Hardware Guides

Z97 motherboards have been floating around for a little while now -- here's our round-up of them -- but we haven't had a chance to actually look at the Z97 chipset as a product. Z97's immediate accompanying CPU is the Devil's Canyon chip that was announced at GDC, but will later host the 5th Gen Broadwell CPUs. Devil's Canyon is due out shortly, though another Haswell Refresh (i5-4690, others) was recently posted that has seen minimal interest thus far; Broadwell is due out in 4Q14 or later and features a die-shrink to 14nm fab process.

sata-expressThis is a SATA Express connector -- effectively dual SATA ports with additional power/ground.

Thus far, we know of Intel's Z97 and H97 chipsets and have heard no news of an "H91" or "B95" equivalent from last generation. For this Intel Broadwell 9-series chipset comparison, we'll look strictly at Z97 vs. H97 for gaming and overclocking purposes; the goal of this guide is to help PC builders determine which chipset will perform best for their objectives while remaining price-scaled.

I wrote a similar chipset comparison for AMD FM2/FM2+ chipsets last week.

AMD's Kaveri APU has been out for a while now. As the FM2+ platform has stabilized post-APU launches, we're seeing increased adoption of APU-based budget rigs among our PC build guide readers. Kaveri and Richland are both interesting chips from an architectural standpoint; Kaveri has increased the die allocation of the GPU component to nearly 50%, resulting in one of the most powerful consumer-ready integrated GPUs ever available, yet still retains performance right around (or under) Richland in CPU power.

amd-kaveri-slider

As with any growing platform, AMD's chipset selection has expanded on FM2+ as technology has iterated; the company currently pushes A88X, A78, and A55 chipsets on most FM2+ motherboards found online; A85X and A75 are still around, but limited to FM1/FM2 boards. A88X was just getting big around CES, where we demoed some of the first A88X boards at MSI's suite. Still, AMD doesn't have its block diagrams easily accessible and doesn't make it easy to learn the differences between each chipset, so that's why this article is here.

In this AMD FM2+ / Kaveri APU chipset comparison, we'll look at the differences between A88X, A85X (FM2, Richland), A78, A75 (FM2, Richland), and A55, then discuss what's best for your gaming needs. AMD A75 and A55 have been around since FM1, A88X came out with Kaveri, and the rest are in between. If you're interested in a similar post about Intel's 8-series Haswell chipsets, check this out.

Small form factor enclosures were huge at this year's CES. Last year we saw a few behemoths -- like the 900D -- but with the advent of "Steam machines" and boxes like the Brix Pro, mini-ITX is gaining traction in the marketplace. Some companies have always been in the space, others are riding the trendy wave; SilverStone is a good example of a manufacturer that's been present since the get-go, especially with their high-quality SG08.

lian-li-slider

Lian-Li is another that's been in the mATX/mITX game for a while. As with nearly all Lian-Li enclosures, the PC-TU100 is a fully-aluminum case with a brushed-like finish. All-aluminum materials lend to a 4 pound overall weight, aided by the small 6.3" x 10.8" x 9.5" dimensions. The case is targeted at those who move their systems around a lot -- LAN gaming is the easy example -- and is equipped with a handle, a single cooling fan, and enough space for a low-profile video card.

In this quick Lian-Li PC-TU100 case overview and unboxing, we'll look at the specs and primary uses for what is one of the lightest mini-ITX cases.

After offering reddit's computer hardware & buildapc sub-reddits the opportunity to ask us about our nVidia GTC keynote coverage, an astute reader ("asome132") noticed that the new Pascal roadmap had a key change: Maxwell's "unified virtual memory" line-item had been replaced with a very simple, vague "DirectX 12" item. We investigated the change while at GTC, speaking to a couple of CUDA programmers and Maxwell architecture experts; I sent GN's own CUDA programmer and 30+ year programming veteran, Jim Vincent, to ask nVidia engineers about the change in the slide deck. Below includes the official stance along with our between-the-lines interpretation and analysis.

nvidia-unified-memory

In this article, we'll look at the disappearance of "Unified Virtual Memory" from nVidia's roadmap, discuss an ARM/nVidia future that challenges existing platforms, and look at NVLink's intentions and compatible platforms.

(This article has significant contributions from GN Staff Writer & CUDA programmer Jim Vincent).

This is just a short bit of advice for those of you working on new PC builds. As the industry's manufacturing processes advance, we eventually begin to see a disproportionate cost-to-performance or cost-per-GB ratio forming at the lower-end of a particular product type. In many ways, it's more expensive for a manufacturer to continue producing lower-end products; the fab or assembly processes change to accommodate new advancements, like higher density or more desirable high-frequency yield, so continued production of devices under the new bar is undesirable and often halted.

hdd-platterSource.

While at GTC 2014, nVidia passed out a free SHIELD to every attendee willing to pick up the 4-pound box. After figuring out how to get the thing home, I've finally had some hands-on time with the SHIELD in the comfort of a home (read: not pressured by PR from all sides on a convention floor). I'm not ready to write a full review just yet; actually, I haven't tested the remote rendering functionality yet -- the biggest feature -- but I've had some fun with Android games.

project-shield-mold-thThe injection mold for the SHIELD. Learn more about how it's made here.

We've seen a lot of discussion spurred about Kingston's silent decision to switch their mainstream consumer-targeted SSDNow V300 drive from synchronous to asynchronous NAND. In fact, on one of our PC builds that recommended the drive, a reader encouraged us to run updated performance benchmarks to validate the impact of the NAND switch. A recent article published down the road by Anandtech went at the V300 fiercely, referencing user AS-SSD benchmark data from forums to highlight the theoretical performance hit.

kingston-v300-slider

Upon publication of Kristian's post on Anandtech, I called our Kingston contact to press on a few points and also give a chance to defend their position. Unsurprisingly, Kingston supported the product readily; switching the NAND supply was in favor of price, and is the reason we've seen the V300 as low as $60-$70 on some retailers, they said. The 19nm Toshiba Toggle-Mode 2.0 NAND in the original V300 either became more scarce or was too expensive, and so the company switched to Micron's 20nm asynchronous NAND for cost reasons. 

Memory has a tendency to get largely overlooked when building a new system. Capacity and frequency steal the show, but beyond that, it's largely treated as a check-the-reviews component. Still, a few guidelines exist like not mixing-and-matching kits and purchasing strictly in pairs of two where dual-channel is applicable. These rules make sense, especially to those of us who've been building systems for a decade or more: Mixing kits was a surefire way to encounter stability or compatibility issues in the past (and is still questionable - I don't recommend it), and as for dual-channel, no one wanted to cut their speeds in half.

dual-channel-slider

When we visited MSI in California during our 2013 visit (when we also showed how RAM is made), they showed us several high-end laptops that all featured a single stick of memory. I questioned this choice since, surely, it made more sense to use 2x4GB rather than 1x8GB from a performance standpoint. The MSI reps noted that "in [their] testing, there was almost no difference between dual-channel performance and normal performance." I tested this upon return home (results published in that MSI link) and found that, from a very quick test, they looked to be right. I never got to definitively prove where / if dual-channel would be sorely missed, though I did hypothesize that it'd be in video encoding and rendering.

In this benchmark, we'll look at dual-channel vs. single-channel platform performance for Adobe Premiere, gaming, video encoding, transcoding, number crunching, and daily use. The aim is to debunk or confirm a few myths about computer memory. I've seen a lot of forums touting (without supporting data) that dual-channel is somehow completely useless, and to the same tune, we've seen similar counter-arguments that buying anything less than 2 sticks of RAM is foolish. Both have merits.

Fake products are unfortunately standard routine with the technology industry. We've previously found fake DVI dual-link cables -- they had the dual-link pins, but were actually single-link wired -- and explained how to test for real DVI DL cables. Well, we found another fake: HDMI to VGA adapters.

dont-buy-this

Yes. These are things that you can buy.

 

We realized not long ago that we've got -- I believe the technical phrase is -- a lot of cables. Shelves upon shelves. Throughout our years working on editorial content, we've had to learn about all the pros and cons of different interface versioning and cable standards.

 cables-slider

Questions have often come up during our testing, for instance: Is a so-called "SATA 6Gbps cable" actually better than a "SATA 3Gbps cable?" What's the difference between DVI-D, DVI-I, DVI-A, and DVI Dual-Link? In this video and article, we'll talk about all the major cable standards, their differences, and identify some of the up-and-coming standards.

 

We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.

Advertisement:

  VigLink badge