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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.