One of the most frustrating aspects of the hardware industry is when a company made a perfectly viable product, but somehow flummoxed execution. The consumer doesn’t see the architecture or the engineering – at least, not outside of reviews – they see the full picture. In this capacity, consumers get a view of a product that is similar to a product manager’s: The big picture as it comes together, seeing past all the smaller details along the way.
A GPU might, for instance, be a powerhouse when analyzed under an SEM or in a vacuum, but could prove hamstrung in adverse thermal conditions resultant of an inadequate cooler. More appropriately, a laptop could host the best mobile hardware available, but prove devalued when flooded with unneeded software. The fastest SSD in the business, as bogged down with bloatware, will still be slower than a clean Windows install on a fresh HDD.
This big picture is sometimes lost to the chaos of marketing development efforts, particularly when MDF starts exchanging hands, and lost in the need to turn a profit in an industry with small margins. That’s what happened with MSI’s laptops: These are completely capable, highly competitive laptops that demand attention – but they’re plagued with an ineffable concoction of applications, responsible for doubling time required to boot. That’s not all, either – we have measured an impact to noise output as the CPU boosts sporadically, an unpredictable and spurious impact to frametimes, an impact to battery life, and an overall reduction in product quality.
All because of bloatware.
Over the past few years, we’ve built up an impressive stockpile of case reviews, the most common of which are sub-$100 ATX mid-towers. This is a roundup of some of our favorites, wildly different in purpose and appearance but all solid, affordable enclosures for the average gaming PC. Our best cases feature includes temperature and acoustic testing, and build quality discussion for the top PC cases under $100.
Everything here is something we’ve worked with in person, either in the lab or at tradeshows; if you feel something is missing, it is likely that we simply didn’t test it. We’re trying to keep the list to things released in the past year (or so), which means chart-toppers of previous eras are being skipped.
With days to go before we fly out to Taipei, Taiwan for this year's Computex show, EVGA's new 1080 Ti SC2 Hybrid card arrived for tear-down and analysis. We might not have time to get the review dialed-in on this one before the show, but we figured the least we could do is our inaugural disassembly of the card.
EVGA's 1080 Ti SC2 Hybrid makes a few changes over previous Hybrid cards, as it seems the liquid+air amalgams have grown in popularity over the past few generations. Immediately of note, the shroud now carries some 'tessellation' paint embellishments, an illuminated name plate, and a cable tether for the radiator fan. Small increments.
Laptop reviewing and benchmarking comes with a unique challenge: We don’t typically get to hang onto review samples once the cycle is complete, unlike other review products, which limits regression testing for content like today’s. This means that we need to rely on some of our older testing and methodology, but we can still judge scaling based on old games – that should be mostly linear, with some exceptions (which we’ve accounted for in our summary of tests).
Fortunately, the upshot of revisiting older titles for comparative analysis is that those titles do not change. They don’t get updates to game code and they don’t get driver updates, so results should largely exist in a hermetically sealed state.
Regardless, today’s goal is to benchmark the GTX 1050 Ti notebook GPU. We still have a lot of work to do on notebooks as we work to rebuild our bench, but this will start us off. The GTX 1070 is next. We’re starting with an MSI GE72 7RE Apache Pro with GTX 1050 Ti and i7-7700HQ CPU. This isn’t a review of the GE72 – that’s upcoming – but just a GPU benchmark to help determine scaling and placement of the 1050 Ti against other notebook GPUs.
Our review of the notebook is forthcoming, as are a few feature benchmark pieces. It’ll be interesting stuff, as we’ve got some key things to point out with this one. Be sure to follow or subscribe to catch that. For today, let’s get into the 1050 Ti notebook benchmarks.
After pointing out that Intel’s budget-option Pentium G4560 CPU somewhat invalidates the Intel i3 lineup, particularly when that lineup is flanked by i5s and R5s, the next question was how good of a GPU can be paired with the G4560. Someone buying a $70 CPU won’t likely be buying a GTX 1080 – and probably not a 1070 – but we wanted to see how far up the scale we could go before encountering a CPU bottleneck. This kind of test has all manner of variables, naturally, so we’ve done our best to constraint them; the biggest is that of the games tested. Depending on graphics settings, GPU constraints could be imposed all over the place. We decided to opt for what we thought to be a somewhat realistic test: We took the G4560, paired it with GPUs ranging from ~$115 to ~$600, and then configured graphics to high/ultra with a 1080p resolution. We then included titles that are known to CPU choke, titles known to be more GPU constrained, and titles balanced in the middle. This gives a wide berth of tested content (FPS, RTS, and popular titles) from which we can draw some conclusions.
We are using the Pentium G4560 for this test, naturally. Included in our Intel Pentium G4560 GPU bottleneck test are the following GPUs (listed in order of price):
We came away from our revisit of the once-king Sandy Bridge 2600K and 2500K CPUs impressed by the staying power of products that came out in Q1 2011, considering Intel’s unimpressive gains since that time.
At the time of Sandy Bridge’s release, AMD’s flagship CPUs were 45nm K10-based Phenom IIs, designed to compete in price/performance with the 45nm Lynnfield (Nehalem i5) quad cores. Later that year, AMD’s underwhelming Bulldozer architecture would launch and inevitably replace the Phenom line. Given that we’ve already looked at Intel’s 1Q11 offerings, we decided to revisit AMD’s Phenom II CPUs in 2017, including the Phenom II X6 1090T (Black Edition) and Phenom II X6 1055T. These benchmarks look at AMD Phenom II performance in gaming and production workloads for the modern era, including comparisons to the equal-aged Sandy Bridge CPUs, modern Ryzen 5 & 7 CPUs, and modern Intel CPUs.
Our Titan Xp Hybrid mod is done, soon to be shipped back to its owner in its new condition. Liquid cooling mods in the past have served as a means to better understand where a GPU could perform given a good cooler, and are often conducted on cards with reference coolers. The Titan Xp won’t have AIB partner cooler models, and so building a Hybrid card gives us a glimpse into what could have been.
In today’s benchmarks and conclusion of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, we’ll cover thermals and noise levels extensively, overclocking, and throw in some gaming benchmarks.
GN resident overclocker ‘Buildzoid’ just finished digging through the details of EVGA’s GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 ($780) video card, noting that the card is one of the most overbuilt 1080 Tis that we’ve seen yet. The FTW3 over-engineers its VRM and power delivery solution and cooling solution equally, the latter of which we detailed in our 1080 Ti FTW3 tear-down a few days ago.
Much of this is to do with the FTW VRM discussion of last year, something we closed the book on in November. Our conclusion was that the cards were operating within thermal spec, but that there were supply-side QA issues that happened to fall on EVGA. The engineering team decided to design for this by over-engineering every aspect of the VRM on the new ICX and 1080 Ti cards, something we see in today’s PCB analysis:
Our GTX 1080 Ti SC2 review was met with several comments (on YouTube, at least) asking where the FTW3 coverage was. Turns out, EVGA didn’t even have those cards until two days ago, and we had ours overnighted the same day. We’ve got initial testing under way, but wanted to share the tear-down process early to spoil some of the board. This tear-down of the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 ($780) exposes the PCB and VRM design, fan header placement, and cooler design for the FTW3. We’re working with GN resident overclocker ‘Buildzoid’ for a full PCB + VRM analysis in the coming days, but have preliminary information at the ready.
EVGA’s 1080 Ti FTW3 is one of the most overbuilt PCBs we’ve seen in recent history. As stated in our SC2 review, the EVGA team has gone absolutely mental with thermal pad placement (following last year’s incident), and that’s carried over to the FTW3. But it’s more than just thermal pads (on literally every component, even those that have no business being cooled), it’s also the VRM design. This is a 10+2 phase card with doubling and dual FETs all across the board, using Alpha Omega Semiconductor E6930s for all the FETs. We’ll save the rest of the PCB + VRM discussion (including amperage and thermal capabilities) for Buildzoid’s deep-dive, which we highly encourage watching. That’ll go live within a few days.
We just posted our second part of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, detailing the build-up process for adding CLCs to the Titan Xp. The process is identical to the one we detailed for the GTX 1080 Ti FE card, since the PCB is effectively equal between the two devices.
For this build, we added thermocouples to the VRAM and VRM components to try and determine if Hybrid mods help or hurt VRAM temperatures (and, with that part of testing done, we have some interesting results). Final testing and benchmarking is being run now, with plans to publish by Monday.
In the meantime, check out part 2 below: