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Norm Drinks Soylent, Day 5

On the fifth day of the Soylent-only diet, Norm is faced with his first real temptation for real food. It's board game night at Norm's house, and everyone is feasting on delicious Chinese food while Norm drinks his chalky sludge. To support Norm in his new healthy living initiative, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here.

Nvidia Announces GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 Video Cards

The next generation of Nvidia graphics cards has arrived. We first saw Nvidia's Maxwell architecture--the follow-up to Keplar--in the GTX 750 GPU. That $150 card was an entry-level introduction to Nvidia's new approach to desktop GPU design, incorporating power efficiencies learned from generations of Tegra development. From Loyd's GTX 750 review:

"Kepler has a monolithic control logic unit that managed scheduling for up to 192 cores. Maxwell now allocates a smaller, more efficient control logic unit for each block of 32 cores. This change in the scheduler, a larger L2 cache (2048MB versus 25K in the Kepler-based GTX 650) and a large number of smaller improvements allowed Nvidia to build 640 shader cores on a die, versus 384 on the GK107-based GTX 650."

More shaders, more transistors, and a larger die, all using less power than the last generation. That's what Maxwell now brings to the high-end, in the form of the just-announced GTX 980 and GTX 970 videocards ($550 and $330, respectively). They replace the GTX 780, GTX 780 Ti, and GTX 770.

GTX 980 has 2048 shader cores running at a base clock of 1126MHz (1216 MHz with GPU boost). But all that runs on a chip with a TDP of just 165 watts. That's compared to 250W on the GTX 780 and 195W on the GTX 680--the card that many users will be upgrading from, I suspect. The GTX 970, with 1664 CUDA cores, is even more power efficient at 145W TDP. We're talking about high-end GPUs that now only use two six-pin PCIe power connectors. SLI now starts to look a lot more attractive. And there's plenty of headroom for overclocking, if you're into that.

High-end Maxwell also brings three new features for gaming. First is a new anti-aliasing technology, called MFAA. Multi-frame sampled AA supposedly produces the effect of 4XMSAA with the performance hit of only 2XMSAA. Dynamic Super Resolution is a new feature that is essentially resolution downsampling--you can now tell the GPU to render games at 4K resolution for a 1080p screen. Screenshots and Shadowplay video recording spits out 4K resolution files in this mode, too. And finally, Nvidia is especially proud of a new lighting engine called Voxel Global Illumination. This is the first step in real-time light tracing, with fully dynamic illumination for one light source. Unreal Engine 4 will support VXGI in the fall, and Nvidia has produced a Apollo 11-themed render demo to show off the lighting feature.

Performance-wise, Nvidia is claiming 1.5 to 2X the performance of the GTX 680 (their choice for point of comparison) in the GTX 980. They're also claiming that the GTX 980 will be better for VR, with built-in optimizations to minimize rendering latency--taking 10ms out of OS overhead and built-in asynchronous warp. Nvidia is calling this VR support "VR Direct", and it's something I'll be asking Oculus about this Saturday at the Oculus Connect conference. As for real-world performance and evaluating Nvidia's claims, I'm getting a review unit in and will be testing it next week on my new Haswell-E system.

In Brief: Stunning Macro Photos of Animal's Eyes

Photographer Suren Manvelyan has shot unbelievable macro shots of different animal's eyes and posted them on his Behance portfolio. The shots are absolutely stunning, but as you browse through the three galleries of images, you'll start to see the different evolutionary paths that have shaped the eyes of a variety of creatures. I'm partial to this shot of a basiliscus lizard's eye, which could double as a planet in an upcoming sci-fi movie. (via Laughing Squid)

Will
Testing: Building a Haswell-E Desktop PC

We published our Haswell-E discussion video today, but ran through a lot of technical stuff in the 40 minutes we spent talking about desktop PC technologies. I wanted to distill some of that information for you with the salient takeaways from my time building and testing this new system. It's not a system I expect most (or even any) of you to actually buy and build yourself, but testing and researching these components gave me a better understanding of the state of the high-end PC market, which uses new tech like DDR4 and PCI-e storage that will hopefully trickle down into the mid-range over the next year.

I'm going to run through each component of this build, and make some prescriptions for practical alternatives in each category.

Haswell-E Core i7 5960X CPU

This is the piece that kicked off the entire build. Haswell-E is Intel's top-of-the-line desktop processor series. With each generational release (Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell), Intel segments its desktop CPU releases. There's the low-end i3 processors that only have two cores and consume very low power, the mid-range i5 processors that have four cores but no hyperthreading, and i7 processors that have four cores and hyperthreading for 8 threads of computing--only useful if applications support it. In the i5 and i7 line, Intel also has 'K' moniker processors that are unlocked, meaning you can overclock them by bumping up the base clock or multiplier ratio in your motherboard BIOS. On the ultra high-end Intel has i7 "Extreme" processors that add even more cores. That's what Haswell-E is.

Past Extreme processors for Intel topped out at 6 cores (hexacore). In the past this was sometimes done by disabling two cores on an 8-core server part, which also took away some L3 cache available. Haswell-E is Intel's first desktop CPU with eight actual cores (in the high end model), meaning 16 threads with hyperthreading. It also has a whopping 20MB of L3 cache.

There are actually three Haswell-E processors, each speced slightly differently. The i7 5960X I tested is the only model with eight cores. The i7 5930K and 5820K are both six core parts, and significantly cheaper. The pricing for the three models from high to low are pegged at $1000, $580, and $390, respectively. But you'll also note that the two six core parts are actually clocked higher than the 5960X. That's because the additional two cores makes this a really power hungry and hot chip. Intel specs it at 3GHz with a 3.5Ghz Turbo (auto clocking up to hit the 140W TDP), but the other two clock in at 3.5GHz and 3.3GHz respectively. The other difference between the two lower ends is how any lanes of PCIe they support. 40 for the high end, 28 for the $390 part. 28 PCIe lanes is actually plenty for most people, even if they're running dual-GPU setups. 40 lanes is only really needed for tri-SLI or future-proofing with thunderbolt and PCIe storage like SATA Express.

If you're building a Haswell-E system, I would recommend the $390 i7 5820K, clocked at 3.3GHz. This chip will comfortably and easily overclock past 4GHz as long as you have a decent cooler.

Norm Drinks Soylent, Day 4

In today's update to the weeklong Soylent drinking challenge, Norm examines the ingredients of this wonder food and talks about how the flavor and texture of Soylent changes (and doesn't change) as you add more ingredients. Also, calorie rationing makes Norm feel like a pet. To support Norm in his new healthy living initiative, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here.

In Brief: Star Trek in Cinerama Widescreen

Concept artist Nick Acosta wanted to imagine what Star Trek: The Original Series would look like if it had been shot with a cinematic widescreen aspect ratio, like the Cinerama 2.56:1 curved screen format of the 1950s (even though Star Trek debuted 48 years ago in September of 1966). To accomplish this look, Acosta took screengrabs from the HD remaster of TOS, during scenes with slow pans across the set, like a panoramic photo. The resulting stills show Star Trek, which was shot in 4:3, in a uniquely cinematic perspective with dramatic deep focus, like this tense scene in the episode Amok Time. A lovely byproduct of this process are images where character interactions seems overly staged and isolated from one another, or surreal situations in which a character appears twice (having followed the camera pan). (via Reddit)

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