Hardware Guides

Buildzoid returns this week to analyze the PCB and VRM of Gigabyte's GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force GPU, providing new insight to the card's overclocking capabilities. We showed a maximum overclock of 2151.5MHz on the Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force, but the card's stable OC landed it at just 2100.5MHz. Compared to the FTW Hybrid (2151.5MHz overclock sustained) and MSI Sea Hawk 1080 (2050MHz overclock sustained), the Gigabyte Xtreme Water Force's overkill VRM & cooling land it between the two competitors.

But we talk about all of that in the review; today, we're focused on the PCB and VRM exclusively.

The card uses a 12-phase core voltage VRM with a 2-phase memory voltage VRM, relying on Fairchild Semiconductor and uPI Micro for most the other components. Learn more here:

Best 1440p Gaming Monitors of 2016 Round-Up

By Published October 02, 2016 at 8:30 am

For years, the de facto standard for PC gaming and consoles was 1920x1080 – even if consoles occasionally struggled to reach it. 1080p monitors have been the only practical choice for gaming for years now, but viability of 1440p-ready hardware for mid-range gaming PCs means that the market for 1440p monitors has become more competitive. Similarly, the 4K monitor market is also getting fairly competitive, but unfortunately mid-range (and even higher-end) GPUs still struggle to run at 4K in many modern games.

While 4K becomes more attainable for the average consumers, 2560x1440 monitors fit the needs of many gamers who want higher resolution than 1080p while still desiring to render – and show – 120+ FPS. With this in mind, we’ve created this buyer’s guide for the best 1440p gaming monitors presently on the market, particularly when accounting for price, high refresh rate, or panel type. Since the primary use case for the monitors in this guide is gaming, we have primarily included G-Sync (covered here) and FreeSync (covered here and here) compatible monitors for users with nVidia and AMD GPUs, respectively.

Liquid cooling has become infinitely more accessible with plug-and-play AIO solutions, but those lack some of the efficacy and all of the aesthetics. Open loop liquid cooling is alive and well in the enthusiast market; it's a niche of a niche, and one that's satisfied by few manufacturers. We had a chance to stop over at Thermaltake's offices while making the City of Industry circuit last week, and used some of that time to film a brief tutorial on hard tube bending.

It felt like filming a cooking show, at times. The format was similar, but it worked well for this process. Open loop liquid cooling is done with either soft tubing or hard tubing, the latter of which must be heated (with a heat gun) to make necessary bends within the system. Soft tubing is more easily manipulated and is as “plug and play” as it gets with an open loop, though “plug and play” isn't really desirable with open loops. Once you're this deep in cooling, best to go all the way.

PETG hard tubing is more leak resistant by nature of the mounting. Hard tubes are less likely to slip off of their mounting barbs with age or transport (fluid between the tube and its mounting point can lubricate the tube, causing a slip and slow leakage). The downside, as with the rest of open loop cooling, is entirely the time requirement and cost increase. Granted, compared to the rest of the loop, hard tubing cost can start to feel negligible.

We might soon be building a wet bench for open loop liquid cooling, as we're starting to receive GPUs with water blocks for testing. Today, we've got a brief hard tube bending tutorial with Thermaltake's Thermal Mike to lead us into our future open loop content. Take a look at that below:

Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force Tear-Down

By Published September 20, 2016 at 9:00 am

As we board planes for our impending trip to Southern California (office tours upcoming), we've just finalized the Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force tear-down coverage. The Gigabyte GTX 1080 Xtreme Water Force makes use of a similar cooling philosophy as the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid, which we recently tore-down and reviewed vs. the Corsair Hydro GFX.

Gigabyte's using a closed-loop liquid cooler to deal with the heat generation on the GP104-400 GPU, but isn't taking the “hybrid” approach that its competitors have taken. There's no VRM/VRAM blower fan for this unit; instead, the power and memory components are cooled by an additional copper and aluminum heatsink, which are bridged by a heatpipe. That copper plate (mounted atop the VRAM) transfers its heat to the coldplate of what we believe to be a Cooler Master CLC, which then sinks everything for dissipation by the 120mm radiator.

We're starting a new series of educational videos -- they all are, but these are more targeted -- that will include custom animations to explain goings-on within components. The goal is to use animations to better visualize low-level component interactions that may not be visible to the human eye, or may be too abstract to demonstrate without an animation. We piloted this idea with our "What is NAND?" article and video, which included a custom animation and many in-house graphics to illustrate SSD design. Today, we're releasing our first official TLDR episode: "TLDR - How Heatpipes & Air Coolers Work."

In this video, we illustrate a guide that we originally wrote and published in 2012. The content explains the inner workings of CPU and GPU air coolers, including heatpipes, finned heatsinks, contact made between the IHS & coldplate, the TIM between that contact, and vapor chambers. The in-house animation was made by Andrew Coleman, who splits video production workload with Keegan Gallick. Take a look here:

MSI GTX 1080 Sea Hawk EK Tear-Down

By Published September 13, 2016 at 6:27 pm

Upon return home from PAX, we quickly noticed that the pile of boxes included an MSI GTX 1080 Sea Hawk EK graphics card, which use a pre-applied GPU water block for open loop cooling. This approach is more traditional and in-depth than what we've shown with the AIO / CLC solutions for GPUs, like what the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid uses (review here).

The Sea Hawk EK ($783) partners with, obviously, EK WB for the liquid cooling solution, and uses a full coverage block atop a custom MSI PCB for cooling. The biggest difference in such a setup is coverage of the VRAM, MOSFETs, capacitor bank, and PWM. The acrylic is channeled out for the inductors, so their heat is not directly conducted to the water block; this would increase liquid temperature unnecessarily, anyway.

We won't be fully reviewing this card. It's just not within our time budget right now, and we'd have to build up a wet bench for testing open loop components; that said, we'll soon be testing other EK parts – the Predator, mostly – so keep an eye out for that. The Sea Hawk EK was sent by MSI before confirming our review schedule, so we decided to tear it apart while we've got it and see what's underneath.

As soon as the electrical contacts of a switch are joined from a switch depression, an electrical signal is dispatched within the mouse for processing by its internal components. That initial queue of processing helps rule-out potential spurious behavior, electromagnetic interference (or cross-talk), and performs any necessary calculations for the input command. If deemed an intentional user action, that input is sent down the USB cable (or transmitted wirelessly) to the system.

We discussed this process in our Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum review. There's a misconception with users that wireless input devices are inherently slower than their wired counterparts, when the reality is that the opposite can be true – and is, with the G900 and G403 wireless. The recent PAX West 2016 event gave us an opportunity to get hands-on with the company's USB analyzer setup to demystify some of the wireless vs. wired mouse arguments.

EVGA GTX 1080 FTW PCB & Overclocking Analysis

By Published September 02, 2016 at 10:59 am

Buildzoid of “Actually Hardcore Overclocking” joined us to discuss the new EVGA GTX 1080 FTW PCB, as found on the Hybrid that we reviewed days ago. The PCB analysis goes into the power staging, and spends a few minutes explaining the 10-phase VRM, which is really a doubled 5-phase VRM. Amperage supported by the VRM and demanded by the GPU are also discussed, for folks curious about the power delivery capabilities of the FTW PCB, and so is the memory power staging.

If you're curious about the thermal solution of the EVGA FTW Hybrid, check out the review (page 1 & 3) for that. EVGA is somewhat uniquely cooling the VRAM by sinking it to a copper plate, then attaching that to the CLC coldplate. We say “somewhat” because Gigabyte also does this, and we hope to look at their unit soon.

EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid Tear-Down

By Published August 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm

The review is forthcoming – within a few hours – but we decided to tear-down EVGA's GTX 1080 FTW Hybrid ahead of the final review. The card is more advanced in its PCB and cooling solution than what we saw in the Corsair Hydro GFX / MSI Sea Hawk X tear-down, primarily because EVGA is deploying a Gigabyte-like coldplate that conducts thermals from the VRAM and to the CLC coldplate. It's an interesting fusion of cooling solutions, and one which makes GPU temperatures look higher than seems reasonable on the surface – prompting the tear-down – but is actually cooling multiple devices.

Anyway, here's a video of the tear-down process – photos to follow.

When we received the new 10-series laptops for review, we immediately noticed sluggishness in the OS just preparing the environment for testing. Even with an SSD, opening Windows Explorer took at least one full second – eternity, by today's standards. It was anything but instant, as a new computer should be, and would prompt outrage from any real-world consumer.

Looking further into the issue, we realized that the system tray accommodated 13 icons of pre-installed software that opened on launch. This included an incessant warranty registration pop-up/reminder, Norton Anti-Virus (the biggest offender on spurious CPU utilization), about three different control panels – because we need multiple paths to one location – and a few other programs.

This, traditionally, is what's known as “bloatware;” it's software pre-installed by the manufacturer that the user didn't necessarily request, and bloats the system's processes to a crawl. Today, we're showing just how profoundly a new system's framerate is dragged down by bloat. Using an MSI GE62VR Apache Pro laptop (~$1600) with a GTX 1060 and an i7-6700HQ CPU (boosts to 3.5GHz), 16GB DDR4, and an M.2 SSD, we're clearly not running Windows on slow hardware. And that's the thing, too – even Windows is slow at the desktop level. Just using the desktop, we'd occasionally spike to ~30% load for no good reason, and frequently hit 100% load during file transfers (thanks, Norton).

For validation purposes, we also ran the same tests on an MSI GE62 Apache Pro with a GTX 970M and i7 CPU. That's one last-gen model and one current model, both clean Windows installs with all the factory-preset software included.

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