PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

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PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 1:31 am

OK, I'm ordering a computer upgrade on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Wanting some estimates from the other nerds on the board as to what sort of performance improvements I'll see. I pay less attention to GHz than I did when I was in my 20s, this shit changes too fast for us semi-senile people.

Current Desktop:
  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.93 MHz
  • GPU ATI Radeon HD 4850; 512MB RAM

Possible Laptop:
  • CPU 2.0GHz or 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Sandy Bridge version)
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6490Mobile; 256MB GDDR5 -OR-
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6750Mobile; 1GB GDDR5

Possible Desktop:
Desktop stats are a little unclear, but here's the current best guesses:
  • CPU 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Sandy Bridge version)
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6850; Maybe 512MB -OR-
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6870; Probably 1GB -OR-
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6970; Probably 1GB

Whatever I get will have a 256GB SSD for OS, Apps & Warcraft. Desktop will have an internal 1 TB scratch-space drive as well, laptop will make do with external. I'll get a Thunderbolt RAID-array once they become available for "non-professional" money.

Questions:

One: How much faster is that new laptop as compared to my current two-year-old desktop? Any estimate of WoW frame-rate on those two ATI Radeon mobile cards at 1920 x 1200 with everything set to "Utter ridiculous extreme graphics"?

Two: I'm pretty sure that desktop will kill small furry animals with its unbelievable power. Any estimate of WoW frame-rate on those three desktop graphics cards options at 1920 x 1200 with everything set to "Utter ridiculous extreme graphics"?

My target is 60 FPS with everything set to "Make my eyes bleed with the awesomeness" while retaining enough power left over to record movies. Please remember that Mac movie recording is a lot more efficient that Fraps. Movies will go to an external drive on the laptop, Thunderbolt when I can get one, Firewire 800 till that's available. Desktop will use the internal mechanical SATA HDD.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby gibborim » Sun May 01, 2011 3:41 pm

Current Desktop:
  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.93 MHz
  • GPU ATI Radeon HD 4850; 512MB RAM


Do you have a series number on the CPU? That could be three different chips.

Possible Desktop:
Desktop stats are a little unclear, but here's the current best guesses:
  • CPU 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Sandy Bridge version)
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6850; Maybe 512MB -OR-
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6870; Probably 1GB -OR-
  • GPU AMD Radeon HD 6970; Probably 1GB


That there is a crusher of souls.

Questions:

One: How much faster is that new laptop as compared to my current two-year-old desktop? Any estimate of WoW frame-rate on those two ATI Radeon mobile cards at 1920 x 1200 with everything set to "Utter ridiculous extreme graphics"?


The CPU on the new laptop is ~3-4x as powerful. The higher-end GPU you listed is roughly equivalent to your current desktop. The lower-end one you listed is SIGNIFICANTLY worse. ~60% as powerful. Raw frame rate should be bottlenecked by the GPU, so I imagine the laptop will do about the same as your current desktop does on those settings for WoW. It should perform significantly better at video capture while playing WoW than your current desktop.

Two: I'm pretty sure that desktop will kill small furry animals with its unbelievable power. Any estimate of WoW frame-rate on those three desktop graphics cards options at 1920 x 1200 with everything set to "Utter ridiculous extreme graphics"?

My target is 60 FPS with everything set to "Make my eyes bleed with the awesomeness" while retaining enough power left over to record movies. Please remember that Mac movie recording is a lot more efficient that Fraps. Movies will go to an external drive on the laptop, Thunderbolt when I can get one, Firewire 800 till that's available. Desktop will use the internal mechanical SATA HDD.


I see no reason why you couldn't be running full bore WoW and trans-coding unless the Mac OS is particularly bad at dividing work between processor cores. My GTX470 is generally 75fps+ with the setting you detailed and some additional tweeking in the nVidia cPanel for additional AA and filtering. I can get it to dip below 60 by flying over Stormwind and spinnig. The lower two cards you listed are about the same as a GTX470 and the best you listed is only marginally better. The choice really comes down to how much you value that extra $100-150(USD) versus a modest bump in quality.

Unless there are some nuances to video-capture I don't understand, I see no reason why the desktop shouldn't be able to do everything you want it to.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 4:27 pm

gibborim wrote:I see no reason why you couldn't be running full bore WoW and trans-coding unless the Mac OS is particularly bad at dividing work between processor cores.

OS X is particularly good at allocating work between cores. It's one of the strengths of UNIX-based operating systems.
gibborim wrote:Unless there are some nuances to video-capture I don't understand, I see no reason why the desktop shouldn't be able to do everything you want it to.

Mac video capture doesn't involve any transcoding and is significantly more efficient that Fraps. It's built into Warcraft, so instead of scraping frame buffers the game itself uses OS services to spit out a second lightly-compressed copy of the frame buffer and dump it to disc in an intermediate format.

Since it's in-game, it can do the following:
  1. Capture with UI not visible
  2. Capture at a different frame-rate without tearing or jitter.
  3. Capture at a different resolution without blur - game natively renders the scene at the selected resolution

One of my common tricks was to record at 720P. Since the game only has to basically do a second fill operation at 1280x720 @ 25 FPS it's very low overhead on the CPU & GPU.

Two main issues with the Mac solution are:

(1) The intermediate format that gets dumped to disc is relatively high bandwidth - I used to run into issues running Warcraft, OS & recording to same HDD (thus 720P recording).
(2) Intermediate format has to be transcoded to MP4-video in-game. This is hugely CPU intensive, so it means leaving the game running while AFK, and it's slow (slower than real-time on my current rig). Upside is that the rendered video is really high quality - Warcraft uses the OS to do the transcoding and Macs are good at this stuff.
Last edited by knaughty on Sun May 01, 2011 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 4:31 pm

gibborim wrote:
Current Desktop:
  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.93 MHz
  • GPU ATI Radeon HD 4850; 512MB RAM


Do you have a series number on the CPU? That could be three different chips.


2.93GHz (E8335) with 6MB on-chip L2 cache.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby gibborim » Sun May 01, 2011 5:34 pm

knaughty wrote:(2) Intermediate format has to be transcoded to MP4-video in-game. This is hugely CPU intensive, so it means leaving the game running while AFK, and it's slow (slower than real-time on my current rig). Upside is that the rendered video is really high quality - Warcraft uses the OS to do the transcoding and Macs are good at this stuff.


The i7 Sandy Bridge chips are massively more powerful than your current desktop CPU.

Would Macs be able to utilize the on chip GPU to do the 720p 25FPS rendering while allocating the 1920x1200 to the discrete graphics card?

On motherboards: The H67 chip series boards allow for use of the SB on chip GPU but does not allow over-clocking. The P67 chipset allows overclocking but does not allow you to utilizes the on chip graphics. Later this year (I think), the Z68 chipset is coming out and will allow both.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 6:34 pm

I can't speak for the new iMac as it hasn't been released, but the current Mac Pro laptops can use both the on-board graphics and do the adaptive over-clocking thing at the same time. The switch between on-board and discrete graphics is also apparently a lot smoother than it used to be.

This isn't the old "Run my 800MHz Celeron at 900MHz" thing - it's the new "This app seems to be single-threaded, shut down half the cores on the CPU and run the rest 1GHz faster so long as the thermal management can keep up" thing.

I believe that OpenCL lets you use both cores for whatever you want, but your suggestion to use the on-chip for 720P and using the discrete for full res would probably be worse than doing it all on the one card.

Doing the 720P frame dump of the existing 1920x1200 res frame that's already been rendered is an really small chunk of work. You've already done the vast majority of the render pipeline, pretty much all you need to do is the final pixel fill operation a second time. I think the last time a graphics card was fill-rate limited was last millennium?
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby laterna » Sun May 01, 2011 7:39 pm

Don't turn this into a mac vs pc conversation, there's the other thread we hijacked for that purpose.

Knaughty, the same process you speak of happens in the SB series. The turbo mode kicks in whenever the cpu is not idle. If you're using 4 cores, it distributes heat evenly. If you use 1 core, it increases the core clock, but keeping the same thermal output.

Also, what exactly does "bleeding eye-candy" mean to you. If its 16xAA and the sort, I doubt you can do that in a non sli configure. I recall I did max out all the non-I-take-over-your-GPU settings on a 570, so you should be able to do it with a 6870. You can bump up to a 6970 to give yourself some leaway, especially if your recording application is GPU bound and not CPU (not sure).

Also, if its CPU bound, you don't have to worry about performance. WoW runs on 2 cores, which leaves another 2 for your application to play on. Also, don't forget about OC. Worst case scenario you can buy a good heatsink, and take your cores to 4Ghz with your eyes shut (if you're talking about the 2600k processor, its 3.6Ghz during load, 1.6Ghz when idle). Mine rides at 5Ghz right now, with the thermal reading being 20degrees Delta.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 8:25 pm

Don't turn this into a mac vs pc conversation, there's the other thread we hijacked for that purpose.
Oh god yes please. There are pros and cons (lots of Mac cons could come up in this thread, I'm about to mention one) but I'm not open to switching to Windows so I can SLI or overclock.

laterna wrote:... especially if your recording application is GPU bound and not CPU (not sure).

Also, if its CPU bound, you don't have to worry about performance. WoW runs on 2 cores, which leaves another 2 for your application to play on.


There's no separate recording and transcoding app. The recording app is "World of Warcraft". It’s using basic OS features which rely on OpenCL, which treat the GPU and CPU as generic compute resources. It will happily peg everything to 100%.

I'm also not sure that Warcraft is only two cores on Mac. I vaguely recall it went multi-core on Mac first and it would be difficult to only support two cores on a Mac. Either you're multi-threaded or not... maybe it only has two main threads, seems super unlikely.

Low-level OS stuff like this is one of the only areas that the Windows and Mac versions of Warcraft differ. Mac Warcraft has a built-in recorder because the video encoding stuff is deeply embedded into the OS, really powerful, and has high-level hooks that are easy to embed in your app. Some developer went “What happens if I fire up a second virtual screen and plug the output into the Mac Intermediate Video Encoder? Oh wow, I just duplicated Fraps in half a day’s work....” He shows it to his boss’s boss’s boss and they decide it’s worth the far larger chunk of time to build a UI and do the QA.

If WoW is limited to two threads on Mac then the extra cores won’t help. I’ll bet you a virtual beer that the “transcode video” task is running fully multi-threaded however, because the base-OS feature to do it is fully multi-threaded out to at least 12 cores and that’s the library WoW will be using to go from Intermediate format to MP4.

The only other spot you see differences is render technology. Windows uses DirectX, Mac Warcraft is on OpenGL. Varies which is better, but it’s usually the DirectX version getting features first. Sexy transparent water was on Windows for ages before it came to Mac.

So there you go, pros and cons: Mac users get better multi-threading and a built-in recorder. Windows users get the nifty graphics improvements (like transparent water & ripples & stuff) sooner.

laterna wrote:Also, don't forget about OC. Worst case scenario you can buy a good heatsink, and take your cores to 4Ghz with your eyes shut (if you're talking about the 2600k processor, its 3.6Ghz during load, 1.6Ghz when idle). Mine rides at 5Ghz right now, with the thermal reading being 20degrees Delta.

It's basically impossible to overclock a Mac. On an iMac, you can’t even open the case.... So there's another point to Windows, you don't need to point out the obvious!

There's no significant access to the firmware and the cooling is fully integrated to the case, usually using the case itself as a heat-sink. There have been utilities to over-clock Mac Pro workstations (which have integrated liquid cooling that is complete overkill) but they’re kernel extensions (think “I hacked System32 to overclock my PC”). IE: Dodgy and unreliable.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby Fridmarr » Sun May 01, 2011 8:57 pm

Cores and Threads are not, in almost any way, synonymous terms. On Windows, WoW spawns far more threads than anyone is likely to have cores for. Since my account is not currently active, I can't verify it on OS X, but I'd bet a paycheck that WoW makes heavy use of threading on OS X as well.

My 2 cents (after only having read that last post)...
If you are looking at a desktop, the PC hardware flexibility is a very powerful feature, but I doubt you'd be dissatisfied either way. If you are looking at a laptop, where hardware control is out of your hands, I'd go with Mac hands down.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Sun May 01, 2011 9:05 pm

Fridmarr wrote:Cores and Threads are not, in almost any way, synonymous terms. On Windows, WoW spawns far more threads than anyone is likely to have cores for.

Then why does Windows Warcraft only use two cores?

Seems odd. Once you're running a ton of threads the default on both OSes would be to tell the OS to stick them on any available core.

There's probably a couple of "heavy lifting" threads that chew most of the CPU and those threads probably benefit from having processor affinity turned on to take better advantage of CPU cache, but even so I would have expected Warcraft to have been able to put decent load on 3-4 cores.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby Fridmarr » Sun May 01, 2011 11:09 pm

knaughty wrote:
Fridmarr wrote:Cores and Threads are not, in almost any way, synonymous terms. On Windows, WoW spawns far more threads than anyone is likely to have cores for.

Then why does Windows Warcraft only use two cores?

Seems odd. Once you're running a ton of threads the default on both OSes would be to tell the OS to stick them on any available core.
Well you can change the processor affinity in Task Manager if you want, but you won't likely gain much in performance. It's kind of a tough question to answer though because the concepts are not directly related. That said, I do believe the default behavior for the OS is to stick them wherever is best, but there is extra overhead involved in synchronizing across cores with separate registers and such, so it's going to weigh not involving extra cores accordingly.

Multi threaded apps predate the current multi core CPU's by decades. You can create an application that generates 100 threads and it will run just fine on a single core CPU. While the CPU won't ever do more than one action at a time, you potentially gain throughput by having asynchronous commands executing when they are ready instead of waiting on a single process to call them. WoW, for instance, gains quite a bit by being multithreaded (even on a single core) because a lot of the "work" is done on their server, but the game itself can still respond to the user while waiting on communication with the server. That's even before you get in to audio/video threads, which I couldn't really imagine running in the main thread.

You are probably right in that most of the heavy lifting is in just a couple of threads, so it's probably just as efficient to stay within two cores. In any event, there was a thread here a while back talking about Wow and threads on Windows so I ran one of the tools from Sysinternals.com, and it showed over a dozen threads if I'm remembering right. They are free tools so anyone with Windows and an active WoW account can verify.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby laterna » Mon May 02, 2011 9:05 am

@Knaughty my bad, didn't even notice you were gunning for a mac, too late in the evening for me to still be able to use brainpower

Also understand that each processor has 1 core, but can run 1 floating point thread and 1 integer thread at the same time. Many of the lesser threads wow runs on could easily be integer related.

Knaughty, just go for the 6970. The game shouldn't have any issue at all, if its in a Mac I guess the sound/heat was resolved in some way or form, and the extra performance never hurt anyone.

On the transcoding to mp4 issue. If wow runs on 2 cores with macs too, just have cores 3 and 4 transcode. It should really be no problem for them to handle it in realtime. HDD wise, why not drop two 1Tb drives in RAID to gain the extra write/s ? They are extremely cheap and you should be able to do your job with simply 2.

If you are looking for simply the cheapest solution, try googling a benchmark based on the mac's inbuild encoder, and one based on WoW. If it acceptably high in both scores, or if there's a test showcasing both? maybe you can use that as your tool to figure out just how much horsepower you need
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby gibborim » Mon May 02, 2011 1:37 pm

knaughty wrote:Then why does Windows Warcraft only use two cores?


If you want to dig into some of the WTF files, you can manipulate the number of cores in the settings.


HDD wise, why not drop two 1Tb drives in RAID to gain the extra write/s ? They are extremely cheap and you should be able to do your job with simply 2.


I don't imagine his HDD bandwidth is a limiting factor if he thinks Firewire800 is workable. I dislike non-redundant RAIDs with platter drives since they greatly increase the failure rate of your data storage.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Mon May 02, 2011 2:52 pm

laterna wrote:@Knaughty my bad, didn't even notice you were gunning for a mac, too late in the evening for me to still be able to use brainpower

I quoted specs & model numbers without being obvious about the "Mac" thing because I wanted to stall "Mac vs PC" if possible.

Of course then people say "Instead of the three options you listed you do one of the hundreds of other options" and you have to admit that Apple don't sell those ones....
laterna wrote:On the transcoding to mp4 issue. If wow runs on 2 cores with macs too, just have cores 3 and 4 transcode. It should really be no problem for them to handle it in realtime. HDD wise, why not drop two 1Tb drives in RAID to gain the extra write/s ? They are extremely cheap and you should be able to do your job with simply 2.

You can't drop 2 HDDs in an iMac :D

You can't even swap out the current one for a bigger one without specialist tools, the thing is held together with magnets so that it can have no visible screws, because, like, screws are aesthetically unpleasing to our Lord Steve or something. You need special suction cups to take it apart. Yes really.

You can have a SSD plus a HDD, though I understand the SSD is actually a custom part rather than a "flash drive in a 2.5" laptop drive enclosure".

gibborim wrote:I don't imagine his HDD bandwidth is a limiting factor if he thinks Firewire800 is workable. I dislike non-redundant RAIDs with platter drives since they greatly increase the failure rate of your data storage.

FW800 to an external drive was more than enough to cope with the intermediate format. I ran into issues when I used the single internal drive in my current iMac for everything at once.

Main problem was the fact I have too many external drives and WoW would barf if I didn't have the right one connected.

Will resolve by getting a raid-array and retiring the (counts) four external drives I'm currently sporting.
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Re: PC/GPU upgrade advice/questions.

Postby knaughty » Tue May 03, 2011 5:54 am

Aaaaaaand we have the specs:

  • 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (sandy bridge)
  • Probably 8 GB of RAM (16 GB seems like overkill). Ooooh! Four RAM slots, noice!
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970M with either 1 or 2 GB of GDDR5
  • 256MB SSD + 1 or 2 TB HDD
  • 27" 2560 by 1440 display
  • Lots of IO including two Thunderbolt ports

Good news on the CPU front, they put in the desktop version.

Bad news on the GPU front, they put in the mobile version. Desktop 6970 must have been too hard to cool quietly. Mobile version seems to have about 70% of the grunt of the desktop 6970. Should be sufficient.

Question: Any point getting 2 Gig of RAM?

-EDIT- Yah, so apparently this laptop card can run Crysis 2 on "Ultra" at 30 FPS. I think Warcraft isn't going to stress it...
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