There’s been a lot of talk of an “Intel bug” lately, to which we paid close attention upon the explosion of our Twitter, email, and YouTube accounts. The “bug” that has been discussed most commonly refers to a new attack vector that can break the bounding boxes of virtual environments, including virtual machines and virtual memory, that has been named “Meltdown.” This attack is known primarily to affect Intel at this time, with indeterminate effect on AMD and ARM. Another attack, “Spectre,” attacks through side channels in speculative execution and branch prediction, and is capable of fetching sensitive user information that is stored in physical memory. Both attacks are severe, and between the two of them, nearly every CPU on the market is affected in at least some capacity. The severity of the impact remains to be seen, and will be largely unveiled upon embargo lift, January 9th, at which time the companies will all be discussing solutions and shortcomings.

For this content piece, we’re focusing on coverage from a strict journalism and reporting perspective, as security and low-level processor exploits are far outside of our area of expertise. That said, a lot of you wanted to know our opinions or thoughts on the matter, so we decided to compile a report of research from around the web. Note that we are not providing opinion here, just facts, as we are not knowledgeable enough in the subject matter to hold strong opinions (well, outside of “this is bad”).

This episode of Ask GN, shipping on Christmas day, answers a few pertinent questions from the last few weeks: We'll talk about whether we made ROI on the Titan V, whether it makes more sense to buy Ryzen now or wait for Ryzen+/Ryzen2, and then dive into the "minor" topics for the segment. Smaller topics include discussion on choosing games for benchmarking -- primarily, why we don't like ROTTR -- and our thoughts on warranty/support reviews, with some reinforced information on vertical GPU mounting. The conclusion focuses on an ancient video card and some GN modmat information.

The embedded video below contains the episode. Timestamps are below that.

This week's hardware news recap diverges from Titan V coverage and returns to some normalcy, sort of, except the joining of Corsair by former top EK executives. We also have some loose confirmation of Ryzen+ for 1Q18, MSI's new RX Vega 64 Air Turbo card, and Sapphire's Nitro+ Vega 64 card. Still lots of AMD news, it seems, though Intel popped-up with Gemini Lake, if briefly.

Find the show notes below, or the video embedded:

AMD’s partner cards have been on hold for review for a while now. We first covered the Vega 64 Strix when we received it, which was around October 8th. The PowerColor card came in before Thanksgiving in the US, and immediately exhibited similar clock reporting and frequency bugginess with older driver revisions. AMD released driver version 17.11.4, though, which solved some of those problems – theoretically, anyway. There are still known issues with clock behavior in 17.11.4, but we wanted to test whether or not the drivers would play nice with the partner cards. For right now, our policy is this: (1) We will review the cards immediately upon consumer availability or pre-order, as that is when people will need to know if they’re any good; (2) we will review the cards when either the manufacturer declares them ready, or at a time when the cards appear to be functioning properly.

This benchmark is looking at the second option: We’re testing whether the ASUS Strix Vega 64 and PowerColor Red Devil 64 are ready for benchmarking, and looking at how they match versus the reference RX Vega 64. Theoretically, the cards should have slightly higher clocks, and therefore should perform better. Now, PowerColor has set clock targets at 1632MHz across the board, but “slightly higher clocks” doesn’t just mean clock target – it also means power budget, which board partners have control over. Either one of these, particularly in combination with superior cooling, should result in higher sustained boost clocks, which would result in higher framerates or scores.

We need some clarity on this issue, it seems.

TLDR: Some AMD RX 560 graphics cards are selling with 2 CUs disabled, resulting in 896 streaming processors to the initially advertised 1024 (64 SPs per CU). Here’s the deal: That card already exists, and it’s called an RX 460; in fact, the first two lines of our initial RX 560 review explicitly states that the driving differentiator between the 460 and 560, aside from the boosted clocks, was a pre-enabled set of 2CUs. The AMD RX 460s could already be unlocked to have 16 CUs, and the RX 560 was a card that offered that stock, rather than forcing a VBIOS flash and driver signature.

The RX 560 with 2CUs disabled, then, is not a new graphics card. It is an RX 460. We keep getting requests to test the “new” RX 560 versus the “old” RX 560 with 1024 SPs. We already did: The RX 560 review contains numbers versus the RX 460, which is (literally) an RX 560 14CU card. It is a rebrand, and that’s likely an attempt to dump stock for EOY.

Cyber Monday is over, but “Black Friday” is now “Black November.” December is also Black November. Next year is Black 2018. Welcome to the future, where the deals are infinite and yet 8GB of memory still costs nearly $100.

Regardless, we’ve got a few that are worthwhile: There’s an i7-7700K for $290, an EVGA SuperNova 650 for $65, and an AMD bundle kit below.

On the heels of what already seemed like a remarkable discount, considering how relatively new Ryzen is, it seems that retailer Amazon has now cut AMD R7 CPU prices even further. It’s the typical, “hurry up and buy! This is the last day of the sale!” situation, while whispering that tomorrow’s sale will be even better.

Regardless, for those who didn’t buy in on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, the R7 1700 CPU (which we strongly recommend with a quick overclock) and R7 1700X CPU are now marked down to $243 and $252, respectively. List price is about $400 on the 1700X and about $330 on the 1700, though both have been marked down closer to the $300-$350 range for the last few months.

Now that it’s officially Cyber Monday, we’ve still been combing through sales online, and we’ll continue to do so throughout the holiday season. As such, we thought it might be a good idea to throw together a quick and dirty PC build based on some of the better deals we’ve seen, in the event anyone is currently or looking to piece together an entire system. Our target was $1000 or less, and we’ve managed to assemble a pretty potent gaming machine for right under that.

Admittedly, $1,000 is a bit steep for a mid-range build—an upper-scale mid-range, no doubt—but still mid-range. This is the part where we insert the disclaimer about the voracious prices on RAM, SSDs, and GPUs. Alas, such are the times.

This gaming PC build for under $1000 uses an AMD Ryzen R5 CPU, a GTX 1060 3GB card, and 16GB of memory to provide a foundation for hobbyist or semi-professional workstation uses.

Unlike our recent Threadripper Workstation build, this one is squarely aimed at gaming and a mix of “content creator” type tasks; the R5 and additional memory will abet in light productivity workloads. Should anyone be considering serious overclocking, certainly pick up the optional cooler listed below, and maybe consider a move to X370 with a better VRM and heatsink.

The recent trend in memory prices have put a major hold on our PC build guides. For years – most of its 10-year existence – GN has published nearly monthly gaming & workstation PC build guides. We haven’t published one for several months now, and that’s because of the simultaneous collision of memory and video card prices. The two all-time high price jumps on GPUs (miner+gamer joint demand) and RAM (supply shortage & process switch) made PC building nearly impossible to afford. There’s been some alleviation of that lately, but not in memory prices directly. The onslaught of Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales have brought down other components enough to more or less neutralize the insane RAM pricing; now, for instance, the 1950X is $200 off MSRP, which instantly counters the RAM pricing being 2x what it should be. For this reason, we decided to revisit our PC build guides with a Threadripper 1950X workstation, built for 3D rendering (Blender), H264 video encoding with Handbrake, and some other batch processing work and Adobe Premiere work.

A Note About PC Builds

PC builds always get comments from people who want to express their infinite wisdom and intelligence in comments fields, likely because, of all the things we publish, PC building is the item with which folks have the most experience. A note, here: We’re building based on two primary criteria, which include:

  • - We have used and tested the parts, and trust them for this build.
  • - We are using this build internally as a temporary encode/render system, which means that it’s mostly to suit our needs; if you can do better, great, but we’re going for a workstation that can get our jobs done, then be unbuilt.

There are places you can cut costs on this build. We’ll include alternative parts listings for those instances.

Almost as painfully as for our DDR4 RAM sales article, we trudged through video card sales and “sales” alike in attempt to find gold in a strapped market. Video card sales weren’t as exciting as previous years, with some settling down to simply MSRP – in other words, half off – and others seeing $10-$20 drops. We found a couple of good ones, nonetheless, including GTX 1080, RX 570, RX 560, and GTX 1060 sales. Find those below.

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