01:06 | Chipset Cost to Manufacturers
GamersNexus received off-record commentary pertaining to the cost of chipsets as used on X570 and Z490 motherboards. We’ve been told that Z490 is more expensive than Z390 before it, despite being mostly the same (aside from a WiFi support change), with cost approaching $50. In speaking with AMD motherboard manufacturers, we’ve re-confirmed that X570 chipset cost is comparable (within the $40 to $50 range; we are obscuring the exact numbers to protect sources, in case AMD has different prices negotiated that could identify manufacturers). We haven’t yet ascertained the B550 chipset cost, but our understanding is that B450 is at least $15 cheaper cost (BOM) than X570. This helps put into perspective some of the cost of flagship boards, particularly because the pricing delta will never scale 1-to-1 to the customer. There’s always an upcharge.
03:10 | AGESA Naming Nomenclature Appears to Be Changing
AGESA, or AMD’s “AMD Generic Encapsulated System Architecture,” seems to be getting a somewhat confusing revision to its naming scheme. The upcoming version, according to HardwareLuxx and Tom’s Hardware, seems to reset the numbering while adding a v2 identifier.
The most recent version is ComboAM4 18.104.22.168, but it looks as if the upcoming version will be ComboAM4 v2 22.214.171.124, and it isn’t presently clear why this is. Furthermore, HardwareLuxx reports that even the new AGESA version has fractured, with MSI using ComboAM4v2 126.96.36.199 on certain AM4 B550 boards and Gigabyte using ComboAM4 v2 188.8.131.52. As to what potential changes warrant such a versioning change remains to be seen.
04:23 | Linus Torvalds Moves to AMD
One of more interesting stories this week is from Linus Torvalds, the creator of both Linux and Git, and the almighty gate keeper of the Linux kernel. In the latest announcement regarding Linux 5.7-rc7, Torvalds outed that the most exciting thing that had happened to him recently was moving to an AMD-based machine.
“In fact, the biggest excitement this week for me was just that I upgraded my main machine, and for the first time in about 15 years, my desktop isn't Intel-based. No, I didn't switch to ARM yet, but I'm now rocking an AMD Threadripper 3970x. My 'allmodconfig' test builds are now three times faster than they used to be, which doesn't matter so much right now during the calming down period, but I will most definitely notice the upgrade during the next merge window.”
Torvalds didn’t have much else to say about his new build, or his previous one for that matter. It’s apparent that AMD’s Threadripper line is pretty popular among Linux kernel developers, which likely isn’t a big surprise. Recently, Wendell with Level1Techs put together a machine for Greg Kroah-Hartman, another prominent Linux kernel developer. That particular build also used the Threadripper 3970X.
06:18 | New ARM IP: Cortex and Mali Get Updates
ARM recently announced its yearly updates to its Cortex and Mali IPs at its ARM Tech Day 2020, announcing the new Cortex-A78 and Cortex-X1 CPU designs, as well as the Mali-G78 GPU.
The new Cortex-A78 builds on the previous A77 and A76 designs, with a continued focus on efficiency, with the more or less expected iterative/generational performance gains brought by architecture tweaks and a new process node -- the Cortex-A77 is built on 7nm, whereas the Cortex-A78 will be built on 5nm. The Cortex-A78 is expected to deliver a 20% sustained performance boost compared to the Cortex-A77 while operating within the same thermal envelope, which is an important caveat for mobile, as there’s only so many ways a smartphone can dissipate heat. The Cortex-A78 also promises a 50% improvement in energy efficiency over 2019 devices (using Cortex-A77 based SoCs) while maintaining the same performance.
ARM also unveiled a new architecture in the form of the Cortex-X1, which is less focused on balancing PPA (performance, power, and area), and more focused on raw performance. This should allow customers to design higher-power, higher-wattage solutions which will also no doubt cost more than ARM’s traditional IP. On the surface, this seems like ARM is finally trying to close the gap between its designs and Apple’s. Love or hate Apple, its core designs and SoCs -- particularly the A-series -- have absolutely led the market for years.
ARM also took the wraps its new Mali-G78 GPU, the successor to the Valhall-based Mali-G77. The Mali-G78 will be the second GPU derived from ARM’s Valhall architecture, and should bring a 25% increase in performance. The Mali-G78 stands to offer a 15% performance density improvement, as well as scaling up to 24 cores, where the previous Mali-G77 topped out at 16. The Mali-G78 also gains a 10% energy efficiency boost, which seems somewhat paltry generation-over-generation.
08:35 | Nintendo Switch Clone Begging to Be Sued
Surely as we write this, the great maws of Nintendo’s lawyers are salivating at the idea of such easy prey. It’s been days, weeks even, since they’ve fed. That is, if they can get through the usual litigation firewall for companies in China. The corpses of various ROM websites do little to sate their appetites, for they’ve been picked clean. Gluttonous, ravenous and desperate, they stand ready to pounce at the first thing brazen enough to dare even think about infringing in Nintendo’s great IP jungle.
Litigation jokes aside, the PowKiddy X2 is a flippant and unapologetic Switch copycat. The PowKiddy X2 is an ARM-based look-alike that seemingly exists to dupe less savvy buyers -- especially in the wake of manufacturing and supply chain issues affecting the Nintendo Switch’s availability. You might call this one “confusingly similar,” if not just infringing. The PowKiddy X2 uses an ARM-A7 quad-core CPU ( Armv7-A), a 7” IPS display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 (which doesn’t even match the Switch’s 1280 x 720), and a 3,000mAh battery. Again, this spec fails to meet the Switch’s 4,310mAh battery.
“Can three people play together?” the advertisement for the console asks. We don’t know, PowKiddy, you tell us. The AliExpress listing promises that we can “enjoy a big screen of pleasure” with the PowKiddy X2 and “external double handle.” We might get demonetized for that kind of language when YouTube scans this transcript.
With the PowKiddy X2, there’s no removable controllers (Joy-Cons) and there’s no dock. In lieu of Joy-Cons, users are forced to use the rare PlayStation controllers with X/Y/A/B buttons (lots of boxes being checked here) and hook them up to the bottom of the device. Here's some marketing material summing up what this experience is ostensibly like.
Of course, the PowKiddy X2 doesn’t even play Switch games. Rather, it features emulators of older systems such as the NES, GameBoy, SNES/Famicom, and more. The device costs $80, and can be had over at AliExpress.
Poor Soulja Boy has stories to tell about this type of product.
11:30 | ASUS APE
Besides needing to work on its acronyms, ASUS seems to have joined ASRock on the list of rogue motherboard vendors enabling overclocking on otherwise prohibited platforms. And it’s not really overclocking per se; it’s more BCLK tuning that would otherwise be forbidden on non-K SKUs and non-Z boards.
That aside, it appears ASUS’ APE works in similar fashion to that of ASRock’s BFB, which we talked about last week. In ASRock’s implementation, ASRock is allowing users to lock-in a higher PL1 value, such as going from 70W to 125W. ASUS appears to be doing largely the same thing, just with a worse name and fewer supported boards. ASUS enables APE on select 400-series boards, whereas ASRock offers it on both select 400-series and 300-series boards.
13:30 | Intel Finally Improves Stock Coolers
It seems Intel has finally decided to make some much needed changes to its stock coolers that come with boxed, non-K parts. While even Intel’s overhauled stock coolers pale in comparison to what AMD is offering, the changes are welcome.
According to Tom’s Hardware, Intel has silently updated its boxed coolers with a copper core, an 80W TDP rating, and a new blacked-out housing. Tom’s Hardware spoke to Intel, and Intel confirmed that the following SKUs will come with the updated cooler: i9-10900, i9-10900F, i7-10700, i7-10700F, W-1290, W-1270, and W-1250.
The 80W TDP is an increase over the previous 65W TDP specification, which seems to address the new Xeon W-1200 CPUs specifically. Additionally, Intel has returned to using a copper core with the new coolers. Intel has historically used both aluminum and copper cores for its stock coolers for years, but starting somewhere around Skylake, Intel has insisted on shipping coolers with aluminum cores.
Even though the new coolers are only shipping with newer LGA1200 CPUs, they’re of course still compatible with LGA115x socketable CPUs.
16:37 | Western Digital Slapped with Class Action Lawsuits Over SMR
In what was probably an inevitable development, Western Digital has become the target of a class action lawsuit over the way the company has handled SMR HDDs. WD is far from alone, though, as all of the HD makers have engaged in similar practices. We’ll recap the events below.
We spent three consecutive weeks talking about this as it all unfolded. It started with users on Reddit noticing that certain WD Red models (for NASes) were performing poorly, not behaving correctly in certain RAID configurations, and could not be configured properly in ZFS arrays. It was later discovered that these WD Reds were using SMR, rather than CMR, and WD wasn’t being exactly forthright about it.
No sooner than that news broke, Chris Mellor with Block & Files was able to confirm that certain drives from both Seagate and Toshiba also used SMR, and again, neither company was disclosing this to customers. Seagate, for its part, maintained that it was not shipping any NAS drive that used SMR, and it seemed that the nebulous practice of obscuring SMR was limited to client desktop drives. Toshiba’s story was more or less the same.
Over the next couple weeks, after unwavering criticism from both press and customers, all three companies came forward, so to speak, about using SMR. While WD seemed to be the most earnest about being more transparent, promising updated product documentation and benchmarks (Seagate and Toshiba didn't go this far), all three HDD makers officially disclosed every drive that used SMR.
Fast forward to now, and it seems the story isn’t over yet, as WD is now going to have to contend with litigation over the practice. As to why the lawsuit is only targeting WD, that’s because WD was the only one to hide SMR in its NAS product stack. Seagate and Toshiba have not yet shipped a NAS drive that doesn’t use CMR, so they seem to have dodged this bullet. There’s also the point that WD seemed to explicitly deny using SMR in its WD Red line initially, which isn’t going to help their case.
Hattis Law is heading up the lawsuit, stating that “Western Digital secretly switched many of its hard drives, including its WD Red NAS hard drives, to inferior shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology, deceiving and harming consumers.”
Interestingly, Hattis Law points to users having problems with WS Reds as early as March 2019 due to SMR -- which, again, isn’t a good look. Hattis Law is currently looking for affected consumers to join the class action lawsuit.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a separate class action lawsuit unfolding in Canada against WD for the use of SMR. The suit alleges that WD misled consumers and violated several of Canada’s consumer protection laws. The lawsuit is being handled by Slater Vecchio, and is looking for an injunction against WD, as well as collecting damages on behalf of plaintiffs.
Editorial: Eric Hamilton
Host, Additional Reporting: Steve Burke
Video: Keegan Gallick