> Upgrading Time > Size Issues > Docking Dilemmas
Time to Upgrade?
Doc, thank you and the team for many years of PC news. I’ve been a faithful subscriber since the days of Boot.
In 2012, I built my dream system using an Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen3 mobo, Intel Core i7-3770K CPU, Cooler Master Hyper 212 cooler, 8GB Crucial Ballistix DDR3-1866 memory kit, GeForce GTX 680, 128GB Crucial m4 SSD, and two 1TB WD Caviar hard drives in a Cooler Master HAF 922 case. I also had an HP Pavilion w2408h monitor, running at its 1920x1200 native resolution. I upgraded the video card a couple of times, and currently have a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition, which I bought because my GTX 980 was choking on MassEffect: Andromeda’s highest settings. I also swapped the memory out for a 16GB DDR3-1866 kit, upgrading to Windows 10 in the process.
Most of my PC time involves gaming (WorldofWarships, MassEffect, and GhostRecon Wildlands), but I also use it for the web, a little video editing, Word,Excel, and so on.
It seems like my PC should be getting long in the tooth, but you frequently mention incremental improvements to Intel’s microarchitectures. Would I see much benefit from moving to LGA 1151 and a Core i7-7700K? Or is there anything you’d change about my setup to improve performance and extend its life without breaking the bank?
Right now, I can play Mass Effect using the Ultra preset without a hiccup. And with everything maxed out in Rise oftheTombRaider and Ghost Recon, I see benchmark results in the 60fps range. My only real gripe is that games load slowly since they’re on my hard drives. Thus, I’ve been considering Crucial’s 1TB MX300. –BJ Koho THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: Really, every architecture since Sandy Bridge has been incremental, improving performance modestly through higher clock rates and greater instructionper-cycle throughput. The jump from your Ivy Bridge-based 3770K to a 7700K would be noticeable, particularly under taxing workloads like video rendering. However, games and lightly-threaded apps probably aren’t bottlenecked severely by your host processor. Holding off on a new platform saves you the cost of a motherboard, CPU, and DDR4 memory kit. There are more effective subsystems to spend money on.
In fact, you already identified the prime candidate for an upgrade: that 128GB SSD, which leaves you way short on capacity. Ideally, the OS, games, and apps live on solid-state storage, while music, movies, pictures, and documents move to mechanical disk. The Doc achieves this with two 512GB Crucial m4s in his workstation (also based on a Core i7-3770K). Splurging on a 1TB drive should create room for lots of games. And if those WD Caviars aren’t configured in a mirrored array, the Doc hopes you’re backing up important files in a way that protects against hardware failure.
As for gaming, consider investing in a new monitor. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is capable of smooth frame rates at 3840x2160, providing you dial in your quality settings. Naturally, it cuts through 2560x1440 with ease. A G-synccapable QHD display would have a more profound effect than any other component.
Hi Doc. I’m a long-time reader, and I have a problem with my new video card: it doesn’t fit in my case!
I own a Dell Precision Tower Workstation (T7910) that’s mostly used for compiling C++ code. But I also like to play games. I purchased Zotac’s GeForce GTX 1070 Mini 8GB to drive two Dell 27-inch monitors (2560x1440). The card fits fine, though just barely. However, the eight-pin power connector faces the top, which prevents
me from closing my side panel. Can you recommend something capable of equivalent performance that might fit better? I also need two full-sized DisplayPort outputs. – Scott Moore THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: Dell’s atypical chassis layout is definitely optimized for workstation-class graphics cards. If you take a look at the T7910’s list of add-in boards, it’s loaded with FirePro and Quadro options, all of which sport rear-facing auxiliary power connectors. There’s not a single GeForce or Radeon.
Unfortunately, every GeForce GTX 1070 in the Doc’s lab has its power connector facing the same way as your Zotac card, and an informal polling of Nvidia partners suggests that other 1070s are configured similarly. According to the Doc’s sources at Nvidia, the company started designing enthusiast-oriented cards with top-facing connectors a couple of generations back in response to customer feedback, so that’s what you’ll find today.
This doesn’t leave you with easy solutions, though. EVGA sells an adapter it calls PowerLink, which reroutes top-facing power connectors to the back of compatible cards for cable management purposes. However, PowerLink still requires clearance above the frame that doesn’t appear to be available in your chassis.
You could go the Quadro route. Many professional applications are built with DirectX in mind. So, even workstation-class cards end up gaming well. Their downside is a hefty price premium. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a Quadro P5000 in the same league as Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080. At the spectrum’s opposite end, you could tuck the workstation into a corner where its open side panel doesn’t show. There’s always the option of going back to whatever card you purchased the workstation with. Or, find a new chassis for all of Dell’s hardware.
Readers Helping Out
Good morning Doc. In response to Gordon’s letter in the May issue, it sounds like he really wants to run Windows 7 using his motherboard’s UEFI mode instead of the legacy BIOS in order to solve some hardware compatibility issues. It is possible, but not easy.
First, he needs the 64-bit version of Windows 7. The 32bit version will not work.
Second, he needs to install Windows 7 from a USB stick formatted as FAT32, not NTFS. The official Microsoft DVD-to-USB tool will not work because it formats the drive as NTFS. There are many recipes on the web for building a bootable, FAT32-formatted stick. Or, if he is still rocking an optical drive, he can install from the original Windows 7 DVD. But he needs to make sure the boot device is set to “UEFI optical drive” in his firmware, not “legacy optical drive.” He will know he got it right when the installer offers to convert his hard disk to GUID partition tables, rather than Master Boot Record.
– Stephen Lardieri
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: Thanks for the contribution, Stephen. If Gordon is willing to stick with Microsoft, getting his copy of Windows 7 running on a UEFI-compatible platform could solve issues with his 24-drive storage system. He didn’t mention if his frustrations were related to trying to boot from a 2TB-plus disk or create more than four primary partitions. We also don’t know if he owns the 64-bit version of his OS. But if Gordon’s setup satisfies a handful of requisites, your guidance might save him the time investment needed to learn Linux or FreeBSD.
Read this TechNet article for more on how to make Win 7 and your UEFI-based PC play nice: http://goo.gl/ VsHzig.
Dock at Your Own Risk
I’m about to move from a house to an apartment, and decided to switch from a bulky desktop to a gaming laptop. I’m interested in buying a docking station to go with my new machine, and I’ve noticed several USB 3.0-compatible docks on the market.
What will I sacrifice if I connect CAT5, DisplayPort, and headphone/mic cables to the docking station instead of to the laptop directly? Does USB 3.0 bottleneck Gigabit Ethernet and DisplayPort? Will I give up gaming performance?
I’d like recommendations on the docking station, too, preferably under $120.
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: When it comes to docking stations, pay attention to the specs.
Case in point: Amazon’s best-seller supports multiple monitors, Gigabit Ethernet, audio, and multiple USB ports. But read the fine print: It only allows 2560x1440 via HDMI, and if you hook up two screens, it drops to 1920x1200. Even at QHD, the best you could get is a 50Hz refresh. Not surprisingly, the manufacturer recommends against using it for gaming.
StarTech’s USB3VDOCK4DP seemingly comes closer to what you need. It lists for almost $160, but can be found online for less. A single DisplayPort output facilitates up to 3840x2160 at 30Hz, Gigabit Ethernet won’t be bottlenecked over its 5Gb/s USB 3.0 interface, audio is transferred over a 3.5mm mini-jack, and plenty of USB 3.0 ports take peripheral hook-ups, too.
Here’s the thing, though: A 30Hz refresh rate, even at 2560x1440, isn’t great for gaming. DisplayLink’s DL-5700 chipset, at the heart of StarTech’s docking station, doesn’t do 60Hz until you hit 1920x1080. Even then, DisplayLink concedes that the USB3VDOCK4DP is meant for productivity, not fastpaced fragging.
That leaves you looking at more expensive options based on USB-C or Thunderbolt 3. Kensington’s $180 SD4500, for instance, takes a USB-C input from your laptop and exposes HDMI/DisplayPort outputs at up to 4096x2160, three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, and one USB-C port for peripherals, Gigabit Ethernet, and 3.5mm headphone-out/mic-in jacks.
Conceptually, the 5Gb/s device offers plenty of throughput for highperformance transfers, and Kensington’s implementation leverages the protocol’s Alternate Mode Functional Extension to enable a native DisplayPort signal over USB-C. That means circumventing the limitations of those lower-cost docking stations based on USB 3.0. But taking advantage of this relatively new technology also requires a gaming laptop with USB-C connectivity, explicit support for DisplayPort over USB-C, and Windows 8.1/10. Keep that in mind as you shop for a desktop replacement.
Power connectors on GeForce and Radeon cards can interfere with non-standard cases.
USB- C enables high-performance docking stations for gaming laptops.