A Big Push for Case Reviews

Monday, 18 September 2017

GN’s main video producer, Andrew, has been on a bit of a vacation for the past week, and that will continue for a few more days. We’ve also got other upcoming travel this weekend, so content has been in a longer pipeline than normally.

Right now, the two of us at home base have been working on cranking away at upcoming CPU and case content. The cases are part of a renewed push by GN to expand coverage outside of “just” CPUs and GPUs. Not long ago, we added to our case testing by expanding into 3DMark testing for real-world scenarios, Blender testing (for more real-world scenarios), and fortifying our torture workloads. Our case reviews have slowly added testing with and without panels, filters, and optional features, digging for optimal configurations on a per-case basis.

As recently mentioned in one of our site update articles, we have now successfully -- theoretically -- moved to SSL for GamersNexus.net. The store page (which is a masked redirect to a SquareSpace page) should also be behind SSL, though we're still doing some troubleshooting on that. It's secure and behind a certificate, but it's a masked redirect, so might be some errors thrown about that.

Either way, there shouldn't be any issues with the change. The website is now forcing all internal HTTP links to HTTPS, moving us into the modern era for the site. Although not a big one, it's an exciting first step to a round of much-needed website and server upgrades for GN. There are still bugs with the site (comments, forums, registration, email), but we're working on those. If you encounter specific SSL-related bugs, please let us know via Twitter or comment.

We're finally back at home base. The past week of hardware news and pending releases means a queue the height of the door upon returning, so we've got a busy week ahead of us. Motherboards are in the mix, the Antec P8, multiple other new cases (a quick glance suggests four), feature tests for GPUs and CPUs, and more. We also have some serious website work to get done, including our final and official move to SSL (HTTPS), following which will be fixes to the comments section. We are also looking into overhauling the forums -- it's about time. This becomes a matter of determining how the community is split: A significant portion of direct backers are now in our Patreon Discord, but forums serve an important means for archival and 'slow' support with more searchability, so to speak. That needs to be overhauled. We're considering merging comments and forums on a per-post basis, but aren't sure yet.

Regardless, the first website update in queue is the SSL move, followed by some fixes to the comments and caching systems. These have been inhibiting us for years at this point, and with GN's constant growth, it's about time to get serious about the website's ability to handle an actual user base. This will also include fixes to email activation and the registration system, which has been bugged lately. We intend to keep the forums and comments open for all users in perpetuity, with Discord remaining Patreon-only (for now, anyway).

Storing multiple terabytes of video content monthly is, obviously, a drive-intensive business -- particularly when using RAID for local editing scratch disks, a NAS for internal server access, and web remote backup. Rather than buy more drives and build a data library that is both impossible to manage and impossible to search, we decided to use our disks smarter and begin compressing broll as it falls into disuse. Deletion is the final step, at some point, but the compression is small enough as to be a non-concern right now. We're able to compress our broll anywhere from 50-86%, depending on what kind of content is contained therein, and do so with nearly 0 perceptible impact to content quality. All that's required is a processor with a lot of threads, as that's what we wrote our compression script to use, and some extra power each month.

Threadripper saw use recently in a temporary compression rig for us, as we wanted to try the CPU out in a real-world use case for our day-to-day operations. The effort can be seen below:

Lots of Testing Underway

Tuesday, 01 August 2017

We occasionally post less formal "site updates" that help bring everyone up to speed on what's going on.

As many of you likely know, the AMD events pertaining to RX Vega and Threadripper just ended, and so we're already working on test planning for these products. Release is the 10th for Threadripper, and so it'd be reasonable to assume review publication around that time. RX Vega is mid-August, with rumblings that August 14 is the release target. Those are our major items right now, but aren't the only things we're working on.

Part of our 4K camera upgrade was for ergonomics – better ability to handle the camera, particularly in show floor environments – with most the other reasons centering around quality. Camera quality is superior in every technical sense, low-light and noise reduction being a major area of improvement, but working with larger files at higher bit-rates means longer render times. We can now capture up to 200Mbps (previously captured 28Mbps) at 4K resolution, and we output at 2x the bit-rate of our previous 1080p60 videos. Render times have skyrocketed, as you’d expect, and have gone from roughly video duration + a few minutes to an hour per 20-minute video.

There’s not a lot we can do about this. Adobe Premiere, sadly, does not really do much with multi-GPU. The GPUs are accelerators, with rendering still falling on the CPU for a lot of the workload. We’re becoming more thread-limited than anything at this point, and really don’t want to build an entirely new production system right now. For now, upgrading the primary GPU to a 1080 Ti will help us out a bit in Premiere and significantly in Blender.

For those who don't follow the YouTube channel as closely as the website, it's possible that you may have missed out on our first two livestreams. Both have VODs up on the YouTube channel over here: GN Live #1 - Seidon Cooler Tear-Down & GN Live #2 - EK Open Loop & Vega Work.

We don't have any plans to start a regularly scheduled stream, but we are working on just streaming when the team is building/unbuilding things anyway. For now, we wanted to take apart and build the stuff shown in streams #1 and #2, so it made sense to set them live.

It’s a far cry from our last “major” camera purchase, which consisted of about $3000 to buy a then-new Canon XA20 and shotgun mic. That was around 2013. Since that time, we’ve invested thousands in audio equipment, sliders, tripods, and lighting – but as video team’s skills and arsenal have grown, we’ve had one straggler: The camera. The XA20 was a fantastic camera to buy for our first major video equipment, replacing our previous Canon Vixia HF S20; the XA20 permitted 1080p60 uploads, put us on the map for video, and continues to be an absolute workhorse for road production. We’re planning to keep it around for multi-cam interview shooting in the future, alongside giving us an option for multiple video staff on-site at an event. Logistically, it makes good sense to keep the XA20 around – again, the thing is truly a workhorse, and I’d be lying to not acknowledge a sentimental attachment.

About three blocks from our hotel during CES was a relatively new museum called "The National Atomic Testing Museum," associated with the Smithsonian. I popped down there with Patrick Stone for a quick visit as a break from CES and the carrion mobile device salesmen on the show floor.

Upon entering the museum, the first thing you see is a movie prop from the 1956 movie "Forbidden Planet." The robot ("Robbie," naturally) may be a reproduction, as there was no clear explanation except that it belonged to the original prop master Robert Kinoshita, who died at the age of 92 quite recently. It sets the mood for the atomic age when atomic testing around Las Vegas, home to CES, was extensive. Maybe that explains some of the mutants we saw shambling around the convention center. I still think that Forbidden Planet (based on Shakespeare's "The Tempest") is a great movie and worth a watch.

Ramping up the video production for 2016 led to some obvious problems – namely, burning through tons of storage. We’ve fully consumed 4TB of video storage this year with what we’re producing, and although that might be a small amount to large video enterprises, it is not insignificant for our operation. We needed a way to handle that data without potentially losing anything that could be important later, and ultimately decided to write a custom Powershell script for automated Handbrake CLI compression routines that execute monthly.

Well, will execute monthly. For now, it’s still catching up and is crunching away on 4000+ video files for 2016.

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