Hardware

Intel Optane Memory: A New Drive Caching Solution

By Published March 27, 2017 at 12:00 pm

We recently covered Intel’s DC P4800X data center drive, with takes on the technology from two editors in video and article form. Those content pieces served as a technology overview for 3D Xpoint and Intel Optane (and should be referenced as primer material), but both indicated a distinct lack of any consumer-focused launch for the new half-memory, half-storage amalgam.

Today, we’re back to discuss Intel’s Optane Memory modules, which will ship April 24 in the form of M.2 sticks.

As Intel’s platform for 3D Xpoint (Micron also has one: QuantX), Optane will be deployed on standardized interfaces like PCI-e AICs, M.2, and eventually DIMM form factors. This means no special “Optane port,” so to speak, and should make adoption at least somewhat more likely. There’s still a challenging road ahead for Intel, of course, as Optane has big goals to somewhat unify memory and storage by creating a device with storage-like capacities and memory-like latencies. For more of a technology overview, check out Patrick Stone’s article on the DC P4800X.

It’s been since February 23 that we’ve run an Ask GN episode; it seems that our definition of “week” is “4x.” With travel once a week for that past month, almost always aligning on the days we normally film Ask GN, we hope that you’ll forgive us. This episode contains some great discussion topics as submitted by our YouTube viewers and Patreon supporters (via Discord), including Ryzen topics (naturally), VRAM consumption vs. visual quality, differences in motherboards, and more.

That last question is a bit of an interesting one: It does sometimes feel like all motherboards are the same when just scrolling through spec sheets on a retailer, but we assure you that there are still relevant points of differentiation between motherboard vendors. We’ll talk about a few of those in this episode.

Thermaltake’s Core P1 is a Mini-ITX, semi-open air chassis with a 5mm thick tempered glass side panel and wall mount support. The Core P1 was featured in our Best Gaming PC Cases of 2017 CES Round-Up article and video, though had no release date (or firm price) at the time of those content pieces. Thermaltake just recently announced that their Core P1 has become available for sale in the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, and Australia and announced a retail price of $100 USD.

Corsair has freshly launched their new K63 Compact Mechanical Keyboard and is available on Corsair’s website as well as Amazon. The K63 keyboard is a tenkey-less design and features Cherry MX Red switches (linear), per-key red LED backlighting, full key rollover, and dedicated media keys. The K63 appears to be based off the Corsair Vengeance K65; however, the K63 is built on a plastic body instead of the aluminium chassis on the K65. Both feature dedicated media keys, although the K63 does add a bit of functionality not found on the K65 with Stop/Start, Fast Forward, and Rewind keys on the top-left side.

Intel’s latest memory technology has big aspirations. It has the ability to one day unify the DRAM and non-volatile memory structure, but we’re not there yet. Today, we get the Data Center Optane SSD (the DC P4800X) as a responsive, high-endurance drive specifically targeted at big data users. This is not a consumer product, but the architecture will not change in any significant ways as Optane & 3D Xpoint move to consumer devices. This information is applicable across the user space.

Upon initial release, the DC P4800X drive will be a 375GB PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe HHHL device costing $1520 without Intel’s software, and $1951 with the Intel Memory Drive Technology software package. Later in the lifecycle, we should see 750GB and 1.5TB versions. The Optane SSD is one of three Optane technologies that Intel is marketing: Optane DIMM (fits into a DDR4 slot), Optane SSD (fits into a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot or U.2 connector), and Optane Memory (fits into an M.2 slot).

GTX 1080 Ti FE PCB Analysis & Shunt Mod

By Published March 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Buildzoid's latest contribution to our site is his analysis of the GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition PCB and VRM, including some additional thoughts on shunt modding the card for additional OC headroom. We already reviewed the GTX 1080 Ti here, modded it for increased performance with liquid cooling, and we're now back to see if nVidia's reference board is any good.

This time, it turns out, the board is seriously overbuilt and a good option for waterblock users (or users who'd like to do a Hybrid mod like we did, considering the thermal limitations of the FE cooler). NVidia's main shortcoming with the 1080 Ti FE is its FE cooler, which limits clock boosting headroom even when operating stock. Here's Buildzoid's analysis:

AMD is set to roll out 17.3.2 Radeon drivers bound for the highly anticipated Mass Effect: Andromeda, for which we recently discussed graphics settings and recommended specs.

The new drivers mostly prime the RX 400 series cards for the upcoming Mass Effect launch—most demonstrably the RX 480 8GB, of which AMD notes a 12% performance increase when compared to drivers 17.3.1. Additionally, the drivers will add an “AMD optimized” tessellation profile.

The AMD Ryzen 5 series is set to continue AMD’s launch of its new Zen architecture, debuting earlier this month with the Ryzen 7 (R7) CPUs. Thus far, we’ve seen the release of the 1800X flagship, 1700X, and 1700 CPUs (the last of which being our option of choice). AMD’s subsequent launches will be focused on the R5 line, announced today, and a later-specified R3 line. We’re looking at a retail release date of April 11 for the R5 1400, R5 1500X, R5 1600, and R5 1600X CPUs; the R3 CPUs, meanwhile, are expected for availability in 2H17.

AMD hasn’t fully revealed all the technical details of these SKUs at this time. We know enough of the basics, but will have to wait for more information on how the CCXs are configured in 6C/12T scenarios.

Here’s a listing of prices, to get started:

BitFenix Portal Mini-ITX Case Chambers the GPU

By Published March 15, 2017 at 10:32 am

Press embargo lifts today on a new mini-ITX case from BitFenix, the “subtle, yet remarkable” Portal. The “subtle” aspect might refer to the resemblance of the logo (and to some degree, the case), which appears to resemble the turrets from Valve’s video game of the same name, but that’s really a positive feature.

The Portal is, first and foremost, designed to house HTPCs. The space and thermal limitations of mini-ITX cases typically make it difficult to jam a real gaming PC inside, and the best chance for CPU cooling in this instance is a 120mm intake slot that can fit an AIO radiator. Still, Bitfenix does stress the versatility of the case: there are two 3.5”/2.5” bays and one 2.5” bay, so there should be enough for all the components of a decent gaming system. The 120mm is one of two fan mounts on the main chamber of the case: the other is a tiny 80mm fan (both contain fans by default), something we’re interested in noise testing later. Thermal tests will be interesting--although there’s very little space, the CPU is directly in the path of airflow and the GPU and PSU are thermally isolated, which is promising. Bitfenix describes the fans as “stable airflow for basic Office and Home Theater PCs.”

AMD yesterday released a community update with interesting assertions regarding thread scheduling, temperature reporting, Windows power plan issues, and SMT challenges.

According to AMD’s Robert Hallock, the company has found no indication that Windows 10 thread scheduling is operating improperly for Zen. This should be the final word in any argument that Microsoft thread scheduling issues are sabotaging Ryzen: they aren’t, as stated by AMD below:

“We have investigated reports alleging incorrect thread scheduling on the AMD Ryzen processor. Based on our findings, AMD believes that the Windows 10 thread scheduler is operating properly for ‘Zen,’ and we do not presently believe there is an issue with the scheduler adversely utilizing the logical and physical configurations of the architecture.

“As an extension of this investigation, we have also reviewed topology logs generated by the Sysinternals Coreinfo utility. We have determined that an outdated version of the application was responsible for originating the incorrect topology data that has been widely reported in the media. Coreinfo v3.31 (or later) will produce the correct results.”

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