Hardware Guides

The GTX 980's entry into laptops – without suffixed “M” demarcation – provided a look at the world of true desktop graphics as integrated on mobile devices. We reviewed MSI's GT72S Dominator Pro G ($2760) with its GTX 980, conducting additional overclocking tests to determine just how far the desktop part could be pushed when crammed into a laptop.

Turns out, it was pretty far. And we're revisiting the subject with Intel's new i7-6820HK and the GTX 970M. This benchmark looks at just how far a laptop CPU and GPU can be overclocked, then runs game FPS and Adobe tests to determine if OCing is worth it. We use The Witcher 3, DiRT, GTA V, Shadow of Mordor, and Metro for FPS tests, then run trace and automated testing for Photoshop and video editing software. A CyberPower Fangbook 4 SX7-300 was used for the benchmark, which is outfitted with the 6820HK unlocked CPU.

Beginner PC Building Tips & Common Mistakes

By Published January 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm

It's been snowing here lately, which means that the entire state has shut down from its 1” of cumulative death-powder. While waiting for one of the thermal benches to warm-up, we figured a quick, informal discussion on basic PC building would be a worthy snow-day topic.

GN test technician Mike Gaglione handles most of our system assembly and case testing, making him an ideal candidate to speak to out-of-mind system install tips and common beginner oversights. We talk about motherboard standoffs, memory slotting, PCI-e slot assignment for multi-GPU setups, cable management tips, and more.

Our last head-to-head GPU comparison benchmarked the performance of a single GTX 980 Ti versus two GTX 970s in SLI. Following some astute reader suggestions, we've acquired a PowerColor Devil 13 dual-core R9 390 – two GPUs on one card – to test as a CrossFire stand-in against SLI GTX 970s. Performance analysis is accompanied by power draw and thermal tests, though a proper, full review on the Devil 13 card will follow this content in short order.

For today, the focus is on this head-to-head comparison. FPS benchmarks look at performance of 2x CrossFire R9 390s vs. 2x SLI GTX 970s, including supporting data from a GTX 980 Ti, 980, and R9 390X. We'll also work toward answering the question of whether CrossFire and SLI are worth it in this particular scenario, as opposed to investing in a single, more expensive GPU.

Why We Won't Be Day-One VR Adopters

By Published January 18, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Ivan Sutherland's “Sword of Domacles” head-mounted display lurched above its user as a spider above its prey; the contraption, as most technology of its era, was room-sized. The Sword of Domacles wasn't meant to be a user-accessible VR solution. It produced primitive wireframes of a room's interior and was strictly observational, demonstrated in awkward photos with the wearer's hands neatly clasped behind his back. This was Ground Zero for VR.

Sutherland later joined David Evans to build the University of Utah's Computer Science and Computer Graphics divisions, responsible for students who'd later create the world's first computer-animated 3D graphics. Through Sutherland and Evans – and their students – the foundation for Adobe, Pixar, and Silicon Graphics (SGI) was set, later producing companies like the modern nVidia. All this history of VR is recapped more thoroughly in our “History of Virtual Reality” article.

Oculus VR and Valve are makers of the modern-day HMD incarnates. Billions of dollars are backing these new ventures and, for the first time in history, viable VR solutions don't cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They're also not military-owned, another common theme of previous virtual reality attempts.

Our team has spent a considerable amount of time in virtual reality demos. The technology is an impressive fusion of display advancements, frametime pacing optimization, input latency management, and IR scanning. Just the display tech alone is nearly unrivaled, the Rift packing 2160x1200 pixels into a space smaller than a phone screen. Screen Door Effect issues have been largely resolved or circumvented on each of the major two VR solutions, and timewarp has been navigated with clever GPU processing techniques by both AMD and nVidia. Everything's lining-up to be a serious push into virtual reality and, this time, there's enough money behind the concept that it's not another “3D glasses” fad. Probably, anyway.

But I don't think VR is ready for day-one adoption by the general gaming audience. Impressive – yes; here to stay – yes. But not ready for gamers. The Vive and Rift both experience similar versions of the same problems: Hardware requirements and prices that rival more affordable displays, logistical and use case limitations, and the industry's myopic understanding of game design.

HTC's Vive and Oculus VR's Rift are the two big players that we're focusing on today.

CES serves as a means to introduce some of the year's biggest product announcements. At last week's show, we saw new GPU architectures, virtual reality 'jetpacks,' Star Wars Destroyer case mods, and a dozen or more cases. Although by no means a definitive listing of all the year's cases, CES 2016 offers a look at what to expect for the annual computer hardware and technology trends and announcements. In the world of cases, it seems that's the trend of power supply shrouds.

This round-up lists the best gaming cases of 2016, including products from NZXT, Corsair, In-Win, Thermaltake, Phanteks, EVGA, and SilverStone. We look at the top PC cases from $50 to $400+, all shown at CES 2016, to best span all major budget ranges for PC builds.

Scalable multi-card configurations from both nVidia and AMD have improved in their performance over the years, with both companies investing additional resources to driver optimizations for multi-card users. The value of SLI or CrossFire has always been debatable, particularly for day-one system builders (rather than someone upgrading), but is worth investigating further. With all the year's newest titles – and some mainstays with well-tested performance – we did that investigation, specifically comparing a single 980 Ti vs. 2x 970s in SLI, a 980, single 970, and R9 390X for AMD baseline.

Today's GTX 970 SLI vs. single 980 Ti test benchmarks average FPS and 1% / 0.1% low performance, presenting data in a few different chart types: Usual AVG, 1% low, & 0.1% low head-to-head performance; delta value (percent advantage) between the 970s in SLI and 980 Ti; delta value (percent gain) between the 2x 970s and a single GTX 970.

This week's Ask GN episode – continued after a pause for an endless amount of game benchmarking content – visits the topic of GPU BIOS flashing, overclocking, and buying video cards in the face of new architectures.

After seeing a 750W PSU coupled with a Core i5 and GTX 960 for the thousandth time, inspiration struck to compile one of our most ambitious benchmarks to-date. This analysis compares watt consumption across various GPUs, CPUs, and complete system configurations, resulting in a loose template answering the question of “how many watts do I need?”

It all feeds into one of the most common PC building mistakes: going overkill on power supplies, often buying larger PSUs for sake of certainty or under the pretense of “room to upgrade.” This is a fine pretense, but is often done to the extreme. The fact of the matter is that most mid-range gaming PC builds can run on 450-600W PSUs, depending on the GPU, with a good deal of them landing ideal wattage around the 500-550W range. Buying a power supply that more closely fits the usage curve of a system will improve power efficiency, reduce build cost, reduce cost-to-run, and allow builders to buy PSUs that put the cost toward more relevant features than just wattage – like efficiency, protections, PFC, and so forth. Think of this as redistributing the cost of purchase; it's not always that simple, but we'd generally rather have increased efficiency ratings and power protections than more watts. It all depends on the build, of course, and that's what we're dissecting here.

Let's first talk power supply basics: How PSUs rails are divided, voltage ripple, how many watts are required, and power efficiency, then we'll dive into individual component power consumption benchmarks. We've tested the majority of the current nVidia and AMD GPU lineups for power consumption, the AMD & Intel CPU watt draw, and templated system power consumption. Our system templates were built in a fashion that should fall within range of reasonable configurations for “real” builders, and will help in determining how many watts you need for common go-to builds.

If our recent Star Wars Battlefront CPU benchmark is anything to go by, the days of dual-threaded CPUs appear to be numbered when it comes to gaming. The G3258 – a $60 powerhouse in its own right – is now encountering limitations to the extent of inability to play some games without hacks. We've found the Core i3 to be consistently performant and, although it's not on our current bench, the Athlon X4 860K seems to be the only reasonable option in the sub-$100 price-point at this time. This was preceded by the 760K, another popular chip, both of which took the same approach: Take an APU and disable the IGP, then just sell it as a CPU.

This guide rounds-up the best gaming CPUs on sale for Black Friday, ranging from $70 to $300 at the high-end. The CPUs here are built for different tasks, but will play LOL, DOTA2, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Battlefront, Fallout 4, Black Ops III, and other games to varying degrees. See what we have to say below before buying.

We've opted to exclude the X99 CPUs from this list, under the premise that these are primarily meant for production and enthusiast rigs. If you are interested in such a CPU, the i7-5930K is currently selling for $460.

This article specifically looks at single-GPU solutions to gaming at various price-points. We scale our GPU search from $100 to $600, covering PC builders across budget, mid-range, and high-end configurations. We've had extensive hands-on testing with the cards below, a fact accentuated by the burst of game launches in the past few weeks. Most of these cards have been tested in Battlefront, Fallout 4, AC Syndicate, Black Ops III, and the year's earlier titles, like The Witcher 3 and GTA V.

Black Friday starting to hit full swing, we found some of the best graphics cards of the year on sale for – in some cases – significant discount. The GTX 970 at $290, R9 380 at $143, and GTX 980 at $400 are just a few of the finds below.

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