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Introduction, Specifications, and First Impressions
Cooler Master has introduced a pair of new all-in-one liquid CPU cooler designs, with the former Nepton series now replaced by the MasterLiquid Pro 120 and 240. It is the larger of these that we have for you today, and in this review we'll see just how well this new design performs.
“Based on our expertise in thermal technology, we reengineered how liquid absorbs and expels heat throughout the all-in-one (AIO) closed loop of the cooler. Our holistic approach to the flow puts in your hands a comprehensive cooling machine that lasts longer, performs better and requires virtually no maintenance.”
The MasterLiquid Pro 240 uses what Cooler Master is calling “FlowOp Technology”; a series of design choices that are intended to improve all aspects of the cooler's efficiency. It begins with the pump, which “sprays liquid directly at the center of the water block”, and the block, which offers what Cooler Master claims to be 657% more surface area (thanks to many more “ultra-fine fins on the copper base”) and 40% greater performance compared to previous designs.
The radiator features a square fin design, which the company claims “creates greater surface area for absorption of the heat and allows for spacious airflow”.
These claims, along with a pair of Cooler Master’s new “MasterFan Pro Air Balance” fans, make this new design sound very powerful, and I couldn’t wait to get it on the testbench to find out just how powerful - and quiet - it might be.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
The Maximus VIII Formula is the latest board in the ROG (Republic of Gamer) board line, featuring the Armor overlay common to the Formula and Sabertooth boards, integrated RGB LEDs throughout the board's surface, and support for the Intel Z170 chipset. The base board aesthetics feature the ROG standard black and red in an ATX form factor. The board's integrated Intel Z170 chipset gives the board support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Skylake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR4 memory. The Maximus VIII Formula can be found in the wild for an MSRP of $399, making it more expensive than most offerings but justified in light of the integrated features and design quality of the board.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
ASUS integrated the following features into the Maximus VIII Formula board: four SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; one U.2 32Gbps port; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; 2x2 802.11ac WiFI adapter; three PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x1 slots; on-board power, reset, MemOK!, Clear CMOS, and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; LN2 Mode jumper; Aura LED 12V power header; 2-digit Q-Code LED diagnostic display; Q-LED support; ROG SupremeFX 2015 8-Channel audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI video ports; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.
Courtesy of ASUS
The Maximus VIII Formula features an impressive 10 phase digital power system in an 8+2 configuration, providing more than enough power to the CPU/GPU for whatever you choose to throw at it. The power delivery system itself consists of Texas Instruments NexFET MOSFETs, MicroFine alloy chokes, and 10k-rated Japanese-sourced black-metallic capacitors.
Introduction and Features
SilverStone Technology Inc. continues to focus attention on providing compact power supply solutions. Earlier this year we looked at the SilverStone SX700-LPT, which packed 700 watts into an extended SFX chassis. In this review we are going to check out SilverStone’s ST85F-PT, which packs 850W into a compact ATX enclosure. While the typical 850W ATX power supply measures 180mm (7.1”) deep, the Strider Platinum Series 850W unit is housed in a 140mm chassis (5.5”). This results in a power density of 471W per liter.
The Strider Platinum Series now includes four compact models, the ST55F-PT (550W), ST65F-PT (650W), ST75F-PT (750W) and ST85F-PT (850W), which SilverStone claims are the smallest fully modular ATX power supplies with 80 Plus Platinum efficiency. All of the Strider Platinum Series PSUs are designed to provide quiet, reliable operation. The 120mm cooling fan incorporates a Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) and an intelligent fan control permits fanless operation at low power. Overall performance is optimized with tight voltage regulation and low AC ripple on the DC outputs.
SilverStone Strider Platinum Series Key Features:
• 550W, 650W, 750W and 850W DC power output
• Compact design with a depth of only 140mm for easy integration
• High efficiency with 80 Plus Platinum certification
• 100% Modular cables
• Intelligent semi-fanless operation
• Quiet 120mm cooling fan with Fluid Dynamic Bearing
• 24/7 Continuous power output with 40°C operating temperature
• Strict ±3% voltage regulation and low AC ripple
• Dedicated single +12V rail
• Universal AC input (90-264V) with Active PFC
• DC Output protections: UVP, OVP, OPP, SCP, OCP, and OTP
• Dimensions: 150mm (W) x 86mm (H) x 140mm (L)
• 5-Year warranty
• MSRP : $159.99 USD (850W model)
Introduction and Specifications
The Phanteks Enthoo Primo is a massive full-tower case with a monolithic appearance, and a ton of cooling support. It's tall, heavy, and certainly looks every bit the premium enclosure the price tag indicates. So how did it perform? Read on to find out!
We've reviewed other cases in the Enthoo series from Phanteks, and these have been a solid choice in their respective price ranges. The cases we've looked at offer excellent construction, nice appearance, and excellent component support. The Enthoo Primo sits at the top of the lineup, and it looks it; a nearly 26-inch tall case that is nearly as deep, it's so large it even has a second ATX power supply mount (a dual PSU adapter is offered as a separate purchase).
So what market does this Enthoo Primo case serve? It could house any sort of enthusiast or high-end workstation/server setup, supporting EATX and even SSI EEB motherboard form-factors. There's a ridiculous amount of liquid cooling potential, though given its size the average all-in-one cooler will need to stay close to the processor given the length of typical AIO cooler hoses. This thing is begging for a custom watercooling loop (sorry, I didn't oblige in this review).
The Enthoo Primo is fitted with an aluminum faceplate
I don’t think it should come as a surprise that, as the PC gaming market has grown, so has the need for high performance and deeply customizable accessories. Just look at the explosion of companies like Razer, Corsair and SteelSeries, all fairly new entrants into the world of gaming-specific PC keyboards, mice, audio devices and more. Logitech is likely the oldest name in keyboards and mice that many of us know; also, if you have been paying even a semblance of attention recently, you know that the Logitech G brand has been putting the giant back into the mix in regards to those coveted high end PC gaming buyers.
But what about the rest of the community, the growing segment that includes kids, parents and users that were once dedicated console gamer? For many of the people that fall into this category, the idea of paying $150 for a keyboard and $150 for a mouse seems ludicrous, and sometimes it’s hard not to agree with them. To counter, how many of these newer and less experiences gamers are banging away on keyboards that shipped with their computer or with a keyboard and mouse combination that Mom or Dad brought home from the office? There remains a need for a set of gaming peripherals that are both gaming-centric but easy to use and low cost enough to address the mass market.
Logitech’s answer is the Logitech G Prodigy brand of devices. Launching today with two mice (wired and wireless), a keyboard and a headset, the Prodigy collection is meant to be low cost and easy to use, but still offers the key technologies and advantages that higher end hardware has created.
G403 Prodigy Gaming Mouse
Available in both a wired and wireless version, priced at just $69 and $99 respectively, the G403 Prodigy mouse is a step above standard mice for gaming. The shape and feel of the unit are very clearly an iteration of the old Microsoft Intellimouse, which is one of the most, if not THE most popular input devices of the last 20 years. This gives the mouse an instantaneous familiarity to a large number of gamers and hey: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
The G403 has some impressive performance as well, with the same 1ms polling rate as the majority of Logitech G’s gaming mice. Both wired and wireless versions use the PMW3366 optical sensor, of which I am big fan of based on previous reviews and long term usage. This sensor is the same as the one used in the G900, for example, that doesn’t utilize pixel rounding giving gamers the most accurate translation from hand movement to screen without annoying mouse acceleration.
Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging
It's been quite some time since we saw a true client SSD come out of Intel. The last client product to use their legendary 10-channel controller was the SSD 320 (launched in 2011), and even that product had its foot in the enterprise door as it was rated for both client and enterprise usage. The products that followed began life as enterprise parts and were later reworked for consumer usage. The big examples here are the SATA-based SSD 730 (which began life as the SSD DC S3500/3700), and the PCI/NVMe-based SSD 750 (which was born from the SSD DC P3700). The enterprise hardware had little support for reduced power states, which led Intel to market the 730 as a desktop enthusiast part. The 750 had a great NVMe controller, but the 18-channel design and high idle power draw meant no chance for an M.2 form factor version of the same. With the recent addition of low-cost 3D NAND to their production lines, Intel has now made began another push into the consumer space. Their main client SSD of their new line is the 600p, which we will be taking a look at today:
What's new and what's not
While spending time learning about upcoming products and technologies at the Intel Developer Forum earlier this month, I sat down with the company to learn about the release of Kaby Lake, now known as the 7th Generation Core processor family. We have been seeing and reporting on the details of Kaby Lake for quite some time here on PC Perspective – it became a more important topic when we realized that this would be the product that officially killed off the ‘tick-tock’ design philosophy that Intel had implemented years ago and that was responsible for much of the innovation in the CPU space over the last decade.
Today Intel released new information about the 7th Gen CPU family and Kaby Lake. Let’s dive into this topic with a simple and straight forward mindset in how it compares to Skylake.
What is the same
Actually, quite a lot. At its core, the microarchitecture of Kaby Lake is identical to that of Skylake. Instructions per clock (IPC) remain the same with the exception of dedicated hardware changes in the media engine, so you should not expect any performance differences with Kaby Lake except with improved clock speeds we’ll discuss in a bit.
Because of this lack of change many people will look down on the Kaby Lake release as Intel’s attempt to repackage an existing product to make sure it meets a financial market required annual product cadence. It is a valid but arguable criticism, but Intel is making changes in other areas that should make KBL an improvement in the thin and light ecosystem.
Also worth noting is that Intel is still building Kaby Lake on 14nm process technology, the same used on Skylake. The term “same” will be debated as well as Intel claims that improvements made in the process technology over the last 24 months have allowed them to expand clock speeds and improve on efficiency
What is changed
Dubbing this new revision of the process as “14nm+”, Intel tells me that they have improved the fin profile for the 3D transistors as well as channel strain while more tightly integrating the design process with manufacturing. The result is a 12% increase in process performance; that is a sizeable gain in a fairly tight time frame even for Intel.
That process improvement directly results in higher clock speeds for Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake when running at the same target TDPs. In general, we are looking at 300-400 MHz higher peak clock speeds in Turbo Boost situations when compared to similar TDP products in the 6th generation. Sustained clocks will very likely remain voltage / thermally limited but the ability spike up to higher clocks for even short bursts can improve performance and responsiveness of Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake.
In these two examples, Intel compares the 15 watt Core i7-6500U (a common part in currently shipping notebooks) and the upcoming 15 watt Core i7-7500U, both with dual-core HyperThreaded configurations. In SYSmark 2014 a 12% score improvement is measured while WebXPRT shows a 19% advantage. Double digit performance increases are pretty astounding for a new generational jump that does not include a new microarchitecture or a new process technology (more or less) though we should temper expectations for other applications and workload profiles like content creation.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
The Strix X99 Gaming motherboard is the newest product in ASUS Strix product line, bringing a more performance gaming focused board into the ROG (Republic of Gamer) sphere. The board features an armored rear panel and audio components, integrated RGB LEDs throughout the board's surface, and support for the Intel X99 chipset. The board supports all Intel LGA2011-3 based processors paired with DDR4 memory in up to a quad channel configuration. The Maximus VIII Formula can be found in the wild for an MSRP of $399, making it more expensive than most offerings but justified in light of the integrated features and design quality of the board.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
ASUS integrated the following features into the Strix X99 Gaming board: eight SATA 3 ports; one SATA-Express port; one U.2 32Gbps port; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; an Intel I218-V Gigabit NIC; 2x2 802.11ac WiFI adapter; four PCI-Express x16 slots; two PCI-Express x1 slots; on-board power, reset, MemOK!, and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; Aura RGB LED 4-pin power header; RGB Q-Slot support; 2-digit Q-Code LED diagnostic display; Q-LED support; ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel audio subsystem; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.
Introduction and Specifications
Immediately reminiscent of other phablet devices, the Mate 8 from HUAWEI is a characteristically large, thin slab of a smartphone. But under the hood there's quite a departure from the norm, as the SoC powering the device is new to the high-end phone market - no Qualcomm, Samsung, or even MediaTek here.
"The Mate 8 takes the look and feel of the Mate series to a whole new level. Boasting a vivid 6" FHD display, an ultra slim design, a re-designed fingerprint sensor that's faster and more reliable, and a sleek aluminum unibody design, the Mate 8 is sure to impress."
The HiSilicon Kirin 950 powers the Mate 8; an 8-core design comprised of 4x ARM Cortex-A72 cores clocked at up to 2.3 GHz, and 4x ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at up to 1.80 GHz. Memory is 3GB for our sample, with 32GB storage; with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage is also available.
The Mate 8 looks every bit a premium device, and the metal and glass construction of the handset feels solid. It also feels rather light (185g) given its size. But how does it perform? This is an especially interesting question given the unusual silicon in the Mate 8, but the Kirin 950's Cortex-A72 is the most powerful ARM design (at least until the Cortex-A73, announced this summer, finds its way into devices).
In this review we'll explore the overall quality of the HUAWEI Mate 8, and go over usage impressions. And, of course, we'll look at some performance benchmarks to see how this Kirin 950 SoC stacks up against recent Snapdragon and Apple SoCs.
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
Intel launched their Datacenter 'P' Series parts a little over two years ago. Since then, the P3500, P3600, and P3700 lines have seen various expansions and spinoffs. The most recent to date was the P3608, which packed two full P3600's into a single HHHL form factor. With Intel 3D XPoint / Optane parts lurking just around the corner, I had assumed there would be no further branches of the P3xxx line, but Intel had other things in mind. IMFT 3D NAND offers greater die capacities at a reduced cost/GB, apparently even in MLC form, and Intel has infused this flash into their new P3520:
Remember the P3500 series was Intel's lowest end of the P line, and as far as performance goes, the P3520 actually takes a further step back. The play here is to get the proven quality control and reliability of Intel's datacenter parts into a lower cost product. While the P3500 launched at $1.50/GB, the P3520 pushes that cost down *well* below $1/GB for a 2TB HHHL or U.2 SSD.
Specifications and Card Breakdown
The flurry of retail built cards based on NVIDIA's new Pascal GPUs has been hitting us hard at PC Perspective. So much in fact that, coupled with new gaming notebooks, new monitors, new storage and a new church (you should listen to our podcast, really) output has slowed dramatically. How do you write reviews for all of these graphics cards when you don't even know where to start? My answer: blindly pick one and start typing away.
Just after launch day of the GeForce GTX 1060, ASUS sent over the GTX 1060 Turbo 6GB card. Despite the name, the ASUS Turbo line of GTX 10-series graphics cards is the company's most basic, most stock iteration of graphics cards. That isn't necessarily a drawback though - you get reference level performance at the lowest available price and you still get the promises of quality and warranty from ASUS.
With a target MSRP of just $249, does the ASUS GTX 1060 Turbo make the cut for users looking for that perfect mainstream 1080p gaming graphics card? Let's find out.
Clean Sheet and New Focus
It is no secret that AMD has been struggling for some time. The company has had success through the years, but it seems that the last decade has been somewhat bleak in terms of competitive advantages. The company has certainly made an impact in throughout the decades with their 486 products, K6, the original Athlon, and the industry changing Athlon 64. Since that time we have had a couple of bright spots with the Phenom II being far more competitive than expected, and the introduction of very solid graphics performance in their APUs.
Sadly for AMD their investment in the “Bulldozer” architecture was misplaced for where the industry was heading. While we certainly see far more software support for multi-threaded CPUs, IPC is still extremely important for most workloads. The original Bulldozer was somewhat rushed to market and was not fully optimized, while the “Piledriver” based Vishera products fixed many of these issues we have not seen the non-APU products updated to the latest Steamroller and Excavator architectures. The non-APU desktop market has been served for the past four years with 32nm PD-SOI based parts that utilize a rebranded chipset base that has not changed since 2010.
Four years ago AMD decided to change course entirely with their desktop and server CPUs. Instead of evolving the “Bulldozer” style architecture featuring CMT (Core Multi-Threading) they were going to do a clean sheet design that focused on efficiency, IPC, and scalability. While Bulldozer certainly could scale the thread count fairly effectively, the overall performance targets and clockspeeds needed to compete with Intel were just not feasible considering the challenges of process technology. AMD brought back Jim Keller to lead this effort, an industry veteran with a huge amount of experience across multiple architectures. Zen was born.
Hot Chips 28
This year’s Hot Chips is the first deep dive that we have received about the features of the Zen architecture. Mike Clark is taking us through all of the changes and advances that we can expect with the upcoming Zen products.
Zen is a clean sheet design that borrows very little from previous architectures. This is not to say that concepts that worked well in previous architectures were not revisited and optimized, but the overall floorplan has changed dramatically from what we have seen in the past. AMD did not stand still with their Bulldozer products, and the latest Excavator core does improve upon the power consumption and performance of the original. This evolution was simply not enough considering market pressures and Intel’s steady improvement of their core architecture year upon year. Zen was designed to significantly improve IPC and AMD claims that this product has a whopping 40% increase in IPC (instructions per clock) from the latest Excavator core.
AMD also has focused on scaling the Zen architecture from low power envelopes up to server level TDPs. The company looks to have pushed down the top end power envelope of Zen from the 125+ watts of Bulldozer/Vishera into the more acceptable 95 to 100 watt range. This also has allowed them to scale Zen down to the 15 to 25 watt TDP levels without sacrificing performance or overall efficiency. Most architectures have sweet spots where they tend to perform best. Vishera for example could scale nicely from 95 to 220 watts, but the design did not translate well into sub-65 watt envelopes. Excavator based “Carrizo” products on the other hand could scale from 15 watts to 65 watts without real problems, but became terribly inefficient above 65 watts with increased clockspeeds. Zen looks to address these differences by being able to scale from sub-25 watt TDPs up to 95 or 100. In theory this should allow AMD to simplify their product stack by offering a common architecture across multiple platforms.
Why Two 4GB GPUs Isn't Necessarily 8GB
We're trying something new here at PC Perspective. Some topics are fairly difficult to explain cleanly without accompanying images. We also like to go fairly deep into specific topics, so we're hoping that we can provide educational cartoons that explain these issues.
This pilot episode is about load-balancing and memory management in multi-GPU configurations. There seems to be a lot of confusion around what was (and was not) possible with DirectX 11 and OpenGL, and even more confusion about what DirectX 12, Mantle, and Vulkan allow developers to do. It highlights three different load-balancing algorithms, and even briefly mentions what LucidLogix was attempting to accomplish almost ten years ago.
If you like it, and want to see more, please share and support us on Patreon. We're putting this out not knowing if it's popular enough to be sustainable. The best way to see more of this is to share!
Introduction, Specifications, and Design
More than an ordinary pair of headphones, the SINE headphones from Audeze feature planar magnetic drivers, and the option of direct connection to an Apple Lightning port for pure digital sound from the SINE's inline 24-bit DAC and headphone amp. So how does the "world’s first on-ear planar magnetic headphone" sound? We first had a chance to hear the SINE headphones at CES, and Audeze was kind enough to loan us a pair to test them out.
"SINE headphones, with our planar magnetic technology, are the next step up in sound quality for many listeners. Instead of using ordinary dynamic drivers, our planar technology gives you a sound that’s punchy, dynamic, and detailed. In fact, it sounds like a much larger headphone! It’s lightweight, and folds flat for easy travelling. Once again, we’ve called upon our strategic partner Designworks, a BMW group subsidiary for the industrial design, and we manufacture SINE headphones in the USA at our Southern California factory."
Planar headphones certainly seem be be gaining traction in recent years. It was a pair from Audeze that I was first was able to demo a couple of years ago (the LCD-3 if I recall correctly), and I remember thinking about how precise they sounded. Granted, I was listening via a high-end headphone amp and lossless digital source at a hi-fi audio shop, so I had no frame of reference for what my own, lower-end equipment at home could do. And while the SINE headphones are certainly very advanced and convenient as an all-in-one solution to high-end audio for iOS device owners, there’s more to the story.
One the distinct advantages provided by the SINE headphones is the consistency of the experience they can provide across compatible devices. If you hear the SINE in a store (or on the floor of a tradeshow, as I did) you’re going to hear the same sound at home or on the go, provided you are using an Apple i-device. The Lightning connector provides the digital source for your audio, and the SINE’s built-in DAC and headphone amp create the analog signal that travels to the planar magnetic drivers in the headphones. In fact, if your own source material is of higher quality you can get even better sound than you might hear in a demo - and that’s the catch with headphones like this: source material matters.
One of the problems with high-end components in general is their ability to reveal the limitations of other equipment in the chain. Looking past the need for quality amplification for a moment, think about the differences you’ll immediately hear from different music sources. Listen to a highly-compressed audio stream, and it can sound rather flat and lifeless. Listen to uncompressed music from your iTunes library, and you will appreciate the more detailed sound. But move up to 24-bit studio master recordings (with their greater dynamic range and significantly higher level of detail), and you’ll be transported into the world of high-res audio with the speakers, DAC, and headphone amp you need to truly appreciate the difference.
Introduction and Features
Introduction and Features
The new Seasonic PRIME 750W Titanium PSU is simply the best power supply we have tested to date. Sea Sonic Electronics Co., Ltd has been designing and building PC power supplies since 1981 and they are one of the most highly respected manufacturers on the planet. Not only do they market power supplies under their own Seasonic name but they are the OEM for many other big name brands.
Seasonic’s new PRIME lineup is being introduced with the Titanium Series, which currently includes three models: 850W, 750W, and 650W (with more to follow). Additional PRIME models with both Platinum and Gold efficiency certifications are expected later this year with models ranging from 850W up to 1200W. Wow – we are already looking forward to getting our hands on a couple of these!
The power supply we have in for review is the PRIME 750W Titanium. This unit comes with all modular cables and is certified to comply with the 80 Plus Titanium efficiency criteria; the highest available. The power supply is designed to deliver extremely tight voltage regulation on the three primary rails (+3.3V, +5V and +12V) and provides superior AC ripple and noise suppression. Add in a super-quiet 135mm cooling fan with a Fluid Dynamic Bearing and a 10-year warranty, and you have the makings for an outstanding power supply.
Seasonic PRIME 750W Titanium PSU Key Features:
• 650W, 750W or 850W continuous DC output
• Ultra-high efficiency, 80 PLUS Titanium certified
• Micro-Tolerance Load Regulation (MTLR)
• Top-quality 135mm Fluid Dynamic Bearing fan
• Premium Hybrid Fan Control (allows fanless operation at low power)
• Superior AC ripple and noise suppression (under 20 mV)
• Extended Hold-up time (above 30 ms)
• Fully modular cabling design
• Multi-GPU technologies supported
• Gold-plated high-current terminals
• Protections: OPP,OVP,UVP,SCP,OCP and OTP
• 10-Year Manufacturer’s warranty
• MSRP for the PRIME 750W Titanium is $179.90 USD
Gunning for Broadwell-E
As I walked away from the St. Regis in downtown San Francisco tonight, I found myself wandering through the streets towards my hotel with something unique in tow. It was a smile. I was smiling, thinking about what AMD had just demonstrated and showed at its latest Zen processor reveal. The importance of this product launch can literally not be overstated for a company struggling to find a foothold to hang on to in a market that it once had a definitive lead. It’s been many years since I left a conference call, or a meeting, or a press conference feeling genuinely hopefully and enthusiastic about what AMD has shown me. Tonight I had that.
AMD’s CEO Lisa Su, and CTO Mark Papermaster, took stage down the street from the Intel Developer Forum to roll out a handful of new architectural details about the Zen architecture while also showing the first performance results comparing it to competing parts from Intel. The crowd in attendance, a mix of media and analysts, were impressed. The feeling was palpable in the room.
It’s late as I write this, and while there are some interesting architecture details to discuss, I think it is in everyone’s best interest that we touch on them lightly for now, and instead refocus on the deep-dive once the Hot Chips information comes out early next week. What you really want to know is clear: can Zen make Intel work again? Can Zen make that $1700 price tag on the Broadwell-E 6950X seem even more ludicrous? Yes.
The Zen Architecture
Much of what was discussed from the Zen architecture is a re-release of what has been out in recent months. This is a completely new, from the ground up, microarchitecture and not a revamp of the aging Bulldozer design. It integrated SMT (simultaneous multi-threading), a first for an AMD CPU, to better take efficient advantage of a longer pipeline. Intel has had HyperThreading for a long time now and AMD is finally joining the fold. A high bandwidth and low latency caching system is used to “feed the beast” as Papermaster put it and utilizing 14nm process technology (starting at Global Foundries) gives efficiency, and scaling a significant bump while enabling AMD to scale from notebooks to desktops to servers with the same architecture.
By far the most impressive claim from AMD thus far was that of a 40% increase in IPC over previous AMD designs. That’s a HUGE claim and is key to the success or failure of Zen. AMD proved to me today that the claims are real and that we will see the immediate impact of that architecture bump from day one.
Press was told of a handful of high level changes to the new architecture as well. Branch prediction gets a complete overhaul. This marks the first AMD processor to have a micro-op cache. Wider execution width with broader instruction schedulers are integrated, all of which adds up to much higher instruction level parallelism to improve single threaded performance.
Performance improvements aside, throughput and efficiency go up with Zen as well. AMD has integrated an 8MB L3 cache and improved prefetching for up 5x the cache bandwidth available per core on the CPU. SMT makes sure the pipeline stays full to prevent “bubbles” that introduce latency and lower efficiency while region-specific power gating means that we’ll see Zen in notebooks as well as enterprise servers in 2017. It truly is an impressive design from AMD.
Summit Ridge, the enthusiast platform that will be the first product available with Zen, is based on the AM4 platform and processors will go up to 8-cores and 16-threads. DDR4 memory support is included, PCI Express 3.0 and what AMD calls “next-gen” IO – I would expect a quick leap forward for AMD to catch up on things like NVMe and Thunderbolt.
The Real Deal – Zen Performance
As part of today’s reveal, AMD is showing the first true comparison between Zen and Intel processors. Sure, AMD showed a Zen-powered system running the upcoming Deus Ex running at 4K with a system powered by the Fury X, but the really impressive results where shown when comparing Zen to a Broadwell-E platform.
Using Blender to measure the performance of a rendering workload (a Zen CPU mockup of course), AMD ran an 8-core / 16-thread Zen processor at 3.0 GHz against an 8-core / 16-thread Broadwell-E processor at 3.0 GHz (likely a fixed clocked Core i7-6900K). The point of the demonstration was to showcase the IPC improvements of Zen and it worked: the render completed on the Zen platform a second or two faster than it did on the Intel Broadwell-E system.
Not much to look at, but Zen on the left, Broadwell-E on the right...
Of course there are lots of caveats: we didn’t setup the systems, I don’t know for sure that GPUs weren’t involved, we don’t know the final clocks of the Zen processors releasing in early 2017, etc. But I took two things away from the demonstration that are very important.
- The IPC of Zen is on-par or better than Broadwell.
- Zen will scale higher than 3.0 GHz in 8-core configurations.
AMD obviously didn’t state what specific SKUs were going to launch with the Zen architecture, what clock speeds they would run at, or even what TDPs they were targeting. Instead we were left with a vague but understandable remark of “comparable TDPs to Broadwell-E”.
Pricing? Overclocking? We’ll just have to wait a bit longer for that kind of information.
There is clearly a lot more for AMD to share about Zen but the announcement and showcase made this week with the early prototype products have solidified for me the capability and promise of this new microarchitecture. We have asked for, and needed, as an industry, a competitor to Intel in the enthusiast CPU space – something we haven’t legitimately had since the Athlon X2 days. Zen is what we have been pining over, what gamers and consumers have needed.
AMD’s processor stars might finally be aligning for a product that combines performance, efficiency and scalability at the right time. I’m ready for it –are you?
It always feels a little odd when covering NVIDIA’s quarterly earnings due to how they present their financial calendar. No, we are not reporting from the future. Yes, it can be confusing when comparing results and getting your dates mixed up. Regardless of the date before the earnings, NVIDIA did exceptionally well in a quarter that is typically the second weakest after Q1.
NVIDIA reported revenue of $1.43 billion. This is a jump from an already strong Q1 where they took in $1.30 billion. Compare this to the $1.027 billion of its competitor AMD who also provides CPUs as well as GPUs. NVIDIA sold a lot of GPUs as well as other products. Their primary money makers were the consumer space GPUs and the professional and compute markets where they have a virtual stranglehold on at the moment. The company’s GAAP net income is a very respectable $253 million.
The release of the latest Pascal based GPUs were the primary mover for the gains for this latest quarter. AMD has had a hard time competing with NVIDIA for marketshare. The older Maxwell based chips performed well against the entire line of AMD offerings and typically did so with better power and heat characteristics. Even though the GTX 970 was somewhat limited in its memory configuration as compared to the AMD products (3.5 GB + .5 GB vs. a full 4 GB implementation) it was a top seller in its class. The same could be said for the products up and down the stack.
Pascal was released at the end of May, but the company had been shipping chips to its partners as well as creating the “Founder’s Edition” models to its exacting specifications. These were strong sellers throughout the end of May until the end of the quarter. NVIDIA recently unveiled their latest Pascal based Quadro cards, but we do not know how much of an impact those have had on this quarter. NVIDIA has also been shipping, in very limited quantities, the Tesla P100 based units to select customers and outfits.
Is Enterprise Ascending Outside of Consumer Viability?
So a couple of weeks have gone by since the Quadro P6000 (update: was announced) and the new Titan X launched. With them, we received a new chip: GP102. Since Fermi, NVIDIA has labeled their GPU designs with a G, followed by a single letter for the architecture (F, K, M, or P for Fermi, Kepler, Maxwell, and Pascal, respectively), which is then followed by a three digit number. The last digit is the most relevant one, however, as it separates designs by their intended size.
Typically, 0 corresponds to a ~550-600mm2 design, which is about as larger of a design that fabrication labs can create without error-prone techniques, like
multiple exposures (update for clarity: trying to precisely overlap multiple designs to form a larger integrated circuit). 4 corresponds to ~300mm2, although GM204 was pretty large at 398mm2, which was likely to increase the core count while remaining on a 28nm process. Higher numbers, like 6 or 7, fill back the lower-end SKUs until NVIDIA essentially stops caring for that generation. So when we moved to Pascal, jumping two whole process nodes, NVIDIA looked at their wristwatches and said “about time to make another 300mm2 part, I guess?”
The GTX 1080 and the GTX 1070 (GP104, 314mm2) were born.
NVIDIA already announced a 600mm2 part, though. The GP100 had 3840 CUDA cores, HBM2 memory, and an ideal ratio of 1:2:4 between FP64:FP32:FP16 performance. (A 64-bit chunk of memory can store one 64-bit value, two 32-bit values, or four 16-bit values, unless the register is attached to logic circuits that, while smaller, don't know how to operate on the data.) This increased ratio, even over Kepler's 1:6 FP64:FP32, is great for GPU compute, but wasted die area for today's (and tomorrow's) games. I'm predicting that it takes the wind out of Intel's sales, as Xeon Phi's 1:2 FP64:FP32 performance ratio is one of its major selling points, leading to its inclusion in many supercomputers.
Despite the HBM2 memory controller supposedly being actually smaller than GDDR5(X), NVIDIA could still save die space while still providing 3840 CUDA cores (despite disabling a few on Titan X). The trade-off is that FP64 and FP16 performance had to decrease dramatically, from 1:2 and 2:1 relative to FP32, all the way down to 1:32 and 1:64. This new design comes in at 471mm2, although it's $200 more expensive than what the 600mm2 products, GK110 and GM200, launched at. Smaller dies provide more products per wafer, and, better, the number of defective chips should be relatively constant.
Anyway, that aside, it puts NVIDIA in an interesting position. Splitting the xx0-class chip into xx0 and xx2 designs allows NVIDIA to lower the cost of their high-end gaming parts, although it cuts out hobbyists who buy a Titan for double-precision compute. More interestingly, it leaves around 150mm2 for AMD to sneak in a design that's FP32-centric, leaving them a potential performance crown.
Image Credit: ExtremeTech
On the other hand, as fabrication node changes are becoming less frequent, it's possible that NVIDIA could be leaving itself room for Volta, too. Last month, it was rumored that NVIDIA would release two architectures at 16nm, in the same way that Maxwell shared 28nm with Kepler. In this case, Volta, on top of whatever other architectural advancements NVIDIA rolls into that design, can also grow a little in size. At that time, TSMC would have better yields, making a 600mm2 design less costly in terms of waste and recovery.
If this is the case, we could see the GPGPU folks receiving a new architecture once every second gaming (and professional graphics) architecture. That is, unless you are a hobbyist. If you are? I would need to be wrong, or NVIDIA would need to somehow bring their enterprise SKU into an affordable price point. The xx0 class seems to have been pushed up and out of viability for consumers.
Or, again, I could just be wrong.
A Watershed Moment in Mobile
This previous May I was invited to Austin to be briefed on the latest core innovations from ARM and their partners. We were introduced to new CPU and GPU cores, as well as the surrounding technologies that provide the basis of a modern SOC in the ARM family. We also were treated to more information about the process technologies that ARM would embrace with their Artisan and POP programs. ARM is certainly far more aggressive now in their designs and partnerships than they have been in the past, or at least they are more willing to openly talk about them to the press.
The big process news that ARM was able to share at this time was the design of 10nm parts using an upcoming TSMC process node. This was fairly big news as TSMC was still introducing parts on their latest 16nm FF+ line. NVIDIA had not even released their first 16FF+ parts to the world in early May. Apple had dual sourced their 14/16 nm parts from Samsung and TSMC respectively, but these were based on LPE and FF lines (early nodes not yet optimized to LPP/FF+). So the news that TSMC would have a working 10nm process in 2017 was important to many people. 2016 might be a year with some good performance and efficiency jumps, but it seems that 2017 would provide another big leap forward after years of seeming stagnation of pure play foundry technology at 28nm.
Yesterday we received a new announcement from ARM that shows an amazing shift in thought and industry inertia. ARM is partnering with Intel to introduce select products on Intel’s upcoming 10nm foundry process. This news is both surprising and expected. It is surprising in that it happened as quickly as it did. It is expected as Intel is facing a very different world than it had planned for 10 years ago. We could argue that it is much different than they planned for 5 years ago.
Intel is the undisputed leader in process technologies and foundry practices. They are the gold standard of developing new, cutting edge process nodes and implementing them on a vast scale. This has served them well through the years as they could provide product to their customers seemingly on demand. It also allowed them a leg up in technology when their designs may not have fit what the industry wanted or needed (Pentium 4, etc.). It also allowed them to potentially compete in the mobile market with designs that were not entirely suited for ultra-low power. x86 is a modern processor technology with decades of development behind it, but that development focused mainly on performance at higher TDP ranges.
This past year Intel signaled their intent to move out of the sub 5 watt market and cede it to ARM and their partners. Intel’s ultra mobile offerings just did not make an impact in an area that they were expected to. For all of Intel’s advances in process technology, the base ARM architecture is just better suited to these power envelopes. Instead of throwing good money after bad (in the form of development time, wafer starts, rebates) Intel has stepped away from this market.
This leaves Intel with a problem. What to do with extra production capacity? Running a fab is a very expensive endeavor. If these megafabs are not producing chips 24/7, then the company is losing money. This past year Intel has seen their fair share of layoffs and slowing down production/conversion of fabs. The money spent on developing new, cutting edge process technologies cannot stop for the company if they want to keep their dominant position in the CPU industry. Some years back they opened up their process products to select 3rd party companies to help fill in the gaps of production. Right now Intel has far more production line space than they need for the current market demands. Yes, there were delays in their latest Skylake based processors, but those were solved and Intel is full steam ahead. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be keeping their fabs utilized at the level needed or desired. The only real option seems to be opening up some fab space to more potential customers in a market that they are no longer competing directly in.
The Intel Custom Foundry Group is working with ARM to provide access to their 10nm HPM process node. Initial production of these latest generation designs will commence in Q1 2017 with full scale production in Q4 2017. We do not have exact information as to what cores will be used, but we can imagine that they will be Cortex-A73 and A53 parts in big.LITTLE designs. Mali graphics will probably be the first to be offered on this advanced node as well due to the Artisan/POP program. Initial customers have not been disclosed and we likely will not hear about them until early 2017.
This is a big step for Intel. It is also a logical progression for them when we look over the changing market conditions of the past few years. They were unable to adequately compete in the handheld/mobile market with their x86 designs, but they still wanted to profit off of this ever expanding area. The logical way to monetize this market is to make the chips for those that are successfully competing here. This will cut into Intel’s margins, but it should increase their overall revenue base if they are successful here. There is no reason to believe that they won’t be.
The last question we have is if the 10nm HPM node will be identical to what Intel will use for their next generation “Cannonlake” products. My best guess is that the foundry process will be slightly different and will not provide some of the “secret sauce” that Intel will keep for themselves. It will probably be a mobile focused process node that stresses efficiency rather than transistor switching speed. I could be very wrong here, but I don’t believe that Intel will open up their process to everyone that comes to them hat in hand (AMD).
The partnership between ARM and Intel is a very interesting one that will benefit customers around the globe if it is handled correctly from both sides. Intel has a “not invented here” culture that has both benefited it and caused it much grief. Perhaps some flexibility on the foundry side will reap benefits of its own when dealing with very different designs than Intel is used to. This is a titanic move from where Intel probably thought it would be when it first started to pursue the ultra-mobile market, but it is a move that shows the giant can still positively react to industry trends.
Take your Pascal on the go
Easily the strongest growth segment in PC hardware today is in the adoption of gaming notebooks. Ask companies like MSI and ASUS, even Gigabyte, as they now make more models and sell more units of notebooks with a dedicated GPU than ever before. Both AMD and NVIDIA agree on this point and it’s something that AMD was adamant in discussing during the launch of the Polaris architecture.
Both AMD and NVIDIA predict massive annual growth in this market – somewhere on the order of 25-30%. For an overall culture that continues to believe the PC is dying, seeing projected growth this strong in any segment is not only amazing, but welcome to those of us that depend on it. AMD and NVIDIA have different goals here: GeForce products already have 90-95% market share in discrete gaming notebooks. In order for NVIDIA to see growth in sales, the total market needs to grow. For AMD, simply taking back a portion of those users and design wins would help its bottom line.
But despite AMD’s early talk about getting Polaris 10 and 11 in mobile platforms, it’s NVIDIA again striking first. Gaming notebooks with Pascal GPUs in them will be available today, from nearly every system vendor you would consider buying from: ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Alienware, Razer, etc. NVIDIA claims to have quicker adoption of this product family in notebooks than in any previous generation. That’s great news for NVIDIA, but might leave AMD looking in from the outside yet again.
Technologically speaking though, this makes sense. Despite the improvement that Polaris made on the GCN architecture, Pascal is still more powerful and more power efficient than anything AMD has been able to product. Looking solely at performance per watt, which is really the defining trait of mobile designs, Pascal is as dominant over Polaris as Maxwell was to Fiji. And this time around NVIDIA isn’t messing with cut back parts that have brand changes – GeForce is diving directly into gaming notebooks in a way we have only seen with one release.
The ASUS G752VS OC Edition with GTX 1070
Do you remember our initial look at the mobile variant of the GeForce GTX 980? Not the GTX 980M mind you, the full GM204 operating in notebooks. That was basically a dry run for what we see today: NVIDIA will be releasing the GeForce GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 to notebooks.