> 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.

Size Is­sues

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.

–Win­ston Cheng

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.

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