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- Nvidia GeForce GTX 690: review of a €1000 card!
- GTC: More details on the GK110
- GTC: Nvidia lifts the veil on the GK110
- Radeon HD 7970s and 7950s roundup
- Nvidia launches the GeForce GTX 690
- Never Settle: Catalyst 12.11 and new game bundle
- AMD launches the FirePro Wx000 and A300
- Lucid Virtu MVP: special benchmark mode & XLR8
- Review: AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
- Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 670
- DirectX 11.1: GeForce 600s and Windows 7 support
- Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti, Asus, MSI
- Black screens and Radeon HD7870: a solution ?
- Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 & SLI
- Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti

 Never Settle: Catalyst 12.11 and new game bundle
  Posted on 22/10/2012 at 06:00 by Damien
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AMD is certainly aiming to put itself in a position of strength in time for Christmas and Windows 8: after readjusting pricing on several occasions, AMD is looking to developments in performance and a new game bundle.

AMD knows full well that Nvidia has a strong brand image among gamers and in spite of almost faultless execution on the latest Radeon generations, it hasn’t had the commercial success it hoped for. AMD has to give an ever better price/performance ratio to convince gamers to turn towards its solutions. This is already the case right across the range but probably not to a great enough extent. AMD has therefore decided to push the boat out even further.

With its Never Settle initiative, AMD is aiming to highlight both the driver work carried out by its developers and the significant investment now being made in developers / video games publishers.

Thus the Catalyst 12.11s are presented as the first fully optimized drivers for the GCN architecture used on the Radeon HD 7000s. Indeed they give a significant gain in performance. AMD hasn’t yet been able to give us precise details on the improvements, but says that it has carried out detailed analysis on the behaviour of recent games with GCN and come up with areas of improvement in terms of memory management and rendering surfaces as well as occupation rates of processing units (affecting both the organisation of threads (groups of pixels/vertices) and the shader compiler).

We should say that we didn’t note any drop in graphics quality or any gains with the Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6970.

HD 7770
HD 7870
HD 7970
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Of the 11 games tested, we observed an average gain of 4.6% on the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, 5.5% on the Radeon HD 7870 and 3.4% on the Radeon HD 7770. Not bad for a driver update alone. The Radeon HD 7870 gained 12% in Sleeping Dogs and 8% in Max Payne 3. It showed a small fall in performance in Alan Wake (-3%), the only game in which performance suffered.

The biggest performance gains were seen in Battlefield 3 where the Radeon HD 7000s previously suffered in comparison to the GeForces. The Battlefield 3 gain is 20% for the Radeon HD 7870 (High) and HD 7970 (Ultra) on our test scene; we even observed a gain of 30% on the Radeon HD 7900s in High quality mode! According to AMD, you’ll also see this sort of gain in Medal of Honor: Warfighter which is based on the same graphics engine. This is very good news but we shouldn’t get carried away as it has taken AMD almost ten months to optimise its drivers for this engine…

We have updated the tests in our forthcoming report on the GeForce GTX 650 Ti to take account of these new Catalysts, which gives us the opportunity to note that the increase in GPU yield has an impact on energy consumption, which has increased a bit, though not as much as performance. In other words the energy yield has progressed (+8% in Battlefield 3 for the Radeon HD 7870).

At the same time as introducing these new drivers, AMD has also decided to revisit its game bundle (the one including DiRT Showdown and/or Sleeping Dogs was due to be updated at the end of this month). The new bundle will include FarCry 3 for the Radeon HD 7770 and above and Hitman Absolution will be added for the packs of two Radeon HD 7770s or Radeon HD 7800s as well as for all the Radeon HD 7900s, which will also still get Sleeping Dogs. Finally, all these solutions will also come with a 20% reduction voucher for Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

The Catalyst 12.11s will be available soon to coincide with the Windows 8 release (26th October) and the new bundle will start to appear on certain markets as of this week.

 AMD launches the FirePro Wx000 and A300
  Posted on 07/08/2012 at 06:00 by Damien
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After rolling out its new GPU family on consumer products, AMD has turned to the workstation market and has taken the opportunity of including the Trinity APU in the FirePro range.

The professional graphics card market is difficult and dominated by Nvidia but AMD remains combative. In the absence of an Nvidia GPU fully adapted for the pro world (the GK110 is scheduled for 2013), AMD once again has an opportunity to break into this market.

The FirePro V9800, V8800, V7900 and V5900 have thus been replaced by Wx100 models from the GCN (Graphics Core Next) generation, which support all the latest technologies such as OpenCL 1.2 or PCI Express 3.0.

The FirePro W9000 is the new top end model in the pro range and corresponds to the Radeon HD 7970 with the Tahiti GPU. Its 2048 processing units are slightly overclocked at 975 MHz up from 925 MHz. This gives processing power of 4 Tflops in single precision and 1 Tflops in double precision, which is almost double what you get with the FirePro V9800. The memory interface is equivalent to the corresponding Radeon with a 384-bit bus and GDDR5 clocked at 1375 MHz. The video memory is however up from 3 to 6 GB, which makes a difference in certain domains, and there's ECC support. The TDP has been announced at 274W and the video connectivity is identical to that on the previous generation: 6 mini-DisplayPorts.

A step down in the range, we have the FirePro W8000, which is the pro equivalent of the Radeon HD 7950: its 1792 processing units are clocked at 900 MHz with raw processing power of 3.2 Tflops in single precision and 0.8 Tflops in double precision. The memory bus has however been cut to a 256-bit model, while the GDDR5 is still clocked at 1375 MHz, for a similar memory bandwidth to that offered by the previous generation. This 256-bit bus does however allow AMD to equip the FirePro W8000 with 4 GB of video memory. It also has ECC support but just four DisplayPort outs and a TDP of 189W.

The FirePro W7000 is based on the Pitcairn GPU and corresponds to a Radeon HD 7870, which is slightly underclocked. Its 1280 processing units are thus clocked at just 950 MHz giving 2.4 Tflops of single precision processing power. This GPU doesn’t offer double precision support to speak of and gives just 0.15 Tflops of processing power in this mode. Its 4 GB of GDDR5 are clocked at 1200 MHz with a 256-bit bus. ECC is not supported but the card is just single slot, with a TDP of under 150W and four DisplayPort outs.

The smallest model in the new family, the FirePro W5000 is based on a heavily cut down version of the Pitcairn GPU which doesn’t yet have a consumer equivalent. It has just 768 processing units clocked at 825 MHz and giving 1.3 Tflops of processing power in single precision. The point of this configuration, in comparison to the smallest GCN GPU, which without being cut down offers similar processing power at a lower cost, is that it allows AMD to include a 256-bit memory bus and twice the geometric processing power. The FirePro W5000 is relatively compact, short and on a single slot and has a TDP of under 75W. Connectivity wise it has two DisplayPort outs and a DVI Dual-Link out.

In comparison to the Radeons, these new FirePros come with drivers optimised for pro applications, notably with a set of specific profiles. They are moreover guaranteed for three years and will be available for a long period. Current pricing stands at $4000 for the FirePro W9000, $1600 for the FirePro W8000, $900 for the FirePro W7000 and $600 for the FirePro W5000.

At the same time as the launch of these new pro graphics cards, AMD has rolled out an APU in the FirePro family for the first time, which probably represents the most serious threat to Nvidia. As the ridiculously weak specs of some of the Quadros suggest, a good number of pro applications don’t require enormous processing power. Such entry-level products, often billed at high-end consumer prices, function simply as a license to take advantage of drivers that have been let off the leash in terms of pro application support.

Intel was the first to cotton on to this by rolling out its integrated graphics cores as pro (P) versions for certain Xeons. The highest performance of these is currently the Xeon E3-1275V2, which is based on Ivy Bridge architecture, and the HD Graphics P4000 graphics core which has drivers certified for some professional applications.

With its APUs, AMD has the opportunity of offering a similar solution and standing out with its rich and long experience in the domain and wider support of the different available graphics applications. This is now happening with the FirePro A320 and A300, which are derivatives of the Trinity with identical specifications to those for the A1-5800K (including the unlocked multiplier) and A10-5700. According to the figures published by AMD, the Intel solution suffers greatly by comparison and an entry level Quadro would also be beaten. It remains to be seen if the market will be receptive and put confidence in the AMD drivers and support, two areas where Nvidia is very strong…

 Lucid Virtu MVP: special benchmark mode & XLR8
  Posted on 11/07/2012 at 19:01 by Damien
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During Computex, we took the opportunity of talking with Lucid on the subject of the report that we devoted to Virtu MVP, a software solution designed for the combination of two GPUs of different brands within the same system, something that is particularly the case with the Intel socket 1155 platform. To recap, its HyperFormance component hadn’t really convinced us as it looked too much like a cheat to increase 3D Mark scores.

HyperFormance consists in cancelling the full rendering of images which won’t be displayed (because the fps is too high). However our observations in 3D Mark highlighted something different: all the frames were displayed twice with in between a modification of the interface’s fps counter superimposed on the frames. It’s difficult not to describe such a practice as cheating and yet Futuremark decided not to describe it as such, settling to say that the results thus obtained would not be taken into account in its official classification.

Lucid of course wasn't all that pleased with our report and we had several rather tense discussions with the company's bosses who refuted our result’s without however responding with anything very convincing. Last month, in Taipei, we were able to speak frankly with Moshe Steiner, CEO of Lucid.

A special benchmark mode
In contrast to our previous discussions, he wanted to cut to the chase and told us that there had been a misunderstanding: two versions of HyperFormance had been set up in Virtu MVP. However, in focussing our attention on the case of 3D Mark, we used the special HyperFormance version designed to simulate within the benchmarks a representation of the gains that the technology can give in games. This was a shortcut that the company would have preferred to avoid but without which it would have been difficult to convince motherboard manufacturers… This special HyperFormance version is activated in all 3D Marks as well as in Unigine.

The standard version, used for games, doesn’t however ever kick in under 60 fps, or more exactly under the refresh rate, which is what Virtu MVP uses as a parameter. It functions in this way as planned in trying to increase the responsiveness of the display with variable success depending on different cases.

What is difficult to understand is that Futuremark didn’t pick up on this because indeed using a special benchmark mode is in practice forbidden in its charter… even more so when this special mode manipulates the frames which are supposed to be calculated. It looks clear to us that the weight of Intel, which supports Lucid, cooled the usually irrepressible Futuremark zeal when it comes to combating anything that looks like a cheat.

At the end of the day, Lucid is insisting on the fact that whatever we might think with respect to how it works in certain benchmarks, HyperForce does really work correctly in games, at least if they are supported (a profile is required).

Lucid also told us that the demo of the latest developments concerning XLR8, a version of its group of technologies optimised for systems equipped with a single GPU and more particularly simply an integrated graphics core. The goal of XLR8 is to improve as much as possible the playability of gaming on systems that are slow in terms of graphics, on, say, an Ultrabook which just has an Intel IGP.

In addition to HyperFormance (not very useful given that these machines generally don’t run at over 60 fps) and Virtual V-Sync which makes the rendering slightly more fluid and prevents effects such as tearing, Dynamix is now being finalised. This third technique consists in dynamically reducing (frame by frame) the resolution of certain rendering surfaces (render targets or RT), so as to try to maintain a certain fps rate.

In comparison to a fixed reduction of the rendering resolution, Dynamix allows you to preserve certain elements of resolution reduction. The standard example consists in conserving the interface in full resolution and reducing the quality of the rest of the image, which is what certain games such as ArmA 2 and its derivatives do already.

Lucid had two demos to show us. The first concerned Diablo III on an Ultrabook. Very jumpy and disagreeable without Dynamix, with this technololgy it was at +/- 30 fps with sufficient gaming comfort. The quality did drop somewhat however, but was acceptable given that the interface and the HUD remained at full resolution. We were however less convinced by Battlefield 3 which did become more fluid but at the price of lower quality.

Lucid hopes to finalise Dynamix in the next few months and support a maximum of games, a specific profile once again being required. Currently a demo of Dynamix is available for Skyrim. While Lucid may manage to support many of the big hits rapidly and make them playable on Ultrabooks, at the price of lower quality, Dynamix will probably be the most interesting Virtu MVP component for gamers. And we’ve had an undertaking, Dynamix won’t be activated in 3DMark!

 Review: AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
  Posted on 10/07/2012 at 00:01 by Damien
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To celebrate the half-year anniversary of the Tahiti GPU and the Radeon HD 7970, AMD has decided to revisit its specs. The objective with the new GHz Edition model is clear: to outdo the GeForce GTX 680.

> Review: AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

 Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 670
  Posted on 04/07/2012 at 00:01 by Damien
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Following on from the exceptional GeForce GTX 690, Nvidia has started rolling out versions of its Kepler architecture further down the range. The GeForce GTX 670 has thus made its appearance with its rather strange design, reduced energy consumption and levels of performance very close to the GeForce GTX 680. Will it manage to break the energy efficiency record?

> Review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 670

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