Patrick Lathan

Patrick Lathan

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 We have determined that an outdated version of the application was responsible for originating the incorrect topology data that has been widely reported in the media.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.”

When we first began benchmarking Ryzen CPUs, we already had a suspicion that disabling simultaneous multithreading might give a performance boost in games, mirroring the effects of disabling hyperthreading (Intel’s specific twist on SMT) when it was first introduced. Although hyperthreading now has a generally positive effect in our benchmarks, there was a time when it wasn’t accounted for by developers—presumably partly related to what’s happening to AMD now.

In fact, turning SMT off offered relatively minor gaming performance increases outside of Total War: Warhammer—but any increase at all is notable when turning off a feature that’s designed to be positive. Throughout our testing, the most dramatic change in results we saw were from overclocking, specifically on the low stock frequency R7 1700 ($330). This led many readers to ask questions like “why didn’t you test with an overclock and SMT disabled at the same time?” and “how much is Intel paying you?” to which the answers are “time constraints” and “not enough, apparently,” since we’ve now performed those tests. Testing a CPU takes a lot of time. Now, with more time to work on Ryzen, we’ve finally begun revisiting some EFI, clock behavior, and SMT tests.

As with any new technology, the early days of Ryzen have been filled with a number of quirks as manufacturers and developers scramble to support AMD’s new architecture.

For optimal performance, AMD has asked reviewers to update to the latest BIOS version and to set Windows to “high performance” mode, which raises the minimum processor state to its base frequency (normally, the CPU would downclock when idle). These are both reasonable allowances to make for new hardware, although high-performance mode should only be a temporary fix. More on that later, though we’ve already explained it in the R7 1700 review.

This is quick-and-dirty testing. This is the kind of information we normally keep internal for research as we build a test platform, as it's never polished enough to publish and primarily informs our reviewing efforts. Given the young age of Ryzen, we're publishing our findings just to add data to a growing pool. More data points should hopefully assist other reviewers and manufacturers in researching performance “anomalies” or differences.

The below is comprised of early numbers we ran on performance vs. balanced mode, Gigabyte BIOS revisions, ASUS' board, and clock behavior when under various boost states. Methodology won't be discussed here, as it's really not any different from our 1700 and 1800X review, other than toggling of the various A/B test states defined in headers below.

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.

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