Folding@Home: Using your Computer for the Greater Good

If you haven’t heard of folding@home, its basically a way for you to “donate” your computer’s processing power to a larger computation that is being done to simulate folding a protein. That data is then used for a variety of research projects including those involving caner, parkinsons, and others. You are becoming part of a “distributed supercomputer” and helping cure some of humanities worst diseases, oh and you get points for how much/quickly you do the computations so you can join teams and compete for the high score. 

Getting Started:

Getting going is pretty straightforward, install the program appropriate for your OS and select how much processing you want to allocate to folding. Depending on your computer however you may want to take some precautions. 
Laptops:
If you have a laptop pretty much never put the setting at “full”. Laptops are not designed to run at max speeds for longer than a few seconds at a time and you WILL exceed the cooling capacities of your computer and cause damage over the long term. Set it to light, idle, or medium and install a temp monitor to make sure things are staying alright. (temps above 80 degrees should be avoided)
Desktop:
If you have a high end power supply and solid components (higher end or custom pcbs in the case of gpus) then set it to full whenever you can and let it run. If you don’t have the above however proceed with caution. I have personally fried two graphics cards (gpus are waaay better at folding than cpus, parallel processing and all) while using folding@home. Lower end power supplies often have slightly unstable power delivery which might not degrade a component over the short term but under constant 100% usage will start to do damage. Also, unless your graphics card has replaced electrical components (like with Asus’ Direct Cu series) then it will likely not hold up well under constant 100% load. If you still want to run at Full without the hassle of upgrading, you can use an overclocking utility like MSI Afterburner to actually lower the power limit of your card and underclock it. Running at the lower clocks will lower your points, but will also extend the life of the component by a lot. Seriously, I fried two cards doing this so underclock more than necessary. 

It feels good to be using your ridiculous gaming rig for more than just personal enjoyment, and with a little care the only negative is paying a bit more on your electric bill. 

Gaming, Compute, No Compromises: Nvidia GTX Titan Black

Nvidia released the new Titan Black and while it isn’t the field destroyer the original was, it is an incredible value for gamers who also want to do some heavy compute work. 

Gaming: On the FPS front the new Titan Black should have about the same performance as the 780Ti. Both are fully enabled GK110 parts, the only differences really are the Titan has more compute fun enabled (like full Double FP precision), 6GB (as opposed to 3)of 7GHz RAM, and slightly higher clock speeds. So gaming might improve a little bit from the higher clock speeds, and higher resolutions might benefit from more VRAM but if you’re just looking to game go with a 780Ti.

Compute: If your job involves doing a lot of compute intensive programs then you now have an excuse to get a ridiculous gaming card and call it a work expense. Double Floating point is almost 10 times better than in the 780Ti, and there are other optimizations that I don’t understand and won’t try to explain. 

Folding@Home note: If you’re big into getting those folding points then this card may have some attraction for you. Those extra enabled compute functions should give a significant boost over the 780Ti at the same power level, making this a far more efficient folder. Plus, with its emphasis on computer it will be more durable and ready to handle the 24/7 workloads of folding. 

Don’t know what Folding@Home is? Suffice to say its a way to make your computer part of a distributed supercomputer working to research several diseases. You can get points and compete based on how much you contribute! I’m probably throwing a post up soon about my noob Folding adventures and what I’ve learned so far… 

Nvidia Non-Reference 780Ti Roundup: Informative Eye Candy

Nvidia compiled a list of all the non-reference coolers, with some cool info about pricing and features for each. Not only is this a great shopping list for anyone looking to get a 780Ti, but since the coolers are much the same between GPUs it could be helpful when comparing the any other cards with similar coolers.
There’s tons of interesting coolers and solid stock overclocks, but my personal favorite is up above. The current fastest of the fastest GPU on the planet is the EVGA K|NGP|N edition. EVGA went all out on this card, every component has been upgraded over stock from the capacitors to power cooling. 10cm fans, a backplate that not only adds stability but cooling, and a rear I/O that helps vent hot air contribute to the impressive cooling capacity on this card. What really makes this card stand out is the ridiculous overclocking features. There are ports to plug in a voltage monitor and see exactly how power is fluctuating throughout the card without the inherent delay in most software implementations, and manual fan control options to push air cooling to the limit. Dual bios is a cool feature, allowing you to revert to the stock bios if your tweaks have made the card too unstable. The extra money for this card may seem like a lot, but as the current title holder for highest 3dMark Firestrike score there is no way you’ll be disappointed. The sheer volume of overclocking options and optimizations to play with will make it a joy for any level overclocker to try and push this card as far as they can.

Mantle is just around the corner for regular users, and its looking good

Mantle is the low level API that AMD has been promoting a ton for the past few months. It works by allowing developers to utilize the hardware of AMDs 7000 series and R series graphics cards more effectively than directx can with its emphasis on compatibility. This means that your AMD graphics card will perform better on a compatible game just by enabling Mantle.

It seems that the only reason AMD was able to push this is because of their presence in the console space. Both The Xbox One and the PS4 both use AMD chips in their consoles so if a developer has published a game on a console, it shouldn’t be much more work to program it for Mantle. 

Mantle works by reducing some of the CPU bottlenecks that limit the amount of data than can be requested from the GPU at any given time. This means CPU bound scenarios will see the biggest performance benefits, and a huge boost to AMD whose processors have been suffering in performance comparisons to Intel. The new Kaveri APUs will especially see boosts as the processor on die has always been lackluster but with the optimizations from Mantle it might boost it into the serious gaming realm. 

Note: Just to be clear all you need is a GCN AMD graphics card (7000 series or higher. Or a Kaveri APU) to use Mantle. If you have an Intel processor you will still be able to use it and see benefits in framerate, even for the higher end processors. There is always a bottleneck, so a free boost like this is always worth it.

New AMD APU “Kaveri”: The way to go for entry level gaming PCs.

Earlier this month AMD released the next generation of its APU lineup, and the upgrades over the last generation (Richland) are impressive. Combining GCN (Graphics Core Next) GPU cores from its most recent dedicated GPU lineup and Steamroller CPU cores make for an APU that packs a surprising amount of power on both fronts. Games are usually more GPU bound than CPU bound so dedicating more power and die space to the GPU makes a lot of sense, and the benchmarks seem to agree. At 1080p (although at mid-lower settings) the new Kaveri APUs can hold their ground at at least 30fps, which is acceptable for most people. While thats the basics, Kaveri has a lot more potential

CPU Performance

CPU performance follows with the last generation of APUs unfortunately, with a drop in clock speed but a boost in efficiency that leaves performance much where it left off. The upside to this is that multi-threaded CPU performance is still good, which means acceptable performance in most modern games. 

GPU Performance:

The GPU is the saving grace of these new chips several times over. It has the newest GPU architecture GCN, meaning it has all of the newest features and will be able to benefit from improvements to driver design that would normally be exclusive to the dedicated cards. AMD True Audio is a cool idea, offloading normally CPU intensive audio transcoding to the GPU where it can be done more efficiently (better). The big game changer should be mantle… eventually… Mantle is the API that is exclusive to AMD cards and the games that support it should see big performance gains on AMD cards just by enabling it. Unfortunately the opening release of Mantle on Battlefied 4 has been delayed by several weeks now and we won’t know how good it is until its finally released

Final Thoughts:

These chips are really only going to be a consideration if you’re building a truly entry level pc. Light gaming, media editing, and general use will go more smoothly on these than on any Intel chip with their grossly overpowered CPUs. The new heterogenous system architecture in Kaveri means that the CPU and GPU can talk directly, without all of the copying back and forth that usually destroys efficiency. For programs supporting it, performance gains should be impressive, but we won’t know for a while. What I’m most looking forward to is mobile Kaveri. Today the only option for a laptop is to get one with a grossly overpowered CPU or an expensive laptop with a dedicated graphics card. Those of us who want to do light gaming on the go and not break the bank are stuck, but Kaveri should be able to change all that. CPU performance is honestly not what makes a computer feel fast any more (storage is the bottleneck more than ever) so a cheaper Kaveri chip with an SSD will feel faster than an i7, and will probably game better too. AMD nails the budget segment yet again, and may be pioneering something great with the Heterogenous System Architecture

http://www.anandtech.com/show/7677/amd-kaveri-review-a8-7600-a10-7850k/12

Razer’s Project Christine: Is it the way forward for entry level PC building, or an expensive gimmick? 

The concept is amazing, each PC component comes packaged in a small module that is connected simply plugged into a main tower then it’s good to go. Built in oil cooling also works just as simply, with each component being integrated into the loop as soon as it’s plugged in. Need more usb ports, storage, RAM, etc.? Just plug in a module with what you want and you’re good to go. 

This could literally be the best thing to happen to PCs in ages. A plug and play liquid cooling system without the stress and extreme DIY nature of the current stuff used to seem like an unattainable dream, but with the unified nature of this system it would be easier than ever. 

The only problem that could arise is the same problem that Phonebloks is running into (see my earlier post), changing sockets and interface speeds. Graphics cards are consistently using PCIe slots and the fastest drives can be accommodated with SATA 3, but there will always be bigger and better things appearing. Eventually your main tower will be out of date, and depending on how quickly tech progresses that may be quicker than you like. The single quickest piece of tech to outpace the tower will of course be the CPU. With nearly every generation of Intel processor and every other generation of AMD processors needing a new socket there is no way the tower will be able to handle that upgrade. Socket changes are massive architectural shifts that can’t just be worked around. You may be able to switch your processor around, but upgrading to the next generation will need a new tower. 

Also, the tower might be able to have all necessary interfaces on each mount point but keeping PCI, SATA, and CPU socket interfaces on every point will be very expensive. This could  make the base tower considerably pricier than a traditional motherboard even considering the liquid cooling. 

It’s going to be a tough road ahead for Razer, but I wish them them the best of luck as they continue to push the boundaries of PC gaming.

 

iFixit Teardown of Steam Machine: Holy Mother of God its Beautiful

The guys over at iFixit are renowned for their high def step by step disassembly guides and awesome teardowns to look at the inside of tech you might not otherwise want to pull apart. Somehow they got their hands on one of the 300 beta machines sent out and so all you hardware junkies out there… commence drooling. 

The hardware: 
1 TB SSHD seagate 2.5” drive
Nvidia GTX 780
i5-4570
16GB of low voltage 1600Mhz RAM

Notable Features:

Mounting larger graphics cards has always been a problem for keeping case size down. Since they’re mounted at a 90 degree angle they directly increase width when there’s often a lot of length to use. This Steam Machine solves the problem by using a PCIe riser. It’s a simple add on that simply allows for you to mount the graphics card parallel with the motherboard. Not a lot of cases support this mounting solution but as you can see, it goes a long way towards matching console form factor with a kickass gaming pc. 

Pairing a 500$ graphics card with a 200$ cpu might not make a lot of sense according to conventional wisdom, but is actually smart considering the direction games are going in these days. When it comes to maxing out game settings, developers have found a lot more ways to utilize the GPU than the CPU. More advanced anti-aliasing and particle effects are gaining popularity and need a ton of graphics power to reach their full potential, not to mention the GPU effort it takes to drive the newest wave of 4k displays. 

For something aiming to send a death blow to consoles, you need to look sexy yet unobtrusive (something often overlooked in gaming PCs nowadays. Looking at you LEDs). IMHO this Steam Machine nails it. Cool front lit power button and even the I/O panel is colored to match the rest of the case perfectly. The Alienware Steam Machine was announced, and looks pretty good too. With a smaller size its probably going to be packing a mobile GPU but hey, still more powerful than a console.

The jury is still out on the Steam controller but one thing is certain, no wireless function so far. At least when it comes to my gaming setup, if someone is walking over my controller cable then they’re walking in front of my tv and we have a bigger problem. The cables are really long and removing wireless interference in your home is never a bad thing. 

Source:

http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Steam+Machine+Teardown/20473

NeweggFlash actually has some pretty good deals on it. Definitely a lot of infomercial “BUT THERES MORE” stuff going on but checking occasionally can net you some solid tech, or maybe just a refurb junker to give to someone who doesn’t know what they’re missing. Also, who doesn’t like the chance to win some awesome stuff?

Silverstone Fortress Mini: Ingenious Design for a Small Form Factor
This case uses a vertical motherboard configuration to make it so you can cram incredibly powerful components into a small space. Using a low profile CPU cooler and rear exhaust graphics card you will still be able to keep hot running components cool despite the space. The graphics card will be exhausting directly out the top of the case so all the hot air is straight away from your components. That graphics card can be anything up to the highest end cards with about 9” of clearance. A single 140mm intake fan at the bottom will still provides a lot of air flow, again being forced straight out the top of the case. If you’re limited on desk space, or want something more portable go for this case. 
The only drawbacks are that you have to use a relatively rare power supply form factor which is obviously a little more expensive, and the case itself comes in at a pretty high expense. 
If you’re up for a challenge and want a case that is sure to get lots of attention, try throwing together a gaming rig in this ridiculously cool mini-itx case Silverstone Fortress Mini: Ingenious Design for a Small Form Factor
This case uses a vertical motherboard configuration to make it so you can cram incredibly powerful components into a small space. Using a low profile CPU cooler and rear exhaust graphics card you will still be able to keep hot running components cool despite the space. The graphics card will be exhausting directly out the top of the case so all the hot air is straight away from your components. That graphics card can be anything up to the highest end cards with about 9” of clearance. A single 140mm intake fan at the bottom will still provides a lot of air flow, again being forced straight out the top of the case. If you’re limited on desk space, or want something more portable go for this case. 
The only drawbacks are that you have to use a relatively rare power supply form factor which is obviously a little more expensive, and the case itself comes in at a pretty high expense. 
If you’re up for a challenge and want a case that is sure to get lots of attention, try throwing together a gaming rig in this ridiculously cool mini-itx case

Silverstone Fortress Mini: Ingenious Design for a Small Form Factor

This case uses a vertical motherboard configuration to make it so you can cram incredibly powerful components into a small space. Using a low profile CPU cooler and rear exhaust graphics card you will still be able to keep hot running components cool despite the space. The graphics card will be exhausting directly out the top of the case so all the hot air is straight away from your components. That graphics card can be anything up to the highest end cards with about 9” of clearance. A single 140mm intake fan at the bottom will still provides a lot of air flow, again being forced straight out the top of the case. If you’re limited on desk space, or want something more portable go for this case. 

The only drawbacks are that you have to use a relatively rare power supply form factor which is obviously a little more expensive, and the case itself comes in at a pretty high expense. 

If you’re up for a challenge and want a case that is sure to get lots of attention, try throwing together a gaming rig in this ridiculously cool mini-itx case

Finally Non-Reference R9-290 and 290X Cards

The upper end R9 cards have been out for a while now, but until recently the only coolers available were the reference design by AMD. Don’t get me wrong, I like the reference cooler design. The black and red industrial design combined with rear venting of air made for a pretty cool looking card. Unfortunately there have been a lot of complaints about the noise and cooling capability of the reference cooler. Since the AMD overclocking utility dynamically increases clock speed if there is thermal headroom, keeping the card cooler should theoretically increase performance. Even though AMD has been working on its fan controller drivers to reduce obvious noise increases, behemoths like the one above are beginning to look more and more attractive.

Hexus.net did an awesome write up about a similar card here http://hexus.net/tech/reviews/graphics/63953-sapphire-radeon-r9-290-tri-x/?page=3

The long story short is that there are 5-10% gains over the reference card with improved cooling. This is obviously awesome, and as long as you have a well ventilated case you will be more than happy with your new AMD card. Overclocking headroom obviously increases as well, and with some tweaking the 290 or 290X can sometimes even trade blows with the stock 780 Ti. 

This GPU runs hot, but with a cooler this big its hard to go wrong.