Hardware Guides

Just as we made it into Taiwan, we're already packing to fly to Shenzhen, China for more factory and HQ tours. During the first leg of our three-part Asia trip, the GN team traveled to Taoyuen, Taiwan – about an hour outside of Taipei – to visit the In-Win case & paint factories. In-Win is best-known for fronting insane projects at tradeshows, like the Transformer-inspired H-Tower and 805 Infinity, and all of those cases get made in the factories we visited.

Touring the In-Win case-making factory gave a look into how PC cases are made; we saw injection-molding machines, automated powder coat booths, giant sanding and CNC machines, 3D coordinate projection validators, and more.

Had investigators walked into our Thermal-Lab-And-Video-Set Conglomerate, they'd have been greeted with a horror show worthy of a police report: Two video cards fully dissected – one methodically, the other brutally – with parts blazoned in escalating dismemberment across the anti-static mat.

Judging by some of the comments, you'd think we'd committed a crime by taking apart a new GTX 1080 – but that's the job. Frankly, it didn't really matter if the thing died in the process. We're here to make content and test products for points of failure and success, not to preserve them.

The test results are in from our post-review DIY project, which started here. Our goal was a simple one: As a bit of a decompression project after our 9000-word analysis of nVidia's GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition, we decided to tear-down the GTX 1080, look underneath, and throw a liquid block onto the exposed die. The “Founders Edition” of the GTX 1080 is effectively a reference model, and as such, it'll quickly be outranked by AIB partner cards with regard to cooling and OC potential. The GTX 1080 overclocks reasonably well – we were hitting ~2025-2050MHz with the FE model – but it still feels limited. That limitation is a mix of power limit and thermal throttling.

Our testing discovered that thermal throttles occur at precisely 82C. Each time the card hits 82C absolute, the clock-rate dips and produces a marginal impact to frametimes and framerate. We also encountered clock-rate stability issues over long burn-in periods, and would have had to further step-down the OC to accommodate the 82C threshold. Even when configuring the VRM blower fan to 100% speed, limitations were encountered – but it did perform better, just with the noise levels of a server fan (~60dB, in our tests). That's not really acceptable for a real-world use case. Liquid will bring down noise levels, help sustain higher clock-rates at those noise levels, and keep thermals well under control.

The video (Part 3) is below. This article will cover the results of our DIY liquid-cooled GTX 1080 'Hybrid' vs. the Founders Edition card, including temperatures, VRM fan RPM, overclocking, stability, and FPS. Our clocks vs. time charts are the most interesting.

We're building our own GTX 1080 Hybrid. We're impatient, and the potential for further improved clock-rate stability – not that the 1080 isn't already impressively stable – has drawn us toward a DIY solution. For this GTX 1080 liquid cooling mod, we're tearing apart $1300 worth of video cards: (1) the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid, which long held our Best of Bench award, is being sacrificed to the Pascal gods, and (2) the GTX 1080 Founders Edition shall be torn asunder, subjected to the whims of screwdrivers and liquid cooling.

Here's the deal: We ran a thermal throttle analysis in our 9000-word review of the GTX 1080 (read it!). We discovered that, like Maxwell before it, consumer Pascal seems to throttle its frequency as temperatures reach and exceed ~82C. Each hit at 82C triggered a frequency fluctuation of ~30~70MHz, enough to create a marginal hit to frametimes. This only happened a few times through our first endurance test, but we've conducted more – this time with overclocks applied – to see if there's ever a point at which the throttling goes from “welcomed safety check” to something less desirable.

Turns out, the thermal throttling impacts our overclocks, and it's limited the potential of a GPU that's otherwise a strong overclocker. And so begins Part 1 of our DIY GTX 1080 build log – disassembly; we're taking apart the GTX 1080, tearing it down to the bones for a closer look inside.

A frame's arrival on the display is predicated on an unseen pipeline of command processing within the GPU. The game's engine calls the shots and dictates what's happening instant-to-instant, and the GPU is tasked with drawing the triangles and geometry, textures, rendering lighting, post-processing effects, and dispatching the packaged frame to the display.

The process repeats dozens of times per second – ideally 60 or higher, as in 60 FPS – and is only feasible by joint efforts by GPU vendors (IHVs) and engine, tools, and game developers (ISVs). The canonical view of game graphics rendering can be thought of as starting with the geometry pipeline, where the 3-dimensional model is created. Eventually, lighting gets applied to the scene, textures and post-processing is applied, and the scene is compiled and “shipped” for the gamer's viewing. We'll walk through the GPU rendering and game graphics pipeline in this “how it works” article, with detailed information provided by nVidia Director of Technical Marketing Tom Petersen.

The Order of 10 puzzle preempted a forthcoming event that we'll be covering, publicly disclosed as occurring on May 6 at 9PM EST. Although nVidia has not technically, officially laid claim to the “#OrderOf10” puzzle, the countdown timer happens to expire precisely when nVidia's yet-undetailed Twitch.tv streaming event will kick-off. UPDATE: View our GTX 1080 & GTX 1070 coverage here.

And that full day of decoding mysteries led us to brush-up on nVidia's “Pascal” architecture, revealed years ago and announced at this year's GTC as hitting volume production. The first Pascal chip publicly known to enter production is the GP100, found on the Tesla P100 scientific and computational accelerator card. GP100 is the “Big GPU” for this generation of nVidia devices, measuring in at an intimidating 610mm^2 die size, and stands as the trailhead for imminent derivatives of the GPU architecture. Those derivatives will invariably include gaming-targeted devices – something for which the P100 is not remotely targeted – in the GeForce GTX lineup.

This article dives deep into NVIDIA's new Pascal architecture. We'll talk streaming multiprocessor layout, memory subsystems and HBM1 vs. HBM2, L1 & L2 Cache, unified memory, GDMA, and more.

As for the live-streamed event tonight, we're hoping that it'll offer us some official names for the rumored “GTX 1000” series (e.g. GTX 1080, GTX 1070, GTX 1060 Ti), but we really don't know for certain what's being unveiled. We will be covering that event tonight in full detail, whatever it may involve. Be sure to check the site and YouTube channel for updates as they're released live.

A show floor crawling with tens of thousands of people is an interesting environment for a PC tear-down – certainly more chaotic than in our labs. Still, whenever we've got an opportunity to take something apart during an unveil, we take it. MSI's recently unveiled Aegis (video below) fancies itself a barebones machine that borders on a display unit, mounted atop a power-supply enshrining pedestal that resembles Hermes' winged shoes.

While at PAX East, we weaponized our camera toolkit to disassemble MSI's Aegis barebones gaming PC, which includes a custom case, motherboard, and unique CPU cooler. Side panels came off, the video card was removed, and we more closely examined the custom cooler that MSI's packed into its compact enclosure.

To Broadwell-E or not to Broadwell-E. That is the question!

If you're an enthusiast and that Nehalem or Sandy Bridge setup you built years ago is ready for a replacement, you might be considering an X99 motherboard build. The operative question then becomes, "should I wait for Broadwell-E or just buy Haswell-E and be done with it?" After a weekend at PAX East talking to several SIs, Intel employees, and all the other hardware vendors, we were able to get a few bits and pieces of information that may help you make your decision, but first, let's look at some numbers.

One of our most commonly received Ask GN questions is “which video card manufacturer is 'the best?'” (scare quotes added). The truth of the matter is, as we've often said, they're all similar in the most critical matter – the GPU is the same. If MSI sells an R9 380X and PowerColor sells an R9 380X, they're both using the same GPU (Tonga) and silicon; core performance will be nearly identical. The same is true for the GTX cards – EVGA and PNY both sell GTX 960 video cards, and all of their models implement the same GM206 GPU. The differences are generally rooted in pre-overclocking, cooling units, support and warranties, and aesthetics.

All our content combined, we've spent hours and tens of thousands of words talking about which video cards perform the best in various categories. That's great -- but sometimes it's fun to do something different. This video allows each GPU manufacturer one minute to explain who makes the best graphics cards for gaming. It's a speed-round, to be sure.

U.2 (pronounced Udot2, lest Bono exercise legal force) has made a major appearance on PC platform updates from motherboard vendors, including Gigabyte with new X99 and Z170X motherboards at PAX. The form factor used to be called SFF-8639 (SSD Form Factor) and was targeted almost entirely at server and enterprise markets. In a move toward greater user-friendliness, the interface has rebranded as “U.2,” easier to remember with the M.2 interface also proliferating across the market.

This “TLDR” article explains the U.2 vs. M.2 vs. SATA Express differences, with a focus on PCI-e lane assignment and speeds or throughputs.

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