Thinking of building a new gaming PC? Struggling with whatever random error your desktop is throwing up this week? Under The Hood gives you a quick and concise run-down of the most important things that happened to the PC master race in the last seven days.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had to worry about CPU / OS incompatibilities. In fact, the last time it was an issue was the shift from x86 to x64, but that was largely transparent to consumers thanks to AMD and its x86-64 specification, which was later adopted by Intel. Now, with Windows 7 having just entered its extended support phase, Microsoft has taken the opportunity to drop the news that only Windows 10 will be supported on upcoming CPUs.
The word “support” here extends as far as deep integration on an OS level; that’s for things like sleep and hibernate and other low-power states, RAM utilisation, and Intel’s new Speed Shift dynamic overclocking and throttling. And if you want these features to work as intended, out of the box with no workarounds or fiddling, that means purchasing a copy of Windows 10 alongside the rest of your hardware.
OK, so there’s a lot of confusion around this. There’s a big difference between official support and unofficial success — in actual fact, there will be nothing serious stopping you from installing Windows 7 or 8.1 on your brand new Skylake machine, or even a Kaby Lake machine in the further future. However, your setup will only get the “most critical” security fixes, and nothing further.
King of understated Swedish case design, Fractal is also great at building a chassis that houses powerful components quietly. There’s a big trend these days towards building small, powerful gaming PCs, and jumping on that trend means Fractal Design needs a new case: enter the Define Nano S.
It’s a design that’s similar in a lot of ways to a regular ATX setup — vertical motherboard mount, base-mounted PSU, and room for more than a couple of hard drives. Two fans — a 120mm and a 140mm — are bundled with the case, although it has enough room inside for a 240mm top- and 280mm base-mounted radiator, with enough spare space to mount a pump and reservoir besides.
My two PCs at the moment are both in Fractal Design cases — one in the Define S and one in the Define Mini — so I’m extremely interested to see the Nano S in action; it might be the centrepiece of my first full-loop-watercooled mITX gaming system. The Nano S will be out in March, and we’re planning to give it a test run at Gizmodo as soon as we can.
Graphics cards took a step into the future with AMD’s recent R9 Fury and R9 Nano cards — not because of their GPU silicon, which was only lightly refreshed from last year’s, but because of their use of high-speed HBM RAM chips.
High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM) is vertically stacked RAM, with thousands of tiny through-silicon vias providing interconnect that is much, much faster than traditional flat RAM production methods. The only problem is that it’s a new and therefore relatively expensive production process, limiting the quantity of the modules produced and therefore shipped on graphics cards (and potentially RAM sticks) in the near future.
And Samsung is already producing the second generation of HBM. HBM2 doubles the already crazy-fast data rate of HBM1 at 256Gbps, and it’s possible — so I’m hearing, at least — that Nvidia will be using the high-density memory on its upcoming Pascal graphics cards. Those won’t be out until at least the second quarter of this year, so don’t hold your breath.