Well if you missed it live you can listen to the recording here of our first show using the new 3 hour format. We had a few teething pains with a different board, software and a new layout but overall things went smoother than expected and we had a blast. I invite you to give it a listen if you missed it live and then tune in next week for the live show. You can listen live online at WGGH.net and even enjoy some behind the scene sneak peeks with the live webcam.
However there is more, listen to our first show and then jump over to our Facebook page and there you can comment on what you liked or disliked most about this show. By making that comment you are entered to win a Logitech G500 mouse, provided by our friends at Overclockersclub.com, Just post your comments about the show and next Sunday we will pick a winner from the comments and ship them this nice gaming mouse.
I mean seriously, listen to a fun show and then take 30 seconds to post a thought about the show for a chance to get a $60 mouse for free, that’s a no brainer, what are you waiting for? Click the play button on the right for the most recent show recording and enjoy the show.
We look forward to hearing your comments.
As I have been preparing for the show this week, our first in the new 3 hour format, I have been working on various show related projects. It was not until just a few hours again, as I lay in bed, that I realized that I had not been prepping an article for the blog this week. Oh I could thrown together an editorial or dig into the mountain of material we have and pull a quick review together but I do not want to short change any of you that way. We only do a blog entry once or twice a week typically and I want them to have enough prep to be worth your and my time.
So with that in mind I will leave you with this simply entry. I want to thank all of you that have listeners for a long time, this would not happening without you. I also want to thank the new listeners who are equally important as they are the ones helping us move forward. Be sure to tune in for our first LIVE 3 hour format show today at NOON CST. You can catch the live stream at WGGH.net and you might even get the treat, I think it is maybe it is a trick, of seeing us do the show on the netcam.
If you miss the live show be sure to check here this evening to get the recording.
See you all at noon.
Well this week is it, on Saturday Computer Ed Radio moves into its new spacious 3 hour home, from noon to 3:00 PM CST. You can listen to the show live every Saturday at the WGGH website and we will have a link on the blog direct to the live cast. This will be the primary show, we will continue the Sunday show through the end of the year but the main show is Saturdays. This means we will be posting recordings on the blog each week of only the full 3 hour show. Be sure to tune in because nothing beats the FUN of live radio.
This show is first and foremost about what you, our listeners want to hear. With this in mind when we get a request for a segment idea, or questions about a specific piece of hardware or software we do our best to try and put together the information you asked for. So when we had a listener ask about the Fractal Design Define XL we took the request to our contact at Fractal and they said sure, let’s give you one to play with.
The XL is the big brother of the Define R3, a full size tower that is designed around the concept of quiet computing. Quiet computing is an elusive quest that often forces tradeoffs between performance and noise. The reason for this in the end is heat. You see high performance parts generate heat, however to remove that heat we need fans to move the air through the case. Moving the air results in noise and thus as more heat is generated, so is more noise. To counter this the Define and other quiet designs use a sound dampening foam in the case to reduce to the noise that gets out. The problem is that same foam also acts as an insulation that keeps the heat in. Do you see the vicious circle we are creating here?
First look at the outside of the case reveals what we have come to expect from Fractal Designs, a simple, subdued design that shows elegance in its simplicity. Fractal cases do not have any bold lines or broad aesthetic strokes but there is a beauty in that simple appearance. The side panel has an opening to mount a 120mm or 140mm fan but the case comes stock with this covered internally by a large sound dampening pad. The rest is very plain and smooth, that subdued look we mentioned.
The front of the case sports a very solid door, again lined with sound dampening foam. The door is surrounded by opening to allow the front intake fans to pull air in. There are four large bays at the top of the case front for external drives and then the bottom half is a single door that opens to show the filtering for two 140mm fans, one is included stock. The filtering is easy to access but not easy to remove, it will have to be cleaned while mounted. You can also use three of the 4 drive openings at the top and mount a 120mm fan there as well. This will of course only leave you a single drive bay then for your optical drive; also this fan will not be filtered.
This is the kind of thinking we have come to expect from fractal, they have designed the case for near silent operation in stock mode but left you with options for some serious air flow upgrades should you choose to go with a more powerful component set.
The front control panel is 4 USB ports, headset jacks and ESATA as well as the power and reset. Now the model we got is purely USB 2 however a USB 3 equipped version is on the market. The rest of the top panel is solid and smooth, we do not see the optional chimney exhaust we have seen on all other fractal cases.
The rear of the case is again pretty typical of what you would expect of a case, your I/O area, the various expansion slots as well as grommeted holes for liquid cooling. There is an additional slot opening that can be used for the included fan controller that comes with the case. This is a simple, single knob controller that allows the three stock fans to hook to. There is however an atypical section in the back, above the rear fan and IO area is a grilled opening, interesting.
Opening the case we see that fractal has gone for a complete compartmentalization of the case. The shelf between the PSU/HD lower bay and the main upper bay is solid. An opening can be created with a panel that can be opened however with ample room behind the tray area for cable routing there is no reason to do this.
The lower compartment has some really large rubber feet along with a rubber liner to ensure the PSU is vibration dampened to reduce noise. These large pads also mean that there is a good amount of clearance between the bottom opening in the case and the PSU. This bottom opening by the way is fully filtered and the filter can be easily, removed and cleaned from the rear of the case.
Additionally in the bottom chamber we find 6 HD trays for mounting a lot of storage. Each tray is white metal with rubber mounts for 3.5” drives and are ready for 2.5” drives as well.
The upper bay is very large and open, this makes working this case super easy. The HD bay in the upper chamber can be rotated or even removed to allow for better air flow and longer video cards, though the case is large enough this is not a real issue. This bay adds 4 more HD mounts and an included 3.5” adapter for one of the 5″.25” bays means you can mount up to eleven 3.5” or ten 2.5” drives using the included mounting material. That is a lot of potential storage.
The motherboard tray has amble cable management holes. One of our complaints in other Fractal cases has been that these grommets were flimsy and did not fit well, that is not the situation with the XL. These grommets are made of good sturdy material and have a very tight fit. The tray also has a large back plate cutout that is covered by a door, access able form the back of the case. Now I can honestly say we are not sure why there is a door here, personally I would just take it off.
That big angular thing at the top of the case is not a support structure, that is a 180 mm exhaust fan. The fan is mounted at an angle and exhausts through the port we mentioned in the back of the case. This is an interesting design as it allows the fan to not just pull up warm air from within the case but actual help pull air from the front of the case more effectively than a traditional chimney fan. There is a tradeoff however; the placement of this fan will make it all but impossible to mount an enclosed liquid cooling solution without modifications to the case.
I did a search online and this case is hard to find in the US, pricing seems to be around $150 which is about what you would expect for a full size case designed for silent operations. To be honest I am not quite sure where I would put this case for a target audience. Its silent operation would make it a great case for in a home, used in the say the bedroom or living room where quiet operation is highly valued. I can see it used as a multimedia PC for its massive storage capability and silent operation. I mean thing about it, you could realistically get around 18 TB of storage in this case easy and have no issues using stock cooling. You could actually max out at 33 TB but that would have all the bays full and not allow much air movement around the drives. However the large size of this case, even with the subdued appearance might make it a rough sell for the wife in the living room.
Full towers generally make me think higher end PC, as you want room for all the components and to get a lot of air flow. However the effort to make the case silent also makes it have potential issues with heat and this is a big deal when working with high performance components.
Overall case quality was outstanding with the only exception being with the water cooling holes in the back. The grommets are obviously the wrong size for the holes and easily fall out with any amount of pressure. This is an easy fix with just suing a larger diameter grommet; hopefully Fractal will correct this on the next production run. The rest of the grommets in the case where excellent, thick enough to be sturdy yet flexible and fit very tight in their holes.
Build options are a mix bag, as the rotatable drive bay gives you options to enhance airflow or use more storage; however the exhaust fan setup limits your CPU cooler choices when it comes to enclosed liquid cooling. The cable routing is easy to do and the storage options and capacity is wide open.
When it comes to silent operation this case is the bomb, okay maybe the whisper would be more appropriate. The acoustical dampening does its job perfectly and the fans Fractal uses have good air flow with little noise further enhancing the silent operation. This however is done with only minor detriment to the cooling. Stock cooling is actually about what you would expect from the stock fan selection. I would not rush to building an overclocking monster in this case but you can build a solid system and keep it cool enough to not have issues. The optional fans will enhance the cooling further but even then I just cannot see building an overclocked, multi-high end card brute system in this case due to heat.
When it comes to the looks of this case it is spot on as all the cases from Fractal we have seen. Fractal has a very definite design philosophy it seems in case aesthetics and that is keeping it simple and clean. The XL has a very subdued appearance that will allow it blend in well in any environment.
While I like this case, the features and the looks as well as the overall construction, I am a bit confused at how define this cases target market. I can see this being used as a primary PC case but see some issues with doing it as well. I would personally use this case as a media server since I can have massive amounts of storage and silent operation meaning it can even be near the TV if I like.
If you are looking for a full size tower that is next to silent then this is without a doubt a top choice.
If you want to see more, check out our Facebook page, http://facebook.com/ComputerEd and check out our Define XL album.
Fractal Design Define XL Case review segment as aired live 23 October 2011
by Doug “Digital Doug” Berner
A keyboard is a keyboard, well at least that is what a lot of people thing. However here at Computer Ed Radio we know better, a keyboard is an interface to your pc. A place where you and your PC make contact and this means the keyboard can directly effect the overall computing experience. When it comes to keyboards there are basically two different kinds, the membrane keyboard that is used by most people every day and the mechanical keyboard.
The mechanical keyboard has been surging in popularity over the last year or so, driven by the fact they are the keyboard of choice for professional games. This interest in mechanical keyboards has caused quite a few companies to introduce their own models but one company has been making them for a long time, TG3 Electronics. TG3 has been around since 1986 designing computer input devices. This included about every kind of specialty equipment keyboard known and the design most used is the mechanical keyboard approach.
Deck is the PC keyboard division of TG3 and the Legend is their premier keyboard. The Legend is a mechanical, basic, 105 key keyboard that is backlit. There is no fancy macro keys or extra features other than the fact they keyboard is backlit. There are 4 different models of the Legend; the Ice, Frost, Fire and Toxic. The only difference between the models is the color of the backlight behind the keyboard.
When the package showed up at our labs I was surprised at the simple brown box that arrived. This was not packaged, just shipped as is. Opening the box I did not find a lot of packing material, in fact I found none. Instead I found the keyboard and small zip lock holding a single keycap with a skull and crossbones on it, as well as a simple print out talking about the keyboard and how to adjust the lighting.
The keyboard uses a single USB cable, there is no extra USB ports or headset connections, this is truly a basic keyboard in every way imaginable. However under that basic appearance is a pure tank of a keyboard. The model we received is the Toxic that comes with a nice green backlight. The lighting is adjusted by holding down the FN key and using the up and down arrows to adjust the brightness. The keyboard arrives with the lighting off but can be adjusted through seven levels of brightness. Brightness is the key word here as I found that even the lowest lighting level is pretty bright. The lighting has a persistent level memory, this means that even if you unplug the board the brightness last used is what it starts with.
Deck claims their keyboards are designed for professional level gaming, Gamers like this type of keyboard because the mechanical switches and rugged build, which means they get great responsiveness and they last for years under constant use instead of just months. Now I game but I’m what you would call a casual gamer, maybe 5 hours a week if I’m lucky. So while I did game for a few hours to get the feel of how the Deck Legend felt for gaming I soon put it in the hands of the hardest gamer I know, my oldest son. He plays as Toebite, a PvMP Warg in the world of Lord of The Rings Online and one of only a hand full to reach rank 14. He not only plays a lot of hours every night, but he is also really hard on keyboards. Those who have played much PvP know that as the adrenaline rises, so does the force with which you tend to pound on the keys, and he is no exception.
During the time he has had the Deck Legend in his hands he has racked up about 100K infamy on his Warg plus 10 levels on his PVE character. At this point it does not look like I will be getting the Legend back any time soon, or more likely never. He was a little uncertain about it when I first told him about what he would experience with a mechanical vs. a membrane keyboard. But after about 3 hours use he had fallen in love and uses the Legend now exclusively for his gaming and typing alike. That is a big endorsement in my eyes as he plays LOTRO about 6 hours a day and can type 80 words a minute. I sat down to debrief him, as it were, on his experience with the legend. He loves the bold easy to read backlit keys. This was his first experience with a mechanical switch keyboard so until now he didn’t even know such things existed. He was an instant convert to the feel and function of the keys. And as expected despite his daily pounding the legend still looks like you just took it out of the box, I cannot even superficial scratch on it.
I asked him if there were anything he wished he could change, I expected some comment about the lack of macro keys. The Deck Legend has none, and in this generation of gamers a keyboard without macro keys is like a TV without a remote. However Deck has aimed this keyboard at the professional level gamer and at that level macros are not allowed in tournament play. This makes sense and the lack of macro keys was not something my son noticed as he uses the ones on his mouse for his gaming needs anyway. After some consideration his only comment was that he wished he could add a wrist rest to it for prolonged play time. In retrospect I think this would be a great idea, expect that Deck could come up with a sturdy yet removable full or partial length wrist rest if enough people asked for it.
While the Deck Keyboard might be marketed as a gaming keyboard, what about the typist that might not game but stills needs a sturdy keyboard? If you are used to typing on a membrane keyboard you will find that a mechanical keyboard like this feels completely different. The key travel tends to be stiffer and it feels a bit longer than the membrane keyboards I am used to using. This is not a bad thing just different it makes the keyboard feel more responsive. In fact I would say that the different feel to the key motion will be a big plus to a lot of users. It tends to make me more conscious of my typing, not slower or with less accuracy, just more conscious of the actions. This is a very subjective tactile feeling that is hard to put into words. After thinking on it for a while the best example I could come up with is the feeling that I got when after driving a family sedan for years I had the opportunity get back behind the wheel of a sports car. I found that I was not isolated from the road, I could feel the road through the wheel and the suspension and I was actually aware of the sense of diving, and it felt GOOD. I was enjoying the feel of the drive not just going from point A to point B.
I have slighted other keyboards in the past for having key tops that were too flat, in my opinion a touch typist like myself benefits from a more concave surface. It helps keep our fingers from drifting to the wrong keys, at least that is true in my case. The Deck Legend has wonderfully deep concave key surfaces additionally the F and J keys, where your index fingers rest on the home row, have very pronounced ridges to help identify them by feel. This is something that seems to be lacking from most mainstream keyboards that I have used. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional thing or if the world has become so full of hunt and peck typists that these things are no longer important to design. Whatever the case it was wonderful to type on a keyboard that felt as if it was designed to be used instead of looked at. That is in no way to say that the Deck is hard on the eyes. Pictures don’t really do the subdued styling of this keyboard justice. From pictures I had seen I really expected to find this thing to be rather blocky and functional but astatically boring. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can have an attractively designed elegant keyboard that is a functional joy to use and it does not need to look like it came from the set of a Sci-Fi movie.
Overall I would tell anyone who spends more than a couple of hours a day on their computer that the extra expense of getting the Deck should not put them off. In my experience the devices we use to interface with our PCs are the things that can determine how much we enjoy our time on those PCs. They can also affect productivity drastically one way or the other because they impact our comfort level, both comfort and enjoyment will affect how long we are willing to stay on that PC to work and the effectiveness with which we perform those tasks. For gamers or anyone else who gets tired of replacing 50.00 keyboards every 9 months I would encourage them to step up a Deck and try a real keyboard that is meant to take a beating and keep right on working day in and day out. A year down the road you will be glad you did, and a few years down the road even more so.
- Bold Lighting and large key letters mean you can see the keys well in any lighting conditions.
- Rugged design makes this keyboard nearly indestructible under normal use.
- Unique fonts on the keys give Deck keyboards a style that is attractive and all their own.
- Positive feel and deep concave surfaces on the keys help the touch typist stay on key an perform better.
- Simple yet elegant styling means the Legend fits in to any environment weather home or office.
- Uneven lighting on larger keys like the backspace.
- Slightly higher noise level than a membrane keyboard might be a turn off for some.
- A wrist wrest option would be welcome for long gaming sessions.
A few months ago many of the motherboard makers jumped the gun and got 990 boards out well ahead of the release of the FX series of processors. Now in fairness to them they had been under the impression they were hitting the release date but delays at AMD put them ahead of the game. This was okay however since the 990 boards would work fine with the Phenom II chips, however the real test would not come until the FX chips hit the market.
Well this week the FX chips did hit the market and 990 boards can now be examined within the environment they were designed to run. The first board we are examining here at Computer Ed Radio is the MSI 990FXA-GD80.
Now when AMD sent out the review kits for the FX they did include a motherboard for testing, and we made full use of it for our baseline numbers. However I hate looking at a product the way a company wants me to look at it. I think we get more info when we look at from an angle more indicative of the way it will be used every day. One of the things I like to change is the platform I use to examine it. A quick email to MSI and this board was in the mail to us for the test bench.
Using the high end 990FX chip set this board is geared toward performance users that want to push the envelope of their build. MSI makes a hard push of their Military Class of products. These products make use of higher end components that are designed to improve the stability, performance and extend the life of the boards. They back this with a 3 year warranty which is one of the best in the industry
The GD 80 is MSI’s top of the line in their AMD boards and comes with a feature set you would expect. There are six SATA 3 connectors as well as an internal USB 3 header and dual USB 2 headers. The board supports four sticks of DDR3 memory which allows for up to 32 gig of memory at full capacity. The multiple PCIe slots allow for both Crossfire in 3x mode and SLI in 2x mode. The addition of SLI is nice as this now means AMD users have the option of using nVidia in multi-card configurations if they so choose.
One of the first things that struck me when looking at this board was the position of the USB 3 header, rather than facing up off the board it is inline with the board. This is actually a great idea for people building show off systems as it makes it easier to route the cable. Taking a close look at the photo you will also note the use of the heavy duty component design we discussed earlier.
The chipset and the power for the board has large heat sinks on them allow for these components to be kept cool even under overclocking loads. They have a nice gunmetal finish accented with blue and MSI branding. Yeah I know that looks are not that big of deal when it comes to motherboard performance but at this level looks matters to a degree. This level of motherboard is for the tweaker and is the kind you will see in cases with nice windows or show off cases.
Speaking of the tweakers this board comes with a number of control buttons right on the board. There is an easy overclocking button that allows for a single press and the BIOS does a light overclock of the chip without you doing anything but enjoying a speed boost. In the case of the FX 8150 when we used this boost it took the chip straight to the 3.9 Ghz speed, the speed that the chip does an auto overclock to. Not a huge overclock but unlike the AMD solution for this speed that fluctuates the speed up and done from there based on load this locked the speed in. There is also a power and reset button as well as two LEDs that give a numeric code for BIOS errors. This is MUCH nicer than beeps.
Moving around to the IO panel of the board we see the standard setup one would expect. You have your surround sound from the onboard audio chip, You have dual USB 3 ports as well as six USB 2 connections. Dual eSATA and Firewire, the usual LAN connection and then a PS2 port for the mouse and keyboard. This one surprised me, I understand the keyboard as many pro gamers still prefer the PS2 keyboard for responsiveness and rollover support. However I know of no reason to want to use a PS2 mouse.
The USB ports on this board come with a short circuit protection, this is a nice plus that is way more useful than it sounds. USB ports can be an entry point for shorts or static charges due to their external use and the fact we plug stuff in them on the fly. While the board does support a charge enhancer for charging cell phones and other devices through the USB ports it does not allow for the charging to take place when the system is shutdown.
Okay enough with looking at the board how does it work. We used this board for our second round of testing of the FX 8150 as well as building up using AMD’s liquid cooling solution. The 8150 plugged into the GD80 and fired up and was recognized perfectly with no BIOS update needed. The Turbo Core feature of the 8150 seemed a little less aggressive with the GD80 than it did with the stock board AMD had sent us. What I mean is the chip did not bounce as quick to 3.9 GHz and actually had to fall to 3 cores or less of use to hit the 4.2 GHz mark. This is likely a purely BIOS issue and shows me that the board AMD sent was likely tweaked a bit for testing. However when I ran the numbers the performance was within a single percentage point of every test so it looks like the tweak was not that big of a deal.
Speaking of the BIOS, the GD80 sports one of those new GUI BIOS systems. The idea is to make it easier to move around the BIOS, it does work for that purpose very well. The look is attractive and handles pretty quick. You have three modes that you can use, one for Eco, which uses some very conservative settings, normal and then overclocking. These defaults can be further adjusted as well, they are designed offer quick settings to base from.
Since we had the nice liquid cooler from AMD it seemed a shame to not do some overclocking. This chip does overclock well but needs a little tweaking to really crank it up. I was able to hit 3.9 on all cores with nothing but a multiplier jump. However you expect that since this is what AMD gets to automatically. At around 4 GHz I had to start adding voltage. I was able to get the speed up to 4.6 GHZ with a voltage of 1.475 and that was where I chose to stop.
Priced at $189 currently on Newegg, the 990FXA-GD80 is priced lower than other companies top end boards but very competitively at the next tier. The quality of construction on the board is outstanding and the performance was on par with higher priced boards. The graphical BIOS is a nice touch, especially over the old style BIOS with mouse support that I have seen MSI use before. It did feel a little light compared to others I have looked at when it came to overclocking options but that did not stop me from getting a full 1 GHz overclock easily on the board.
The software package that comes with the board is about what you expect with general control software for fans and light overclocking as well as update programs and the various other little utilities all companies now provide. As with all of them I installed them long enough to look at them and then took them off my system with the exception of the auto update utility to get BIOS updates when I want them.
If you are looking for a solid, well build motherboard at the higher tweaker end then this board is a great place to start. It is competitively priced, the feature set is well done and the performance is on par with more expensive boards. Add to this stable right out of the box with support for the FX series processors in place, what more can we ask for?
MSI 990FZA-GD80 review segment as aired live 16 October 2011
Well we promised the big announcement today and here it is, beginning on October 29th you will be able to get a 3 hour fix of Computer Ed ever Saturday from noon to 3:00 PM CST. This expansion is possible because of the good folks at WGGH, AM 1150. This expansion means we will have more time to cover more of the computer world than we can in our current one hour format.
For the remainder of this year we will be also be doing our show on Sundays at 1:00 PM on WJPF as we are doing now, however after the first of the year that show will be discontinued. I cannot begin to express the gratitude we feel to the staff of WJPF for the opportunities they have given this show, but we needed room to grow and were unable to do so at WJPF.
Concerning our recorded shows, beginning with the show on the 29th we will only be posted the recording of the 3 hour show each week. The Sunday show will be an abbreviated coverage of the show we will have done on Saturday.
I want to thank all of you that have listened over the years, it is because of you that these doors have opened and we have a chance to bring you even more of the show each week. This however is only the beginning; we have already seen other doors begin to creak open which means we could be expanding the show even more over the next coming months.
Again thank you all for your support and I hope you will join us as we move this show forward.
To say the FX processor, formerly known as Bulldozer, has been eagerly anticipated would be a gross understatement. This chip has been the holy grail that AMD has been striving toward when it comes to their “Enthusiast” line of CPUs. However grail has not had an easy road, it’s journey has been fraught with peril and delays. The reason there has been so much anticipation around this chip is that AMD has redesigned it’s high end CPU line from the ground up, everything is new. Well the wait is over and the prodigal chip has arrived but is new always better?
With the FX series AMD went back to the drawing board and made some adjustments to the way the basic function works. “Bulldozer” moves from the traditional single processor and multiples put on a single die, to creating a dual processor module that has a number of shared resources. This allows more processors to be put in the same physical space, something that had to be done to achieve an 8 core processor with current production methods.
The most significant change in this new design is the removal of a floating point unit from each processor and allowing them to share the FP. The result is an FP that is capable of splitting itself in half to allow dual 128 bit instruction or combine for a single 256 bit run.
I asked AMD about the reasoning behind this move, the explanation I was given is two fold. First the way most software works the need for a dedicated FP unit on each CPU was redundant. The actually usage was low enough in real world apps that moving to a single unit should have minimal impact. To reduce the impact this could possible have on some applications they claimed to have beefed up the FP performance and then have put two instruction sets into the hardware to allow programmers to actually speed up FP calculations even more. The second reason was the need to reduce the space taken up on the silicon so they could get the two extra cores.
The FX also brings a second version of the Turbo Core system introduced in the Phenom X6 lineup. The idea is simple, when the processor is using half it’s cores or less the chip overclocks. However this time around AMD introduced a second level that overclocks ALL of the chips cores if the work load leaves enough headroom.
Now at this point I could throw a hundred different benchmarks at you with a slew of numbers but that is not our style and frankly is not needed. Every hardware site on the planet will be posting numbers at the same time this review goes live. In fact you will be sick of reading all the numbers in a few days. Instead,as is our style, we will instead focus on the meaning of what our testing reveals and cut to the conclusions of what this chip offers. If you want to see some of the specific testing done I suggest checking out Overclockers Club for their in-depth look at the testing.
When I got the package in I must tell you I was impressed, AMD pulled the stops with the presentation. A huge black box with a large FX logo on it opened to reveal an Asus Crosshair V motherboard, a metal box that I presume is the actual box the FX chips will market in and a nice FX logoed belt buckle. The FX chip was already installed on the motherboard just waiting for a heat sink and RAM. For our initial testing I used the board provided to ensure stability for the first round of testing and then switched over to a 990FXA-GD80 that MSI graciously provided. I had not problem testing on the board provided but I hate following directions. Okay seriously the idea is that when a company provides a board and a chip they will sometimes tweak it out, so I like putting it on a different board to double check numbers.
For my initial testing I wanted to see how the new core stood up to the previous generation, the Phenom II. To do this I took an 1100T processor and ran it’s clock speed up to the 3.6Ghz base of the FX-8150 chip we where sent for review. This chip is the high-end of the release with a suggested price tag of $245. I set the two chips to the same clock speed to ensure a true core to core comparison. I also turned off Turbo Core on both chips to ensure this was a straight up comparison.
For testing I was looking at pure CPU performance so I used 7 Zip, Wprime, Super Pi and Cinebench. I made sure the test was set so it was running single core and then also made suire of this by setting the chip affinity in Windows to only Core 0. The results where NOT what I expected. In every test the FX core was coming slower than the Phenom II core. I had the systems set side by side using the same RAM speed, 1333 and the same amount, four gig.. I ran the tests about 5 times before I accepted the results. Averaged out the Phenom II was about 8% faster than the FX in a true Core to Core test.
Next I set the 1100T at stock speeds and the FX at stock speeds both with Turbocore on. I also changed the FX RAM over to Kingston ram set at a speed of 1866, the suggested RAM speed for the FX. In single core testing the FX took the lead but over by about 5% and that can be attributed to a higher clock speed. When I fired up the testing to use all cores the FX gained a slightly bigger lead but that can be attributed to the 2 extra cores, however the bump was not as much as I would have expected, the chips were still close in performance.
In our briefings we where told the 8150 was being aimed squarely at the i5 2500K. So that was the next round of testing. I did not worry about single core testing this time around except a little curiosity benchmarks but for our purposes they do not matter this is a whole chip vs. whole chip match.
I started with some testing to push the chips and used Cinebench and 7 Zip, the results where more along the lines of what I expected. When the extra cores had a chance to kick in the FX picked some solid speed and motored past the i5, test results showed the extra cores really being put to good use.. AMD in it’s briefing had pushed gaming pretty hard so that was next on the block.
For gaming we tested with Champions Online, Civilization V, F1 2010, Batman AA and two games that I am beta testing so cannot reveal the names of. Now I mention these because one of the points AMD made was that this chip will excel with new software, so how much newer can you get? All games where tested at 1920×1080 with the in game detail levels set on high using a Sapphire 6950 for the GPU.
Across the board the games playability was unchanged using the FX or the i5. I never noticed any lag or hiccups in any of the games, all delivering an outstanding play experience. When I took the time to look at the frame rates within the games while playing I did noticed that in most cases the i5 managed to hold better rates, but both chips easily kept play rates anyone would be happy with.
Looking at the performance I have seen with the FX I have to say I am a bit disappointed. Now let me be clear this is not a bad chip, it has been designed looking forward and when it comes to an app that makes use of it’s full core capacity it really can carry some heavy load. However after all the wait and even the hype AMD has given this chip it is lackluster to say the least.
The FX core is actually slower in a direct comparison to the older Phenom II design. It has some interesting features to be sure but it just did not deliver the goods. In fact I would go so far as to say that an 1100T is more competition to the FX 8150 than any chip from Intel. Priced at $50 less than the FX, the 1100T can deliver performance very comparable to the FX. When it comes to comparisons to the i5 this is a wash. While it is faster than the i5 when you hit it with a ton of thread, in most everyday apps it is slower and costs a little more.
AMD made a big deal during our briefing to talk about gaming but the truth is, with few exceptions, that when you game at resolutions most people use the processor begins to become less of a factor in the equation. The FX can game no doubt about it but with the games I tested the performance was nothing to make this a must buy. In fact AMDs own material shows that the chip is just running with the pack when it comes to gaming.
The last area AMD has hyped is overclocking. The entire FX line is unlocked and this mean there is some great overclocking options, however be aware that no matter how much it is hyped any overclocking voids your warranty with AMD. I am in fact a bit concerned with how much attention AMD has put on overclocking. They made a big deal and had a press conference about reaching a new world record in clock speed, that system BTW was not usable for everyday computing. In other words it was a record on paper that holds no other meaning. They then put some spin on a video showing some game play with a heavily overclocked FX chip using liquid nitrogen, something not every, or really anyone is likely to do.
There are even plans to release an FX chip with a liquid cooling solution. The cooler is designed by Asetek and is basically the same cooler as the Antec 920. I put this in my system real quick for testing and found that it does a decent job of cooling but was not really any kind of huge improvement over using a 620 cooler with a push pull configurations. However I will give kudos to Asetek on coming up with a twist to their standard mounting solution. They make use of the existing AMD back plate and use thumbscrews to mount to cooler, super easy.
At the end of the day, after all the hype we are left with a chip that feels more like a lateral move from the Phenom II design than an upgrade. The FP system has been hurt by the new design and is actually less effective than the old method. The use of a proprietary new code set to get a boost for FP operations is just a plain bad idea and history shows this. Unless Intel adopts the same options they will not make it into the mainstream and thus will not show up in software soon.
If you already have a solid Pheom II system, especially a 1090T or 1100T then I would not make the move to the FX. There are only some very specific programs and circumstances where the FX is actually giving a real boost over the Phenom II and the people that need that boost know who they are and will get the chip. For the rest of us this is not an upgrade worth the cost. As for competition with the i5 it is more of a wash than a competition. For most people the i5 is a better solution and actually costs less right now. However the FX can deliver better if the software gets serious about using threads.
As we went to press with this article AMD made some changes to the release info. The biggest news was the addition to a quad core at a suggest price of $115. This puts it in direct competition with the Phenom II 955 and since it comes in with a higher clock speed, 3.6 Ghz, it is a solid choice for those looking to build a budget system. They also dropped the price of the 6 core version of the FX, which has a stock speed of 3.3 Ghz at a suggest retail price of $165. This puts it in direct competition with the 1090T and again makes it an attractive choice.
The Hi-end FX chip, the 8150 is an okay chip but the fact it does not stand out in any way that matters to the majority of the people that would be using it, I have a hard time suggesting anyone buy it. The six core FX-6100 and the quad core 4100 are more interesting releases, they are targeted right at AMDs current lineup and actually make solid choices.
After all the anticipation the final release is a bit anti-climactic. This chip is aimed squarely at the future and is counting on the apps of tomorrow to become more heavily threaded. However in the reality of today the chip is just not something to get excited about.
We will be discussion my findings on the show live this Sunday as well as reviewing the MSI 990FXA-GD80 we used in our final round of testing. Special thanks to MSI for rushing that board out to us so we could test on an independent platform.
For more pictures be sure to head over to Facebook.com/ComputerEd and check out our FX album.
AMD FX Processor discussion segment as aired live 16 October 2011
The Summer of Cases has been a blast but as with all good things it needs to come to an end as we move on to other projects. I was really torn about doing this review because part of me wants to do the full write up like we did in our original review of the Level 10 GT but at the same time this is really the same case with different paint job so I felt that would not be something we needed to rehash. However this case demands attention so instead we will take a quick look at the appearance of the Snow Edition.
Thermaltake it seems could not let other companies show us a white case without strutting out one of their own and strutting is the appropriate word. The Level 10 GT Snow Edition takes everything that is great about the Level 10 GT and gives it a Hollywood makeover.
Now it would be easy to get into a full review of this case and talk about it’s great features, impressive build quality and overall exceptional design, but we already did that with our original Level 10 GT review. So I made sure you get the link to that review and instead we are going to talk about this case purely on it’s looks.
Thermaltake has taken a case that looked great to start with and spruced it up, think of it as having a beautiful woman and then giving her a professional makeover.
Gone is the base black for the body and in it’s place a very pleasing tone of white. The red inserts found on the original case have been replaced with blue. This with the keeping of the black highlights just makes this cases color pop. The front ports panel, as well as the 5.25” bay covers have stayed black as has the grill work in the front. This really makes the various lines in the front of the case stand out and gives a more 3D appearance from a distance to the case design.
As our case slowly turned its working side to us the black and white styling that we thought looked great on the front really came to life on the side and the top. We see all the same basic features we saw in the original Level 10 GT so we will not go into those.
Of interesting note is the fact that Thermaltake decided to keep the base of the left side panel black and then paint the box areas white. At close inspection that seemed odd to me but when you pull back it is easy to see why this was done. This coloring means that the box sections appear to step off the case more, adding more of that depth feel to the design.
The interior of the case is identical to the original Level 10 GT, the same great cable management options and designs. Of interesting note is the grill work and the way it looks at the top of the side, by the optical drive bays. While it looks different from the original GT it is in fact the same. The different appearance is due to the white paint on the body underneath showing against the black grill work.
The Snow Edition sells for about $30 more than the original level 10 GT and the only real change is the paint job. Now a lot of people will question if this is worth the cost difference and I think I would have to say yes.
The original case is a very attractive case, anyone would be happy owning one but the white coloring of the Snow takes a case that people would desire and turns it into a case that they will lust for. Black is done by everyone and is everywhere, white is the color that grabs attention right now and the Level 10 GT Snow Edition definitely grabs attention.
At the price point these cases sell at the extra $30 is not that big of a deal and for me, I personally like the white looks enough to pay the extra money. Now this is a purely cosmetic change so the truth is either version of the Level 10 GT will get you a great case.
The original Level 10 GT as we have said repeatedly here and in our review is a GREAT case, it has everything anyone could want in a luxury level case and looks great to boot. But let’s take that beautiful case and give it a professional make over, put it in a slinky dress and high heels, who would not love that!? It may be called the Snow Edition but the looks of this case are pure HOT!
I posted a few more shots of the Level 10 GT Snow Edition in our Level 10 GT album on our Facebook page. Head over to http://facebook.com/computered to check them out.
Discussion of the Thermaltake Level 10 GT Snow Edition recorded 2 October 2011