Friday, October 24, 2014

Assessing the chances of ending up with SLI

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One of the reasons why I downsized only to the MicroATX form factor is because I wanted to keep room for expansion. But too much option is no better as well, because I'm having a hard time picking a graphics card to upgrade from GTX 670 to.

Establishing whether or not I would go for SLI would make all the difference. If I go with SLI, I need to get the Palit GTX 970 with blower style cooler. Else I can settle for the quieter and better built MSI Gaming 4G which has an open air style cooler.

Why would I need SLI? Would the power of a single GTX 970 be inadequate at 1440p?

I currently game at 1440p with my GTX  670. I don't play a lot of games - it's true - and so far I haven't seen any major issues. Of course I cannot run all of the games at ultra quality settings - both because of the GPU not having enough horse-power as well as lack of frame buffer.

The issue is that I'm very sensitive to frame-rate. Since the Korean PLS panel that I own can ru at 96Hz refresh rate, I would ideally want to run all games at 96Hz or more. That's not attainable with a single GTX 970 in most of the titles at 1440p. Two cards might be able to do it, however even then some games would not be tamed so easily.

But you are not making sense!

Wait...what? Oh...you - whoever that is in my head - have a point.

Like I said in a previous post, I would not be going for SLI right from the beginning due to financial complexities. But if that is the case, I would have to do with just one card for a foreseeable future. That means, the argument about sensitivity to FPS is just an excuse to tip the balance towards getting SLI. If sensitivity to FPS was a significant issue, I would have to forget about the financials and go for SLI right from the beginning. Get it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

GTX 970 cards with blower style coolers - no good?

I am just about to dump my hard earned money into a new graphics card so naturally I want to get the most out of it. Performance-per-dollar and performance-per-wattage wise there is no better card currently available than the GTX 970 which is substantially faster than the GTX 670 that I currently own. So, I am quite fixed on the GTX 970, but there is a complication.

Since I have a small case with a positive air pressure design philosophy, I have to get a card that exhausts the hot air out of the case, instead of one that dumps hot air straight back in to the case. That means, I need to get a card that comes equipped with a blower style cooler. It might not be that critical for a single GPU configuration, because these cards do not put out a lot of heat, however SLI is a bit of a problem. Even though there is no chance of SLI at the moment, I want to keep that option available.

Not only that, with my motherboard, there is no free slots between them if I install two cards, therefore the top card will run extremely hot as it suffocates for fresh air. This would not be an issue with cards with blower style coolers as the cool air is sucked in from the front of the card, not top of the card (or the bottom when installed in the case), and there is an intake fan that directly feeds cool air from that direction.

OK, so a card or two with a blower style cooler it is.

Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple either.  As of this moment, there are no GTX 970s available with a reference cooler design. NVidia and AMD usually use blower style coolers as reference, but for the 970, NVidia has let Add-In-Board (AIB) Partners come up with their own solution. There were images of a GTX 970 carrying the same cooler as the reference GTX 980, the NVTTM cooler, but that was never released to the public. But they might come out in the future.

So, the GTX 970 is no go?

Not necessarily. Having no reference design does not mean that there aren't any GTX 970 cards with blower style coolers. Palit, PNY, Gainward, Galaxy, MSI and EVGA have released such cards. However, people who have analysed the cooler design claim that most of these coolers are identical to what the reference GTX 670 which was utter crap. For the noise figures of the PNY design, refer to this review. The PNY, Palit and Gainward seem to have the same design. Some say that the cooler on the EVGA card is much worse, but again, we do not have any solid figures. There is no information available on the MSI's cooler design as the cards aren't available in countries that really matter.

Bottom line?

I will have to reassess the chances of me going with SLI. If SLI is in the horizon, I'll settle for the Palit; else will get either the Galaxy EXOC or MSI Gaming 4G.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finalizing the CPU overclock

IntelDC

Apparently, CPUs also seem to have a burn-in time as well - or at least Haswell does. Despite being capable of running at a respectable 4.6GHz, my Intel Core i7 4790K CPU managed to crash the system with a BSOD on last Friday while transcoding a video. It was a BSOD 124 which suggests the Vcore needed to be raised a notch, however as it was already reaching the limits of the Noctua NH-U12S cooler’s cooling capacity, I defaulted. There were instances where the CPU core temps would touch 90C while using Handbrake at those settings. That is terrible.

Hence, I decided to drop the multiplier one notch and settle with a clock speed of 4.5GHz. 4.5GHz could absolutely be considered subpar when it comes to Devil's Canyon which many believed would reach 5GHz effortlessly. At least in my case, temperature issues are unavoidable due to the size of the chassis.

Lowering the multiplier allowed me to reduce the Vcore from 1.26V (which was inadequate to begin with) to 1.21V. Even though the reduction seems miniscule, it resulted in a massive 10C drop in temps while running Handbrake! That’s Haswell for you.

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While I care less about extending the lifespan of the CPU as I am a frequent upgrader, the ability to run the fans lower resulted in a vastly comprehensible reduction in fan noise. Despite the reviewers saying that the NH-U12S is dead silent, I could easily hear it at full fan speed, perhaps because the case was much closer to ear. However, the biggest improvement came from the speed drop of the main intake fan, the 180mm Silverstone Air Penetrator fan which is installed on top of the case.

The onboard fan controller on my Asus Maximus VII Gene board, which I use to power up the fans and control them, has one issue. It would make the fans rotate at their maximum speed once the CPU temperature (not the core temperature which is about 10C more) exceeds 75C, which I believe is in place as a safeguard. There is no way to bypass this limitation unless you use low-noise adapters. At full speed, the 180mm air penetrator is noticeably loud though, it is intolerable as a high-pitched noise. I am in the opinion that noise is indicative of quality of a PC build.

So there it is. 4.5GHz; an underwhelming overclock especially when the CPU would automatically boost to 4.2GHz is thermals are not restrictive.