Ask GN returns for its 54th episode – we’ve gotten more consistent than ever – to discuss Noctua fan manufacturing locations (China & Taiwan), thermal pads vs. thermal paste usage on MOSFETs, Vega 10-bit support, and a couple other items.

A few of the items from this week peer into GN’s behind-the-scenes workings, as several viewers and readers have been curious about our staff, whether we keep products, or why we “waste” GPUs by using them for things other than mining.

As always, timestamps below the embed.

This week's hardware news recap gives us a break from Vega -- if a brief one -- so that we can discussed nVidia's multi-chip GPU white paper, AMD's Ryzen Threadripper CPUs (1920X + 1950X), the R3 CPUs, and new fabs for Samsung. This discussion also bleeds over into DRAM shortages and NAND prices, particularly relating to Micron's fab "event" from last week.

The show notes are below the embedded video, for folks who prefer the notes and sources.

Most manufacturers have invited us to some sort of notebook press conference or briefing for this show, and there are a few reasons why: For one, nVidia is now pushing a new initiative to tighten requirements on manufacturers to build quieter laptops, and two, AMD R7 notebooks are now beginning to enter the channel. We’ll focus on MSI’s new notebooks here, alongside some additional coverage of nVidia’s new “Max-Q” initiative, named in true Bond-like fashion.

MSI’s new laptops use existing product lines from Intel and nVidia, so there’s no new silicon, but the company has revamped its chassis and cooling solution for the new GT75VR Titan, GE63VR Raider, and GE73VR Raider. Unfortunately, the company did not take questions during its press conference, so we’ll have to save our recent criticisms for a second booth visit later in the show. Regardless, we’ve got information on the hardware, and that’s something for which we’ve previously praised MSI. Based on upgrades to cooling, MSI boasted heavily in the press conference that the new notebooks would produce “30% higher performance,” though we do not know what they will be 30% higher than, or in what measurement.

Anyway, let’s cut through the marketing and talk hardware.

MSI’s flagship GTX 1080 Ti Lightning GPU made an appearance at the company’s Computex booth this year, where we were able to get hands-on with the card and speak with PMs about VRM and cooling solutions. The 1080 Ti Lightning is an OC-targeted card, as indicated by its LN2 BIOS switch, and will compete with other current flagships (like the Kingpin that we just covered). The Lightning does not yet have a price, but we know the core details about cooling and power.

Starting with cooling: MSI’s 1080 Ti Lightning uses a finned baseplate (think “pin fins” from ICX) to provide additional surface area for dissipation of VRM/VRAM component heat. This baseplate covers the usual areas of the board, but is accompanied by a blackout copper heatpipe over the MOSFETs & driver IC components for heat sinking of power modules. We’ve seen this design get more spread lately, and have found it to be effective for cooling VRM devices. The heatpipe is cooled by the Lightning’s 3-fan solution, as is the rest of the thick finstack above the custom PCB.

Laptop reviewing and benchmarking comes with a unique challenge: We don’t typically get to hang onto review samples once the cycle is complete, unlike other review products, which limits regression testing for content like today’s. This means that we need to rely on some of our older testing and methodology, but we can still judge scaling based on old games – that should be mostly linear, with some exceptions (which we’ve accounted for in our summary of tests).

Fortunately, the upshot of revisiting older titles for comparative analysis is that those titles do not change. They don’t get updates to game code and they don’t get driver updates, so results should largely exist in a hermetically sealed state.

Regardless, today’s goal is to benchmark the GTX 1050 Ti notebook GPU. We still have a lot of work to do on notebooks as we work to rebuild our bench, but this will start us off. The GTX 1070 is next. We’re starting with an MSI GE72 7RE Apache Pro with GTX 1050 Ti and i7-7700HQ CPU. This isn’t a review of the GE72 – that’s upcoming – but just a GPU benchmark to help determine scaling and placement of the 1050 Ti against other notebook GPUs.

Our review of the notebook is forthcoming, as are a few feature benchmark pieces. It’ll be interesting stuff, as we’ve got some key things to point out with this one. Be sure to follow or subscribe to catch that. For today, let’s get into the 1050 Ti notebook benchmarks.

NVidia’s Volta GV100 GPU and Tesla V100 Accelerator were revealed yesterday, delivering on a 2015 promise of Volta arrival by 2018. The initial DGX servers will ship by 3Q17, containing multiple V100 Accelerator cards at a cost of $150,000, with individual units priced at $18,000. These devices are obviously for enterprise, machine learning, and compute applications, but will inevitably work their way into gaming through subsequent V102 (or equivalent) chips. This is similar to the GP100 launch, where we get the Accelerator server-class card prior to consumer availability, which ultimately helps consumers by recuperating some of the initial R&D cost through major B2B sales.

The EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 is the company’s attempt at a 3-fan cooler, entering EVGA into the three-fan ranks alongside ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI. The difference with EVGA’s card, though, is that it’s a two-slot design; board partners have gone with a “bigger is better” mentality for the 1080 Ti, and it’s not necessarily advantageous. Sure, there are benefits – taller cards mean taller fans, like on the Gaming X, which results in slower rotation of fans without sacrificing volume of air moved. It follows then that taller fans on taller cards could be profiled to run quieter, without necessarily sacrificing thermal performance of the GPU, VRM, and VRAM components.

But we’re testing today to see how all that plays out in reality. In our EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 review, we benchmark the card vs. EVGA’s own SC2, MSI’s 1080 Ti Gaming X, Gigabyte’s Xtreme Aorus, and the Founders Edition card. Each of these also has an individual review posted, if you’re looking for break-outs on any one device. See the following links for those (listed in order of publication):

It’s Not About Gaming Performance

Having reviewed this many cards in the past few weeks, it should be apparent to everyone that same-GPU cards aren’t really differentiated by gaming performance. Gaming performance is going to be within a few percentage points of all devices, no matter what, because they’re ultimately governed by the GPU. A manufacturer can throw the world’s best PCB, VRM, and cooler together, and it’s still going to hit a Pascal wall of voltage and power budget. Further, chip quality dictates performance in greater ways than PCB or VRM will. We have duplicates of most of our cards, and they can perform 1-3% apart from one another, depending on which boosts higher out-of-box.

Our Titan Xp Hybrid mod is done, soon to be shipped back to its owner in its new condition. Liquid cooling mods in the past have served as a means to better understand where a GPU could perform given a good cooler, and are often conducted on cards with reference coolers. The Titan Xp won’t have AIB partner cooler models, and so building a Hybrid card gives us a glimpse into what could have been.

It’s also not a hard mod to do – an hour tops, maybe a bit more for those who are more hesitant – and costs $100 for the Hybrid kit. Against the $1200 purchase for the card, that’s not a tall order.

In today’s benchmarks and conclusion of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, we’ll cover thermals and noise levels extensively, overclocking, and throw in some gaming benchmarks.

 

We just posted our second part of the Titan Xp Hybrid mod, detailing the build-up process for adding CLCs to the Titan Xp. The process is identical to the one we detailed for the GTX 1080 Ti FE card, since the PCB is effectively equal between the two devices.

For this build, we added thermocouples to the VRAM and VRM components to try and determine if Hybrid mods help or hurt VRAM temperatures (and, with that part of testing done, we have some interesting results). Final testing and benchmarking is being run now, with plans to publish by Monday.

In the meantime, check out part 2 below:

NVidia’s Titan Xp 2017 model video card was announced without any pre-briefing for us, marking it the second recent Titan X model card that took us by surprise on launch day. The Titan Xp, as it turns out, isn’t necessarily targeted at gaming – though it does still bear the GeForce GTX mark. NVidia’s Titan Xp followed the previous Titan X (that we called “Titan XP” to reduce confusion from the Titan X – Maxwell before that), and knocks the Titan X 2016 out of its $1200 price bracket.

The Titan Xp 2017 now firmly socketed into the $1200 category, we’ve got a gap between the GTX 1080 Ti at $700 MSRP ($750 common price) of $450-$500 to the TiXp. Even with that big of a gap, though, diminishing returns in gaming or consumer workloads are to be expected. Today, we’re benchmarking and reviewing the nVidia Titan Xp for gaming specifically, with additional thermal, power, and noise tests included. This card may be better deployed for neural net and deep learning applications, but that won’t stop enthusiasts from buying it simply to have “the best.” For them, we’d like to have some benchmarks online.

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