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Manufacturer: AMD

A selection of parts

AMD is without a doubt going through some very tough times with massive personnel issues as well as some problems with products and profitability.  But that doesn’t mean the current product line from AMD is without merit and that you can’t build a great system for various environments, including those users looking for a mainstream and small form factor gaming and home theater PC. 

While preparing for Quakecon 2012 we needed to build a system to take on the road for some minor editing and presentation control purposes.  We wanted the PC to be small and compact, yet still powerful enough to take on some basic computing and gaming tasks.  I happen to have some AMD Llano APUs in the office and thought they would fit perfectly.

If you are on the hunt for a small PC that can do some modest gaming and serve as an HTPC, then you might find our build here interesting.  And while it isn't nearly as exciting as building a Llano PC while blindfolded - it's pretty close.

Case: Lian-Li PC-Q08B

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Continue reading our AMD Llano APU Build article!!

A snazzy alumnium box from Wesena to hide your HTPC

Subject: Systems | July 17, 2012 - 04:46 PM |
Tagged: htpc, HTPC case, Wesena ITX5

Good looking, functional HTPC cases tend to be expensive, especially if they are designed to blend in with other stereo or TV components.  Wesena found a way to deliver a good looking ITX sized HTPC enclosure for under $100 with their new ITX7.  Part of the price drop is the removal of an optical drive bay, which makes a great deal of sense when you are trying to cut the cost and size of a box.  The aluminium exterior with a brushed black finish is quite attractive and the system that Missing Remote fit inside the case included a Core i5-2400S, 4GB DDR3 and an SSD and HDD.  They also verified the fit of two TV Tuner cards, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 and  AVerMedia M780 as well as a GT430 and HD5550 though you won't be fitting a passively cooled GTX680 in here.  Check this case out if you have been suffering sticker shock from other HTPC case manufacturers.

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"Boasting clean lines, the right look, and solid construction for Mini-ITX based systems the Wesena ITX5 all-aluminum enclosure offers capabilities very similar to the ITX7; by removing optical drive support in a slightly lower cost ($80) package. Building a name for quality takes time and attention to feedback, so it was fantastic to examine the generational differences between the two small form-factor (SFF) home theater PC (HTPC) chassis from Wesena. As a refinement on the previous iteration we hope to see the niggles around fit-and-finish addressed."

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Some internal Windows 8 dates were sort-of released.

Subject: General Tech, Systems | July 4, 2012 - 05:53 PM |
Tagged: windows 8

Expect Windows 8 to RTM between July 12th and July 21st.Of course the one date missing is the actual general availability release date which is still expected for the October timeframe. Certain developers have received builds early to help prepare their apps for RTM.

Windows 8 almost entirely relies on its Metro initiative.

The success or failure of the Windows 8 app marketplace will be the deciding factor in the future of the Windows platform. Whichever markets see success with Windows 8 will likely be the focus of future versions of the operating system. If it is all-around unsuccessful then you can probably expect Microsoft to go into a fit of anxiety and do something even more drastic for the future -- if Windows would even have one.

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You know the theory about broken Windows…

Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows reported on a Building Windows 8 blog post from Steven Sinofsky. As long time viewers of this site might remember: we have experienced three public releases of Windows 8 to help developers make Metro style apps. Microsoft has also stated that a few high profile developers have received Windows RT tablets to help ensure compatibility on the new platform.

It turns out that they have also received several extra builds. Developers close to Microsoft have just received their 8th build -- if you include the three public ones -- to help developers prepare their applications for RTM sometime between July 12th and July 21st.

At least developers will have a few months to put some polish on their applications before the actual Windows 8 release still expected sometime in October.

Surprise! Overclocking your machine does make it less stable according to Microsoft

Subject: Systems | July 3, 2012 - 03:48 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, overclocking

If you've ever wondered if it was worth hitting that 'Report to Microsoft' button after you experienced a BSoD then perhaps this paper from Microsoft Research will enlighten you. After studying reports from 1 million machines that suffered CPU or memory problems, Microsoft broke down all of the data into both failure types and machine types so that they can contrast the results of overclocking laptops and desktops from both major CPU vendors as well as breaking the desktops into ones assembled by a major vendor and ones assembled either by the owner or by a small business. 

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The basic results are easy to sum up laptops are less likely to crash than desktops, CPU errors are more likely than memory errors and underclocking will indeed make your system less prone to crashes.  You are also less likely to see crashes on machines purchased from a major vendor than one assembled yourself or by a small business.  Of course the whitebox versus brand name ratings cannot differentiate between someone who just built a PC for the first time and one assembled by a veteran so it is possible that that rating is a little skewed.

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As for overclocking, you can see that the results are split between Vendor A and Vendor B as opposed to being labelled Intel and AMD but most readers will be able to make an intelligent guess as to which is which.  TACT represents Total Accumulated CPU Time, which does not have to be contiguous and could represent quite a few weeks of ownership if the computer in question is only run for a few hours a day and then shut off.  Whether this time was accumulated quickly or spaced out, it shows that overclocking either vendors chips will have a significant impact on the stability of your system.  Again, there is no division into experienced overclockers and neophytes nor between those who overclock manually or with software or hardware included with the motherboard they chose.  Even still the impact on stability is very large regardless of vendor and if you crash once you can be almost guaranteed to crash a second and third time.  The table only focuses on the first three crashes as by the time that third crash occurs it is obvious they will continue until something is changed.   Check out the abstract here or just head straight to the bottom of that page for the full PDF of results.

"Researchers working at Microsoft have analyzed the crash data sent back to Redmond from over a million PCs. You might think that research data on PC component failure rates would be abundant given how long these devices have been in-market and the sophisticated data analytics applied to the server market — but you’d be wrong. According to the authors, this study is one of the first to focus on consumer systems rather than datacenter deployments."

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Source: Microsoft

One spectacle to rule them all ... universal 3D glasses

Subject: Systems | June 25, 2012 - 06:14 PM |
Tagged: active shutter, 3d display, 3d glasses

XPAND’s YOUniversal Electronic 3D Eyewear is intended to be compatible with all IR and RF standards for 3D displays, allowing you to get multiple glasses for a group that wants to experience 3D or so that you can pick up a 3D display without worrying about glasses.  Of course, the trick with this is that you need to provide proper performance with all models of TV, which these glasses did until they encountered Missing Remotes' Samsung plasma screen.  While they did recognize the signal they fell out of sync far too often for comfort, but that might be fixed in a future update.  If you need a spare pair of 3D glasses that will work with your active shutter 3D TV and in movie theatres which use XPAND 3D, then these are not a bad choice thanks to their flexibility.

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"We last visited the topic of universal active 3D glasses technology with our XPAND X103 review. With the introduction of the Full HD 3D Glasses standard in 2012 stereoscopic 3D products, the display and eyewear industry have matured away from the mish-mash of proprietary communication mechanisms. Standard-compliant products can utilize radio frequency (RF) and/or infrared (IR) for the communication link between displays and glasses. In theory, any vendor’s glasses complying with the standard will work with any standard-compliant display (so long as each product has the same logo, e.g. “Full HD 3D RF” or “Full HD 3D IR”)."

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Live Video Recap: AMD Llano Blindfolded PC Build

Subject: General Tech, Systems | June 23, 2012 - 06:04 PM |
Tagged: video, llano, blindfolded, APU, amd

Well, we did it!  Today I successfully built an AMD A-series APU based computer while blindfolded LIVE.  At the start of the event I went over the various components used for the build including the AMD A8-3800 APU, MSI A75 motherboard, Corsair 550D case and 650 watt power supply and more.  After showing it all, I wrapped a scarf around my head and went to work.  

There were quite a few more hurdles than I expected including spreading the thermal paste correctly, screwing the motherboard into the case and finding the pins for the front panel power button.  I was surprised at how easily I was able to install the APU, memory and heatsink, but that likely comes with years of practice and experience with the hardware.  

In all, it took me 1 hour and 18 minutes to get to a Windows screen using a pre-installed OS on a Western Digital 1TB hard drive.  That was MUCH longer than I had originally thought it would take, so I have been humbled by those DIY PC users that build their own on without sight a regular basis!  

If you missed the live event we hosted at http://pcper.com/live you can find the replay hosted right here below.  Enjoy watching me completely make a fool of myself!

Update: The winner of the blindfolded system was selected, congrats goes to Darren who gets the task of rebuilding this rig!  :D

Microsoft Surface announced -- twice. ARM, x86: your choice.

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | June 18, 2012 - 09:27 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, windows 8, tablet, microsoft

Steve Ballmer led the enigmatic announcement of “Surface”, a Microsoft branded consumer tablet. The tablet will contain a 10.6” display and run either Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro depending on whether you choose the NVIDIA-powered ARM variant or the higher-end Intel x86-based sibling. The device’s cover will contain a built-in Bluetooth keyboard and multi-touch trackpad.

Microsoft generated a lot of hype around their latest announcement.

In the end what we received the entirety of what was expected -- except the product looks compelling.

The Surface, borrowing the brand from their business-oriented smart table products, is a series of consumer tablets with a 10.6” 16x9 form factor. Would you like a full Windows 8 Pro experience on an Intel device or would you prefer a thinner and lighter Windows RT device powered by an NVIDIA ARM processor? Let us weight the Pro and cons.

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So would this be like -- an Ultra…clipboard? Ooo -- Ultraclippy, that has brand power.

Early reports testify that the device feels well built. The announcement made somewhat of a big deal that the tablet has a magnesium chassis and a Gorilla Glass 2 screen. You will cover the screen of the device with a small Bluetooth keyboard which will be available in a few colors. With the tablet resting on its included kickstand and its keyboard cover flowing out from beneath it -- the Surface looks very similar to a laptop.

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So -- magnesium chassis. This should be fun to thermite.

The Intel variant will feature a larger battery although extra battery life is not an immediate guarantee. The Pro device will allow for MicroSDXC cards, USB 3.0, and mini DisplayPort output. Both devices feature 2x2 MIMO antennae for their WIFI connectivity which could provide a fair chunk of bandwidth for streaming media.

Pricing and availability are currently unannounced except that they will be comparable to what is available. The ARM device will be available in 32 and 64GB models with the x86 Pro-class device available in 64 and 128GB.

Source: Microsoft

WWDC 12: Apple announces new MacBooks, high res screen

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 11, 2012 - 03:30 PM |
Tagged: WWDC 12, apple, macbook pro

Apple has upgraded their MacBook line to Intel Ivy Bridge and includes USB 3.0 support. The MacBook Airs will be supported by Intel HD Graphics 4000 where the new MacBook Pro will be powered by NVIDIA’s Kepler-based GeForce GT 650M. This GPU will be used to power a 2880x1800 (220ppi) resolution screen -- which I will absolutely not feed into the “retina display” marketing term.

Apple has announced new hardware at the start of their World Wide Developers Conference this morning.

As Intel begins to flood the PC marketplace with their latest and greatest Ivy Bridge mobile processors it stands to reason that Apple would not want to be left out. Apple will update their entire laptop lineup to the new CPUs as well as add some Kepler to their MacBook Pro line. The biggest deal is the high resolution 2880x1800 displays which should make text look very smooth and crisp.

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Not pictured, 27” IPS display… because 60” HDTV makes it seem more impressive.

The MacBook Air will not have the option of discrete graphics. The 11-inch model will have a screen resolution of 1366x768 where the 13-inch model will contain a 1440x900 screen. Both USB3.0 and Thunderbolt will be supported on each of the MacBook Airs as well as each of the MacBook Pros. SSD technology is also prominently mentioned and was expected.

The new MacBook line ships today. The new lineup of MacBook Airs has starting prices of between $999 and $1499 and the high-resolution MacBook Pro starts at $2199.

Source: Apple

Lovely low cost Llano build will handle most users needs

Subject: Systems | June 8, 2012 - 06:17 PM |
Tagged: A4-3400, amd, llano, gigabyte, ga-55m-ds2

AMD is still a great choice for someone wanting a general use system that will not cost them much.  Hardware Heaven demonstrates this in their latest computer build, based around the $66 Llano A4-3400 and the $50 Gigabyte GA-A55M-DS2 which is a microATX board and means this system can be quite small in size.  To ensure that this PC can handle some light gaming they put in the passively cooled Sapphire HD7750 Ultimate and to house the system they chose Antec's Three Hundred Two enclosure.  Altogether you end up with an inexpensive PC which can handle just about any basic task you throw at it.

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"Recently AMD set us the challenge of building a low cost APU system to see if it would be possible to build a decent media/productivity/gaming PC on a minimal budget. It's something different to a review which is always a nice change so we set about looking at what could be done when pretty much every component has to cost £60 or less."

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Alienware Getting Latest NVIDIA Kepler Cards to Continue Delivering Maximum Performance for Gamer

Subject: Systems, Mobile | June 5, 2012 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: alienware, dell, gtx 680m, GTX 690, Ivy Bridge, aurora, m17x, m18x

Alienware has also contributed to the lack of GTX690s and GTX680M chips by filling their latest gaming PCs and laptops with NVIDIA's new Kepler chips.  Paired with an Ivy Bridge processor the new M17x and M18x along with the Aurora desktop will offer incredible performance for anyone willing to pay the price.  Both laptops will support 3D though only the M18x offers you the choice of dual GTX 680Ms in SLI. 

A little over a month ago, we announced the first wave of major hardware upgrades for our Alienware line of laptops based on the newest Intel Ivy Bridge processors and also NVIDIA GeForce 6-series cards. Since then, NVIDIA has certainly kept busy as they continue to introduce more members of the next-generation Kepler family such as the GTX 690, GTX 670, and most recently, the GTX 680M.

By the time you read this, NVIDIA will have finally revealed the details of their GTX 680M from Computex 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan. The GTX 680M is based on the GK104 Kepler architecture and features similar silicon to its beefy desktop version, the GTX 680. NVIDIA calls this card the ‘fastest, most advanced gaming notebook GPU ever built’ and we have little reason to argue otherwise.

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On the flip side of that power-packed coin, customers who order a system with the GTX 680M will also see greater improvements to power efficiency utilizing NVIDIA’s Optimus technology which enables long battery life by automatically switching on the dedicated GPU only when necessary. All in all, the GTX 680M paves the way for superior next-gen mobile gaming performance and makes the most of the additional technologies below that can only be found on GeForce GPUs:

  • Adaptive V-sync – newly developed technology for a smoother gameplay experience
  • Advanced AA modes – for crisper images, including NVIDIA FXAA and new TXAA
  • PhysX support – for accelerated in-game physics
  • NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 technology – for bigger, brighter, more comfortable 3D gaming
  • 3DTV Play software – for connecting notebooks to 3DTVs for the most immersive gaming experience to be had in a living room
  • NVIDIA SLI technology – for up to double the gaming performance. Two GeForce GTX 680M GPUs in SLI mode represent the fastest notebook graphics solution available anywhere
  • CUDA technology support – for high-performance GPU computing applications

We are particularly proud to be a launch partner with NVIDIA for the GTX 680M. The Alienware M17x will be available with the GeForce GTX 680M 2GB DDR5 GPU along with the option for the NVIDIA 3D Vision technology. The Alienware M18x will also be available with the GeForce GTX 680M GPU in single or dual-card SLI configurations before the end of the month.

The Alienware M17x and M18x aren’t the only two products getting the Kepler kick, and they certainly won’t be the last. Before the end of the month, we will have configuration options to allow users to equip their custom built Aurora with the newly released GeForce GTX 690.

Based on many of the initial reviews of the GTX 690 as can be seen Anandtech and Hot Hardware, most people have drawn one consistent conclusion; the GTX 690 is easily the most powerful single-card GPU they have ever tested. With that level of graphical power and performance, we have been working with NVIDIA to offer the GTX 690 in our Alienware Aurora R4 desktops in order to equip our ultimate gaming machines with even more processing power.

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The GeForce GTX690 is certainly a fantastic and ridiculously powerful pairing for the Alienware Aurora. The GTX 690 brings all the performance of a dual GTX 680 SLI setup while drawing less power and outputting less noise – all while staying within the same thermal levels. Considering that the Aurora uses a mini-ITX board, the GTX 690 allows for users to enjoy the pinnacle of dual-card performance without having to deal with PCI-e slot spacing, drastic thermal levels, or slim dual card watercooled GPU blocks.

Again, expect the GTX 680M on the M17x/M18x and GTX 690 to be available for the Alienware Aurora R4 worldwide before the end of the month on Alienware.com or also Dell.com.

Source: Alienware