Category: Review

MSI GT740 Review

The very first thing you’ll notice about the GT740 is that it’s a beast, a huge laptop that won’t feel too comfortable on your actual lap unless you’re some kind of gargantuan giant with a lap of steel. It’s got a black case with red outlinings, reminiscent of my standard go-to laptop the Acer Ferrari, which isn’t a good thing.

However, it’s quite thin with a size of 395 x 278 x 40 mm and weighs about 3000 grams, impressive considering the power it wields. The GT740 isn’t too offensive to look at or touch. A different colour scheme would be nice, but hey, let’s not judge a book by the cover here.

Booting the beast up, it loads admirably fast and logs you into Windows 7 with whirlwind speed. The 17″ TFT-LCD widescreen display is crystal clear and the built in 5 SRS Premium Sound speakers pack an initial wallop when viewing the bizarre Asian American pro-voting demo video found on the desktop. 

Stuff wot it has

This laptop is really kitted out. Connectivity wise, it’s got all the bits and pieces, ports and plugs that a geek could hope for. So, that’sa 4-in-1 cardreader, a bunch of USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA and DC-in at the back, a Kensington lock, RJ-45 LAN and a DVD burner.

There’s also a built in webcam, the norm these days, but equipped with 2.0 megapixels. All behave as you’d hope for a machine that clocks in at over £1,000, and that is to say, well. 

It’s got a 500GB hard disk which means you shouldn’t be running out of space any time soon, and 4096 MB of DDR3 memory. For graphics it’s got the Nvidia GeForce GTS 250M and its main board is the Intel PM55. The processor is the Intel Core i7 820QM, running at 1.73 GHz.

The keyboard is less than perfect, with some peculiar spacing. The Fn key isn’t where I’d expected it to be and occasionally I felt like I really had to hammer my fingers down hard on the keys for input. Not horrible, but took a bit of getting used to. Having the WSAD keys mapped out in red is a nice touch, but for anyone used to PC games (that is to say, the target market of this machine) that’s probably where their fingers will lie automatically.

The touchpad is pretty good and responds sensitively, but not too sensitively. Though again, any gamers will be using a mouse for their geek-out sessions anyway. It’s a good alternative to a mouse when using the machine on-the-go, unlike the Rock machine (more later).

Stuff wot it does

Intel’s Core i7 Processor coupled with the huge RAM means that when you need to get things done, multitask or place a heavy load on the machine when not gaming it can handle it. As a work machine and desktop replacement, the GT740 performs exceptionally well with no noticeable slowdown.

Gaming though, of course what the machine is marketed towards, is where it stuttered and staggered. Not horribly, but enough to notice. We tested both machines on Mass Effect 2 and Crysis.

Mass Effect 2 ran beautifully for the first couple hours of play, with all the effects turned up to a billion. However, with extended play the machine began to free momentarily, there was lag on the mouse and the FPS dropped. It still looked beautiful and ran well for the most part, but there were some performance issues. We also noticed that occasionally the sound would lag and stutter. The machine got very hot underneath after longer sessions.

Crysis was a different kettle of fish. With the auto-detect video option in-game enabled, we noticed with play there was a lot of lagging, a dodgy FPS and was basically unplayable.

We had to stick the video and graphics settings to just-above-average to get it to look reasonably pretty with decent playability.

Sound on the GT740 was nice. We could push the volume up quite high without reasonable quality issues. It’s got a tiny subwoofer built in underneath which works, not quite as much as we’d like it to, but works. This makes it painless to have a decent gaming experience on the go with reasonable sound, however if you’re at home you’d still probably be better off investing in some speakers.

Nvidia Quadro 2000 – it's a kind of magic

A year has passed since the successful launch of Nvidia’s Quadro FX1800, and it has to be acknowledged by many as a successful mid range card that had a bit of bang to it.  

In recent months we have covered all the high performing Quadro Fermi performance cards and they have without doubt caught many unaware because of the sheer power beneath the hood. 

Like all professional cards the refresh comes along and so the time has come to reveal the Quadro FX1800’s replacement with the Quadro Fermi 2000.  Bouncing right in,  we notice a significant difference within the card’s design. It is smaller yet much more powerful than its predecessor.  

This card promises to deliver much more and at the same price. The big leap in CUDA cores available will let people use their already optimised software for greater performance levels.  Helping this along is an increase in memory bandwidth and that all important step up to 1GB of onboard GDDR5 memory.  

Here are how the two cards differ:

Comparison

System Set-Up and Software Used
Here are the details of the system we used to test the card.

System Specs

Benchmarks and Software Used 64-bit Mode
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
SPECapc  for 3ds Max 9
SPECapc for Maya 2009
SPECapc for SolidWorks 2007
SPECviewperf 11.0 64-bit.   

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drive shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied. A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. While maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC , HyperThreading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status. Tests have been conducted in accordance with the resolutions  detailed above @ 59Hz / 60Hz in 32 bit colour.   Results shown within this article are from the application / benchmark’s first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf and SPECapc fair play rules.  

 


 


 

Conclusions
This has been yet again an astonishing leap forward in Nvidia’s technology within the mid range sector. In most cases there are very significant advances. We have to take into account the new driver being built for this unit.  

We have reviewed over the last few months the complete Nvidia Quadro Fermi Range. Each article shows off each card in tremendous light in its chosen competitive area. Nvidia has done its homework here as the Quadro 2000 is an exceptional piece of engineering. 

One point to note is the clever slim line cooling array built into the Quadro 2000.   For those who have a supplied chassis that has a good intake fan then the aerodynamic front of the card most certainly will make use of that cool air, keeping key components cooler and in turn ensuring longevity of the product.

Currently the stand alone pricing of the Quadro 2000 is approximately £370.00  excluding tax and shipping. For some, and there are a few, this may be a touch too much, for others it’s a reasonable price point for a professional graphics card of this nature.  

The results shown within both SPECapc SM for 3ds Max 9  and SPECapcSM for Maya 2009  show very considerable improvements over the previous generation.
 
Within SPECviewperf 11 the scaling performance upgrade from the Quadro FX1800 to the Quadro 2000 has been extremely good in many areas from all the tests shown.  Combining the results into an Excel Spreadsheet we fully see the Quadro 2000 streaking ahead in the major applications.


 

There’s a 15 – 20 percent increase in many areas, more within some of the viewsets.

It just goes to show what exceptional work has gone into this card and its driver.

HTC Windows 7 Mobiles reviewed

For the last few years the optional choice for the professional out on the road has been the Blackberry, Palm Trio and a few other mobile devices. Then along came Windows Mobile, which had a slow uptake and some liked it.

Windows 6.5 Professional became the choice of many a professional with its seamless synchronisation with the master operating system of Vista and, more recently, Windows 7.   For a  professional, a mobile phone is a  lifeline to the outside world and rigorously policed as the contacts and contents inside would sell for huge sums on the open market.

The hullabaloo on the launch of the new Windows 7 phones had many up in arms. Many esteemed journalists had been left off the list and had to wait for press releases telling them what to expect.  

Many old road spiders didn’t really bother, as time would tell if this product would stand up to all the hype.  Quite happy with their Blackberrys and Windows 6.5 professional, why should people change?  Mr Microsoft says you should to keep up with the times.  After all we are looking at a device that will streamline your productivity with your current Windows operating systems and applications.   With this in mind, let’s compare the major features of the HTC HD2 that is currently being used now against the new HTC HD7 we might use in the future.

specifications

And so to the nitty gritty, deciding if it was time to come into the 21st century kicking.  

Our choice –  the new all singing and dancing HTC HD7, one of the direct successors to the current HTC line – even though many claim there’s a shortage of the Windows 7 mobile beasties.   

A quick recap on the press briefing and the HTC HD7 certainly looked to be the item to behold.
Our HTC HD7 arrived and within the box came the normal bits and pieces you would expect – a   charger with micro USB connection, a neat set of headphones and the sound playback reproduction is good, and last but not least the smallest manual we have ever seen. 

Everything else needed to be downloaded from Microsoft to get the phone sync’d up and running properly.  But of course registration through your Live account (if you had one) needed to be done first.  This just may put some people off straight away.

In the box
The HTC HD7 windows connectivity in both Bluetooth and Wireless we found to be really good, tying in nicely with the Plantronics professional headset and for those not in the know this Bluetooth headset runs two mobile phones at any one time – with excellent noise cancelling, and the Grand Cherokee’s U Connect Bluetooth system of the car. 

Contacts successfully transferred over and it was most pleasing and never dropped connection on a complete 800 mile road trip.   So a major plus here.   Construction of the phone is solid, the 4.3-inch screen is very sharp indeed and the font reproduction is clear.   

Flashed up

Once the battery and SIM card are locked into place and the back secured, you are left with a feeling of security as many mobile phones have a somewhat flimsy backing that can pop off when you least expect it.  

In the wireless mode within the office it picked up our own device straight away.   While out on our travels within several major hotels and motorway service stations that offered free wireless connectivity it hooked up straight away and we pulled off our mail and updates.

Contacts

The phone is just like having your cut down Windows 7 desktop popped onto a mobile device.  Those already using Windows 7 will have no problems but others may find the interface a little bit awkward to start with.  The HTC hub built into the set-up allows you to use  many different features of the internet like the weather, stocks and some interesting apps.   Many are free and there are a few you have to pay for.  

HTC Hub

The Microsoft Zune software interface has an array of features though at times you cannot help but feel it’s very much like something Apple would have made. You can tweak your phone settings from here and update the phones software directly from Microsoft, though the main features are fully focused upon Music, Videos, Pictures and Podcasts.  Very teen / twenties orientated indeed.   

The biggest push though is for gamers who wish to peruse their X-Box Live gaming.   Those into gaming will find this fun and play away many hours while stuck in the airport waiting for that long haul trip.  

Gaming
The  pictures it takes are good – we tried an extreme close up of a difficult shot and the proof is below.

Close up
Video – HTC claims you can make your own movies in HD as it comes with an 720p HD camcorder allowing you to capture film with incredible quality and detail. It’s ideal for turning your friends and family into stars.   A simple 20 second video test showed very good playback on both the HTC HD7 handset and when re ran it on a PC monitor, it was very sharp and clear reproduction using the Zune software.    

Conclusion

Some people  will love this, others will wait.  Many different tariffs can be obtained by the different providers for this new piece of hardware from HTC.  For now there are five different variants –  HTC 7 Surround, HTC 7 Mozart, HTC 7 Trophy, HTC 7 Pro and HTC HD7, though within the EU we are limited to 3 variants – the HTC HD7, HTC 7 Mozart and the HTC 7 Trophy.  Those of you looking for the HTC 7 Pro in the EU will have to wait.  Strange.

The Windows Phone 7 has a very fast operating system with polished animation and good performance. But a few things stand out which prevents a professional from making full usage of this bit of kit. There are some problems that will annoy many and these are:
·    No multi-tasking  – that means there’s a whole load of reloading and time wasting
·    No cut, copy, and paste functionality
·    No custom ringtone capability – to many this is the end users fun having that all important customised ringer
·    Limited customisation of the Start screen
·    Office apps are pretty limited in terms of what you can do from the phone – what, no Outlook?
·    Inconsistency in auto rotation. Now this is a frustrating point as just when you flip the phone back expecting it to follow, it stays stuck in place.  After several hard flicks of the phone it came out of portrait into landscape view.
·    Fully locked into the Zune software for PC connections with no drive or file access

For now the cons outweigh the pros as the phone is lacking in many areas of simple functionality.

Too much reliance has been placed on Live interfacing which is a pain for many. If running from Microsoft Exchange then you are laughing all the way to the corporation as everything hooks up readily. 

However there are a few who will say that this is a good thing – but honestly trusting your safe documents upon a server that you have no control over?  And security is today’s vogue Zippo really, as the investigations here could find no form of Anti Virus software etc that will protect your precious piece of equipment.

You cannot even scan the beast from your PC either as Mr Zune makes sure you cannot.  

So we have a mobile phone filled with features galore, but very readily open to hacks. This does make you sit back and wonder why the anti virus companies are not ready to launch as today’s smartphones are the vogue item to have.  

For those with teen children then it will be a winner with all the Twitter and Facebook interfaces in place.  Though, once more, your data on the phone is too readily accessible.

For this old road spider, for now, the HTC HD7 will sit in the background and I will continue with the HTC HD2 which has all the bells and whistles we need, until something else comes round  the corner.

AMD-ATI technology will make your eyes boggle

A few weeks back we ran an article on the mighty ATI FirePro V9800. We promised you a look at our findings covering ATI’s all singing and dancing Eyefinity technology. A variant has been with the consumer market for some months now and the professional market has finally caught up to a robust level. In April this year we saw a sneak peak of the professional variant and it showed exciting promise. TechEye takes a look.

3×1 Portrait Display Group. We can also have a 3×1 Landscape Display Group

 

3×2 Landscape Display Group 

3×1 Portrait display group

For this article we will focus on the array below:

 

Eyefinity is extremely easy to use as the guide is very self explanatory. The supported operating systems are: 

Microsoft Windows 7
Windows Vista
Linux
Windows XP
support for ATI Eyefinity technology is limited to two simultaneous displays at any time 

We pondered which system build to use and decided on the Single Socket Intel® Xeon 3.46GHz,  which has proved itself a winner. 

Component

Test  System

Mainboard

Supermicro X8SAX Workstation Board Rev 2

CPU

1 X 3.46GHz Intel® Xeon® X5677 Nehalem EP®, 12MB Shared Cache, 6.4GB/s QPI

HSF Coolers

Corsair H50-1 Hydro Series High-performance CPU Watercooler

Memory

6 X 2GB Crucial DDR3 (12GB Total) 1333MHz Unbuffered  ECC DIMMS  Memory Modules

Hard Drive

600GB Western Digital 10000RPM VelociRaptor

PCI Ex Graphics Card

ATI FirePro V9800

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit Professional

Setting out with our 6 X 24″ monitors we wanted to see what the maximum performance hit was from the ATI FirePro V9800, at peak resolution, while under load of one of the more common professional applications.

Starting out using Solidworks and using one monitor with the ATI FirePro V9800 brought in a graphical score of 3.81. The next sequence was four monitors running the application and two showing just the windows desktop. To our surprise the actual graphical score of 3.67 had dropped only by 0.14. Finally we pushed the whole six displays into one 5760 x 2400 unit and the final run took us by surprise again, showing a fine drop of only 0.13 with a graphical result of 3.54. The overall monitor increase only saw a very minor decrease in the final graphical output, an exceptionally good result.

We ran the Bentley MicroStation Benchmark to double check. These backed up our initial findings – it has to be reiterated, watching professional tests which absolutely stretch the V9800 chip to the limits, we wondered if it would be too much. But the V9800 didn’t falter once.

It goes without saying that this technology offers benefits to those wishing to use or currently using multi-monitor set-ups.

Displays are coming forward with thinner bezels, meaning better viewing, and the cost is dropping so it’s an attractive idea to show off quality high screen outputs of finished models to clients.

 

We finished off the day with a 5760 x 2400 in 32 bit colour set-up. ATI claims a maximum resolution of 7680 x 3200 grouping three displays wide by two displays high with landscape orientation using 2560×1600 display resolution for each monitor (24.6 megapixel resolution), this would be something to behold witnessing this in action.

 

We have only shown what can be done with the maximum suite of six monitors. If you really wish to push the boat out, you can set up 12 x 24″ monitors but you will need an additional ATI FirePro V9800. 

There are many ATI FirePro and FireGL cards that all support Eyefinity technology, though currently the top two high-end cards, the FirePro V9800 and FirePro V8800 support six and four monitors respectively and the remaining cards all supporting a standard two monitors.

One fundamental point of interest to all and most importantly to the finance and medical sectors is font clarity.

Sitting nine feet away from the compete display, the font reproduction was crystal clear and razor sharp. The actual picture quality was impeccably sharp too. Though if we carefully crawl back into the recruitment history of ATI it has to be noted some extremely very clever guys snaffled up from Matrox are to thank for this.

Overall this is an impressive piece of technology implementation within one graphics card. Eyefinity is simple to use and will have customers impressed when they see their final models on a massive landscape of displays.

Which ever way we look at things, ATI has released an exceptional piece of technology that is rapidly being taken up by the professional sectors.

“Universal” charger puts an end to multiple bricks

In September we found ourselves in an interesting situation. There was a press trip to GlobalFoundries (glofo) in Satan Clara – just a short trip. Then there was a return trip to Blighty and a trip to the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, and then the minute we got back from visiting the Great Satan of Chips (Intel), we found ourselves having to fly to Sitges, near Barcelona, for the White Bull Conference.

Imagine. Two standards and three cultures. Sitges, actually, is more like being in San Francisco than in the barren wasteland that is Satan Klaara, however close you are to the big chip players.  September is always a busy time for me. At least this time I didn’t have to fly round the globe with my Sony Viao, of which more later.

Luckily, I had with me as my rusty companion my Sony Viao – of which more later – and my Alpha Plus International 90 watt Universal Notebook Charger.

This kit – it costs £50 from Argos – has a plethora of options for charging phones, notebooks, MP3 devices, and so many sockets that will connect that it would tax my feeble little brain to list them all. “Due to the wide variety in brands and models and the frequent release of new laptop models, it is very likely that this power supply will work with your laptop, but please check if the plug type and power rating fits your laptop’s requirement,” says the blurb on the back.

box shot

So what happens when you open the box – and believe you me, we will talk about the Sony Vaio in a paragraph or two. Inside are the most important AC socket types known to humankind.  And now I digress. I have never been to South Africa but have travelled to India many a time – both jurisdictions use a three round pin plug based on the safest plug in the world, the UK fused plug.

Included, as you can see, are numerous heads that will plug into your laptop – they cover nearly all of the big names. And, let’s face it, four Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) in Taiwan create around 94 percent of all the notebooks, qua laptops, in the world.

I am reliably assured that Argos UK sells between 50,000 and 100,000 of these kits every week and this particular kit can be used in your car, in fright – sorry flight, and will work in 150 countries in the world. Perhaps the manufacturers, sorry vendors, will work on a universal standard but the universal standard is the universal solder, sorry solider.

And so to the Sony Vaio story. I’ve only had the VGN Z11N for about three years, and it’s been a solid performer. Unfortunately, at Intel’s jamboree, the Sony went on strike and refused to respond to my cries for help. I was forced to go across the road and buy a new Asus notebook, that uses the i3 chip, and within a few hours the guy over there had managed to sell me a new machine that worked well in both San Francisco and Sitges.

There was a problem however. He said the power brick supplied with the Asus new notebook wasn’t that brilliant, and I had better have a standby in case it failed.

I had, and have.  The Universal Notebook Charger may well not work in Alpha Centauri, nor in the triple Sun system that appears to be what happens near Sirius. But it works very well practically everywhere else in the cosmos.  It works with digital cameras, portable games consoles and rest. It minimises carrying in your bag a multitude of wires and bricks so you can make all your devices work with each other.

In short, it’s recommended, and our score is 8.5 out of 10.  And as to the Sony Vaio? Its only problem was that something inside had got disconnected while the poor little thing made its way round the world twice.  And the UNC works fine with it too. Goodbye to multiple bricks! One brick rules all.

3TB Western Digital Caviar Green reviewed

The news that shocked everyone on Tuesday was Western Digital’s formal announcement of the WD Caviar Green three terabytes (TB) spindle hard drive.  For many months rumours had been flying about that Seagate had one ready in the pipeline, but Western Digital was nearing launch. This announcement caught many analysts unaware.

Everyone wants  bigger and faster. Putting four platters of 750GB is quite an engineering feat.  It’s entirely feasible that WD labs are working on a one terabyte platter already.

These new three terabyte drives come with the usual array of Western Digital technology supporting reduced power consumption, perfect for external drives boxes, IntelliPower, IntelliSeek, NoTouch ramp load technology and last but not least Advanced Format (AF) which will make life much easier for many end users.

A lot of end-users are running with some form of Intel X48/X58 platform or the AMD equivalent. 

We know also that many storage units are also built around the X58/Tylersberg platform. Storage servers take on either dual or single socket Xeon’s/Opterons more often than not over Xeons.   So we settled upon a Uni-Processor solution from Supermicro, the X8SAX which is extremely flexible in upgrade paths and, supports Intel Core i7 / i7 Extreme Edition, and Intel Xeon 5600/5500/3600/3500 series processors (QPI up to 6.4 GT/s). 

Installation of the drive was a complete breeze with Western Digital supplying a RocketRaid PCI Express card just in case your mainboard bios does not support UEFI, kudos here for thinking on a long term solution for those who might  yelp “it doesn’t work” .  

Terabyte drive

tb2

In most instances end-users will have to remove the half height I/O bracket and slot it into place, for the server market this will be readily worked around.  Therefore our final system build for the this beast is:

tb3

tb4

tb5

tb6

tb7

We now turn to some real time back up results that unequivocally show the speed at which the Western Digital 3 Terabyte drive can read data.

tb8

 

It has to be said that this drive surpassed its predecessor with flying colours.   The results shown above prove it. If we take the 2TB Caviar Green results shown last year using Sandra 2009 within the File System test we saw 88.2MB/s versus today’s 145.36 MB/s on the 3TB Caviar Green and within the Physical Disc test 83.08MB/s versus today’s 102.49MB/s on the 3TB Caviar Green.   That’s a substantial improvement. 

OEMs, Sis and VARs will already be looking at their storage boxes – both external and rackmounts for data centres and the like.  Costs within these enterprise arenas are rising steeply and this is one area many will be looking to cut back upon but at the same time increasing their storage capabilities.  With the reduction in power with much larger storage capacities and faster read/writes this is an attractive spindle disc backed by Western Digital’s standard warranty. 
  
WD’s PR says you can store around 600,000 digital photos, 750,000 MP3 songs or 230 hours of Digital Video or, 360 hours of HD Video.   That’s a whole load of movie and MP3 storage.  

On going to print, these monstrous drives are already hitting e-tailers and suppliers. High demand is expected.  MRSP for the Western Digital Caviar Green 2.5 TB hard drive is £155.00 and the  three terabyte  hard drive swings in at £195.00 (all prices before shipping and taxes).

ATI FirePro V9800 Professional graphics card reviewed

Over the last six months we have exclusively looked into some astounding technical accomplishments in the professional graphics market place from both ATI and Nvidia. Each card has its own merits and place, depending upon budget.

We have completed the new Quadro Fermi range from Nvidia – quite something, to say the least.

Finally, the last in this series from ATI, the mighty 4GB FirePro V9800 has hit the beach. This is a very interesting configured professional workstation graphics card which will catch many by surprise for its cost and performance and most importantly for its versatility.

We looked at the FirePro V8800 at its launch back in April. After a further six months careful research and development, today we delve into the new FirePro V9800 and see what it has to offer.

The most significant advancement of the ATI FirePro V9800 is multi display support. Up to six monitors can be supported up to a resolution of Maximum Resolution of 2560×1600 @ 60Hz. This means a dramatic increase in display density and visualiaation capability for markets from medical imaging to DCC, CAD and digital signage.

Taking this into consideration let’s take a swift look at the variances within the features table between the FirePro V9800 and FirePro V8750 cards to gain some idea of the comparisons and how much of a technology leap is on the cards.

specifications

Technical Specifications
Supported Platforms
Microsoft Windows 7 (64-bit and 32-bit)
Microsoft Windows Vista (64-bit and 32-bit)
Microsoft Windows XP (64-bit and 32-bit)
Linux – Full OpenGL implementation (64-bit and 32-bit)
We all thought that the ATI FirePro V8800 was something to behold, but this really is something very special from ATI.

For six months the ATI FirePro V8800 has maintained the wealth as being one of the most popular ultra high-end professional graphic’s cards to be found within the professional market. Not any more, as the ATI FirePro V9800 will be having many readers licking their lips at just what has taken over. With all the basic facts in place we now get down to the meat and veg.

V9800 card

System Set-Up and Software Used
We have on several outings shown the mighty Supermicro X8SAX ATX workstation mainboard as our platform of choice as this is an extremely vogue set-up, liked by many tier 1 and system integrators. In maintaining continuity of our “in house” test platforms we head out once more with the system that kicks sand in the eyes of others.

System setup

Benchmarks and Software Used 64-bit Mode
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Cinebench 11.5 64-bit
Redway Turbine Benchmark
SPECapc for 3ds Max 9
SPECviewperf 11.0 64-bit. Tests ran at 1920 X 1080 Resolution

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed, with all updates/patches applied. A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. Whilst maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC HyperThreading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status of Auto. Tests have been conducted in accordance with the resolutions detailed above @ 59Hz / 60Hz in 32 bit colour. Results that have been shown within this article are from the application/benchmarks first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf and SPECapc fair play rules.

cinebench

gpu

redway

SPECapc

full SPEC results

Conclusion
From our initial presentation and sneak look we knew just from the visual outputs witnessed that this was to be something special.

With an MRSP price tag of $3,499, it fits the bill perfectly in many areas. The key to the whole card is the huge multi display output. But what of performance output whilst hooked up to all these monitors? We have been advised of an approximate 10 percent drop when fully enabled for all six displays. In a few weeks we will be able to accurately report back as we will be testing the card and the system with a complete suite of monitors.So watch this space. ATI Eyefinity Technology looks to be one important piece of technology for the forthcoming months as more monitor manufacturers are examing what they can also get from the kit.

The actual positioning of the new ATI FirePro V9800 is aimed squarely at the most demanding of studios and design centres that require the best of outputs. This is a card that will have the studios, architectural companies and perceptive professionals screaming with desire.

With today’s ISV software packages for example Max, Maya and Solidworks so many commercial plugins are now readily available to enhance the packages. Add into place the combination of the ATI FirePro S400 Sync Module offering full hardware synchronisation with support for up to 4 GPUs per module – a possible 24 Synchronized Outputs per PC.

With this comes demand upon the whole system I/O and the professional cards. In order to meet the demands of these packages, the hardware and supporting Application Acceleration Tools have to be precise – for example the Stereoscopic/Quad-buffered 3D Rendering Pipeline. The investment is paying off with tremendous uptakes in many arenas of the professional industry – Medical, Oil and Gas, Science and even the Financial houses have much to gain.

Much of the performance improvement is down to the architecture of the new product, some down to the driver team, the unsung heroes that so many forget about. 

The ATI FirePro V9800 from the beginning of October should be hitting Resellers, SIs and VARs. Its price should be in the region of – $3,499 USD – £2220 – €2576, before shipping and local taxes. We foresee high demand.

We take a dekko at Nvidia's Fermi Quadro 4000

July 27th 2010 saw the launch of Nvidia’s secret weapon, the Quadro Fermi® 4000, 5000 and 6000 cards.

We bagged the exclusive on both 5000 and 6000 cards and these pretty much blew us away. The Nvidia Quadro® 6000 was the derby winner and caught us on the hop as the results dazzled.

The last and most interesting of the trio is the Nvidia Quadro® 4000 – and it has just arrived.

Today we have a look into at the final edition of the Quadro Fermi cards aimed squarely at the workstation market. This neat single slot card is one of the mainstay bread and butter professional graphics cards from Nvidia. The Nvidia Quadro® 4000 gives end-users certified application support for the industry’s top CAD/CAM, 3D Design, and Digital Content Creation software applications.

The entry level position of the high-end graphics has always been a bitterly fought out arena and currently the Quadro FX3800 has maintained its ground as a high volume turn-over card for Nvidia in both retail and within the OEMs. It’s a versatile, single slot card which can be found in many different types of systems around the globe in many walks of industry – users like the power and memory density hidden under its hood. Enter now the Nvidia Quadro® 4000 the proud successor, and our exclusive look into the card and it’s performance.

Scorching straight out the starters gate, the NVIDIA Quadro® 4000 sports 2GB of GDDR5 memory and 256 CUDA Cores and might we add at a very affordable price.

One of the main question always asked when a new card is launched how much bigger is it and how mush faster can it go, so taking both cards specifications we lined them up side by side. You can instantly see what the actual raw differences are between both cards. In some places very significant, others remain the same:

GPU Specs:

NVIDIA Quadro GPU

Quadro 4000

Quadro FX3800

CUDA Cores

256

192

Form Factor

Single Slot

Single Slot

GPU Memory Specs:

Total Frame Buffer

2 GB GDDR5

1  GB GDDR3

Memory Interface

256-bit 

256-bit 

Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)

89.6 GB/s 

51.2 GB/s

Display Support:

Dual Link DVI-I

1

1

DisplayPort

2

2

# of Digital Outputs

2

3 (2 out of 3 active at a time)

# of Analog Outputs

1

1

Stereo (3-pin Mini-DIN)

1 (Optional)

An optional 3-pin Mini-DIN bracket is available from NVIDIA Quadro resellers)

Maximum Display Resolution Digital @ 60Hz

2560×1600

2560×1600

Active Display Channels

2

 

3D Vision/3D Vision Pro

 

 

Feature Support:

Shader Model

5.0 

4.0

OpenGL

4.0

3.1

Microsoft DirectX

11

10

SLI Multi-OS Technology

 

 

NVIDIA CUDA Architecture

 

 

SDI Option

 

 

NVIEW Display Management Software

 

 

FSAA (maximum)

64x

32x

Thermal and Power Specs:

EnergyStar Enabling

Yes (with 2:1 or better max/idle power ratio)

Yes

Maximum Power Consumption

142 W

108 W

 

This is a heavy weight piece of muscle at the entry position of the high-end professional graphics with a superb pedigree. This pedigree high-end, single slot card brings the power of high performance professional graphics to the next level in professional desktop graphics as a stand alone card never seen at these levels. We have covered all the features and benefits of the new Quadro range before but to recap briefly:

NVIDIA® Scalable Geometry Engine™. Dramatically improves geometry performance across a broad range of CAD, DCC and medical applications, enabling you to work interactively with models and scenes that are an order of magnitude more complex than ever before.

GPU Tessellation with Shader Model 5.0 Quadro Tessellation Engines automatically generate finely detailed geometry, for cinematic quality environments and scenes, without sacrificing performance.

NVIDIA GigaThread™ Engine. Provides up to 10x faster context switching compared to previous generation architectures, concurrent kernel execution, and improved thread block scheduling.

Dual Copy Engines. Enables the highest rates of parallel data processing and concurrent throughput between the GPU and host, accelerating techniques such as ray tracing, colour grading and physical simulation.

NVIDIA® Parallel DataCache™. Supports a true cache hierarchy combined with on-chip shared memory. L1 and L2 caches drive exceptional throughput, accelerating features such as real-time ray tracing, physics and texture filtering.

NVIDIA® SLI® Multi-OS. NVIDIA SLI Multi OS allows a user to run multiple Windows or Linux workstation applications from a single system, with each Operating System directly assigned to a Quadro graphics solution. Only available on SLI Multi-OS certified platforms.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Supported Platforms
• Support for two operating systems, from a Quadro SLI Multi-OS certified workstation, with each operating system
assigned to a dedicated Quadro GPU
• Microsoft Windows 7 (64-bit and 32-bit)
• Microsoft Windows Vista (64-bit and 32-bit)
• Microsoft Windows XP (64-bit and 32-bit)
• Linux® – Full OpenGL implementation, complete with NVIDIA and ARB extensions (64-bit and 32-bit)
• Solaris®

System Set-Up and Software Used

Our in house testing kit has had supplied parts courteously sent along by Intel, Supermicro, Crucial Memory, NVIDIA and Akasa. They could be found in most high-end studios and enthusiast workstation scenarios. These are very reliable and sound workstation platforms which have an abundance of scope for upgrading.


For this outing we sat back and looked carefully at the target market place and as the single socket Intel Xeon is now becoming the vogue choice of platform for many studios we decided to run with Supermicro’s X8SAX Rev 2 mainboard that support Intel’s X5677 (3.46GHz) Xeon CPU.

Component

Test  System

Mainboard

Supermicro X8SAX Workstation Board Rev 2

CPU

1 X 3.46GHz Intel® Xeon® X5677 Nehalem EP®, 12MB Shared Cache, 6.4GB/s QPI

HSF Coolers

Intel’s Socket 1366 Stock Cooler

Memory

3 X 2GB Crucial DDR3 (6GB Total) 1333MHz
Unbuffered Non ECC DIMMS  Memory Modules

Hard Drive

256GB Crucial C300 RealSSD

PCI Ex Video Card

NVIDIA® Quadro® 4000


Benchmarks and Software Used 64-bit Mode

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Bentley Graphics MicroStation Benchmark
Cinebench 11.5
Redway Turbine Benchmark
SPECapc for SolidWorks 2007™
SPECviewperf® 11.0 64-bit.

 

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied. A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. Whilst maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC®  HyperThreading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status of Auto. Tests have been conducted in accordance with the resolutions detailed above @ 59Hz / 60Hz in 32 bit colour. Results that have been shown within this article are from the application/benchmarks first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf® and SPECapc™ fair play rules.

Conclusions

This is a nifty piece of equipment which will catch the market unaware on the performance and power that the Nvidia Quadro® 4000 has to offer. The predecessor the Nvidia Quadro® FX3800 was one wicked piece of equipment and won hands down in this sector of professional graphics cards. Offering good value in price and performance, now the Nvidia Quadro® 4000 has swiftly slotted into place taking over the realm. We foresee many using this new card as an immediate upgrade or purchase choice. Once more the clever marketing people at Nvidia have pitched the price point very well.

The scores returned within all the professional benchmarks are bang on target at what they should be. We see good scores in the SPEC APC and the Viewperf 11 backs this all up. Any sort of anomaly would be spotted by these tests straight away. It shows that the driver team within Nvidia have most certainly done their job well. The new SPECviewperf 11 is one harsh test that really sorts out the thoroughbreds from the cobs.

Support from the ISV’s on this new product range has been exceptional and many have adopted the CUDA code within their own software to further enhance their final product. Uptake from the Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers has been very quick with new Sku’s readily available supporting the new card.

What must not be forgotten is the overall additional benefits the Quadro® 4000 has in other areas. Support for Nvidia’s SDI Capture card which enables multi-stream, uncompressed video to be streamed directly to Quadro SDI-enabled GPU memory. Finally support for Quadro SDI Output card provides integrated graphics-to-video enabling 2D and 3D effects to be composited in real-time with 2K, HD, and SD video (3D not currently supported). More information can be found here on Nvidia’s SDI product range.

The system shown here that all the tests have been completed on is fast becoming a vogue unit as many of the Tier 1s are shipping these systems in substantial volumes. Intel has done a superb job on this particular CPU and the raw power from it is something to behold.

Shipping. The Nvidia Quadro® 4000 is now shipping in quantity from all good resellers, VAR’s and System Integrators are building to request. Get the orders in fast as the expectations are that this is going to be a hot selling card.

Cost. Currently MRSP is around $1200 USD, £777, €950. A very nice price point considering what the card and its drivers have to offer.

Notwithstanding, we see a professional graphics card that has doubled in faster GDDR5 memory, the memory bandwidth has shot up by some additional 35 percent and last but not least we see an additional 58 CUDA processing cores.

With these significant changes it must be remembered that the overall compute power of the Quadro® 4000 is one almighty noteworthy increase for an entry level High-End performance professional graphics card.

Ultimately, and to summarise, the range of cards from Nvidia have all been an excellent success. Drivers are maturing quickly and the improvement results are being seen across the board. The grand successor, the Nvidia Quadro® 4000 is here to stay – bringing with it exceptional technology advancements.

TechEye verdict: 9 out of 10

Fusion IO solid state drive has a whole lot to give

Getting the fastest out of each system we review is at the front of our mind. In each review I’ve written for TechEye I have demonstrated CPU and GPU constant leaps in performance. In the hard drive world, these leaps forward have come in many different varieties – whether spindle-based or SSD, and drives like OCZ’s PCI Express Z drive, or the Seagate Hybrid. 

The uptake of specialist solid state storage has been phenomenal and like all high-end peripherals, end users are constantly looking to enhance their systems to be more robust and; within mission critical systems absolutely robust. With the marketplace embracing this technology, there is now a growing trend by many end users to use the kind of drives made by Fusion.

A typical SSD consists of a collection of NAND flash chips combined with a controller and SATA interface. The lack of moving parts has meant that typical access times are a fraction of those obtained from traditional spindle-based hard drives. However, SSDs are still limited to SATA’s bandwidth of 300MB/s, and dependent on the drive controller built in to the motherboard.

Enter today’s exceptional piece of equipment from the specialist SSD manufacturers Fusion-io. Instead of taking the traditional SATA route, Fusion-io have developed an SSD that uses a PCI Express connector as their interface – allowing them to be their own controller and plug into the heart of the system.

To give you an idea of the kinds of numbers we’re talking about, below are our ever faithful synthetic tests demonstrating potential read/write figures, input/output operations per second (IOPs) and bandwidth.

ioDrive Duo Capacity

320GB

640GB

1.28TB

NAND Type

SLC (Single Level Cell)

MLC (Multi Level Cell)

MLC (Multi Level Cell)

Read Bandwidth (64kB)

1.5 GB/s

1.0 GB/s

1.1 GB/s

Write Bandwidth (64kB)

1.5 GB/s

1.5 GB/s

1.5 GB/s

Read IOPS (512 Byte)

261,000

196,000

185,000

Write IOPS (512 Byte)

262,000

285,000

278,000

Mixed IOPS (75/25 r/w)

238,000

138,000

150,000

Read Latency (512 Byte)

26 µs

29 µs

30 µs

Write Latency (512 Byte)

2 µs

2 µs

2 µs

Bus Interface

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

Operating Systems

64-Bit Microsoft Server 2003/2008, 64-Bit Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/Win7, RHEL 4/5, SLES 10/11, OEL v4/v5,

System Set-Up and Software Used

As this article is aimed at the professional looking for the most secure stable working platform we used our mainstay workstation. This has been seen on numerous recent outings supported by Intel’s new Westmere Xeon CPU, Supermicro’s X8DAi mainboard supported with Crucial’s memory. This is a typical workstation that can be found in most high-end studios and enthusiast workstation dens. This mission critical workstation platform has plenty of scope for upgrading.

Component

Test  System

Mainboard

Supermicro X8DAi Rev 2

CPU

2 X 3.33GHz Intel® Xeon® X5680 Nehalem EP®, 12MB Shared Cache, 6.4GB/s QPI

HSF Coolers

2 X Noctua NH-U9DX 1366

Memory

12 X 2GB Crucial DDR3 (24GB Total) 1333MHz
Unbuffered ECC DIMMS  Memory Modules

Hard Drive

256GB Crucial C300 RealSSD

 

640GB Fusion-io Duo Drive

PCI Ex Video Card

NVIDIA® Quadro® 6000

Benchmarks and Software Used 64-bit Mode

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
ATTO Benchmark
Everest Ultimate Ver 5 with latest build
HD Tune Pro Ver 4.50
Sisoftware Sandra 2010 with latest build
CrystalMark Disk Benchmark with latest build
PCMark 2005 with latest patches
PCMark Vantage with latest patches
SPECviewperf® 11.0 64-bit.   Tests ran at 1920 X 1080 Resolution

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied.   A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. Whilst maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC®  HyperThreading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status of Auto. Tests have been conducted in accordance with the resolutions  detailed above @ 59Hz in 32 bit colour. Results that have been shown within this article are from the application/benchmark’s first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf fair play rules. Not an average of 3 runs, as some seem prudent to think that this is correct.

 

 

File Transfer Test

We always use this type of test to assess any form of new storage, whether spindle or SSD and today is no different. Taking an array of common files constructed from Word, Excel, Access, an Outlook PST file, Photoshop, Max, Maya the list is endless. However it’s what can be found on any common workstation today. Using the Fusion-io drive as the source to back-up these files we find the following results:

Process

Time to Complete

Drive C – 1.12GB file (containing 2137 Files and 279 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

3 Seconds

Drive C – 2.25GB file (containing 4274 Files and 559 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

6.2 Seconds

Drive C – 3.38GB file (containing 6411 Files and 839 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

7.35 Seconds

Drive C – 4.5GB file (containing 8548 Files and 1119 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

10 Seconds

Drive C Windows 7 Backup (67.5GB ISO Image) to Fusion-io Duo (Drive E)

1 Minute
and
23 Seconds

Fusion-io Duo (Drive E) extraction of a compressed 1.45GB WinRAR 3DS Max file containing 6 Files and 2 folders to Drive C

21 Seconds

Our final process of the file copy test was to see just how long a backed up file on the Fusion-io drive would take to copy within itself. In this instance we took a complete section of files, applications and programmes (2315 files within 272 folders) weighing in at 4.88GB on the drive. Copying this package within the drive took a mere 12 seconds to complete. Never have we witnessed anything so fast. To check the data was correct we took the same file and placed it onto one of the fastest 256GB MLC SSD’s on the market and it took 21 seconds to complete the same copy within test.

Conclusions

In our opinion these drives from Fusion-io and their successors are the future within the Workstation place and in mission critical applications and final render outputs. Initial outlays might be perceived as being costly but the return of investment will be phenomenal. Take one standard movie of approximately 100 minutes – converting it from 2D to a 3D output only takes a mere three hours. Using disks in a raid array could take up to 12 – 14 hours to complete.

Fusion-io from its foundation four years ago has gone from strength to strength and almost all the first tier companies as well as the second tiers have embraced and adopted the technology. Downtime to disk failure, disk fragmentation and free space problems are now a thing of the past.

The adoption path tests we have shown on how fast the drive can be are just the tip of the iceberg, but they also show without unequivocal doubt their reliability and stability while under load. Leaving the system undertaking a heavy read/writing session for a 36 hour period we saw the following performance sequential statistics before and after from CrystalMark

There’s no performance drop at all. Normally in most cases a drop would be seen from even the most advanced of SSDs. The drive itself functions much better the more memory you place into the system, the better the performance across the whole I/O. One benchmark that showed this clearly was SPECviewperf 11 and the viewsets of Lightwave, Maya and Solidworks that use the whole system I/O. Within these three viewsets we see increases in scores not normally obtained from spindle disks or SSDs.

We’ve never seen better benchmarks for a drive from PCMark 2005 and PCMark. For the old guard, an overall HD score of 71083 from the PCMark 2005 took us by surprise. On several reruns the result remained the same. With the newer PCMark Vantage, the HD test really took us by surprise with a tremendous overall HD score of 58416.

Gaming studios would be wise to look carefully at these results. The usage of this important piece of kit can and will be used in many important phases of production. Remember this is a PCI Express X4/X8 card that can be readily switched quickly between systems.

Some analysts will be sceptical at the cost, however for the speed you do get bang for your buck. For those after a workstation packing high speed productivity, reliability and stability, look no further. The negative Nellies will be sitting back aghast.

We stipulated that this is without a doubt the future of drives to come which got us thinking. Could this drive be embedded onto a mainboard directly to cut down on future hardware installs, or have an upgrade slot for adding in more modules to increase the drives capabilities? There will need to be cost cuts. Time will tell, though it could be a viable probability.

Ultimately, the clever boffins at Fusion-io have taken us aback at their product’s complete adaptability. This drive and the others from within the range can be found all over the shop supporting tons of operating systems and huge SQL databases as well as film and art studios. The kit can and will increase productivity output – quadrupled in some cases as in this one recent case study. The beneficial list is endless and this is one piece of equipment that has to be seen to be believed for anyone thinking of outlaying on a huge 15K array.

Final thoughts: if you fear a dropped drive or raid controller going down in your raid arrays – think Fusion-io. If you fear severe disk fragmentation downtime – think Fusion-io.

We’re just wondering, what could possibly be next for the Fusion-io?

We take a dekko at the myDitto network attached storage

You may be thinking about moving your files to ‘The Cloud’ so you can access your data just about anywhere – it seems like a great idea. But do you really want to trust your private data to the corporate world?

French techies Dane-Elec have a possible alternative. It’s catchily called the myDitto Network Attached Storage (NAS).

Promising easy setup and secure access, Dane-Elec may be onto a winner. However, it’s not the only option in this section of the market with some established competition. We put it through its paces to see if it can live up to the marketing blurb.

The myDitto sells itself as a centralised place for all your digital content, which you can connect to anywhere, anytime, from almost any computer. It holds two hard drives – ours came with 2×500 GB.

These can be expanded up to 2x2TB through easy-access trays at the back. As far as NAS storage goes, its appearance is friendly on the eye with a slimline white case and blue glow coming from the LEDs on the front. In addition to the myDitto, you get a stand, power cable, network cable, quick-start instructions and two USB access keys.

myDitto hard drive access

These keys are myDitto’s unique feature as each one is pre-configured to your particularstorage server. They allow access from computers on the network or over the web. Once thehardware is plugged into your router there is no additional setup. The software and configurationare all stored on the myDitto key, meaning that all you need to do to access your files is plug thekey in and run the included software.

myDitto key

One of the main reasons for hosting your own data is security, and the myDitto has thiscovered. Its access keys and software provide a few layers of protection – these include serverauthentication of the keys, user password protection and AES 128 encryption. The softwarealso takes advantage of peer-to-peer tech to make sure that you can access your files anywhereover the web.

myDitto softwareThe keys themselves come in two varieties: master and user. The user key lets you accessfiles in your area and the public space on the drive, and the master key gives you full access toall files, as well as admin rights to play with settings.

You can order new keys or turn existing USB sticks into additional keys using the copy button located at the front of the server. Up to 30 keys are supported by a single myDitto with six being able to access at any one time.

You would expect any storage server aimed at the home market to have loads of streamingoptions for your music, videos and the like. Unfortunately, the options on the myDitto are limited,although it does have streaming support for music with the included software as well as aniTunes Server.

If you want to do more than this then you’ll need to set up a DLNA client such as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. There were some additional noticeably absent features, such as software streaming, torrent and FTP support. Why?

 

myDitto streaming options

We tested the myDitto over our network and transfer speeds were reasonable, a 1.4 GB movie took just over 15 minutes to copy. We also tried over the internet, where the speed difference was noticeable, although this was most likely limited by the up speed of our internet connection. It was still quick enough to stream music files. We’re not sure how much luck we would have had streaming films though – since it took 47 minutes to transfer the same 1.4 GB movie.

We tested power consumption and this ranged between 14 Watts and 20 Watts. A couple of Google searches revealed that this works out at around £15 a year. Comparing this to an onlinestorage account such as drop box, which offers a 100 GB account for $19, the myDitto appearsto offer good value for money.

The myDitto does give off an audible hum and bright blue glow at all times which isdistracting. If your router is in a living room or shared area this might cause problems, as theincluded network cable is quite short. Both the power consumption and noise will still easilyoutperform NAS alternatives such as running a dedicated PC.

The myDitto was extremely easy to set up and use making it a good option for newbies and luddites – undoubtedly its strongest feature. We didn’t come across any access problems, and were able to reach our files just by plugging in the key. There are other similar products in this price range that do have richer streaming options, however, if the myDitto’s features meet your needs then we have no hesitation recommending it.

The Good

  • Easy access anywhere
  • No fuss setup
  • Unobtrusive looks
  • Easily expandable

The Bad

  • Limited streaming and access options
  • A little noisy and bright

The Ugly