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Newsletter 10-9-2009


USB 3.0

We all (probably) have some sort of USB 2.0 device, be it a printer, phone, or flash drive. Starting in Q1, motherboard manufacturers will be including USB 3.0 ports onto their boards. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0, but not with USB 1.0. Starting to see a trend here? USB 3.0 is 10 times as fast as its predecessor, and will be a critical piece of technology for future hardware, such as massive flash drives. Imagine having a 200GB flash stick, and trying to transfer all that data over USB currently. It would most likely result in tears. USB 3.0, however, makes massive data transfer practical, and has enough bandwidth to carry high definition realtime video signals over USB.

 

Core i5

Core i5 is Intel's newest processor type, although not the fastest. The price/performance ratio cannot be beat, however. When comparing Core i5 and Core i7, the critical thing to remember is that Core i5 does not have hyperthreading. That is the only difference. By that, I mean a quad core Core i7 chip can process 8 threads at once, whereas the quad core Core i5 chip can only handle 4 threads at once. Core i5 requires a motherboard with a P55 chipset, which has an LGA1156 socket as opposed to the (hopefully) familiar LGA1366 socket that came out with the Core i7 processor. The socket differences will be covered in the next section; the only thing to know about the Core i5 and Core i7 branding difference is that of hyperthreading.

 

Socket LGA1156 vs LGA1366

Just in case anyone is curious, the LGA part of the name means land grid array aka pins are now on the motherboard instead of the processor. Core i7 started out being an LGA1366 based chip, but now it can be fitted to both sockets. There is the Core i7 9-series (920, 950, 975), and this series is LGA1366 only. The Core i7 8-series (860, 870) is LGA1156 based. The sockets follow a chipset, LGA1156 is the P55 chipset, whereas LGA1366 is the X58 chipset. The chipsets make all the difference in performance. P55 has dual channel memory, X58 has triple channel memory. P55 can support 2 video cards at x8 speed, X58 can support 3 video cards at x16 speed. The P55 technically is an inferior chipset, but the board prices are cut in half. Put that together with an already cheap Core i5 720, and you have a real winner on your hands as far as bang for your buck is concerned. Also, anything that fits in a LGA1156 socket (both i5 and i7) has been slightly improved since the original Nehalem generation launch. Both i5 and i7 can and will self-overclock themselves. This is true of the original chips as well, but these newer ones (based on something known as the Lynnfield core) can really crank up the speed. The processor is smart enough overclock only when it's safe to do so, which is typically temperature dependent. The Core i5 750 in particular starts out at a piddly 2.66Ghz, but it can scale all the way up to 3.2Ghz all by itself. The Core i7 870 starts out at 2.93Ghz, but can scale up to 3.6Ghz! This type of massive scaling usually happens when only 1 or 2 cores are active, and the entire system has good cooling and airflow. If all 4 cores are active, but cooling is still within tolerance, it might only overclock 100Mhz or so.

 

Lucid Hydra 200

There is a new contender in the world of graphics, and it's a company known as Lucid. They don't make their own video cards, but they do make a chip that can boss around existing hardware. If a motherboard manufacturer embeds a Hydra 200 chip into a motherboard, all of a sudden SLI and Crossfire are irrelevant. The chip will take an incoming request from windows that calls for graphics type stuff, and divvy out the request to the video cards installed into the system. It does this in a way that allows you to add any video card, from any generation, from any vendor, with any details you want and the Hydra 200 chip will intelligently divide the graphical workload in between all video cards available. In theory, this can scale to as many video cards as you want. This chip isn't cheap, but the amount of video flexibility it introduces is an industry first and crosses the proprietary barriers in place. This will allow for some interesting gaming configurations, as you could install an ATI Radeon 4890, nVidia GTX 275, and an old bootsy nVidia GeForce 8600 and it will all work together. I'm waiting to see what this will do the workstation world, but so far this launch is targeted towards gamers. The only motherboard that will have this at first is from MSI, it is a P55 based board known as Big Bang, and should be available soon.

 

Radeons & DirectX 11

ATI is the first to launch new DirectX 11 hardware, and it is the Radeon 5850 and Radeon 5870. This new 5-series card has proven itself to be the fastest card available, and the only DirectX 11 compatible hardware. Never mind that there aren't any games that use DX11 yet, but there will be. Windows 7 will also be the first OS to support DX11 as well I think Vista will get DX11 as well but I need to confirm. Some of the highlights of this new stuff is something called tessellation, which makes graphics prettier (basically), and ATI has some new thing called Eyefinity. Let's say you happen to have 8 x 30" displays and they all have a DisplayPort interface (open source HDMI).  What Eyefinity allows you to do is hook them all up to once machine, and arrange them in some pretty crazy ways. You can turn them all into one giant monitor, 8 individual screens with different stuff on them, 8 screens with the same stuff on them, or whatever you want.

 

SAS 2

By now, I assume everyone has at least heard of SAS technology. This is the true server grade stuff when it comes to hard drives, meant for medium business on up. SAS was all well and good, but then SAS2 came along. It is tons better in an enterprise environment because it deals with SAS expanders in a much smarter way, along with inter-device communication as well. The part that does apply to us is the speed boost it now runs at 6Gbps instead of the old timey 3Gbps. The ideal customer to sell this to would be those looking to get maximum performance out of a server, especially for databases. The more servers the merrier, as they all should be chained up together in one big happy SAS 2 family. Another thing to note is compatibility. SAS 2 is backwards compatible with regular SAS, but not the other way around. You can hook up SAS1 drives to a SAS2 controller, but you cannot hook up a SAS2 drive to a SAS1 controller.