Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

The right angle

While many in the media and enthusiast communities are still trying to fully grasp the importance and impact of the recent AMD Ryzen 7 processor release, I have been trying to complete my review of the 1700X and 1700 processors, in between testing the upcoming GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and preparing for more hardware to show up at the offices very soon. There is still much to learn and understand about the first new architecture from AMD in nearly a decade, including analysis of the memory hierarchy, power consumption, overclocking, gaming performance, etc.

During my Ryzen 7 1700 testing, I went through some overclocking evaluation and thought the results might be worth sharing earlier than later. This quick article is just a preview of what we are working on so don’t expect to find the answers to Ryzen power management here, only a recounting of how I was able to get stellar performance from the lowest priced Ryzen part on the market today.

The system specifications for this overclocking test were identical to our original Ryzen 7 processor review.

Test System Setup
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
AMD Ryzen 7 1700X
AMD Ryzen 7 1700
Intel Core i7-7700K
Intel Core i5-7600K
Intel Core i7-6700K
Intel Core i7-6950X
Intel Core i7-6900K
Intel Core i7-6800K
Motherboard ASUS Crosshair VI Hero (Ryzen)
ASUS Prime Z270-A (Kaby Lake, Skylake)
ASUS X99-Deluxe II (Broadwell-E)
Memory 16GB DDR4-2400
Storage Corsair Force GS 240 SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Graphics Drivers NVIDIA 378.49
Power Supply Corsair HX1000
Operating System Windows 10 Pro x64

Of note is that I am still utilizing the Noctua U12S cooler that AMD provided for our initial testing – all of the overclocking and temperature reporting in this story is air cooled.

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First, let’s start with the motherboard. All of this testing was done on the ASUS Crosshair VI Hero with the latest 5704 BIOS installed. As I began to discover the different overclocking capabilities (BCLK adjustment, multipliers, voltage) I came across one of the ASUS presets. These presets offer pre-defined collections of settings that ASUS feels will offer simple overclocking capabilities. An option for higher BCLK existed but the one that caught my eye was straight forward – 4.0 GHz.

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With the Ryzen 1700 installed, I thought I would give it a shot. Keep in mind that this processor has a base clock of 3.0 GHz, a rated maximum boost clock of 3.7 GHz, and is the only 65-watt TDP variant of the three Ryzen 7 processors released last week. Because of that, I didn’t expect the overclocking capability for it to match what the 1700X and 1800X could offer. Based on previous processor experience, when a chip is binned at a lower power draw than the rest of a family it will often have properties that make it disadvantageous for running at HIGHER power. Based on my results here, that doesn’t seem to the case.

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By simply enabling that option in the ASUS UEFI and rebooting, our Ryzen 1700 processor was running at 4.0 GHz on all cores! For this piece, I won’t be going into the drudge and debate on what settings ASUS changed to get to this setting or if the voltages are overly aggressive – the point is that it just works out of the box.

Continue reading our look at overclocking the new Ryzen 7 1700 processor!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech

Introduction and Specifications

The G533 Wireless headset is the latest offering from Logitech, combining the company’s premium Pro-G drivers, 15-hour battery life, and a new, more functional style. Obvious comparisons can be made to last year’s G933 Artemis Spectrum, since both are wireless headsets using Logitech’s Pro-G drivers; but this new model comes in at a lower price while offering much of the same functionality (while dropping the lighting effects). So does the new headset sound any different? What about the construction? Read on to find out!

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The G533 exists alongside the G933 Artemis Spectrum in Logitech’s current lineup, but it takes most of the features from that high-end wireless model, while paring it down to create a lean, mean option for gamers who don’t need (or want) RGB lighting effects. The 40 mm Pro-G drivers are still here, and the new G533 offers a longer battery life (15 hours) than the G933 could manage, even with its lighting effects disabled (12 hours). 7.1-channel surround effects and full EQ and soundfield customization remain, though only DTS effects are present (no Dolby this time).

What do these changes translate to? First of all, the G533 headset is being introduced with a $149 MSRP, which is $50 lower than the G933 Artemis Spectrum at $199. I think many of our readers would trade RGB effects for lower cost, making this a welcome change (especially considering lighting effects don’t really mean much when you are wearing the headphones).Another difference is the overall weight of the headset at 12.5 oz, which is 0.5 oz lighter than the G933 at 13 oz.

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Continue reading our review of the Logitech G533 Wireless 7.1 Surround Gaming Headset!

Author:
Manufacturer: Riotoro

Introduction and Features

Introduction

Riotoro is a new player in the already crowded PC power supply market. Formed in 2014 and based in California, Riotoro originally started their PC hardware business with a focus on cases, mice, and LED fans targeted towards the gaming community. Now they are expanding their product offerings to include two new power supply lines, the Enigma and Onyx Series, along with two liquid CPU coolers and several RGB gaming keyboards. We will be taking a detailed look at Riotoro’s new Enigma 850W power supply in this review.

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Riotoro announced the introduction of the three power supplies at Computex 2016: the Enigma 850W, Onyx 750W, and Onyx 650W. All three power supplies were developed in partnership with Great Wall and are based on new platforms designed to hit the sweet spot for practical real-world performance, reliability, and price. The Onyx line will initially be available in 650W and 750W models. The more up scale Enigma line will kick off with the 850W model.

The Riotoro Enigma 850W power supply is certified to comply with the 80 Plus Gold criteria for high efficiency, comes with semi-modular cables, and uses a quiet 140mm variable speed fan for cooling.

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Riotoro Enigma 850W PSU Key Features:

•    850W Continuous DC output at up to 40°C
•    80 PLUS Gold certified for high efficiency
•    Semi-modular cables
•    Quiet 140mm cooling fan
•    Japanese made bulk (electrolytic) capacitors
•    Compatible with Intel and AMD processors and motherboards
•    Active Power Factor correction with Universal AC input (100 to 240 VAC)
•    Safety protections: OVP, UVP, OCP, OPP, and SCP
•    5-Year warranty
•    MSRP: $119.99 USD

Please continue reading our review of the Riotoro Enigma 850W PSU!!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Ryzen 7 Processor Specifications

It’s finally here and its finally time to talk about. The AMD Ryzen processor is being released onto the world and based on the buildup of excitement over the last week or so since pre-orders began, details on just how Ryzen performs relative to Intel’s mainstream and enthusiast processors are a hot commodity. While leaks have been surfacing for months and details seem to be streaming out from those not bound to the same restrictions we have been, I think you are going to find our analysis of the Ryzen 7 1800X processor to be quite interesting and maybe a little different as well.

Honestly, there isn’t much that has been left to the imagination about Ryzen, its chipsets, pricing, etc. with the slow trickle of information that AMD has been sending out since before CES in January. We know about the specifications, we know about the architecture, we know about the positioning; and while I will definitely recap most of that information here, the real focus is going to be on raw numbers. Benchmarks are what we are targeting with today’s story.

Let’s dive right in.

The Zen Architecture – Foundation for Ryzen

Actually, as it turns out, in typical Josh Walrath fashion, he wrote too much about the AMD Zen architecture to fit into this page. So, instead, you'll find his complete analysis of AMD's new baby right here: AMD Zen Architecture Overview: Focus on Ryzen

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AMD Ryzen 7 Processor Specifications

Though we have already detailed the most important specifications for the new AMD Ryzen processors when the preorders went live, its worth touching on them again and reemphasizing the important ones.

  Ryzen 7 1800X Ryzen 7 1700X Ryzen 7 1700 Core i7-6900K Core i7-6800K Core i7-7700K Core i5-7600K Core i7-6700K
Architecture Zen Zen Zen Broadwell-E Broadwell-E Kaby Lake Kaby Lake Skylake
Process Tech 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm
Cores/Threads 8/16 8/16 8/16 8/16 6/12 4/8 4/4 4/8
Base Clock 3.6 GHz 3.4 GHz 3.0 GHz 3.2 GHz 3.4 GHz 4.2 GHz 3.8 GHz 4.0 GHz
Turbo/Boost Clock 4.0 GHz 3.8  GHz 3.7 GHz 3.7 GHz 3.6 GHz 4.5 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.2 GHz
Cache 20MB 20MB 20MB 20MB 15MB 8MB 8MB 8MB
Memory Support DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
DDR4-2400
Quad Channel
DDR4-2400
Quad Channel
DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
DDR4-2400
Dual Channel
TDP 95 watts 95 watts 65 watts 140 watts 140 watts 91 watts 91 watts 91 watts
Price $499 $399 $329 $1050 $450 $350 $239 $309

All three of the currently announced Ryzen processors are 8-core, 16-thread designs, matching the Core i7-6900K from Intel in that regard. Though Intel does have a 10-core part branded for consumers, it comes in at a significantly higher price point (over $1500 still). The clock speeds of Ryzen are competitive with the Broadwell-E platform options though are clearly behind the curve when it comes the clock capabilities of Kaby Lake and Skylake. With admittedly lower IPC than Kaby Lake, Zen will struggle in any purely single threaded workload with as much as 500 MHz deficit in clock rate.

One interesting deviation from Intel's designs that Ryzen gets is a more granular boost capability. AMD Ryzen CPUs will be able move between processor states in 25 MHz increments while Intel is currently limited to 100 MHz. If implemented correctly and effectively through SenseMI, this allows Ryzen to get 25-75 MHz of additional performance in a scenario where it was too thermally constrainted to hit the next 100 MHz step. 

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XFR (Extended Frequency Range), supported on the Ryzen 7 1800X and 1700X (hence the "X"), "lifts the maximum Precision Boost frequency beyond ordinary limits in the presence of premium systems and processor cooling." The story goes, that if you have better than average cooling, the 1800X will be able to scale up to 4.1 GHz in some instances for some undetermined amount of time. The better the cooling, the longer it can operate in XFR. While this was originally pitched to us as a game-changing feature that bring extreme advantages to water cooling enthusiasts, it seems it was scaled back for the initial release. Only getting 100 MHz performance increase, in the best case result, seems a bit more like technology for technology's sake rather than offering new capabilities for consumers.

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Ryzen integrates a dual channel DDR4 memory controller with speeds up to 2400 MHz, matching what Intel can do on Kaby Lake. Broadwell-E has the advantage with a quad-channel controller but how useful that ends of being will be interesting to see as we step through our performance testing.

One area of interest is the TDP ratings. AMD and Intel have very different views on how this is calculated. Intel has made this the maximum power draw of the processor while AMD sees it as a target for thermal dissipation over time. This means that under stock settings the Core i7-7700K will not draw more than 91 watts and the Core i7-6900K will not draw more than 140 watts. And in our testing, they are well under those ratings most of the time, whenever AVX code is not being operated. AMD’s 95-watt rating on the Ryzen 1800X though will very often be exceed, and our power testing proves that out. The logic is that a cooler with a 95-watt rating and the behavior of thermal propagation give the cooling system time to catch up. (Interestingly, this is the philosophy Intel has taken with its Kaby Lake mobile processors.)

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Obviously the most important line here for many of you is the price. The Core i7-6900K is the lowest priced 8C/16T option from Intel for consumers at $1050. The Ryzen R7 1800X has a sticker price less than half of that, at $499. The R7 1700X vs Core i7-6800K match is interesting as well, where the AMD CPU will sell for $399 versus $450 for the 6800K. However, the 6800K only has 6-cores and 12-threads, giving the Ryzen part an instead 25% boost in multi-threaded performance. The 7700K and R7 1700 battle will be interesting as well, with a 4-core difference in capability and a $30 price advantage to AMD.

Continue reading our review of the new AMD Ryzen 7 1800X processor!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

What Makes Ryzen Tick

We have been exposed to details about the Zen architecture for the past several Hot Chips conventions as well as other points of information directly from AMD.  Zen was a clean sheet design that borrowed some of the best features from the Bulldozer and Jaguar architectures, as well as integrating many new ideas that had not been executed in AMD processors before.  The fusion of ideas from higher performance cores, lower power cores, and experience gained in APU/GPU design have all come together in a very impressive package that is the Ryzen CPU.

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It is well known that AMD brought back Jim Keller to head the CPU group after the slow downward spiral that AMD entered in CPU design.  While the Athlon 64 was a tremendous part for the time, the subsequent CPUs being offered by the company did not retain that leadership position.  The original Phenom had problems right off the bat and could not compete well with Intel’s latest dual and quad cores.  The Phenom II shored up their position a bit, but in the end could not keep pace with the products that Intel continued to introduce with their newly minted “tic-toc” cycle.  Bulldozer had issues  out of the gate and did not have performance numbers that were significantly greater than the previous generation “Thuban” 6 core Phenom II product, much less the latest Intel Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge products that it would compete with.

AMD attempted to stop the bleeding by iterating and evolving the Bulldozer architecture with Piledriver, Steamroller, and Excavator.  The final products based on this design arc seemed to do fine for the markets they were aimed at, but certainly did not regain any marketshare with AMD’s shrinking desktop numbers.  No matter what AMD did, the base architecture just could not overcome some of the basic properties that impeded strong IPC performance.

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The primary goal of this new architecture is to increase IPC to a level consistent to what Intel has to offer.  AMD aimed to increase IPC per clock by at least 40% over the previous Excavator core.  This is a pretty aggressive goal considering where AMD was with the Bulldozer architecture that was focused on good multi-threaded performance and high clock speeds.  AMD claims that it has in fact increased IPC by an impressive 54% from the previous Excavator based core.  Not only has AMD seemingly hit its performance goals, but it exceeded them.  AMD also plans on using the Zen architecture to power products from mobile products to the highest TDP parts offered.

 

The Zen Core

The basis for Ryzen are the CCX modules.  These modules contain four Zen cores along with 8 MB of shared L3 cache.  Each core has 64 KB of L1 I-cache and 32 KB of D-cache.  There is a total of 512 KB of L2 cache.  These caches are inclusive.  The L3 cache acts as a victim cache which partially copies what is in L1 and L2 caches.  AMD has improved the performance of their caches to a very large degree as compared to previous architectures.  The arrangement here allows the individual cores to quickly snoop any changes in the caches of the others for shared workloads.  So if a cache line is changed on one core, other cores requiring that data can quickly snoop into the shared L3 and read it.  Doing this allows the CPU doing the actual work to not be interrupted by cache read requests from other cores.

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l2_cache.png

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Each core can handle two threads, but unlike Bulldozer has a single integer core.  Bulldozer modules featured two integer units and a shared FPU/SIMD.  Zen gets rid of CMT for good and we have a single integer and FPU units for each core.  The core can address two threads by utilizing AMD’s version of SMT (symmetric multi-threading).  There is a primary thread that gets higher priority while the second thread has to wait until resources are freed up.  This works far better in the real world than in how I explained it as resources are constantly being shuffled about and the primary thread will not monopolize all resources within the core.

Click here to read more about AMD's Zen architecture in Ryzen!

Linked Multi-GPU Arrives... for Developers

The Khronos Group has released the Vulkan 1.0.42.0 specification, which includes experimental (more on that in a couple of paragraphs) support for VR enhancements, sharing resources between processes, and linking similar GPUs. This spec was released alongside a LunarG SDK and NVIDIA drivers, which are intended for developers, not gamers, that fully implement these extensions.

I would expect that the most interesting feature is experimental support for linking similar GPUs together, similar to DirectX 12’s Explicit Linked Multiadapter, which Vulkan calls a “Device Group”. The idea is that the physical GPUs hidden behind this layer can do things like share resources, such as rendering a texture on one GPU and consuming it in another, without the host code being involved. I’m guessing that some studios, like maybe Oxide Games, will decide to not use this feature. While it’s not explicitly stated, I cannot see how this (or DirectX 12’s Explicit Linked mode) would be compatible in cross-vendor modes. Unless I’m mistaken, that would require AMD, NVIDIA, and/or Intel restructuring their drivers to inter-operate at this level. Still, the assumptions that could be made with grouped devices are apparently popular with enough developers for both the Khronos Group and Microsoft to bother.

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A slide from Microsoft's DirectX 12 reveal, long ago.

As for the “experimental” comment that I made in the introduction... I was expecting to see this news around SIGGRAPH, which occurs in late-July / early-August, alongside a minor version bump (to Vulkan 1.1).

I might still be right, though.

The major new features of Vulkan 1.0.42.0 are implemented as a new classification of extensions: KHX. In the past, vendors, like NVIDIA and AMD, would add new features as vendor-prefixed extensions. Games could query the graphics driver for these abilities, and enable them if available. If these features became popular enough for multiple vendors to have their own implementation of it, a committee would consider an EXT extension. This would behave the same across all implementations (give or take) but not be officially adopted by the Khronos Group. If they did take it under their wing, it would be given a KHR extension (or added as a required feature).

The Khronos Group has added a new layer: KHX. This level of extension sits below KHR, and is not intended for production code. You might see where this is headed. The VR multiview, multi-GPU, and cross-process extensions are not supposed to be used in released video games until they leave KHX status. Unlike a vendor extension, the Khronos Group wants old KHX standards to drop out of existence at some point after they graduate to full KHR status. It’s not something that NVIDIA owns and will keep it around for 20 years after its usable lifespan just so old games can behave expectedly.

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How long will that take? No idea. I’ve already mentioned my logical but uneducated guess a few paragraphs ago, but I’m not going to repeat it; I have literally zero facts to base it on, and I don’t want our readers to think that I do. I don’t. It’s just based on what the Khronos Group typically announces at certain trade shows, and the length of time since their first announcement.

The benefit that KHX does bring us is that, whenever these features make it to public release, developers will have already been using it... internally... since around now. When it hits KHR, it’s done, and anyone can theoretically be ready for it when that time comes.

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

VR Performance Evaluation

Even though virtual reality hasn’t taken off with the momentum that many in the industry had expected on the heels of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift launches last year, it remains one of the fastest growing aspects of PC hardware. More importantly for many, VR is also one of the key inflection points for performance moving forward; it requires more hardware, scalability, and innovation than any other sub-category including 4K gaming.  As such, NVIDIA, AMD, and even Intel continue to push the performance benefits of their own hardware and technology.

Measuring and validating those claims has proven to be a difficult task. Tools that we used in the era of standard PC gaming just don’t apply. Fraps is a well-known and well-understood tool for measuring frame rates and frame times utilized by countless reviewers and enthusiasts. But Fraps lacked the ability to tell the complete story of gaming performance and experience. NVIDIA introduced FCAT and we introduced Frame Rating back in 2013 to expand the capabilities that reviewers and consumers had access to. Using more sophisticated technique that includes direct capture of the graphics card output in uncompressed form, a software-based overlay applied to each frame being rendered, and post-process analyzation of that data, we were able to communicate the smoothness of a gaming experience, better articulating it to help gamers make purchasing decisions.

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VR pipeline when everything is working well.

For VR though, those same tools just don’t cut it. Fraps is a non-starter as it measures frame rendering from the GPU point of view and completely misses the interaction between the graphics system and the VR runtime environment (OpenVR for Steam/Vive and OVR for Oculus). Because the rendering pipeline is drastically changed in the current VR integrations, what Fraps measures is completely different than the experience the user actually gets in the headset. Previous FCAT and Frame Rating methods were still viable but the tools and capture technology needed to be updated. The hardware capture products we used since 2013 were limited in their maximum bandwidth and the overlay software did not have the ability to “latch in” to VR-based games. Not only that but measuring frame drops, time warps, space warps and reprojections would be a significant hurdle without further development.  

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VR pipeline with a frame miss.

NVIDIA decided to undertake the task of rebuilding FCAT to work with VR. And while obviously the company is hoping that it will prove its claims of performance benefits for VR gaming, it should not be overlooked the investment in time and money spent on a project that is to be open sourced and free available to the media and the public.

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NVIDIA FCAT VR is comprised of two different applications. The FCAT VR Capture tool runs on the PC being evaluated and has a similar appearance to other performance and timing capture utilities. It uses data from Oculus Event Tracing as a part of the Windows ETW and SteamVR’s performance API, along with NVIDIA driver stats when used on NVIDIA hardware to generate performance data. It will and does work perfectly well on any GPU vendor’s hardware though with the access to the VR vendor specific timing results.

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Continue reading our preview of the new FCAT VR tool!

Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: AMD

Zen vs. 40 Years of CPU Development

Zen is nearly upon us.  AMD is releasing its next generation CPU architecture to the world this week and we saw CPU demonstrations and upcoming AM4 motherboards at CES in early January.  We have been shown tantalizing glimpses of the performance and capabilities of the “Ryzen” products that will presumably fill the desktop markets from $150 to $499.  I have yet to be briefed on the product stack that AMD will be offering, but we know enough to start to think how positioning and placement will be addressed by these new products.

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To get a better understanding of how Ryzen will stack up, we should probably take a look back at what AMD has accomplished in the past and how Intel has responded to some of the stronger products.  AMD has been in business for 47 years now and has been a major player in semiconductors for most of that time.  It really has only been since the 90s where AMD started to battle Intel head to head that people have become passionate about the company and their products.

The industry is a complex and ever-shifting one.  AMD and Intel have been two stalwarts over the years.  Even though AMD has had more than a few challenging years over the past decade, it still moves forward and expects to compete at the highest level with its much larger and better funded competitor.  2017 could very well be a breakout year for the company with a return to solid profitability in both CPU and GPU markets.  I am not the only one who thinks this considering that AMD shares that traded around the $2 mark ten months ago are now sitting around $14.

 

AMD Through 1996

AMD became a force in the CPU industry due to IBM’s requirement to have a second source for its PC business.  Intel originally entered into a cross licensing agreement with AMD to allow it to produce x86 chips based on Intel designs.  AMD eventually started to produce their own versions of these parts and became a favorite in the PC clone market.  Eventually Intel tightened down on this agreement and then cancelled it, but through near endless litigation AMD ended up with a x86 license deal with Intel.

AMD produced their own Am286 chip that was the first real break from the second sourcing agreement with Intel.  Intel balked at sharing their 386 design with AMD and eventually forced the company to develop its own clean room version.  The Am386 was released in the early 90s, well after Intel had been producing those chips for years. AMD then developed their own version of the Am486 which then morphed into the Am5x86.  The company made some good inroads with these speedy parts and typically clocked them faster than their Intel counterparts (eg. Am486 40 MHz and 80 MHz vs. the Intel 486 DX33 and DX66).  AMD priced these points lower so users could achieve better performance per dollar using the same chipsets and motherboards.

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Intel released their first Pentium chips in 1993.  The initial version was hot and featured the infamous FDIV bug.  AMD made some inroads against these parts by introducing the faster Am486 and Am5x86 parts that would achieve clockspeeds from 133 MHz to 150 MHz at the very top end.  The 150 MHz part was very comparable in overall performance to the Pentium 75 MHz chip and we saw the introduction of the dreaded “P-rating” on processors.

There is no denying that Intel continued their dominance throughout this time by being the gold standard in x86 manufacturing and design.  AMD slowly chipped away at its larger rival and continued to profit off of the lucrative x86 market.  William Sanders III set the bar higher about where he wanted the company to go and he started on a much more aggressive path than many expected the company to take.

Click here to read the rest of the AMD processor editorial!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

With the release of Intel Z270 chipset, GIGABYTE is unveiling its AORUS line of products. The AORUS branding will be used to differentiate enthusiast and gamer friendly products from their other product lines, similar to how ASUS uses the ROG branding to differentiate their high performance product line. The Z270X-Gaming 5 is among the first to be released as part of GIGABYTE's AORUS line. The board features the black and white branding common to the AORUS product line, with the rear panel cover and chipset featuring the brand logos. The board is designed around the Intel Z270 chipset with in-built support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Kaby Lake processor line (as well as support for Skylake processors) and Dual Channel DDR4 memory running at a 2400MHz speed. The Z270X-Gaming 5 can be found in retail with an MSRP of $189.99.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE integrated the following features into the Z270X-Gaming 5 motherboard: three SATA-Express ports; one U.2 32Gbps port; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports with Intel Optane support built-in; two RJ-45 GigE ports - an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC and a Rivet Networks Killer E2500 NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x1 slots; ASMedia 8-Channel audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI video ports; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

Continue reading our preview of the GIGABYTE Z270X-Gaming 5 motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: Corsair

Woof

The Corsair Bulldog, version 2.0, is now shipping and upgrades the internal components to a Z270 motherboard and upgrade fans with improved noise profiles. Other than that, the Bulldog looks, style, form and function remain unchanged.
 
 
The design is likely still dividing opinions; the short squat form factor with angular exterior will appeal to some, but the dimensions are perfectly suited to sitting in or around a TV and entertainment center. And because of the spacing and design of the interior, the mini ITX form factor can support any performance level of GPU and Intel's latest Kaby Lake processors. This gives users the flexibility to build for ultimate performance, making the dream of a 4K-ready gaming PC in the living room a possibility.
 
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Our quick video review will talk about the design, installation process and our experiences with the system running some premium components.
 
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  • Corsair Bulldog 2.0 (includes case, PSU, MB and CPU cooler)
  • Intel Core i7-7700K
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR4
  • Corsair Z270 Motherboard mini ITX
  • Corsair Hydro GTX 1080
  • 480GB Neutron GTX SSD
  • 600 watt Corsair PSU

The barebones kit starts at $399 through Corsair.com and includes the case, the motherboard, CPU cooler and 600-watt power supply. Not a bad price for those components!

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You won't find any specific benchmarks in the video above, but you will find some impressions playing Resident Evil 7 in HDR mode at 4K resolution with the specs above, all on an LG OLED display. (Hint: it's awesome.) 

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech

Is Mechanical Mandatory?

The Logitech G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard offers the company's unique Mech-Dome keys and customizable RGB lighting effects, and it faces some stiff competition in a market overflowing with gaming keyboards for every budget (including mechanical options). But it really comes down to performance, feel, and usability; and I was interested in giving these new Mech-Dome keys a try.

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“The G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard features Logitech Mech-Dome keys that are specially tuned to deliver a superior tactile response and performance profile similar to a mechanical keyboard. Mech-Dome keys are full height, deliver a full 4mm travel distance, 50g actuation force, and a quiet sound operation.

The G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard was designed for gaming, featuring ultra-quick, responsive feedback that is up to 4x faster than the 8ms report rate of standard keyboards and an anti-ghosting matrix that keeps you in control when you press multiple gaming keys simultaneously.”

I will say that at $69.99 the G213 plays in a somewhat odd space relative to the current gaming keyboard market; though it would be well positioned in a retail setting, where at a local Best Buy it would be a compelling option vs. a $100+ mechanical option. But savvy internet shoppers see the growing number of <$70 mechanical keyboards available and might question the need for a ‘quasi-mechanical’ option like this. I don’t review products from a marketing perspective, however, and I simply set out to determine if the G213 is a well-executed product on the hardware front.

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Continue reading our review of the Logitech G213 gaming keyboard!

Author:
Subject: Networking
Manufacturer: eero

Living the Mesh Life

Mesh networking is the current hot topic when it comes to Wi-Fi. Breaking from the trend of increasingly powerful standalone Wi-Fi routers that has dominated the home networking scene over the past few years, mesh networking solutions aim to provide wider and more even Wi-Fi coverage in your home or office through a system of multiple self-configuring and self-managing hotspots. In theory, this approach not only provides better wireless coverage overall, it also makes the setup and maintenance of a Wi-Fi network easier for novice and experienced users alike.

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Multiple companies have recently launched Wi-Fi mesh systems, including familiar names such as Google, Netgear, and Linksys. But this new approach to networking has also attracted newcomers, including San Francisco-based eero, one of the first companies to launch a consumer-targeted Wi-Fi mesh platform. eero loaned us their primary product, the 3-piece eero Home WiFi System, and we've spent a few weeks testing it as our home router.

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This review is the first part of a series of articles looking at Wi-Fi mesh systems, and it will focus on the capabilities and user experience of the eero Home WiFi System. Future articles will compare eero to other mesh platforms and traditional standalone routers, and look at comparative wireless performance and coverage.

Box Contents & Technical Specifications

As mentioned, we're looking at the 3-pack eero Home WiFi System (hereafter referred to simply as "eero"), a bundle that gives you everything you need to get your home or office up and running with a Wi-Fi mesh system. The box includes three eeros, three power adapters, and a 2-foot Ethernet cable.

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Each eero device is identical in terms of design and capability, measuring in at 4.75 inches wide, 4.75 inches deep, and 1.34 inches tall. They each feature two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a single USB 2.0 port (currently restricted to diagnostic use only), and are powered by two 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi radios capable of supporting 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. In addition, an eero network supports WPA2 Personal encryption, static IPs, manual DNS, IP reservations and port forwarding, and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).

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Continue reading our early testing of the eero Home WiFi system!

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Living Long and Prospering

The open fork of AMD’s Mantle, the Vulkan API, was released exactly a year ago with, as we reported, a hard launch. This meant public, but not main-branch drivers for developers, a few public SDKs, a proof-of-concept patch for The Talos Principle, and, of course, the ratified specification. This sets up the API to find success right out of the gate, and we can now look back over the year since.

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Thor's hammer, or a tempest in a teapot?

The elephant in the room is DOOM. This game has successfully integrated the API and it uses many of its more interesting features, like asynchronous compute. Because the API is designed in a sort-of “make a command, drop it on a list” paradigm, the driver is able to select commands based on priority and available resources. AMD’s products got a significant performance boost, relative to OpenGL, catapulting their Fury X GPU up to the enthusiast level that its theoretical performance suggested.

Mobile developers have been picking up the API, too. Google, who is known for banishing OpenCL from their Nexus line and challenging OpenGL ES with their Android Extension Pack (later integrated into OpenGL ES with version 3.2), has strongly backed Vulkan. The API was integrated as a core feature of Android 7.0.

On the engine and middleware side of things, Vulkan is currently “ready for shipping games” as of Unreal Engine 4.14. It is also included in Unity 5.6 Beta, which is expected for full release in March. Frameworks for emulators are also integrating Vulkan, often just to say they did, but sometimes to emulate the quirks of these system’s offbeat graphics co-processors. Many other engines, from Source 2 to Torque 3D, have also announced or added Vulkan support.

Finally, for the API itself, The Khronos Group announced (pg 22 from SIGGRAPH 2016) areas that they are actively working on. The top feature is “better” multi-GPU support. While Vulkan, like OpenCL, allows developers to enumerate all graphics devices and target them, individually, with work, it doesn’t have certain mechanisms, like being able to directly ingest output from one GPU into another. They haven’t announced a timeline for this.

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Huawei

Introduction and Specifications

The Mate 9 is the current version of Huawei’s signature 6-inch smartphone, building on last year’s iteration with the company’s new Kirin 960 SoC (featuring ARM's next-generation Bifrost GPU architecture), improved industrial design, and exclusive Leica-branded dual camera system.

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In the ultra-competitive smartphone world there is little room at the top, and most companies are simply looking for a share of the market. Apple and Samsung have occupied the top two spots for some time, with HTC, LG, Motorola, and others, far behind. But the new #3 emerged not from the usual suspects, but from a name many of us in the USA had not heard of until recently; and it is the manufacturer of the Mate 9. And comparing this new handset to the preceding Mate 8 (which we looked at this past August), it is a significant improvement in most respects.

With this phone Huawei has really come into their own with their signature phone design, and 2016 was a very good product year with the company’s smartphone offerings. The P9 handset launched early in 2016, offering not only solid specs and impressive industrial design, but a unique camera that was far more than a gimmick. Huawei’s partnership with Leica has resulted in a dual-camera system that operates differently than systems found on phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus, and the results are very impressive. The Mate 9 is an extension of that P9 design, adapted for their larger Mate smartphone series.

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Continue reading our review of the Huawei Mate 9!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ECS

The ECS Z170-Lightsaber motherboard is the newest offering in ECS' L337 product line with support for the Intel Z170 Express chipset. The Z170-Lightsaber builds on their previous Z170-based product, adding several enthusiast-friendly features like enhanced audio and RGB LED support to the board. With an MSRP of $180, ECS priced the Lightsaber as a higher-tiered offering, justified with its additional features and functionality compared to their previous Z170-based product.

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Courtesy of ECS

ECS designed the Z170-Lightsaber with a 14-phase digital power delivery system, using high efficiency chokes and MOSFETs, as well as solid core capacitors for optimal board performance. The following features into the Z170-Lightsaber board: six SATA 3 ports; one SATA-Express port; a PCIe X2 M.2 port; a Qualcomm Killer GigE NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; four PCI-Express x1 slots; 3-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, Quick overclock, BIOS set, BIOS update, BIOS backup, and Clear CMOS buttons; Realtek audio solution; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI video port support; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Gen2 port support.

Continue reading our review of the ECS Z170-Lightsaber Motherboard!

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Get your brains ready

Just before the weekend, Josh and I got a chance to speak with David Kanter about the AMD Zen architecture and what it might mean for the Ryzen processor due out in less than a month. For those of you not familiar with David and his work, he is an analyst and consultant on processor architectrure and design through Real World Tech while also serving as a writer and analyst for the Microprocessor Report as part of the Linley Group. If you want to see a discussion forum that focuses on architecture at an incredibly detailed level, the Real World Tech forum will have you covered - it's an impressive place to learn.

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David was kind enough to spend an hour with us to talk about a recently-made-public report he wrote on Zen. It's definitely a discussion that dives into details most articles and stories on Zen don't broach, so be prepared to do some pausing and Googling phrases and technologies you may not be familiar with. Still, for any technology enthusiast that wants to get an expert's opinion on how Zen compares to Intel Skylake and how Ryzen might fare when its released this year, you won't want to miss it.

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo
Tagged: yoga, X1, Thinkpad, oled, Lenovo

Intro, Exterior and Internal Features

Lenovo sent over an OLED-equipped ThinkPad X1 Yoga a while back. I was mid-development on our client SSD test suite and had some upcoming travel. Given that the new suite’s result number crunching spreadsheet ends extends out to column FHY (4289 for those counting), I really needed a higher res screen and improved computer horsepower in a mobile package. I commandeered the X1 Yoga OLED for the trip and to say it grew on me quickly is an understatement. While I do tend to reserve my heavier duty computing tasks and crazy spreadsheets for desktop machines and 40” 4K displays, the compute power of the X1 Yoga proved itself quite reasonable for a mobile platform. Sure there is a built in pen that comes in handy when employing the Yoga’s flip over convertibility into tablet mode, but the real beauty of this particular laptop comes with its optional 2560x1440 14” OLED display.

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OLED is just one of those things you need to see in person to truly appreciate. Photos of these screens just can’t capture the perfect blacks and vivid colors. In productivity use, something about either the pixel pattern or the amazing contrast made me feel like the effective resolution of the panel was higher than its rating. It really is a shame that you are likely reading this article on an LCD, because the OLED panel on this particular model of Lenovo laptop really is the superstar. I’ll dive more into the display later on, but for now let’s cover the basics:

Read on for our review of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga!

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Manufacturer: EVGA

The new EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 with iCX Technology

Back in November of 2016, EVGA had a problem on its hands. The company had a batch of GTX 10-series graphics cards using the new ACX 3.0 cooler solution leave the warehouse missing thermal pads required to keep the power management hardware on its cards within reasonable temperature margins. To its credit, the company took the oversight seriously and instituted a set of solutions for consumers to select from: RMA, new VBIOS to increase fan speeds, or to install thermal pads on your hardware manually. Still, as is the case with any kind of product quality lapse like that, there were (and are) lingering questions about EVGA’s ability to maintain reliable product; with features and new options that don’t compromise the basics.

Internally, the drive to correct these lapses was…strong. From the very top of the food chain on down, it was hammered home that something like this simply couldn’t occur again, and even more so, EVGA was to develop and showcase a new feature set and product lineup demonstrating its ability to innovate. Thus was born, and accelerated, the EVGA iCX Technology infrastructure. While this was something in the pipeline for some time already, it was moved up to counter any negative bias that might have formed for EVGA’s graphics cards over the last several months. The goal was simple: prove that EVGA was the leader in graphics card design and prove that EVGA has learned from previous mistakes.

EVGA iCX Technology

Previous issues aside, the creation of iCX Technology is built around one simple question: is one GPU temperature sensor enough? For nearly all of today’s graphics cards, cooling is based around the temperature of the GPU silicon itself, as measured by NVIDIA (for all of EVGA’s cards). This is how fan curves are built, how GPU clock speeds are handled with GPU Boost, how noise profiles are created, and more. But as process technology has improved, and GPU design has weighed towards power efficiency, the GPU itself is often no longer the thermally limiting factor.

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As it turns out, converting 12V (from the power supply) to ~1V (necessary for the GPU) is a simple process that creates a lot of excess heat. The thermal images above clearly demonstrate that and EVGA isn’t the only card vendor to take notice of this. As it turns out, EVGA’s product issue from last year was related to this – the fans were only spinning fast enough to keep the GPU cool and did not take into account the temperature of memory or power delivery.

The fix from EVGA is to ratchet up the number of sensors on the card PCB and wrap them with intelligence in the form of MCUs, updated Precision XOC software and user viewable LEDs on the card itself.

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EVGA graphics cards with iCX Technology will include 9 total thermal sensors on the board, independent of the GPU temperature sensor directly integrated by NVIDIA. There are three sensors for memory, five for power delivery and an additional sensor for the GPU temperature. Some are located on the back of the PCB to avoid any conflicts with trace routing between critical components, including the secondary GPU sensor.

Continue reading about EVGA iCX Technology!

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA

NVIDIA P100 comes to Quadro

At the start of the SOLIDWORKS World conference this week, NVIDIA took the cover off of a handful of new Quadro cards targeting professional graphics workloads. Though the bulk of NVIDIA’s discussion covered lower cost options like the Quadro P4000, P2000, and below, the most interesting product sits at the high end, the Quadro GP100.

As you might guess from the name alone, the Quadro GP100 is based on the GP100 GPU, the same silicon used on the Tesla P100 announced back in April of 2016. At the time, the GP100 GPU was specifically billed as an HPC accelerator for servers. It had a unique form factor with a passive cooler that required additional chassis fans. Just a couple of months later, a PCIe version of the GP100 was released under the Tesla GP100 brand with the same specifications.

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Today that GPU hardware gets a third iteration as the Quadro GP100. Let’s take a look at the Quadro GP100 specifications and how it compares to some recent Quadro offerings.

  Quadro GP100 Quadro P6000 Quadro M6000 Full GP100
GPU GP100 GP102 GM200 GP100 (Pascal)
SMs 56 60 48 60
TPCs 28 30 24 (30?)
FP32 CUDA Cores / SM 64 64 64 64
FP32 CUDA Cores / GPU 3584 3840 3072 3840
FP64 CUDA Cores / SM 32 2 2 32
FP64 CUDA Cores / GPU 1792 120 96 1920
Base Clock 1303 MHz 1417 MHz 1026 MHz TBD
GPU Boost Clock 1442 MHz 1530 MHz 1152 MHz TBD
FP32 TFLOPS (SP) 10.3 12.0 7.0 TBD
FP64 TFLOPS (DP) 5.15 0.375 0.221 TBD
Texture Units 224 240 192 240
ROPs 128? 96 96 128?
Memory Interface 1.4 Gbps
4096-bit HBM2
9 Gbps
384-bit GDDR5X
6.6 Gbps
384-bit
GDDR5
4096-bit HBM2
Memory Bandwidth 716 GB/s 432 GB/s 316.8 GB/s ?
Memory Size 16GB 24 GB 12GB 16GB
TDP 235 W 250 W 250 W TBD
Transistors 15.3 billion 12 billion 8 billion 15.3 billion
GPU Die Size 610mm2 471 mm2 601 mm2 610mm2
Manufacturing Process 16nm 16nm 28nm 16nm

There are some interesting stats here that may not be obvious at first glance. Most interesting is that despite the pricing and segmentation, the GP100 is not the de facto fastest Quadro card from NVIDIA depending on your workload. With 3584 CUDA cores running at somewhere around 1400 MHz at Boost speeds, the single precision (32-bit) rating for GP100 is 10.3 TFLOPS, less than the recently released P6000 card. Based on GP102, the P6000 has 3840 CUDA cores running at something around 1500 MHz for a total of 12 TFLOPS.

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GP100 (full) Block Diagram

Clearly the placement for Quadro GP100 is based around its 64-bit, double precision performance, and its ability to offer real-time simulations on more complex workloads than other Pascal-based Quadro cards can offer. The Quadro GP100 offers 1/2 DP compute rate, totaling 5.2 TFLOPS. The P6000 on the other hand is only capable of 0.375 TLOPS with the standard, consumer level 1/32 DP rate. Inclusion of ECC memory support on GP100 is also something no other recent Quadro card has.

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Raw graphics performance and throughput is going to be questionable until someone does some testing, but it seems likely that the Quadro P6000 will still be the best solution for that by at least a slim margin. With a higher CUDA core count, higher clock speeds and equivalent architecture, the P6000 should run games, graphics rendering and design applications very well.

There are other important differences offered by the GP100. The memory system is built around a 16GB HBM2 implementation which means more total memory bandwidth but at a lower capacity than the 24GB Quadro P6000. Offering 66% more memory bandwidth does mean that the GP100 offers applications that are pixel throughput bound an advantage, as long as the compute capability keeps up on the backend.

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Continue reading our preview of the new Quadro GP100!

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Introduction

Mini-STX is the newest, smallest PC form-factor that accepts a socketed CPU, and in this review we'll be taking a look at a complete mini-STX build that will occupy just 1.53 liters of space. With a total size of just 6.1 x 5.98 x 2.56 inches, the SilverStone VT01 case offers a very small footprint, and the ECS H110S-2P motherboard accepts Intel desktop CPUs up to 65W (though I may have ignored this specification).

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PS3 controller for scale. (And becuase it's the best controller ever.)

The Smallest Form-Factor

The world of small form-factor PC hardware is divided between tiny kit solutions such as the Intel NUC (and the host of mini-PCs from various manufacturers), and the mini-ITX form-factor for system builders. The advantage of mini-ITX is its ability to host standard components, such as desktop-class processors and full-length graphics cards. However, mini-ITX requires a significantly larger enclosure than a mini-PC, and the "thin mini-ITX" standard has been something of a bridge between the two, essentially halving the height requirement of mini-ITX. Now, an even smaller standard has emerged, and it almost makes mini-ITX look big in comparison.

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Left: ECS H110S-2P (mini-STX) / Right: EVGA Z170 Stinger (mini-ITX)

Mini-STX had been teased for a couple of years (I wrote my first news post about it in January of 2015), and was originally an Intel concept called "5x5"; though the motherboard is actually about 5.8 x 5.5 inches (147 x 140 mm). At CES 2016 I was able to preview a SilverStone enclosure design for these systems, and ECS is one of the manufacturers producing mini-STX motherboards with an Intel H110-based board introduced this past summer. We saw some shipping products for the newest form-factor in 2016, and both companies were kind enough to send along a sample of these micro-sized components for a build. With the parts on hand it is now time to assemble my first mini-STX system, and of course I'll cover the process - and results - right here!

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Continue reading our review of a mini-STX computer build featuring ECS and SilverStone!