4K gaming requires nVidia 980 slip

Well, Cyber Monday is nearly here and while I haven’t finished the post of Haswell processors, given that a Haswell Cube would be all about gaming, its a good question to ask about monitors and displays. Right now the state of the art is:

  • 1080p (aka 1920×1080, aka HD). Not surprisingly the most mature, you can buy a TN panel that runs at 144 Hertz. We’ve had one for a while from ASUS and it works well. They have a new feature called Gsync so that with new nVidia cards, the GPU can manage the frame rates. These monitors are relatively cheap at $400-500.

  • QHD (aka 2550×1440, aka 2.5K). We are just getting the first monitors that can run at a true 120 hertz here. The ASUS ROG does this and costs $800-1000. It’s a TN panel, but for the first time you can get real

The GTX 670 Overclocking Master-Guide

Well overclocking has gotten in much easier. The ASUS P8Z77-V includes a utility that does overclocking for you automagically. And with parts like the Intel iCore 5 3570K, it allows overclocking and even warranties for it. We got to 34% overclock (3.8GHz to 4.4GHz) at the CPU this way and the GPUs got from a stock 980MHz to 1050MHz with this trick.

Using the tricks from this, we nearly doubled the frame rates. So the first cut of the Heaven Benchmark was 26fps, but these tweaks, we got to 44fps. And that is at 4k x 1024 pixels (eg three monitors worth of pixels) with everything turned on from 16x anistrophic, high shaders, texturs, trilinear filtering and 8x anti-aliasing. Pretty remarkable what a pair of GTX 670s can do!

But if you want to get a little better, there are geek guids. The Overclock.net seems pretty good. It let’s you do a quick thing based on the the eVGA tool and CPU-z using the Heavenmark benchmark. You basically run the fans at full speed, set the Power overtarget to 112% (means 112% of the stock wattage), the voltage to the GPUs to max and then go up in increments of 20MHz until it crashes, then down 5MHz.

This definitely has an impact. The first Heaven benchmark I ran at “stock overclock” if that is a term was 26fps, by increasing the GPU by 61MHz to 1.12GHz from 980Mhz and the memory clock on the card by 100MHz from 1.5GHz.

 

All of the Kepler-based GPUs (670, 680, and 690’s) are a very unique breed of GPU. Gone are the days of manually increasing voltage to stabilize an otherwise unstable overclock. Now, the user must use a great deal of finesse, and a ton of trial and error, to maximize the potential of their overclock. We now have to worry about dynamic clocking, dynamic volt changes, temperatures, and power draw in-order to reach a maximum stable overclock.

via ~~The GTX 670 Overclocking Master-Guide~~.

Gamer PC Power Supply Kingwin LZP-1000 Platinum

Well power supplies don’t seem to have changed much. People are still using ATX connectors and so forth. In fact I have a relatively quiet 750W ATX power supplly around somewhere from five years ago and it seems like it should work. But Tom’s Hardware and SilentPCReview.com did a overview of the issues there which are getting an 80 PLUS certified power supply which is more than 80% efficient ranging up to 80 PLUS Platinum which is 90% efficient. Thermaltake has a calculator that makes it simple, the system we are building burns about 640 watts

  • Most systems are about 634 watts at peak load plus a 25% buffer for a enthusiast system so a 850 watt thing should be good.
  • They liked the SeaSonic X-760 as the expensive model at $200 and is modular so you don’t have to have a zillion cables sticking out looking ugly.
  • FSP Aurum 700 as the budget choice at $120.
  • SilentPC likes the SeaSonic X-1000 for being super quiet and probably not a bad idea if we ever go to more graphics cards.
  • Kingwin LZP-1000 Platinum is completely silent at up to 500 watts so pretty cool. They think the whole LZP line is going to be great with models at 550, 750 and 850 watts.

Gamer PC Cases NZXT Switch 810

The biggest issue with cases is having something that is small but big enough to work in. And if you are going to liquid cooling, something that can actually handle a huge radiator. Tom’s Hardware did a great review of full sized ATX cases that are actually big enough to put a three fan radiator (3x120mm).

The NZXT Switch has enough room at the top for a full 3x120mm configuration and is easy to work with so a pretty easy choice to install the semicustom cooler. Of course, if you go Aquarium PC, then you don’t need any case at all 🙂

They also did a full test so you can see how the cooling performance is running at absolute full speed is 56C for the CPU and for two SLI GTX580s they are running at 52C. These are not directly comparable to other benchmarks which used a different processor.

 

This is a test with everything running at once to give you a sense of the whole system. It says the systems are decently loud, but again hard to compare but the NZXT is definitely quieter at load.

Gamer PC Cooling with Swiftech Edge H200-320 or even an Puget Systems Aquarium with Noctua NH-D14

I’ve always wanted to build a watercooled case. A few years ago, I wanted to build a silent PC and loved silentpcreview.com, but now with water cooling becoming much more turnkey, it makes some sense to go all water cooled and make your machine silent overclockable. Tom’s Hardware has a pretty good guide, but the main decisions are getting a case that is big enough, deciding if you want to do GPU cooling too or just CPU cooling.

For GPU cooling, the main problem is that you have to remove the cooler that is already on the card and that seems scary. But with the CPU, you have to get an external heat sink anyway, so it is much easier. So the main things to consider when water cooling are:

  • Getting a case that can fit all the water reservoirs and things
  • Figuring out if you are doing completely custom or using already assembled solutions

I had thought that the PNY GPX680 was going to solve all my problems as it had watercooling for the CPU and the GPU and you could SLI the thing as well. But alas, it is out of production. So the choices are now to either get a GPX670 and modify it myself or use a quiet GPX670 like the ASUS and then go with just CPU cooling.

Three Radiator Semi-Custom in ATX Case: Swiftech Edge H20-X20

That’s what I’ll explore here thanks to help from a Tom’s Hardware review of water-cool capable cases. While I would have liked to build a small micro-ATX with just water cooling, I think since this is our first build, we will start with a larger case but still go for quiet. These are monster cases by the way at 25-40 pounds each!

Swifttech H20 X20 EDGE. This is a nice kit so you don’t have to assemble everything yourself. Basically, instead of a monster heat sink on the CPU, there is a small plate, then big tubes to a flat reservoir and then 3 5.25″ fans to keep it all cool. Pretty compact really. This thing isn’t completely seales, you do have to cut and clamp things, but it will look very nice and custom in the case itself when you are done. 

At least with the motherboard they had (a Sandy Bridge X79), the NZXT Switch 810 fitted best. All of these ATX cases have loads of disk and other space that really aren’t need which is why it would be wonderful to find a mini-ATX solution instead.

Tweaktown did a test with the similar kit, the H20-320 and it showed it had the lowest operating temperature of a huge variety, but it was one of the noisest at the highest level. So again, it shows that it is super effective but not necessarily quiet with three fans running at full bore at the edge of the case.

It is complicated to get this right for the simple reason that water can leak and destroy your computer. Extremeoverclocking.com has some good techniques for testing this step-by-step to prevent it. They do recommend things like don’t buy kits, just buy the pieces youself. Maybe this is true 🙂

 

Sealed Unit CPU Only

If you don’t want to crack your own stuff open, then your choice is to use sealed unit systems where you don’t have to worry about filling or cutting tubes or clamping. For us, this seems like a reasonable compromise. Get an air cooled but quiet GPU like the ASUS version of the GTX-760 and start with just a simple sealed unit like the Crucial H100. This is a two fan wide radiator (called 2x120mm). Tom’s Hardware liked the Crucial H100 the best but you need the right case. It reduces noise from 43db to 33db. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s quite a big difference particularly with fan control based on CPU temperature. They do note that one issue is that you want a motherboard that doesn’t have problem with its voltage regulator if it doesn’t get air cooling from the CPU fan. The ASUS Maximus IV for instance doesn’t. With nice cool CPUs at 40C, you get amazingly low system noise levels of 35dB even with the GPU running air cooled:

However vs a traditional air cooler, it turns out that these things are not much quieter than a really good air cooler. The reason is pretty simple. They don’t actually have that much water reservoir so all you are really doing is just moving the place where the cooling happens to outside the chassis. With a truly massive (that is two pound) cooler like the ThermalRight Silver Arrow, you get the same temperatures and the same noise as the Corsair H100. So at the Medium fan setting of the H100, it keeps this test CPU at 49.9C identical to the Siver Arro while the noise of the Silver Arrow is actually lower at 38.8dB vs 43.8dB. To really get great cooling you need to have a much larger unit than the 2x120mm of the H100, which is why there really isn’t a free lunch. 

You either need a massive water reservoir or a really big fan array (like 4x120mm) to make water cooling quieter. And of course if you have a 2 pound chunk of metal attached to your motherboard, you do have to wonder what happens if you drop the computer or something, that’s alot of weight next to delicate PCB board. 

MaximumPC also reviewed the Corsair H100 in a roundup and liked it. It fit into a ThermalTake Level 10 but had to put the radiator on the outside with fans pushing air out. Maybe not the most durable location, but it worked.

HardOCP also did a review. As an aside thermal paste is very important to get good conduction and they use Noctua NT-H1. What it shows is that compared with other water cooled units, it is the most efficient, but it is very loud with the ideal four fans operating (2 push and 2 pull) at it’s maximum setting. What is shows is that at full overclock, water coolling is quite efficient compared with a air cooling Thermalright HR-02 Macho which runs at 47C vs 41C for the Corsaig H100 Push/Pull at low.

But in hoise level, the ThermalTake is essentially at ambient noise of 39dB while the Corsair is much much louder at 48dB for push and 57db for push/pull. This is because the fans are just much louder when there are two of them vs one.

Overclockers Club compared actual performance at load and concluded the same thing, the H100 was the most efficient of all the systems at cooling, so if you need really cool and don’t mind loud, go for the Corsair. Of course, normally you don’t generate such high loads, so the thing will normally operate much cooler. And as they mentioned finding a case that could handle it. This was a good.

Mineral Bath Cooling 

Another solution might be to go completely different and go Mineral submerged where the entire chassis goes into a mineral bath. It is an amazingly cool looking thing but more importantly with 3 x 3 x 120mm fans, it is going to be very quiet too.

The statistics show that it takes a long time to bring to temperature and you can run it at low fan speed. 

Finally there are water chilled systems where the water is actually cooled vs. just running with fans at ambient. This is less drastic than an aquarium in that you don’t do full immersion but expensive. There aren’t many reviews of this though. But Gadgetreview.com seemed to like it and said it was basically silent at low which makes sense give nine fans running.

You still need a CPU cooler for this as the heat has to get dissipated into the mineral bath. Hexus did a 7 cooler roundup for the Ivy Bridge processors of inexpensive (less than $80 coolers):

But the really cool ones tend to be loud with 2000 rpm fans buzzy. That standout is the be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 2 which is both efficient and quiet.

They also did a review of Sandy Bridge cooling systems which should be reasonably transferrable to the Ivy Bridge. Legit Reviews also did a Sandy Bridge review and concluded the same thing

In this test anything under 30dB is ambient quiet with a good case and the Noctua NH-D14 with its two fans and reasonable noise seems to be the winner at 46C at full load and 28dB noise. 

SilentPCreview says it cools well but not quiet silent which is OK for a big gamer PC and rates in 9.5/10 at the very top although they haven’t reviewed a fan since 2010, guru3d reviewed it in 2009 and it was clearly the best at cooling.

Frostytech seems to have the most comprehensive reviews and put the Noctua into the top 10 for cooling but actually said the smaller NH-C14 cooled slightly better and is another two fan system and liked the Spire Thermax Eclipse II (although it has a problem with keeping its fan in place) and the Coolermaster TPC-812 better although the differences were less than a degree. Studying this chart, you can see that cooling-wise, eliminating the ECT and the H100 and H80 which are water cooled exotics, the Spire at 150W assuming we are overclocking a 77W nominal part (at 3.8GHz), the spire is louder but giving up 2C the Noctua is much quite (46.6dB) vs. Spire (56.9) and the Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme is pretty unique with 43.5dB for 14.1 differential because it is simply massive so you need to make sure your case is tall enough to fit it. Otherwise the NH-C14 looks like a good choice if you can stand the width of that model. The Noctua NH-D14 while a degree less efficient is square so easier to fit in the case. Newegg reviews report the Tower 120 Extreme is hard to mount (not surprising given its size). And Overclockers Club found the reverse that the NH-D14 was more efficient than the NH-C14 and easier to install as it is not as flat. 

The Noctua NH-D14 is right now $90 at Newegg, $86 from Cooltech via Amazon and $82 from Platinum Micro via Amazon or direct.

Manufacturer: Model No.: Fan Speed: 150W
Thermal Test* (°C)
85W
Thermal Test (°C)
Noise Level (dBA)

ECT Prometeia Mach2 GT   -48.2 -55.9 49.1
Corsair Hydro H100 high 12.1 7.5 59.2
Spire Thermax Eclipse II (2-fan) high 12.6 8.4 56.9
Corsair Hydro H80 high 12.8 7.8 58.8
Coolermaster TPC-812 high 13.9 8.3 52.4
Noctua NH-C14 high 14.1 8.9 46.6
Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme high 14.1 8.4 43.5
Evercool HPJ-12025 Transformer 4 (2010) high 14.3 8.8 55.4
Phanteks PH-TC14PE high 14.4 8.5 49.2
Noctua NH-D14 high 14.5 8.7 48.1
Thermaltake Frio high 14.5 8.8 62.6

Gamer PC Memory with Mushkin Redline 993997 DDR3-2133 or G.Skill F3-2400

Time once again to learn the in’s and out’s of memory which right now is SDRAM DDR3, but the basic facts are that you can overclock memory a little and in most benchmarks, once you go from vanilla DDR3-1333 to DDR3-2133, you have had a huge improvement in performance at a relatively low cost. If you really want to splurge, then go to DDR3-2600 from G.Skill and you will be in Ferrari heaven 🙂 This is in effect all about the pricing curve. The memory choices are DDR3-2133 up to -2666.

Unlike years past, xBitLabs says that for the last few years seems that processor speed makes less difference and memory makes less difference to gaming speeds. It seems to be all about the graphics cards now and to a lesser extent the disk storage system. So most folks use DDR3-1333 or -1600 and they are just fine.

Ivy Bridge removes the top speed limitations, so it could theoretically go to DDR3-3200 (3.2GHz) which doesn’t exist yet and you can get memory at DDR-2400 which would be twice as fast as standard ram. Wow. They did a nice testing run using the i5-3570K and the Sandy Bridge equivalent i5-2550K (for Intel geeks, the model number encoding is i5 means no hyperthreading and slow on board graphics than i7, the 2 means 2nd generation of Sandy Bridge, while the 3 means Ivy Bridge, the last digits are the model number and K means unlocked, got that???)

In their review, they used the highest rate they could find which was the G.Skill TridentX F3-2600C10D-8GTXD which is an 8GB kit running at DDR-2600. Interesting to see that you can’t really overclock the memory, it can run only slightly faster to 2.7GHz, while the CPU norminally at 3.8GHz, could overclock to 4.5GHz! But they recommend going with the more affordable DDR3-2133 and you can see 5-20% increases in memory intensive applications like games. Also in the old days things like CL2 or CL3 or intermediate timings made a huge difference, but with today’s memory the most important thing is raw clock speed.

According to Tom’s, the current state of the art is quad channel DDR3 (whatever that means :-). The review shows that for Sandy Bridge, but what about for Ivy Bridge, xBit did a review of these and found

  • The Mushkin Redline 993997 has 98% of the overclock performance for just $210 for DDR3-2133 memory. Newegg has this for $129
  • The highest performing 16GB RAM kit was the G.Skill Ripjaws ZF3-2400-16GBZHD running at 2400 GHz with
    • Quad-channel kit consists of four memory modules, 4 GB each;
    • Nominal frequency: 2400 MHz;
    • Timings: 10-11-10-31-2T;
    • Voltage: 1.65 V.

    Newegg didn’t have this model but at $159  which was model F3-2400C10Q-16GZH which is

    • Cas Latency: 10
    • Voltage: 1.65V
    • Multi-channel Kit: Quad Channel Kit
    • Timing: 10-12-12-31
  • There is also at 16GB, the G.Skill Trident X  which runs at a remarkable DDR3-2600  F3-2600C10Q-16GTXD for $329 at Newegg

The net is that with this high end memory, once you get to 2133 for $129 is an easy tradeoff and to get an addition 2-3% performance, going to 2400 for $159 is a decent deal.

Gamer PC Storage Samsung 830 256GB x 2 soon to be 840

Well this is a huge area encompassing both the system ram and also the disk. Right now it feels like going solid state on everything is the way to go, so we are thinking just get a 500GB SSD or maybe a pair and put the rest of the stuff on a NAS somewhere. I haven’t investigated, but I wonder how fast this will be in RAID 0 configuration where you have a pair of these, can you saturate a pair of 6Gbps SATA channels, I wonder 🙂 The ASUS P8Z77-V has a pair of SATA 6GBps controllers that can boot in RAID 0 so theoretically, you can get amazing bandwidth. 

Samsung 840 coming

The just announced Samsung 840 uses the new 21nm process vs the 27nm of the 830 using Toggle 2.0 NAND (wow the names in this business are incrdible!). and is about 10% faster than the current 830. The sweet spot price remains at 256GB. Amazingly these chips even include a 512MB cache.

Samsung 830

Tom’s Hardware has a good summary:

  • For $230 or so, you can get the Samsung 830 256GB SSD. We actually have two of these to be used for notebooks already. They read/write at an amazing 520-560MBps. Getting a pair of these gives you 512GB for $460, so very expensive compared with disks, but on the other hand less noisy and definitely faster. Amazon Newegg has the standalone version for $220 right now, but the desktop version for some reason is cheaper at $200.
  • There is a smaller interface called the mSATA that many motherboards have, the Mushkin Atlas 240GB has the same performance as an SATA SSD but in a tiny form factor at $350, make some sense if you are building a smaller system.
  • For $400, the Crucial m4 512GB is an amazing amount of storage, the main tradeoff is that it’s write speeds are half the reads, so less performance than the Samsung

To give you an idea of the difference, here is Tom’s overall chart where Samsung 830 scores 201 average data rate vs Crucial m4 at 167. I don’t know if you can RAID 0 these as boot drives for Windows, but a pair of these in RAID 0 would be amazing.

Anandtech shows a very similar analysis showing that architecturally, the Samsung is pretty good right now

Gamer PC Keyboards with Razer Black Widow Ultimate

Well, the world is turning back a little. For the true gamer, you can either get a keyboard full of extra keys for macros or go old school and get mechanical keys. These are the old IBM Selectric or original IBM PC keyboards (I wish I kept mine). They go clack, clack, but they feel great. Not much to differentiate beyond this difference between today’s rubber and yesterdays, mechanical, but here are some choices according to Tom’s Hardware. Interesting stuff also reading how the old PS/2 interface is better than the USB interface at least theoretically for multi key detection and speed and lots of good discussions about the various types of Cherry switches 🙂

  • Das Keyboard. Probably one of the original makers, you don’t have the mushy rubber cap key feel of modern ones.
  • Razer Black Widow Ultimate. It is illuminated and costs more than some cheap computers, but good for gaming

Gamer PC GPU selection nVidia GTX-670 as ASUS GTX670-DC2T-2GD5 or Gigabyte N670OC-2GD

There are lots of them out there but some quick review at Tom’s Hardware. The unit you get depends a little bit on what you want to do. The big decision is whether to go water cooled or not. If you do then a pair of PNYs (as described by overclocker.com)will really help make a small quite build. If you don’t care about noise then:

  1. The best priced unit right now is the nVidia GTX-670 at sub $400. Get a pair of these are you within a few percent of the monster GTX-690 and the Asus GTX670-DC2T-2GD5 is nice and quiet.
  2. The GTX-690 makes the most sense if money is no object and you want small because it is two GTX-680s on the same board. That makes it easy to go 4x GPUs in a simple ATX motherboard with only two slots. This thing is a howling monster though.
  3. However the other thing is keeping this stuff from howling away, turns out the PNY makes a liquid cooled GTX680 that would have been perfect, but they’ve discontinued it. Darn it. Although Inno3D has announce a GTX670 liquid cooled with unknown date or pricing and if you are brave enough, you can remove the factory cooler and use frozencpu.com to put your own custom one on. I actually did that with one of my homebrews a few years ago. Not for the faint of heart, but it did work at least then. There are quite of few of these solutions around it looks like the Arctic

nVidia GTX-670 vs. AMD HD7970. These seem to be the two well priced cards with good price performance at $400 or so per card and incredible SLI performance. The GTX-670 is probably the value leader right now and it is basically a GTX-680 with one of its 8 cores disabled. This is a truly monster care with double width just for the integrated cooling fan. It draws something like 130 watts and needs an auxiliary power plug since a PCIe slot only supplies 75 watts.

Performance-wise, they are pretty close and it really depends on the game, but for a single card here is a Battlefield 3 sample:

And as an aside if you are going to do a pair of card in SLI anyway, you might get the nVidia GTX-690. This is a pair o GTX-680s built onto the same card. Means that you don’t need to do the SLI thing and could go to a smaller motherboard. As you can see above, this gets you a free SLI configuration and performance is essentially double the GTX670. Alternatively, if you want to save some money, get a pair of GTX670s for $700 and save $300. AMD by the way is about to do the same trick with their next model to give the GTX690 as run for its money.

On the other hand, a pair of GTX 690s is going to a 4 way GPU in 2 PCIe slots, although you will have to find 600watts (?!!) of power just to make both boards go. I have to say having even a pair of 680s is quite a monsterous proposition as the photos shows:

And once you decide on the chip you want, then there is the question which manufacturer do you want to buy from. Tom’s Hardware looked at seven implementations of the GTX670 for example. Of note is that the Asus GTX670-DC2T-2GD5 was very quiet and had high overclock. Nice if you don’t want have to take apart your GPU to watercool it. But the all around best was the Gigabyte N670OC-2GD so again the two giants trade back and forth but the Gigabyte is current $399 vs $420 for ASUS with 10% knocked off. So if you are planning to go mineral cooled anyway, the Gigabyte is a better buy 🙂

If you want to get crazy, then there is an unusual product, the PNY liquid coolled system.