For last weeks show we aired an interview I did with Daniel Stahl from Cryptic Studios about their flagship game Star Trek Online. In the interview Daniel laid out some subtle hints of some of what the future holds for STO and some not so subtle. I have received quite a few emails asking if I could separate out that interview for the STO community. You see the interview was imbedded in the entire show link due to our holiday giveaway. However with the contest officially over I decided to separate out the interview just for the STO community.
Merry Christmas STO
With Christmas right around the comer I will not have time to do my normal Sunday blog post so I will instead post now to congratulate all our winners from this years Holiday Giveaway. I would like to begin however by thanking the companies that sponsored this years giveaway.
Now on to the winners:
Week 1: Eli Elimelech of Rishon Leziyon won a Challenger Pro Keyboard and Black Series Mouse.
Week 2: Chris Robbins of Toledo, OH won a Coolit Vantage ALC
Week 3: Gaurav Rajasekar of San Diego, CA won a SSDNow V100 series 128 Gig SSD
Week 4: Al Mix of Rockford, Il won a HD 6850 video card.
Week 5: Sandy Aul of Murphysboro, IL; Chris Jenkins of West-Midlands, Great Britain and Patrick Gerard of East Ellijay, GA each won a coupon good for three free months of play on Star Trek Online.
Congratulations to all our winners and a thank you to everyone that entered. I must say the locations of our entries surprised me as I did not realize we where reaching so many people with the live web show as well as the podcast from the blog. I hope you will all keep listening to the Computer Ed Radio Show.
Merry Christmas Everyone
Usually this blog and show covers basic mainstream product lines but we had a unique opportunity this week and the fortunes brought us two of the “luxury” end of video cards for a direct head to head comparison. The above $300 price range is typically the area of the extreme gamer, heavy duty folder or the middle aged geek having a mid life crisis. With this in mind I took up the challenge of putting the EVGA GTX 570 SC head to head with the newly released XFX HD 6970. Both of these cards come in very close to the $350 price point and in my opinion offer the highest point that the majority of us would ever consider. Oh do not get me wrong there are more expensive cards but most people just have a hard time spending this high let alone higher.
Since this blog and my show is directed at the more mainstream we will be testing the products at the 1080 resolution and a 1055T processor to reflect a more mainstream approach and we will use part of this review to compare what this higher cost “luxury” level component offers and if it is worth the cost over a more typical mainstream card.
The two cards I am looking at today are both on the shelf models, not the typical engineering samples we usually get for review. The EVGA GTX 570 is a fairly new release with nVidia getting this chips out so they could steal some of AMDs thunder for the release of the 6900 series. The XFX 6970 is built using the recently released AMD chip and is the current high end card of the AMD line up.
Right out of the gate it is easy to begin comparisons. The cards actually have a similar look as far as fan placement and the plastic shroud. The 570 however is almost a full inch smaller than the 6970. Both cards use top mounted power connectors with the 570 using dual 6 pin and the 6970 requires an 8 and a six pin connector.
Moving around to the connection end of the cards we find the 6970 has dual DVI as well as dual Displayport connectors plus an HDMI, the 570 sports the dual DVI connectors and an HDMI connector. Looking closer we see that the 6970 has a smaller heat exhaust port then the 570, we will see what this means for heat in a bit.
Since these cards are really meant for one thing, gaming, I began my testing by firing up a few games that I have laying around. For the MMO market we tested using STO, for the FPS market I fired up Mafia II and Medal of Honor, I also took a look at F1, Supreme Commander II, Civilization as well as Mass Effect 2. I figure this gave me a solid look across the various play styles. As we neared the end of the review I was able to squeak a few more titles in for the subjective testing.
Across the board the system was set with default driver settings, game settings at maximum everything the resolution se to to 1920×1080. I can tell you the results where a pure joy to behold in that everything I threw at this played smooth and looked great on both cards. As for the benchmark numbers it was a dead heat for all intents and purposes. The 570 won a few more than the 6970 but not all of them.
I threw a few tessellations into the mix because this was the early claim of superiority from AMD on the initial DX 11 releases and they had fallen off to a superior system from nVidia, could the 6900 series recover? Well it was a nice boost over the old 5800 series and shows AMD is moving in the right direction but with tessellation running full bore the 6970 just could not catch the 570.
As I said earlier one of the big draws besides gaming or trying to make yourself feel techier was the use of the parallel processing power for folding or distributive computing. Folding@Home is the single biggest use for this I can find looking through the various enthusiast web sites so I fired it up and put these two cards to the test. The difference was STAGGERING with the 570 destroying the 6970 in this test. Now I know people are going to point out that the Folding software is heavily optimized on the nVidia end and it shows. However as I pointed out this is a PRIME buying consideration for this level of card and thus the reasoning does not matter to the consumer the results do if this is something that is important to them.
As we noticed looking at the cards the nVidia card used dual 6 pin power while the AMD required an 8 and 6, what does this mean for power consumption, nothing. When we looked at the power draws of the system using both cards at idle the numbers where nearly identical with the 6970 drawing a couple of watts less. At load the difference stayed with the 6970 actually using a little less power.
We had also notice that the 6970 had a smaller exhaust port than the 570, our concern was that this would result in less heat expulsion and perhaps higher temps. Our suspicions where right. The 6970 was actually 4c warmer under load but that was not all. The smaller exhaust area seemed to also result in more of the warm air escaping into the case with the overall internal case air temp rising 3C. Despite using less power the 6970 was leaving more heat around.
Both designs had very quiet fans in their design. Despite running full tilt neither card pushed it fans above 50% of it’s speed and both where whisper quite.
Our subjective testing revealed what I expected after my first test run, there was no noticeable difference in gaming experience with either card. Well at least not from a performance view point. We did find some issues with a few games that required certain settings be lower or turned off for the 6970 to run without crashes. This brings up a point that will be addressed in the next few weeks in a different article.
The final comparisons we performed was to look at these two cards in a quick comparison with their mainstream counterparts, the GTX 460 and the 6870. The results where that at 1080 the lower costs cards delivered a nearly equal gaming experience across the games we tested. However notice it was nearly equal. What was noticed was the higher settings gave the games a little better appearance. Among my testers the unanimous choice however was to save the money based on the level of difference they saw.
With all this in mind it is hard to call a clear winner between these two cards. The price point is within $10 to $20 and at this range that is not a difference worth noting. The heat and power consumption numbers are very close and nothing really stood out on either card from these numbers enough to make a clear choice. With those areas in a virtual tie we then move to the intangibles.
The 6970 offers a greater level of freedom when it comes to hooking up displays. The use of a single card to get a larger number of displays, as much as 6, firing at once is nice but still hampered by cost and lets face it room. However in the rarified air of the “luxury” users this is still a very viable consideration.
The 570 brings to the table a mature GPU computing environment with CUDA. While DirectComputer and OpenCL might be the future for GPU computing that future is still a ways off, Cuda is a much richer and mature environment at this time. PhysX cannot be ignored either. While Bullet is making inroads we still must deal with the current situation and Physx is out there in the wild and usable today. Finally we come to 3D. I am not a fan of this technology as many know but the truth is that it is here, the masses want it and that is the reality. The other reality is that nVidia is a good bit ahead of AMD in this technology and it’s implementation.
While these are both great cards and ANYONE would be happy using them I have to give this horse race to the GTX 570 by a nose. The raw performance is close enough to each other that the cards are dead even at that stage but when it comes to making use of in the wild today level technology the GTX 570 has a solid edge.
As for using this level of “luxury” card instead of a mainstream I am torn. While the subjective reviewers though it was not worth the cost I am not so sure. The extra $150 gets you a nicer image quality and a chance to hold off a bit longer on the next upgrade. Remember however that the only reason to really do this is gaming pure and simple. Other uses of the card do not see any real improvement over a solid mainstream card, okay you can fold a bit more.
AMD made some great strides with the 6900 series and I think they are heading in the right direction but they got sucker punched by nVidia. The 6900 was supposed to go head to head with the GTX 400 series and in that fight they would have had a clear win. However nVidia pulled the GTX 500 series rabbit out of its hat and then played a serious round house with the GTX 570 at the last second. When the 6900 should have been a leader it is in a tight race, catching AMD off guard.
Horse Race Segment Aired 19 December 2010
While I tend to focus on the geeks whit a lot of the stuff I look at there are a lot of people out there that are not geeks but still make good, serious use of their computers. There are some great gift ideas if you know their focus, I thought we would give you a few this week.
1) NETCAM: Do you have family spread all over creation and want to stay in touch with a bit more than a phone call, then the NETCAM is the way to go. These simple devices can easily mount to the top of your monitor and allow you to have a video call with loved ones. I use a Logitech camera at home for my son to talk to his grandparents a few times a week and that time has become priceless to them. You can buy NETCAMs ranging from $20 to over $100. I personally think the sweet spot is around $50. Look for a camera that does at least 720 HD and has a build in microphone with noise canceling. Of the various brands you can buy my personal experience is that you cannot go wrong with Microsoft or Logitech.
2) External HD: I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to a home to do work and asked about backups only to get a “deer in the headlights” expression. While the online backup systems are great my experience has been that the automation will fail when you need it most, so I always suggest a manual solution used in concert with the automated and the external HD is the best way to do this. The Seagate Freeagent Go and Western Digital Passport Essentials have been the two best solutions I have seen. They draw their power from the USB connection so there is no need for a power cord. Just plug them in, copy the files you want to backup and unplug that, that easy. The small size makes them easy to store and the single connection means you can easily remove them when you are done instead of leaving them hooked up as the bigger solutions tend to have done.
3) DAZZLE: a lot of people have old videos they would love to convert to digital. In fact this is one of the fastest growing segments of the none geeks in computer use. Rather than sending off your cherished family videos and then wait for a stranger to do the work the Dazzle gives you the tools to do it yourself. The physical part of the device plugs into a USB port and then allows for the hook up of pretty much any VHS or camcorder. Once hooked up the software allows you to capture the video as it plays in front of you and even do some editing to it. Once the video is capture you can then put it on DVD or sent it to family or friends to view on their PCs. Even upload it to YouTube if you like. This device is really easy to use and even the most novice can be up and working in short order.
4) Headset: Usually when someone things of a headset for a PC they think of gamers and using voice communications software. While this is the major use, it is far from the only one. Headsets allow you to do some pretty good quality audio recordings to your PC. These work well for use with online phone services like Skype, video calls that require a bit more privacy, even listening to music and not disturbing others in the room. A good headset can actually make the sounds you hear more immersive than all but the most expensive set of speakers. If all you are going to do is listen then a good set of headphones are great but the versatility of a good headset is hard to beat. While there are many great brands out there my personal choice is Plantronics. I feel they offer the best mix of great quality and reasonable prices.
If real immersion is the goal, or you are buying to keep you from hearing what the other person is doing then a full over the ear set is suggested. I would put these against the best surround sound speakers for immersion into whatever you are listening too. The better sets come with an inline volume control so you can raise or lower the volume as you wish. This is gift not just for the person receiving but sometimes the person giving as well
5) For Dummies: This book series has helped more people figure out how to use their computer than any number of continuing education classes at a local community college. The series includes books on various operating systems, a bunch of basic programs, genealogy, digital photography and more.
These books take concepts that people are having trouble understanding and break them down into easy to understand lessons and instructions including some graphics to help you follow along and a good amount of humor blending in to make it fun.
There are other basic help books for using your PC but my experience has shown me that the For Dummies series is till the best you can get.
Now these are just a few of the ideas that are available but hopefully this will get you started. Remember not just the geeks in your life can benefit from some good tech shopping this Christmas season.
It seems every year I have this same question posed to me; Should I get a laptop instead of a desktop system?
The laptop has over the last few years been enjoying a “cool” and “techie” factor that has made it so impressive to many people but is it really a better purchasing choice for most people. Well lets look at the pros and cons of getting a laptop instead of a desktop system.
Portability: Without a doubt it is very nice to have the ability to easily move the laptop around. Oh you can move around your desk top but it requires unplugging cables, moving various parts and plugging them back in. The tower itself can weigh as much as 30 pounds so ease of movement is not a desktops focus. There is something to be said for taking a laptop and sitting in the backyard on a warm spring morning, reading email and enjoying a cup of coffee.
Small Size: To enjoy the above mentioned portability laptops are small. The entire computer of a laptop can take up an area not much larger than just the keyboard of a full size computer.This means if you have limited desk space a laptop will use less of it.
All In One Design: The fact that the entire computer is built into one unit means no cabling mess around your computer. The keyboard, mouse, screen all run a single cord out for power so the cable rats nest that a desktop system has does not exist.
Now that we have looked at the Pros, how about we explore the Cons.
Cramped Experience: The small size of the laptop translates often into a cramped feeling when actually using the machine. The smaller screen lets you get less data at once or makes it very small and hard to read. The keyboard is squished together and can for some flee cramped and be hard to use for extended durations of typing. The pointing devices built into laptops are to say the least harder to use than a traditional mouse. Without a lot of practice they lack the easy of use and feeling of control a mouse offers.
Heat: Heat is the number one enemy of a computer and a laptop despite design efforts is a lousy design for removing heat. The very nature of a laptop was designed for short term use, something the typical home user does not due. The small size means there is less of a pathway for air flow and so heat does not leave a laptop as quickly. You can buy additional coolers for the laptop to counter this but the effect is not pronounced.
Horsepower to Value: Laptops must due to small size and the heat issues mentioned use slower components in an effort to keep size, heat and power consumption down. This results in a laptop having less raw computing horsepower than a desktop at a similar price. Using a $700 price point and Best Buy I will illustrate my point. At this price point you can get a Dell Laptop with an i3, 4 Gig DDR3, 500 Gig 5400 RPM HD and a 15” monitor. In a desktop you can get a Dell or Lenovo system using an i3 but faster clock speed model, 6 gigs of RAM, a 1TB HD at 7200 RPM and a 20” monitor. You can also with that desktop mentioned typically also get a printer included at that price.
Repairs: The small cramped nature of the Laptop means a more specialized part selection is needed for repairs. Often the result is that it is better to send it to the manufacturer for repairs than to do it locally. Even Best Buy does not do laptop repairs on site, instead the work as a middleman and still ship to the manufacturer or to a central repair clearing house.
Upgrades: A families needs will change often over the course of a computers life time and that might require upgrades to help the computer keep up. While you can add RAM to a laptop and possibly even upgrade the HD, one of the biggest areas of upgrades in a home PC is the addition of a discrete video card, something typical laptops cannot do. The upgrade path on a laptop is more restricted than a desktop.
I am not saying that laptops are bad computers. If you need portability for any reason they do a great job. However for a family the laptop lacks the versatility that a desktop system offers in the same price point. If the computer is going to be put in a computer room and left to set then a desktop system is the better buy every time. If you are a jetsetter, someone that is always on the road and wants your personal PC with you then a laptop is a no brainer.
Okay so I mentioned the two extremes, what about the rest of us that fall in-between? Well for the rest of us the decision is based on need and preference. For example I have found that for me I have both. I have my desktop system that is used daily and is where I work from at home. I have a laptop but only use it when I am on the road for a few days.
For most people I think the desktop is still the better buy right now. You get more for your money and a system that is easier to repair. If however you truly have a burning desire to have your laptop with you on the porch in the morning for coffee then a laptop may fit your needs.
The key in all of this is looking at your needs. Find what machine will give you the features you want and need most.