Hardware Guides

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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're frequently asked by commenters around the web to help identify model numbers and branding for product lines by each company. Up until last year, ASUS was one of the most requested for such an article. ASUS made major motherboard branding changes in 2013 to simplify their line-up, but we figured we'd get ASUS Technical Marketing Specialist Nick Mijuskovic to give us some finality on their naming convention.

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In this quick article (and video component), we'll compare ASUS' motherboard naming scheme and identify the differences between Z87-A vs. Z87-K, Z87-Plus, -Pro, -Deluxe, the TUF boards, and the ROG boards.

In our third episode of TechRAID -- our video series dedicated to rounding-up and explaining the week's news stories -- we turn to coverage of video hardware, power supplies, and a new CPU. This week's news topics include 80 Plus Titanium, nVidia's rumored Maxwell 750 Ti February 18th release date, a new 16-core AMD CPU that could turn into an FX processor, and G-Sync vs. FreeSync technologies in the display market.

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Update: See the new 2015 edition of this content over here.

Following-up with last year's PC enclosure round-up, we revisit the topic of the top gaming cases with CES 2014 in mind. Any enthusiast or mid-range system builders have some unreal options to choose from this year, with a heavier focus placed on full side windows and aesthetics than previous years.

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For advice on choosing a gaming enclosure, check out our previous article on picking a gaming case. In this gaming case round-up, we'll look at some of the highest-performance PC enclosures on the market for 2014; all the cases featured were unveiled at (or around) CES 2014.

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