Category: Review

Sapphire Radeon HD6990 4GB reviewed

Here’s a question for you. What’s huge, blisteringly fast, very loud, needs its own power station and is not made by Nvidia? The answer is AMD’s latest incarnation of the Northern Island range of GPUs, the Antilles, or to give it its marketing name, the Radeon HD6990. Oh, and incidentally, it’s currently the fastest single card on the planet.

When the HD6*** series was launched, AMD caught everyone on the hop by tinkering about with the product numbering system so that the two original launch cards the HD6870 and HD6850 weren’t direct replacements for the HD5870 and HD5850 – but because of the changes in the core architecture it allowed AMD to have cards with the same level of performance but at a much better price point.

Thankfully the HD6990 isn’t about wishy washy stuff like trying to get the right amount of bang for your buck, especially when you see the price of the thing, no – this card is all about AMD trying to regain the king of the hill title for the fastest graphics card back from Nvidia, well, for a single card at least.

To get its frame crunching performance the HD6690 uses two, yes, two slightly down tuned high-end Cayman XT cores as found in the HD6790 cards. Both the core and memory clocks have been turned down in the HD6990, or at least out of the box as standard they have, but more on that later. The core and the 3072 stream processors fly along at 830MHz, down from 880MHz while the 4G of GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,250MHz (5GHz effective) instead of the Cayman XT’s normal 1,375MHz (5.5GHz effective).

The reason for its huge size – it measures a whopping 305mm (12in) in length, about the same as the previous generation’s 5970 – is mainly down to trying to keep the two cores cool and for this it uses not one, but two Vapor Chamber heatsinks. One over each core separated by a very loud central fan.

To deliver power to the GPU and memory more effectively than its predecessor, the cores are moved further apart on the HD6990 than the HD5970 with the gap between them filled with power regulators and the PCI-E 2.0 bridging chip.

On top of the card there are two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors so you know that this baby consumes a fair amount of power. That’s a bit of an understatement, as the HD6990 has been designed from the ground up to run at 450Watts. Out of the box it still needs 375Watts to get it going, the higher figure comes into play should you decide to ignore the warranty warning sticker.

What’s this about a warranty warning sticker then? One of the features of the more recent Northern Island based cards is the fitting of a two way BIOS switch on the top of the PCB, which is handy if you like to tinker with the graphics card BIOS to make it run faster and muck things up badly, at least you have an option to get the card back to running normally.

With the HD6990 however, things are a bit different as the switch allows you to either run the card at the stock 830MHz of the HD6990 or at the normal speed of the Cayman XT core, that is to say 880MHz, which necessitates an increase in the voltage being fed to the chip.

So we have a factory fitted overclocking option, great, but hold on, what’s this yellow warning sticker on the switch? It’s a warning about voiding the warranty of the card by overclocking. It turns out we have a factory overclocked card that shouldn’t be overclocked as chances are it will void the warranty – go figure.

As you might expect for one of the first cards to see the light of day, Sapphire’s HD6990 is a reference design but with a new sticker on the cooler, but there has been some thought given about the cable bundle that comes with the card as it has an unusual arrangement of ports on the back panel.

There’s single DVI and four mini-DisplayPorts, so Sapphire bundles in all you need to get going with a multi panel EyeFinity setup; a DVI to VGA adaptor, passive miniDP to DP, miniDP to SL-DVI and miniDP to HDMI dongles and an active DP to SL-DVI dongle. In Eyefinity mode, the HD6990 can currently support up to five screens, but when the DisplayPort 1.2 drivers eventually surface you will be able to daisy chain additional DisplayPort 1.2 monitors to each DP output.

To test, we’re using an Intel Core i7 Extreme 965 3.2GHz processor and 6GB of Crucial PC3-10600 DDR3 which sits in an MSI X58 Pro motherboard, together with a Western Digital WD1500ADFD Raptor hard drive with Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit installed and a Be Quiet 850 power supply.

To test the DirectX 11 capablilites of the card we used the DiRT2 game and Futuremark’s latest 3DMark benchmark, 3DMark11, while the other two 3DMark Vantage and FarCry2 are DirectX10 only.

Benchmarks
3DMark Vantage

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 frames per second in Sapphire Radeon HD6990 4GB

3DMark 11

3DMark 11 overall score with the Sapphire Radeon HD6990 4GB

DiRT2

DiRT2 framerate tested with the Sapphire Radeon HD6990 4GB

Performance-wise the HD6990 is a monster, it kicks sand in every other single card’s face and makes a decent fist of moving into dual card territory even at the default clock settings out of the box.

Building two of these beasties into a Crossfire set-up should lead to some awe-inspiring frame rates, that is if you’ve got over a grand to spend, have a huge full tower case and have a local power station to plug into.

3DS tickles TechEye's memory circuits

TechEye got a Nintendo 3DS sample unit to play with last week, over half a year after first manhandling it at the Gamescom show in Cologne. It has to be said, playing with Nintendogs and brawling through Streetfighter managed to make us feel 13 again.

Alas, Pilotwings Resort failed to tickle the tastebuds as flying games simply aren’t this reviewer’s cup of tea – apart from if you can blow the bejeezus out of little pixel soldiers. Does anyone here remember Wings of Fury for the Amiga?

Anyway, the 3DS came in a nice fancy box including the console, power cable, ear phones, a docking bay, six AR cards and a 2GB Toshiba SD card. Oh yes, a manual was naturally included, too. Charging the 3DS requires placing it in the docking bay, which is hooked up to the wall socket. You know you’re all set to go when the charger LED stops glowing.

Hey ho, and off we go. We shove a game card into the correct hole on the 3DS’ rear end, also home to a small place for the touch pen. An L and R button are also placed on its backside, firmly entrenching the game slot and pen hole. On the front there are no surprises, two pads on the left and the obligatory XYAB buttons on the right. Select, home and start buttons are positioned below the touchscreen.

3DS backside

First time turning it on, the unit asked us to calibrate the 3D effect to a setting which wouldn’t hurt the eyes, our give us an epileptic fit. After that, the unit asks its owner to set the country, date and asks if parental controls are desired, or not.

3D photos can also be shot using the rear lense, although the quality isn’t all that great as can be seen below in this photo of my sock. Nonetheless, pics do look rather good in full 3D on the console’s panel. Using the slider, the overlaying images can be shoved apart resulting in a schizo fix.

One right sock shot with internal rear camera

Right sock tape slip

But what about the games? 

Well, TechEye received three launch titles as above. All three were rather good.

There was a slight naming mishap in Nintendogs, where we accidentally named a puppy “Guttenberg”, after Germany’s former defense minister who had to resign last week, instead of “Gutenberg” as in Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press. Isn’t he sweet?

Guttenberg the mutt

Nonetheless, Guttenberg was lovingly petted, taken for walkies and played with for a good hour until he went to bed.

Face Raiders was the first game TechEye had a go on, a preinstalled augmented reality (AR) game requiring the player to make a snapshot of him- or herself using the internal camera on the front.

The mugshot is saved and then featured on round flying balls, which float around the room displayed by the 3D camera module on the rear panel. Users may find it fun to hit themselves in the face, less stable sorts may experience terrifying bouts of paranoia. 

Hitting myself, the endboss

Nintendo’s 3DS comes with further AR games preinstalled, requiring users to place an AR card on a table to act as an anchor in reality for the unit. This hack found himself having to move around his desk to hit targets popping up from his desk right around the card.

On the hardware side of things, controlling and playing games is a wonderful affair, as can be expected from Nintendo.

One problem was that the hinge for the upper screen appeared to be a bit weak, as it flopped one step back while TechEye tryed to navigate a plane through hoops in Pilotwings Resort.

The major question is: will the very good autosteroscopic 3D screen be enough to top the ranks of consumers wish lists? It will certainly score high for younger age groups, but this year will also see smartphones with autostereoscopic displays sporting higher resolutions and better graphics. Wealthy adults may dismiss the 3DS as a gimmick, though we’d disagree.

Actually, Nintendo’s newest offspring is a ton of fun.

Apart from the touch-screen controls, the two main selling points for the 3DS are that it is the only unit out there on the market that currently features an autostereoscopic screen – and the games. Games sell consoles, not the flashiest graphics, as Sony and Microsoft had to learn bitterly last time around.

Sony may be releasing the PSP2, but Nintendo is bound to thrash it in terms of sales, despite again having the lower spec hardware.

3D adds a lot to the immersive quality of games, especially when they are addictive titles such as Zelda, Super Mario, or Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. It will also be interesting to see how and if other games will make use of AR, as this offers an even higher degree of immersion.

Console makers will face an up-hill battle in the short to middle term. Handset makers will too, despite not fully sharing the demographic. In the short to mid term, we can expect the 3DS to find its place in the rucksacks of many kids, next to an iPhone or Android handset.

Long term predictions are hard to make. Nintendo has a great brand and broad legacy, but the market is charging full steam ahead and will be entirely different in years to come due to the convergence of various devices into one handset. Nintendo is already cleverly adapting, being first to market with a handheld console featuring full autostereoscopic 3D.

In future, Nintendo will probably develop AR features and games more deeply and integrate it into upcoming systems, if not even base them entirely around AR.

One thing is certain – the 3DS is set to be another success story for Nintendo and unit sales will make the company’s shareholders very happy, at least for the time being.

Streetfighter on the dock

Boston 3DBOXX 8550 Xtreme workstation reviewed

Boston is a company which has a reputation in IT as the supplier of high-end workstations, render boxes and servers to system integrators, as well as directly out to specialist companies in the 3D Industry.

Boston has been about since 1992. It has strived to climb to the top of the ladder in high performance power optimised technologies in the ISP, HPC, Enterprise and Broadcast marketplace.

Specialised workstations, servers and render boxes are extremely expensive and down time is not a great idea.

Over the years Boston has produced exceptional systems based around Supermicro, but for Boston to reach further into the more sophisticated marketplaces, a major manufacturing deal was struck direct with BOXX, a US Integrator of some of the most sophisticated overclocked 3D workstations in the world. The kind that give the Tier 1 builders a run for their money. When we were asked if we’d like to review a system, our answer was a swift yes. The systems from BOXX are something else.

An important point to note: BOXX is a recognised hardware vendor under the Autodesk Media & Entertainment certification program. BOXX machines have been tested and certified by Autodesk to run at optimal performance on Autodesk products, including Maya, 3ds Max, MotionBuilder, Mudbox and Softimage.

The system that was delivered was very high spec, consisting of the following:

Component

BOXX 3DBOXX 8550 Xtreme Test System

CPU

2 X 3.33GHz Intel® Xeons™ (X5680 processors) overclocked to 4.2GHz

Mainboard

EVGA Classified SR-2 eATX

Memory

6 X 2GB (12GB Total) DDR3 1333MHz (PC3-10600) Memory Modules

Hard Drive(s)

2 X 300GB Western Digital VelociRaptors in Raid 1 (Via ICH 10 onboard Controller)

 

2 X 500GB (1TB) Seagate Constellation 2 drives in Raid 0 (Via ICH 10 onboard Controller) for data storage

Graphic Card(s)

1 X NVIDIA Quadro® 4000

 

1 X NVIDIA Quadro® 6000

 PSU

Seasonic 850Watt Modular

 DVDROM

20X Dual Layer DVD±RW Writer

Operating System

Windows 7 Professional  64-Bit with complete updates

Our system came expected, supplied with a Logitech Keyboard and Mouse, 3 x Nvidia® SLI bridges, ATI® Crossfire Bridge, an additional array of extra cables for the mainboard and PSU, with a good selection of software to get you up and running straight away. And that all important Windows recovery disc.

Something clever that struck us about the BOXX build was the actual hard drive deployment within the system. Opening up the read panel we found the 4 x 2 ½” system drives neatly mounted in place, with plenty of room for expansion.

A novel design then, though we did have reservations to heat. On closer inspection, the Asetek liquid cooling array fans for the CPUs also blasts air under the rear to keep those drives cool too. The rear panel to the chassis has a vent that the hot air quietly flows from. The company says it has tested the system with a range of drives and that airflow is not an issue.

Conclusions

This has to have been the most exciting Parts Built System we have tested in a long time.

Generally speaking, review systems are very well built, but this is an extraordinary unit with the strength to push things to the next level. The BOXX brushed aluminium chassis looks the part and will sit under most desks without looking out of place with the furnishings. It’s an important point in today’s studios key customers and new clients believe that image is everything.

The actual system performance from the I/O was what we had anticipated – extremely fast. The Sandra 2011 System Cryptography result is the fastest we have ever achieved. To deviate slightly, this unit can be upgraded in many ways beyond the original build, so those looking for the high speed boot should consider putting an enterprise SSD in place.

When you are spending cash of this nature, costs will be high – but those who require the absolute best in performance will find this is an exceptional option. Although we have seen extremely fast results, there is room to make things faster at the client’s request.

The render speed results from the recent release of POV-Ray and Cinebench 11.5 are speedy, and the BOXX system did almost half some of our other results – extremely quick indeed. This standalone unit has the power to meet the most demanding client’s high expectations for fast output.

To emphasise just how fast is fast, take a look at the staggering Cinebench 11.5 score.

The results obtained from the SPECapc’ s and SPECviewperf are without doubt the fastest we have produced.

Nvidia’s Quadro releases excelled on this platform. While the Quadro 4000 returned some pretty impressive results, the Quadro 6000 romped away in terms of raw power. It’s almost as if the mainboard was built for it.

Both cards performed above expectations, returning some very impressive results from the SPEC tests. SPECapc for SolidWorks 2007 again showed us our fastest results to date by the Quadro 6000, in both the “Day in the Life” result and the actual SPEC Graphic score.

As for SPECviewperf 11, astonishing to say the least. Maya-03 was running away at 115.97 and swiftly following was the SW-02 score of 65.79, fully backing up the SPECapc for SolidWorks results.

The Quadro 6000 just cannot be caught up to with its unprecedented performance – as the complete full FSAA run demonstrated, with the desired scaled composite results all the way down to 64X FSAA. Will we see faster any time soon? Time will tell. 

At going to print, the cost of the BOXX 3DBOXX 8550 Xtreme with the Nvidia Quadro 4000 is £6,279.00 plus Vat and Delivery and can be purchased direct through Boston’s reseller Escape Studios. The full range of BOXX systems from Escape Studios can be found at this URL. The 3DBOXX 8550 Xtreme comes with a 3 year warranty.

*EyeSee One of our readers can win one of these powerful, 3DBOXX 4860 systems from Escape Studios. Entry details are here, terms and conditions apply

Intel Core i7-990X demonstrates the need for speed

Since launch nearly two years ago, the Intel i7 has had many people shocked at the utter raw performance that could and has been gained from that one small processor.  As each time framed release of the newer and much faster models has hit the streets the more we’re impressed by how much more performance the CPU delivers.   

People are hungry for faster gaming, hungry for faster productivity and hungry for the ultimate ”need for speed”. At the turn of this year we saw Intel releasing the Sandy Bridge architecture, a whole new kettle of fish with faster CPU chips, abd faster mainboards.  

For the majority it meant complete upgrade path, though bang for buck you cannot get any better. 

That’s until now.

The Intel Core i7 990X-Extreme Edition processor has hit the streets and brought with it two new mainboards that were announced late in December of 2011 supporting the current range of i7 processors. This did have many analysts thinking. The majority could see the reasoning why  it brought to the mainboard range a whole new set of features that would maintain Intel’s strategy in remaining competitive against AMD.  

So what is different about this new offering?   While maintaining a QPI pathway of 6.4GT/s and a top TDP of 130 Watts it has a slight increase in MHz performance from 3.33GHz on the over the Intel Core i7 980X to 3.46GHz with the 990X.   Within L2 Core The Intel Core i7 990X maintains and supports each core with 256KB.    And at L3 Cache, all six cores share the large 12MB cache.  

The Core i7 990X has a HyperThreading feature that will allows it to execute all 12 threads at once. The final feature of this CPU is the Turbo Boost technology.  This enabled Intel to push the CPU frequency up to 3.73 GHz at times when maximum performance is required.   

This CPU is aimed at those needing the fastest equipment in the marketplace.  

With the arrival of the parts we took an extremely analytical look at what we perceived the possible builds with the equipment we have on hand. We have to take into account that these new CPUs and Mainboards are not just only aimed at the general public but the system builder too, supporting the professional arena.   

You could build  a sensational multimedia system supported by either ATI’s or Nvidia’s multimedia cards, either standalone or in Crossfire or SLI Mode.    Or, you could build a superb Top End professional graphics workstation that fully uses the new SATA ratification and if you really wish to be impetuous, push the boat out, overclock the system in either of the those modes.

There are now a few professional system integrator companies providing these racked standalone solutions, though take heed, overclock the system in the professional market and you null and void your warranty.   Current system integrators suppliers are providing their own specialised warranties as we go to print.   So for those wishing to take the plunge and wish the system to be pushed that little bit more, it can be done.

In this review, though, the systems will remain at standard BIOS settings with the only exception being the memory settings adjusted to take advantage of the newer and much faster memory.  

There’s a large number of benchmarks available and you could spend all day  producing results if the time permitted.  In order to make this a factual hard hitting article we looked carefully at what the community really need  to see as timescales ran against us in providing you with more information.  Therefore we chose the following to highlight just how good the new complete architecture really is in all arenas.  In order to expedite the proceedings, all tests shown within are at their primary display default settings.  

Benchmarks and Software used in 64-bit Mode
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
SiSoftware Sandra 2011 (Latest Build)
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 2011
SPECviewperf 11.0 64-bit





There have been many rumours flying around about what this new i7 CPU can do and cannot do, but the results speak for themselves.    

We have to take a moment to reflect on the new mainboard’s performance.   Our friend the “Skull” is feature rich in many aspects which should keep many happy for a long time.  The heatpipe cooling which covers the key components is a very welcome addition to this top end mainboard and should ensure longevity of those critical success factors of the mainboard, especially when operating at peak outputs.   There are many ways to upgrade, too many to mention here.  One final point is that the mainboard  does come supplied with a Wi-Fi/BlueTooth Module.

The supplied components to back up the mainboard are up to Intel’s normal high standards, in our recent outing with Sandy Bridge we did like the new SATA cables and once more we’re pleased to see these parts in place.   The supplied software CD came with a good decent bundle of Intel’s own proprietary overclocking tool (Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel XTU))and system monitoring which is a good bonus for the overclocker. 

Other packages included  AV software which means those not having any form of protection can get up and running straight away online and do what needs to be done.  What did take our attention was the updated and upgraded supplied and online manuals.  These have been smartly updated and more precise for many beginners building a system for the first time. This is, without any doubt a much faster CPU and there are significant gains to be seen.

For the multimedia aspects of the mainboardm both the Sapphire Radeon 6970 and Nvidia Geforce GTX 580 performed well.  So we have once more an option of choice, not only with a single high performing GPU but the choice of Crossfire and SLI modes. 

What of the Professional Cards from both ATI and Nvidia? Well these both have taken significant leaps forward in performance, not only from the offerings that the whole system has to offer but the actual driver packages recently released.  

We must suggest that a mission critical system should be balanced accordingly on an Intel platform that supports ECC and a Xeon CPU.  The DX58SO2 does offer the option of both ECC and Non ECC memory configurations and supports the almighty Xeon, though in ECC mode you are limited to a maximum of 24GB.

Finally we have to take away the unmistakable facts that Intel has produced a successor to the throne in the top bin CPU ratings.  Yes a premium price has to be paid.  

TechEye looks at Hitachi's Deskstar 7K3000 3TB drive

Western Digital took all the plaudits last year when it launched the first 3TB hard drive for internal use, the WD30EZRSDTL, and while Samsung can lay claim to the first 3TB drive of any type, it was an external drive so it doesn’t really count. Unless you want to break it out of its shiny box and bung it into your PC, which a few people have done.

Coming in late to this party has been Hitachi, but now it too has a 3TB desktop drive and it’s been well worth the wait. In performance terms, it kicks sand in the face of both its competitors.

The Deskstar 7K3000 3TB (HDS723030ALA640) comes with a 7,200prm spindle speed – a world first – and if that wasn’t enough to sort out WD’s drive, Hitachi has given it a SATA 6Gb/s interface, the first Hitachi drive to have it, and a whopping 64MB of cache which admittedly is the same size as WD’s drive.

Benchmarks

For a bit of real life testing we backed up a 13GB folder of mixed file types on to the Hitachi drive, which took just 190.14 secs thanks to its SATA 6Gb/s

Unlike WD’s neat way to get around the problems of using mega capacity disks by bundling a controller card with the drive, Hitachi leaves it up to you to sort out the complexities to get the drive up and running as it’s not quite as simple as opening up the PC and slapping in the new drive. Well, it is if you are a Mac OS X or Linux user, but if you are using an OS supplied by that nice Mr. Gates then you are faced by a few more hurdles to overcome – nothing new there then.

To make this drive bootable, it basically requires you to have a very up-to-date motherboard and a 64 bit version of Vista or Windows 7. If you are an XP user then please move along, there’s nothing to see here, quite literally, as the OS doesn’t support drives of this capacity.

The reason for the need of a very modern motherboard is that you need one that has a UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS. They are rare but improving all the time, and Hitachi has got a guide on its website to give you an idea of the board you need.

The need for a 64 bit Windows OS is because you require something that creates and uses GUID partition tables (GPT) and not the old familiar master boot record (MBR) tables. The same goes for using it as a data drive if you want to see its full 2.79TB formatted capacity.

TechEye toys with Sapphire's Pure Black X58

Although Sapphire is best known for its huge range of AMD based graphics cards, in the past it also had a range of AMD based motherboards including such legends as the Pure Crossfire, a motherboard with a white PCB and red fittings that was stunning to look at if nothing else.

Now it’s back in the motherboard game with boards that not only support AMD but a couple of Intel boards as well. The first Intel motherboard to see the light of day is the Pure Black X58, which as you may have guessed is based around Intel’s high-end X58 chipset.

Intel’s X58 chipset may be a bit long in the tooth now, but it’s still Intel’s most advanced chipset, and with the launch of the mighty 6-core Core i7-980X processor it has had a whole new lease of life – with many manufacturers bringing it bang up to date by adding on today’s seemingly must haves, e.g. SATA 6Gb/s and USB 3.0 on boards featuring the X58.

 

Layout
Sapphire’s Pure Black X58, built on a black finished ATX PCB, is based around Intel’s LGA1366 socket (supporting the 900 series of Core i7 CPUs) with the RAID (R) version of the ICH10 Southbridge combining with the X58 Northbridge. 

The 900 series of Core i7s support triple channel memory and the Pure Black X58 provides six DDR3 memory slots that can support up to a total of 24GB of memory to back up the processor. Filling up the slots with 24GB might still be out of the range of most people’s pockets at around £600 – £700, even with the current low price of memory – but you can get 6GB DDR3-1600 memory kits from, say, Crucial for under a hundred quid.

There are four X16 PCI-E (three coloured blue and one grey) slots but don’t expect these all to run at full x16 speed in multicard setups, unfortunately there’s no SLI support so these will have to be CrossFire only. The top slot runs at full (x16) full speed while the two remaining blue slots run at half speed (x8) while the grey slot always runs at x4 speed. 

The board provides three SATA 6Gb/s ports, two of which are stacked at ninety degrees on the edge which are joined by two stacked pairs of SATA 3Gb/s ports and a rare IDE port for an optical drive, perfect for those who have yet to switch over to SATA based optical drives, or indeed for people still using IDE hard drives.

Connectivity-wise the Pure Black X58 is well equipped. On the rear panel you’ll find: 10 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, single PS/2 port, e-SATA port, six audio ports plus both digital and coaxial SPDIF outputs, Gigabit Ethernet and the antenna for the boards integrated Bluetooth.

With all that lot going on it’s rather odd to find there is only a single internal USB header on the board, so if you want to build the board into a case that has more than two front USB ports and/or has a flash card reader built in, you’re going to have to make a choice about what matters to you the most – as you can’t have both.

The MOSFETS and both chipset bridges are cooled passively with the Northbridge and the power circuitry heatsinks connected by a heatpipe.

There’s also a dual BIOS switch so if one BIOS is damaged by a virus or by somebody really mucking one up because of over zealous tinkering, (and there are plenty of options in the BIOS to that with), all is not lost. For those who like to play with their motherboards out of a case there are power and reset buttons placed at the bottom edge of the board under the last PCI-E slot along with the dual BIOS switch and a CMOS reset button.

 

Benchmarks
Test system: Intel i7 920 @ 2.6GHz, 6GB DDR3-1600MHz, 150GB WD Raptor HDD, Radeon HD6850 graphics, Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Overall System Performance

 
First up is Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage benchmark which aims to replicate real-world applications in a number of scenarios and gives a system a good work out.

 

Rendering

 

The x264 benchmark measures how fast a system can encode a DVD quality MPEG-2 video clip into a high quality x264 video clip. It’s a fairly accurate report for each pass of the video compression process and makes very efficient use of multi core processors.

Cinebench R11.5 is the latest version of Maxon’s test suite. The CPU tests were used and these use various algorithms to stress a CPU using all available cores while rendering a photorealistic 3D scene.

 

Gaming

 
3DMark Vantage tests the DX10 performance of the graphics sub-system using gaming simulations. As the X58 is a high-end chipset, the toughest Xtreme pre-set setting was used to test the HD6850 and even though in CrossFire mode it doesn’t run in full dual X16 speed, the results are still pretty impressive.


For this test the in-game benchmark was used, at resolutions of 1,680 by 1,050 and 1,920 by 1,200 using the small ranch map. The DX10 setting was used with all in game details set to Ultra with no extra filtering.


DiRT2 was used to test DX11 performance, once again at two resolutions with the in game details set to Ultra.

Verdict
With the Pure Black X58, Sapphire has firmly put itself back in the motherboard market with a very nice board combining high build quality with a good list of features – but the price tag is the sticking point.

Unfortunately, although X58 is a high-end/enthusiasts chipset, there are some manufacturers using it for motherboards in the high end of the mainstream market with price tags (£150 – £170) to match, leaving Sapphire sitting between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pricing. Its price puts it firmly in the enthusiast end of the market but unfortunately when compared to boards in that bracket, the feature list looks a little on the light side.

Overclockers go Ballistix (sp)

Every now and again that all important item pops up,  some call it a gadget, while others describe it as an extremely important part of the system.  Today we have a look at Crucial’s Ballistix Active DIMM Cooler that hit the streets at the end of November 2010.  

There are a few of these important parts available already on the market – some by other famous manufacturers, others by less well known.  Crucial wanted  to stay ahead of the game and always attempts to maintain its lead over its competitors.  We all strive to maintain a quiet and cool system that we get our money worth from before taking the leap up in getting a whole new system.  So can a simple £20 peripheral ensure longevity in our memory modules?   

Technical specs for the Crucial Ballistix Active Cooling Fan are listed below:

·    Dimensions: 155mm x 77.6mm x 71.6mm
·    Fan size: 2 x 60mm fans
·    Voltage: 12VDC
·    Fan speed: 3000 RPM +/- 10%
·    Noise: 25dBA (28max)
·    Airflow: 15CFM
·    Weight: 200g
·    Connection: 3-pin power connector (4-pin adapter included)

In order to test this new ingenious piece of equipment at its fullest capabilities we took our new Sandy Bridge system build along with Crucial’s all singing and dancing Ballistix, DDR3 PC3-17000 (2133MHz) memory as our choice.  This would certainly stretch the Ballistix DIMM Cooler.   Therefore our system build for this test is as follows

It’s important to keep it simple but also to maintain what an average modern high-end system would look like.   There is plenty of room for the overclocker here but in order to see what the stock values would return we maintained the system at stock with the only exception of changing the memory module speeds to their default of 2133MHz to gain optimal performance from the system and in turn get accurate results.

Ballistix

Test Environment
Maintaining an average room temperature of 22C we firstly ran the system without the Ballistix DIMM Cooler for 3 hours flat out covering all sorts of GPU and Memory intensive tests to try and “heat up” the system.  Results below show clearly an efficacy of both the stand alone system cooling and the new Ballistix memory modules fin cooling array.

Three hours running without the Ballistix Cooler

Ballistic

Moving up a gear we placed on top of the memory modules the new Crucial Ballistix Active Cooling Fan array.  We placed the fan array at the very top setting so that minimal interference with the memories own cooling fin array and that air would be distributed evenly and precisely across the full array of memory modules

Running for three hours

Ballistix

 

While maintaining the ambient room temperate at 22C the following day we then ran a further set of GPU and Memory intensive scripted tests over a 12 hour period.

Ballistix

 

Conclusions
The results show that Crucial’s Ballistix Active DIMM Cooler does do what is claimed on the package.   For £20 you see a significant reduction in heat generation from the memory DIMMS and remember these are no ordinary memory modules.

Crucial has done a YouTube thang with a cheery lassie who you can find here.

The video demonstration does give you a good idea on how airflow transits the system and how the Ballistix Active DIMM Cooler works in the environment.

As always one of the biggest questions asked is about noise.  From the enclosed test system we had set-up not a peep was to be heard.   You can’t ask for more than that.

Our results show an on average of 8 – 10C drop in temperature with the Ballistix Cooler in place which is an impressive performance.  Therefore as a final point of note when spending huge sums of monies on such expensive DIMMS – possibly even a new system build for an extra £20; you can for that minor outlay increase the longevity of your precious memory modules and good system stability.  The figures speak clearly for themselves.

Here comes TechEye's appallingly late iPad review

About a year on from the iPad’s original release and TechEye is late off the mark. We’ve finally, finally, finally had a chance to play at length on Apple’s shiny luxury gizmo. Everything you need to know about the iPad is out there online already, and chances are if you’re any sort of news punter you’ve read opinions on the thing, mostly fawning. We won’t be able to tell you anything new, but – biting the bullet – we have to admit that we like it. 

First impressions are of a speedy user interface which will be familiar to anyone who has played with an iPhone and very cool innards which quickly figure out whichever way you’re holding it. The 64GB Wi-Fi model feels weighty in a nice way – lighter than a netbook but heavy enough to make it feel like a real product. Whether you’re aware of the Bill of Materials or not the product is designed to handle expensively. Unlike the unwieldy netbook which finds itself in a laptop bag along with other assorted bits and pieces like cables and hastily folded scraps of paper, you feel almost hesitant to take it anywhere without a case.  

The panel sitting at the front is clear, bright. pleasing and the prospect of cracking it is terrifying. Crispier than Gary Linnekar’s heavily comp’d crisp cupboards and the kind of quality that is giving rivals and netbook manufacturers the shakes. 

The design is superb but then that’s what Apple is known for – branding products in an appealing way to the average consumer. And beyond anything we have to suggest that this is the only market, save a few professional graphic artists or similar, that will truly benefit from an iPad. Even then the benefits are unclear.

There was a recent survey that suggested your average computer user is a couch potato. Tweeting and Facebook use shoots up when in front of the telly, casual surfing is king. This is where the iPad really shines. Rather than sitting at a computer and craning your neck to see Simon Cowell bellow approval or denial on the X Factor you’ve got something sitting in your lap that you can easily dip in and out of, during the ad breaks or otherwise.

The iPad is the new coffee table book and a true laptop rolled into one. As in you can put it on your lap. 

What can you do with it? At the same time, a lot and not much. It really depends what capacity you need mobile computing for. If it’s in any traditional professional role, forget about it. There are keyboards you can buy for the iPad, as well as portable speakers, which as far as we’re concerned defeats the purpose of a tablet computer.

Writing an article on this thing would be an utter nightmare: the iOS auto-correct is notoriously unintentionally funny or it’s downright terrible. Navigating back to a typo is painful without backspacing your way through: bad for copy editing. Office tools on the device aren’t great. 

Pulling the thing from your coffee table and starting up Google Earth is swift and frankly very cool.

There’s a lot of software you can show off to friends that is impressive. Instant stand-out apps include Shazam, already available on a multitude of different kit, which can understand and track down whichever song happens to be on. Virtuoso is the piano app you see in all of the iPad adverts – one of the “iPad is” bits between “magical” and something else – that while incredibly simple, the addition of a clear screen and touch turns it into a fun toy to screw around with. Shopping is made easier – clear winners being the eBay and Rightmove applications – transforming clunky web pages into an intuitive and fun way to browse and buy, or more accurately, consume, consume, consume. 

Meanwhile there are apps like Soundrop and Beatwave that let you tinker around with sound and visuals at once. Again they’re fantastic to show off your shiny new toy but they’re essentially pointless. Something that goes against the grain is Amplitube which has received rave reviews from musicians – hook your guitar up with the iPad and you have a powerful mixing desk on a touch screen. 

Sketchbook Pro, for a miserly amount, will let you draw on your fancy rectangle.

As for reading and the future of publishing: magazines are much the same as their physical, older brothers but with high definition screens and embeddable videos. The Times, which has most of its eggs in the iPad basket, is not revolutionising journalism with a digital focus. Actually, contrary to other apps, reading a newspaper feels clumsier than turning pages. The bonus is with applications like The Guardian’s Eyewitness, which brings you a stunning slice of HD photojournalism every day. 

For workers who need to access content on their PC, LogMeIn Pro helps you connect remotely: but the application’s popularity goes further to prove that the iPad is an intermediary, more of a remote control than a production engine: great for email but not for work. That’s TechEye’s official position on the first generation iBad – UK councillors skavving the device as a laptop replacement beware. 

So far, so fun. As the IT industry at least in the consumer space moves towards connectivity it appears the tablet PC could be the missing link between devices – not quite a smartphone and not quite a computer, instead straddling the line between the two. Mostly useless but engaging anyway. 

In the month I have been toying with mine it has got a lot of use. And I mean a lot. Where and how it got used is a different matter: ad breaks on the TV means having a quick go on Fruit Ninja HD and, yes, Angry Birds. Games actually lend themselves very well to touchscreen tablets – the reemergence of the point and click adventure game being a case in point. A remixed Broken Sword and Monkey Island are popular on the slate because you can touch and it works. Not cumbersome at all.

It’s very hard to justify the £700.00 price tag for something that is steamrolling into homes across the world as, essentially, a vehicle for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It is also hard to predict where tablets are going from here. We are aware that the iPad 2 is looming somewhere on the horizon and it’ll probably go that extra mile, meaning you can do more, none of it particularly useful. Every consumer electronics manufacturer wants you to buy their tablet and we’ll bet they’ll get their way for a time.

Anecdotally it is a popular device among friends. You show it off and they want to hog it. TechEye found itself lazing about one evening, iPad in tow, casually sweeping between the different pages with small finger swipes because it’s tactile, not really doing anything: only just about more active than rotting in front of Countdown. 

What is fantastic is that it is easy to use and we suspect the other tablets that follow will take a similar route, encouragingly simple designs and for the layman, less technological options to toy with but more toys with more options. This is the tablet’s key strength and weakness. They are simple and there are developers building interesting out-of-the-box content, as well as creative professionals doing the same for advertising or otherwise. You can pull up a Google search in seconds but for the day-to-day you can’t do much more, yet, than the basics.

We can see it having a use in the educational space and we’ve heard kids love it too. The colourful nature of using the iPad, we’re told by a former professional in the industry, means it would be perfect for adult classes for those with learning difficulties – and it probably has a space in music and art therapy as well.

The iPad hypnotises you into thinking it’s better than it is by its nature.

Tablet computing so far seems to be the realm of the bored, ADHD electronics that demand and deliver quick fixes when you need them. The novelty still hasn’t worn off and we definitely want to keep it.

We’re just not sure why. 

*EyeSee Many thanks to Expansys which flogs iPad deals along with stuff such as high end laptops and pre-emptively sells the Motorola Xoom in the UK

Intel's Sandy Bridge delivers Speedy Gonzales results

For 18 months now the hot phrase has been the clocking potential of the Intel i7 CPUs and mainboard based on the X58 chipsets.  Along came Lynnfield,  six months later bringing with it  “bang for buck” for those who could not reach the ultimate offerings from Intel.  Over the last year,   Intel’s i7 CPU and the X58 chipset had us in awe at how much could be squeezed – and then some.   

Today’s offering of the Lynnfield successor is Sandy Bridge with the new Intel Core i7 2600K Processor.   Muhammad Ali once said “Champions aren’t made in gyms.   Champions are made from something they have deep inside them.  They have a desire, a dream, a vision.  They have to have the skill and the will.   But the will must be stronger than the skill”.

Within these 18 months the dawning of time has changed the way gaming and workstations function.   Intel’s i7 CPU and the X58 chipset most certainly had us in awe.    This brought forward our articles on “The Need for Speed”.   Whether a single socket Nehalem CPU or dual socket Nehalem CPUs  many have seen life changing opportunities for their gaming rigs, or as we fully focus on, the workstation environment.   

The changes have been huge and productivity has taken the biggest of leaps forward in many years. Not withstanding the costs of SSD’s has dropped dramatically and improved substantially meaning some of the fastest systems around are being built, today being a primary example.

Once more we see a significant change in focus with Intel’s offerings from the Nehalem family -enter the Sandy Bridge variant.  This variant, again, brings with it some very clever technological changes to the CPU and mainboard, and these will be covered briefly as we delve into the workings of both.  

The first Sandy Bridge chips to be unveiled today are as listed below


 
This range of CPUs from Intel is a serious choice for end-users, if cost is not a problem for those whose budgets just cannot reach the top end I7 CPUs. Performance is surprising to say the least. For a budget range CPU, in our opinion, the end-user is actually walking away with a very high end performing CPU.

Yes, you have read the Turbo Boost settings correctly.   On firing up for the first time we bounced straight into the BIOS and were nicely surprised seeing 3.8GHz in the Turbo Boost.   Pretty overwhelming.


 
With the new Intel DP67BG mainboard that we are looking at today we now see a mainboard schematic looking like this.

On arrival of the parts we took our normal analytical look at what we perceived the possible builds with the equipment we have to hand. 

Taking into account that these new CPU’s and Mainboards are not only aimed at the general public but the system builder too that supports the professional arena,  we see a rather juicy multimedia system that can be supported by either ATI’s or Nvidia’s Multimedia Cards. 

Or, a superb mid-range professional graphics workstation that fully utilises the new SATA ratification and if you really wish to push the boat out, overclock the system in either mode. 

There are a few professional system integrator companies now providing this, though take heed, overclock the system in the professional market and you null and void your warranty.   Current system integrators suppliers are providing their own warranties as we go to print.   So for once the mid range units are now affordable and we have at our disposal another excellent workstation to clarify oddities that some might see or hear of.

The plethora of benchmarks available in this arena; one could spend all day producing results if the time permitted, paralysis by analysis! 

In order to keep this a factual article we look carefully at what the community really needs  to see as timescales ran against us in providing you with more information.  So we chose the following to highlight just how good the new complete architecture really is in all arenas. 

In order to expedite the proceedings, all tests shown within are at their primary display default settings.  System left at default with the only exception of BIOS intrusion was to manually adjust the memory settings from 1333MHz to 2133MHz to obtain the full potential of Crucial’s new memory modules.

<<insert

 

Confucius once wrote: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

Today we have seen from within a marvellous array of choice, superb overclocking potential and finally something that will suit the needs of many a pocket looking for that all important upgrade they have been holding back on.  

On the arrival of new technology of this magnitude, it is sometimes hard to sit back and gather thoughts after witnessing some pretty remarkable performances being produced. After all that we have collated today; the results speak very clearly, this is without a doubt yet another winner that Intel has brought to the fore.  

From a Multimedia aspect, this mainboard has got a whole load of bang to it. Overclocking potential is great and we are sure that many will bring some remarkable results to the fore.  Though with the mainboard and CPU at stock levels the synthetic results gained from both Nvidia’s GTX 480 and the Sapphire Radeon 6970 are quite astonishing.   

However one must take into due consideration the helping hand within the systems I/O from Crucial’s supply of its superfast  C300 SSD and the almighty new Crucial Ballistix, DDR3 PC3-17000.  We took the system to the maximum at stock and ran it without falter for 8 days flat out. 

To conclude this sector, a hands down winner for all manufacturers concerned.

After many years of paying premiums for mid entry level workstations we have options that are affordable and have the power within to provide the end-users a substantial stable workstation that will last for some time to come.  

We have over these last few months completely stressed this unit to its fullest without any problems.   The mainboards offer plenty of room for expansion in whichever way they are utilised as a home gamer, SoHo Workstation. 

Or, and more probable within the corporate market, place as a stand alone desktop unit as there is so much power inside.  More probable, the studios, CAD/CAM and DCC market as the system shown within fully combined and once more reiterating, a sound solid fast system.

Onboard Audio replay was very good producing a crisp pleasant sound back to the ear.  The onboard LAN, fast and efficient as we did not encounter any problems whatsoever hooked up within our tasking units here.

Each of the professional graphics cards performed well above everyone’s  expectations, returning from the SPEC tests some very impressive results.  The driver optimisations from both ATI and NVIDIA have embraced the new technology marvellously.  One point of note is that ATI’s drivers are now catching up, so we should see a change here soon. 

Though once more we have to take into consideration the whole I/O as without this we would not be seeing such excellent performing scores from both companies supplying the professional graphic cards.

Consequently and once more we have to reiterate the objectivity of choice. 

Choice to the budget user that sees the complete unique benefits the mainboards have to offer – Firewire and Bluetooth on the same mainboard.  This novel concept we see normally on notebooks, therefore the beneficial choice to the end-user means more simplistic productivity. 

Choice in CPU, whether a budget entry or a more upscale CPU that brings them in close proximity to to the high-end i7 chips.  We must recount just how much Turbo boost is hidden under the hood at default – yes, 3.8GHz is something to behold.  

So once more “bang for buck” is here without spending a fortune.  Those wishing to move up a gear but have not got the funds to reach the high-end i7 CPUs, then without doubt the Intel Core i7 2600K Processor is tremendously powerful and will last the end-user for many years to come.

We also see choice within our multimedia graphic cards. 

Whether ATI’s CrossFire or NVIDIA’S SLI, both multi card scenarios will keep many a gamer happy for hours.  Though those wishing to use a single GPU from either will see huge differences in performance uptake. 

As for the professional cards, in a tandem array, we need to further investigate, so watch this space for more news.   

Whichever way this is perceived the purchaser is onto a “win win” – as importantly, we have to remember that the Dual Channel memory choice means a upgrade path when the timing and the budget is right as the baseline memory bandwidth shows a very respectable result.

Penultimately we come back to the vogue “need for speed and the option of choice”.  Previously this was for the few who could afford, now it is within the reach of the many.

Finally we return for one last recount.  We have just skimmed over the iceberg of what really lies underneath,  so a more in-depth article will follow covering much more than today’s brief appearance. 

We have fast affordable CPUs, mainboards with a whole remit of functionality which will flummox many.  Upgrades are easily achievable and, the “need for speed” is there now for everyone to enjoy.  An exceptional piece of post-Christmas marketing by Intel’s  public relations team.  

Overall Intel has surpassed itself with this upgrade, allowing many to have what they could only read about or place on their wish lists.   Sandy Bridge is without a doubt the fastest CPU on the block in this sector and for a reasonably priced CPU you get  superb performance.    

Positioning your confidence in motherboard auto-overclocking and the i7 2600K and 4GHz is easily reached,  and for those who want more it’s all within your grasp, yes, on fresh air,  without any fancy cooling arrays.

Rock Xtreme 840 SLI Review

First impressions

Wow, I thought the MSI was huge. This thing dwarfs it. It weighs a huge 6Kg and I almost broke my back lifting it up onto my desk. It’s 439 x 299 x 44 mm. Huge! My initial thought was, “How do I turn this thing on!?”

When I got over my brain-fart and figured out that the power button’s nestled comfortably into the hinge, I hit it and the whole machine lit up with shiny shiny blue lights every. The machine is black all over with pretty blue LED displays and touch sensitive buttons. No backlighting for the keyboard though, unfortunately.

It’s pure Star Trek geekery to behold, making the first boot-up a satisfying reward for the six hours it took you to forklift it onto your desk. The machine booted up reasonably quickly, though not as swift as the MSI.

The high definition, 18.4 inch, 1920×1080 pixel display is bright, beautiful and crystal clear. I couldn’t wait to go HD-crazy. It’s surrounded by a glossy black case, which is blindingly shiny. If you’ve got filthy fingers, you’ll know. I dare not approach the review machine without a pair of medical gloves on. 

Stuff wot it has

The Rock XTREME 840SLI is full of mighty, mighty power. It’s got an Intel Core 2 Extreme X9100 processor and for graphics it runs with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M SLI. This is backed up by a maximum 4GB of DDR3, 1066 MHz RAM. Blimey.  Your connectivity includes a Blu-ray drive, HDMI video outputs, four USBs all in all, a TV tuner port and a fingerprint reader.

This review machine “only” had 460GB of storage space, but you can choose up to 750GB SSDRAID drives if you fancy.

The keyboard wins over the MSI machine with a more standard layout, boasting an additional 8 gaming macro keys to the left of your main keyboard. However, its touchpad is a real failing point. As it is not buried in the chassis, the only thing letting you know it’s there is a single blue LED square. While this is really cool to look at, it means if you’re not careful, simply dragging your palm over it accidentally while typing or gaming can become a real pain, screwing up your shots or just plain getting in the way.

It’s got a sweet Bison webcam built in too, which takes high quality photos.

Stuff wot it does

I’ll start with my main gripe. Sound on this machine unfortunately is a real let-down. It’s fine for a bit of casual gaming but no fun for watching a film unless you’re real close up. With such stunning visual quality on hand, it’s a shame that Rock didn’t think to boost the sound.

After tinkering with volume and being thoroughly disappointed, I plugged in my standard Creative I-Trigue speakers and all was well with the world again. More on that stunning visual quality, though: The high def, 18 inch screen is a real beauty for gaming or for watching a Blu-ray film. It’s superb.

Running Crysis was a pleasure, and the machine handled frame rates better than the MSI. Mass Effect 2 looked and ran gorgeously too. Generally performance was perfect all around, except for one niggling and major problem. Occasionally when the machine struggled, it would lag for about 4 seconds and make a horrible, glitched repeating sound. It resolves itself in the end but really takes away from any sense of immersion. Strangely, it wasn’t just when the machine was running high-performance games such as the above, but also when navigating around Windows 7 and running, say, Chrome and Spotify at the same time. It almost got away with the Spotify glitch, as I was listening to jungle and could barely tell. 
 
The Xtreme 840SLI managed to keep very cool no matter what demanding tasks I laid on. Its base remained completely cool and didn’t feel dangerously close to overheating once, which was very impressive considering.

Overall

The Rock Xtreme 840SLI looks cool as all hell and will get geeks salivating at both its specs and appearance. While the games ran well, strangely multitasking in Windows 7 caused the above mentioned lagging issue far too often.

It’s a great machine for playing games on and again, is better off as a desktop replacement than for carrying around. Its weight means instead of being a laptop, it is essentially a portable desktop. I could not imagine lugging this thing around and didn’t even try. And besides, battery life as you’d expect, is pretty low.