30.03.15 | ISSUE 29

With two big tech conferences this month starting with the letter G, the Games Developer Conference and NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference, the last few weeks have been filled with a flurry of new product and tech announcements. Foremost among these were the unveiling of the Titan X, the world’s fastest single-GPU graphics card plus HTC’s partnership with Valve to develop a virtual reality headset. Read on to find out more.


1. Meet Titan X, the ultimate 4K graphics card

Despite some hefty price cuts to the AMD’s range of Radeon cards, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 900-series remains top-dog, proving far more desirable to most gamers. So what else was there for NVIDIA to do but up the ante even more and release an even faster card, GeForce GTX Titan X.

Like the 900-series GPUs, Titan X is based on the Maxwell architecture, but has undergone serious steroid enhancement. For example, while the 980 has 2048 cores, Titan X has a whopping 3072. The differences continue inside the GPUs, with Titan X having 96 ROPs and 192 texture units to the 980s mere 64 ROPs and 128 texture units. To keep the TDP in check and within the 250W PCI-E limit Titan X is clocked slightly lower than 980, running at 1GHz versus 1,126MHz. Titan X also has a simply staggering amount of RAM, 12GB of GDDR5. This is clocked at 7,012MHz and connected to the GPU via a mammoth 384-bit controller giving the card 336GB/sec of bandwidth.

Previously I’d say that this amount of memory was a silly marketing trick as no games would use anywhere near that amount of VRAM. However, Titan X has been specifically designed for gaming at 4K, which does use a lot more VRAM than lower resolutions. For example, I regularly measured Titan X using more than 6GB of RAM when playing Dying Light at 4K.

Speaking of playing games, I’ll stop teasing you now and move onto the benchmarks. For starters, I should make it clear that Titan X is complete overkill for gaming at 1080p or even 2560 x 1440; if you own one of these monitors then save your money and buy a 980. However, even the mighty 980 struggles at 4K, realistically needing two cards in SLI to deliver a smooth frame rate. For instance, the reviewers at Anandtech found that the 980 can only play Shadow of Mordor at 4K with the ultra preset at 36fps, just about playable but not entirely smooth, while Titan X delivers a smooth 49fps. Similarly, the reviewers at HEXUS found that the 980 struggles in Total War: Rome II, playing the game at 39fps versus 51fps on Titan X.

There is of course a cost to all this performance, and Titan X clocks in at between £869 and £934 inc VAT depending on which board vendor you favour. Titan X also consumes a lot more power than 980, though it’s still more frugal than AMDs Radeon 290X. Despite this extra power, Titan X is still pretty quiet as it shares the same excellent cooler as the 980.

Titan X is also a good overclocker too, with the GPU in my sample card easily being boosted from 1GHz to 1.2GHz and the RAM from 7GHz to 8GHz. This overclock had the effect of boosting frame rates by another 10 to 15 per cent, something that’s always nice to have for free, especially on such an expensive card.

If for some crazy reason a single Titan X isn’t fast enough for you, then you could link several cards together in SLI. We partnered two Titan X’s together in Dying Light and saw the average frame rate jump from 42fps to 63fps, making for a far more pleasurable zombie hunting experience. Similarly, in Shadows of Mordor, adding a second Titan X boosted the average frame rate from 36fps to 72fps.

Scan offers a wide range of Titan X graphics card already in stock and plus a range of 3XS overclocked gaming PCs optimised for NVIDIA’s new champion card. Don’t forget to check out our range of 4K monitors while you’re on our website.

AMD Free Sync

2. Reduce tearing and stuttering on your AMD graphics card

AMD has been making noise about its FreeSync technology that aims to remove tearing and stuttering from PC games for a while now, with last month’s ScanZone bringing you news that Scan had secured exclusive stock of the world’s first FreeSync monitor, the LG 34UM67. Since then we’ve expanded our range of FreeSync monitors, adding the 27" Acer XG270HU, a 2560 x 1440 TN monitor plus the 27" BenQ XL2730Z, which has the same panel as the Acer.

Like NVIDIA’s G-Sync that has been on the market for nearly 18 months, FreeSync works by syncing the refresh rate of your monitor with the frame rate of your graphics card. Both technologies require a scaler chip in the monitor to achieve this synchronisation, but FreeSync is cheaper to implement than G-Sync because AMD doesn’t level any license fees from monitor manufacturers.

This month AMD also rolled out its first driver for FreeSync, resulting in the first public reviews of FreeSync. For example, HEXUS found that ‘experience with FreeSync is an overwhelming postitive one’ although the review found that current FreeSync monitors have a smaller refresh range than G-Sync monitors. For example, the LG 34UM67 has a minimum refresh rate of 48Hz, so any frame rate below this will still suffer from stuttering.

Despite this limitation it’s great to see FreeSync turn from a paper product into a real product that you try out for yourselves, and gives a much needed shot in the arm for AMD’s Radeon R9 series. You can check out the range of FreeSync monitors on the Scan website.


3. More affordable GeForce 900-series laptops now available

On March 12th NVIDIA updated its mid-range and entry-level laptop GPUs to the 9-series. The new GPUs, such as the GTX 960M run games an extra 4-5fps faster than the GTX 860M, meaning you should be able to enjoy more games at higher detail settings.

Our 3XS system building division has four new GeForce 9-series laptops available from as little as £659 inc VAT. The range includes a 15.6" laptop with a GT 940M plus 13.3", 15.6" and 17.3" models with the GTX 960M. The latter two include Core i7 processors and have an all-new chassis design that is nearly 15mm thinner and 0.2kg lighter than our GTX 860M laptops, happy news for all of us that aren’t built like Hercules.

You can check out the full range of new gaming laptops on the 3XS website.

NVIDIA Quadro M6000 Graphics Cards

4. Quadro gets the Titan X treatment

When you’ve got an awesome GPU architecture waiting in the wings it makes sense to maximise its market potential, so alongside the GeForce Titan X uber-gaming card, NVIDIA has also released a new Quadro, the M6000.

Designed to replace the ageing K6000, the M6000 has the same 3072 cores as the Titan X, versus 2880 on K6000. All three cards ship with 12GB of GDDR5, although on the K6000 and M6000 the memory is protected by ECC algorithms, an important consideration if you’re running simulations that take hours or days to complete.

The reviewers at Digital Arts Online found that the M6000 outperforms the K6000 in Maya 2014 by 28%, while the newer card was 24% faster at rendering timelines in Premiere Pro.

The Quadro M6000 is a very specialist bit of kit, but for ultra-high-end workstations it offers unparalleled performance. You can find out more about the M6000 and its uses on our Pro Graphics website.

NVIDIA Console

5. NVIDIA moves into the console market

After dominating PC gaming for several years and launching the world’s first gaming tablet last year it should come as no surprise that NVIDIA is now eyeing up the console market. The company’s first console was unveiled at the GDC (Games Developer Conference) in the US earlier this month.

Powered by a Tegra X1 processor which includes a Maxwell GPU with 256 cores plus eight ARM CPU cores the Shield Console runs AndroidTV for the operating system and is designed to plug into the TV in your living room via a HDMI port. The HDMI port supports the new 2.0 standard so can transmit 4K content at 60Hz if you’re lucky enough to own a 4K TV. The Shield Console can connect to the Internet via Gigabit Ethernet or WiFi, from where you’ll be able to stream TV shows, movies via AndroidTV and games from NVIDIA’s Grid service that now includes 40 games.

For media playback you can either use the bundled IR remote or a third-party remote such as the Logitech Harmony while for gaming you can use the Shield gamepad (pictured above) that NVIDIA launched in conjunction with the Shield Tablet last year.

Measuring just 210 x 130 x 25mm plus an external 40W power brick the Shield Console is far more discreet than a traditional gaming console such as Playstation 4 or Xbox One. You should expect to be able to buy the Shield Console in May for around £180.

Steam Valve Steam-Link

6. Valve unveils PC gaming set top box

Sticking with the theme of gaming in your living room Valve also used GDC to announce Steam Link, a tiny set top box that is designed to stream games from your PC to the TV in your living room. Unlike the NVIDIA Shield series of devices, the Steam Link is a more basic affair, only supporting 1080p at 60Hz. However the Steam Link box is only expected to retail for around £40 when it launches in November.

HTC Virtual Reality

7. HTC unveils Steam powered virtual reality headset

This year’s GDC quite frankly has to have been the best in years, with so many great gaming tech announcements that it’s been hard to keep track of everything. The final, and quite possibly most exciting announcement was that Valve has partnered with HTC to develop its first VR headset, the HTC Vive.

Like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive is a full immersion headset that is built for gaming. However, unlike the Rift, which uses its own software, the Vive uses SteamVR, which because of Valve’s huge influence in the software market is likely to be supported by a lot of developers.

There are other differences too, as the Vive not only tracks your head movement but is bundled with two handheld controllers which are used to interact with objects in the virtual world instead of using a keyboard, mouse or gamepad.

At this early stage HTC hasn’t shared any of the tech specs of the Vive. However, it does plan to start shipping prototype versions of software to developers this spring and is targeting the end of the year for the full release version. With Samsung VR, the Oculus Rift and now the HTC Vive it looks like by Christmas 2015 we’ll have a good selection of VR headsets to choose from to entertain ourselves with.

Intel Atom Processors

8. Intel rebrands Atom for tablets and smartphones

It would be fair to say that Intel has had mixed success in the mobile market and so the company unveiled a new strategy at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this month. The plan involves rebranding Atom so that rather than having dozens of different Atoms with very similar names, future Atom processors will fall three distinct product lines, x3, x5 and x7, just like the company’s Core i3, i5, and i7 branding for desktop and laptop CPUs.

Atom x3 chips are designed for entry-level, low cost Android smartphones and tablets, and are 28nm chips that are based on the Bay Trail architecture. There will be three different flavours of Atom x3, a basic dual-core with a 3G modem, a quad-core with a 3G modem and a quad-core with a LTE modem.

In contrast, the Atom x5 and x7 chips will be 14nm chips based on the Cherry Trail architecture, so are optimised for more demanding applications on Android and Windows tablets. Intel hasn’t revealed much more about these chips yet except that they are 64-bit and include Intel Gen 8 graphics. Given the scarcity of details I don’t expect to see Atom x5 and x7 tablets to start appearing until much later this year.

NVIDIA The Witcher

9. Free game when you buy GeForce GTX

For a limited time when you buy an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960, 970 or 980 graphics card or laptop with a GeForce GTX 970M or 980M GPU we’ll throw in free copy of the upcoming action RPG The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, due for release in May. Don’t forget that you’ll also get a free copy of Dying Light when you buy a laptop with a GeForce GTX 965M or above GPU too.

WD NAS Drives

10. WD unveils new NAS box ranges

Western Digital is a relative newcomer in the NAS market, so it’s good to see the company expand its My Cloud range of products. There are four new NAS boxes, two belonging to the EX series, which are designed for creative professionals such as graphics artists and video makers and two belonging to the DL series which are designed for small businesses.

The new EX models, the EX2100 and EX4100 have the same core features. For instance, the EX2100 has two drive bays, a 1.3GHz Marvel Armada CPU and 1GB of RAM while the EX4100 has four drive bays, a 1.6GHz Marvel Armada CPU and 2GB of RAM. Both models support RAID 0, 1, JBOD and spanning although the EX4100 can also support RAID 5 and 10 thanks to its additional drive bays. As you’d expect from a modern NAS box, the EX units allows you to share your data on the Internet as well as your LAN, while WD claims it can read and write at up to 116MB/sec.

The reviewers at HEXUS have already taken a look at the EX4100, where they found that this four bay NAS box offers much greater performance than previous generation My Cloud models with a very good transfer rate of 14MB/sec during the Content Creation test within the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit benchmark. The review concluded that ‘the EX4100 is one of the more user-friendly NAS devices on the market, and the current feature set is ideally suited to creative professionals looking to store, backup and share their data’, giving the EX4100 a Recommended Award.

The other two new NAS boxes belong to the DL series and so include the ability to set group management policies for your employees and the ability to link multiple DL units together in a failover group. The two bay model, the DL2100, is powered by an Intel Atom C2350 processor with 1GB of RAM while the four bay model, the DL4100 is powered by an Intel Atom C2338 processor with 2GB of RAM. However, unlike the EX series units, you can add more RAM if needed, with support for up to 5GB in each unit.

You can view the full range of new WD NAS boxes on the Scan website.