By Edward “Computer Ed Crisler
When it comes to building a gaming computer a lot of people are turned off by it due to the cost. They think they need to spend a lot of money to enjoy the PC gaming experience. I wanted to prove them wrong and so last week I set about to build a low cost gaming rig. Since I love building in SFF I did this using the Node 304 case and a Gigabyte F2A85XN motherboard. To ensure the best results I opted for the high end of the APU lineup and used an A10 6800K to which I paired 8 gig of Kingston DDR3 2133 RAM. I topped off the build with a Samsung 120 gig base 840 SSD and ended up with a smoking quick little computer.
For testing I made a few presumptions. After all this was a budget build so that meant little money. I presumed I had thrown all my money into the computer so I started firing up F2P games. I chose Neverwinter, Star Wars, DC Universe, League of Legends and then added a beta FPS game I love, Loadout.
My goal in this testing was to explore the play experience. While I did use benchmarks during the testing they where for base data, not the end data results like so many sites use. Benchmarks are all well and good but actually using the computer is all that matters at the end of the day and I was striving for a smooth playback with decent graphics. I am a bit pickier than most so I figure my judgement on this will give more casual gamers great results.
I kept my testing realistic and started at the high end, 1080 resolutions with the games set to medium detail level within game sliders being used. I made use of the default settings to keep this simply. The experience was really solid with all of the game delivering good playback. I did see some stutter in super congested areas within the MMO’s but during the combat or in areas where there was risk of combat the playback was very smooth. League of Legends and Loadout where nice and smooth the whole time and gave good playback.
Next I dropped to 720 resolution and cranked the detail to high, this to me seemed a more realistic setting for this type of setup. At these settings the games had outstanding play with only the barest noticeable stutter in super congested common areas in the MMOs, nothing however to really harm the play experience.
With a total cost for the build of under $600 I think I achieved what I set out to do. A term used a lot today is a Steam Box and this build qualifies. It was super compact and could fit on an entertainment center easily, making use of the TV as a monitor. The use of 720 resolution might be snubbed by many enthusiasts but it does give a solid gaming experience.
Now I could have stopped here and been happy with the results but I wanted to see if there was more. The 6800K is a fully unlocked APU so it can be overclocked. Pushing the system to 4.6GHz with the iGPU at 1 GHz I got a nice boost in my frame rates but the overall experience stayed about the same. However I was curious at how much kick this little brute had, so this started me thinking. The scenario is that you have built this $600 PC and have been gaming on it a bit but you realize you have been bitten by the PC gaming bug and want more. You want 1080 gaming with high detail and you want some of the more advanced games.
Since there is a PCIe slot on the board we are using we do have the option of putting in a high end video card. However I am always hearing people in enthusiast forums talking about how a high end card on an APU is a waste, it will bottleneck the card. Well that is our first test, will it bottleneck the card?
To test this fully I decided to go way over the top. I put a 7970 GHz edition with 6 gigs of memory on this APU based system. Now this is a lot more GPU than this type of build will likely ever get but I wanted to see if the APU was bottlenecking the high end discrete GPU. To do this I needed a baseline and so I used a Haswell i7 4770K clocked at 4.3GHz with 16 gig of Kingston DDR3 1600 memory and the same video card and drivers.
For testing I used 3DMark Firestorm and was watching the GPU score, if the APU was bottleneck the GPU this score would reflect it. This test is pushing 1080 resolutions so I felt it was a perfect pairing of test and GPU to see if the APU was bottlenecking.
Now the scores that rely on the CPU went to the Haswell as expected. However my first surprise came when I saw the overall 3DMark. The Haswell, in overall score was only 12% faster. I ran these tests three times to verify. 12% overall is NOT a huge difference, especially when we are talking about a 236% price difference for the chips.
As if the overall scores where not surprise enough the graphic scores where nearly flabbergasting, the APU stayed within 0.8%, that’s right less than a single point of percentage. In fact in one of three tests it outscored the Haswell by 0.1%. This is pretty clear that from a raw power point of view at 1080 the APU is NOT bottlenecking a high end video card. If my testing was not enough for you how about AnandTech? In an article they posted on 1440 gaming they found that for the majority of games the A10 APU was the best buy for single video card game play at 1440. They did this BTW on a 5800K so they used a slowed base speed APU at stock speeds vs my overclock.
What about actual game play though? Well with the bottleneck issue proven to be a myth I dropped down a little in video card, I wanted a more reasonable build price. With 7950 cards now being seen near $225 that seemed a good point and still gives a higher end card. Next I started firing up some games, this time though I did some stuff with a bit more kick. I used a modded Skyrim, Crysis 3, Far Cry 3, Borderlands 2, Bioshock Infinite, Civ V and our choices from the F2P crowd as well.
Now again the actual game play was our goal and in all but Crysis 3 I was able to run at High default settings and get great game play at 1080. For Crysis 3 I did step back down to medium but even in medium Crysis 3 looks AMAZING! Now in fairness the game ran good at high but the playback was better at medium and so that was what I would suggest. In all the other games on high the playback was smooth and nice, enjoyable game play with no noticeable stuttering.
The results are actually pretty amazing. With a system costing less than $825 I was able to achieve the same gaming experience are systems costing hundreds of dollars more. What is especially cool is that I could build the system at a lower cost, have fun with it and then just put in a video card to kick it over the top. None of the parts I bought where replaced to do this, just a GPU added.
This testing proves to me that the AMD APUs are a lot more than just a budget based chip. Sure they can build a budget system and in my opinion if you are building a system that is using the integrate GPU the APU is the ONLY way worth going. However they are not done there, this budget build can give a solid platform to take your gaming experience to the next level. The high end enthusiast might look at other options for their build, but for the majority of users, the APU is the place to start.
BTW if you want see more than a discussion on this, head over to the LANOC event on September 7th. I will be there along with a slightly modified APU build as discussed here. Come join us and see it in action.
A special thank you to all the companies that provided the parts used in this article.
Show Segment Aired Weekend of August 24th
When we did our original build this year I wanted to look at AMD options but to be honest they where either poorly done or did not exist. The few companies at that time that had A85 mITX boards were not sampling them for review and when I had looked for them, they where hard to find.
However my contacts at Gigabyte told me to be patient, they had one coming. A couple of weeks later in a conversation with some contacts at AMD I found out that AMD was working with gigabyte to make a high quality FM2 mITX design. Well the wait is over and the result is here, the F2A85XN.
Now first let me say I loved the fact they seem to be standardizing a new look. The box and even the board’s coloring is the same as you find on their new Z87N-Wifi. The new black look gives the board an enthusiast feel and looks really nice.
The layout of this board in many ways mirrors that of the previous ITX boards we have seen from Gigabyte. The SATA, front panel and power connectors are along the same side of the motherboard. This design is good and bad. It works out nicely for using cases that mount the motherboard horizontally such as the Node and Prodigy. However if you use a case that mounts the board vertically then this layout can be a pain depending on the way the case is designed. For example in an N200 case this layout is hard to work with due to how close the motherboard sits to the top of the case and makes adding a top fan next to impossible.
The board is pretty stock ITX in the fact it has two slots for RAM as well as a single PCIe. The power system of the board is more robust than that on the Intel boards but this is due to a higher power demand in the case of the APU. The CPU heatsink mount area is very open to give good options for cooling. For connectivity the board comes with WiFi, Bluetooth and Gigabit LAN. You will also find on the back 4 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, dual HDMI, DVI as well as a PS connector and surround sound audio connections.
The board supports DDR3 up to 2400 speeds and Gigabyte made it easy to achieve those speeds by adding support for XMP and AMP. This means setting your memory to it’s rated speed is super easy, nor more tweaking to make the settings work, use the ones the company recommend by just clicking your mouse and you are off to the races. This is a solid feature and by supporting both methods you can be pretty sure your RAM will be supported by one or the other. This is a welcome feature because APUs LOVE RAM speed, being able to get to full speed hassle free is awesome.
With this generation of mITX Gigabyte made a minor adjustment on their wireless that I really like. The previous generation used two antenna attached to the back board and then in long wires to give you good separation for single. These where attached to a weighted base with a soft bottom to not scratch surfaces. While these worked well the issue I had was that depending on your desk it was not always possible to fin a nice, out of the way place to put them. The new antenna has dual leads to the back of the motherboard but is a single antenna design that swivels along a magnetic base. The base is very broad and stable without the magnet but it does have some interesting options for mounting by including it as you can see.
This board is very versatile with the ability to offer itself to the the enthusiast or even just the HTPC builder looking for small form factor. We where able to overclock our 6800K with ease to 4.6GHz and never have a heat of stability issue with the board. I am kind of excited to see how far we can go. Speaking of that we will be seeing more of this board soon as we have a couple of FM2 build we will be discussing in the coming weeks.
Priced on Newegg at around $105 this is a great motherboard and should be on every APU systems build list. If you are going small form factor it is simple the BEST mITX board for FM2 you can buy.
- Quality ITX board for FM2
- Enthusiast grade quality in the build
- Easy Overclocking
- Good Wifi and Bluetooth plus LAN to give you lots of connection options
- AMP and XMP memory setting support
- Reasonable price
- Connection layout can be an issue for some cases.
- Wish they would kill the PS2 and have added more USB
Thank you to the folks at Gigabyte for providing this board for our review and use in future projects.
Review as aired on Computer Ed Radio the weekend of August 10th.
Okay lets get this out of the way before we get started. Yes, I work for Sapphire and they make AMD based video cards. Yes my final build is using a Sapphire video card. Yes I know the someone will cry that I am not able to be fair in my evaluation of graphics cards, however my advice is get over it. Over the years I have been accused of being a fan boy for both sides. I have always striven to give our audience the best information I have at hand and will not stop now. So now that we have that full disclosure out of the way can we get on with a discussion?
Choosing a graphics card today is tough and the reason why is both nVidia and AMD have given us some GREAT cards to choose from. Okay let me rephrase that, both have given us great chips. Neither company actually makes the cards, that is up to the various partners. If you read or listen to our past shows you know that I have always recommended that if you want an AMD card choose Sapphire and if you want an nVidia card then EVGA is your first choice. The opinion was formed years ago after dealing with many video cards from many venders and it has not changed today. We have a lot of options for our video needs and I am going to try to help you narrow those choices down.
For the purposes of our build we are setting our sights at game play with the resolution of 1080 and details levels in the high to ultra range. With this in mind we can quickly narrow down our choices and walk through them from the lowest cost to the most expensive.
The lowest cost card I would look at is the HD 7790, a relatively new card on the market. Priced at around $150 this card can do a solid job of gaming at 1080 and with most games set on high. A few of the more intense games might require the detail level to be lowered but they are the exception. A little further up the food chain we have the GTX 650Ti Boost. This card offers a nice step up in performance from the 7790 with only a mild cost increase but if you want a little extra umph, it is worth a look.
Next we come HD 7850, our 2012 Golden Mic Winner. If you thought it was an attractive buy when we named it for our award, now it is practically a steal. At under $200 is offers a great gaming experience for the money and many games will run at 1080 with the detail set to ultra, about an even mix will need to back off to high. For an ITX build the card is small, the Sapphire model we award cools amazing and is super silent. A perfect fit for an ITX build. Up the run around the $200 mark is the GTX 660, again, as in the last rung this card gives a bump in performance over the 7850 but that bump comes with a price. From a size point of view the GTX 660 is a little larger physically, but still easily fits in our ITX build.
With the next card up things begin to spread out a bit, priced at around $220 the HD 7870 gives a nice bump over the GTX 660 in performance. Only a tiny bit longer than the HD 7850 this card is a great size for the ITX build and packs a lot of gaming horsepower, chugging through most games at ultra detail and a few needing to step back to high.
The final rung we hit is the top of the cards we will talk about. The reason for this is simple, at the 7870 we have pretty much made every game we play smooth and with great detail, anything after this is gravy.
For our first entry at the top of our ITX build list is the GTX 660ti. This card packs a lot of horsepower into an package costing around $280. It can run any game we threw at it at ultra levels and does so with seeming ease. The top dog card for this build is the HD 7950, tipping the price scale at around $290. The 7950 is physically bigger than it’s actually a little longer than the 660ti however it still fits well in our ITX build. The 7950 brings more horsepower than the 660ti as well as a large memory buffer, 3GB instead of 2GB along with more memory bandwidth. Now at 1080 this is not a big deal as 2GB is plenty and both cards haven enough horse power to push the pixels around with ease. The advantage of the 7950 comes in when you push a ton of HD mods on a game like Skyrim or decide to go for a 1440 display or bigger instead of the 1080.
In this look we have covered a range of $150 and looked at 7 video cards. This is what meant when I said choosing a card was tough. All 7 cards mentioned will give a great gaming experience and each step up gives a little more detail to your games and horsepower for the future. The choice you make is based on balancing your budget against the gaming experience you desire.
The good news is that ANY of the cards mentioned here will give you a great experience, but there can be only one as the saying goes. Based on the cost, performance and our stated goal of 1080, the HD 7870 is the best bang for our buck in this build. It will give you amazing game play as well as being reasonably priced.
Be sure to join us on the March 27th at Rend Lake College, Doug and I will be there to talk to everyone, give some stuff away as well as show off the ITX rig we have been talking about the last few weeks. Come on by and see it in action first hand.
We would like to thank the folks at EVGA and SAPPHIRE for providing the card samples we used in our testing. All discussion of card pricing was based on EVGA and SAPPHIRE cards on Newegg at the date of this article.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 20th, 2013
This week AMD released their Vishera cored processor, the third try at the FX lineup. Now if you have not read my opinion of the first try at the FX I would direct you there so you can understand why I was skeptical about this try. Now before I get the deluge of comments and emails reminding me, yes I know this is only the SECOND chip set for the FX. The reason I say this is the third try is that AMD did try to fix the FX performance with a software based solution after the original release. Okay maybe this would be better called 2.5 and give AMD only half credit for the software attempt.
For our testing AMD sent us the FX 8350, the high end 8 core chip of the FX lineup. Priced at around $200 this chip is fully AM3+ compatible and can be a direct plug in replacement for any of the 1st generation FX chips. In fact this is how I did my testing, replacing the 8150 my wife has been using.
As with the original 8150 test I started at looking at the base single core to see how it measured up. I was interested in looking here first as this was the weak spot of the 8150 and was curious how much of an improvement they achieved. For our testing I also went back to the original tests with the Phenom II 1100 and fired up some single threaded action.
In our briefings from AMD we were told we would see about a 15% boost in performance over the original FX release. The results were not quite to 15%, my testing showing a bump of about 12% at the same clock speed. This is a nice improvement over the initial design. Compared to the Phenom II this resulted in a bump however of only around 4%, nice exactly the boost we were hoping for.
Now in fairness the chip is meant for heavy multi-threaded action so a single core test is not a real indicator of performance but I wanted to see what, if any real improvements to the actual core was made.
Throwing this system into my wife’s machine with a 6950 for video I began working through various programs and benchmarks to get a better feel. I also let her play with it a few days and then replaced the chip with again with the 8150.
From a computing experience there was no difference that could be seen. Both chips delivered great gaming experiences and overall computing was smooth and fast.
When I moved to comparisons with the Intel i5 chips the results were along the lines I expected. The Intel and AMD chip deliver nearly identical experiences in computing, it is all but impossible to really tell the difference. In more quantitative testing the new FX lineup fairs much better than the first run, with numbers actually close to Intel a lot of the time. Intel maintained an overall lead but the difference was slimmer and made this chip competitive with Intel.
The true test of this chip is what it does when the threads are flying and this thing is pushing all 8 cores, it is a beast. In super heavy threaded applications the FX shines, not as much as we hoped but still it rocks through those types of jobs with little effort.
This chip is aimed squarely at the hard core DIY builder, with it’s easy to overclock, unlocked design. From a general gamer or builder point of view I think the chip is a solid choice but still not the first choice with a few exceptions.
The one area this chip takes a nice lead in is pricing, with the 8350 coming in under the i5 3570K, Intel’s unlocked solution. However as with the last generation I do not think the 8350 is the star of this lineup.
The FX 8320 is selling right now for about $180 and the 6300 for around $140. This makes both chips very attractive when you add in the fact they are both unlocked. The 8320 is still 8 cores and with only a mild overclock that it should hit easily the chip will match the more costly 8350. The 6300 is a six core processor but again can match the higher speeds of the 8350 and give gamers similar performance for less money.
This time around I think AMD gimped themselves with the 4300, a solid quad chip no doubt but it is the same CPU core as the A10 processor except it lacks the onboard GPU. From a pure budget build the A10, which is also unlocked, is just a more versatile chip and in my opinion a better value.
AMD has made some definite improvements in the FX lineup but the improvements made are still below the expectations they built up for the original FX chips. This still feels a little like a let down overall. However that does not mean we should despair. This round of FX chips are more competitive with Intel than the previous, even after Intel’s recent releases. When you take into account platform price and general computing experience Intel has some solid competition in the mainstream lineup.
AMD has had a rough go this year with their FX processor falling well below everyone’s expectations on performance. With the FX not reaching the level they wanted AMD has put a lot of focus on their Fusion design and the Trinity APU is the newest entry. AMD sent us the A10 5800K to take a look at.
The new Fusion processor takes the Bulldozer basic design, with some tweaking and adds a more powerful parallel co-processor over the original Fusion chips. The result is a more powerful APU design that is also more efficient.
The particular model we have in house, the A10 5800K is the top end of the new Fusion APU lineup. As you can see from the chart the line up includes 4 quad core chips, 2 of them setup for lower TDP along with 2 dual core chips. The 5800, 5600 and 5400 are K branded chips which means they are unlocked for easier overclocking. The A10 chips have the higher end of the onboard graphic options. The 5800 is priced at around $130 and the other chips will work down the price line accordingly.
The new chip brings with it a new socket and thus new motherboards. To allow us to test the chip AMD sent an Asus F2A85-M Pro board. This is one of the higher end boards for the new FM2 socket and is designed to provide a solid mainstream priced board with some good features for overclocking. Like the previous APUs we looked at, the A10 will make use of faster RAM and so for our testing we used Hyper-X DDR3 1866 RAM courtesy of Kingston.
For purposes of our testing I did my testing with a lot of basic work as well as video play back. For gaming I focused at 720 resolution settings but also pushed the testing to the 1080 resolution based on our briefing from AMD. For the basic work testing we did batch runs of photo resizing as well as well as used a number of benchmarks designed to work in Word and Excel. For gaming we chose from some of todays popular games; Borderlands 2, Star Trek Online, World of Warcraft, Mechwarrior Online (now that the NDAS is lifted) and Civilization V.
Using just the onboard graphics the chip was able to deliver on everyday use with ease. There we no functions we threw at the chip that resulted in a performance hit that was noticeable, even when compared head to head with faster processors. The video playback using HD video was smooth and looked great. Gaming produced some really surprising results when you realize it was purely onboard graphics. I found most game ran okay at 1080 with a medium detail setting and at 720 the detail level could crank up and the performance was still very playable.
As with the first APU release, this chip allows a hybrid crossfire using the 6670 and 6570 to boost the gaming horsepower. As with that release the results were solid when the game supported it. The good news is more games today come with multi-card support out of the box. These means you can get a solid lower cost gaming system if needed.
When we move into the CPU side of this APU the results are still very close to the first APU releases. The move to the “Bulldozer” style core shows off when it is mutli-tasking hard but in single threaded apps it still falls on it’s face when compared to older chips. However more software is moving to a multi-threaded setup so the chip is not being hurt as much as it might have been a year or two ago.
When you take this chip as a whole and do not segregate the two components, the chips shines. When compared to the i3 processors from Intel, the ones that match the price point, the A10 is a solid choice. When the thread count rises the A10 takes a good lead in performance and the onboard graphics blows away Intel’s offering. This makes this chip a great choice for a low cost build, HTPC or an entry level gaming PC.
The key here however is that this is meant for entry level. As you raise the cost of your PC you begin to get options open that offer a more powerful solution. So it brings AMD back to the game when it comes to the entry and budget level builds due to being more versatile that the competition with solid performance and way over the top video capabilities.
However the place this chip will really shine is in cookie cutter (OEM) machines. If you are going into a store and looking to buy that basic $600 PC then look for a system using an A10 or A8, these are the best choice by far. They deliver a more complete package then the competition and have some nice low cost upgrade options built into the design.
For most of this year AMD has struggled to hang on to the entry level with some decent offerings but nothing that gave them a clear edge. It is nice to see AMD finally climb up and not have to hold on by it’s finger tips, but rather stand tall and again take command of this market segment.
Segment as aired live 6 October 2012
In December we saw AMD release their new lineup of video cards, first with the 7900 series. This was their high end high performance and sadly high priced lineup. The price point was higher than many expected and generally higher than most reviews thought it should be. In February AMD brought round two of the new card lineup to us with the 7700 series. These cards are meant for budget minded gamers and again on release many thought the pricing was a bit high to the performance offered. So how will AMD fair with round 3?
For the third round AMD is aiming squarely at the performance gaming market with the release of the 7800 series. For this review we were supplied by Sapphire with a 7850 based card, specifically their overclocked division. The 7850 is targeted right at the nVidia GTX 560 ti with a price point that should show up around $250.
Four our testing we put this card into a 2500K based and 3820 based system for testing. We started with our normal round of games, this time working with Skyrim, Reckoning, Supreme Commander II, Dirt 3, Batman Arkham City and Civilization V. All of our testing was done at 1080 resolutions with the in game settings put to the highest offered.
The overall game play experience was pretty much the same for the 6950 and 560 Ti we used for testing. However this is something we have come to expect, the leap from one generation to the next in the mainstream seldom makes a noticeable bump. So next we move to benchmarking to see if there is a difference.
As we began benchmarking the 7850 began to shine as it repeatedly showed on average an almost 20% boost in performance. In fact the performance numbers were so good we pulled another card into the mix, the GTX 570. Priced higher than the expected price of the 7850 this was nice to see, the card was running right with and often besting the 570. We turn to synthetic benchmarks such as 3dMark 11 and Heaven and again saw this card pushing the 570 hard.
Now in fairness the card to sent to us by Sapphire is an overclocked card, the normal clock speed of the 7850 is 860 MHz and this card is out of box running at 920 MHz. This extra boost pushed the performance up over stock for sure but that does not change the fact that this card is running head to head with a more expensive card. However it is not just that the 7850 is less expensive.
When you first look at this card and release the graphic power it brings to the table your first reaction is, WOW this is small. As you can see from this comparison with a 6950 the 7850 is a very small card.
It is however not just the size of the card that is small, so is the power consumption. The total system power of the test system using the 7850 was almost a full 75 watts lower than a 560ti and around 50 watts lower than a 6950, over 100 watts lower than the 570. That’s some pretty impressive load reduction over cards that are about the same speed or slower.
When we move to noise level things get even better. The Sapphire 7850 OC uses a custom dual fan cooling solution. The result is a very quiet card. During gaming on headphones, if you were not on the headphones you could noticeably heard the 560ti, 6950 and 570 all kick up to higher fans speeds. Despite even longer gaming session I never have heard the 7850 kick up the fans audibly.
The combination of a lower power package and an excellent cooling system has resulted in a card that just does not seem to ramp up much when it heats up. The reason is that cooling solution tied with that lower power usage translates into less heat. At no time, in our Level 10 GT case could we push the 7850 over 55C while gaming. All three of the other cards pushed to near or over 70C in the same case.
Sapphire has once again stepped up to the plate with the 7850 OC. The build quality and the great custom cooling solution are something we have come to expect from Sapphire over the years. The card comes with a solid set of connection options including HDMIO, DVI, Displayport, VGA adapter, HMDI to DVI adapter and mini Displayport to full size Display Port. The card makes use of a single PICe 6 pin connector for power.
While this card is overclocked out of the gate it still has a lot of headroom. I was able to hit the limits imposed in the drivers for both the GPU and Memory for the card with no issues. The card still ran perfect and the temps never crested 60C when gaming. Even better, even with the overclock the card still using less power than the 560ti, 6950 or 570 at stock speeds. At these speeds it was beginning to push at 580 stock benchmarks.
While this card performs well it has a few obstacles to overcome. First this card is put into one of the hardest segments of the GPU sales to be in, the mainstream. The reason this segment is so hard is that it is full of cards that despite being older, all still deliver amazing gaming experiences.
Additionally since the card is not yet on the shelves we are still not 100% sure on the pricing. The claims out of AMD are we should see this near the $250 price point but that seems a bit steep. Especially when you realize the next card down on the AMD chart is at $150 to $160. That is a large gap in the pricing structure and we hope to see that gap close over the next few months.
Having looked at the 7700 series and now the 7800 series, I can tell you the card I like the best is the 7850. The $250 price point is a bit steep but not outrageous when you take all factors into account. The card will easily give any gamer on a 1080 display enough horsepower for an amazing gaming experience in any game they want to play. Sapphire has taken the base design and one upped it with an excellent cooling solution that will let you push the potential even farther on this card making it an even bigger value for it’s performance.
In the press deck AMD gave us during our briefing for this release we told serious gaming began with the 7850. Normally I ignore marketing hype but in this case they are correct, this is a great place with the current cards on the market for serious gaming to begin. However I would go one step further, if you gaming rig is going to be a single 1080 monitor then this is were it ends as well. Anything past this will not push the gaming experience enough to surpass this card with the current market. This single card is the real sweet spot for gamers right now.
Sapphire HD 7850 OC Review Aired 17 March 2012
AMD has a history of filling a product line when they do a processor. I mean look at all the model and speed choices we got with the Phenom II and Athlon II. So when we looked at the A8-3850 6 months ago I fully expected us to see a full product line up of these value based Fusion processors to shortly follow. What followed however was 2 A6 and 2 A4 models and that was it, the line up seemed to stall there. This was really odd because as I said AMD is known for a full product line. However we now see two new A series chips, the A8-3870 and the A6 3670.
Both of these chips are 100 MHz bumps over the chips that preceded them, so it is hard to get excited about the performance bump. AMD however took the initiative and did something more, both chips are Black Edition, which means they are fully unlocked for overclocking. So while the 100 MHz bump is not all that exciting the overclocking holds the promise of more. For our testing AMD sent us the A8 3870K, so lets throw it into our Fusion system and see what we get.
A quick refresher the Fusion APU is a traditional CPU with a Parallel Co-Processor, or GPU on the same die. This extra unit means the chip can perform all the graphic functions the computer needs for display and is also fully usable by APIs such as Direct Computer and OpenAL for GPU computing.
The A8-3870 is the current flagship of the APU lineup clocked at 3.0 GHz with GPU portion running at 600 MHz. For defining the GPU performance level AMD has listed this as a 6550D. For our testing we used the same system as our original A series review, all we did was swap the processor and began our testing.
First we established baselines at stock speed in comparison to the A8 3850 and as expected the performance was so close as to be un-noticeable in difference. Remember though this was only a 100 MHz speed bump so stock performance was not were we expected to see a difference. This chip is unlocked however so overclocking should be easy. So we started by overclocking the 3850 we had and was able to achieve a stable overclock with no tweaking at 3.3GHz. Firing up the 3870 I was hoping for more but hit 3.4Ghz and would have been forced to start tweaking voltages and such to go further. The result was not as much as I had hoped.
However the CPU portion is only the beginning, with the 3850 we where unable to get any overclock on the GPU portion but with the 3870 we where able to pull some nice boost. We where able to take the speed up to 775 MHz without any tweaking and this resulted in a 3D Mark 11 Performance score boost of about 28%, pushing it close to the Performance score of a 6570. Next we paired the overclock chip with a 6670 and watched the performance go up more netting us another 17% above the performance we saw with the stock speeds and the 6670 is Crossfire.
While the overclocking we got gave a nice little speed bump, overall it is a very limited overclock. These chips are just pushing the envelope with stock speeds it seems and overclocking them is a neat exercise but any real bumps are just not going to happen without a lot of effort. This is a bit disappointing considering how well other Black Edition chips have overclocked historically for AMD.
What does this mean for you? Well we where able to run Skyrim at High Detail at 1440×900 and it was butter smooth throughout our game play session. Further I could play Champions Online at max detail at 1440×900 and run pretty high frame rates, easily high enough to make lag from the hardware a none issue. This chip will not win any performance marks out of the game but take this chip with a sub $100 video card and you get some really solid performance that will easily meet a budget gamers needs.
The system when running the 6670 in crossfire can push into 1080 resolution game play but you need to start backing down some settings. I did most of my testing at 1440 because this is a realistic resolution for the price point with details levels as high as possible.
Sadly however this may be Llano’s, the codename for this chip, last hoorah. Trinity based APUs were on display at CES in their mobile version and the desktop is likely not far behind. These next generation APUs will be based on Piledriver and be of a completely different architecture so the performance we will see compared to Llano is up in the air until we can get one. The 3870 and 3670 could very well be the only refresh we see on the first run of APUs.
If you are a hardware tinkerer and want to do a low budget build with some gaming potential the APU platform is really a must look at for your first choice. With even the onboard video and overclocking you can get fair performance for basic gaming at 1440×900. Drop in a low cost video card and you can game decent at 1080 or great detail levels at 1440. These unlocked APUs are a neat chip to look at but at the end of the day will be a minor blip on the APU radar as this phase of the APU is pushed out of the way by Trinity.
The FM1 Socket APU however has done it’s job and made it’s note in history. The first real APU design this chip has shown that an integrated graphics solution CAN be done and done well, not just basic functionality. The ability for it to be used outside the graphics area and as a full parallel co-processor is it’s most important contribution in my eyes. So with my Fire and Ice reference I think it is fitting that instead of going quietly into that good night as Trinity comes along, Llano should go out with a last hoorah and take the Black. Heading to the wall to give us our start into a new kind of chip.
2011 will go down as an interesting year to say the least. Perhaps the biggest news of this year has been the lose of Steve Jobs. I do not care if you love or hate Apple, there is no way any sane person can say Steve Jobs did not have a major impact on computing as we know it today. His lose is a lose to all of us that love computing as a hobby.
When it comes to computer hardware we have arguably had one of the slowest years we have seen in a long time. The high point of the year was AMD finally getting their Fusion processor out in the wild. While it may not be the powerhouse of CPUs, it does bring the best integrated graphics we have yet seen and does it with a solid CPU backing it at a very economical price. This chip will not win any benchmarks are even tug at the strings of the hardcore computing crowd but the true enthusiast understands the importance of this chip and what it potentially represents to the future.
On the other end of the scale AMDs FX launch was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. After a long wait full of AMD hype we where treated to the first 8 core processor which happened to be slower in some cases than AMDs Phenom II 6 core. The FX is an entirely new design and while AMD might have been looking to the future they overlooked the present and the FX launch was far from anything exciting.
The video card market looked to be dry for the year until AMD pulled a last minute paper launch of their 7970 video card. While it has the muscle to propel it into the lead as the fastest single GPU card out it has the distinction of also being the most expensive single GPU card and by a margin that makes it much less attractive. The 7000 series design looks promising but until we see the performance and cost of the chip as it works into mainstream cards it is to early to call this new GPU design a hit. Now people are going to point out the 560 launches as well as the 6900 launches but these where in effect more of the same with existing designs.
Intel was not silent this year, gracing us with the release of their Extreme processors. The two chips introduced are essentially i7 processors with a new memory controller and 6 cores. The speed advantage they offer is minor compared the the existing i7 2600 or even the i5 2500 for 99% of users. But then again these are One Percenter chips targeted at the people that will pay $100 for the high end chip and $500 for the next tier chip. These chips look great in benchmarks but real world performance for most users the chips are not worth the cost.
We did see the SSD gain ground as a more mainstream solution, aided by a flood that cause spindle drive prices to spike. While the release of a new SATAIII controller might have been the tech advancement, the real gain for SSDs this year was watching their price fall. We are getting close to that $1 per gig price point that could open the SSD flood gates.
Software saw F2P gaming move fully into the mainstream with a number of triple A titles making to move to the F2P model. This move was something we have been saying to expect on this show for some time and the MMO world has really made the move to embrace it full tilt. Add in the depth of games now being added to social sites that use the F2P model as well we are seeing the true power of this pricing model come to light.
Gaming this year has seen some of the best releases in a long time. The RPG world had a number of titles worthy of anyone’s gaming money release, all led by Skyrim and Witcher 2. Batman and Assassin’s Creed both came back with strong sequels for the action gamer and proved that a sequel can be great. FPS game play saw the two heavy weights in the industry, Modern Warfare and Call of Duty square off in a death match for the best of the year.
Finally we will look back on 2011 as the year the entertainment industry made a real grab at political power. Using their heavy lobby and clout they where able to by pass due process and force ISPs to punish subscribers based on the word of the industry watchdogs alone, doing this with White House backing. As the year closes there is a bill up that the entertainment industry basically wrote that will take these tactics to a new level allowing them to use the power of not just ISPs, but the federal government to bypass the due process system and take punitive actions against anyone they want to claim is a pirate.
I have been around computing a long time and to be honest this has been one of the quieter years I can recall. However the high points have been great and the low points dismal. One can only begin to wonder what 2012 will bring.
Be sure to tune into our show this week as we discuss our thoughts on the best of 2011 as well as take our look at were we think things will go in 2012.
From all of us at Computer Ed Radio and our families we wish you and your families the best in this new year!
Buying for the geek in your life can be hard and we all know it. The typical geek gets what he wants when he wants it and the only things left on his Christmas list are usually items that are way outside our Christmas budgets. Our current economy has people being forced to cut spending costs so these items are even less possible to buy, but fear not Computer Ed is on the case. I have put together a list of a few items that can fit most budgets and will make any geek happy.
Mousing Surface: We have talked about these on the show and while they may not seem sexy they are something that geeks appreciate when it comes to getting the most out of their computing experience. There are a lot of them out there but only one that I would want under my tree. The WoW!Pad is ultrathin and made of the PVC material making it super durable. It is available in a few different sizes and ranges in price from $10 to $6 on Amazon. The WoW!Pad comes in a few different sizes and round as well as the normal squared look. Personally I have used the largest pad for a long time now and still love it. The WoW!Pad also comes in some interesting styles with the Master’s Series which have a number of great paintings on the pads. No cloth or thick bulking pad here, just clean durable mousing goodness.
USB Keys: No self respecting geek can ever have to many USB keys and my choice for years has been the Corsair Voyager line. This USB key is unique in that it has a rubber housing. This makes these drives incredibly durable. How durable you ask? In our initial testing of these drives on release the test drive worked perfectly after be dropped 12 stories, run over by a car, stepped on by your truly, washed three times in a row and chewed on by a dog. All of these tests where done to the save drive, so it was a cumulative effect and it still kept working. Currently you can pick up a USB 2.0 model with 16 gig for under $20 on Newegg. Eight gig models are consistently below $20 and up to 32 gig which can be had below $50. The entire lineup of Corsair Flash Voyager models can be found on Newegg, check them out.
Warming the Heart: I do not know anyone that does not have a person in their lives that is not always cold. You know the people I am talking about, they keep a space heater under their desk and even have it on low sometimes in the summer. They might be warm of heart but their hands and feet are always cold. Well we have something here to help the hands at least, USB Heating Gloves. These nifty little mitts have two heaters in each glove and are powered by the USB ports on your PC. The ends turn up to allow the fingers to type or can be turned down to allow for maximum hand warming. At a reasonable price of $22 these are a great gift that can be fun and practical for the female geek in house. However do not feel left out guys, there is a model for men as well. You can find these at usb.brando.com.
Boys Just Want To Have Fun: Yeah I know the song says girls but the truth is so do boys and nothing can be as fun for a guys as something wacky and militarily oriented. With that in mind bring to his desk his very own USB Rocket Launcher.
I know this gets talked about every year but seriously these are cool. Priced at under $20, you can find these at Think Geek and make the little boy in your geek really happy this year. The device needs batteries which is a bit of a bummer but can be controlled from the computer to rotate, aim and launch it’s foam warheads of fun across the room. These are great fun and your guy will love it, that is until mom gets hit in the head and then a disarmament is forced on you.
Light Up Their Life: Most geeks, especially gamers, seem to have this affinity to using their computers in darkened rooms. I know I have it and others I know prefer it as well. For me it stems from the fact that the screen pops more and lets me see my games details easier. Whatever the reason this is just a fact of life. The overhead lights of a room are just to much and often finding a small desk lamp is okay but difficult to get it to light just the area you want it. The good news is that there are a ton of USB lighting system out there from traditional desk lamps to flexible neck devices. These flexible lamps are great for laptops but I like them for some of the new mechanical keyboards. These can plug into the USB hub on something like a Steelseries or Thermaltake mechanical keyboard and give good lighting for those dark gaming sessions. USB lighting can be priced anywhere from $10 to around $30 but it comes in quite a few different styles, check out usb.bando.com for a wide selection.
Game On: Speaking of those dark night gaming sessions, lets face it we all have a gamer in our life. With our budgets like they are right now, many of the gamers we know out there have moved to the F2P models of gaming. While the game is free to play there are however always little items in game that the person might want to buy and getting the points for those items requires spending a little real cash. With this in mind a great gift for those gamers can be purchasing some of the game store points for them. These store point bundles can come in various price packages ranging from $10 to around $30. Some of the games will require you to do it through their site but some games like Wizard 101 have point cards available in stores.
Protecting the Smart Phone: Can you seriously say you know a geek that does not have a smart phone on their hip? If so you have found a species of geek that will be extinct in a few years. Today smart phones are the craze and we all seem to have them, we also all seem to drop them sooner or later as well. These are not just phones for us, they can often be our business or even more important our portable internet connection! With this in mind we should protect these investments and nothing says safe to your smart phone user like an Otterbox phone case.
These are the premier portable devices cases and while they are not the most inexpensive, they are the best protection your devices can have. Pricing can range from as low as $20 to as high as $75 depending on the device you want to protect and the level of protection you want to have. I have used these, and tested a few, they really are the best protection your phone can have bar none.
Check for these at your local cell service store, or if they do not have them then head over to the Otter Box site to look at their selection.
Gaming at the Next Level: Okay we have kept the budget under control a bit but sometimes it is better to get one uber gift than a lot of cool ones. If you have a budding gamer in your life there is a chance he is suffering from video card envy. The problem is modern PC games need some umph in their video card to really enjoy them and most budget cost PCs do not come with that umph. The good news is the video cards of today often pack some nice gaming power in a reasonably priced package. Video cards based on the AMD 6670 or the nVidia 550Ti can be had for the $100 to $130 price range. These will take a budget PC to a whole new world when it comes to gaming, allow for good gaming performance without breaking the bank. While you can get these cards locally I would suggest looking at sites like Amazon and Newegg first to get the best prices.
I could keep going, listed all sorts of other devices for the geek in your life but we only have so much time before Christmas and I do not want you to spend all that time reading a wall of text. The good news though is that you can make your geek happy this year without spending a lot of money. If you have geek gift questions be sure to email them in or call into the live show. Also listen to our show for more gift ideas over the next week. Of course be sure to keep listening and enter our holiday giveaway to maybe win something cool for your geek or like our Facebook page for a chance to win all year long.
Remember, the family geek is one of the most under appreciated people in the family, at least we feel that way often, take some time this Christmas to show you how much he means to you. Let him enjoy the new toys he gets this year before you ask him to make your work for you.
With the release of the FX processor we and others began taking some serious look sat the 900 series motherboards, they are after all the high end of the AMD board lineup and so it only makes sense. However the FX was not just released at the high end but at the low end as well with the 4100 chip. There where also some lower cost 900 series motherboards released, using the 970 series chipset. Budget oriented solutions may not be as sexy as the high end but lets be real, they represent a more common purchasing choice. For our first look at a 970 based motherboard we turn to our friends at Gigabyte and the 907A-UD3 motherboard.
Price at $109 this board is right in the ball park of a higher quality budget board. While this might be a budget board in pricing thought it is more expensive in it’s features, something we have come to expect with Gigabyte budget boards. This board packs in Gigabyte’s On/Off Charge USB tech which allows the USB ports on the board to be used as a charging station for your portable devices. Add to this an all solid capacitor design, a solid onboard audio solution, SATA and USB 3.0, also an internal USB 3 header as well as Gigabytes traditional extra copper in the board foundation and you have a board that has a rich feature set.
While the board has two full size PCIe slots, only one of them is capable of x16 speeds, the second is limited to x4. This is a limitation of the 970 chipset, as it does not provide as many available PCIe lanes and the 990 chip. This means this board will not support Crossfire or SLI like the 990FX chip, there has to be a reason for some savings in cost after all.
While this board might be light for multi-card solutions it is not coming up short on SATA capabilities with full SATA 3.0 support and six ports to allow for some nice RAID options if you so choose. Thankfully we do not see any standard ATA hookups anymore taking up board space. We do have 4 DDR3 slots allowing form up to 32 Gigs of RAM if you want to pony up for the 8 gig sticks.
While this might be a budget board in price it is far from a budget board in build quality and that shows with the 8+2 Phase power that is onboard. This means the system is going to get a nice clean and stable power flow and well as better overclocking possibilities. To further enhance this we see some consideration for better heat removal from the board with some well placed and designed heat sinks.
Working around to the back of the board we see eight USB 2 connectors as well as two connectors for USB 3.0, meaning your USB devices have plenty of places in the back for your USB devices. You also get a gigabit LAN connector, PS2 port, Firewire and the full range of sound connection options. This is something we have come to expect with gigabyte boards and the 970A delivers, USB connectivity is not an issue. This is further enhanced with 3 connection headers for USB on the motherboard as well as an internal USB 3 header.
So we know we have a solid, feature rich and well constructed board at a reasonable price, but how does it perform? Well after updating to the latest BIOS we drop an FX 8150 into the board and hit the power. Right out of the gate it came up and correctly IDed the 8150, so far so good. We put in 8 gigs of RAM, put a 6850 in for video and began running the same test we ran when we looked at the 8150 on two different 990FX based boards.
At stock speeds the 970A delivered exactly what we have come to expect, the same performance as the more expensive boards. People get caught up in thinking that the more expensive boards deliver better performance. This is NOT true at stock settings. A 970 board with the same CPU, RAM and GPU will perform just like a 990FX. The savings does reduce your options by not allowing multiple GPUs but for more budget oriented users this is not a big deal.
As we move to overclocking we see where the lower costs boards begin to hit their limits. The 970A has some solid options in it’s old school BIOS but at the end of the day it just does not offer the features for the open overclocking that the 990FX boards we have seen offer. I was able to get my 8150 to 4.2 Ghz with little effort but the chip seemed to stall there. I tried a few quick tricks but did not push to hard. This means the the 970A was unable to match the simple overclocking level of the 990FX boards.
What this means in the end is that if you are looking to buy an FX processor, or for that matter any of the Phenom II lineup and running at stock speeds then the 970A-UD3 is a great option that cane saver you some money and deliver performance that the extra money will not buy you with other boards. If you are planning on a budget build then this baord NEEDS to be your first stop on the shopping list. Buying the 970A with an FX 4100 or a Phenom II and a solid single card solution like a 6870 and you will get a good AMD based build that will meet most computing experience needs.
Sure for some extra money you could move to a higher end board but unless you are planning on spending some time tweaking for overclocking and running multiple cards you will not gain ANYTHING that justifies the extra cost. For most people this is the current board they should look at if they are building a budge AMD platform based system. Gigabyte has delivered through the last few generations with the x70 based boards and the 970A continues in this excellent tradition.
Well I might be Computer Ed at the end of the day I am just like the rest of you and crap happens. The SD card in the camera that held all of our review pictures of this board decided to die on us. The 970A is currently in use with a Noctua cooler on it for testing and rather than disassemble it and get you fresh pictures I am using the stock pictures provided by Gigabyte.
970A-UD3 Review as aired 12 November 2011