Saturday, September 26, 2009

AMD ATI Radeon HD5000 Series Windows 7 Direct X 11 graphic cards

If you don't already know by now, the next standard in gaming graphics is DirectX 11. This is found in Microsoft's upcoming Windows operating system, Windows 6.1, or more popularly known as Windows 7 (not because 6+1=7 or because Windows Vista was Windows 6.0, but because Microsoft says this is the seventh release of Windows).

DX11 adds some new features and one of them is Direct Compute, using the new Compute Shader element, which adds to the previous Geometry Shader which was introduced in DirectX 10 (Unified Shader Model 4) on Vista, and the Pixel and Vertex Shaders, which were introduced in DirectX 9 (Shader Model 3) prior to that in Windows XP.

Direct Compute is an implementation of GPGPU technology. Basically it uses your graphic card for processing instead of just your processor, thereby giving you extra performance. This can also be used for 3D Ray-Tracing and Video Transcoding. But did you know DX11 can work with DX10?

Unlike DX10 which required either AMD's ATI Radeon HD2000/3000/4000 series, or NVIDIA GeForce 8/9/200 series of DX10 gaming cards, DX11 can function on DX10 gaming cards as well, albeit not as fully as on DX11 gaming cards, which is the ATI Radeon HD5000 series, or NVIDIA GeForce 300 series (which isn't out yet).

As expected, this means DX11 can also work on Vista, and it can, when Microsoft releases the Vista Platform Update, but like the above DX11 and DX10 compatibility, you won't get the full features as compared to a pure DX11 platform, which is Windows 7 with DX11 gaming card, and in this case, only ATI's HD5000 is out. With this, coupled with Windows 7, you'll get the full DX11 deal. See here for a list of upcoming DX11 games.

Of course, with DX11 you can also play DX10 games, and you can see a list of DX10 games here - but remember to update your DX files! If you haven't done so, you can get it for free from Microsoft's site here (100MB). Even if you're using Windows XP with DirectX 9, it will update your files to the latest DX9. This might help if you're having problems running some games.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Windows Live Messenger 9 (2009) 14

Microsoft Windows Live Messenger 9 (2009) 14.0.8089.726

Unless you're using Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger 8.5 (2008), you would have recently been prompted to upgrade to the latest version of WLM 9 (2009), or also known as version 14 to tie with the rest of Microsoft's Windows Live Services. This is because Microsoft wants to streamline all their Messengers to the latest version, which means any version prior to 8.5 (like 8.1, 8.0) will have to upgrade to version 9 (2009 or 14) before you can log into your Messenger.

However, come next month, even users of 8.5 will be forced to do the same so everyone will have to use at least version 14.0.8089.726. Meaning even if you're running version 14.x you'll still have to upgrade to this version (at least) in October. Want to know more?

This recent force (and next month for the rest of 8.5 and 14.x users) have resulted in some users switching over to Yahoo Messenger (which coincidentally, also only supports version 9.0, with 8.0 users being locked out). As both WLM and YM support both Yahoo and Microsoft accounts, both can use either contacts so you don't need to run both Instant Messengers (IM) at the same time.

However, with Microsoft's recent force (and next month as well), you might see a case of people jumping over to Yahoo instead, as some people have had problems once upgrading WLM. You can read more Microsoft's statement (as well as some people's problems) here.

You can get the latest version of WLM here, which will download the required WLM files, as well as other Windows Live Services, IF you want them. Keep in mind you don't have to install ALL Windows Live Services to use WLM.

To read more about WLM, you can read about our previous post here.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 Review (Part 2)

Quadro FX 1800 - a professional workstation video card

Slightly over a week ago we showed you Part 1 of the Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 video card review here, now we'll continue with Part 2. If you haven't read Part 1, we suggest you do, and if you have no idea what Quadro is (compared the the more popular GeForce), then we suggest you read the primer which is mentioned in Part 1, and where to look for it. Now let's continue!


It's a small world after all...

Energy is a big issue in today's world. From global warming to climate change and fossil fuels and green alternatives, energy efficiency is a important element for our current state of survival if we're to go further without screwing up the planet even more - conspiracy theories aside about how the greenhouse effect is just a phase of the Earth. So it comes no surprise that today's electronic devices focus heavily on their power consumption and the Quadro is no different.

Unlike the GeForce, which is designed for 3D games and thus won't be taxed at it's full potential for hours (unless perhaps inside a cyber-cafe!), the Quadro might be used for hours on an end, especially since it's designed for work while the GeForce is for play. Think about it - what do you spend more time on? Working or playing? Well if you're a professional gamer it's out of the question!

Look! No power ports!

So it becomes obvious that the Quadro needs to factor in electricity savings as well and boy does it! At first glance you'll notice the Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 does not have any PCI Express pin power requirement at all! On the other hand, the GeForce GTX 285 needs a whopping dual 6-pin PCIe power plugs from your PSU (Power Supply Unit)! Keep in mind only high-end PSUs above 600-Watts or so MAY have dual PCIe power connectors so you may also have to buy a new PSU if you're using the GeForce 285!

You'll need DUAL 6-pin PCI Express power plugs from your PSU!

So how much power DOES the 285 consume as compared to the energy-efficient Leadtek Quadro FX 1800? To measure this, we'll need to use what's called a Plug-In Power Monitor, which basically shows how much electricity (measured in Watts) is being drawn from the electrical socket to be used by the computer which is having the respective card installed in it.

The Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 on our Intel Core i7 (Nehalem) Platform

The GeForce GTX 285 on our same Intel Core i7 (Nehalem) Platform

37Watts more while running - and that's only idle! So you can imagine what happens during intense full usage like being taxed by 3D processing! Now multiply that by the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months you'll be using a 285 as compared to this Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 and you'll soon be running up a huge bill that you could save were you running the Quadro instead!

Here's the YouTube videos from BrickGamers Channel where you can see the power difference when the Leadtek FX 1800 and 285 powers up. Both are running on the same platform, so the differences you see in Watts being consumed shows directly how much is used:

Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 @ Nehalem Platform

GeForce GTX 285 @ Nehalem Platform


The side-effect of energy is heat and once again this can be seen in the Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 as compared to the 285. Notice how much cooler the 1800 runs compared to the 285:

Extra power consumption aside, all these extra heat also spells cooling, which means you need to spend more power to not only cool the card, but also the insides of your computer casing, to prevent other components from heating up and overall slowing down your whole machine. So what you have here is both extra power consumption in terms of running the 285 as well as cooling it. This is yet another aspect where the Quadro shines in and is worth that extra cost.

Part 3 we'll look at the gaming aspects of the Quadro FX 1800. While it's not a gaming card, it's good to see just how much it can do so you do get to also play some games on it after working!

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Intel Core i5

2009 Intel Core i5 processor logo

As mentioned previously, Intel will be coming out with their new processor (CPU), the Core i5. It is now out, designed to work on desktop boards powered by the equally-new Intel P55 chipset (board controller). These new boards will also work with the new Core i7. But wait, this new Core i7 is not the same as the older Core i7! Confused? Read on.

2009 Intel Core i7 processor logo

This new Core i7 differs from the previous Core i7 in a two ways:
As you can see, the new i7 is the same as the i5, whereas the old i7 works by itself. As also mentioned previously, Intel did this so owners of existing dual-channel DDR3 memory (RAM) on desktop boards powered by the Intel 4-Series chipset (like the P45) wouldn't have to waste their RAM.

Intel Core i5 processor
The new Intel Core i5 processor. The new Core i7 processor looks just the same too!

Plus, now that you have two CPU types to select from, you have even more choices depending on your needs. But what's the difference between the new i7 and the new i5 then? Hyper-Threading. The new i7 has HT, while the new i5 doesn't have HT. The old i7 has HT too, by the way. As you can see, this makes the CPUs available from high-end (old i7), middle-range (new i7), and mainstream (new i5). But what is HT?

Intel Core i5 processor in LGA 1156 socket on Intel P55 chipset board
The new Intel Core i5 processor in its new LGA 1156 socket on a new Intel P55 board

HT is basically a feature where a single CPU core can function as a quasi dual-core, albeit not as fully-functional as a full-fledged dual-core. So the old i7 and new i7, both being quad-cores with HT, you effectively have quasi octo-cores, while the new i5, being quad-core without HT, is just a quad-core. Again, just to remember, the difference between the old i7 and new i7 is the number of RAM module sticks it supports.

Intel Core i7, Core i5, and Core 2 processors
(left to right) Old i7, i5 (as well as new i7), old Intel Core 2-class

So there you have it. Decide on how much power you need, and then you can go get the right type of CPU to meet your needs. The new i5 with 4 cores and dual RAM, the new i7 with 8 'cores' and dual RAM, or the old i7 with 8 'cores' and triple RAM. New i5 and new i7 need P55 boards, old i7 needs X58 boards.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Crash, Boom, Bang?

Microsoft Bing

If you haven't heard by now, Microsoft has re-named its Web search engine from Live Search to Bing, in an attempt to make it more "user-friendly". However, this "new" search engine got into a little trouble recently when it was found to be selective of the type of results to show depending on the search being queried. Want to know more?

In particular, it was sensitive towards searches that would highlight the "bad" side of Microsoft. This came to be known via here, and a screen capture here proved the point, especially since it has now been changed to reflect no "censorship", as seen from here. Just to be fair, Google was put to the test as well, as seen here. Well, it's good to see Microsoft redeem itself than to deny!

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 Review (Part 1)

Few weeks ago we mentioned here that we'll be coming out with a review on the Leadtek Quadro FX 1800 video card, designed for professional usage on workstation computers. Now we follow up with the Quadro's performance. If you need a primer about this, we suggest you read our initial post to get a better basic understanding before we proceed further in the tests.

As mentioned before, a Quadro is different from a GeForce, which is designed for gaming in mind, but this isn't so apparent when the price of a Quadro is higher than a GeForce. For comparison sake, let's take the most powerful single-GPU GeForce out there, the 285. Based on Google Product Search, we can see the GeForce 285 costs around USD300, while the Quadro FX 1800 costs about USD400. So what do you get extra or better for the higher costs it asks?


Let's start with something simple - the bandwidth. The slot that the Quadro sits in, PCI Express 2.0 interface, supports up to 5GBps (the older PCI Express 1.0 slot only supported up to 2.5GBps).

Quadro makes full use of this PCIe 2.0 slot by hitting the 5GBps limit (red arrow above), while the GeForce 285 only uses up to 4.6GBps (red arrow below) of the slot's 5GBps limit.

You might ask - "Wait! What's that 12GBps in the 285 under Device to Device Bandwidth, where the Quadro only got 2GBps?" Good question! That's the internal bandwidth on the card itself, not between the card and the mainboard.

A GeForce needs this speed because in games, it's all about fast scenes so the GeForce has to process things quickly inside the card. In Quadro however, the card needs to quickly update the display during complex 3D work, so it needs to get back to the user faster - hence the faster bandwidth between the card and the computer.

That doesn't make any sense? Think of it this way - when you're playing a game, you're moving about in a 3D world, the card has to visualise this world as you move so it needs to quickly do "behind the scenes work", basically processing the scene ON the card.

Now when you're doing 3D work, you're manipulating a 3D scene, so the card needs to update the object fast - this means it has to continuously feedback 3D objects to the user manipulating it. Let's move on.

2D Wireframe @ 3D Programs

Performance Test is a tool that comes with Intel X58 Desktop Boards, designed for the Intel Core i7 quad-core desktop processor with integrated triple-channel DDR3 memory controller. Intel bundles the full version 6.1, although PassMark (which makes Performance Test) now has version 7.

PT 6.1 shows that the Quadro performs better for 2D Graphic Lines and Shapes, as well as 2D GUI (Graphical User Interface). This is exactly what Quadro is designed for in 3D work.

That doesn't make sense either? Think of it this way - while you're working with 3D objects, the wireframe of these objects are basically 2D lines making up the 3D object. Now onto it in action.

For this, we'll need a real-world scenario the Quadro card is designed for - a 3D program. While there are many options out there, with AutoDesk's Maya being the leader, it also costs around USD3,500. So let's turn to the most popular Open Source (free) 3D program currently - Blender.

To see Quadro at work, we'll need to load a 3D model into the program. Like 3D programs, most models aren't free either, but since Blender is free, there are some free Blender models out there. To stress the Quadro, we'll use a complex 20MB 3D model by Dennis Bailey and Eric M Clark of the fictional starship Enterprise from the science-fiction franchise Star Trek.

This is how it looks like once you've opened the Blender model file (called Blends) in Blender:

If you render the 3D model, it will look like this:

Now to see Quadro at work, you've got to see how Quadro renders 2D lines in a working environment, in this case, while you're manipulating a model. To show you this, we have to record a video of the model being manipulated, and we took a snapshot of the video during it too:

This is the Quadro FX 1800.

This is the GeForce GTX 285.

Here are the videos of each card using Blender so you can see for yourself what we mean. Feel free to pause these videos at the above screen capture image positions to see it for yourself. It is advisable to toggle the HQ (High Quality) button in these YouTube videos to see it clearer.

Quadro FX 1800

GeForce GTX 285

Memory Advantage

As you can see, Quadro does a very fine job (literally) to render accurate and precise 2D lines when you manipulate a 3D object in a 3D program, giving you exactly what you need, something which GeForce cannot deliver with its blurry and jagged 2D lines. This is also due to the faster memory the Quadro has which the GeForce lacks, as seen in these below shots of CPU-Z:

The GeForce GTX 285 has faster Core and Shader, but a slower Memory Clock than the Quadro FX 1800. This is also mirrored in Everest (formerly AIDA), an information tool:

There're also some other details there, like a faster Shader and Geometric Domain GPU Clock in the Quadro FX 1800 (550MHz and 1.4GHz) versus the GeForce GTX 285's 301MHz and 602MHz under Graphics Processor Properties.

Then under Memory Bus Properties, you'll find the Quadro's 800MHz Real Clock triumphing the GeForce's 100MHz while the Quadro's Effective Clock is 1.6GHz versus the GeForce's 200MHz. In summary:

Now do you begin to see what the extra USD100 is worth compared to the the most powerful gaming GPU? Next week we'll continue the review with Quadro's differences in Heat, Energy, and Power usage. Then we'll show you how the Quadro can also handle same games on the side!

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