Wait­ing for Po­laris

Dear Doc­tor, af­ter read­ing Max­i­mum PC’s May 2016 re­view of Sky­lake-com­pat­i­ble moth­er­boards, I de­cided to build a gam­ing ma­chine in a Mini-ITX form fac­tor. The plan was to pur­chase Asus’s Z170I Pro Gam­ing, which you re­viewed. But, af­ter look­ing at all of that com­pany’s prod­ucts, I went with the Max­imus VIII Im­pact in­stead.

At this point, I have all of the parts to go with it, ex­cept for a graph­ics card. My son rec­om­mended that I wait for AMD’s Radeon RX 480 8GB, so I put off fin­ish­ing the ma­chine for now. Un­for­tu­nately, they’re all sold out! Now I need your ad­vice: Should I keep wait­ing un­til avail­abil­ity im­proves, or go with an­other card?

The games I am play­ing in­clude Civ­i­liza­tion V and Be­yond Earth, El­der Sc rolls On­line, Fall out 4, Kerb al Space Pro­gram, and War of War­ships. For now, I’m pleas­antly sur­prised at how well In­tel’s HD Graph­ics 530 work; only Fall­out 4 is un­playable.

I want this sys­tem to be fast enough that it han­dles new games for the next two to three years. Also, the Max­imus moth­er­board comes with a U.2 con­nec­tor in­stead of M.2, and I haven’t found many cor­re­spond­ing SSDs. Any ad­vice you can pro­vide on U.2 would be wel­come (in­clud­ing whether it’s worth the cost).

My old sys­tem in­cluded a Core i7-4820K on an Asus X79-Deluxe moth­er­board, 16GB of mem­ory, an MSI Radeon R9 270, a 480GB Cru­cial M500 SSD, and some Western Dig­i­tal hard drives for user stor­age. The new one sports a Core i7-6700, 16GB of G.Skill DDR4-3200, a 1TB SanDisk X400 SSD, and a Cooler Mas­ter G750M, all in a Cor­sair Ob­sid­ian 250D case. I car­ried over an HP w2207h mon­i­tor, too.

–Thomas Eddy

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Your old ma­chine and new one fea­ture very fast pro­ces­sors, lots of RAM, and quick stor­age. A beefy GPU would nor­mally be the ticket for well­rounded per­for­mance. But you’re us­ing a mon­i­tor with a na­tive res­o­lu­tion of 1680x1050. No won­der In­tel’s HD Graph­ics 530 seems fast enough in most games.

Con­sider a 24- or 27-inch dis­play with a na­tive res­o­lu­tion of 1920x1080, at least. You’ll get more desk­top space and sharper-look­ing vi­su­als. At that point, it makes sense to snag a Radeon RX 480—they should be more read­ily avail­able by the time you read this.

As far as stor­age is con­cerned, In­tel’s 750-se­ries SSDs in­clude U.2 ca­bles for PCI Ex­press-based trans­fers. They’re ex­pen­sive, but you have to love the thought of se­quen­tial read speeds in ex­cess of 2 GB/s!

Pick­ing the Right GPU

Hi Doc, I am hop­ing you can pro­vide some help on an up­com­ing de­ci­sion. Cur­rently, I own an older PC with a Core 2 Extreme QX9650, over­clocked to 3.8GHz, on an Asus Max­imus For­mula SE moth­er­board. I’m also us­ing 4GB of DDR2-6400, and an XFX Radeon HD 6770 graph­ics card. Sur­pris­ingly, it all be­haves well enough un­der Win­dows 10.

How­ever, I’m gear­ing up to build a new ma­chine with a Core i7-6700K on an Asus Max­imus VIII For­mula or Max­imus VIII Extreme. Is there a GPU from AMD that I can use to up­grade my cur­rent PC, and then swap over when I fin­ish build­ing its re­place­ment? Is go­ing that route even worth­while, or should I just wait and get the best GPU I can af­ford for the new ma­chine? I’d like to wa­ter-cool the new card, and my bud­get is in the $400 to $600 range. Any in­sight you can give would be great.

–An­thony Sam­buco

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: There are only a cou­ple of cards that fall within your bud­get—the Radeon R9 Fury and Fury X—and the Doc would not rec­om­mend ei­ther of them. Both are sim­ply too ex­pen­sive com­pared to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070, which is faster than AMD’s flag­ship, and priced more ag­gres­sively.

MSI sells two ver­sions of the 1070 you might like. One

(the Sea Hawk X) in­cludes closed-loop liq­uid cool­ing, in­cor­po­rat­ing its own block, pump, tub­ing, ra­di­a­tor, and fan, sav­ing you the has­sle of piec­ing to­gether parts. The other (the Sea Hawk EK X) comes with a wa­ter block built on to the PCB, which you’d tie into your own cool­ing loop.

Stay­ing Safe

Hi Doc­tor, I have a silly ques­tion. I just picked up an in­ex­pen­sive Win­dows 10-based tablet that I’m us­ing for work (it runs all of my au­to­mo­tive di­ag­nos­tic soft­ware), and I need a light­weight an­tivirus app for it. At home, I use Kasper­sky, but that’s just too bloated, and I’m not go­ing to use it on this tablet. Af­ter all, it only has a quad-core Atom in­side, with 2GB of RAM. I’m not nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for free soft­ware; I have no prob­lem pay­ing for a ca­pa­ble an­tivirus so­lu­tion.

–Paul Kadron

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Bit­de­fender gets a lot of praise, and not only for its busi­ness so­lu­tions. The com­pany’s In­ter­net Se­cu­rity and An­tivirus Plus prod­ucts are also well re­garded. But it’s dif­fi­cult to say in ab­so­lute terms how ei­ther suite (or any com­pet­ing util­ity) will af­fect the per­for­mance of an Atom-pow­ered tablet.

Truth be told, the Doc lets De­fender run in the back­ground of his Win­dows-based de­vices, even though most folks rip on Mi­crosoft’s free soft­ware. An ounce of pre­ven­tion is worth a pound of cure, and if you’re care­ful with the links you click, the at­tach­ments you open, and the sites you visit, the rea­sons to run per­for­mance-rob­bing se­cu­rity suites start melt­ing away—even more so if you’re us­ing the tablet for a spe­cific pur­pose like au­to­mo­tive di­ag­nos­tics. Not con­vinced? Bit­de­fender will sell you its least-ex­pen­sive so­lu­tion for right around $35.

De­ci­sions, De­ci­sions

Dear Doc­tor, I have two sim­i­lar com­put­ers that I built back in 2011 and 2012. Their cur­rent specs are listed be­low. I am con­tem­plat­ing putting new CPUs, moth­er­boards, and mem­ory in each, and I’m not sure which ones to pick. Right now, the op­tions are In­tel’s Core i7-6700K, 5820K, and 6800K. Or, should I bite the bul­let and go with a 5930K/6850K? Is the ex­tra per­for­mance worth a higher price tag? There’s a $200 to $300 dif­fer­ence in there, so I don’t want to waste money. For what it’s worth, I’ll be buy­ing a GeForce GTX 1070 or 1080 down the road. I do a lot of gam­ing now, and while I’m not run­ning at 4K or any­thing, I do use 1920x1080 mon­i­tors. In the end, I’m hop­ing for a PC I can en­joy four or five years from now.

The first PC has a Core i72600K, a 240GB Mushkin SSD, a Gi­ga­byte GeForce GTX 970 4GB G1 OC, Asus’s P8Z77-V Z77based moth­er­board, 32GB of G.Skill Sniper DDR3-1600 RAM, a PC Power and Cool­ing 750W power sup­ply, and Cor­sair’s H100i GTX closed-loop cooler.

The sec­ond is based on an Asus P8Z77-V LE moth­er­board, with a Core i7-3770K pro­ces­sor and 32GB of G.Skill DDR3-1600 in­stalled. Like the first sys­tem, this one has a 240GB Mushkin SSD, Gi­ga­byte GeForce GTX 970 4GB, and Cor­sair H100i GTX cooler.

–Robert Klaas

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Just to be clear, Robert, In­tel’s Core i7-6700K is based on the Sky­lake ar­chi­tec­ture, and drops into an LGA 1151 in­ter­face. Core i7-5820K and 5930K are Haswell-E-based and uti­lize LGA 2011-v3. Core i7-6800K and 6850K are Broad­well-E CPUs; they work with LGA 2011-v3 as well (though you’ll typ­i­cally need a firmware up­date for older X99 moth­er­boards).

If you’re a gamer first and fore­most, save some cash on those workstation-class pro­ces­sors and snag a Core i7-6700K, ob­vi­ously re­plac­ing the 2600K be­fore the 3770K. Most games don’t know what to do with more than four cores, and In­tel’s Sky­lake de­sign is the high­est-per­form­ing per clock cy­cle avail­able. Fur­ther, the money you save on a 6700K can go into a faster graph­ics card. The GeForce GTX 1080’s ad­van­tage over the 1070 is far greater than any in­flu­ence a CPU might have.

Then again, at 1920x1080, Nvidia’s GP104 GPU is overkill. The Doc­tor def­i­nitely pre­scribes a mon­i­tor up­grade, too.

Ag­ing Grace­fully

Hello Doc. I just read the Septem­ber edi­tion, and no­ticed that, in his let­ter to you, Michel Cau­vin sug­gested he might be the old­est reader of Max­i­mum PC. Be­ing 78 my­self, I thought it might be in­ter­est­ing to see how many World War II-vin­tage read­ers there are from that era or ear­lier. I started an elec­tron­ics hobby around age 10, and have kept it go­ing ever since then. So far, I’ve only built one com­puter (an Al­tair 8800 kit), but I am about to put to­gether a PC.

There is one ques­tion I have for you: How does one size a power sup­ply prop­erly? Adding up the max­i­mum loads of ev­ery at­tached com­po­nent is easy enough, but my moth­er­board man­ual (for Gi­ga­byte’s Z170X- Gam­ing GT) is of no help when I try to fac­tor it in to my cal­cu­la­tion. I sus­pect that an al­lowance for fu­ture ex­pan­sion, plus a safety fac­tor of at least 30 per­cent, would work, right? Any di­rec­tion you could pro­vide would be great.

– John Fer­tig

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Emails like yours are some of the Doc’s fa­vorite, John. Thank you for show­ing us that pas­sion is life­long, even though tech­nol­ogy moves at a break­neck pace.

There are a num­ber of fac­tors to con­sider as you size a power sup­ply. One is the max­i­mum draw of each com­po­nent be­hind the PSU. As you no doubt al­ready know, host pro­ces­sors and graph­ics cards are the most con­spic­u­ous con­sumers; it’s rel­a­tively easy to find de­tailed power specs on those parts. Sys­tem mem­ory, fans, and stor­age are more mi­nor vari­ables, but also worth adding up. And you’re right— moth­er­board man­u­fac­tur­ers don’t typ­i­cally pro­vide power in­for­ma­tion. De­pend­ing on the sub­sys­tems you’re us­ing, that ceil­ing can rise and fall. Ul­ti­mately, though, 40 or 50W as an up­per bound should be safe for a high-end PC.

Re­mem­ber that you aren’t siz­ing your PSU just so you know it has enough ca­pac­ity when your com­po­nents are work­ing their hard­est. You’re also look­ing to op­ti­mize ef­fi­ciency (thereby min­i­miz­ing waste heat) un­der load and at idle. A quick look at the 80 PLUS or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tions il­lus­trates that a PSU op­er­at­ing at 50 per­cent of its rated load is typ­i­cally more ef­fi­cient than one at 100 per­cent or 20 per­cent.

So, for ex­am­ple, if your PC’s parts need 500W, and you have a 1kW 80 PLUS Gold PSU able to achieve 90 per­cent ef­fi­ciency at 50 per­cent load, you’re pulling 555W from the wall. If you have a 750W 80 PLUS-rated PSU cer­ti­fied for 80 per­cent ef­fi­ciency, the same parts draw 625W. Strike the right bal­ance, and you’ll save on elec­tric­ity with­out over­spend­ing on too big a PSU.

MSI’s GeForce GTX 1070 Sea Hawk uses closed-loop liq­uid cool­ing, sav­ing you the has­sle of build­ing your own wa­ter- cooled setup.

The RX 480 is ideal for 1920x 1080 gam­ing, and can han­dle 2560x1440 at lower de­tail.

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