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Personal Blog

Shortly after I built my latest PC, the Red Revolution, AMD released their Radeon VII cards. These were designed to compete with Nvidia's stiff competition that just gets stronger and stronger. The main focus of these cards were Nvidia's RTX 2080 cards which have allowed Nvidia to hold top dog position in the GPU market, with AMD more focused on the budget builder, or those just looking to save a bit.

AMD haven't done that as of yet, and the RX5xx series are a bit dated for someone who, like me, is building a new PC. My card in my gaming PC is an AMD Radeon HD 7950 and it's well and truly dated. But I've got brand loyalty, I've always gone for ATI/AMD cards as long as I can remember, because there was once a time when ATI cards were superior in many ways to Nvidia cards with the latter having troubles with overheating and the former having trouble with software.

It's time AMD launched their next generation of graphics cards. Mainstream cards are my focus, I had a high end one with this one and I probably could have just stuck to mainstream, as it replaced a Radeon HD 5670 which was extremely mainstream.

I'm holding out for AMD's next generation of cards in the hope I can get a mid-range card for a lot less than what I paid for my 7950, but I'm not impressed.

Does anyone know what's going on with the next generation of cards?!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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So for a while, I have been contemplating a new computer. I originally considered a new Intel-based computer right up until the day I was going to order it in the form of an Intel Core i7 8086 - a limited edition version of the Core i7 8700K. But something had been annoying me for a while. The Ryzen that was almost 150 pounds cheaper was offering 8 cores as opposed to Intel's six. Better still, the Ryzen 2700 that I was always considering has a TDP of just 65W as opposed to 95W and uses 12nm fabrication technology compared with 14nm. On top of that, the Ryzen 2 range was only released in October of 2018, compared with Intel's that was over a year ago.

Intel's i7 9700K - their 9th Generation Core i7, has moved to have 8 cores at the same price, the catch is though, it drops Hyper Threading, so it only has 8 threads - the first time a Core i7 has not featured this technology. This has been reserved for the high-end Core i9. I was very saddened to see this, but the reasoning behind it is because Intel is still struggling to fabricate the 10nm FINFET transistors needed for the next tick in their tick-tock cycle and the only way to make a difference was to add more physical cores (and as a result drop the logical cores added by Hyper Threading).

All in all, that meant that the Ryzen 2700 seemed more suitable than any Intel available. So my decision was made when the 8086 went back up in price as the sale ended. I did a bit more research into the AMD alternative and I could get better RAM and higher performance RAM and still be about £70 cheaper than the Intel equivalent. 

So I am happy to say, that for the first time since 2007, I have purchased an AMD CPU. And I am proud to have done this because it took a lot of guts for me to do this. I was quite drawn in by the fact I may have owned a limited edition CPU and I was always drawn to Intel over AMD, but today I went ahead and broke out of that brand loyalty thing I have and said I'm going for an AMD!

I give you, the Red Revolution.

The Red Revolution replaces my Zebra X2, and also changes my nomenclature for my PCs. Now, rather than taking the names of animals and the first letter of the motherboard model, I am using the name of the CPU. The CPU, being a Ryzen, inspires red across the design, the GPU, my Radeon 7950 is also red, and despite everything about going for an Nvidia, will be replaced by a Radeon again due to the cheaper price and performance per dollar.

The Red Revolution is my first PC to be designed from the bottom up - that is that I have chosen each part from a design perspective (well performance was the first consideration, but design came next). I've never owned a PC that was made to look this beautiful either. With a red theme, the Revolution is, to date, my most attractive machine. Further to that, the refresh that the Revolution brings will allow me to replace my very old hard disk drives with much faster SSDs for my games. More space was one of the biggest considerations when choosing the chassis for my new machine and I didn't cut any corners when selecting my case. The Corsair 780T which replaces my old Corsair 600T has loads of room inside it (the 600T had plenty of room too, but not quite as much).

Although I originally just purchased a single 8GB strip of DDR4 memory, it is my intention to upgrade it to 16GB in the next week or so. After that it will also be possible to upgrade the system to 32GB if need be.

Only a few components remain from the previous Zebra X2, including my PSU which has been in every computer I have built since 2009 and first was added in the original Platypus now which makes it 10 years old now. My oldest hard disks were bought in 2005 and 2007 and are still running.

Below are some pictures of my finished build:

Posted by J B Balfour in PC Modding
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Windows 10 was an amazing operating system for a few days when I first installed it on to my gaming PC. My gaming PC, The Zebra X2, is a beast of a machine which can run most games that I play like Starcraft II and GTA V in the highest available settings (Core i7 4770K, 256GB SSD, 8GB DDR3 RAM and an AMD 7950) but latterly it struggled with simple things like starting up.

After I installed Windows 10 the machine ran fine. However, one day when I was playing a favourite game of mine, Command and Conquer 3, I noticed a slight drop in framerate from playing it the time before. I didn't think too much of it at the time but gradually I noticed that each time I played this game it was getting worse. At the very end before I ridded myself of Windows 10 it was running so slow that when I used the graphics intensive Ion Cannon superweapon the game would just freeze and the animation for the superweapon would not be shown. The game would resume after the Ion Cannon blast was finished. So what the heck was going on?

My initial thoughts were that the hard disk drives that I stored my games on were starting to fail. I tested them all with SMART tools and none of them showed any signs of failure. I then assumed that it was my SSD so decided to install an old SATA III HDD into the system and installed Windows 7 on to it. It ran fine. I upgraded it to Windows 10 and again, it ran fine. So I assumed it was the SSD. I left the SSD in the system just disconnected. 

After time, the same weird thing happened to my system - it began slowing and the graphics were getting messed up in games. So now I assumed it was the graphics card or the PCI controller that had failed on me. I took the GPU out of the system and used the dedicated graphics built in to the CPU. The system ran just the same so I now knew it wasn't the graphics card that had failed, but wasn't sure if it was a motherboard fault such as the PCI controller or the memory controller.

I decided to reinstall the SSD and flash my BIOS. Clearing the BIOS meant that I could set it back to the factory defaults and test it with them (I had tried this several times before but to no avail). Nothing changed. 

My next choice was to clear the SSD and install Windows 7 on it. After reinstalling I panicked slightly as it wasn't working well at all with the Desktop Window Manager crashing on startup. After installing Service Pack 1 everything seemed to work perfectly. I would like to say that Windows 7 was the solution but I can't be sure. 

I would probably put the problem down to several things: Windows 10 was clogging up the system (don't know why), the original BIOS was not designed for Windows 10 and would have required an update (I have since updated again and may try it again in the future with Windows 10) and that Windows just needed that little reformat that us Windows users need to do on a regular basis.

My fix appeared to have come from the reinstall of Windows 7 and the BIOS reset. I will keep everyone up to date with my progress with Windows 10 again in the future.

The Windows 10 upgrade tool can be a pain!

Due to the upgrade tool in Windows 7, I have been upgraded to Windows 10. This time the system appears to be running well - that is at least in comparison to how it was before. I will keep you posted when it begins to slow down again (if it does).

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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I finally tried HDMI on a computer graphics card for the first time and I've tried DisplayPort for the very first time. Obviously there is no major difference between them and DVI and to be honest, I feel that they both have one major let down - no screws to hold the connector in. This quibble may be seen by many as an advantage, but I personally see this as a disadvantage as I move the monitor around a lot (from landscape to portrait).

I got myself an XFX Radeon 5670 graphics card. It's slimline so it doesn't block any of those important PCI slots, but it's not exactly the most powerful card in the world (although it has thermal design power of 75W which is very low for a dedicated card these days). The card features DisplayPort, DVI and HDMI.

XFX Radeon 5670

I will be using DisplayPort for my LCD monitor and HDMI with my LCD TV. 

I personally back DisplayPort over HDMI because it's royalty free, hence why I chose a monitor with DisplayPort instead of HDMI. Clearly the different target markets are shown here in that HDMI is for the consumer electronics market whilst DisplayPort is designed for the computing industry.

Despite being royalty free, DisplayPort seems to be slow at taking off compared with the more expensive HDMI connector.

I've also noticed that Apple (and their lovely MacBook Pro range) have started adding Mini DisplayPort connectors to their devices. These connectors can be converted to full DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA. HDMI can only really be converted to DVI but adapters do exist to convert to VGA from what I understand.

On the subject of Apple, I am hating my iPhone more and more day by day and I am thinking about a Windows Phone. Anything but Apple!

Posted by J B Balfour in Tech talk
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