Sunday, 31 July 2011


So I’m sat on a train home, just finished work, and it’s been an interesting week computer wise. Managed to get Burnout Paradise going on my 311!!! It’s awesome, and I never thought my little Atom + Ion chip would be up to it. Got the CPU still at 2.25GHz and have overclocked the GPu from 450 core, 900 shaders to 525 core, 1200 shaders, and it is more than playable! Battery life is about 2hours (if that) and the machine does get *very* hot, but it’s awesome. Game is running at 1366x768 on all low settings but considering that it still looks good :)
Also been ogling laptops for uni, my current favourite is the Sony Vaio SA series which (although it has an ATi GPU) is an amazing machine. Only thing is my preferred spec is ~ £1200 so it may be a little bit out of my budget. Either way, I’m saving as much as I can, and soon I’m going to be selling off some old bits and bobs on forums and eBay. I’ll check back with how that goes.
Work has been good, built some nice machines with i7 2600’s, 8GB of ram and a Radeon 6950 Graphics Card, one had a Vertex 3 SSD in it as well (which is always nice). Suffice to say lots of 7.9’s in the Windows Experience Index.
Sent the Crosshair III Formula I won back to Asus as they decided they’re going to replace it with another something of some description rather than send me a sound card for it. Will report back when I hear from them.
Desktop has been going well, only issues I’ve had since I got my 480 is idle power consumption and heat (although some of that is because the British summer is FINALLY here) I’ve brought my CPU down to stock volts and have it going along nicely at 3.6GHz. Also configured the machine to auto turn off the screen etc. 
And Finally, I’m currently in the process of reorganising how I store all my data and backing it up. Only problem? I’ve lost the mains led for my external hard drive. *facepalm.* Ahh well life goes on...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Life with a GTX 480

So first another big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for my brilliant prize, I hadn’t imagined I was going to come away from the event with anything near as meaty a 480 so was over the moon when I got it plumbed into my system. I wasn’t remotely sad about pulling out my GTX 280. It’s the last remnant from my RMA saga with VCS and the bad memories won’t be missed. I personally love reference coolers on Nvidia Cards, there’s something solid and reliable about them, and I always prefer a reference model to a cheapened custom model. To my delight the card was a full reference model, laced with a carbon fibre design and fully equipped with a big shiny heatsink and 4000RPM delta fan for cooling. Yikes.
I spent some time looking over the card. The carbon fibre design really appealed to me and the overall design of the card (including the little Geforce by the power connectors) was much to my liking. So with little delay, I ripped out my old 280, wrapped it up in an anti-static bag, and dropped in my shiny new 480, plugging in the 6 and 8 pin connectors from my old card. It posted first time (which is very nice if you’re me) and with a nice whisper of idle noise I was into Windows. I reinstalled the 275.50 drivers, cranked up the digital vibrance a bit (seriously love this feature) and started up GPU-Z. Idle temps of 45C with a 44% fan speed at 1700rpm was acceptable but I made a mental note to try and lower the speed at some point (as none of the rest of the fans in my system make anywhere near 1700rpm’s worth of noise, even though it’s still really quiet).
I fired up a bit of Unigine Heaven and popped on the tessellation for the first time on my own system. At 1920x1200 the 480 made mincemeat of it, and I soon began popping on some 3dMark Vantage and Crysis benchmarks. Load temps were maxing at 88C with the fan at about 2600rpm, which while still hot was alot cooler and quieter than some people had told me 480’s ran. Over the next few days I got playing some games and found almost all of them preferred the 480 to my previous 2x 280’s. That shows you the difference architecture can make. One of the only exceptions was Vantage which gave the 280’s 4000 points more than the 480!!! O_O
Just Cause 2 was a good example. Although several of my friends swear it’s a well optimised game, I’d often had issues with performace, and got generally poor scaling from the SLI profile. No such problems with the 480 though, even with SSAO and GPU water physics Maxxed the game ran like a knife through butter. Very impressed by the performance on show here and sunk a few more hours into what is a superlative free sandbox game.
Next up Crysis, the 2x 280’s managed but struggled with everything on very high, often dipping down to 20fps (or lower) and that resulted in me having alot of the options such as shadows and postprocessing set down to high. No such issues with the 480 though! On all high’s @1920x1200 w 4xAA It posted an average of over 60fps and up at Very high posted an average of 33fps :D Think I might play through the storyline one more time when I get back from holiday.
The Witcher 2 also ate up the performance of the new card. My GeForce2 card ran it on good settings with a pretty consistant framerate (apart from large fight scenes) but the 480 just mushed through everything! I set the game up to ultra (with Ubersampling off) and it Plowed through the game like a witcher in a brothel. Even with the settings bouncing off the top the frame rate was still smoother than with my 280 and I actually reached the end of my first playthrough. I’m really happy with the performance (and the game!) and looking forward to playing through the storyline a few more times.
I also tried out the Nvidia demos for the 4 and 5 series. Design garage still ran like a raytracing application whereas the Superonic Sled demo ran silky smooth. The Endless City GeForce5 demo took the fight to my 480 though, with masses of tessalation on show. Still smooth enough framerates in this and in the Aliens vs triangles demo. The Medusa GeForce2 demo also ran without a hitch as you’d expect.
Generally I found that in almost all games settings could be maxxed and performance was much improved. The higher average framerate in games like BFBC2 and TDU2 meant that gameplay was more enjoyable on the whole, which I’m very pleased with indeed :)
Among other games I found that Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (which I’m currently playing through) could be maxed in DX11 mode and was still silky smooth. All this performance is making me question spending £1K+ on a big system upgrade before I go off to uni but I think I’ll see how it goes.
Since getting the system I’ve also moved my system to another room and unfortunately the desk it’s under doesn’t give as good ventilation as the place it was before. This, combined with some hot weather, has resulted in my CPU temps rising from 44C / 62C to 50C / 68C hot for a Phenom II, but tbh I’m not confident my Overclock is all that great anymore. It needs alot of voltage to keep it stable and the Hydro H50 doesn’t seem to be doing a particularly stellar job at getting rid of all of that heat.
Because of this hot weather I decided to try setting a custom fan profile for my new 480. In the past I’ve always used Rivatuner for custom fan maps, but it’s now long since been unsupported and I don’t know whether it was the 480 or the 275 drivers but it just didn’t give me the options to change the fan max and minimums. I decided to give EVGA Precision’s fan control a try and set about adjusting the little graph you can use to adjust the curve of fan speeds. I dropped the idle speed a little bit (to around 1300rpm) and raised the loads speeds to try and keep the max temps down.
This resulted in a hell of a lot more noise under load, but despite the hot weather, load temps came down to 81C. I’ve since put this back to stock, because having a hot room has resulted in idle temps of 60C (even though it would hit this and then cool itself)and I just didn’t find the jumping nature of the fan control ideal. I also think that it made a mistake at some point and failed to raise the fan to the correct speeds. I got a weird cut out that looked like a thermal trip, so decided it was best to go back to stock for now.
Besides the heat I’m very glad I got the GTX 480. It’s closest card is the 570 and it’s better in a lot of ways. It has 1.5GB of ram, a 384Bit Memory interface and 48 ROPs to the 570’s 1.2GB, 320bit memory interface and 40 rops. They both have 480 Fermi SP’s and both have quite similar clocks (700,1400,3696 to 732,1464,3800). The 570 of course does put out less heat and draw less power so it’s more overclockable but it also has the crazy power limiting hardware nvidia chucked into the 5 series cards which kinda spoils the fun in some games and applications. At the end of the day I’d rather take the 480 as the more complete architecture should see it hold it’s own at higher resolutions and in games going forward.
Overall I’m really impressed with the 480, It’s given me no real issues and has plowed through everything I’ve thrown at it. I’ve thought about picking up another one while I can @£199 but I think the heat and temps might just kill me / my machine. I did find getting it free a bit peculiar though :P I’m so used to planning every purchase and upgrade to such an intricate level of detail that just having a 480 drop into my lap really did come as quite a surprise! A pleasant one though, I’m very glad to be rid of my 280 which will be finding it’s way into a friend/cousin’s machine and I’m looking forward to a solid summer of great DX11 capable gaming!

Recent Events

So I’m sat on a tiny plane to Madeira as I write this, marvelling at the levels of “comfort” aboard this Easyjet flight. I’ve had plenty going on recently and have been somewhat neglecting my blog, so I feel this is my chance for that to change :)
About a month ago I entered the Bit-Tech / CustomPC / Asus Overclocking Summit competition on the front page of Bit-tech. To enter you just had to come up with an idea for how Asus could improve either their motherboards or graphics cards, fair enough I thought. So I dropped an email off to James Gorbold (CPC editor) about how I think Asus should try to build a stress test into their motherboard BIOS for overclock testing. And that they should look into the possibility of a GUI with clockspeed options for a graphics card bios. Since then I’ve also thought they could have one of their flash linux distros with some overclocking tools included but anyway. I entered and sure enough the deadline passed and I’d had no reply. Days continued to slip by, and I just assumed that there was no way I’d be getting a place. On the 24th of June however, I got an email congratulating me on getting a place (I think I was a reserve because the RSVP date was the 23rd :P)
We met at Gamerbase in London (An awesome place btw) and set about the day. 21 of us turned up and we were split into teams of 3 and 4. Initially we were supposed to be given a speech, but following a few technical issues connecting the Asus laptop to some tv’s :P, we started round one of the overclocking competition. Each team was given a rig with an i7 2600K, Asus GTX 560 1GB, Asus P8P67 Mobo, 4GB of Adata 1600Mhz 7-9-7-21 Ram, Adata 40GB SSD and Thermaltake: Frio, PSU, mouse and KB, all connected up to Gamerbase’s Dell monitors.
Round one consisted of posting the highest score in the Video Encoding section of the CPC Benchmark. Our team cleaned our OS of Acronis and optimised our OS for performance and then delved into the BIOS. Fans all set to max our first set of settings for 4.6GHz didn’t take, but that seemed to be because the Adata Ram didn’t like the bizarre timings it said on the side. We left it at Cas 9, and completed a run @ 4.6Ghz coming out at 3993 Points. This was a good start but we needed more, with voltages heading over 1.5v we creeped over 5Ghz. We completed a run at 5.05, 5.1, 5.15 but nomatter what we did we couldn’t get our 5.2Ghz stable. We tried silly voltages and started getting warnings from the mobo so backed off and considered our options. We had our best score at this point at around 4300 points which left us in ~3rd according to the Bit-Tech guys so we decided to try anything because we were running out of time. We eventually decided to try a 99.5*52 clock for 5.175Ghz. A bizarre clock for a sandybridge with it’s “locked” base clock but it posted so we pressed on. We were almost completely out of time when we clicked run that final time. It was our last try and the whole team was on the edge of our seat praying it would pass. We were considering waving copies of CPC at the rig to try and cool it to get it through. Our final Jesus run finished just in time and bumped our score up massively to 4403 points. That put us in 1st place overall just as time finished.
The whole team was over the moon. No one could believe we’d done it but we had. 5.175GHz. Crazy. The results were announced and we switched off our machine so it could cool before round two. In the gap we were all fed Coke and Pizza which was well appreciated by everyone, and then all sat ready for another go at the speech we should have had before. It was very interesting & the Q&A session at the end also raised some interesting questions (many watercooling related ;) which were well answered by the Asus staff present. They fielded some interesting responses about EVGA products too which was interesting, giving us a better understanding of the difference in the target market of the ROG boards and products like the SR-2 and Classified lines. After this was done, we dragged our chairs back over to the OC rigs and set about for Round 2.
Round 2 was completing a Bench run of 3DMark11 on Performance settings. Our first challenge was negotiating the Asus Smart doctor software which had a lock on what clocks and voltages you could apply. The stock clocks were 810 Core, 4008 Memory but the Asus overclocking software limited us to 910, and something else on the memory. We found the setting for fully unlocking the clocks and set to work. As a team we decided to set the CPU back to stock, figure out the limit of our GPU and then find the best settings we could get stable for the CPU. Our best solid pass was at 1035MHz, 4174Mhz with a Vcore of 1.087v which came out at 4699 points. A good start, but not good enough :P we raised the CPU clock to 5.15Ghz (optimistic :) and tried another run. We passed the first few GPU tests without problems but got a lock within seconds of the Physics test starting (which of course is CPU+GPU intensive), so we backed off to 5GHz and dropped the GPU clocks a bit and put in a score of 4802. Better but still not the best we could get. :P Once again it was Jesus run time and our best score came at 5.1GHz with the same 1035, 4174 GPU clocks. This gave us a great score of 4940 which was one of the best of the day. We spent the last 15 minutes desperately trying to get 5.15GHz and 1040MHz stable but we kept getting to same point in various tests and getting locks. We were still happy with our 4940 and were hopeful of finishing well overall.
We overheard the team next to us get a score of 4963 so we knew we were not at the top, and the Bit-Tech guys kept us in suspense as to who’d come where :) It was great fun working together and meeting new people and as much as the competition was about the overclocking it was in equal measures about having a laugh. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys on my team and we all contributed tons of different ideas without which I’m sure we wouldn’t of got anywhere near the scores we did. Finally, we were all gathered round the screens and the results were announced. Even though we didn’t get top in Round 2 we still came out top overall! (The bit tech guys attributed points to each place finish to keep it balanced) We were over the moon and being first meant we got first pick of the prizes!
On the subject of the prizes, a few people pointed out to me when we got there, that we had been told the prizes were “next gen” but as it turned out alot of the Boards and Cards were previous gen. This didn’t bother me really, as much as having some Bulldozer / Sandybridge-EX kit would of been nice, there was still a good selection of stuff. There were various Asus GPU’s including a GTX 480, a couple of 5870’s, some 6000 series cards and a GTX 560, there were also quite a few Crosshair IV motherboards, a Crosshair III, a Sabertooth P67 a Micro-atx 1155 and a Rampage/ Maximum 1156 ROG board. There was also a selection of Headsets, coolers and other bits and bobs.
As the winning team we got first pick of the kit, Since one of my GTX 280’s died I was really up for a new GPU to tide me over until the 600 series comes out. Looking over the GPU’s I decided that the GTX 480 would be the best companion for me, It may be hot and have mega power consumption, but so does SLI 280’s :P Other members of my team picked up the GTX 560, a 5870 2GB Matrix and a Crosshair IV motherboard. We were all then handed a Thermaltake T-Shirt and neck strap and then the other teams got to pick their prizes. After everyone had taken a prize there were still a few bits lying around, so they decided to pull names from a hat. It must have been my lucky day because my name came out for the Crosshair III Formula. It’s a 790FX, DDR3 motherboard which I won’t be swapping in straight away but am putting away in case my Crosshair II goes to silicon heaven or a Friend/cousin does an upgrade.
So after that it was all over! We hung around for a few minutes and chatted to the CPC/Bit-Tech guys about how we’d got our scores and then went our separate ways. Overall I’d say it was a brilliant day. To get to really thrash the life out of someone else’s kit and to make great friends along the way was brilliant. We’ve all added each other on steam and jokingly considered entering the Scan Overclocking competition (but it’s all the way up in Bolton :P) Big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for an awesome day. I would do it again in a heartbeat and advise anyone with a bit of experience in hardware to do the same :) I’ll add another post about life with the 480 as well but all in all, a brilliant brilliant day :D
PS. Carrying a GTX 480 and Asus ROG board on the Train is fun XD