Hardware Guides

“Good for streaming” – a phrase almost universally attributed to the R7 series of Ryzen CPUs, like the R7 1700 ($270 currently), but with limited data-driven testing to definitively prove the theory. Along with most other folks in the industry, we supported Ryzen as a streamer-oriented platform in our reviews, but we based this assessment on an understanding of Ryzen’s performance in production workloads. Without actual game stream benchmarking, it was always a bit hazy just how the R7 1700 and the i7-7700K ($310 currently) would perform comparatively in game live-streaming.

This new benchmark looks at the AMD R7 1700 vs. Intel i7-7700K performance while streaming, including stream output/framerate, drop frames, streamer-side FPS, power consumption, and some brief thermal data. The goal is to determine not only whether one CPU is better than the other, but whether the difference is large enough to be potentially paradigm-shifting. The article explores all of this, though we’ve also got an embedded video below. If video is your preferred format, consider checking the article conclusion section for some additional thoughts.

This feature benchmark dives into one of the top requests we received from our Patreon backers: Undervolt Vega: Frontier Edition and determine its peak power/performance configuration. The test roped us in immediately, yielding performance uplift largely across the board from preliminary settings tuning. As we dug deeper, once past all the anomalous software issues, we managed to improve Vega: FE Air’s power available to the core, reduce power consumption relative to this, and improve performance in non-trivial ways.

Although power target and core voltage are somewhat tied at the hip, both being tools for overclocking, they don’t govern one another. Power target offset dictates how much additional power budget we’re willing to provide the GPU core (from the power supply) in order to stabilize its clock. GPU Vcore governs the voltage supplied, and will generally range from 900 to 1250mv on Vega: FE cards.

Vega’s native DPM configuration runs its final three states at 1440MHz, 1528MHz, and 1600MHz for the P-states, with DPM7 at 1600MHz/1200mv. This configuration is unsustainable in stock settings, as the core is both power-starved and thermally throttled (we’ll show this in a moment). The thermal limiter on Vega: FE is ~85C, at which point the power and clock will fluctuate hard to try and maintain control of the core temperature. The result is (1) spikey frequencies and frametime latencies, worsening perceived performance, and (2) reduced overall performance as frequency struggles to maintain even 1528MHz (let alone the advertised 1600MHz). To resolve for the thermal issue, we can either configure a more intelligent fan curve than AMD’s stock configuration or create a Hybrid card; unfortunately, we’re still left with a new problem – a power limit.

The power limit can be resolved in large part by offsetting power target by +50%. Making this modification is easy and “fixes” the issue of clock-dropping, but introduces (1) new thermal issues – resolvable by configuring a higher fan RPM, of course, and (2) absurdly high power consumption for a non-linear scaling in performance. In order to truly get value out of this approach, undervolting seems the next appropriate measure. AMD’s native core voltage is far higher than necessary for the card to operate at its 1600MHz target, and so lowering voltage improves performance from the out-of-box config. This is for thermal and power reasons alike. We ultimately see significantly reduced power consumption, to the tune of ~90W in some cases, a more stable core clock and thereby higher performance, and lower temperature – and thereby controllable noise.

We can’t get all the way down to the inner workings of the pump on this one, unfortunately, as all of our source images for the Vega: Frontier Edition – Watercooled card are from a reader. The reader was kind enough to remove the shroud from their new WC version of Vega: FE so that we could get an understanding of the basics, leading us to the conclusion that AMD has built one of the most expensive pre-built liquid cooling solutions for a graphics card.

The video tear-down goes into detail on the images we received, but we’ll revisit most of it here. The card uses the same base PCB, same VRM, same GPU/HBM layout and positioning, and same everything as the air-cooled card. The difference is entirely in the cooling solution, where the Delta VRM fan goes away and is replaced with an additional reservoir (more on that in a moment), while the GPU/VRM cooling is handled by liquid plates and a pump. The die-case finstack atop the I/O is also now gone, and the baseplate is simplified to an aluminum plate with no protrusions.

Liquid-cooling the AMD Vega: Frontier Edition card has proven an educational experience for us, yielding new information about power leakage and solidifying beliefs of a power wall. We also learned that overclocking without thermal barriers (or thermal-induced power barriers) grants significant performance uplift in some scenarios, including gaming and production, though is done at the cost of ~33A from the PSU over 12V PSU power.

Our results for the AMD Vega: Frontier Edition liquid-cooling hybrid mod are in, and this review covers the overclocking scalability, power limits, thermal change, and more.

The Hybrid mod was detailed in build log form over in part 1 of the endeavor. This mod wasn’t as straight-forward as most, seeing as we didn’t have any 64x64mm brackets for securing the liquid cooler to the card. Drilling through an Intel mounting plate for an Asetek cooler, we were ultimately able to get an Asetek 570LC onto the card, which we later equipped with a Gentle Typhoon 120mm fan. VRM FET cooling was handled by aluminum finstacks secured by thermal adhesive, cooled with 1-2x Corsair ML120 fans. That said, this VRM cooling solution also wasn’t necessary – we could have operated with just the fans, and did at one point operate with just the heatsinks (and indirect airflow).

Our newest revisit could also be considered our oldest: the Nehalem microarchitecture is nearly ten years old now, having launched in November 2008 after an initial showing at Intel’s 2007 Developer Forum, and we’re back to revive our i7-930 in 2017.

The sample chosen for these tests is another from the GN personal stash, a well-traveled i7-930 originally from Steve’s own computer that saw service in some of our very first case reviews, but has been mostly relegated to the shelf o’ chips since 2013. The 930 was one of the later Nehalem CPUs, released in Q1 2010 for $294, exactly one year ahead of the advent of the still-popular Sandy Bridge architecture. That includes the release of the i7-2600K, which we’ve already revisited in detail.

Sandy Bridge was a huge step for Intel, but Nehalem processors were actually the first generation to be branded with the now-familiar i5 and i7 naming convention (no i3s, though). A couple features make these CPUs worth a look today: Hyperthreading was (re)introduced with i7 chips, meaning that even the oldest generation of i7s has 4C/8T, and overclocking could offer huge leaps in performance often limited by heat and safe voltages rather than software stability or artificial caps.

We’ve already endured one launch of questionable competence this quarter, looking at X299 and Intel’s KBL-X series, and we nearly escaped Q2 without another. Vega: Frontier Edition has its ups and downs – many of which we’ll discuss in a feature piece next week – but we’re still learning about its quirks. “Gaming Mode” and “Pro Mode” toggling is one of those quirks; leading into this article, it was our understanding – from both AMD representatives and from AMD marketing – that the switch would hold a relevant impact on performance. For this reason, we benchmarked for our review in the “appropriate” mode for each test: Professional applications used pro mode, like SPECviewperf and Blender. Gaming applications used, well, gaming mode. Easy enough, and we figured that was a necessary methodological step to ensure data accuracy to the card’s best abilities.

Turns out, there wasn’t much point.

A quick note, here: The immediate difference when switching to “Gaming Mode” is that WattMan, with all its bugginess, becomes available. Pro Mode does not support WattMan, though you can still overclock through third-party tools – and probably should, anyway, seeing as WattMan presently downclocks memory to Fury X speeds, as it seems to have some leftover code from the Fury X drivers.

That’s the big difference. Aside from WattMan, Gaming Mode technically also offers AMD Chill, something that Pro Mode doesn’t offer a button to use. Other than these interface changes, the implicit, hidden change would be an impact to gaming or to production performance.

Let’s briefly get into that.

Reader and viewer requests piled high after our Vega: Frontier Edition review, so we pulled the most popular one from the stack to benchmark. In today’s feature benchmark, we’re testing Vega: FE vs. the R9 Fury X at equal core clocks, resulting in clock-for-clock testing that could be loosely referred to as an “IPC” test – that’s not exactly the most correct phrasing, but does most quickly convey the intent of the endeavor. We’ll use the phrase “academic exercise” a few times in this piece, as it’s difficult to draw strong conclusions to other Vega products from this test; ultimately, GPUs simply have too many moving parts to simulate easier IPC benchmarks like you’d find on a CPU. As one limitation is resolved, another emerges – and they’re likely different on each architecture.

Regardless, we’re testing the two GPUs clock for clock to see how Vega: FE responds with the Fury X in the ring.

Following our AMD Radeon Vega: Frontier Edition review and preceding tear-down, Buildzoid has now returned to analyze the AMD Vega: Frontier Edition PCB & VRM. This is a 12-phase design (doubled-up 6) that ultimately resembles something similar to a 290X Lightning, making it the hands-down best VRM we've seen on a reference card. Given that Vega: FE is $1000, that sort of makes sense -- but Buildzoid does pose some questions as to what's necessary and how much current is really going through the card.

Keeping marketing checked by reality is part of the reason that technical media should exist: Part of the job is to filter out the adjectives and subjective language for consumers and get to the objective truth. Intel’s initial marketing deck contained a slide that suggested their new X-series CPUs could run 3-way or 4-way GPUs for 12K Gaming. Those are their exact words: "12K Gaming," supported by orange demarcation for the X-series, whereas it is implicitly not supported (in the slide) on the K-SKU desktop CPUs. Not to speak of how uncommon that resolution is, this also isn’t a real resolution. Regardless, we’re using this discussion of Intel’s "12K" claims as an opportunity to benchmark two x8 GPUs on a 7700K with two x16 GPUs on a 7900X, with some tests disabling cores and boosting clock. We have also received a statement from Intel to GamersNexus regarding the marketing language.

First of all, we need to define a few things: Intel’s version of 12K is not what you’d normally expect – in fact, it’s actually fewer pixels than 8K, so the naming is strongly misleading. Let’s break this down.

Best Gaming PC Cases of Computex 2017

By Published June 07, 2017 at 6:31 pm

This year’s Computex featured the usual mix of concept and prototype cases, some of which will never make it to market (or some which will be several thousand dollars, like the WinBot). We particularly liked the “Wheel of Star” mod at Cooler Master, the “Floating” from In Win, Level 20 from Thermaltake, and Concept Slate from Corsair – but none of those are really meant to be bought in large quantities. This round-up looks at the best cases of Computex that are in the category of being purchasable, keeping cost below $400. We’ll be looking primarily at ATX form factor cases, with one Micro-STX co-star, with a few “needs work” members in the mix.

This case round-up won’t include everything we saw at the show and will exclude the more exotic cases, like the Concept Slate and the In Win WinBot, but still has plenty to get through. Before getting started, here’s a list of the relevant coverage of individual products and booths that are discussed herein:

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