Eurocom's Sky X9E3 Is a Fully Upgradable Gaming Laptop

Subject: Systems, Mobile | March 17, 2017 - 07:21 PM |
Tagged: Sky X9E3, nvidia, notebook, MXM, modular, laptop, Intel Core i7, geforce, gaming, eurocom

Fancy a desktop processor in your laptop? How about dual MXM graphics card slots? While such a machine is likely not as 'portable' as the laptop designation would make it seem, it is interesting to see a notebook product built specifically for upgradability, and that is exactly what Eurocom has done with the Sky X9E3.

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"The Sky X9E3 is an SLI Ready and VR capable super high-performance supercomputer laptop. With an upgradeable desktop CPU and two upgradeable desktop GPUs cooled with high-quality copper heatsinks and IC Diamond thermal paste, and controlled by an unlocked system BIOS for the ultimate in overclocking capability."

One of the things detractors of gaming laptops will point out is the limited lifespan of a product that is often far more expensive than a high-end gaming desktop. Granted, gaming laptops generally do not follow the soldered memory trend from thin-and-light machines, allowing users to swap SODIMMs for more memory down the road, and storage is generally upgradable as well. But what about the most expensive parts of a laptop, namely CPU and (even more expensive) GPU? The use of desktop CPUs in the X9E3 is novel, and translates to ready availability for future upgrades; but MXM graphics is still a very expensive route, though I have ended up at Eurocom's website when researching MXM GPU upgrades in the past, so they are at least readily available.

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What are the specifications? Eurocom sells the machine configured to order, and lists basic specs as follows:

  • Chipset: Intel Z270 Express (Kaby Lake)
  • Processor: socketed desktop LGA1151 CPU, up to Intel i7 7700K
  • Memory: up to 64GB; DDR4-2400/2666/3000/3200; 4 RAM Sockets
  • VGA Technology: NVIDIA Pascal GeForce GTX 1080 8GB DDR5X and GeForce GTX 1070 8GB DDR5; single or Dual SLI; two MXM 3.0 slots; up to 190W per slot
  • Display Technology: supports total of 4 displays including LCD via 2x DP 1.3, 1x HDMI 2.0 and 1x HDMI 2.0 or DP1.2 (via USB 3.1 type C port); Nvidia Surround View
  • Storage: up to 14TB or storage with 5 drives; 2x HDD/SSD (SATA3) + 3x M.2 PCIe Gen3 x4/SATA3; RAID 0/1/5; supports NVMe SSDs
  • Communications: two 1GbE Killer E2400 RJ45 ports + M.2 WLAN/Bluetooth; Killer DoubleShot X3
  • Operating Systems: Microsoft Windows: 10, 8.1 and 7
  • Card Reader: 6-in-1 MMC/RSMMC/SD/miniSD/SDHC/SDXC up to UHS-II
  • Keyboard: Illuminated, backlit with customizable 7-colours
  • Security: TPM 2.0, Fingerprint and Kensington Lock
  • Audio System: Sound Blaster X-Fi MB5; external 7.1CH audio output; headphone out, microphone in, S/PDIF and Line-in port; two built-in FOSTER Speakers (2W)+ Subwoofer (2.5W)
  • Ports: 2x USB 3.1 type C (HDMI 2.0/DP 1.3/Thunderbolt 3); 2x miniDP 1.3; 1x HDMI 2.0; 5x USB 3.0 (1x Powered USB AC/DC); S/PDIF; Headphone; Mic; Line-in; 2x RJ45 (LAN)
  • Weight and dimensions: 5.5kg / 12.1lbs; WxDxH 428x308x47.2mm / 17.12x12.32x1.88-inch

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Pricing begins at $2499, which makes this a hefty proposition at the outset. But for someone looking for desktop experience in a notebook, and wants the ability to purchase faster CPUs and GPUs down the road, it may be worth it.

Source: Eurocom

EVGA Announces SC17 1070 4K G-SYNC Laptop

Subject: Systems | March 17, 2017 - 06:40 PM |
Tagged: evga, g-sync, gtx 1070, laptop

The updated EVGA SC17 laptop, announced on Thursday, is headlined by a 17.3-inch, 4K, IPS panel with NVIDIA G-SYNC. The panel will have a 60 Hz refresh rate, so, while games will be able to cleanly dip below the 60 FPS threshold via G-SYNC, you will not have the smooth mouse movement in productivity applications like you would on a 100+ FPS monitor. Speaking of productivity, the color gamut (coverage of sRGB and Adobe RGB) is also unlisted.

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But, for our many readers that are interested in performance, EVGA has made this beefy.

Again, this is a 17.3-inch laptop, so don’t expect it to be ultra-portable by today’s standards. Weighing in at about 9 lbs, this desktop replacement is based around an unlocked Intel Core i7-6820HK processor with an NVIDIA GTX 1070 graphics card. While the CPU is a little over a year old, based on Skylake, it has four cores (eight threads) that can boost up to 3.6 GHz. Being that I’m running a Core i7-4790k on my production machine, this level of performance is pretty good. It even contains 32 GB of RAM.

If you're a multi-monitor type of person, it also has three display outputs: 1x HDMI 2.0b and 2x Mini DisplayPort (unclear which version level).

The EVGA SC17 1070 with NVIDIA G-SYNC is available now for $2799.99, although there’s currently a $250-off instant rebate (~$2550 USD).

Source: EVGA

MSI's Trident 3 ballistic mini-system

Subject: Systems | March 10, 2017 - 02:57 PM |
Tagged: msi, Trident 3, kaby lake, i7-7700, gtx 1060

MSI's Trident 3 is much smaller than an Ohio class submarine, measuring roughly the same size as a PS4 Pro, albeit with a very different look.  Inside you will find a Kaby Lake i7-7700, 16GB of DDR4-2400 and a GTX 1060 with storage consisting of a 256GB Kingston M.2 SATA SSD and a 1TB Hitachi Travelstar.  It does lack USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt as the USB Type-C port you see is USB 3.0, it is also worth mentioning the front HDMI port will not function without the included HDMI passthrough connected on the back.  The Tech Report tested it against a similar machine, the Zotac Magnus EN1070 which features a much more powerful mobile GTX 1070.  On the other hand the $1300 Trident 3 comes ready to play, whereas the Zotac lacks a Windows license, storage and memory so even though it sells at $100 less than the MSI system, it may cost you more in the long run.

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"MSI's Trident 3 compact PC houses a desktop Core i7-7700 CPU and a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics card in a case no larger than many of today's consoles. We put that tantalizing combo to the test to see whether MSI has achieved small-form-factor gaming nirvana."

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NVIDIA, Microsoft, Ingrasys (Foxconn) Announce HGX-1

Subject: Systems | March 9, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: nvidia, microsoft, hgx-1, GP100, dgx-1

When NVIDIA announced the Pascal architecture at last year’s GTC, they started with the GP100 architecture that was to be initially available in their $129,000 DGX-1 PC. In fact, this device contained eight of those “Big Pascal” GPUs that are connected together by their NVLink interconnection.

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Now, almost a full year later, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Ingrasys have announced the HGX-1 system. It, too, will contain eight GP100 GPUs through eight Tesla P100 accelerators. On the CPU side of things, Microsoft is planning on utilizing the next generation of x86 processors, Intel Skylake (which we assume means Skylake-X) and AMD Naples in these "Project Olympus" servers. Future versions could also integrate Intel FPGAs for an extra level of acceleration. ARM64 is another goal of theirs, but in the more distant future.

At the same time, NVIDIA has also announced, through a single-paragraph statement, that they are joining the Open Compute Project. This organization contains several massive players in the data center market, spanning from Facebook to Rackspace to Bank of America.

Whenever it arrives, the HGX-1 will be intended for cloud-based AI computations. Four of these machines are designed to be clustered together at high bandwidth, which I estimate would have north of 160 TeraFLOPs of double-precision (FP64) or 670 TeraFLOPs of half-precision (FP16) performance in the GPUs alone, depending on final clocks.

Source: NVIDIA

ARMing the Cloud; Qualcomm's Centriq 2400 Platform will power Microsoft Azure instances

Subject: General Tech, Systems | March 8, 2017 - 12:20 PM |
Tagged: qualcomm, OCP, microsoft, falkor, centriq 2400, azure, arm, 10nm

Last December Qualcomm announced plans to launch their Centriq 2400 series of platforms for data centres, demonstrating Apache Spark and Hadoop on Linux as well as a Java demo.  They announced a 48 Core design based on ARM v8 and fabbed with on Samsung's 10nm process, which will compete against Intel's current offerings for the server room.

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Today marks the official release of the Qualcomm Falkor CPU and Centriq 2400 series of products, as well as the existence of a partnership with Microsoft which may see these products offered to Azure customers.  Microsoft has successfully configured a version of Windows Server to run on these new chips, which is rather big news for customers looking for low powered hosting solutions running a familiar OS.  The Centriq 2400 family is compliant with Microsoft's Project Olympus architecture, used by the Open Compute Project Foundation to offer standardized building blocks upon which you can design a data centre from scratch or use as an expansion plan.

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Enough of the background, we are here for the specifications of the new platform and what can be loaded onto a Centriq 2400.  The reference motherboard supports SOCs of up to 48 cores, with both single and dual socket designs announced.  Each SOC can support up to six channels of DDR4 in either single or dual channel configurations with a maximum of 768GB installed.  Falkor will offer 32 lanes of PCIe 3.0, eight SATA ports and a GbE ethernet port as well as USB and a standard 50Gb/s NIC.  NVMe is supported, one design offers 20 NVMe drives with a PCIe 16x slot but you can design the platform to match your requirements.  Unfortunately they did not discuss performance during their call, nor any suggested usage scenarios.  We expect to hear more about that during the 2017 Open Compute Platform US Summit, which starts today.

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The submission of the design to Open Compute Project ensures a focus on compatibility and modularity and allows a wide variety of designs to be requested and networked together.  If you have a need for HPC performance you can request a board with an HPC GPU such as a FirePro or Tesla, or even drop in your own optimized FPGA.  Instead of opting for an impressive but expensive NVME storage solution, you can modify the design to accommodate 16 SATA HDDs for affordable storage.

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Qualcomm have already announced Windows 10 support on their Snapdragon, but the fact that Microsoft are internally running Windows Server on an ARM v8 based processor is much more impressive.  Intel and AMD have long held reign in the server room and have rightfully shrugged of the many times in which companies have announced ARM based servers which will offer more power efficient alternatives.  Intel have made huge advances at creating low power chips for the server room; AMD's recently announced Naples shows their intentions to hold their market share as well.

If the submission to the OPC succeeds then we may see the first mainstream ARM based servers appear on the market.  Even if the Windows Server instances remain internal to Microsoft, the Centriq series will support Red Hat, CentOS, Canonical and Ubuntu as well as both GCC and LLVM compilers. 

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(click to seriously embiggen)

ARM may finally have reached the server market after all these years and it will be interesting to see how they fare.  AMD and Intel have both had to vastly reduce the power consumption of their chips and embrace a diametrically opposite design philosophy; instead of a small number of powerful chips, servers of the future will consist of arrays of less powerful chips working in tandem.  ARM has had to do the opposite, they are the uncontested rulers of low powered chips but have had to change their designs to increase the processing capabilities of their chips in order to produce an effective product for the server room.  

Could Qualcomm successful enter the server room; or will their ARMs not have the necessary reach?

Source: Qualcomm

GamersNexus Tears Down a Nintendo Switch

Subject: Systems, Mobile | March 4, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, teardown, switch, nvidia, Nintendo

Here at PC Perspective, videos of Ryan and Ken dismantling consoles on their launch date were some of our most popular... ever. While we didn’t do one for the Nintendo Switch, GamersNexus did, and I’m guessing that a segment of our audience would be interested in seeing what the device looks like when dismantled.

Credit: GamersNexus

As he encounters many chips, he mentions what, if anything, is special about them based on their part numbers. For instance, the NVIDIA SoC is listed as A2, which is apparently different from previous Maxwell-based Tegra X1 SoCs, but it’s unclear how. From my perspective, I can think of three possibilities: NVIDIA made some customizations (albeit still on the Maxwell architecture) for Nintendo, NVIDIA had two revisions for their own purposes and Nintendo bought the A2, or the A2 shipped with NVIDIA's Maxwell-based Shield and my Google-fu is terrible.

Regardless, if you’re interested, it should be an interesting twenty-or-so minutes.

Source: GamersNexus

Should you hang out on the Bridge, or is it worth heading onto the Lake?

Subject: Systems | February 21, 2017 - 01:55 PM |
Tagged: upgrade, sandybridge, kaby lake

The tick-tock of Intel's waltz has stuttered a bit, with many users wondering if it is worth picking up a new Kaby Lake based system.  Gone are the good old days when a new generation of processors guaranteed enough of an increase in performance to justify decreasing your bank account immediately.  There are several reasons for this, including the difficulties in reducing the size of the process and increasing the amount of transistors, not just the current lack of competition in the marketplace.

At The Tech Report, one of their staff were curious enough to do the upgrade, dumping their  i7-2600K for an i7-7700k.  Check out the results of the upgrade, with some impressive effect on the wonky but beloved Arma III engine.

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"The question of whether it's worth upgrading from Intel's Sandy Bridge chips accompanies every new TR CPU review. For one TR contributor, the arrival of Kaby Lake finally motivated him to make a move. See what the upgrade to a more modern platform did for him."

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Lenovo Announces new ThinkPad P51s P51 and P71 Mobile Workstations

Subject: Systems, Mobile | February 6, 2017 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: xeon, Thinkpad, quadro, P71, P51s, P51, nvidia, notebook, mobile workstation, Lenovo, kaby lake, core i7

Lenovo has announced a trio of new ThinkPad mobile workstations, featuring updated Intel 7th-generation Core (Kaby Lake) processors and NVIDIA Quadro graphics, and among these is the thinnest and lightest ThinkPad mobile workstation to date in the P51s.

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"Engineered to deliver breakthrough levels of performance, reliability and long battery life, the ThinkPad P51s features a new chassis, designed to meet customer demands for a powerful but portable machine. Developed with engineers and professional designers in mind, this mobile workstation features Intel’s 7th generation Core i7 processors and the latest NVIDIA Quadro dedicated workstation graphics, as well as a 4K UHD IPS display with optional IR camera."

Lenovo says that the ThinkPad P51s is more than a half pound lighter than the previous generation (P50s), stating that "the P51s is the lightest and thinnest mobile workstation ever developed by ThinkPad" at 14.4 x 9.95 x 0.79 inches, and weight starting at 4.3 lbs.

Specs for the P51s include:

  • Up to a 7th Generation Intel Core i7 Processor
  • NVIDIA Quadro M520M Graphics
  • Choice of standard or touchscreen FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS, or 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS display
  • Up to 32 GB DDR4 2133 RAM (2x SODIMM slots)
  • Storage options including up to 1 TB (5400 rpm) HDD and 1 TB NVMe PCIe SSDs
  • USB-C with Intel Thunderbolt 3
  • 802.11ac and LTE-A wireless connectivity

Lenovo also announced the ThinkPad P51, which is slightly larger than the P51s, but brings the option of Intel Xeon E3-v6 processors (in addition to Kaby Lake Core i7 CPUs), Quadro M2200M graphics, faster 2400 MHz memory up to 64 GB (4x SODIMM slots), and up to a 4K IPS display with X-Rite Pantone color calibration.

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Finally there is the new VR-ready P71 mobile workstation, which offers up to an NVIDIA Quadro P5000M GPU along with Oculus and HTC VR certification.

"Lenovo is also bringing virtual reality to life with the new ThinkPad P71. One of the most talked about technologies today, VR has the ability to bring a new visual perspective and immersive experience to our customers’ workflow. In our new P71, the NVIDIA Pascal-based Quadro GPUs offer a stunning level of performance never before seen in a mobile workstation, and it comes equipped with full Oculus and HTC certifications, along with NVIDIA’s VR-ready certification."

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Pricing and availability is as follows:

  • ThinkPad P51s, starting at $1049, March
  • ThinkPad P51, starting at $1399, April
  • ThinkPad P71, starting at $1849, April
Source: Lenovo

MSI's tiny Trident 3 gaming system

Subject: Systems | January 31, 2017 - 03:24 PM |
Tagged: gaming desktop, SFF, gtx 1060, i7-7700, msi, Trident 3

MSI's Trident 3 PC comes complete with Windows 10 Home, a DS4200 keyboard and a DS B1 gaming mouse.  The actual system is a mere 346.25x232.47x71.83mm (13.6x9.2x2.8") and hides a shrunken GTX 1060, a Core i7-7700, two 8GB sticks of DDR4-2400 and in the system that TechPowerUp reviewed, a 256GB Kingston SATA M.2 SSD and a 1TB Toshiba HDD.  It is easy to use for VR, with USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C and Type-A ports as well as HDMI on the front panel.  MSI did need to make some sacrifices to squeeze these components in, the system does not support overclocking nor XMP profiles.  The performance at 1080p is respectable for a fully configured system and it starts at $899, with upgrades available.

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"MSI's Trident 3 is a compact SFF system that can provide a console-like gaming experience. Equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700, a custom mITX MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB GAMING, 16 GB of RAM, an M.2 SSD and a mechanical HDD for storage duties, it is small yet extremely capable."

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Source: TechPowerUp

Microsoft Xbox Project Scorpio Whitepaper Leaked

Subject: Systems | January 24, 2017 - 10:30 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Project Scorpio, microsoft

Digital Foundry received an Xbox Project Scorpio whitepaper from an anonymous source, although they were able to validate its authenticity. Basically, they sent it to their own, off-the-record sources who would have access to the same info, and those individuals confirmed it’s an official document that they’ve seen before. Of course, the trust bottlenecks through Digital Foundry, but they’re about as reputable as you can get in this industry, so that works.

Anywho, disclaimer aside, the whitepaper unveils a few interesting details about how Project Scorpio is expecting to provide higher performance. The most interesting change is what’s missing: the small, on-chip RAM (ESRAM). Microsoft claims that the higher global memory bandwidth removes the need to have it on Project Scorpio.

Digital Foundry is still a bit concerned that, while the 320 GB/s bandwidth might be enough, the latency might be a concern for compatibility. Personally, I’m not too concerned. Modern GPUs do a huge amount of latency-hiding tricks, such as parking whole shaders at global memory accesses and running other tasks while the GPU fetches the memory the original shader needs, swapping it back and finishing when it arrives. Also, the increased GPU performance will mean that the game has more room to be wasteful of GPU resources, since it only needs to perform at least as good as a regular Xbox One. I expect that there wouldn’t be enough round-trips to ESRAM for it to be a major slowdown when running on Project Scorpio (and its not-ESRAM).

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Seriously, Wall-E with a Freddie Mercury 'stache.

Microsoft does suggest that developers make use of ESRAM on Xbox One and Xbox One S, though. Yes, don’t deliberately throw away performance on the slower machines just because that accelerator isn’t available on higher-end devices, like Project Scorpio or a gaming PC (heh heh heh).

Another point that Digital Foundry highlighted was that the actual number of rendered fragments (pixels that may or may not make it to screen) didn’t scale up by a factor-of-four (going from 1080p to 4K) in all cases. A first-party developer noticed a case where it was only a 3.5x scaling between the two resolutions. (This metric was actually rendered pixels, not even just GPU load, which would include resolution-independent tasks, like physics simulations.) I’m not exactly sure how the number of fragments decreased, but it could be due to some rendering tricks, like when Halo renders the background at a lower resolution. (Yes, I’m using Khronos verbiage; it’s less ambiguous.)

They also assume that Project Scorpio will use pre-Zen AMD CPU cores. I agree. It seems like Zen wouldn’t be around early enough to make production, especially when you consider the pre-release units that are circulating around Microsoft, and probably third-party developers, too.

Project Scorpio launches this holiday season (2017).