I am sitting here this morning beginning the weekend and looking around the lab. I have computer cases, everywhere, motherboards, power supplies and more. I am still knee deep in our build a PC series as I test, retest and then tweak and test again various build ideas and components. Add to this our field trip out to Cyber Security Day and you get the idea, my weekend is full. This however has had an unintended side effect, my brain is overflwoing with ideas to put on the blog and I cannot get a clear article put together, just to many ideas.
With that in mind this week I am going to skip a blog entry and concentrate on the work. However I promise next week we will have a blog entry for you plus a lot of cool stuff on the show. Until then, where the crap did my screw driver go?
A few weeks ago I got curious enough about the effects of a CPU’s speed on gaming that I decided to start doing some serious testing. I mean for a long time I have said that it really was not an issue, that even slower CPU speeds could still deliver great gaming but that was in an abstract from disjointed testing. So with a few i5 chips, a Gigabyte Z77 motherboard and an EVGA GTX 660Ti video card I set about to find out if the theory held up.
To begin my journey I needed to set some parameters and so I chose the most common chip comparison I normally use the i5 3450 vs the i5 3570K. I thought we should add a bit more to the mix so I enlisted the help of my i7 3820 so we could add hyper threading and I got all the speed settings for the i5 3470, 3550 and 3330. The testing was all performed on a clean Windows 8 install using the same drivers for the GTX and all games as well as benchmarks set to the same settings in 1080 resolution. The settings were all done to the highest offered in game with no extra or outside tweaking. This was done to reflect a normal user experience level. The base clock speeds were tested along with the 3570 down clocked to allow testing at the base speeds of the other processors. All systems had 8 gig dual channel memory provided by Kingston set at 1600 for speed. The only test performed outside the normal setup was the i7 3820 which was performed on a Sapphire Pure Black X79, however it was limited to dual channel on the memory.
For games I wanted to pull from a board range of games that are popular, again I was aiming for looking at what the typical gamer is going to see. With this in mind I loaded up Skyrim, Borderlands 2, Black Ops II, Planetside 2, League of Legends, Star Trek Online, World of Tanks, Witcher 2 and Hawken. All of the games were benchmarked using Fraps and everything was set to highest in game levels at 1080 resolution. To this mix I added some synthetic benchmarks with 3DMark, Heaven and PCMark, using the presets in the benchmarks for testing.
Now I could give you a,long list of numbers and frame rates here, I have a spreadsheet full of them but that is not how we roll here and everyone that has been a listener over the years knows this. Instead of looking for a bunch of individual numbers I was working through the data to look for a deeper pattern or meaning as to how the various PCU speeds effected the overall gaming and system performance.
Lets begin with the overall experience, using every chip speed I tested, ALL of the games played smooth and delivered a great gaming experience across the board. During all of the game play testing not a single game suffered from any changes to the CPU speed. This is across, in the case of the i5 chips, a pricing delta of $190 to $230, according to current Newegg pricing. Now in fairness this delta is very small and in my opinion Intel can of convoluted the market with the current selection. But that is for a bit later in this discussion. Benchmarks showed the difference but then again we expect them to, however the difference was only seen in the numbers.
Speaking of the numbers, what did the performance numbers show? Well for purposes of this article what I did was measure the performance delta with the i5 3330 at the lowest speed being set as the base. I then took the differences in performance as we worked up the testing in a percentage gain format and once I had all the the tests calculated I took the average of those scores to give an overall performance difference.
The result was within the range I expected but still not what I expected. At the extreme of the delta, the i5 3330 vs the i5 3570 the performance difference was a whapping 4.7%. Now again this is an overall average so this reflects in my opinion the best mix of the benchmarks from the games and the overall scores from the synthetics to give the total system impact of the CPU speed. This test is NOT about pure CPU horsepower, but about the impact on the system as a whole and it appears that impact is not very high.
Now I did not feel that it was fair to stop there, as enthusiasts are all about the overclock. So with that in mind I tested the i5 3450 at 3.9 GHz, the max overclock it can achieve on a Z77 board without effecting bus speeds. I then did the same type of overclock on the 3570 which thanks to it’s unlocked multiplier was able to achieve 4.1 GHz without any tweaking using the same method. Adding these into the mix the delta overall climbed to 6.1%. Again these overclocks were achieved with now real tweaking and on stock cooling. So from an i5 3330 to an i5 3570 @4.1GHz we see a gain in total system performance of about 6%.
Now again let me stress this is an OVERALL view of the performance delta. I did my best by offering a wide range of games to look at not just the CPU performance itself but the TOTAL SYSTEM impact that the various CPU speeds were making. This means that while my testing results are showing this smaller overall system impact in certain areas the impact can be higher, or lower. This is why I averaged out the gains to get the numbers I arrived at. I am not listed all the various speeds and numbers because the delta here is so small that it would not be useful, the differences are next to nothing as you step up.
Now as I mentioned earlier in this piece I did also add testing with an i7 3820, the reason I am not adding it’s numbers into the mix is because the price point on the chip, current $300 on Newegg puts it way outside the the i5’s and the numbers from testing get skewed a bit. Using 3DMark as a prime example, we see a pretty large performance boost due to the addition of the Hyperthreading. this boost however does not reflect within the gaming benchmarks and so skewed the numbers from the i7 pretty bad compared to the others. If I remove the 3DMark score or I turn off hyper threading the 3820 falls right in line with the i5’s.
Now that might seem a bit like I am throwing out test results but that is not an accurate assessment. For the nature of this test I am seeing that the i7 brings nothing to the table for the gamer at this time in any meaningful way that is reflected in real life performance. Now I am NOT saying the i7 does not deliver better performance, it does within software that leverages the Hyperthreading fully. That however does not appear to be something that current crop of games do.
What about if we push the overclock, does the performance keep ramping? Yes it does, if we push the I5 3570K with some voltage tweaks and begin to ramp it up, the performance delta does continue to climb, however my testing has shown that my friend Shannon Robb was accurate when he said the gain begins to tapper off. I was able with some take the 3570 to 4.5 GHz but I stopped there when I started looking at the results. At 4.5GHz the performance delta has only climbed to 7.4%, that is a minor gain and as the speeds climbed I watched the gain fall off. Would higher speeds results in more performance, of course it would but the percentage of gain would continue to decline as the speed climbed and this would mean more effort for less results.
What does this mean however, for me, the gamer that wants to build a new gaming rig? First do not get caught up in the unlocked multiplier craze of today. I see enthusiasts forums actually call builds that do not include an unlocked multiplier dumb and this is not cool. I stand by my position that of the i5 lineup right now the sweet spot if the i5 3450. It is an easy chip to find out in the wild and delivers outstanding gaming performance at stock speeds plus can, if you desire, get a nice little boost to 3.9GHz without fancy cooling or tweaking. In the grand scheme of things that is plenty of performance for a great gaming experience and has some headroom.
Now this does beg the question of what is Intel thinking in it’s marketing? From the i5 3330 to the i5 3570K we have 8 Models and yet only a 5% or so delta overall? What is worse is this chip group is all within that $180 to $230 price range. Now I understand the desire for a high end model that opens up the overclock option, I understand a low power option like the S chip and I understand a middle of the road or mainstream chip to fill out a lineup with options. However the convoluted mess that we see with 8 chips is nothing but confusing for the consumer.
So with this information in hand my recommendations are pretty straight forward and simple. If you want to build a new system the best value right now is the i5 3450. The stock speed is plenty for a great computing experience in everyway, as gamer you just add a good gaming video card to this and you are set. If you like to tinker and want a littler more performance then you can overclock to 3.9 GHz and push this chip to it’s limit. If however you are more than a little into tinkering and you want those bragging rights, then spend the extra money for the i5 3570. While at stock speeds it does make sense over it’s little brother, if you like to push things to the limit it is a great chip for tinkering and seeing just what you can make the system do.
As for the other chips in the Intel i5 lineup? Well I would buy if they are the only choice or the pricing is the same. For example I have seen the i5 3550 for the same price as the i5 34560, well it would be silly not to buy it as you get a little better base speed for free. However as far as paying more for the minor boost up the lineup, they are really not worth extra money that could be sued for a better video card, more RAM, an SSD or or other component changes that would have a bigger overall system impact. What about the lower power chips, the S series? Those I must say I am torn on, the reason is the i5 chip is already a very low TDP chip and the reduction might be nice on paper but I am not sure if worth it at the end of the day for an extra cost.
Next up AMD….
Thank you to the folks at EVGA, Gigabyte, Intel and Kingston for providing the components used in this testing.
The personal computer era has been around for a while, for those that have missed the memo, and during that time the consumers have had very little say in the direction this industry has headed. What I mean by that is that we, as consumers did not get a say as to when advancements were needed or even wanted. We would make our purchase and suddenly 6 months to a year later find out that we “needed” to buy again. The good news for consumers however, is that over the last couple of years that has changed. The technology has been forced to slow down by more clearly defined consumer demands and software jumping off the hardware bandwagon and working with consumers instead of hardware companies to figure out what the next product needs to have.
The good news is many of the tech companies out there have figure out this shift in the way business is done and have begun to adapt. They have changed the business model from telling consumers what they want to instead listing to what consumers want. However a few old die-hards have decided that they know best and we should listen to them, drink what they tell us as it were.
We can see some of this in todays offerings for consumer level computers. We could start with Apple and spend the entire article there, this is basically their business model and always has been. However I think we should instead focus on Microsoft. Windows 8 is an old story so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the OS itself. I have covered that pretty well I think and if you missed the three articles I did on it feel free to browse the archives and read them. However I will focus on their efforts to change the way we look at a computer.
Now let me explain this a bit before I make my point. You see Microsoft has always made an effort to help define the image of a what people see as a personal computer. It was after all in their best interest to exercise some level of control in this area. However up until recently that control has been a quiet guiding hand. To use the popular phrase, they led us to water but never forced us to drink. That however has begun to change.
Microsoft has launched a number of sites that are supposed to be designed to help the lay people, such as many of you, make a good choice when it comes to getting a new PC. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, something to help people see the choices they have and help them make solid decisions. We do this all the time on the show and people find it helpful. That would be good it did offer real choices. Every one of these setups I have looked at only offer laptops, tablets or all in one systems. Now this would not be bad except many of these recommendations are being listed as good for gaming. NONE of the recommendations I saw would make a good gaming PC for any but the most casual gamer. Also what about other form factors?
Thing this is just because of the move to Windows 8? You would be wrong, this started before that. Go back and look at the various Windows commercials were Microsoft talks about helping people buy a new PC. Every one of them were laptop and all in one models. You did not even seen an HTPC or tower configuration system in the videos.
One of the things I have always loved about the PC and the PC world is the freedom of choice. You can have a PC that is HUGE or tiny. One that is designed for pure hard core gaming or design for only light web browsing. Companies would offer us a range of choices, often to our dismay because we had so many but still we had choices. Over the years as the focus has shifted from hardware to software we have seen those choices diminish, not in a bad way. We have found that the budget system, at least the cost of it we used to pay, now buys us a more powerful machine. This has caused some overlap in the type of PC we buy but that is a natural progression. A natural change to the way we see PCs might not be something we like but I for one can accept it. However when we see companies that have traditionally let the market direct the path with them offering gentle nudges, switch to heavy handed tactics of forcing a direction, this is a problem to me.
Is our hobby moving to smaller form factors, well of course it is, I mean why do you think our build series is looking at ITX designs? However we can make this move in a way that does not limit our choices. Small Form factor of today is not the same as yesterday. Heck even yesterday was not that bad. Back in 2008 when enthusiasts said you needed a full tower to build a “real” gaming rig, I did a build we called the Itsy Bitsy Might Spider. This was a full powered gaming rig built in a micro ATX case. Now we see the move to even smaller, but the key here is that we can make this move without making a sacrifice. That is not the choice given to us today by some in the industry.
This of course is all my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Email in your comments or post them here under comments for this entry. Any comments of course might be used on the air for further discussion on this topic.
When most people think of Kingston products they think of flash memory, one of their largest markets, or they think of the Hyper X branding. This is easy to understand, flash memory is something everyone uses in one form or another from your video camera to your USB drive. At the geekier end of the scale the Hyper X branding marks the high performance products from Kingston and so geeks lean toward it more. Kingston however also does a budget branding of more value oriented products that are designed for basic computers, OEMs and business use. The V series is the value line up of the Kingston SSDs.
We actually have looked at Kingston’s value SSDs before, back in 2010 we reviewed the original V series. The drive was a solid entry into the SSD market but the upgrade kit features were the real shining star. Well fast forward to today and the see the V300, the third iteration of the V series of SSDs.
As with our first look at the V series, the V300 is offered in three different packages, a drive only, upgrade for laptop and upgrade for desktop systems. The upgrade kits in fact are the same as they were with the original V series. This is awesome as it is still a long way ahead of the competition when it comes to SSD upgrades.
The Laptop Upgrade includes an external 2.5” drive enclosure that connects to your system via a USB cable. This allows you to hook the old laptop HD to the system with the enclosure and the boot from the included disk and use Acronis True Image to clone your old HD to the newly installed SSD. The old 2.5” HD then can be used around your home or office as a external HD for backups. We have seen other companies try to do similar packages but all of them have lacked the simplicity and elegancy of the Kingston solution. The Desktop kit does not have the enclosure but rather a rail adapter that allows your SSD to mount in a 3.5” drive slot. This kit also comes with the boot CD that will load up Acronis True Image to allows easy transfer of your base HD to the SSD.
The SSD itself is pretty standard fair when it comes to the look of the disk, even compared to the original V drive the looks have not changed much. The drive itself is actually fairly heavy compared to other SSDs we have looked at, the construction is very solid. Internally however Kingston has made a lot of changes, such as moving to the Sandforce controller, the same controller used in their HyperX line of SSDs.
This however is not just a HyperX drive with a new case, the memory used in the SSD is actually produced by Kingston using 19nm Toshiba wafers. The HyperX line of drives make use of 25nm Intel memory. This results in a lower cost of production but also a bit of a slowdown compared to the HyperX series.
With this in mind I felt it only fair that we compare the performance of the V300 to the original HyperX as well as the HyperX 3K. For purposes of our test I chose to use my main gaming system which is an Intel i7 3820 with 16 Gigs of HyperX RAM on a Sapphire X79 PURE Black motherboard. For testing the drives were connected to the Intel SATA 3.0 connection. For testing I made use of a number of file transfer tests, timed start ups and shut downs as well as synthetic tests using Crystal Disk Mark, PCMark 07 and AS SSD Benchmark.
In testing we found the results to be very consistent, I mean that we could reproduce the results very reliably with next to zero variance. In every test the V300 was able to stay within 10% of read speeds when compared to both HyperX drives. When we got to write speeds the difference in performance showed however with the V300 coming in around 20% or so slower than the HyperX lineup. This is not as big a deal as it sound since, as we have stated here often, throughput is not the biggest speed advantage and SSD brings to your system. Also when it comes to the majority of users write speeds are not that big of deal. You spend a vast majority of your time reading from your hard drive, not writing to it. When the average person does write to their drive it is typically a small file and the throughput threshold does not get pushed. This showed when we did testing of load times on programs and Windows startup were the V300 was so close in performance to the Hyper X that it was impossible without a stopwatch or a direct side by side comparison to notice the difference.
The conclusion I reached from my testing is that the V300 was a great drive for a gamer or average user wanting to get an SSD. Sounds like the end of the review, it is not. You see the push by Kingston here is that this is a value oriented drive and it is. On Newegg we found the upgrade kits priced at around $119 for a 120 Gig drive. This sounds like a solid price for the full upgrade kit and compares well to drives from other companies due to the features of the kit.
However the V300 is a new product as as such has not saturated the retail channel yet, which means in the tech world that the price has not yet had a chance to fall. The same however cannot be said for the HyperX 3K which has done amazing in the market place and has fallen in price with the market saturation it has seen, the result is when I looked on Newegg I found the HyperX 3K kit for the same price as the V300 kit. This complicated matters a great deal when it comes to considering which drive to buy.
If the pricing is equal the choice is a no brainer with the HyperX 3K offering a more robust upgrade kit, both laptop and desktop upgrade features are in the Hyper X kit, plus the drive is actually faster in testing. Right now the choice of which to buy is clear. However as pricing falls on the V300 this will change, this spells good news for the V300 down the road. For most people the V300 delivers a great computing experience and is close enough to the HyperX that if the V300 costs less it is a worthy consideration.
This is the kind of predicament that every hardware company should hope for, their budget product having performance enough to be competitive with their performance product. The only down side for Kingston right now is the fact that the HyperX pricing is down near that of the budget V300.
The V300 is an awesome drive and once the prices settle could be an amazing budget choice for an SSD upgrade.