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Sep 12

Intel Ivy Bridge CPUIntel's Ivy Bridge, also known as "3rd Generation Intel® Core™ Processor," has been one of the strangest launches from Intel in a long time. This CPU had two major design goals, one was to reduce power consumption while increasing performance slightly, and the other was to substantially pump up Intel's HD Graphics technology. As far as those goals are concerned, Intel did a bang up job. Thermal power (one way to measure how much power a CPU uses) is down from 95 watts to 77 watts on their Core i5's and Core i7's, despite a mild 100MHz speed bump across the board. Perhaps more impressive are the gains on the low end, with the brand-new Pentium G2120 dropping from 65 watts to 55 watts, while gaining support for better graphics and DDR3-1600. That faster memory support is crucial to keeping the cores fed, and performance up, and makes the G2120 the definite winner for most office machines.

When Ivy Bridge launched though, it hit first at the high end with the Core i5 and Core i7. As I noted back then, Intel decided to switch the thermal interface between the actual chip and the lid that you see in the picture to the left. This change was devastating to overclockers everywhere, causing some of us to go as far as to pop the lid off the CPU to replace that interface with something more efficient, dropping temperatures by as much as 10°C when highly clocked. Ivy Bridge just wasn't setup to hit the 5.0Ghz+ speeds that we could get with Sandy, and as much, here at Nordic PC, we were reluctant to ship the new Intel chip. I still believe that Sandy is a better fit for extreme overclockers, and we will still offer Sandy Bridge 2500K and 2700K's as long as we can get them, but after today, you won't be seeing them on the build pages. We're going Ivy, mostly because of the benefits of higher-performance and better thermals when running stock or mildly clocked-up.

The Pentium G2120 that Intel launched recently is really the special sauce that pushed us over to the new architecture. The Pentium line had previously been restricted to using just DDR3-1066 memory, which is just too slow for a CPU with graphics on board. This new G2120 supports memory all the way to DDR3-1600, which means your system just feels snappier across the board. Graphics will really benefit especially. While you still won't want to fire up Oblivion on one of these without a dedicated graphics card, a little mild gaming will be much better with the faster memory on board. We believe these advantages, plus the 3.1GHz clock speed, warrant the extra $25 or so that we have to charge for them. There will still be a Celeron G530 for the most basic builds, but we're jumping straight into the G2120 after that.

The next big change is the Core i3 line which is also moving to Ivy Bridge. They also get a nice memory bump from DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1600, making the integrated Intel HD 2500 graphics shine a little brighter. We're starting off with the entry-level one, a Core i3 3220, which gets a slight 200MHz bump also, up to 3.3GHz from the old Core i3 2100. We are also promoting, for the first time, a Core i3 with improved Intel HD Graphics. The Core i3 3225 has Intel's fully-unlocked HD Graphics 4000, which when paired up with DDR3-1600, can actually deliver solid frame rates in some games at lower settings. So if you're mostly doing office work, but like to fire up an occasional 3D game, this processor will satisfy you. It will also deliver with Intel's QuickSync, a technology that allows you to quickly transcode videos from a high-definition source (like Blu-Ray) to your phone or tablet.

The Core i5 line-up includes a new low-power i5 3450S chip that will be available as the top-end option for Loki. The previous Core i5 2400S chip was capped at 3.3GHz, with a thermal design of 65 watts. The new one keeps the same 65 watt power rating, but adds a speed bump to 3.5GHz.

In Tyr and Thor, you'll see a new line-up of Ivy Bridge processors, but they are much less exciting than the new low end options I'm discussing here. We are betting that the new unlocked processors are good for 4.4GHz with our high-end air cooling, and maybe 4.6GHz with water, but there certainly won't be any mind-blowing 5.0GHz attempts with these new guys. Ivy Bridge-E is around the corner for Odin, and that should be an interesting line-up when it launches. Those CPUs will certainly have the solid solder in between the silicon and the lid, and we will finally be able to see what these 22nm processors can really achieve in terms of pure GHz.

Be sure to check out the new line of GPUs that we have also. NVIDIA's 600-series has filled out, and now available are options from the low end all the way through the 680-series.

'Till next time...

Apr 12

Mar 12

Well, here I am, almost one week into Windows 8 testing, and I couldn't be happier! I'm getting used to the Metro Start Menu quickly, and was so impressed by the performance boost on my laptop that I blew away Windows 7 on my main desktop and stuck the CP on there also. NVIDIA's drivers are pretty much completely up to the task of running on Win 8, and I've been testing with SLI and 3D Vision, and everything is very good. Although I don't have any hard data yet, I'd say that running around in Star Wars: TOR is smoother at 120Hz than it was in 7. Applications seem to snap up quicker, and everything just feels snappy. Even more so, all of the programs I use on a daily basis just worked, mostly. I had to use the IT basic driver for my Officejet printer, but that works like a champ now. I also had to coax Adobe Acrobat into installing but hitting the MSI directly as opposed to the "setup.exe" that we all are used to hunting out. However, I can say with confidence that this is a very solid build.

There was one issue that I couldn't get over though: hard locks. I could easily tell that the culprit was something in the hard drive subsystem, as I would be listening to music and it would just start repeating like a broken record. The mouse would still move, and some things would even work for a second, but within a minute the system would totally lock and I'd have to hit the reset button. I first thought that the Intel drivers I installed for my RAID system were the culprit, but that turned out to not be the case after reverting back to the shipping ones. I finally went to Google and found this little tidbit of joy:

When I opened up the control panel, I saw this:

Windows obviously knows that my C: drive is an SSD, but it was still trying to defrag it. That's not good. I've followed Ken's advice there and turned off defragmentation completely, and we'll see how that goes. Hopefully that's what has been causing my hard drive system lock ups, and it'll be all good from here on out.

More to come, so stay tuned!

Mar 12

A lot of press is pushing that Windows 8 is only good for tablets, and they are missing a lot of the features that Microsoft put in there for us desktop power-users. One of the big questions I had out the gate was how Microsoft would handle dual monitors. Well, here's half of the answer (click for full size):

As you can see, my setup is a little unconventional for dual screens. I have the wonderful Asus VG278H as my central monitor, and then an Acer 23" sitting portrait next to it on the right. You can tell from this screen shot that Microsoft has decided to give us taskbars on both screens for when we're in the start menu, and the monitor on the right never leaves "desktop" mode. That means you can have a website open over there and use that data in apps in the start menu. Let's see how that would work (again, click for full size):

We have a full desktop over to the right, and our start menu open on the main desktop. You can still have some gadgets open over there if your live tiles are not showing you everything you would like to see, and you have a taskbar on your second screen.

What's really going to take some getting used to is the fact that you can have a Metro app open and still use the desktop on the second screen. Or, if you are really desktop oriented, switch them up and use the "second" screen as your main.

There are some other neat things that we'll be showing off over the next few days, so be sure to stay tuned!

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