03:02 | Linus Torvalds: “Intel Has Been Detrimental to Industry”
As if we’d want to start the new year off any other way, resident operating system curmudgeon Linus Torvalds has gifted us with another one of his colorful diatribes. The rant took place in a forum post over at Real World Technology (which is run by friend of the site David Kanter, if you didn’t know) discussing the possibility of more Ryzen 9 5000 SKUs in the future.
As these forum discussions are wont to do, it quickly moved into AMD vs Intel territory, and eventually, to the validity of ECC memory for consumer-oriented SKUs. While Torvalds was rather chatty throughout the thread, it wasn’t until the topic of ECC memory came about that he became especially vocal.
In response to one user disagreeing with him that ECC memory mattered for consumers, Torvalds unleashed the following:
“ECC absolutely matters.
ECC availability matters a lot - exactly because Intel has been instrumental in killing the whole ECC industry with its horribly bad market segmentation.
Go out and search for ECC DIMMs - it's really hard to find. Yes - probably entirely thanks to AMD - it may have been gotten slightly better lately, but that's exactly my point.
Intel has been detrimental to the whole industry and to users because of their bad and misguided policies wrt ECC. Seriously.
And if you don't believe me, then just look at multiple generations of rowhammer, where each time Intel and memory manufacturers bleated about how it's going to be fixed next time.
Narrator: ‘No it wasn't’.”
Torvalds' commentary gets a little more colorful after this point, unsurprisingly. As is probably obvious, Torvalds is referring to Intel’s yearslong policy of pushing ECC memory in the server and enterprise segment, and really nothing else outside of that. Intel killed off ECC memory support for its consumer chipsets years ago, but AMD supports it in an unofficial capacity with Ryzen. However, AnandTech’s Ian Cuttress chimed in and pointed out that while unofficial support is a step in the right direction, it shouldn’t be taken at face value as a working feature.
“To the extent that even though you can have a consumer CPU and ECC memory installed, and the motherboard reports that ECC is enabled, actually ECC might not be enabled. Even software that states that ECC is enabled is simply reading the motherboard register - the only way to confirm is to actually do a test that forces an ECC correction and to monitor them. This means that a chunk of people who actually think they have ECC working on a system do not. Finding the right combination of motherboard, motherboard BIOS/firmware, and memory to work is somewhat confusing because people are reporting that 'ECC is enabled', when it's simply only being reported as such by the motherboard and not actually tested,” said Cutress.
Meanwhile, ECC support for client desktops may or may not matter once DDR5 arrives, as DDR5 will bring on-die ECC capability for addressing single-bit errors.
06:44 | Cryptocurrency Prices Are on the Rise (and Fall)
Cryptocurrencies are trending upwards again, and are seeing their biggest surge since 2017. The 2017 crypto bubble is what ultimately led to the 2018 GPU drought and crypto crash, and we could be heading a similar direction as Bitcoin and Etherum prices in particular are soaring.
As of this writing, Bitcoin is trading at around $40,000, and its recent high has knocked on the door of the $42,000 mark. Etherum has been moving up since early 2020, and has recently crossed the $1,000 mark. Currently, it's sitting at $1,210, down from a $1,237 high.
As mentioned by AnandTech’s Ryan Smith, massive jumps in crypto are what prefaced the abysmal 2018 GPU market, and it seems 2021 may see consumers contending with both bots and miners for new GPUs.
08:18 | AMD Patent Suggests Integrated FPGAs
A recently discovered patent by AMD suggests that integrated FPGAs may be what AMD has in mind with its Xilinx acquisition. The patent outlines 20 claims, and lists different drawings showing the implementation of executing specialized instructions with processors and programmable logic units.
The patent seems to hint that AMD is looking to develop a hybrid CPU-FPGA implementation. FPGAs are somewhat niche ICs that are efficient at accelerating certain workloads requiring special instructions, and can be reprogrammed for other instructions, similar in nature to ASICs. The idea of using FPGAs to accelerate data center performance in servers has often been thrown around. Intel spent a fortune to buy FPGA maker Altera back in 2015, and to date, not much in the way of actual products has come from it.
Intel did bring the Xeon Gold 6138P to market, which is essentially a Skylake-SP Xeon with an on-package Arria-10 GX1150. The Arria-10 FPGA uses one of the three UPI channels to give it access to the CPU, and while this is technically integrated in that the CPU and FPGA share the same package and substrate, what AMD seems to have in mind is different.
Exactly how AMD would carve FPGAs into their CPUs is something of a mystery. AMD has been pioneering the chiplet design since Ryzen’s inception, but the patent mentions that the CPU and presumed FPGA would share registers with the floating-point and integer execution units. This implies that AMD would be designing something that, at the very least, would share the same die. AMD could even be looking to develop CPU cores with FPGA capabilities.
10:35 | GPUs, Motherboards Affected by Tariffs
If bots and miners weren’t enough, tariffs are now set to play a part. Back in 2018, we went into detail about how PC components could see price hikes between 10% and 25% due to import taxes being levied by the Trump administration at the time. Many of those tariffs ended up getting exemptions that carried into 2020 -- specifically, December 31, 2020.
As we enter 2021, many of these exemptions have expired, and while the country is currently transitioning to a new administration, it’s unlikely that this issue will be high on the priority list and get any immediate attention. While most vendors seem to be keeping quiet on the matter, Asus has outright confirmed price increases coming down to consumers.
Asus issued the following statement:
“Update regarding MSRP pricing for ASUS components in 2021.
This update applies to graphics cards and motherboards*
We have an announcement in regards to MSRP price changes that are effective in early 2021 for our award-winning series of graphic cards and motherboards. Our new MSRP reflects increases in cost for components. operating costs, and logistical activities plus a continuation of import tariffs. We worked closely with our supply and logistic partners to minimize price increases. ASUS greatly appreciates your continued business and support as we navigate through this time of unprecedented market change.
*additional models may see an increase as we moved further into Q1."
According to the New York Times, imported goods from China will now see a 7.5% or 25% tariff, depending on the good in question. We expect that the first half of the year will still be a bad time for GPUs, and that’s not mentioning the impact Covid-19 has had on supply chains and logistics in general.
15:43 | Noctua Roadmap for 2021
Noctua released its official roadmap of upcoming products for 2021, and it’s the type of roadmap that only Noctua can get away with: In second quarter of 2021, Noctua is getting feisty and releasing a black version of the NF-A12x25, followed-up by an even riskier white fan in quarter 3. For any other company, this would be a footnote in a slide deck.
Noctua’s first quarter launch will feature a CPU air cooler in the Redux line, with the passive cooler we showed at Computex in 2019 slipping to second quarter of 21. Other small launches include heatsink covers and a black version of the NH-U12A. Noctua is also working on an 8-way fan hub, a voltage converter, and its “next generation” NH-D15. We think this might be the one we showed at Computex previously, but we’re not certain if it has changed.
17:56 | Intel’s 300-Series Chipsets Enter EOL Stage
A quick update on some important Intel products set to enter EOL this year. Intel recently disclosed via a pair of Product Change Notifications, that its entire suite of 300-series chipsets are being phased out.
Intel’s 300-series chipsets encompass the high-end Z390 and Z370, and further down the stack, H370, Q370, B365, B360, and H310. These chipsets were built into motherboards for Coffee Lake and Coffee Lake Refresh (CLR) motherboards, to be paired with 8th Gen and 9th Gen Intel CPUs.
Intel currently offers its 400-series chipset, which introduced the LGA1200 socket and support for 10th Gen Intel SKUs. There’s also talk of Intel announcing its 500-series chipset at CES 2021, which will support the looming 14nm Rocket Lake, as well as the current Comet Lake-based CPUs.
According to Intel’s PCNs, discontinace began on January 4, 2021, with orders being taken until July 23, 2021. Final shipments are scheduled for January 28, 2022.
Source: PCN# 117973-00, 117972-00: https://qdms.intel.com/Portal/SearchPCNDataBase.aspx
19:00 | Intel Z590 Arrives Before CPUs
We’ve been hearing for a few months now that Intel’s Z590 chipset would precede the launch of its Rocket Lake-S processors, with most manufacturers citing CES 2021 as the target launch date. Gigabyte is one of the earlier companies to have a board leak, as reported on via VideoCardz, and we can confirm that this particular rumor is accurate.
For whatever reason, Intel has decided to facilitate an early roll-out of Rocket Lake-S boards for a processor that will launch sometime later. Z590 boards will introduce PCIe Gen4 support, but the amount of people who will buy a Z590 motherboard early and socket a 10-series CPU into it is hopefully very small. Rocket Lake will likely land closer to March. Not all boards will launch before then, but board partners are allowed to launch early if their boards are ready.
20:32 | Jim Keller Joins AI Startup Tenstorrent
Last year, Jim Killer abruptly left Intel after a relatively short two-year stint. At the time, Keller cited personal reasons for his departure, and agreed to assist Intel for 6 months as a consultant while the company transitioned to new leadership for its Silicon Engineering Group.
As of January 6, 2021, Keller is now with AI startup Tenstorrent, where he is serving as President, CTO, and board member. According to Tenstorrent, Keller “will lead Tenstorrent’s efforts to be the hardware solution needed to address Software 2.0, the exciting industry shift towards using machine learning methods to solve problems previously addressed by traditional software.”
Keller himself added that “Software 2.0 is the largest opportunity for computing innovation in a long time. Victory requires a comprehensive re-thinking of compute and low level software. Tenstorrent has made impressive progress, and with the most promising architecture out there, we are poised to become a next gen computing giant.”
Tenstrorrent is founded by Ljubisa Bajic, who serves as CEO. Bajic previously worked for both Nvidia and AMD, having actually worked with Keller during his tenure at AMD. Keller would go on to provide the first round of funding for Bajic and Tenstorrent.
As previously mentioned, Tenstorrent focuses on chips for AI and machine learning, and currently offers its Grayskull AI processor. The Grayskull chip offers 120 of Tenstorrent’s custom Tensix cores, 5x RISC cores, a reprogrammable SIMD processor, 120MB of on-chip SRAM, and 8 channels of LPDDR4 DRAM. All of this is connected through Tenstorrent’s custom Torus interconnect and packaged onto a PCIe card, with support for PCIe Gen 4.
21:55 | AMD AGESA 188.8.131.52 BIOS Update
AMD announced the AGESA 184.108.40.206 microcode update, and with it is highlighting a few key improvements. The new AGESA code will come down from motherboard vendors in the form of BIOS/UEFI updates between January and February 2021.
The key updates are AMD now supporting the S0i3 power state for Windows 10, which Microsoft now calls Modern Standby, an evolution of the standard S3 sleep state. S0ix sleep states used to be Intel only features, so this is a welcome feature for AMD’s Ryzen line.
Also, AMD is adding support for passively cooled X570 motherboards. AMD didn’t disclose any details about support for passively cooled X570 motherboards; the only such motherboards we’re aware of is the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Dark Hero and the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Xtreme, both of which don’t use a chipset fan.
Elsewhere, AMD is also claiming improved stability with 1800-2000 MHz Infinity Fabric clocks, as well as “general stability improvements.”
24:02 | NZXT H1 Goes Back on Sale after Recall
In one of the more embarrassing hardware failures of 2020, NZXT got to recall its H1 cases due to a safety hazard. The potential safety issues had the potential to be severe, as two screws that attach the integrated PCIe riser to the case could cause shorts in the PCB, resulting in a damaged riser card at best and a fire hazard at worst.
NZXT issued a recall for the H1, paused sales for the H1, and began shipping out H1 repair kits, which include two new screws for the riser card assembly. Now, NZXT has revised the H1 and has stated that H1 sales will resume.
“The H1 has been updated to address the safety issue and is once again available for sale. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolved this matter,” says NZXT.
Editorial: Eric Hamilton
Video: Keegan Gallick
Host, Additional Reporting: Steve Burke