Hardware

After an extended period of hardware silence, AMD has recently made its resurgence with updated GPU and CPU lines. The Radeon 300 series refreshed the existing R200 lineup, followed shortly by the architecturally revamped Fiji GPU on the Fury X; we've reviewed both of these launches (R9 390 & 380 review / Fury X review). Back in May, we also posted about the company's promised Kaveri refresh – the A10-7870K – and its market positioning.

Today we're reviewing that APU.

The Fury X has been a challenging video card to review. This is AMD's best attempt at competition and, as it so happens, the card includes two items of critical importance: A new GPU architecture and the world's first implementation of high-bandwidth memory.

Some system builders may recall AMD's HD 4870, a video card that was once a quickly-recommended solution for mid-to-high range builds. The 4870 was the world's first graphics card to incorporate the high-speed GDDR5 memory solution, reinforcing AMD's position of technological jaunts in the memory field. Prior to the AMD acquisition, graphics manufacturer ATI designed the GDDR3 memory that ended up being used all the way through to GDDR5 (GDDR4 had a lifecycle of less than a year, more or less, but was also first instituted on ATI devices).

AMD's most recent video card launch was September of 2014, introducing the R9 285 ($243) on the slightly updated Tonga GPU. Tonga was laterally imposed to take the place of the Tahiti products, namely the HD 7970 and its refresh, the R9 280. The Radeon 7970 video card shipped in late 2011 on the Tahiti GPU, a die using TSMC's still-fabbed 28nm process, and was refreshed as the R9 280, then updated, improved, and refreshed again as the Tonga-equipped R9 285. At its core, the 285 would offer effectively identical on-paper specs (with some changes, like a 256-bit memory bus against the 384-bit predecessor), but introduced a suite of optimization that yielded marginally improved performance over the R9 280.

All of this is to say that it's been a number of years since AMD has introduced truly new architecture. Tahiti's been around four years now, Hawaii shipped in 2013 and was a node refresh of Tahiti (more CUs, ROPs, and geometry / rasterizer processors), and Fiji – the anticipated new GPU – won't ship for a short bit longer. Filling that space is another refresher line, the Radeon 300 series of video cards.

AMD's lull in technological advancement on the hardware side has allowed competitor nVidia to increase competition in some unchallenged market segments, like the high-end with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) and mid-range with the GTX 960 ($200). The long-awaited R9 300 series video cards have finally arrived, though, and while they aren't hosting new GPUs or deploying a smaller fab process, the cards do offer marginally increased clockrates and other small changes.

This review benchmarks the AMD R9 390 and AMD R9 380 graphics cards against the preceding R9 280, R9 290(X), GTX 960, and other devices. The R7 370 and R7 360 also launch today, but won't be reviewed here.

Working with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) proved that nVidia could supplant its own device for lower cost, limiting the use cases of the Titan X primarily to those with excessive memory requirements.

In our GTX 980 Ti overclocking endeavors, it was quickly discovered that the card encountered thermal bounds at higher clockrates. Driver failures and device instability were exhibited at frequencies exceeding ~1444MHz, and although a 40% boost in clockrate is admirable, it's not what we wanted. The outcome of our modest overclocking effort was an approximate ~19% performance gain (measured in FPS) for a selection of our benchmark titles, enough to propel the 980 Ti beyond the Titan X in gaming performance. Most games cared more about raw clock speed of the lower CUDA-count 980 Ti than the memory capacity of the TiX.

AIO computers are a strange thing to us. As system builders, they often feel like artifacts from a distant, alien world. But they've improved in their gaming efficacy of late, and for that, it's worth a thorough review of one of the specs-leading gaming AIOs.

MSI's AG270 AIO computer is equipped with an nVidia GTX 980M and i7-4870HQ CPU, both high-end laptop components, and offers a 27” touchscreen with built-in speakers. The unit is a true all-in-one in this regard, but it does include more standard keyboard / mouse input options in the box. Most importantly, the AG270 is a $2700 gaming computer, making it somewhat intimidatingly priced.

Before jumping into the MSI AG270 all-in-one review and benchmarks, let's look over the system's core specs and features.

Following unrelenting rumors pertaining to its pricing and existence, nVidia's GTX 980 Ti is now an officially-announced product and will be available in the immediate future. The GTX 980 Ti was assigned an intensely competitive $650 price-point, planting the device firmly in a position to usurp the 780 Ti's positioning in nVidia's stack.

The 980 Ti redeploys the GTX 980's “The World's Most Advanced GPU” marketing language, a careful indication of single-GPU performance against price-adjacent dual GPU solutions. This video card takes the market positioning of the original GTX 780 Ti Kepler device in the vertical, resulting in the following bottom-up stack:

Until Pascal arrives, nVidia is sticking with its maturing Maxwell architecture. The GTX 980 Ti uses the same memory subsystem and compression technology as previous Maxwell devices.

This GTX 980 Ti review benchmarks the video card's performance against the GTX 980, Titan X, 780 Ti, 290X, and other devices, analyzing FPS output across our suite of test bench titles. Among others tested, the Witcher 3, GTA V, and Metro: Last Light all make a presence.

At the beginning of working on this case round-up, these three selections – the NZXT S340, Antec P70, and Zalman R1 – were all about $60 to $70 max. The price range was perfect, and the cases made for currently-marketed solutions that users may encounter. Over the week that we've worked on the round-up, things have changed a bit: Zalman's R1 and Antec's P70 now sit at $40 after a $20 rebates, shifting the price range to be unintentionally wider. The base price is still $60 for both cases.

These are the three cases we're looking at today:

In this gaming case round-up, we review the performance and build quality of NZXT's S340, Zalman's R1, and Antec's P70, hoping to narrow the selection of budget gaming cases. There are dozens of similarly-priced chassis out there and this is far from a comprehensive list, but it's our start on producing regular component round-ups as a means to more easily compare products for our readers. We'll work on more comparisons shortly following.

Kingston's rebranding effort to build their HyperX line of business has extended beyond memory and SSDs, reaching into gaming peripheral components like headsets (Cloud II reviewed) and mouse pads. Our previous mouse pad reviews have looked at the Thermaltake Draconem and Razer eXactMatX, both of which are hardened, alloy pads offering grip from corner brackets or an under-mat. HyperX's alternative makes use of a softer cloth surface, deploying a rubberized underside for grippiness; the softer solution is something we've grown fond of over the past year, favoring them for their more gentle nature when dealing with teflon feet of high-end mice.

It's been a while since our last card-specific GTX 980 review – and that last one wasn't exactly glowing. Despite the depressing reality that 6 months is “old” in the world of computer hardware, the GTX 980 and its GM204 GPU have both remained near the top of single-GPU benchmarks. The only single-GPU – meaning one GPU on the card – AIC that's managed to outpace the GTX 980 is the Titan X, and that's $1000.

This review looks at PNY's GTX 980 XLR8 Pro ($570) video card, an ironclad-like AIC with pre-overclocked specs. Alongside the XLR8 Pro graphics card, we threw-in the reference GTX 980 (from nVidia) and MSI's Gaming 4G GTX 980 (from CyberPower) when benchmarking.

The performance disparity between same-architecture desktop and mobile GPUs has historically been comparable to multi-generational gaps in desktop components. Recent advancements by GPU manufacturers have closed the mobile performance gap to about 10% of the desktop counterparts, an impressive feat that results in low-TDP, highly performant laptops with longer battery life.

Battery life has long been a joke for gaming laptops. To yield gaming prowess of any measure, notebooks are normally affectionately named “desktop replacements” and never disconnected from the wall. As modern architectures have improved process nodes and reduced power requirements, it's finally become possible for gaming laptops to operate for a moderate amount of time on battery. Battery life is dictated by a few key points: Active power consumption of the components, thermal levels of the system and battery, and power efficiency at other locations in the stack (S0iX on CPUs, DevSleep with SSDs, for instance).

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