Since I was building the X-Ray for the new project for the Computer Ed Show I thought lets use the best we can get and the Asus Crosshair series is widely regarded as the best of the AMD motherboards.
Once the system was up and running I launched into benchmarking, pushing the X6 to it’s limits. This was to be a none typical Computer Ed Build and I was determined to go all Enthusiast on this system. This was my first mistake.
You see over the years I have developed a system of testing that relies on looking at the system in use in the real world and I forgo traditional benchmarks. For this build however I was so bent on going enthusiast that I left my normal testing procedures behind and went at this with the typical enthusiast testing methods. I find it very telling BTW that traditional enthusiast sites have missed what I almost missed.
Once the base testing was done I set into building the X-Ray and started down the road again but this time using my usually methods. It was during this round of testing that I noticed that in some lower thread count apps the performance of the system was awful. I commented on this to my friend Paul Marini from Hi Tech Legion and he told me he had noticed the same issues, even brining them to AMD but the issues he saw where so minor he was persuaded that they would not matter in real world use.
As I continued my real world testing however more deeply the issue came into more clear focus. The real eye opener came when I fired up my current MMO, Star Trek Online for a gaming comparison. The game speed was AWFUL, I was lucky to see more than 30 FPS. This was on a system with 8 Gigs of RAM, a 5870 for video along with the 1090T playing at 1680×1050.
It took about and hour of testing to find the specific culprit. For whatever reason the 1090T was not coming out of Cool n Quiet mode. The cores where staying at 800 MHz and not stepping up as they came under load. I tested a few other games and did not see the issue and so submitted my findings to Cryptic and AMD.
As I waited for the companies responses I noticed that when using the Windows 7 built in ZIP for compression and decompression the cores where not kicking in as they should. Again the cores seemed to hover at 800 MHz. The only two ways I found around this issue was to either turn off CnQ in the BIOS or to artificially set the affinity for the game or folder window to two or three cores.
With this new information I knew we where not looking at an issue specific to STO and so started playing with various hardware settings to try and get the problem to stop. Today I got in a 1055T for testing and so stepped up my efforts. I grabbed an old Gigabyte 770 motherboard and dropped in the 1055T once I updated the BIOS. The chip worked perfect and CnQ performed as it should.
Next I moved the 1090T chip to the 770 board, again the CnQ worked perfect. Finally I put the 1055T in the Asus board, BINGO the problem immediately hit again. With this information in hand i was able to get a test copy of a newer BIOS from Asus and the problem continues to persist. I have sent all the material I have accumulated over the last few days of testing to AMD for them to forward to Asus.
Now this would normally be the end of the story, I would tell people to pass on the Crosshair right now unless they are aware of this issue and know they might have to work around it until Asus gets this resolved. However this incident got me thinking and so I went back over my older notes.
This board marks the third time that I have seen an Asus motherboard at the time of a new AMD processor release. This is the third time that I have found a BIOS glitch in the Asus board. This is a disturbing trend. Now I am not saying that anyone should not buy Asus boards but in each of these instances I was looking at one of their top boards. These where not inexpensive parts but the cream of the Asus crop.
I can tell you that I personally will recommend people hold off on Asus high end boards until they have had a few BIOS updates. This particular incident is not a show stopper. The issue does not show up on everything and so far I have found it is actually only happening in a few instances. However the fact is that when it does hit the processor is running at only a fraction of it’s potential. A less experienced DIYer could find himself in extreme levels of frustration with AMD and ASUS over an incident like this. It would be easy for a less experience tech to blame the processor in this case even.
Again let me say I love the features and look of the Crossfire IV. This is a serious enthusiast motherboard and has a feature set worth the cost. However until the BIOS issue is resolved I would suggest either waiting for your purchase or looking elsewhere.
The server issues at HTL continue. Paul and the staff at HTL are still working with the provider to get the server running again as it should. At this time it looks like it might be a few days to completely get the site back up and running.
Again Paul asks me to convey his apologies for this and to let everyone know he is working hard to get the site back up.
Been on the phone with Paul for most of the afternoon. Abut 2:00 PM CST today the server for the HTL web site suffered some kind of error. Paul and the staff of HTL are working with the hosting service to get this matter resolved as quickly as possible.
Paul asked me to post here and express his apologizes for those trying to access the site. He is working as quickly as possible to get this resolved. In the mean time check back here for updates as Paul lets me know more on what is going on to get this resolved.
When AMD releases a new CPU it seems the marketing department cannot help themselves and they once again try to give the new CPU a clever name to differentiate it from the previous models. Well with the coming of the 890FX chipset and the Phenom II X6 we now have LEO. I will in a later blog spend a bit more time talking about the new platform but for right now I want to talk about the Phenom II X6.
With the introduction of a 6 core processor to the market AMD has taken the Phenom II CPU series up a notch. While it carries the Phenom II name it is not your same old Phenom II. Well at least not inside. The good news is this new chip carries forward a great tradition AMD has embraced, backward compatibility. This chip will work in AM2+ and AM3 motherboards provided they have the proper support in BIOS.
As for the internal changes, the new 6 core line of course has the obvious move from 4 to 6 cores giving the chip a lot more muscle in multithreaded applications. However that is not where I want to start.
Lets start with the fact that most of today’s apps have zero need for 6 cores. Yes you heard me right there are few apps yet today that truly make any use of more than 2 cores at one time. With this in mind it is easy to think back to the early days of the first quad cores. They where essentially slower CPUs with a few extra cores that for the most part just took up space.
AMD realized this and took steps to correct past perceptions. While the chips are slightly slower at stock speeds, the 1090T is clocked at 3.2 GHz and a 965 quad is at 3.4 GHz, they are not slower at dual core apps. The 1090T makes use of Turbo Core to boost the chip’s core clocks to 3.6 GHz when the apps in use do not need multithreading.
The idea is that when not needing all 6 cores the chip can run up to three cores at a higher speed and thus be quicker than the quad core chip running all of it’s core at the same speed. The idea is sound and works well. The 1090T runs dead even and even a little ahead of the Phenom II 965 quad when running lightly threaded apps. For the novice the term lightly threaded is geek speak for the real world.
You see in the real world of every day computer use, stuff like surfing the net, word processing and so on there is no need for so many cores. So the quad looks at the real world and says, I can be useful, and kicks things up a notch to give a nice little speed bump. This also translates into a boost during gaming. As mist games only use two cores still this means despite the slower stock speed the 6 core still runs right with the AMD quads.
However sometimes you will run across an app that makes use of more than 3 cores. The CPU needs to do some heavy lifting. No problem the core speeds drop back to their base speeds and the chip rips open it’s shirt, Hulk Hogan style and shows off six cores of flexing processor muscle.
This makes the new chips a very versatile work horse. The chip is equally at home in the family PC or the enthusiast tweaked out rig. It can run simple tasks, games or even complex rendering programs with equal capability.
In fact when the full set of 6 cores engage this is when the Phenom II X6 shines. In heavily threaded apps my testing showed the chip was in a dead heat with Intel quad core chips running at the same clock speed. This is really interesting when you realize those Intel chips cost quite a bit more money.
While the web is abuzz about these new chips in particular the 1090T I want to instead focus on it’s little brother, the 1055T. (All references to the performance of the 1055T where obtained by reducing the chip multiplier of the 1090T to the appropriate settings to mimic the 1055T, once I can get my hands on an actual 1055T I will post an update with direct reference material on that chip.) Clocked at 2.8 GHz with Turbo kicking the chip up to 3.3 GHz. This means in apps that are not heavy in multithreading the 1055T will deliver nearly equal performance to the Phenom II 965, in heavy threading the 1055T slaps the 965 silly. In fact in my testing the AMD Quads have to reach a speed 1 GHz above that of the 6 Cores in order to approach their performance. This translates directly into a 1055T at stock speeds being equal to a 965 at 3.8Ghz for heavily threaded apps.
When you realize that the 1055T costs about the same as the 965 you begin to get an idea why I would be more excited about this chip. Oh wait though it gets even better.
If you recall back when the i5 750 came out I commented that with price and experience being equal the i5 by virtue of better performance was able to steal away the $200 price point from AMD with a solid grip. Well that grip is slipping.
The 1055T still delivers the same experience as the 965 and the i5 and comes in at the same price point but when you hit heavy threading it steps away nicely. In fact the chip is competitive with the next step up, the i7 920, a more expensive chip.
This heavy threaded performance is a big deal and needs to be brought into focus. When the move from dual to quad was made in CPUs there was little in the way of software that made use of more than 2 cores. However now we see a steadily growing supply of apps that make use of a quads capabilities. The thing is that when something can use the full power of a quad it seems it can also use the full power of 6 cores as well. This means the availability of apps that can use this extra brute force is much bigger than it was when the quads came on the scene and will do nothing but grow. This tied with the fact AMD has managed to bring in this ability at a reasonable price makes this processor release one of the more exciting in a long time.
If we put our focus on pure benchmarks it is easy to find faster chips on the market today. If however we forgo the world of clinical, sanitized, beyond reality numbers and focus on the everyday, the real world, factor in price, capabilities and the easy upgrade path these chips there is only one conclusion. In the real world the lion (Leo) really is the king of the jungle.
A big thank you to AMD and Asus for providing the Processor and Motherboard used in this testing.
On today’s show Damon Munzy joined us on the air live and discussed the Phenom II X6 processors. We where given the distinct honor of being the first show to give any kind of sanctioned performance information. We had a great interview and it is a definite must listen. The folks at Hi Tech Legion have hosted the show in it’s entirety for download. Go over and take a listen…
I don’t know about you but I hate using a laptop. They seem slow and sluggish when I compare them to my desktop that I use everyday. Now don’t get me wrong I understand I have a powerful desktop machine and I am prepared to cut my poor $600 laptop some slack but seem things just do not seem right, like taking 3 minutes to boot.
I tried a few tricks early on, moved from Vista to Windows 7, put in a 2 gig flash memory chip for Readyboost and every Windows tweak I could think of but none of that helped. While the dual core processor in the laptop is not a beast it is pretty snappy once I get the programs to load. The 3 gigs of memory might seem light but for a 32 bit OS it is plenty and I am not really multitasking. Besides again once the programs load the system is more than quick, it is that annoying load time. I also run a clean OS AV software is always running in the background and MSE does not really slow down any PC I have ever seen.
The truth is for years we have know a laptop that was reasonably priced was never going to approach the performance of a desktop system. Limits due to heat and power just force the laptop components to slower speeds. Graphics cards in all but the most expensive laptops provide a decent everyday usage and maybe even play some simpler or older games but that is the main cause for the laptops lackluster performance.
Today’s laptops mostly use a hard drive spinning at 5400 RPM. Most of these drives have around a 12ms seek time, this is how quick they can find the data they need. Additionally they are slower in transfer rates and generally make the system feel bogged down. When we compare these drives to typical desktop hard drives the speed difference is noticeable. To quantify this however I compared the Toshiba 5400 drive that came stock in my laptop to a Caviar Green drive in Lisa’s machine. The Green was 66% FASTER than the laptop drive. This is a big deal when you realize that the Green is consider one of the slower desktop HDs.
However it is not just benchmarks that show this, the experience reflects it as well. Lisa is happy to daily sit down at her computer and do the work she needs to do, but when we go on the road she hates using the laptop. When she talks to me about it she sounds like a broken record, I hate how long it takes everything to load.
However we have some good news, there is a way to take that slow loading laptop and make it a monster system, that is to use an SSD. Now I know what you are going to say, SSDs are expensive and is it worth doing that to a $600 machine. Well good news for you, over the last few months SSD prices have fallen nicely and you can now get a nice selection of 60/64 Gig SSD drives for under $200.
Okay we will stop right here, why? Because I can hear the groaning now, 60 Gig? Yes folks 60 Gig and that is plenty for a laptop that is being used as a laptop. I have talked in the past about the packrat mentality and how with some effort we can reduce the need for HD space drastically. If you are using your laptop as a portable computer, for web, some light office work and maybe to play a game or two on the road. The key is understanding the limitations of a typical inexpensive laptop.
To give you an idea of how tight you can get your storage, I did a fresh install on a 60 Gig HD, the Solid 2 SSD provided by OCZ for this article. We put on Windows 7 Professional 32 Bit, a full Install of Office Home and Business 2010. For fun I loaded up Impulse and got the full version of Sins of a Solar Empire Trinity as well as a Steam and a couple of more basic games for Lisa. I also loaded MapPoint 2009 and installed my GPS drivers. I put on Security Essentials for security, setup a secured Admin profile and mine and Lisa’s separate profiles and ended with making sure all updates where in place.
This gives the system a nice rounding of software ranging from gaming to business applications. So popping open Explorer I see we have…. 42.6 Gig Free. We have used about 30% of the space this drive offers and that is it. We still have room for some music and pictures if we like. Perhaps even a movie. I still hear people moaning but that is because we have been made subject to this packrat mentality when it comes to our PCs. Over the years the HD makers have made the drives bigger and bigger, we should have been asking for faster. So how much is 42.6 Gig? Lets look..
A 41 page word document that I have on my system comes in at 78K, so that means I need 12800 or so of these to make 1 gig. Okay lets try something a bit bigger, I have the PDF of the manual for my Breeze 2 Blood Sugar Meter. That is a 2.5 meg document, so that means I can store 400 of these manuals and take up 1 gig. I did a quick look and found a folder with 113 family pictures, the folder and it’s sub came out to 197 meg. That means I could fit roughly 5 of those folders or 565 pictures in 1 gig. Finally we come to music and movies… I have a copy of Down Periscope I keep on my PC, I love that movie, and it comes in right at 1 gig. For music I have typically stored on my system the Greatest Hits Albums of Queen ( all three of them), Boston, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, REO and Poison as well as the entire works of Weird Al. All of that combines to 721 meg of space and is over 17 hours of music.
So if I add 12800 word documents, 400 PDF manuals, 565 family pictures, a movie and 17 hours of music I have still got, 37 gig or so left to play with! So lets get real a 60/64 gig SSD is MORE than enough space for a laptop. But this is still around a $175 upgrade, is it worth that lets find out.
Starting with pure numbers we know that a Caviar Green 7200 RPM HD is 66% faster than a typical 5400 RPM laptop HD. Running the same test on the OCZ 60 gig Solid 2 SSD we find that the SSD is 375% faster than the 5400 RPM drive. THAT IS HUGE! But it is not just in benchmarks that this difference shows. Remember how I talked about a 3 minute boot with the 5400 RPM drive, with the SSD that boot is now around 30 seconds! As if that was not enough there is still more, applications across the board open faster, hugely faster.
When I tested this I did not tell Lisa of the change, just that I was cleaning up the system. She sat down with the laptop and not 3 minutes past before she was asking me what I had done. She told me the laptop was now faster than her desktop machine and she wanted to know if I could clean that machine up for her as well.
Not all that long ago I took my first look at an SSD drive and I said then that on a desktop system there was no single upgrade that could give a bigger boost to the computing experience than the move to an SSD. I stand by that statement today but will go further and say that the change to the computing experience of a laptop is beyond a change, it is a transformation of a small machine we tolerate on the road to get things done when we are not at home to a real computer that is actually fun to use!
If you have a laptop and want to give it a kick for a reasonable cost make the move to SSD, you will never look back.
Special thanks to the folks at OCZ for providing the Solid 2 Drive used in this review. BTW Lisa said you cannot have the drive back.
Well if you did not yet know I took this week off from Computer Ed. Lisa had her final fitting for her wedding dress this weekend so we spent it with her parents. I am lucky in that I really enjoy the company of my in-laws to be. I have however been productive during this off time and have finalized some material for upcoming shows.
First up will be a look at budget level SSDs and how they perform. We will explore the effects of a sub $200 SSD upgrade on a laptop and what it does to the computing experience.
Next we will be talking about our second build project of the year, Vision:X-Ray. I will be taken some of the upper crust AMD product line to the next level and building a pure, overclocking gaming machine. This machine has one purpose, gaming fast!
We have also had some good suggestions on the HTL forums for new show ideas and I am already working to get a representative from a major RAM company to speak with us about RAM timings and speed and what they really mean to the computing experience. I am also trying to line up an interview to discuss what 3D technology for your computer and TV really is.
Of course I am still open to ideas for the show, so head over to the Hi Tech Legion Forum and drop a note with your ideas for new show projects and topics.
Until next week all, be safe….
The folks over at Hi Tech Legion have given the Computer Ed Show and this blog our own forum space. This means for all our listeners and readers we now have a place to go to for discussion of the radio show pieces as well as the blog entries. However it gets better, HTL will also be hosting a recording of each Computer Ed Show in it’s entirety. This means you can still listen to our Show if you are forced to miss it or live in a region where it is not available. The first show to be posted will be the show airing on April 25th. All shows will be available for download within 48 hours of the airing.
This is an amazing opportunity for this show as it gives us a chance to reach a broader audience with our style of every-man computer reviews and commentary. It also means our listeners now will be part of a growing computer community that will bring then a wider range of opinions and options for getting the most out of their computing experience.
It is our hope that this cooperative effort will give both of our respect communities a chance to grow and prosper. So go on over to Hi Tech Legion, register and join us in the forums.
I got a wonderful opportunity today and was able to quickly put together a live interview on the show with Simon Solotko from AMD. It was a great opportunity to get some info on the Phenom II X6 and I cannot thank Simon enough for giving up some of his Sunday afternoon to do this.
Paul over at Hi Tech Legion agreed to host the file and you can download it there if you missed the interview. You can also join in a forum Q&A session with Simon to get more information or even ask your own questions. The links for each are below.
You know over the years a lot of mythology has built up around the PC and what makes a good PC or a bad one. Some of this has to due with the heavy emphasis that so many of the enthusiast sites put on benchmarks. Some have their basis in an industry which continues to spend more time confusing consumers that working with them and some comes from just purely false information. I thought we would take some time this week to look at a few of these myths and give you accurate information.
Intel/AMD has the best processor, the other company is not as good a choice.
This is one of the most common misconceptions that beginning DIYers are hit with. Lets clarify right now, there is one best processor currently on the market. I know a lot of fan boys are right now preparing their flame throwers for attack but the truth can hurt some times. There are two facts to consider when looking at a processor, the first is Intel currently has the fastest processor. AMD fanboys put down the guns and relax. Intel currently owns the speed crown and that fact is beyond dispute pure and simple. However the second fact is that AMD is a better value in platform cost.
Okay now the benchmark junkies and Intel fanboys are up in arms, see I tick off everyone. AMD right now offers a great computing experience with a lower overall cost for an equal experience. Benchmarks show clinical numbers derived from a set of conditions that seldom if ever exist in the real world. You stick an Intel or AMD based system in a home and 90% of the time the family will not see any difference in the computing experience. However when measuring the budget the family will see a difference with AMD typically coming in at a lower cost.
So I am saying AMD is the better choice? No, I am saying that each offers something and the needs of the consumer should determine which is the best fit. Both provide and excellent computing experience, both are stable, solid products. There is no right or wrong choice here.
Discrete Video Cards are not just for gaming.
Man this one goes against a lot of the current trend but it is focused at companies more than consumers this time. You see the video card industry is right now caught up in a race to prove they can do more with their video card than just play games but the truth is that is all consumers are worried about right now. Ask the consumer on the street about discrete graphics and the vast majority will tell you they are for gaming, and the truth is right now they are right.
The simple truth is right now the discrete video card does not offer enough besides gaming performance over integrated graphics to justify the cost. Oh I know some claim it helps with photo editing but I have yet in ANY test using photo editing software to see this be true, every instance saw integrated video handle photo editing just fine. Now the counter argument is that in Photoshop the discrete cards offer a boost and this is true but of the MANY homes out there how many do you know that will pay $300 for a program to remove red eye? In fact how many do you know that have enough knowledge about photo editing to even begin to use Photoshop? The simple truth is most people use very basic photo editing software that does NOT benefit from a discrete card.
At this point the nVidia fan boys will jump out and show us CUDA and transcoding. This sounds great but again lets get into the real world here. Why would a home pay around $150 to save a little bit of time when putting a movie on their iPod? The truth is they would not. Even more than that they would not notice the difference in the end. Oh they might realize the system was quicker at the job but not enough for them to think their money was well spent.
Don’t worry AMD is not left out of the mix on this either. In a recent AMD blog this was posted… “Graphics are not just important for gamers. Many consumers, and even some executives working in the graphics industry, are confused about the fact that graphics touch almost everything consumers do on their PCs — from watching their favorite TV show on Hulu, to viewing photos from their past vacation to Skyping with family across the country.”
This was used as an excuse to promote the concept of discrete graphics cards. Sorry but this is seriously high and outside on the pitch. While the concept is true, graphics is important, the premise that more powerful is needed is not. Watching TV, looking at photos and even video conferencing works fine with integrated video. In fact this is funny as the idea of pushing we need more powerful graphics beyond the base means AMD is claiming that their base, such as the 780G is not enough, yet it was sold to us as enough.
The corporations need to wrap their head around a simple concept, if the consumer did not get a benefit they can see, touch and taste they got no benefit. The consumer base as a whole can SEE the huge change in their computing experience when using discrete over integrated for gaming. The other so called changes just do not register. The unspoken truth is that integrated graphics have reached the level that for all but the MOST demanding application, they have all the horse power they need.
The simple truth is discrete graphic solutions are really useful for one thing, gaming. Everything else is not worth the effort by themselves for the cost.
Hardware changes to fast, buy the biggest you can get or have to buy again next year.
This is an ancient myth, in computer terms based in an old but now gone fact. Modern computers today, even relatively inexpensive ones can be productive for as much as 5 years and in some cases longer based on how you use your computer. Gaming computers, the ones that push the envelope the most can now have realistic lives of around 3 years. In fact I can back this with the words of Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games. In a recent interview we where discussing gaming and the way the developers look at hardware. Chris told me he tries to make his games where they run GREAT on hardware as much as 5 years old. He went on to explain that to many people are so caught up in the hardware they forget a great game is made from the game and how it pulls you in, not the technology. Since that interview I have heard the same thing said from CCP, Bioware, Cryptic and Blizzard. The software developers seem to agree that games are about the games not the technologies.
Recent changes in hardware and the fact that hardware has outpaced software at such a heavy pace means that now components that would before be considered budget or middle of the road have a life span nearly as long on the more expensive components. This means it is possible today to buy a more cost effective machine and still get a solid life span from your investment.
CPUs and GPUs are the only things that make a fast computer…
Now this is not totally false but the truth is they are no longer as big a factor in the overall computing experience. Now I know a lot of people are about to scream but follow me for a moment. The average user will have a hard time telling a major difference in their computing experience between a $100 processor and a $300 processor. The same is true between a $150 video card and a $350 video card. However now take that same user and lets change up some other components.
Take out the old spindle drive and stick in an SSD. Even the most novice user will notice a dramatic change in the way the computer behaves and how the experience is.
The truth here is that the CPU and GPU industry is slowing down right now. Well they are not slowing down but the impact of what they produce is. Each new CPU and GPU today gives us more but it is more of the same and is in incremental steps, it is becoming boring. However look at the storage industry right now and the SSD. No single component change in a computer right now can so dramatically change the feel of the entire PC.
A fast computer today is no longer about the CPU and GPU alone but is now the sum of all it’s parts. We need to quit looking at a PC as the individual parts and see it instead as the whole.
To get the best computing experience you need to get ……. (fill in with favorite hardware)
This is one of the biggest myths today. Enthusiasts have gotten so wrapped up in their benchmarks and numbers they have forgotten computers are about the programs they run, NOT the hardware that runs them. To put this in an easier to understand form; A great car is only great if it makes a great trip, the trip not the car is what defines the experience.
The enthusiast community has gotten so wrapped up in hardware and individual components that they have forgotten that at the end of the day the components mean NOTHING without the software. A great computing experience is when your computer does what you want it to do. When you edit family pictures you do not worry about the video card you are using. When you listen to your music you could care less about what processor your system has. When you enjoy a great game the components you chose are meaningless as long as they are enough to enjoy the game. Do you really think some gamer playing WoW cares if he is playing on a 5750 or a 5870 with his 19” monitor?
The best computing experience is about what you do, not the hardware that does it.
What does all this mean for you, the average consumer? Worry about what you want to do with the PC, not the PC itself. Once you know what you are going to do with your system the hardware to do it is easy to find, especially since in most cases even the most basic modern computer will be fine. Focus on the journey, not the transportation.