AMD Releases Updated Raven Ridge Desktop APU Graphics Drivers

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | May 18, 2018 - 04:33 PM |
Tagged: Vega, ryzen, raven ridge, Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition, r5 2400g, r3 2200g, amd

Today, AMD released the first driver update for the desktop Raven Ridge APUs since their launch in February of this year.

The new Q2 2018 drivers are based on AMD's current Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition release and bring features such as ReLive and the Radeon overlay to the Vega-powered desktop platform.

adrenalin-74.jpg

We haven't had a lot of time to look for potential performance enhancements this driver brings yet, but we did do a quick 3DMark run on our Ryzen 5 2400G with memory running at DDR4-3200.

3dmark-fs.png

Here, we see healthy gains of around 5% in 3DMark Firestrike for the new driver. While I wouldn't expect big gains for older titles, newer titles that have come out since the initial Raven Ridge drive release in February will see the biggest gains.

We are still eager to see the mobile iterations of AMD's Raven Ridge processors get updated drivers, as notebooks such as the HP Envy X360 have not been updated since they launched in November of last year.

It's good to see progress from AMD on this front, but they must work harder to unify the graphics drivers of their APU products into the mainstream graphics driver releases if they want those products to be taken seriously as gaming options.

Source: AMD

NVIDIA GeForce GTX Cards Finally Return to Stock at MSRP

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 9, 2018 - 12:23 PM |
Tagged: video card, pricing, msrp, mining, GTX 1080, gtx 1070, gtx 1060, gtx, graphics, gpu, gaming, crypto

The wait for in-stock NVIDIA graphics cards without inflated price tags seems to be over. Yes, in the wake of months of crypto-fueled disappointment for gamers the much anticipated, long-awaited return of graphics cards at (gasp) MSRP prices is at hand. NVIDIA has now listed most of their GTX lineup as in-stock (with a limit of 2) at normal MSRPs, with the only exception being the GTX 1080 Ti (still out of stock). The lead time from NVIDIA is one week, but worth it for those interested in the lower prices and 'Founders Edition' coolers.

GTX_STORE.PNG

Many other GTX 10 Series options are to be found online at near-MSRP pricing, though as before many of the aftermarket designs command a premium, with factory overclocks and proprietary cooler designs to help justify the added cost. Even Amazon - previously home to some of the most outrageous price-gouging from third-party sellers in months past - has cards at list pricing, which seems to solidify a return to GPU normalcy.

AMZ_1080.PNG

The GTX 1080 inches closer to standard pricing once again on Amazon

Some of the current offers include:

MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1080 ARMOR 8G - $549.99 @ Amazon.com

EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC GAMING ACX 3.0 - $469.99 @ Amazon.com

EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 SC GAMING 6GB - $299.99 @ Newegg.com

GTX 1070 cards continue to have the highest premium outside of NVIDIA's store, with the lowest current pricing on Newegg or Amazon at $469.99. Still, the overall return to near-MSRP pricing around the web is good news for gamers who have been forced to play second (or third) fiddle to cryptomining "entrepreneurs" for several months now; a disturbing era in which pre-built gaming systems from Alienware and others actually presented a better value than DIY builds.

Source: NVIDIA

Who's a pretty cult member?

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 7, 2018 - 02:48 PM |
Tagged: Dunia 2, far cry 5, 4k

Armed with a GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition and a 4k display, you venture forth into the advanced graphics settings of Ubisoft's latest Far Cry game.  Inside you face a multitude of challenges, from volumetric fog through various species of anti-aliasing until finally facing the beast known as overall quality.  [H]ard|OCP completed this quest and you can benefit from their experience, although no matter how long they searched they could not locate any sign of NVIDIA's Gameworks which appeared in the previous Far Cry.  There were signs of rapid packed math enhancements, much to the rejoicing of those who have no concrete interest in Gameworks existence.

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"We will be comparing Far Cry 5's Overall Quality, Shadows, Volumetric Fog, and Anti-Aliasing image quality. In addition, we will find out if we can improve IQ in the game by adding Anisotropic Filtering and forcing AA from the control panel. We’ve have a video showing you many IQ issues we found in Far Cry 5, and those are plentiful."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

NVIDIA Releases GeForce 397.55 Hotfix Drivers

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 3, 2018 - 08:41 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers

The previous set of drivers, version 397.31 that was released last week, had a few bugs in them… so NVIDIA has released a hotfix (397.55) to address the issues (without waiting for the next “Game Ready” date). Of course, these drivers also went through a reduced QA process, so they should be avoided unless one of the problems affect you.

nvidia-2015-bandaid.png

And the fixed bugs are:

  • Device Manager may report Code 43 on certain GTX 1060 models
  • Netflix playback may occasionally stutter
  • Added support for Microsoft Surface Book notebooks
  • Driver may get removed after PC has been idle for extended periods of time

The last issue manifests in a couple of different forms. The forum page specifically mentions Windows 10, although users with Windows 7 and Windows 8 could also be affected by the bug, just with different symptoms. I experienced it, and for me (on Windows 10) it was just a matter of force-quitting all processes prefixed with “nv” in task manager. My symptoms were that GeForce Experience would attempt to re-download the drivers and StarCraft II would fail to launch. If you’re experiencing similar issues, then you’ll probably want to give this driver a shot.

You can download it from their CustHelp page.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA Releases GeForce 397.31. RTX for Developers.

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 25, 2018 - 08:27 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers, rtx, Volta

It’s quite the jump in version number from 391.35 to 397.31, but NVIDIA has just released a new graphics driver. Interestingly, it is “Game Ready” tied to the Battletech, which I have been looking forward to, but I was always under the impression that no-one else was. Apparently not.

nvidia-geforce.png

As for its new features? The highlight is a developer preview of NVIDIA RTX Technology. This requires a Volta GPU, which currently means Titan V unless your team was seeded something that doesn’t necessarily exist, as well as 396.xx+ drivers, the new Windows 10 update, and Microsoft DXR developer package. Speaking of which, I’m wondering how much of the version number bump could be attributed to RTX being on the 396.xx branch. Even then, it still feels like a branch or two never left NVIDIA’s dev team. Hmm.

Moving on, the driver also conforms with the Vulkan 1.1 test suite (version 1.1.0.3). If you remember back from early March, the Khronos Group released the new standard, which integrated a bunch of features into core, and brought Subgroup Operations into the mix. This could allow future shaders to perform quicker by being compiled with new intrinsic functions.

Also – the standalone installer will apparently clean up after itself better than it used to. Often I can find a few gigabytes of old NVIDIA folders when I’m looking for space to save, so it’s good for NVIDIA to finally address at least some of that.

Pick up the new drivers on NVIDIA’s website or through GeForce Experience.

Source: NVIDIA

Is the GPU in Intel Kaby Lake-G More Polaris than Vega?

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | April 9, 2018 - 04:25 PM |
Tagged: Vega, Polaris, kaby lake-g, Intel, amd

Over the weekend, some interesting information has surfaced surrounding the new Kaby Lake-G hardware from Intel. A product that is officially called the “8th Generation Intel Core Processors with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics” is now looking like it might be more of a Polaris-based GPU than a Vega-based one. This creates an interesting marketing and technology capability discussion for the community, and both Intel and AMD, that is worth diving into.

PCWorld first posted the question this weekend, using some interesting data points as backup that Kaby Lake-G may in fact be based on Polaris. In Gordon’s story he notes that in AIDA64 the GPU is identified as “Polaris 22” while the Raven Ridge-based APUs from AMD show up as “Raven Ridge.” Obviously the device identification of a third party piece of software is a suspect credential in any situation, but the second point provided is more salient: based on the DXDiag information, the GPU on the Hades Canyon NUC powered by Kaby Lake-G does not support DirectX 12.1.

dx_diag_comparo-100754201-orig.jpg

Image source: PCWorld

AMD clearly stated in its launch of the Vega architecture last year that the new GPUs supported DX 12.1, among other features. The fact that the KBL-G part does NOT include support for it is compelling evidence that the GPU might be more similar to Polaris than Vega.

Tom’s Hardware did some more digging that was posted this morning, using a SiSoft Sandra test that can measure performance of FP16 math and FP32. For both the Radeon RX Vega 64 and 56 discrete graphics cards, running the test with FP16 math results in a score that is 65% faster than the FP32 results. With a Polaris-based graphics card, an RX 470, the scores between FP32 and FP16 were identical as the architecture can support FP16 math functions but doesn’t accelerate it with AMD’s “rapid packed math” feature (that was a part of the Vega launch).

tomsmath.jpg

Image source: Tom's Hardware

And you guessed it, the Kaby Lake-G part only runs essentially even in the FP16 mode. (Also note that AMD’s Raven Ridge APU that integrated Vega graphics does get accelerated by 61% using FP16.)

What Kaby Lake-G does have that leans toward Vega is support for HBM2 memory (which none of the Polaris cards have) and “high bandwidth memory cache controller and enhanced compute units with additional ROPs” according to the statement from Intel given to Tom’s Hardware.

It should be noted that just because the benchmarks and games that can support rapid packed math don’t take advantage of that capability today, does not mean they won’t have the capability to do so after a driver or firmware update. That being said, if that’s the plan, and even if it’s not, Intel should come out and tell the consumers and media.

The debate and accusations of conspiracy are running rampant again today with this news. Is Intel trying to pull one over on us by telling the community that this is a Vega-based product when it is in fact based on Polaris? Why would AMD allow and promote the Vega branding with a part that it knows didn’t meet the standards it created to be called a Vega architecture solution?

Another interesting thought comes when analyzing this debate with the Ryzen 7 2400G and Ryzen 5 2200G products, both of which claim to use Vega GPUs as a portion of the APU. However, without support for HBM2 or the high-bandwidth cache controller, does that somehow shortchange the branding for it? Or are the memory features of the GPU considered secondary to its design?

This is the very reason why companies hate labels, hate specifications, and hate having all of this tracked by a competent and technical media. Basically every company in the tech industry is guilty of this practice: Intel has 2-3 architectures running as “8th Generation” in the market, AMD is selling RX 500 cards that were once RX 400 cards, and NVIDIA has changed performance capabilities of the MX 150 at least once or twice.

The nature of semi-custom chips designs is that they are custom. Are the GPUs used in the PS4 and Xbox One or Xbox One X called Polaris, Vega, or something else? It would be safer for AMD and its partners to give each new product its own name, its own brand—but then the enthusiasts would want to know what it was most like, and how did it compare to Polaris, or Vega, etc.? It’s also possible that AMD was only willing to sell this product to Intel if it included some of these feature restrictions. In complicated negotiations like this one surely was, anything is feasible.

These are tough choices for companies to make. AMD loves having the Vega branding in more products as it gives weight to the development cost and time it spent on the design. Having Vega associated with more high-end consumer products, including those sold by Intel, give them leverage for other products down the road. From Intel’s vantage point using the Vega brand makes it looks like it has the very latest technology in its new processor and it can benefit from any cross-promotion that occurs around the Vega brand from AMD or its partners.

Unfortunately, it means that the devil is in the details, and the details are something that no one appears to be willing to share. Does it change the performance we saw in our recent Hades Canyon NUC review or our perspective on it as a product? It does not. But as features like Rapid Packed Math or the new geometry shader accelerate in adoption, the capability for Kaby Lake-G to utilize them is going to be scrutinized more heavily.

Source: Various

Considering picking up a vintage GPU?

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 2, 2018 - 02:36 PM |
Tagged: cryptocurrency, graphics cards

It has been a while since the Hardware Leaderboard has been updated as it is incredibly depressing to try to price out a new GPU, for obvious reasons.  TechSpot have taken an interesting approach to dealing with the crypto-blues, they have just benchmarked 44 older GPUs on current games to see how well they fare.  The cards range from the GTX 560 and HD7770 through to current model cards which are available to purchase used from sites such as eBay.  Buying a used card brings the price down to somewhat reasonable levels, though you do run the risk of getting a dead or dying card.  With interesting metrics such as price per frame, this is a great resource if you find yourself in desperate need of a GPU in the current market.  Check it out here.

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"Along with our recent editorials on why it's a bad time to build a gaming PC, we've been revisiting some older GPUs to see how they hold up in today's games. But how do you know how much you should be paying for a secondhand graphics card?"

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Source: TechSpot

Eight-GPU SLI in Unreal Engine 4 (Yes There Is a Catch)

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 29, 2018 - 09:52 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, GTC, gp102, quadro p6000

At GTC 2018, Walt Disney Imagineering unveiled a work-in-progress clip of their upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction, which is expected to launch next year at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort. The cool part about this ride is that it will be using Unreal Engine 4 with eight, GP102-based Quadro P6000 graphics cards. NVIDIA also reports that Disney has donated the code back to Epic Games to help them with their multi-GPU scaling in general – a win for us consumers… in a more limited fashion.

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See? SLI doesn’t need to be limited to two cards if you have a market cap of $100 billion USD.

Another interesting angle to this story is how typical PC components are contributing to these large experiences. Sure, Quadro hardware isn’t exactly cheap, but it can be purchased through typical retail channels and it allows the company to focus their engineering time elsewhere.

Ironically, this also comes about two decades after location-based entertainment started to decline… but, you know, it’s Disneyland and Disney World. They’re fine.

Source: NVIDIA

ASRock Enters Graphics Card Market With Phantom Gaming Series of AMD GPUs

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 29, 2018 - 05:45 PM |
Tagged: RX 580, RX 570, RX 560, RX 550, Polaris, mining, asrock, amd

ASRock, a company known mostly for its motherboards that was formerly an Asus sub-brand but is now an independent company owned by Pegatron since 2010 is now getting into the graphics card market with a new Phantom Gaming series. At launch, the Phantom Gaming series is comprised of four AMD Polaris-based graphics cards including the Phantom Gaming RX 550 2G and RX 560 2G on the low end and the Phantom Gaming X RX 570 8G OC and RX 580 8G OC on the mid/high end range.

Phantom Gaming X Radeon RX580 8G OC(L4).png

ASRock is using black shrouds with white accents and silver and red logos. The lower end Phantom Gaming cards utilize a single dual ball bearing fan while the Phantom Gaming X cards use a dual fan configuration. ASRock is using copper baseplates paired with aluminum heatsinks and composite heatpipes. The Phantom Gaming RX 550 and RX 560 cards use only PCI-E slot power while the Phantom Gaming X RX 570 and RX 580 cards get power from both the slot and a single 8-pin PCI-E power connector.

Video outputs include one HDMI 2.0, one DisplayPort 1.4, and one DL-DVI-D on the Phantom Gaming parts and one HDMI 2.0, three DisplayPort 1.4, and one DL-DVI-D on the higher-end Phantom Gaming X graphics cards. All of the graphics card models feature both silent and overclocked modes in addition to their out-of-the-box default clocks depending on whether you value performance or noise. Users can select which mode they want or perform a custom overclock or fan curve using ASRock's Phantom Gaming Tweak utility.

On the performance front, out of the box ASRock is slightly overclocking the Phantom Gaming X OC cards (the RX 570 and RX 580 based ones) and slightly underclocking the lower end Phantom Gaming cards (including the memory which is downclocked to 6 GHz) compared to their AMD reference specifications.

  ASRock RX 580 OC RX 580 ASRock RX 570 OC RX 570 ASRock RX 560 RX 560 ASRock RX 550 RX 550
Cores 2304 2304 2048 2048 896 896 512 512
GPU Clock (MHz) 1380 1340 1280 1244 1149 1275 1100 1183
GPU Clock OC Mode (MHz) 1435 - 1331 - 1194 - 1144 -
Memory (GDDR5) 8GB 8GB 8GB 8GB 2GB 2GB/4GB 2GB 2GB/4GB
Memory Clock (GHz) 8GHz 8GHz 7GHz 7GHz 6GHz 7GHz 6GHz 7GHz
Memory Clock OC Mode (MHz) 8320 - 7280 - 6240 - 6240 -
Texture Units 144 144 128 128 64 64 32 32
ROPs 32 32 32 32 16 16 16 16

The table above shows the comparisons between the ASRock graphics cards and their AMD reference card counterparts. Note that the Phantom Gaming RX 560 2G is based on the cut-down 14 CU (compute unit) model rather than the launch 16 CU GPU. Also, even in OC Mode, ASRock does not bring the memory up to the 7 GT/s reference spec. On the positive side, turning on OC mode does give a decent factory overclock of the GPU over reference. Also nice to see is that on the higher end "OC Certified" Phantom Gaming X cards, ASRock overclocks both the GPU and memory speeds which is often not the case with factory overclocks.

Phantom Gaming Radeon RX550 2G(L1).png

ASRock did not detail pricing with any of the launch announcement cards, but they should be coming soon with 4GB models of the RX 560 an RX 550 to follow later this year.

It is always nice to have more competition in this space and hopefully a new AIB partner for AMD helps alleviate shortages and demand for gaming cards if only by a bit. I am curious how well the cards will perform as while they look good on paper the company is new to graphics cards and the build quality really needs to be there. I am just hoping that the Phantom Gaming moniker is not an allusion to how hard these cards are going to be to find for gaming! (heh) If the rumored Ethereum ASICs do not kill the demand for AMD GPUs I do expect that ASRock will also be releasing mining specific cards as well at some point.

What are your thoughts on the news of ASRock moving into graphics cards?

Also read:

Source: Tech Report

GDC 2018: NVIDIA Adds new Ansel and Highlights features to GeForce Experience

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 21, 2018 - 09:37 PM |
Tagged: GDC, GDC 2018, nvidia, geforce experience, ansel, nvidia highlights, call of duty wwii, fortnite, pubg, tekken 7

Building upon the momentum of being included in the two most popular PC games in the world, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, NVIDIA Highlights (previously known as ShadowPlay Highlights) is expanding to even more titles. Support for Call of Duty: WWII and Tekken 7 are available now, with Dying Light: Bad Blood and Escape from Tarkov coming soon.

For those unfamiliar with NVIDIA Highlights, it’s a feature that when integrated into a game, allows for the triggering of automatic screen recording when specific events happen. For example, think of the kill cam in Call of Duty. When enabled, Highlights will save a recording whenever the kill cam is triggered, allowing you to share exciting gameplay moments without having to think about it.

Animated GIF support has also been added to NVIDIA Highlights, allowing users to share shorter clips to platforms including Facebook, Google Photos, or Weibo.

In addition to supporting more games and formats, NVIDIA has also released the NVIDIA Highlights SDK, as well as plugins for Unreal Engine and Unity platforms. Previously, NVIDIA was working with developers to integrate Highlights into their games, but now developers will have the ability to add the support themselves.

Hopefully, these changes mean a quicker influx more titles with Highlights support, compared to the 16 currently supported titles.

In addition to enhancements in Highlights, NVIDIA has also launched a new sharing site for screen captures performed with the Ansel in-game photography tool.

The new ShotWithGeforce.com lets users upload and share their captures from any Ansel supported game.

shotwithgeforce.PNG

Screenshots uploaded to Shot With GeForce are tagged with the specific game the capture is from, making it easy for users to scroll through all of the uploaded captures from a given title.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA RTX Technology Accelerates Ray Tracing for Microsoft DirectX Raytracing API

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 19, 2018 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: rtx, nvidia, dxr

The big news from the Game Developers Conference this week was Microsoft’s reveal of its work on a new ray tracing API for DirectX called DirectX Raytracing. As the name would imply, this is a new initiative to bring the image quality improvements of ray tracing to consumer hardware with the push of Microsoft’s DX team. Scott already has a great write up on that news and current and future implications of what it will mean for PC gamers, so I highly encourage you all to read that over before diving more into this NVIDIA-specific news.

Ray tracing has been the holy grail of real-time rendering. It is the gap between movies and games – though ray tracing continues to improve in performance it takes the power of offline server farms to render the images for your favorite flicks. Modern game engines continue to use rasterization, an efficient method for rendering graphics but one that depends on tricks and illusions to recreate the intended image. Ray tracing inherently solves the problems that rasterization works around including shadows, transparency, refraction, and reflection. But it does so at a prohibitive performance cost. But that will be changing with Microsoft’s enablement of ray tracing through a common API and technology like what NVIDIA has built to accelerate it.

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Alongside support and verbal commitment to DXR, NVIDIA is announcing RTX Technology. This is a combination of hardware and software advances to improve the performance of ray tracing algorithms on its hardware and it works hand in hand with DXR. NVIDIA believes this is the culmination of 10 years of development on ray tracing, much of which we have talked about on this side from the world of professional graphics systems. Think Iray, OptiX, and more.

RTX will run on Volta GPUs only today, which does limit usefulness to gamers. With the only graphics card on the market even close to considered a gaming product the $3000 TITAN V, RTX is more of a forward-looking technology announcement for the company. We can obviously assume then that RTX technology will be integrated on any future consumer gaming graphics cards, be that a revision of Volta of something completely different. (NVIDIA refused to acknowledge plans for any pending Volta consumer GPUs during our meeting.)

The idea I get from NVIDIA is that today’s RTX is meant as a developer enablement platform, getting them used to the idea of adding ray tracing effects into their games and engines and to realize that NVIDIA provides the best hardware to get that done.

I’ll be honest with you – NVIDIA was light on the details of what RTX exactly IS and how it accelerates ray tracing. One very interesting example I was given was seen first with the AI-powered ray tracing optimizations for Optix from last year’s GDC. There, NVIDIA demonstrated that using the Volta Tensor cores it could run an AI-powered de-noiser on the ray traced image, effectively improving the quality of the resulting image and emulating much higher ray counts than are actually processed.

By using the Tensor cores with RTX for DXR implementation on the TITAN V, NVIDIA will be able to offer image quality and performance for ray tracing well ahead of even the TITAN Xp or GTX 1080 Ti as those GPUs do not have Tensor cores on-board. Does this mean that all (or flagship) consumer graphics cards from NVIDIA will includ Tensor cores to enable RTX performance? Obviously, NVIDIA wouldn’t confirm that but to me it makes sense that we will see that in future generations. The scale of Tensor core integration might change based on price points, but if NVIDIA and Microsoft truly believe in the future of ray tracing to augment and significantly replace rasterization methods, then it will be necessary.

Though that is one example of hardware specific features being used for RTX on NVIDIA hardware, it’s not the only one that is on Volta. But NVIDIA wouldn’t share more.

The relationship between Microsoft DirectX Raytracing and NVIDIA RTX is a bit confusing, but it’s easier to think of RTX as the underlying brand for the ability to ray trace on NVIDIA GPUs. The DXR API is still the interface between the game developer and the hardware, but RTX is what gives NVIDIA the advantage over AMD and its Radeon graphics cards, at least according to NVIDIA.

DXR will still run on other GPUS from NVIDIA that aren’t utilizing the Volta architecture. Microsoft says that any board that can support DX12 Compute will be able to run the new API. But NVIDIA did point out that in its mind, even with a high-end SKU like the GTX 1080 Ti, the ray tracing performance will limit the ability to integrate ray tracing features and enhancements in real-time game engines in the immediate timeframe. It’s not to say it is impossible, or that some engine devs might spend the time to build something unique, but it is interesting to hear NVIDIA infer that only future products will benefit from ray tracing in games.

It’s also likely that we are months if not a year or more from seeing good integration of DXR in games at retail. And it is also possible that NVIDIA is downplaying the importance of DXR performance today if it happens to be slower than the Vega 64 in the upcoming Futuremark benchmark release.

05.jpg

Alongside the RTX announcement comes GameWorks Ray Tracing, a colleciton of turnkey modules based on DXR. GameWorks has its own reputation, and we aren't going to get into that here, but NVIDIA wants to think of this addition to it as a way to "turbo charge enablement" of ray tracing effects in games.

NVIDIA believes that developers are incredibly excited for the implementation of ray tracing into game engines, and that the demos being shown at GDC this week will blow us away. I am looking forward to seeing them and for getting the reactions of major game devs on the release of Microsoft’s new DXR API. The performance impact of ray tracing will still be a hindrance to larger scale implementations, but with DXR driving the direction with a unified standard, I still expect to see some games with revolutionary image quality by the end of the year. 

Source: NVIDIA

HTC announces VIVE Pro Pricing, Available now for Preorder

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 19, 2018 - 12:09 PM |
Tagged: vive pro, steamvr, rift, Oculus, Lighthouse, htc

Today, HTC has provided what VR enthusiasts have been eagerly waiting for since the announcement of the upgraded VIVE Pro headset earlier in the year at CESthe pricing and availability of the new device.

vivepro.png

Available for preorder today, the VIVE Pro will cost $799 for the headset-only upgrade. As we mentioned during the VIVE Pro announcement, this first upgrade kit is meant for existing VIVE users who will be reusing their original controllers and lighthouse trackers to get everything up and running.

The HMD-only kit, with it's upgraded resolution and optics, is set to start shipping very soon on April 3 and can be preordered now on the HTC website.

Additionally, your VIVE Pro purchase (through June 3rd, 2018) will come with a free six-month subscription to HTC's VIVEPORT subscription game service, which will gain you access to up to 5 titles per month for free (chosen from the VIVEPORT catalog of 400+ games.)

There is still no word on the pricing and availability of the full VIVE Pro kit including the updated Lighthouse 2.0 trackers, but it seems likely that it will come later in the Summer after the upgrade kit has saturated the market of current VIVE owners.

As far as system requirements go, the HTC site doesn't list any difference between the standard VIVE and the VIVE Pro. One change, however, is the lack of an HDMI port on the new VIVE Pro link box, so you'll need a graphics card with an open DisplayPort 1.2 connector. 

Source: HTC

Asus Introduces Gemini Lake-Powered J4005I-C Mini ITX Motheboard

Subject: Graphics Cards, Motherboards | March 8, 2018 - 02:55 AM |
Tagged: passive cooling, mini ITX, j4005i-c, Intel, gemini lake, fanless, asus

Asus is launching a new Mini ITX motherboard packing a passively-cooled Intel Celeron J4005 "Gemini Lake" SoC. The aptly-named Asus Prime J4005I-C is aimed at embedded systems such as point of sale machines, low end networked storage, kiosks, and industrial control and monitoring systems and features "5x Protection II" technology which includes extended validation and compatibility/QVL testing, overcurrent and overvoltage protection, network port surge protection, and ESD resistance. The board also features a EUFI BIOS with AI Suite.

Asus Prime J4005I-C Mini ITX Gemini Lake Motherboard.jpg

The motherboard features an Intel Celeron J4005 processor with two cores (2.0 GHz base and 2.7 GHz boost), 4MB cache, Intel UHD 600 graphics, and a 10W TDP. The SoC is passively cooled by a copper colored aluminum heatsink. The processor supports up to 8GB of 2400 MHz RAM and the motherboard has two DDR4 DIMM slots. Storage is handled by two SATA 6 Gbps ports and one M.2 slot (PCI-E x2) for SSDs. Further, the Prime J4005I-C has an E-key M.2 slot for WLAN and Bluetooth modules (PCI-E x2 or USB mode) along with headers for USB 2.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1, LVDS, and legacy LPT and COM ports.

Rear I/O includes two PS/2, two USB 2.0, one Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8111H), two USB 3.1 Gen 1, one HDMI, one D-SUB, one RS232, and three audio ports (Realtek ALC887-UD2).

The motherboard does not appear to be for sale yet in the US, but Fanless Tech notes that is is listed for around 80 euros overseas (~$100 USD). More Gemini Lake options are always good, and Asus now has one with PCI-E M.2 support though I see this board being more popular with commercial/industrial sectors than enthusiasts unless it goes on sale.

Source: Asus

AMD Project ReSX brings performance and latency improvements to select games

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 5, 2018 - 06:07 PM |
Tagged: amd, radeon, Adrenalin, resx

We all know that driver specific and per-game optimization happens for all major GPU vendors, including AMD and NVIDIA, but also Intel, and even mobile SoC vendors. Working with the game developers and tweaking your own driver is common practice to helping deliver the best possible gaming experience to your customers.

During the launch of the Radeon Vega graphics cards, AMD discussed with the media an initiative to lower the input latency for some key, highly sensitive titles. Those mostly focused around the likes of Counter-Strike: GO, DOTA 2, League of Legends, etc. They targeted very specific use cases, low-hanging fruit, which the engineering team had recognized could improve gameplay. This included better management of buffers and timing windows to decrease the time from input to display, but had a very specific selection of games and situations it could address.

And while AMD continues to tout its dedication to day-zero driver releases and having an optimized gaming experience for Radeon users on the day of release of a new major title, AMD apparently saw fit to focus a portion of its team on another specific project, this time addressing what it called “the best possible eSports experience.”

So Project ReSX was born (Radeon eSports Experience). Its goal was to optimize performance for some of the “most popular” PC games for Radeon GPUs. The efforts included both driver-level fixes, tweaks, and optimizations, as well as direct interaction with the game developer themselves. Depending on the level of involvement that the dev would accept, AMD would either help optimize the engine and game code itself locally or would send out AMD engineering talent to work with the developer on-site for some undisclosed period of time to help address performance concerns.

Driver release 18.3.1 which is posted on AMD’s website right now, integrates these fixes that the company says are available immediately with some titles and will be “rolling into games in the coming weeks.”

Results that AMD has shared look moderately impressive.

amd_resx_table.jpg

In PUBG, for example, AMD is seeing an 11% improvement in average frame rate and a 9% improvement in the 99th percentile frame time, an indicator of smoothness. Overwatch and DOTA2 are included as well though the numbers are bit lower at 3% and 6%, respectively, in terms of average frame rate. AMD claims that the “click to response” measurement (using high speed cameras for testing) was as much as 8% faster in DOTA 2.

This is great news for Radeon owners, and not just RX 580 customers. AMD’s Scott Wasson told me that if anything, the gaps may widen with the Radeon Vega lineup but that AMD wanted to focus on where the graphics card lineup struggled more with this level of game. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is known to be a highly unoptimized game, and seeing work from AMD on the driver and at the developer relations level is fantastic.

However, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind. These increases in performance are in comparison to the 17.12.1 release, which was the first Adrenalin launch driver in December of last year. There have been several drivers released between now and today, so we have likely seen SOME of this increase along the way.

Also, while this initiative and project are the right track for AMD to be on, the company isn’t committing to any future releases along these veins. To me, giving this release and direction some kind of marketing name and calling it a “project” indicates that there is or will be continued work on this front: key optimizations and developer work for very popular titles even after the initial launch window. All I was told today was that “there may be” more coming down the pipeline but they had nothing to announce at this time. Hmph.

Also note that NVIDIA hasn’t been sitting idle during this time. In fact, the last email I received from NVIDIA’s driver team indicates that it offers “performance improvements in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which exhibits performance improvements up to 7% percent” with driver 391.01. In fact, the website lists a specific table with performance uplifts:

nvtable.png

While I am very happy to see AMD keeping its continued software promise for further development and optimization for current customers going strong, it simply HAS TO if it wants to keep pace with the efforts of the competition.

All that being said – if you have a Radeon graphics card and plan on joining us to parachute in for some PUBG matches tonight, go grab the new driver immediately!

Source: Radeon

NVIDIA GeForce 391.05 Hotfix Driver Available

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 4, 2018 - 02:02 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, hotfix, graphics drivers

NVIDIA has published a hotfix driver, 391.05, for a few issues that didn’t make it into the recently released 391.01 WHQL version. Specifically, if you are experiencing any of the following issues, then you can go to the NVIDIA forums and follow the link to their associated CustHelp page:

  • NVIDIA Freestyle stopped working
  • Display corruption on Titan V
  • Support for Microsoft Surface Book notebooks

nvidia-2015-bandaid.png

While improved support for the Titan V and the Microsoft Surface Book is very important for anyone who owns those devices, NVIDIA Freestyle is an interesting one for the masses. NVIDIA allows users to hook the post processing stage of various supported games and inject their own effects. The feature launched in January and it is still in beta, but lead users still want it to work of course. If you were playing around with this feature and it stopped working on 390-based drivers, then check out this hotfix.

For the rest of us? Probably a good idea to stay on the official drivers. Hotfixes have reduced QA, so it’s possible that other bugs were introduced in the process.

Source: NVIDIA

Bitmain could create headaches for NVIDIA, AMD, and Qualcomm

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 28, 2018 - 09:04 PM |
Tagged: bitmain, bitcoin, qualcomm, nvidia, amd

This article originally appeared in MarketWatch.

Research firm Bernstein recently published a report on the profitability of Bitmain Technologies, a secretive Chinese company with a huge impact on the bitcoin and cryptocurrency markets.

With estimated 2017 profits ranging from $3 billion to $4 billion, the size and scope of Beijing-based Bitmain is undeniable, with annual net income higher than some major tech players, including Nvidia and AMD. The privately held company, founded five years ago, has expanded its reach into many bitcoin-based markets, but most of its income stems from the development and sale of dedicated cryptocurrency mining hardware.

There is a concern that the sudden introduction of additional companies in the chip-production landscape could alter how other players operate. This includes the ability for Nvidia, AMD, Qualcomm and others to order chip production from popular semiconductor vendors at the necessary prices to remain competitive in their respective markets.

Bitmain makes most of its income through the development of dedicated chips used to mine bitcoin. These ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) offer better performance and power efficiency than other products such as graphics chips from Nvidia and AMD. The Bitmain chips are then combined into systems called “miners” that can include as many as 250 chips in a single unit. Those are sold to large mining companies or individuals hoping to turn a profit from the speculative cryptocurrency markets for prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars apiece.

Bitcoin mining giant

Bernstein estimates that as much as 70%-80% of the dedicated market for bitcoin mining is being addressed by Bitmain and its ASIC sales.

Bitmain has secondary income sources, including running mining pools (where groups of bitcoin miners share the workload of computing in order to turn a profit sooner) and cloud-based mining services where customers can simply rent mining hardware that exists in a dedicated server location. This enables people to attempt to profit from mining without the expense of buying hardware directly.

bitmain.JPG

A Bitmain Antminer

The chip developer and mining hardware giant has key advantages for revenue growth and stability, despite the volatility of the cryptocurrency market. When Bitmain designs a new ASIC that can address a new currency or algorithm, or run a current coin algorithm faster than was previously possible, it can choose to build its Antminers (the brand for these units) and operate them at its own server farms, squeezing the profitability and advantage the faster chips offer on the bitcoin market before anyone else in the ecosystem has access to them.

As the difficulty of mining increases (which occurs as higher-performance mining options are released, lowering the profitability of older hardware), Bitmain can then start selling the new chips and associated Antminers to customers, moving revenue from mining directly to sales of mining hardware.

This pattern can be repeated for as long as chip development continues, giving Bitmain a tremendous amount of flexibility to balance revenue from different streams.

Imagine a situation where one of the major graphics chip vendors exclusively used its latest graphics chips for its own services like cloud-compute, crypto-mining and server-based rendering and how much more valuable those resources would be — that is the power that Bitmain holds over the bitcoin market.

Competing for foundry business

Clearly Bitmain is big business, and its impact goes well beyond just the bitcoin space. Because its dominance for miners depends on new hardware designs and chip production, where performance and power efficiency are critical to building profitable hardware, it competes for the same foundry business as other fabless semiconductor giants. That includes Apple, Nvidia, Qualcomm, AMD and others.

Companies that build ASICs as part of their business model, including Samsung, TSMC, GlobalFoundries and even Intel to a small degree, look for customers willing to bid the most for the limited availability of production inventory. Bitmain is not restricted to a customer base that is cost-sensitive — instead, its customers are profit-sensitive. As long as the crypto market remains profitable, Bitmain can absorb the added cost of chip production.

Advantages over Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm

Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm are not as flexible. Despite the fact that Nvidia can charge thousands for some of its most powerful graphics chips when targeting the enterprise and machine-learning market, the wider gaming market is more sensitive to price changes. You can see that in the unrest that has existed in the gaming space as the price of graphics cards rises due to inventory going to miners rather than gamers. Neither AMD nor Nvidia will get away with selling graphic cards to partners for higher prices and, as a result, there is a potential for negative market growth in PC gaming.

If Bitmain uses the same foundry as others, and is willing to pay more for it to build their chips at a higher priority than other fabless semiconductor companies, then it could directly affect the availability and pricing for graphics chips, mobile phone processors and anything else built at those facilities. As a result, not only does the cryptocurrency market have an effect on the current graphics chip market for gamers by causing shortages, but it could also impact future chip availability if Bitmain (and its competitors) are willing to spend more for the advanced process technologies coming in 2018 and beyond.

Still, nothing is certain in the world of bitcoin and cryptocurrency. The fickle and volatile market means the profitability of Bitmain’s Antminers could be reduced, lessening the drive to pay more for chips and production. There is clearly an impact from sudden bitcoin value drops (from $20,000 to $6,000 as we see saw this month) on mining hardware sales, both graphics chip-based and ASIC-based, but measuring that and predicting it is a difficult venture.

Source: MarketWatch

NVIDIA Job Posting for Metal and OpenGL Engineer

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 18, 2018 - 02:54 PM |
Tagged: opengl, nvidia, metal, macos, apple

Just two days ago, NVIDIA has published a job posting for a software engineer to “implement and extend 3D graphics and Metal”. Given that they specify the Metal API, and they want applicants who are “Experienced with OSX and/or Linux operating systems”, it seems clear that this job would involve macOS and/or iOS.

First, if this appeals to any of our readers, the job posting is here.

Apple-logo.png

Second, and this is where it gets potentially news-worthy, is that NVIDIA hasn’t really done a whole lot on Apple platforms for a while. The most recent NVIDIA GPU to see macOS is the GeForce GTX 680. It’s entirely possible that NVIDIA needs someone to fill in and maintain those old components. If that’s the case? Business as usual. Nothing to see here.

The other possibility is that NVIDIA might be expecting a design win with Apple. What? Who knows. It could be something as simple as Apple’s external GPU architecture allowing the user to select their own add-in board. Alternatively, Apple could have selected an NVIDIA GPU for one or more product lines, which they have not done since 2013 (as far as I can tell).

Apple typically makes big announcements at WWDC, which is expected in early June, or around the back-to-school season in September. I’m guessing we’ll know by then at the latest if something is in the works.

Source: NVIDIA

Radeon Software Adrenaline Edition 18.2.2 Released

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 14, 2018 - 07:00 PM |
Tagged: amd, graphics drivers

AMD has published a new version of their Radeon Software Adrenaline Edition graphics drivers. This one focuses on Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Fortnite, and PlayerUnknown’s Battleground. The first one, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, is an action RPG from Deep Silver and Warhorse Studios. It is the studio’s first game, although its founders came from 2K and Bohemia Interactive.

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AMD is quoting frame rate increases in the range of ~3-4% with this driver, although PubG can see up to 7% if you compare it with 17.12.1. They don’t seem to list any fixes, although there’s a handful of known issues, like FreeSync coming online during Google Chrome video playback, refreshing incorrectly and causing flicker. There’s also a system hang that could occur when twelve GPUs are performing a compute task. I WONDER WHAT CONDITIONS WOULD CAUSE THAT.

You can pick up the latest driver from AMD’s website.

Source: AMD

Valve Supporting AMD's GPU-Powered TrueAudio Next In Latest Steam Audio Beta

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 7, 2018 - 09:02 PM |
Tagged: VR, trueaudio next, TrueAudio, steam audio, amd

Valve has announced support for AMD's TrueAudio Next technology in its Steam Audio SDK for developers. The partnership will allow game and VR application developers to reserve a portion of a GCN-based GPU's compute units for audio processing and increase the quality and quantity of audio sources as a result. AMD's OpenCL-based TrueAudio Next technology can run CPUs as well but it's strength is in the ability to run on a dedicated portion of the GPU to improve both frame times and audio quality since threads are not competing for the same GPU resources during complex scenes and the GPU can process complex audio scenes and convolutions much more efficiently than a CPU (especially as the number of sources and impulse responses increase) respectively.

AMD True Audio Next In Steam Audio.jpg

Steam Audio's TrueAudio Next integration is being positioned as an option for developers and the answer to increasing the level of immersion in virtual reality games and applications. While TrueAudio Next is not using ray tracing for audio, it is physics-based and can be used to great effect to create realistic scenes with large numbers of direct and indirect audio sources, ambisonics, increased impulse response lengths, echoes, reflections, reverb, frequency equalization, and HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) 3D audio. According to Valve indirect audio from multiple sources with convolution reverb is one of the most computationally intensive parts of Steam Audio, and TAN is able to handle it much more efficiently and accurately without affecting GPU frame times and freeing the CPU up for additional physics and AI tasks which it is much better at anyway. Convolution is a way of modeling and filtering audio to create effects such as echoes and reverb. In the case of indirect audio, Steam Audio uses ray tracing to generate an impulse response (it measures the distance and path audio would travel from source to listener) and then convolution is used to generate a reverb effect which, while very accurate, can be quite computationally intensive with it requiring hundreds of thousands of sound samples. Ambisonics further represent the directional nature of indirect sound which helps to improve positional audio and the immersion factor as sounds are more real-world modeled.

GPU Convolution Performance versus CPU.png

GPU versus CPU convolution (audio filtering) performance. Lower is better.

In addition to the ability of developers to dedicate a portion (up to 20 to 25%) of a GPU's compute units to audio processing, developers can enable/disable TrueAudio processing including the level of acoustic complexity and detail on a scene-by-scene basis. Currently it appears that Unity, FMOD Studio, and C API engines can hook into Steam Audio and the TrueAudio Next features, but it remains up to developers to use the features and integrate them into their games.

Note that GPU-based TrueAudio Next requires a GCN-based graphics card of the RX 470, RX 480, RX 570, RX 580, R9 Fury, R9 Fury X, Radeon Pro Duo, RX Vega 56, and RX Vega 64 variety in order to work, so that is a limiting factor in adoption much like the various hair and facial tech is for AMD and NVIDIA on the visual side of things where the question of is the target market large enough to encourage developers to put in the time and effort to enable X optional feature arises.

I do not pretend to be an audio engineer, nor do I play a GPU programmer on TV but more options are always good and I hope that developers take advantage of the resource reservation and GPU compute convolution algorithms of TrueAudio Next to further the immersion factor of audio as much as they have the visual side of things. As VR continues to become more relevant I think that developers will have to start putting more emphasis on accurate and detailed audio and that's a good thing for an aspect of gaming that has seemingly taken a backseat since Windows Vista. 

What are your thoughts on the state of audio in gaming and Steam Audio's new TrueAudio Next integration?

Also read:

Source: Valve

MSI Launches Radeon RX 580 Armor MK2 Graphics Cards

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 3, 2018 - 05:00 PM |
Tagged: RX 580, msi, GDDR5, factory overclocked, amd, 8gb

MSI is updating its Radeon RX 580 Armor series with a new MK2 variant (in both standard and OC editions) that features an updated cooler with red and black color scheme and a metal backplate along with Torx 2.0 fans.

MSI Radeon RX 580 Armor MK2 OC Graphics Card.png

The graphics card is powered by a single 8-pin PCI-E power connection and has two DisplayPort, two HDMI, and one DVI display output. MSI claims the MK2 cards use its Military Class 4 hardware including high end solid capacitors. The large heatsink features three copper heatpipes and a large aluminum fin stack. It appears that the cards are using the same PCB as the original Armor series but it is not clear from MSI’s site if they have dome anything different to the power delivery.

The RX 580 Polaris GPU is running at a slight factory overclock out of the box with a boost clock of up to 1353 MHz (reference is 1340) for the standard edition and at up to 1366 MHz for the RX 580 Armor MK2 OC Edition. The OC edition can further clock up to 1380 MHz when run in OC mode using the company’s software utility (enthusiasts can attempt to go beyond that but MSi makes no guarantees). Both cards come with 8GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at the reference 8GHz.

MSI did not release pricing or availability but expect them to be difficult to find and for well above MSRP when they are in stock  If you have a physical Microcenter near you, it might be worth watching for one of these cards there to have a chance of getting one closer to MSRP.

Source: MSI