Hardware Guides

The nVidia Titan V is not a gaming card, but gives us some insights as to how the Volta architecture could react to different games and engines. The point here isn’t to look at raw performance in a hundred different titles, but to think about what the performance teaches us for future cards. This will teach us about the Volta architecture; obviously, you shouldn’t be spending $3000 to use a scientific card on gaming, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. Our tear-down is already online, but now we’re focusing on Titan V overclocking and FPS benchmarks, and then we’ll move on to production, power, and thermal content.

This nVidia Titan V gaming benchmark tests the Volta architecture versus Pascal architecture across DirectX 11, DirectX 12, Vulkan, and synthetic applications. We purchased the Titan V for editorial purposes, and will be dedicating the next few days to dissecting every aspect of the card, much like we did for Vega: Frontier Edition in the summer.

Vega 64 may consume more power than a GTX 1080, but until now, we haven’t known if that impact is relevant to room temperature. That’s what we wanted to know, and we eventually expanded that concept to include how much a 900W+ mining machine increases room temperature, a 600W machine, and so on. We were able to effectively replace any need of a heater for the past week, and right when it started to get colder.

In this test, we’re looking at the room ambient impact of various PC builds. This helps to conceptualize the real-world impact of all those power and thermal tests you see us (and others) publish, as it puts real numbers to the user experience outside of the case. Although this concept has about a million variables and “what ifs,” we controlled to the best of our abilities, are laying-out all the major variables, and can present an academic experiment that demonstrates room temperature increase from computer equipment. All watts are basically created equal, for the purposes of this test: A 940W mining rig will output just as much heat into the room as a 940W gaming rig, or a 940W rendering machine, and so forth; as long as the power load is equal between all of these (read: constant), watts are watts, and you can extrapolate room temperature for each type of machine.

The testing originally was concepted after our Vega 56 Hybrid mod, which used power mods and other mods to push the card up towards 400W of power consumption. We wanted to test a straight Vega 56 versus GTX 1070 for room ambient impact, but shifted that up a tier (to Vega 64 and a GTX 1080) for some parts that are more likely to show a difference. After that, we shifted up to a 940W mining machine, then picked a middle-ground ~600W machine (which could also represent SLI gaming or HEDT render systems).

AMD’s partner cards have been on hold for review for a while now. We first covered the Vega 64 Strix when we received it, which was around October 8th. The PowerColor card came in before Thanksgiving in the US, and immediately exhibited similar clock reporting and frequency bugginess with older driver revisions. AMD released driver version 17.11.4, though, which solved some of those problems – theoretically, anyway. There are still known issues with clock behavior in 17.11.4, but we wanted to test whether or not the drivers would play nice with the partner cards. For right now, our policy is this: (1) We will review the cards immediately upon consumer availability or pre-order, as that is when people will need to know if they’re any good; (2) we will review the cards when either the manufacturer declares them ready, or at a time when the cards appear to be functioning properly.

This benchmark is looking at the second option: We’re testing whether the ASUS Strix Vega 64 and PowerColor Red Devil 64 are ready for benchmarking, and looking at how they match versus the reference RX Vega 64. Theoretically, the cards should have slightly higher clocks, and therefore should perform better. Now, PowerColor has set clock targets at 1632MHz across the board, but “slightly higher clocks” doesn’t just mean clock target – it also means power budget, which board partners have control over. Either one of these, particularly in combination with superior cooling, should result in higher sustained boost clocks, which would result in higher framerates or scores.

After a year of non-stop GPU and CPU launches, a GPU round-up is much needed to recap all the data for each price-point. We’ll be looking at strict head-to-head comparisons for each price category, including cards priced at $100-$140, $180-$250, $400-$500, and then the Ti in its own category, of course. As noted in the video, a graphics card round-up is particularly difficult this year: Chaos in the market has thrown-off easy price comparisons, making it difficult to determine the best choice between cards. Historically, we’ve been able to rely on MSRP to get a price (+/-$20, generally) for comparison between both AMD and nVidia; the partners hadn’t strayed too far from that recommendation, nor the retailers, until the joint mining & gaming booms of this year. Fortunately, much of that pandemonium has slowed down, and cards are slowly returning to prices where they sat about 6-8 months ago.

Another point of difficulty, as always, is that price-matched video cards will often outperform one another in different types of workloads. A good example would be Vega vs. Pascal architecture: Generally speaking – and part of this is drivers – Pascal ends up favored in DirectX 11 games, while Vega ends up favored in asynchronous compute workload games (DOOM with Vulkan, Sniper with Dx12). That’s not necessarily always going to be true, but for the heavyweight Vulkan/Dx12 titles, it seems to be. You’ll have to exercise some thought and consider the advantages of each architecture, then look at the types of games you expect to be playing. Another fortunate note is that, even if you choose “wrong” (you anticipated Vulkan adoption, but got Dx11), a lot of the cards are still within a couple percentage points of their direct-price competition. It’s hard to go too wrong, short of buying bad partner cooler designs, but that’s another story.

Liquid is only half of the argument, but it’s an important half. We’ll soon be rounding-up several of the high-end air coolers available on the market, and before jumping into that, we’re going to lay the groundwork with a round-up of our liquid cooler reviews for the year. This guide looks at the best closed-loop liquid coolers (“AIOs”) for 2017, but also includes a few of the worst – the leak-prone and the weak-fanned.

As usual with these round-ups, we’ll be including links to the individual reviews for the applicable coolers, with purchasing links also included for each line item. This is part of our end-of-year round-ups, which can all be found here. For specific items, we rounded-up our top Black Friday sales choices here, our top gaming monitor picks, and the best CPU sales. Plenty more on the Buyer’s Guide page.

Note: You’ll want to pull our most recent cooler review to get an updated table with all performance metrics, though individual reviews are good for non-performance discussion.

Having gone over the best CPUs, cases, some motherboards, and soon coolers, we’re now looking at the best GTX 1080 Tis of the year. Contrary to popular belief, the model of cooler does actually matter for video cards. We’ll be going through thermal and noise data for a few of the 1080 Tis we’ve tested this year, including MOSFET, VRAM, and GPU temperatures, noise-normalized performance at 40dBA, and the PCB and VRM quality. As always with these guides, you can find links to all products discussed in the description below.

Rounding-up the GTX 1080 Tis means that we’re primarily going to be focused on cooler and PCB build quality: Noise, noise-normalized thermals, thermals, and VRM design are the forefront of competition among same-GPU parts. Ultimately, as far as gaming and overclocking performance, much of that is going to be dictated by silicon-level quality variance, and that’s nearly random. For that reason, we must differentiate board partner GPUs with thermals, noise, and potential for low-thermal overclocking (quality VRMs).

Today, we’re rounding-up the best GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards that we’ve reviewed this year, including categories of Best Overall, Best for Modding, Best Value, Best Technology, and Best PCB. Gaming performance is functionally the same on all of them, as silicon variance is the larger dictator of performance, with thermals being the next governor of performance; after all, a Pascal GPU under 60C is a higher-clocked, happier Pascal GPU, and that’ll lead framerate more than advertised clocks will.

Continuing our holiday buyer’s guides, hardcore overclocker Buildzoid has joined us to analyze the best AMD motherboards currently on the market, looking at X370 and B350 for overclocking. The boards scale from $75 to $350 as we step through nearly every single AM4 motherboard out there, with clear guidance as to which boards are most suitable for different tasks. This was primarily done as a video, but the written section below will recap the highlights. Timestamps are also provided, if the video is preferred.

For this AMD motherboard buyer’s guide, we’re primarily highlighting boards in the $120 to $200 price range, but do talk about some of the budget Ryzen motherboards. VRM capabilities and heatsinks, BIOS menus, and memory overclocking compatibility all factor into our choices.

As we continue to push through the busiest week of the year, we’re ramping into more end-of-year recap coverage pieces, pooling a year’s worth of testing into central locations. The first Awards Show was for the best cases of the year, and our next is for the best CPUs of 2017. This covers multiple categories, including gaming, hobbyist / small business production, overall value, and adds some special categories, like “Biggest Upset” and “Biggest Disappointment.”

As launch years go, 2017 has been the most packed of any in recent history. The constant back-and-forth between Intel and AMD has largely taken the spotlight from the rest of the industry, as each company moves to ship directly competing products in rapid-fire fashion.

This content looks at the best CPUs for 2017 in gaming, production (3D modeling, animation, and video rendering), budget gaming, and overall balance.

Inside the Enermax Liqtech TR4 Liquid Cooler

By Published November 18, 2017 at 10:05 pm

Enermax's Liqtech TR4 liquid cooler took us by surprise in our 240mm unit review, and again in our Liqtech 360 TR4 review. The cooler is the first noteworthy closed-loop liquid cooler to accommodate Threadripper, and testing proved that it's not just smoke and mirrors: The extra coldplate size enables the Liqtech to overwhelm any of the current-market Asetek CLCs, which use smaller coldplates that are more suitable to Ryzen or Intel CPUs. 

Early reports surrounding Vega GPU packaging indicated minimally two different package processes, though later revealed a potential third. For the two primary forms of Vega GPU packaging, we’re looking at clear, obvious differences in assembly: The silicon (GPU + HBM) is either encased in an epoxy resin (“molded”) or is not encased at all (“resinless”). There is another type of resinless package that has been shown online, but we haven’t yet encountered this third type.

The initial concern indicated that packaging process could impact HBM2 contact to cooler coldplates – something for which, after working on this content, we later discovered new data – and we wanted to test that mounting pressure. Just last night, days after we finalized this content piece, we found another data point that deserves a separate article, so be sure to check back for the follow-up to this piece.

In the meantime, we’re using a chemically reactive contact paper to test various Vega GPUs and vapor chambers or coolers, then swapping coolers between those various GPUs to try and understand if and when differences emerge. Some brief thermal testing also helps us validate whether those differences, which would theoretically be spurred-on by packaging variance, are actually relevant to thermal performance. Today, we’re testing to see the mounting pressure and thermal impact from AMD’s various Vega 56 & 64 GPU packages, with a brief resurrection of the Frontier Edition.

Note: We used torque drivers for the assembly, so that process was controlled for.

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