.11ac 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Two USB 3.0 (Type A)
MicroSD slot (supports 128GB cards)
IR Receiver (compatible with Logitech Harmony)
|Gaming Features||NVIDIA GRID™ streaming service
|SW Updates||SHIELD software upgrades directly from NVIDIA|
|Power||40W power adapter|
|Weight and Size||Weight: 23oz / 654g
Height: 5.1in / 130mm
Width: 8.3in / 210mm
Depth: 1.0in / 25mm
|OS||Android TV™, Google Cast™ Ready|
|In the box||NVIDIA SHIELD
NVIDIA SHIELD controller
HDMI cable (High Speed), USB cable (Micro-USB to USB)
Power adapter (Includes plugs for North America, Europe, UK)
|Requirements||TV with HDMI input, Internet access|
|Options||SHIELD controller, SHIELD remove, SHIELD stand|
Obviously the most important feature is the Tegra X1 SoC, built on an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor and a 256 CUDA Core Maxwell architecture GPU. This gives the SHIELD set-top more performance than basically any other mobile part on the market, and demos showing Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on the hardware drive the point home. With integrated HEVC decode support the console is the first Android TV device to offer the support for 4K video content at 60 FPS.
Even though storage is only coming in at 16GB, the inclusion of an MicroSD card slot enabled expansion to as much as 128GB more for content and local games.
The first choice for networking will be the Gigabit Ethernet port, but the 2x2 dual-band 802.11ac wireless controller means that even those of us that don't have hardwired Internet going to our TV will be able to utilize all the performance and features of SHIELD.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 10:43 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Tegra X1, tegra, nvidia, gdc 15, GDC, Doom 3, Crysis 3
Impressively, NVIDIA just showed the new SHIELD powered by Tegra X1 running a version of both Doom 3 and Crysis 3 running natively on Android! The games were running at impressive quality and performance levels.
I have included some videos of these games being played on the SHIELD, but don't judge the visual quality of the game with these videos. They were recorded with a Panasonic GH2 off a 4K TV in a dimly lit room.
Doom 3 is quoted to run at full 1920x1080 and 60 FPS while Crysis 3 is much earlier in its development. Both games looked amazing considering we are talking about a system that has a total power draw of only 15 watts!
While these are just examples of the power that Tegra X1 can offer, it's important to note that this type of application is the exception, not the rule, for Android gaming. Just as we see with Half-Life 2 and Portal NVIDIA did most of the leg work to get this version of Doom 3 up and running. Crysis 3 is more of an effort from Crytek explicitly - hopefully this port is as gorgeous as this first look played.
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 3, 2015 - 02:44 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: video cards, nvidia, gtx 960, geforce, 4GB
They said it couldn't be done, but where there are higher density chips there's always a way. Today EVGA and Inno3D have both announced new versions of GTX 960 graphics cards with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, placing the cards in a more favorable mid-range position depending on the launch pricing.
EVGA's new 4GB NVIDIA GTX 960 SuperSC
Along with the expanded memory capacity EVGA's card features their ACX 2.0+ cooler, which promises low noise and better cooling. The SuperSC is joined by a standard ACX and the higher-clocked FTW variant, which pushes Base/Boost clocks to 1304/1367MHz out of the box.
Inno3D's press release provides fewer details, and the company appears to be launching a single new model featuring 4GB of memory which looks like a variant of their existing GTX 960 OC card.
The existing Inno3D GTX 960 OC card
The current 2GB version of the GTX 960 can be found starting at $199, so expect these expanded versions to include a price bump. The GTX 960, with only 1024 CUDA cores (half the count of a GTX 980) and a 128-bit memory interface, has been a very good performer nonetheless with much better numbers than last year's GTX 760, and is very competitive with AMD's R9 280/285. (It's a great overclocker, too.) The AMD/NVIDIA debate rages on, and NVIDIA's partners adding another 4GB offering to the mix will certainly add to the conversation, particularly as an upcoming 4GB version of the GTX 960 was originally said to be unlikely.
Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2015 - 11:29 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, hearthstone, esports
Professional and amateur players of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft can compete for a share of the $25,000 prize pool and other perks, hosted by NVIDIA. Once the pool of players are whittled down to the sixteen invited pros and the top sixteen non-professionals, they will compete in a playoff format. The 32 players at that stage will each receive an NVIDIA Shield Tablet, the top 16 will receive money, and the top eight will get Blizzard World Championship qualifier points may either start their career or get them even closer to being invited to the autumn finals.
Breaking down the above into a little more detail:
|Prize Money||Qualification Points||Shield Tablet|
|3rd & 4th Place||$1,500||Some||✔|
|5th - 8th Place||$750||Some||✔|
|9th - 16th Place||$500||-||✔|
|17th - 32nd Place||-||-||✔|
NVIDIA will be streaming the event as a four-hour event every week, which consist of group-stage highlights. Registration will close on March 19th at noon (EST). The actual playoffs will take place on May 30th and May 31st, also streamed on NVIDIA's Twitch channel.
Quiet, Efficient Gaming
The last few weeks have been dominated by talk about the memory controller of the Maxwell based GTX 970. There are some very strong opinions about that particular issue, and certainly NVIDIA was remiss on actually informing consumers about how it handles the memory functionality of that particular product. While that debate rages, we have somewhat lost track of other products in the Maxwell range. The GTX 960 was released during this particular firestorm and, while it also shared the outstanding power/performance qualities of the Maxwell architecture, it is considered a little overpriced when compared to other cards in its price class in terms of performance.
It is easy to forget that the original Maxwell based product to hit shelves was the GTX 750 series of cards. They were released a year ago to some very interesting reviews. The board is one of the first mainstream cards in recent memory to have a power draw that is under 75 watts, but can still play games with good quality settings at 1080P resolutions. Ryan covered this very well and it turned out to be a perfect gaming card for many pre-built systems that do not have extra power connectors (or a power supply that can support 125+ watt graphics cards). These are relatively inexpensive cards and very easy to install, producing a big jump in performance as compared to the integrated graphics components of modern CPUs and APUs.
The GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti have proven to be popular cards due to their overall price, performance, and extremely low power consumption. They also tend to produce a relatively low amount of heat, due to solid cooling combined with that low power consumption. The Maxwell architecture has also introduced some new features, but the major changes are to the overall design of the architecture as compared to Kepler. Instead of 192 cores per SMK, there are now 128 cores per SMM. NVIDIA has done a lot of work to improve performance per core as well as lower power in a fairly dramatic way. An interesting side effect is that the CPU hit with Maxwell is a couple of percentage points higher than Kepler. NVIDIA does lean a bit more on the CPU to improve overall GPU power, but most of this performance hit is covered up by some really good realtime compiler work in the driver.
Asus has taken the GTX 750 Ti and applied their STRIX design and branding to it. While there are certainly faster GPUs on the market, there are none that exhibit the power characteristics of the GTX 750 Ti. The combination of this GPU and the STRIX design should result in an extremely efficient, cool, and silent card.
Subject: Graphics Cards | February 23, 2015 - 04:12 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, GTX 970
So apparently NVIDIA and a single AIB partner, Gigabyte, are facing a class action lawsuit because of the GeForce GTX 970 4GB controversy. I am not sure why they singled out Gigabyte, but I guess that is the way things go in the legal world. Unlucky for them, and seemingly lucky for the rest.
For those who are unaware, the controversy is based on NVIDIA claiming that the GeForce GTX 970 has 4GB of RAM, 64 ROPs, and 2048 KB of L2 Cache. In actuality, it has 56 ROPs and 1792KB of L2 Cache. The main talking point is that the RAM is segmented into two partitions, one that is 3.5GB and another that is 0.5GB. All 4GB are present on the card though, and accessible (unlike the disable L2 Cache and ROPs). Then again, I cannot see an instance in that class action lawsuit's exhibits which claim an incorrect number of ROPs or amount of L2 Cache.
Again, the benchmarks that you saw when the GeForce GTX 970 launched are still valid. Since the issue came up, Ryan has also tried various configurations of games in single- and multi-GPU systems to find conditions that would make the issue appear.