Intel’s past few weeks have seen the company enduring the ire of a large portion of the tech community, perhaps undeservedly in some instances -- certainly deservedly in others. We criticized the company for its initial marketing of the 7900X – but then, we criticize nearly everyone for marketing claims that borderline on silly. “Extreme Mega-Tasking,” for instance, was Intel’s new invention.
But it’d be folly to assume that Skylake-X won’t perform. It’s just a matter of how Intel positions itself with pricing, particularly considering the imminent arrival of Threadripper. Skylake-X is built on known and documented architecture and is accompanied by the usual platform roll-out, with some anomalies in the form of Kaby Lake X's accompaniment on that same platform.
Today, we're reviewing the Intel Core i9-7900X Skylake X CPU, benchmarking it in game streaming (Twitch, YouTube) vs. Ryzen, in Blender & Premiere rendering, VR gaming, and standard gaming.
This content marks the beginning of our in-depth VR testing efforts, part of an ongoing test pattern that hopes to determine distinct advantages and disadvantages on today’s hardware. VR hasn’t been a high-performance content topic for us, but we believe it’s an important one for this release of Kaby Lake & Ryzen CPUs: Both brands have boasted high VR performance, “VR Ready” tags, and other marketing that hasn’t been validated – mostly because it’s hard to do so. We’re leveraging a hardware capture rig to intercept frames to the headsets, FCAT VR, and a suite of five games across the Oculus Rift & HTC Vive to benchmark the R7 1700 vs. i7-7700K. This testing includes benchmarks at stock and overclocked configurations, totaling four devices under test (DUT) across two headsets and five games. Although this is “just” 20 total tests (with multiple passes), the process takes significantly longer than testing our entire suite of GPUs. Executing 20 of these VR benchmarks, ignoring parity tests, takes several days. We could do the same count for a GPU suite and have it done in a day.
VR benchmarking is hard, as it turns out, and there are a number of imperfections in any existing test methodology for VR. We’ve got a good solution to testing that has proven reliable, but in no way do we claim that perfect. Fortunately, by combining hardware and software capture, we’re able to validate numbers for each test pass. Using multiple test passes over the past five months of working with FCAT VR, we’ve also been able to build-up a database that gives us a clear margin of error; to this end, we’ve added error bars to the bar graphs to help illustrate when results are within usual variance.
Not long ago, we opened discussion about AMD’s new OCAT tool, a software overhaul of PresentMon that we had beta tested for AMD pre-launch. In the interim, and for the past five or so months, we’ve also been silently testing a new version of FCAT that adds functionality for VR benchmarking. This benchmark suite tackles the significant challenges of intercepting VR performance data, further offering new means of analyzing warp misses and drop frames. Finally, after several months of testing, we can talk about the new FCAT VR hardware and software capture utilities.
This tool functions in two pieces: Software and hardware capture.
AMD was clear from the beginning of today’s Capsaicin and Cream event that it was not a Vega product launch (the only 100% new Vega news was that the GPU would be officially branded “Vega”), but demos of the previously mentioned technologies like high-bandwidth cache controller and rapid-packed math were shown.
After some brief discussion about exactly how much alcohol was consumed at last year’s afterparty, the Vega portion of the presentation covered three major points: HB Cache Controller, Rapid Packed Math, and Virtualization.
“Virtualization” in this context means the continued effort (by both AMD and NVIDIA) to make server-side gaming viable. AMD has partnered with LiquidSky and will be using Vega’s “Radeon Virtualized Encode” feature to make streaming games (hopefully) as latency-free as possible, though limitations on internet service still abound.
MSI’s Trident claims to be the “smallest VR-ready PC,” and measures 346 x 72 x 232mm in size. The box is about the size of a DVR and can lie flat or stand, using an angled bottom and angled base to create a more artistic means of presenting itself. It’s a little unstable if you’ve got pets or kids, as there’s no locking mechanism for the stand and the unit to click together, but flat positioning is an alternative. You do lose some cooling potential when going that route, given the ventilation.
We’re reviewing MSI’s Trident 010, as equipped with the i7-6700 and GTX 1060 3GB and bundled with a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD. The unit is marked at $1100 on Newegg, and retains the same diminutive form factor found in the entire Trident line.
Our benchmarks have gotten increasingly detailed for systems, and we’re now benchmarking more of the thermals (PCH, drives), noise levels, power draw, and gaming performance. Heuristic VR testing was performed on the Trident, but we still require some time to get VR benchmarking right.
Virtual reality has begun its charge to drive technological development for the immediate future. For better or worse, we've seen the backpacks, the new wireless tether agents, the "VR cases," the VR 5.25" panels -- it's all VR, all day. We still believe that, although the technology is ready, game development has a way to travel yet -- but now is the time to start thinking about how VR works.
NVIDIA's Tom Petersen, Director of Technical Marketing, recently joined GamersNexus to discuss the virtual reality pipeline and the VR equivalent to frametimes, stutters, and tearing. Petersen explained that a "warp miss" or "drop frame" (both unfinalized terminology) are responsible for an unpleasant experience in VR, but that the consequences are far worse for stutters given the biology involved in VR.
In the video below, we talk with Petersen about the VR pipeline and its equivalencies to a traditional game refresh pipeline. Excerpts and quotations are below.
Those of you who subscribe to our YouTube channel may have already seen our viewer poll: What do you think of VR?
This is a simple one. We're curious about three points of VR – detailed below – and would like to see your thoughts. These are questions that have been passed to us by manufacturers, but we're also curious as it will help fuel our coverage in the future. Thus far, we've spoken to both sides of VR; we've been excited, but we've also been incredibly critical. Either way, manufacturers have been shoving nothing but “VR” down everyone's throats, and we've been careful to only cover the most important developments.
So, our questions:
It's gotten a little ridiculous, really. Everyone has some sort of “VR Premium” or “VR Ready” or “VR Certified” badge. Even case manufacturers are finding ways to drop “VR” onto their products. The industry has entered into a frenzy in desperate attempt to capitalize on a new trend, leveraging two letters with mouth-foaming pyrexia to front an appearance of innovation, failing actual innovation.
But it's “VR Ready.”
And so begins the first of the major trends set for 2016 by Computex, tallied in total as: RGB LEDs on everything, VR badges on everything (and unnecessary VR accessories), armor-equipped motherboards, and video cards with needlessly complex power designs.
We're getting sick of hearing “VR” at every meeting. It's not that the technology is bad – it's just getting a little exhausting to hear as a tag-along to literally anything. Everything is VR premium, VR-ready, VR approved, VR, VR, VR.
Despite this, we're still posting some coverage of a few VR trends that make more sense than empty badges or paid-for certifications. MSI's VR backpack is one of the noteworthy creations, seemingly inspired from Intel's prototype VR backpack at CES 2016, and arrives at Computex alongside immediate competitors from ASUS and Zotac.
"VR is a fad" was the pull-quote which propagated through the internet when Warren Spector made the comment last year, reinforcing it at ECGC a few days ago. The veteran designer indicated a belief that virtual reality could generate "interest among hardcore gamers," but remained cautious to grant too much early praise given personal experience with earlier VR attempts. Spector's decades-long industry experience grants weight to the statement, and made us curious what some long-time colleagues of Spector's might believe. Richard Garriott is one of those – friend and former employer of Spector – and has previously spoken to us about a history of effectively inventing MMOs, new graphics techniques, and more.
Richard Garriott joined us at PAX East 2016 for an impromptu discussion on the viability of virtual reality. The conversation started as small talk – "what do you think of VR?" – but evolved into an in-depth look at the challenges faced by the emergent technology. We rolled with it; you can find the video and some of the transcript below: