Saturday, May 26, 2012

#a couple of pc hardware reviews

i bought a modest PC configuration recently and here are a couple of the components that i wasn't able to find much information about. you might have stumbled on this page via a search engine, so i hope this is somehow useful to you.

list: gigabyte ga-p61a-d3, sapphire hd6770 1gb ddr5

Gigabyte GA-P61A-D3

this is a budget (upgrader market) motherboard based on the Intel H61 chipset with socket FC-LGA-1155. it does support the more recent Ivy Bridge and you have a decent room for upgrade up to something like the quad core (8 thread), ~75W TDP, i7-3770 if you have bought a less powerful CPU. mind that you should not get a K-series CPU, since this chipset will have the frequency multiplier of the processor locked, which is by design (which is also a marketing decision). user level, overclocking will be possible via the base clock of the board, but this can interfere with the standard operation of all interfaces like SATA and USB ports and is not recommended.

the BIOS itself is EFI based and has a nice GUI interface with mouse support and a good set of control features. there is a backup integrated chip, which makes it a DualBios(tm), so basically you have a backup in cases of BIOS failure.

there are three legacy PCI slots, two 1x PCIe and one 16x PCIe, but you might be facing a small problem if you want to connect two 1x PCIe cards and a dedicated two-slot GPU card at the same time.

on the GPU side, this board does not support the on-board Intel HD Graphics unit inside the CPU and you will have to get a dedicated graphics card, but for a home desktop machine, i will really recommend getting a dedicated graphic card. the performance of the Intel HD Graphics will be more suitable for a office machine, where running GPU intensive code will not be an issue, but might be a slight problem for something more complicated.

the board supports USB3.0 via a chipset extension with the Etron EJ168 chip, which seems to be working fine and i haven't had any problems with it so far. the chip is located near the USB2.0/LAN connectors.

the  Marvell 88SE9172 chip, which provides the SATA III and RAID 0/1 support seems a bit problematc. a couple of remarks that i can provide here are, that you should not get this board if you want your boot hard drive to be SATA III connected i.e. you should connect the boot drive to a Intel SATA II port instead (blue color) and also that you might encounter compatibility and/or Windows 7 driver issues using this chip and Western Digital drives. the issues i was having specifically were related to the Windows, hybrid sleep mode and drive wakeup timings. please note though, that such issues (if strictly driver related) might get fixed eventually later on. at the same time, you should consider that spinning hard disk drives cannot reach the imposed transfer limit by SATA II, but you might benefit if using SSD drives (i haven't tested one with this controller).

apparently Marvell 88SE9172 support is present in the linux kernel as of 3.2.0 according to this blog post:
but if you are using an older kernel the drives connected to the SATA III ports will not be visible. if you need stable SATA III support for your drives i would suggest that you target the Intel H67 chipset instead.

i believe there is only one extra 4pin PWM fan header (other than the CPU fan header), but you can either install a controller or look into getting thermistor controlled fans.

a couple of really nice features that i like about this board is that it has two legacy PS/2 ports (mouse/keybard) and also a parallel port (LPT). if you are into device testing and driver development the parallel port might come in very handy.

overall, a very nice board, with good set of features and i can definitely recommend it for a budget PC build.

- budget
- 2x legacy PS/2 ports
- H61 / LGA1155 and supports a nice range of Intel CPU models
- has USB3.0 support
- all polymer capacitors
- a parallel port

- unstable SATA III support and drivers. compatibility issues with the tested SATA III devices.
- if you install a two-slot graphic card you will be left with only one 1x PCIe port. perhaps the three PCI slots should have been next to the graphic card instead.

Sapphire HD6770 1GB DDR5

this is a card that may confuse the buyer at first, due to its clock speeds and simpler look. also Sapphire, unlike Gigabyte for example, are less specific about their model names. while the GPU core is clocked at 775MHz and memory at 1000MHz, which i believe are the default for HD5770 and this chipset as well (but most manufacturers provide a factory overclock), this card can easily perform at higher frequencies and match the performance of similar and more expensive models.

in stock settings, the card has an idle temperature of ~34 degrees C, fan speed running at 40%, which is pretty quiet (i would guess around 25-30dBa) and will most likely be masked in a modern PC case. the core  idles at 157MHz and the memory at 300MHz (~1.2VDDC) with power consumption of ~20W. under load the card will consume near 110W, the temperature will increase to near 65 degrees C (for ambient room temperature near 20 degrees with decent case cooling) and the fan speed will be at 45% (which is also into the quiet zone).

this card draws its main power from the PCIe 2.0 slot, which will provide a maximum of 75W and thus will require an extra 6-pin connector for compensation, so make sure your power supply unit has such a connector. in regard of the PSU choice itself, i would recommend that you get a unit that has at least 40A on the +12V rail (preferably one rail), but perhaps even more. you should also consider that the overall PSU temperature (and noise) will raise and be load dependent and while the power supply is quiet idle, it may become much louder when the GPU consumption increases.

on overclocking, with respect to budget performance, i think you can push this card into the range for 1000MHz for core and 1300MHz for memory at ~1.20VDDC (or more), but the stock cooling will probably become much louder, as the fan noise curve is much more prominent above 50%, due to the fan diameter. for a basic overclocking setup i can recommend setting the core voltage to 1.2VDDC or slightly more if possible, the core clock to 850MHz, memory at 1200MHz and either keeping the stock cooler PWM curve or apply a steeper temperature to speed increment.

Sapphire provides an overclock tool called Trixx that will support and understand this GPU:

if you are interested in modern, good looking games (y2012) i think you will be able to play anything on this card with its default clock speeds in 720p with high settings in the 30+ or event 60+ FPS range, assuming your CPU or something else will not bottleneck the overall performance. if you are willing to overclock it, you might get a ~5-15 FPS boost in such settings (end result depends on a lot of variables, though).

for 3D development you are getting DirectX 11 / Shader Model 5.0 (800 streams) and OpenGL 4.1 support, which is a pretty nice set of features.

as a side note, if you are in doubt about getting DDR3 or DDR5 i would encourage you to get a card that has at least of 1GB DDR5. this will give you a nice chance to handle relatively high resolutions with decent performance (i.e. frame buffer update).

as another side note -  i was able to find information about a similar product from the Sapphire line:
but not enough about the differences between the two, like cooling, temperatures and noise levels. manufacturers can provide a product with factory overlock settings, such as the second card in question. it may have a better overall build, with stronger elements and event slightly better cooling system (but i'm pretty sure both use the Vapor-X technology). it does not have the legacy D-SUB port, which is present on the first card, but instead it has a DisplayPort and HDMI with 3D. if you are looking for a DisplayPort card you should definitely consider the second card in question.

- a budget, mid to high end, performance video card
- low noise levels under load and idle on reasonable settings
- low idle power consumption
- decent automatic cooler handling under load
- uses polymer capacitors (not 100% sure as i haven't checked all of them under the cooler)
- easy to overclock

- supposedly uses cheaper elements than similar models
- stock fan has a steep temperature to noise ratio, but could be tolerable for gamers with headphones.