The first and last of AMD’s Polaris GPUs hit the market last year, among them the RX 460 and subsequent Sapphire RX 460 Nitro 4GB, a card that underwhelmed us with unimpressive performance and an ambitious price. Just a few months later, overclocker der8auer implemented a BIOS flash to unlock additional stream processors on some RX 460 cards, bringing the count from 896 to 1024 by just flashing the card BIOS.
Preorders are now open for the iBUYPOWER “Snowblind” system we’ve been covering for the past few months, most recently at CES 2017. The most notable aspect of Project Snowblind is the modified NZXT Noctis 450 enclosure, which uses an LCD side panel in place of a traditional clear window.
To be clear: although the buzz surrounding Project Snowblind is generally about the side panel, Snowblind systems are complete prebuilt machines and their enclosures are not available separately at this time (see our Noctis 450 review for details on the non-LCD version). As such, there are three SKUs available for preorder: Snowblind, Snowblind Pro, and Snowblind Extreme, for $1500, $1800, and $2500 respectively, with monthly payment plans optional. Additional components can be added for additional cost, but only white or silver varieties are allowed in order to give the panel maximum contrast.
This is our first episode of Ask GN since returning from CES, responsible for producing about two weeks’ worth of content that we’ve only just finished publishing. For this episode, we’re addressing questions pertaining primarily to reflowing / reballing dead components (laptops & GPUs), OEM vs. non-OEM CPUs, and a couple of airflow topics related to liquid cooling. Other questions include clarification on Kaby Lake & Skylake compatibilities, and keyboard USB passthrough impact on latency.
For our regulars, the usual accompaniment to Ask GN articles is a preview on what’s to come for the week. This week, we’ve got several CPU content items planned, a PC build, and lots of behind-the-scenes testing that will be published next week.
The official reveal of the Nintendo Switch left a lot to be desired, particularly in the hardware department. That’s not particularly surprising with Nintendo -- the company isn’t known for being open with its CPU and GPU specifications -- but we already have a Switch on pre-order for tear-down and in-depth performance analysis in the lab.
Regardless, even without further specs from Nintendo, we can still go through the basics and make some assumptions based on fairly credible leaks that are out there.
AMD may have inadvertently given out information today that could narrow down the release window for their upcoming Ryzen CPUs. The possible release date information was provided by a panel description for the upcoming Game Developers Conference (GDC), where AMD will host a panel detailing Zen optimization techniques for programmers. GDC 2017 takes place from February 27-March 3. This coupled with the AMD panel description from the GDC website (and our own digging while at CES) tells us that Ryzen will ship at the end of February.
In the original panel description (that has since been changed), AMD was asking session attendees to join their “Game Engineering team members for an introduction to the recently-launched AMD Ryzen CPU.” “Recently-launched” is the key phrase and indicates that the Ryzen CPU would likely already be available prior to GDC 2017, which again is February 27-March 3.
CES 2017 allowed our team to dig deeper into the Zen architecture, its Ryzen family of CPUs, and the ensemble of AM4 motherboards in the pipes. There are currently “more than 50” SKUs of AM4 motherboards, according to the AMD team, and that’ll include the X370, B350, A320, and A/B/X300 chipsets. In this article, we’ll provide a GN-made block diagram of Ryzen’s PCIe lanes and other features, a look at ASRock and Biostar motherboards, and some brief notes on the S3.0 radiator.
Before diving in, here’s a block diagram that GamersNexus created to better represent the Ryzen / Chipset relationship:
We just published our final video walkthrough of iBUYPOWER’s ongoing “Project Snowblind” enclosure, which uses an NZXT Noctis 450 and custom LCD side panel assemblage. The setup has been in our coverage for several months now, starting with PAX Prime in September, followed by an office visit in October (with several upgrades), and now concluding with CES 2017.
In its simplest form, the Snowblind enclosure offers an LCD side panel (rather than traditional case side panel) which is capable of graphics playback or Rainmeter overlay. Really, it can do anything that an extra monitor could do, it’s just limited by visibility and contrast. The Snowblind uses all white/black internals to ensure the side panel’s output remains as legible as possible, and further uses ultra-bright LEDs along the inside wall of the side panel to provide the effective “backlight” for the display. iBUYPOWER is using an expansion slot in the case to host a small card that bridges comms between a DVI link (from the GPU), but the card does not use any motherboard slots. A simple DVI pass-through runs from the video card to the expansion card, which then runs the wiring to the LCD side panel.
At CES 2016, Razer introduced what they touted as the long-awaited solution for laptop users that wanted desktop power gaming: the Razer Blade Stealth and the Razer Core. Razer promised UltraBook lightweight portability combined with PNP conversion to desktop GPU performance; however, like many products at CES, only part of the solution was ready. The UltraBook and external GPU enclosure combination was demonstrated at that CES and, to Razer’s credit, PNP worked … mostly.
While on the show floor, we were permitted to disconnect and reconnect the Core from the Stealth multiple times to watch the PNP in action. During the process, the engineers that we worked with explained the many difficulties involved with making real-time driver switching across Thunderbolt 3 (brand new, at that point) work. Asking a Microsoft OS to disconnect and reconnect display drivers from 3 different vendors (AMD, Intel, nVidia) was challenging. So, as we watched Windows change the display drivers in real time through Device Manager, we were impressed to see it working even if it wasn’t the fully polished end product. Soon after the show, Razer began delivering Stealths with 6th generation Core i7 CPUs, 2560x1440 QHD or 4K touch screens, 8GB of DDR3 DRAM, and up to 512GB PCIe based SSDs. The only slightly disappointing specification was the 45 WHr battery which provided around 9 hours of use.
Deepcool has made their mark on the PC hardware industry by including liquid cooling solutions in their cases. Deepcool’s Genome cases had a helical reservoir built into the front of the case. At CES 2017, Deepcool unveiled three new liquid-cooled cases, a show case, and two similar RGB fan sets.
The MF120 and MF120GT are the two new fans. The MF120GT uses a traditional housing design with the LEDs in an “X” pattern across the middle. The MF120 housing implements a frameless design with the RGB LEDs running nearly parallel through the middle. Both models share several properties: the housings are aluminum, the blades have a unique design meant to improve air pressure, they rotate on FDBs, and the fans are PWM adjustable between 500 and 2200 RPM. The plan is to sell 3 fans and a controller for $100 USD, and the system will be controlled through an Android or Apple mobile app. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a Windows desktop control app at the moment.
At the tail-end of our CES 2017 coverage, our visit to the Thermaltake showroom provided a look at upcoming cooling products – as the name might suggest – alongside some spin-offs of existing product lines. The more playful side of the room was outfitted with an original Donkey Kong arcade cabinet look-alike, a case mod by “Thermal Mike” for which we’ll post a separate video, while the rest of the room featured liquid and air cooling products.
Today's focus is on the Thermaltake P1 TG mini-ITX wall-mount enclosure, the Rainbow AIO CLC, and the Engine 27 Sandia-style ($50) cooler.