Saturday, August 31, 2013

[Article] Not AVX Stable @ 4.4GHz, are we now? Shame!

I was able to run Intel XTU at 4.4GHz for 12Hrs+ and I thought it was stable. How wrong I was! It crashed in Handbrake after encoding videos for many hours. Once after 10hrs! After that I figured that there was something that I must have overlooked. When I asked around, I came to understand that XTU doesn’t use AVX in its stress test. Handbrake does, but still it doesn’t bombard it with AVX instructions like Prime95 does. BTW, Prime 95 27.9 (which is the latest version out with AVX support) crashes easily with the settings that XTU ran for hours and hours without failing.

Then I figured that it could be stable everywhere but AVX. One way to check it was to run Prime95 without AVX. That’s version 26.6. I ran it for hours and it didn’t fail. Now I was sure that it was the AVX instructions that caused the issue. 1.285V just isn’t enough when the components that makes AVX instructions work also become alive inside the CPU. I’m sure I would probably be able to escape by using Adaptive Vcore which automatically increases the Vcore by 0.1V when AVX instructions are heavily used. I tried 1.285V Adaptive, but it still failed in Handbrake. Probably the voltage fluctuation is also not a good thing.

Since then I’ve come to accept that you cannot have everything you want in life and 100MHz isn’t worth that increase in Vcore and temps (and increase in fan speed). So, now I’m going to settle with my 4.3GHz OC and tweak it a little bit to get every bit of power I can get with it. I’ve successfully managed to up the Uncore to 39x at just 1.08V and Memory to 1600MHz @ XMP. I’m also in the process of tweaking the Digi+ power delivery settings (image below) to lower the power consumption and the temps as much as possible without crippling stability. The following screenshot was taken while running Handbrake. Look at the fan RPM – bottom right hand side. It’s completely silent. That’s just great. I won’t be able to achieve that with close to 1.3V. The temps it shows is not very accurate though. Those are not the core temps. Core temps hover between 60C and 70C.

Digi+ settings: M6H

I haven’t done a lot of testing, but after dropping the LLC to level 6, enabling Active Frequency Mode and setting CPU Power Phase Control to optimized, at least it is stable in Intel Burn Test, Handbrake and Crysis 3. If it passes 6hrs of Prime95, I say I’m stable enough.

Intel Burn Test stable @ 4.3

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

[Article] Monitoring PC remotely using TeamViewer

When you overclock your CPU, you need to test it for a long time. It is very ineffective if you do it when you are at home. You miss the chance to use it for something useful. You might be able to watch a movie or listen to music or browse the internet while the stress tests are running in the background, but if might crash and that would drive you nuts.

Hence, I stress test overnight while I am sleeping. But that is not a long time. 6hrs or so at best. The best time to run stress tests is when you are at work. But the issue there is, if the PC crashes while testing, the PC will restart and sit there not doing any useful work - wasting power as well as time. If you could either turn the PC off or change a small setting rerun the stress test, it would be great.

That's where TeamViewer comes in. I installed TeamViewer in my PC and iPhone and I can monitor the current state via the mobile app. But you should enable "Automatically Restart" option in an event of a crash, otherwise it will be stuck at the blue screen. (But this is the default setting, so if you haven't changed anything it should work as we want.) But there is one problem. I have an iPhone 4S and it doesn't support LTE. So it is pretty slow. You can monitor somehow, but shutting it down or changing a setting and restarting the stress test are hard work. Sometimes it works quickly depending on where I am and how congested the network is.

No thanks to the quality of SoftBank's 3G network, most of the times the only thing that you can do with the iPhone app is shutting the PC down. Now that I am using Intel XTU as the stress test, I can do everything from one software, thus it is easier than having to run AISuite III and Prime95 at the same time. However, it is still a tedious thing to do with the small screen and the crappy connection. Windows 8 isn't helping me either. You know how many steps shutting down requires, right? So I created a shutdown shortcut and added it to the Start Screen so that I can quickly shut the PC down. Luckily, I haven't had to use it yet. (i.e. XTU not HandBrake didn't crash)

Most of these apps have a web console and I searched if TeamViewer had one too as it would be faster than using the iPhone. It seems the web console only allows you to join web meetings. You cannot connect to your PC from a web interface. The issue is that I cannot install any software on these common PCs (the ones that has internet connectivity) so I cannot run TeamViewer application. Luckily, there is an official portable version! I downloaded it and tried it out. It worked flawlessly. Now I don't have to use the phone to do the monitoring. Of course I cannot do it all the time because this is not my work PC. I can check the status from phone and if there is something wrong, I can log into a common PC and do the big stuff from the Windows application.

Right now I am running the H.264 transcoding tests to see if the CPU is stable. (So far so good!) I am monitoring the status through TeamViewer. Pretty cool.


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[Article] Haswell stress testing using Intel Extreme Tuning Utility(XTU)

I'm still trying to find the sweet spot for my Haswell CPU overclock. Prime95 has been failing on my in a weird way. Sometimes it would go for hours without failing. Sometimes even a slight voltage bump would cause it to crash instantly. If I go back to the settings that worked fine earlier, it would crash again.

Last night I decided that it was high time that I moved away from Prime95 and found something new that worked well with Haswell. I have tried AIDA64, but people have been complaining that even after passing it for 12Hrs, it would crash in games. I don't know if that is a good stress test either. Plus, you have to pay for it.

Some guy one Overclock forums recommended that he is using Intel's own stress testing utility called Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (a.k.a Intel XTU). People say that it fully supports the new AVX2 instructions, doesn't make the Vcore go out of control when the CPU is bombarded with AVX instructions and it also shows all the voltages and temps on the same screen (so that you don't have to run a separate monitoring utility (or utilities) as is the case with Prime95. AIDA64 also shows the voltages and temps while stress testing. However, XTU also allows you to overclock the CPU from itself. But I don't really like overclocking using software, especially when AISuite III is installed there and it can clash with other software.

So, I started a stress test in XTU last night and I ran it for 13hrs without a crash or error. However, I'm not confident that not failing XTU alone is a good indication of stability. So I am running a few hours' long H.264 transcode queue in HandBrake. If I can get through it without an error, then I guess I would be stable in everything that I do. I only stress tested the CPU portion. I skipped memory for now. If H.264 fails, I would test Memory as well. Otherwise I don't see why I need to do that because the clocks, timings and voltage is pretty standard for today.

The current overclock settings stands as follows.
  • Core multiplier: 44x (sync all cores enabled)
  • Vcore: 1.285V manually set in BIOS (should change to Adaptive later)
  • Un-core multiplier: x39 (AUTO)
  • Un-core voltage: 1.15V (AUTO)
  • RAM speed: 1600MHz (XMP)
  • RAM timings: 9/9/9/24/2T (XMP)
  • RAM voltage: 1.50V (XMP)
  • Input Voltage: 1.75V (AUTO)
  • Extreme Tweaking: Disabled
  • EPU Power Saving Mode: Disabled
  • Everything else: AUTO
※This is on hte Asus Maximus VI Hero board with BIOS ver.711.

Here's proof.

Note: 
Time remaining says 10hrs 58min because I set it to 24hr stress test. Deduct that from 24hrs, and you get 13hrs 2min. 


Monday, August 26, 2013

[Article] I need a mechanical keyboard

I have a Logitech G15 gaming keyboard. That is pretty bad-ass those days, but these days Mechanical Keyboards are the new trend. The G15 uses the cheap rubber switches as most of the keyboards out there. That makes it pretty silent, but not so easy to type on or push keys when gaming.

Mechanical keyboards have mechanical switches for each key. That makes them very loud, but the key travel distance until the key is registered is short and that causes less fatigue when typing and whacking the keys while gaming. There are special switch designs that makes them "feel better" when typing. But most of the times, typist keyboards are not great for gaming and vice versa. Some switch designs makes them require less force to push. But that is not always a good thing, because you cannot rest your hands on the keyboards without pressing the keys. You might need that.

Now, the mechanical keyboards have some shortfalls compared to my G15. The most pronounced thing is that none of the gaming mechanical keyboards don't come with an LCD. In fact, only a select Logitech gaming keyboards come with an LCD. Logitech only has one mechanical keyboard, called the G710+ but that doesn't have an LCD. Most people might think that the LCD is a gimmick. But I use it for monitoring certain things while gaming and stress testing. That is pretty useful because I don't have a secondary monitor. (Maybe I should get a secondary monitor!)

The other shortfall is the noise. Some people, especially typists like the click noise when hitting the keys but when you are gaming, you cannot really hear that noise because you would be wearing a headset anyways. But everyone else in the household will hear it and you will get scolded. I don't have a special computer room in my apartment, so I will have to face the wrath of my wife. But there are some mechanical keyboards that are noticeably quieter than the other mechanical keyboards. The difference is the type of the switches used. Well, the switches used these days in mechanical keyboards are almost always the ones called Cherry MX made by Cherry Corp, but there are different switch types. Cherry MX Black, Brown, Blue, Clear, Red and Green. The Black and Red keys are the gaming friendly type. Blue is the typist friendly type. Brown is in between, but also the quietest. Clear is hardly used in keyboards. Green, I have no idea about. Looks like the Browns are the best option for me. Ironically, most of the high-end gaming keyboards like the Razer's BlackWidow Ultimate or Corsair's K95 all use Cherry MX Blue switches. I don't know why they have gone with those.

So which one should I get? Logitech has great customer support here in Japan and the G710+ is considerably quieter than the rest. But their software is flimsy at times. But since I have a Logitech mouse, I will have to use their software anyways. I would rather use one software than two. But on the other hand, the Logitech keyboard has a Japanese layout. I would prefer to have the more standard US layout. However, Razor also sells the US version here at a slightly higher price so they get points for that. Their BlackWidow Stealth edition also uses Cherry MX Brown switches and is considerably quieter. I would love to try Corsair's Vengeance K95 keyboard, but that is very expensive. I want a keyboard that has macro keys on the left edge like my G15 does. So that lowers my options. I will specifically have to go with a gaming keyboard. There are other brands too, like Thermaltake and Coolermaster that make good mechanical gaming keyboards. If you want typist keyboard, there are even better brands, but unheard of in the gaming arena such as Das, Ducky and Vortex.

I need to look more into what7s available here and choose a nice mechanical keyboard, maybe by my birthday. That's a long way to go though! :(

Sunday, August 25, 2013

[Article] I give up. Have to settle at 4.3GHz with my 4770K.

In a previous post I mentioned that I was able to clock my new Haswell Core i7 4770K chip to 4.3GHz and I was planning to clock it to 4.4GHz. After trying for a week or so, I couldn't get it Prime stable at 4.4GHz below 1.3V Vcore. My CPU is a dog. It doesn't overclock well at all. In fact, it is a well below average chip. That's sad. I lost the silicon lottery.

But it is not the end. There is a few more tweaks I can do. For example, right now the RAM is at 1600MHz with XMP timings (9/9/9/24/2T/1.5V etc.) and cache ratio is at 39x with 1.075V. I think I can tweak the timings a bit and increase the cache ratio to 41x or so. 43x is ideal but will be a long shot  I guess. I would definitely have to increase the Un-core voltage to somewhere around 1.2V to get near 4.1GHz. But that doesn't add a lot of power so I should be alright. Maybe I could tweak the voltages a bit. Perhaps lower the CPU input voltage to cut the temps by a degree or two. I could even play with the BCLK as well. Perhaps put it to 105MHz with the multiplier dropped to 41x? That might improve the performance slightly. Something is better than nothing, right? 

Anyways, I am really disappointed with my CPU. There are people who have chips than can clock to 4.9GHz with just 1.25V. I have a great motherboard - a motherboard made for overclocking. But me not being able to get higher than 4.3GHz overclock is not the board's fault. It's the CPU alone. I probably can get by with 4.4GHz at something like 1.29V and be stable in real-world work loads. (Heck, I played Crysis 3 campaign from beginning to end with just 1.28V and didn't encounter a single crash). But in my head I know that it is not 100% stable and it might crash when I least expect it to. That is not something I can live with. Hey, it's just 100MHz which is even less than 2.5%.

One thing I should tell is that it was almost always the in-place Large FFT test that crashed when I tested for stability at 4.4GHz. Playing with the voltages other than the Vcore didn't made it more stable. It just needed more Vcore. When I kept on increasing the Vcore, the duration until Prime95 crashed lengthened, which means it was Vcore starved. 1.3V is a lot of volts for Haswell, no thanks to Intel cheaping out under the hood. Bastards!

Funny thing was that I could run 10 passes of Intel Burn Test at very high memory usage at 4.5GHz with just 1.280V Vcore. Intel Burn Test might be an indication of stability, but it is way inferior to Prime95, even though the temps while running Intel Burn Test is much higher than when running Prime95.

Here's are my current settings for 4.3GHz.
  • Vcore: 1.235V manually set in BIOS (1.248V max recorded in AISuite III)
  • Un-core multiplier: x39 (AUTO)
  • Un-core voltage: 1.075V manually set
  • RAM speed: 1600MHz
  • RAM timings: 9/9/9/24/2T
  • RAM voltage: 1.50V
  • Extreme Tweaking: Disabled
  • EPU Power Saving Mode: Disabled
  • Everything else: AUTO
Now, I haven't run adequate stress tests. I will do that after tweaking the un-core and the memory timings a bit.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

[Article] Samsung Magician 4.2 still doesn’t support Rapid Mode on 840 Standard or Pro SSDs

Samsung released their new SSD, namely the 840 EVO, which sits between the 840 standard (the one I have) and the 840 Pro models that they released about a year ago. (Woah! It’s been that long?) They brought few cool stuff with the EVO, namely the TurboWrite and RAPID Mode. Plus, now you can get a 1TB drive for about $600, which was actually the price of a 80GB Intel x25-M SSD 3-4 years back. (To be honest, unless you are going insane and giving up on hard drives, 1TB drives are overkill. Sweet spot these days is at 240-256GB range.)

TurboWrite is where the SSD can use a portion of its flash memory as SLC (single level cell) which gives much faster performance, especially when it comes to writes. With the rest of the flash memory arranged as TLC (not even MLC), it can reach average write speeds close the 840 Pro which uses MLC across the board. The 840 standard uses TLC which is also the first consumer TLC based SSD. TurboWrite is built into the controller.

imagesRAPID Mode (which is strangely an abbreviation for Real-time Accelerated Processing of I/O Data) on the other hand is a software implementation. What it does is that it can use the system memory as a cache to boost the performance of the already fast SSD. It’s is kind of like Asus’s RAIDR SSD which was released few week ago. Samsung didn’t make this caching part from the ground up. They bought a company that specialized in caching software, called Nvelo. They made the software for it. RAPID mode is activated from Samsung’s SSD Management software called Samsung Magician.

Now, this RAPID mode is introduced in Samsung Magician software version 4.2 onwards. Couple of days ago, they released it to the public. Until then, it came bundled with the EVO drive. What I was really looking forward to see is RAPID mode working for older 840 SSDs. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It says my 840 standard edition SSD is not supported. (You can download Samsung Magician 4.2.1 from this link)

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There were rumors that they will eventually be supported. And I hope those rumors will become a reality. I have 16GB RAM in my PC and I hardly use more than 8GB RAM, even without paging enable. I need more I/O speed.

[Article] Managed to get the humble bundle with my new credit card - 2013 August

I lost my credit card last week. Don't ask for more details on it. Just keep that in mind. Soon after that happened, the HumbleBundle came with an awesome offer (for charity) where you can get half a dozen games for any price that you want. Any price means, even $1 is OK. But there are two games, namely Battlefield 3 and Sims 3 which requires you to up your offer more than the average offer at the time of purchase. So, the average would keep on rising slowly.

Here's the list of games you can get
  • Dead Space™
  • Burnout™ Paradise: The Ultimate Box
  • Crysis® 2 Maximum Edition
  • Mirror's Edge™
  • Dead Space™ 3
  • Medal of Honor™
  • Battlefield 3™ (*)
  • The Sims™ 3 + Starter Pack (*)
*  Pay more than the current average offer price to get these two games.

I don't know when this offer will end. But if you want to get them, do hurry. I got mine today as I got my new credit card last night. I forgot to check if the offer was still available last night. But when I saw that it was still there in the morning, right before I had to leave for work, I ordered the games. I had Crysis 2 (not the Maximum Edition which is offered here) and BF3.

First you need to sign up for HumbleBundle. Just use your email and a password. The activation URL would be sent to your email. Once you click the link and activate your account, you can buy the game. I used the direct credit card method because I need to re-register my credit card on PayPal. Otherwise PayPal is the safer option I guess. There were couple of more methods, but I don't use those services.

As soon as I purchased the bundle (I paid $4.82 iirc), I got an email with a link in it, which when you click would take you to the website where the redeem codes are revealed. You can either use Origin or Steam. Some games are available only on one service though. I used Origin because I don't really like Steam. Use whatever you like the most.

Here's my legit games list after adding all but Sims 3 to Origin. Sims 3 needs a slightly different way to get the code, and I didn't have time to try it in the morning. I will try it tonight.


[Article] To de-lid my Haswell 4770K CPU or not?

Haswell runs hot compared to SandyBridge. IvyBridge also ran hot, but Haswell runs even hotter than that because of the existence of FIVR (Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator). SandyBridge CPUs had the heatspreader soldered to the die thus having good heat transfer from die to the heatspreader. IvyBridge and Haswell both don't have it soldered. Instead, they have a thermal paste in between the die and the heatspreader. Intel is cheaping out.

The thermal paste itself isn't the issue. The biggest issue is that the "large" gap between the die and the heatspreader that requires a thicker than ideal layer of thermal paste. This gab is caused by the thick layer of glue that holds the heatspreader in place.

The only option is to either lower the temps by lowering voltages thus lowering the overclock OR to de-lid the CPU. That means, you pop open the heatspreader, scrub off the glue, clean off the thermal paste, put a better thermal paste and putting back the heatspreader. If properly done, people have been seeing up to 30°C drop in temps after doing this. THAT is massive.

Lower temps help overclock higher, or run your fans at a lower RPM. But it also lowers the power consumption of the CPU. What? How's that possible? It has something to do with these Tri-gate transistors. More voltage obviously increases power consumption. Higher temps also increase power consumption. Well, if you use power saving features - and your should - this will only happen at full load.

I compiled a list of FAQ below and will keep adding more stuff as time goes by.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

[Article] Decided to stick with the iPhone's Earbuds

My 3 year old Zagg SmartBuds broke couple of months ago. I was going to order a new pair of SmartBuds but I wanted to wait and see what Apple would release with the iPhone 5S.

First, the SmartBuds are pretty expensive once you add the cost of shipping. Then, I hear that a lot of people telling that they broke after few days' use. And, then I'm going to get the new iPhone as soon as it is released. 

The iPhone 5 comes with the new ear pods. They are much better than the crappy ones that ships with the iPhone 4S. But they are definitely not the best. But if they do a good enough job, I don't have to spend money on something that I get for free. 

Currently I have two issues with the iPhone 4S' earbuds. First, it doesn't stay fit in the ears. The shape of it is horrible. It would fall off even when you walk. But after using it for two months, now I can keep it in the ears even when running. It is not as easy as the SmartBuds because with those I don't have to worry about them falling off because they will always hang from the neck if they fall from ears. 

The second issue is that they leak sound to pretty badly. Because of that, I have to turn up the volume when there is a lot of noise in the background and then people nearby will also hear what I'm listening to. I have nothing to hide but it's a nuisance to others. 


These are major issues really, but I guess I can live with those hardships another month or so until the new iPhone is released. I can of course buy ear pods for my iPhone 4S, but I'm cheap! XD The ear pods will fit better in the ears and because of that it won't easily fall, plus, less sound will be leaked to the out. Wish they had rubber buds for better grip and sealing. But Apple doesn't seem to like sealed ones telling that it can damage the ear. That only happens if you turned up the volume to the max. But that can happen every now and then without you knowing. Apple doesn't want to be liable to any damages caused by human carelessness. Who does?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

[Article] Overclocking my 4770K – breaking 4.3GHz

You must be wondering why I want to overclock a super fast CPU like the 4770K. Fun, man, fun! No other reason. All the chips that I have had so far, maybe not my Core i5 750 which clocked +50% at stock volts, have been poor to average clockers. My previous 2600K CPU needed about 1.34-1.36V for 4.5GHz.

Unfortunately, my 4770K chip doesn’t break that spree. When it comes to Haswell, there is a simply criteria for checking whether the CPU is a good one or a bad one. If you can boot to Windows with 4.6GHz with just 1.2V, then you have a very good CPU. If you can do that with 1.25V, still your chip is above average. So the first thing I did was to set 4.6GHz and 1.2V in BIOS and check if it can boot into Windows. Nope, it couldn’t. I was greeted with a BSOD just before Lock Screen. I checked 1.25V. Still no go. Dreams shattered!

So I set 4.2GHz and 1.2V and slowly went up. With a lot of testing, I found out that 4.3GHz at 1.24V was stable enough for my liking. This is not the end of everything as I had to lower the cache ratio to 35x and memory clock to 1333MHz SPD. That sucks, but none of them can match the benefits of a 100MHz overclock on the core. Besides, you can increase them later and find the sweet spot. Right now I am only concerned about core clock. 4.5GHz is my ultimate goal, but from the way things are going, I might not be able to get there without a de-lid.

To summarize, here are my 4.3GHz stable settings.

  • Vcore: 1.240V manual
  • Uncore multiplier: x35 (min = max = 35)
  • Uncore voltage: AUTO (1.05V)
  • RAM speed: 1333MHz
  • RAM timings: 9/9/9/24/2T
  • RAM voltage: 1.50V
  • Extreme Tweaking: Disabled
  • EPU Power Saving Mode: Disabled
  • Everything else: AUTO

With the above settings, I managed to pass

  • Prime 95 v27.9 blend test for 6Hrs
  • Handbrake H.264 encoding for 2.5Hrs
  • Crysis 3 Multiplayer gaming for 2Hrs
  • AIDA64 stress test for 1Hr.

That’s stable enough for me. I don’t want to run Intel Burn Test or anything because if it passes Prime95, that’s all I need. The others are just for insurance.

Right now I’m testing 4.4GHz. I had to bump the Vcore to 1.28V. It passed AIDA64 for 2.5hrs. I’ve been running H.264 encoding for almost 2hrs. I haven’t been able to run Prime95. For some reason, when I ran it, the core clocks were fluctuating between 4.2GHz and 4.4GHz. I couldn’t understand why that was. Maybe some software glitch. I will check it after I finish with the H.264 encode. Maybe a simple reboot with fix it.

Hope it will be stable after I fix Prime95 issue. Wish me luck.

[Article] Checking if your CPU overclock is stable

The most fun part of upgrading the CPU is overclocking. Of course, it is purely based on luck. You might get a CPU that can overclock wonderfully with low volts and low temps. And you might get a total piece of junk that needs a lot of volts and doesn’t overclock well. (I usually get that 2nd type of CPUs). They say it is silicon lottery. It’s a gambling man!

Temperature is your biggest enemy. In fact, when it comes to Haswell, temperature is your only enemy. To push the clocks higher, you need to up the volts up and that causes temperature to rise exponentially. Most people will have to max out at 4.2GHz on Haswell because of the heat. It’s mostly because of Intel’s crappy work using thermal paste in between the die and the heat spreader but there are other reasons too. Looks like they don’t want the enthusiasts to play with their silicon. Intel’s being naughty.

Say you have a good cooling solution and a good chip. Seeing those scores go up is nice and all, but making sure that your CPU is stable is very time consuming and pain in the butt.

But it depends. You can cheat a bit out of it if you want. You can either look for absolute stability or real-world stability. Failing in Prime95 doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll ever get a crash (i.e. BSOD) with anything that you would normally do. I am more towards the absolute stability, but I don’t want to stress test for 24hrs in Prime95 with these summer heat.

Ironically, people have found out that sometimes even though Prime95 or any other popular stress testing app suggests that you have rock solid stability, you get crashes in games. So passing these stress tests doesn’t mean your are absolutely stable either.

So stability in my book means a combination of synthetic and real world tests as follows.

  1. Prime95 v27.9 Blend – no errors or BSODs for 6hrs
  2. Crysis 3 and/or Battlefield 3 – no crashes for 2hrs
  3. Handbrake H.264 encoding (one pass) – no crashes for 2hrs
  4. Asus Realbench – no errors or BSODs for 6hrs
  5. AIDA64 – no errors or BSODs for 6hrs
  6. Intel Burn Test: very high stress level – no errors or BSODs for 10 passes

If you can pass all these, then your overclock is stable. Out of all those, Prime95 is the most stressful. All others can pass, but Prime95 can fail with a higher chance. Most people will just run Intel Burn Test and say that their CPU is stable. But that alone is not good enough. Sure, you can say it is almost stable. I’ve been able to pass Intel Burn Test at 4.3GHz/1.22V but Prime95 would fail within seconds. Prime95 needed 1.24V to go on for 6hrs without a crash.

Ultimately, it is your choice. It’s your CPU, it’s your money paid, and it is you who use it. What if you can clock your CPU to 4.5GHz and get no BSOD and crash with the stuff you do with your PC and it fails all those synthetic stress tests? There is no harm clocking it up to 4.5GHz in that case.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

[Article] Upcoming AMD next generation graphics cards

The rumors point to an October release time frame for the next generation AMD graphics cards. Nobody knows what it will be called. It definitely won’t be HD8000 series because that name is already ruined by the underperforming mobile GPUs – rebrands of course. Some people say it will be called the HD9000 series, but some say AMD will come with a new naming scheme because there has already been a 9000 series (no HD prefix though) about 10 years ago. I remember getting my first high-end GPU – the Radeon 9700Pro, which died soon after the warranty expired. We’ll have to wait and see what AMD calls this new generation of cards, I hope it will be something that will be easy for the consumers to understand.

In the meantime, this won’t be a really big step up from the current generation. They will keep using the same 28nm process node, but since the manufacturing process had about 2 years to improve, we will still probably see higher clocks and/or better power efficiency. The performance will mainly be increased by increasing the number of stream processors. But as far as rumors say, the flagship card will only have like 2560 stream processors (25% more than HD7970) or less. The combination of increase in stream processors and clock speeds – core as well as memory – will decide how fast it will be in the end.

What matters to gamers in the end if how these cards will stack up against the competition. NVidia had much faster single GPU cards in the enthusiast segment, namely the GTX780 and Titan. If ATI will be able to match the performance of GTX780 but with a price tag of $500, I think that will be what we all gamers hope for. We all need that fastest single GPU graphics card to come at $500. $650 for the GTX780 is not ridiculous for the performance, but the Titan’s $1000 is. The GTX780 seems to overclock better than the Titan and in the end you get a faster card for $350 cheaper. You are paying that extra $350 for the extra 3GB memory. For a single display setup, you don’t need 6GB of Video RAM.

Anyways, I just hope ATI won’t shift the prices up. Plus, I hope they will bring some cool features that NVidia card owners are enjoying to the AMD card owners as well. For example, pixel clock overclocking is one. Then there is adaptive V-Sync. The upcoming Shadow Play technology seems brilliant too. On the other hand, AMD has a upper hand in the upcoming games (ahem, console ports) because  the next generation consoles are all based on AMD chips. Plus, their Never Settle Bundles are looking awesome.

What do you guys say? I already created a poll so let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

[Article] From a dedicated fan controller to Asus Fan Xpert 2

One of the reasons why I chose an Asus motherboard was because their so called exquisite fan control software. They call it Fan Xpert 2.

I had a nice looking fan controller installed in my case. It was a Scythe Kaze Master Ace, 6-channel fan controller. It had three issues.

  • No automatic fan controlling depending on the temperature. I like to run the fans at low RPM, but there have been times where the graphics card had been scorched because of this.
  • The cable mess. Since it is 6-channels, there are 6 cables for temperature sensors, 6 cables for fans and 1 cable for Molex power. As I have a non-modular PSU, there is already a huge cable mess behind the motherboard. I surely didn't want more cables. And these cables are so ugly. Red and white. These issues were not new, but I had to give in because fan speed controlling on my old board was utter crap.
  • The PWM fans on my Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme cooler had a hard time starting up. Since I am sensitive to noise, I keep the fans running at 1100RPM. Since the fan controller only supports voltage based controlling, that voltage is not enough to start them. Once started, they can work without issues. So when the fans don't spin up, an alarm goes off and it is really irritating. I can disable it, but then I don't know if something happened.

I could buy a new fan controller, or I could buy a motherboard that came with one. Fan Xpert 2 seemed to do just that. All Asus Z87 boards support it actually. The only difference is the number of headers each board have onboard. My Maximus VI Hero board comes with 5. Sadly, the Z87 Pro comes with 6. But I had to get the Hero because of its audio.

[Article] Moving from Creative X-Fi Titanium to onboard SupremeFX audio

Before the X-Fi Titanium card, I had a X-Fi XtremeGamer card. It was a second hand card that I bought from Ebay. The hardware was fine, but the drivers gave me so much trouble. So I sold it used onboard Realtek ALC892 audio on my old board for a while.

But then I bought a Roccat Kave 5.1 headset and I wanted to get a decent audio card to suit it. Of course I could continue to use the onboard audio. But I thought it was underperforming because of the Realtek chip. But I made the mistake of going with another X-Fi card. Again, second hand, but this time it was the Titanium edition. But there were PAX drivers available, so I thought things would turn out better than last time. It actually did, but there were still some minor hiccups. Few times the audio completely stopped working, and reinstalling the drivers fixed it. And one day this happened as well.

Then there was another issue. I bought a SilverArrow SB-E Extreme air cooler. I had my audio card set up in the top most PCI-E x1 slot so that the video card would have all the breathing room. But with this cooler, the top most PCI-E slot became unusable. For the time being, I moved it to the bottom most slots. It's a PCI-E x16 slot but running at x4 speeds. By moving it to the left of the video card (remember, the cards are installed vertically in the Raven RV-03, so on other cases it would be below the video card. The intake fan would be on the bottom where as in the Raven RV-03, it is on the back.) It's the summer these days, and I need to give all the cool air I can to do video card. The audio card was in the way of the airflow.

So when I decided that I was going to upgrade to Haswell, I knew that had to look for a board that either allowed me to install a audio card in the top most PCI-E x1 slot or came with pretty good integrated audio. But I soon found out that it would be impossible to find a motherboard that doesn’t get the top most PCI-E x1 slot blocked by the cooler. Thus I decided that I had to buy a motherboard with great audio. Not just what the manufacturers advertise as great (ASRock and MSI audio seems bad, although advertise them as being great.) The board that was within my range with the best audio was the Asus ROG Maximus VI Hero. And I went with it.

IMG_0111

[Article] Upgraded the rig. Haswell it is.

So, I moved to Haswell after all the bad things I said about it. This was the primary reason, but I wanted to try out something new as well. Right now I'm trying to find the best overclocked settings for the CPU and it is hard work.

I only bought the CPU and the motherboard, but I made some other changes as well. Replacing the X-Fi Titanium with onboard SupremeFX audio and removing the fan controller are the two main things.

To the newest specs then.

CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K @4.4GHz / 1.280V in BIOS (still testing)
CPU Cooler: Thermalright SilverArrow SB-E Extreme
Motherboard: Asus ROG Maximus VI Hero
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9 9/9/9/24/1T/1.35V
Video Card: Palit GTX670 JetStream @1056MHz (base clock)/6800MHz RAM
SSD: Samsung 840 series 250GB
HDDs: Toshiba DT01ACA300 3TB, Western Digital Caviar Green WD30EZRX-00DC0B0 3TB
Display: Iiyama Prolite E2773HDS
Case:  Silverstone Raven RV-03
PSU: Corsair TX850
Mouse: Logicool G500
Mouse Pad: Steelseries QCK / Razer Sphex
Keyboard: Logitech G15 V2
Headset: Roccat Kave 5.1
Speakers: Logicool Z623
Webcam: Logicool C910

IMG_0110

Still there is a lot of things to check with the new setup. I've been trying to get my overclock stable. Currently trying 4.4GHz. The temps go up ridiculously when you stress test with Haswell CPUs, and I have to use a different method to stress test. So it is taking a bit longer.

Cheers.

Monday, August 5, 2013

[Article] Finally bought a proper screw driver

I've been building PCs for a long time but I never had a proper screw driver to work with. The ones I had back at home didn't easily grip so turned those right screws was a tiresome chore. When I came to Japan, I bought one of those cheap screwdrivers where you can magnetically plug in different tips that fit each screw head. There was better grip but it wasn't a proper grip.

Grip is actually not the biggest issue. The biggest issue was that the tip of the screwdriver were not magnetic. I've dropped so many screws inside the case and the only way I could get them out was to lift the case up and shake it vigorously so that the screws fall on the floor. That was not an easy thing to do because with all the components installed inside the case, it weighs a ton.
 
IMG_0098
 
Then I bought the Thermalright SilverArrow SB-E Extreme cooler and installing it was a nightmare with this screwdriver. I literally lost a screw and I haven't found it yet. I felt that it dropped on the floor when I shook the case but I couldn't find it anywhere. (Bermuda Triangle anyone?) I hope it is not stuck somewhere inside the case waiting for that right moment to short circuit everything and make my life a living hell. This screwdriver is a short and fat one. I had hard time tightening the cooler to the bracket. I had to push the two towers apart by force to sneak in the screwdriver in between them. Then I had to turn the darn thing. That was a horrible experience.
 
IMG_5189[6]
 
So I knew that I had to buy a proper screwdriver soon. Life isn't long enough to worry about these simple things. So that's what I did. I didn't get like the best thing ever. I simply bought one from the discount store in front of the apartment. Cost me ¥299, if I recall correctly. Not cheap but not overly expensive.
 
IMG_0099
 
So how does it stack up? It's brilliant. It fixed all those issues that I had before. I can grip it easily. The tip is magnetized. It's long enough to easily install the cooler. Last time it took me about 15 minutes and a lot of sweating to screw up the cooler to the bracket but this time (installing the cooler on the 4770K) it didn't even take a minute. Cannot believe how hard of a life I had been living all this time without the proper tool.
 
One last word. I don't think those multipurpose screwdrivers where you can change the tip are good for these jobs. You need a stable and rigid tool. Yes I know that it is space inefficient. But what good is being space efficient, if you cannot get the work done, right?

[Article] Haswell overclocking woes - the deal with Vcore, IVR and AVX instructions

In the previous article I discussed what the main causes of high temps on Haswell CPUs. Now let's look at another issue.

When you overclock your CPU, there are two main method how you would set the Vcore. Static mode and Offset mode.

Static mode

Static mode means that even when the CPU is idle or doing light work, the Vcore would remain as if you are doing heavy work. The Vcore would not change dynamically according to the work load. Now, there is no real need for that. Lower Vcore is always better for longevity of the chip.

Offset mode

Thus there is Offset mode. Intel CPUs automatically can set a Vcore based on the multiplier by referring to voltage tables embedded in the chip. These voltages are called VIDs and higher the multiplier, higher the VID. But Intel can only guarantee the VID is stable only within the specifications. After that, if can be either stable or not. At some point you'll find out that the stock VID is not stable enough. Thus you need can specify an offset to the dynamic VID. It doesn't have to be positive. If you know your CPU can work at a lower Vcore than the VID at max multiplier, you can specify a negative offset. But there is one issue. The offset applies to entire multiplier range. That means, even at idle, the offset value would be applicable. Especially if you are using a negative offset, it can crash the system. Or it won't be optimal.

So with Haswell, Intel introduced a 3rd method. Adaptive mode.

Adaptive mode (Haswell only)

Adaptive mode works like Offset mode, but only applies to turbo multipliers. That means, the dynamic Vcore would be identical to the VID below turbo frequencies. Thus, this method does not cause instability at idle states due to negative offsets an does not over-volt within the specified multiplier. Pretty good deal.

Except, it is not. Actually, it's not Adaptive mode's fault.

I'm sure that you already know that there is an IVR onboard the CPU package. The IVR is not the entire CPU voltage regulator. The old VRMs are still there on the board and are needed. The IVR is there to control the Vcore more aggressively. Basically, the motherboard inputs the CPU a quite large voltage called the Input Voltage. The IVR give the cores a portion of the this Input Voltage. It can rapidly fluctuate voltage depending on the load and multiplier.

OK, now that looks like a nice thing. But AVX instructions make the Vcore go crazy. I don't know why, but for some reason, whenever the AVX instructions are used, the IVR increases the Vcore by about 0.1V. This happens in Offset mode as well. And there is nothing you can do about it other than use static Vcore. With static Vcore, you don't have this problem. Even when AVX instructions are being used, the Vcore doesn't change.

Stress testing with AVX loads is the problem

This doesn't look as bad as it sounds in reality because you might not use AVX instructions at all. Plus, the increase in Vcore doesn't necessarily increase the temps in normal work loads as if you are running a stress test. If you run Prime95 or LinX or AIDA64 which stresses the CPU with AVX loads, it would definitely make the temps skyrocket. For this reason, they say not to stress test using Offset or Adaptive methods. Old Prime95 (pre 27.7) is OK because it doesn't support AVX. Now, one option would be to run at Offset mode or Adaptive mode and then switch to static mode once you start using AVX supported applications, if you ever. The upcoming H.265 encoding is supposed to make use of AVX instructions, and that would be a problem for Adaptive mode or Offset mode. I'm hoping to move to H.265 once it becomes stable. You get the same quality for half the file size. That's something you don't wanna miss out on.

There shouldn't be a big difference in power consumption between static Vcore mode and either of the dynamic Vcore modes as long as you are using all the power saving features. In fact, some say (I haven't been able to confirm it) that on the Asus Z87 boards, at full idle, the Vcore drops to idle Vcore levels as if it is using Offset mode. This seems to be how Gigabyte boards operate. I'm gonna check this out when I get back home. I think the board has the C6/C7 power states disabled by default. My PSU should be able to handle those low currents.

[Article] Haswell overclocking woes - Super high temps and why that is

In the last post I mentioned that I bought a new Haswell processor - the top of the line Core i7 4770K - and a board with the Z87 chipset - Asus ROG Maximus VI Hero. We all know that retail version of Haswell CPUs don't overclock well, and luck plays a big role when it comes to overclocking. It was kinda like that in SandyBridge and IvyBridge as well, but now the weight has moved even more towards the luck factor. I wanted to believe that I was on that top 5% of the crowd that were lucky enough to get a chip that could boot into Windows at 4.6GHz with just 1.2V. Well, it turns out that I am not that lucky. But my chip isn't that bad either.

I managed to get mine up and running at 4.4GHz on all cores, 4.1GHz on "uncore", with a Vcore of 1.285V set in BIOS. Oops, sorry, UEFI. That Vcore doesn't sound too bad for SandyBridge, but for Haswell, it is a big Vcore. Not electrically, but thermally. Usually, this is the custom water cooling territory. However, the CPU managed to pass 6.5hrs of AIDA64 stress test overnight. The max temps it hit was 89C, but that's only briefly. Most of the times it was below 80C. My Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme was doing a pretty sweet job it seems. And that's not even at 100% fan speed. Just 1600RPM on average. I can go all the way up to an ear deafening 2500RPM if it deems necessary.

Reasons for high temps

First let's deal with the obvious stuff. Why does Haswell CPUs run hotter than their predecessor? There are three reasons. 
  • It uses Tri-gate transistors that don't like to scale with voltage. We saw this with IvyBridge as well
  • There is a voltage regulator module onboard the CPU, called the IVR (Integrated Voltage Regulator). That's additional circuitry and circuitry that handles voltages.
  • The die is not soldered to the heat-spreader. There is merely a thermal paste in between the die and the heat-spreader. And a very bad one at that.
Hence, as you increase the voltage when you are overclocking, the core temps go up rapidly. Don't be mistaken though: it's not heat. The heat output should be less than SandyBridge and about the same as IvyBridge. It's the temps that go out of control because the heat is not properly transferred from the die to the heat-spreader.

Solution

What's the answer? There are two. Neither of them are happy solutions though. 

First one is, lowering the Vcore. You will have to give up your current overclock. That's definitely not a happy solution. 

Second one is, delidding. Delidding means, you remove the heat-spreader, clean out the crappy thermal paste, put high quality thermal paste and putting back the heat-spreader. That's a bit adventurous and definitely voids warranty (and perhaps you won't be able to sell it back), so again, it is not a happy solution either. But if properly done, you would see a drop of about 15C by delidding. That's a huge amount. Even if you don't exploit that added thermal overhead, you will have a cool running CPU that even uses less power. (Heat causes more resistance and thus increases power consumption. On IvyBridge that was like a 30W difference at 4.6GHz. It should be similar on Haswell.)

I haven't decided if I want to delid or not. That's a big decision to make. But I will talk about how to do it on another post.

[Article] Haswell, here I come: 4770K + Maximus VI Hero.

Two years and one month ago, I got my SandyBridge CPU (2600K) and motherboard. Yesterday, my motherboard broke. Well, after a long sleep, it came back to life. Still not completely stable, but it is working at least. But I decided that I’m gonna get a new motherboard anyway. It’s a matter of time this board will die imho. I just hope I will be able to sell the motherboard.

I had been sitting on the fence in dilemma, uncertain whether to stick with my SandyBridge 2600K CPU or to upgrade. I first felt Haswell was not worth it. Then the feature-set of the new boards won me over. I even considered the upcoming IvyBridge-E CPUs. But they will be using the two generations old x79 chipset. The prices would be pretty steep (3930K costs JPY57,000 even now), so I decided that route is not for me. That's JPY80,000 or more.

I had been reading the motherboard reviews to decide on a board. Three boards came out on top. The Asus Z87 Pro, Asus ROG Maximus VI Hero and MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming. I felt the software/UEFI support of Gigabyte boards was cheesy and ASRock boards not so good in terms of power delivery circuitry, software and even price - which was their strong point until now.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

[Article] Finally got my tablet back

After a whole week, I finally got back my Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet which had a broken touch screen. I was hoping that they would replace the whole thing, but instead they had only replaced the screen. Well, at least it is working fine now. 

Yesterday I got a call from a call girl telling me that the tablet was repaired and I should receive it today or tomorrow. I answerede the call in English and she kinda got intimidated by it. Haha! 

Sagawa seems to be their official courier service. I thought it would take quite a lot of time, but they had delivered it in the morning when I was not at home. My wife was at home and she had received it. They originally said that it would take 7 to 10 days for the whole repair/replacement thing. They were a day earlier than their estimate. Not bad at all. 

Thought I should be a little happy as it didn't cost me anything. Just dissatisfaction about the tablet. And I'm not more concerned about the quality of the tablet. I'm sure these issues are there even on Apple tablets. What if I bought this from overseas? I would have been completely screwed.

So tablet seems fine. The audio problem is not fixed, because it is a design flow. I still advice you not to get this tablet if you are hoping to watch movies on it, especially when there is a lot of noise around.

Friday, August 2, 2013

[Article] Finally managed to fix the broken System Recovery functionality of my Dell Latitude 10 Essentials tablet

Remember I said that I managed to install  a fresh copy of Windows 8 on my broken tablet? Well, I simply reinstalled Dell Backup and Recovery software which I downloaded from Dell, and checked if for some unexplainable reason , the Recovery was working again. To my utmost surprise, it did. 

Luckily, it didn't make the screen work again. So there definitely is a hardware defect. I hope they will replace the tablet I stead of putting in a new screen. 

I still haven't tried making a recovery media. It should work, but I don't wanna waste my 16GB Flash Drive for something that I might not need. Should I get a cheap new 16GB flash drive for this?

One thing I got to understand with all this is that you need more than a single USB port on the tablet. How the heck does the iPad get by with none? Maybe I should buy a cheap USB port hub for the tablet. 

There isn't anything else to tell though. I'm just glad that I managed to get rid of the traces of Windows 8.1 Preview from the tablet. (Hope they don't see this on twitter hehe). Now when can I send it to them? It's been 5 days already. They didn't send me an email yesterday. Assclowns!

[Article] ASRock Z68 Extreme4 board died!

Remember I was telling that there were some minor issues with the motherboard? It seems that they really were clues to what was to become. Last night, I diagnosed my motherboard as dead. 

Let me explain what happened. 

Yesterday I came back from work and used the PC for a little while. Then I went out with my wife. The PC was working fine till then. I pushed the power button and left the house. I didn't wait for it to turn off completely. For some reason, it takes quite a bit of time to shutdown. When I came back home, I felt something was not right. The PC was powered up. The display was off. I turned the display on, but it didn't come alive. There was no signal. But the PC was powered up as the power LED and fans were running. I pressed the reset button. Nothing. I pressed the power button. Nothing. I pressed and held the power button. Nothing. So I pulled the plug from the wall and plugged it back. The PC turned ON alright. I could go into the desktop. And then, all of a sudden, the PC turned OFF. This happened few times. Even when I had the "Automatically Restart" at System Failure option unchecked, it still didn't give a BSOD. Just power off. Not even a restart. 

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