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- Radeon HD 7000M, GeForce 600M: renaming
- High-end GeForce GTX 580 roundup
- GTX 580 3GB vs 1.5GB, SLI, surround
- The impact of PCI Express on GPUs
- H.264 encoding - CPU vs GPU
- Review: AMD Radeon HD 7950
- Asus HD 7950 DirectCU II: fault report!
- AMD Radeon HD 7970 & CrossFireX review
- Understanding 3D rendering with 3DMark 11
- Catalyst 12.1 preview: profiles at last!
- AMD launches the Radeon HD 7000Ms and Enduro
- Review: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
- Review: AMD Radeon HD 7750 and HD 7770
- New GeForce 600Ms: Fermi and Kepler
- Review: AMD Radeon HD 7850 & 7870

 Review: AMD Radeon HD 7950
  Posted on 06/03/2012 at 18:38 by Damien
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A couple of weeks after the HD 7970, AMD finally launched the Radeon HD 7950. On the menu: several units less but the promise of significant overclocking potential. Is this the end for the GeForce GTX 580?

> Review: AMD Radeon HD 7950

 Asus HD 7950 DirectCU II: fault report!
  Posted on 24/02/2012 at 06:00 by Damien
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The Radeon HD 7950 DirectCU II from Asus, only just available in stores, suffers from a fault with the fixture for its cooler that makes the GPU heat up and can rapidly lead to crashes, especially if you’re overclocking your GPU. We recommend you to avoid this model while waiting for Asus to correct the problem and recall the faulty batches.

When we started work on our Radeon HD 7900 report (currently only available in French: translation to come), Asus was one of the first manufacturers to send us a semi-customised Radeon HD 7950, based on a stock PCB (which was however made in Asus factories) and equipped with an alternative cooler, the famous DirectCU II.

Barely had we set it up in our test casing before we noticed frequent crashes. When we looked at the card a bit closer, we noted that the big cooling system is only fixed to the GPU with four screws and that one of them didn’t have any purchase on anything. We screwed the screws to a maximum to try and compensate and noted that on top of this fault in our sample model, the pressure of the cooler against the GPU was very (too) light for each of the screws. We did however continue to run our tests as the crashes stopped and the GPU temperature reported by the sensor was relatively low.

The infrared photos showed however that the back of the GPU was getting extremely hot, up to 118 °C. There was obviously a problem and we decided not to include the tests for this model in the report before finding out what was going on. We shared our observations with Asus France, reporting that there seemed to be a pressure problem, in addition to a defective screw.

That was when things started to get complicated. On one hand in Europe, Asus told us, without fully spelling it out, that it had found the same issue on other cards and that adding a thin spacer under the screws improved the pressure issue, though it didn't admit clearly that there was an issue that required correction. We went back to them to get a clearer response: either there wasn’t a problem or all the cards on sale needed to be corrected. Our contact at Asus France seemed to be squirming somewhat when we insisted on getting an answer. We didn’t and Asus Taiwan played dumb, claiming our infrared photos were inaccurate. It was of course impossible to get hold of a second sample model to test...

The weeks went by and the cards began to appear in stores, still with no reaction from Asus. We suspected that there was a problem, though we weren’t certain as one of the screws was defective on the initial sample model. We therefore got hold of another card on sale in a store and ran our tests again. The first thing we noticed was that the card was identical in all ways to the first that we had seen (except for the faulty screw of course) and that the pressure of the cooler on the GPU was still as light as ever.

During the first part of our test protocol, on the bench table with the card in vertical position, things went fine. The first test in the casing, with the card in horizontal position, went okay as well... at least at first. After 30 minutes in load, without overclocking, and although the GPU sensor was reporting a low temperature, the system crashed. We started the test again, with the casing open, so we could observe the card temperature with our infrared camera. Surprisingly, it increased quite fast at the back of the GPU and once it had reached +/- 80 °C, which probably made softer the thermal paste used to link the cooler to the GPU, it quickly rose to over 115 °C and brought about another crash. The log of the GPU sensor however only showed 70 °C.

The last infrared photo we had time to take before the crash.

We’re convinced that the problem comes from the fact that the pressure of the cooler on the GPU is too light, as the hot area observed with the infrared thermography isn’t centred on the GPU but rather slightly to the right, or where most of the weight of the cooler is. To demonstrate this, we launched the test again, this time holding the infrared camera in one hand and holding the cooler with the other. To get the GPU to heat up faster we overclocked the GPU a little. As we expected, there was no longer any problem and the temperature at the back of the GPU was normal +/- 75 °C. When we removed our hand, with no support for the cooler however, the temperature increased by 20 °C in a few seconds and the system crashed within a minute. If however we applied a slight pressure (such as even only a slightly rigid cable would exert) on the top of the cooler, it detaches itself even further from the GPU and the system crashes immediately.

The weight of the cooler is sufficient to move it slightly away from the GPU, a problem that we accentuated by exerting slight pressure so that this was clearly visible in this photo.

It looks very much as if the Radeon HD 7950 DirectCU II has a design fault. While it’s strange that the temperature given by the GPU sensor doesn't show this (the sensor is perhaps situated on a side of the GPU die that remains in contact with the cooler, or the value that it reports isn't properly registered), the GPU does heat up as soon as contact with the cooler lessens. Such a fault can happen on any card to any manufacturer and is generally detected on the early samples. All that's then required is to rectify the problem.

What annoys us in the present case is that Asus seemed to be aware of the potential fault (indeed it was confirmed by certain members of the personnel internally) and yet chose to ignore it so it didn't have to delay the release of what was, among Asus fans, a much-awaited product. This behaviour is obviously very disappointing, especially as we’re talking a high-end model that is supposed to have been carefully refined to give superior quality!

We obviously hope that Asus will now take responsibility, recall all the cards, both standard and TOP factory overclocked models, not put them back on sale until it has resolved the problem and not market doubtful prototypes in the future! In the meantime we can only advise you to avoid this model.

 AMD Radeon HD 7970 & CrossFireX review
  Posted on 21/02/2012 at 15:28 by Damien
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Just before Christmas, AMD lifted the veil on the Radeon HD 7970. On the menu: the 28nm GCN architecture, DirectX 11.1, PCI Express 3.0 and of course the promise of higher performance!

> AMD Radeon HD 7970 & CrossFireX review: 28nm and GCN

 Understanding 3D rendering with 3DMark 11
  Posted on 27/01/2012 at 00:00 by Damien
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Thanks to a very clean graphics engine, 3DMark 11 represents a rare opportunity to observe the various stages required for the construction of a modern real-time 3D rendering such as that used in recent video games.

> Understanding 3D rendering step by step with 3DMark11

 Catalyst 12.1 preview: profiles at last!
  Posted on 13/12/2011 at 06:00 by Damien
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AMD has just sent us the Catalyst 12.1 Previews (8.93.10-111208a), which should be generally available soon and which introduce a few innovations to the Catalyst 11.11cs:

- support for 3D stereo, HD3D, for CrossFireX systems
- support for 3D stereo at 1080p 30Hz over HDMI 1.4a (currently limited to 24 Hz)
- an improvement in the video control panel
- a gain of 10% in Skyrim when MSAA is on
- introduction of customised profiles for 3D applications and games

This last addition is of course the most important development. Better late than never! After a wait of several years, advanced users will now be able to add profiles designed for their video games, in the same way as offered on NVIDIA drivers. You will now, for example, be able to automatically force through a certain type of antialiasing, anisotropic filtering or even a level of tessellation in some games. The new feature however goes further than that as, in parallel with the addition of profiles, AMD has introduced an option that allows you to force a particular CrossFireX setting, either across the board or for a specific application.

Users of multi-GPU systems suffer from the lack of profiles included in drivers for a game that has just come out, preventing them from harnessing the full performance potential of their system. With modern rendering techniques, CrossFireX and SLI technologies often require a profile to accelerate rendering, without which the second GPU remains at idle, reducing performance! Waiting several days or even weeks for a driver to be updated can of course be annoying… The ideal solution is to introduce a profile before the release of each update, but unfortunately this isn't always possible.

/As has been possible with NVIDIA solutions for a long time, the option now introduced by AMD gives advanced users the opportunity, without any guarantee of getting the desired results, of finding a workaround to the problem by trying different generic or more specific settings. Here are the CrossFire X settings on offer:

- Disabled: multi-GPU is off
- Default: the driver uses an AMD profile if available
- AFR friendly: forces AFR (alternate frame rendering), which is the most efficient
- Optimise 1x1: forces AFR with optimisation for surfaces of a size of 1x1
- Use AMD Pre-defined Profile: forces the AMD profile of another application

Imagine for example that a Battlefield 3 suite based on the same engine comes out without any CrossFire X operational support. You can then force the Battlefield 3 profile on the executable of this new game and, with any luck, sort the issue out. You may also try all the profiles on offer, hoping that you happen on one that’s compatible. For developers with applications designed to support AFR, you simply have to force this mode.

Managing the profiles isn't however always the most practical, especially as AMD draws the distinction between new user profiles, AMD profiles and a few 'public' AMD profiles. You can’t modify the AMD profiles but user profiles have priority. The public profiles are only listed as part of the CrossFireX options and are relatively few in number, which makes us think that AMD hasn't made them all visible to the user, or that one of these profiles is forced by the drivers for the other applications supported, in the same way as you’d do it yourself.

To introduce a profile, you have to configure the 3D settings page and, when saving, the driver asks you to point towards the executable of the application concerned. Note, selecting another profile in the list on offer here has no impact on the settings and only goes to crush an existing user profile or create a new one. You can’t view the options for each profile here. After having created a profile specific to a game you also have to reinitialise the settings as otherwise they affect all applications.

Another page, the application profiles page, allows you to view the various user profiles (but no AMD profile), delete them and apply the settings of one as a general setting. You have to use this page to modify a profile, force its implementation across the board, return to the 3D settings panel, modify them, save the profile and finally remember to reinitialise the overall 3D settings. Not very intuitive then and it has to be hoped that AMD will manage to simplify the process somewhat in the future, for example by authorising the modification of 3D parameters in the profiles page.

While the addition of these profiles and CrossFire X options is a very positive development, it doesn’t however resolve the confusing situation that has arisen over the last few months with respect to Catalysts and the support of certain recent games for which numerous and divergent beta branches of drivers are regularly released (11.11a/b/c), which in certain cases forces users to juggle with several driver versions (the 11.12s will be a development of the 11.11s or even the 11.11as but not the 11.11cs). All this goes to remind us that profiles can’t carry the whole load and that in certain cases drivers must be optimised in more depth and also that AMD urgently needs to work more closely with more video game developers, otherwise we may well see the old demons coming back to the surface and undermining the reputation of its current or forthcoming GPUs.

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