Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Things to look forward to in 2017

Thankfully the election is over! For the amount of time people, myself included, devote to this thing, the actual impact the president has on most people's lives is very low. Ask yourself how Obama's eight years have affect you personally. Me? I've had to pay fines for not having health insurance. Thanks Obama.

But here are some cool things that will probably have more effect on my life (and maybe yours too if you are a filthy computer nerd) next year than the president ever will! That is, unless the Draft is called; one reason to prefer candidates who want isolation peace.

OLED displays

eBay was running a deal for a 55" 4K OLED TV for $1500 a few days ago. So I think that's a sign of things to come. Back in 2008 I was predicting that OLED prices would quickly drop from the stratospheric $2,500 Sony was asking for an eleven inch OLED TV and dominate the display market by 2010 with cheap, huge, flexible screens.

Boy was I wrong. But these things are finally getting cheap and are the very-best-like-no-one-ever-was of display technologies. The deepest blacks, super low persistence, outstanding viewing angles and colors. TN, IPS, VA, and even Plasma/CRT, have too many compromises that OLED takes care of. OLED might degrade faster than other technologies and use more power in some situations, but it's a small price to pay for picture and motion quality supremacy. As a parenthetical, even though OLED is capable of very high brightness, I'm not sure how well that brightness holds up in low persistence modes, e.g., most strobing monitors have drastically lower brightness in strobe mode although EIZO seems to have figured out a way to mitigate the issue with its Foris monitors.


Intel got a bit of its OC groove back with the Haswell Refresh, but this years Skylake and next year's Kaby Lake look to be a firm step back to good overclocks. The mainstream Haswell i7 averaged about 4.47GHz whereas Refresh and Skylake average 4.65GHz on air.

Kaby Lake is clocking in 4.2GHz stock turbo boost frequencies so I'm really hoping 5GHz chips become a regular feature on Silicon Lottery.

Speaking of which, Silicon Lottery now offers delidding for the i7-E CPUs (which already use a higher quality TIM, i.e., Thermal Interface Material) than the normal i7. The thermal advantage isn't as large as say, delidding a 4770k, but it looks to be nearly 10C. Impressive! I don't know about the price, but removing the solder-based TIM from an enthusiast i7 is a lot more involved. It's still worth it, I think, given how long we are holding on to CPUs these days.

An easier route to get cooler temps? More people are experimenting with cooling the underside of the processor with basic heatpads, heatsinks, and fans. It should be fairly simple and inexpensive while offering several degrees of additional cooling. It makes a lot more sense for motherboard and case manufacturers to accommodate this rather than put features geared towards LN cooling and external radiator setups on power user products.

Alphacool has developed a replacement for the venerable D5 pump which promises to offer the same performance with lower noise and vibration.** Pump noise drives me nuts and is one of the two things I hate about watercooling. Maintenance is the other, though now that the All-In-One (AIO) units are getting really good; if Alphacool creates a premade AIO with this new pump, it'll go into my next build. It might just be on par with the D5 so this sounds like a job for SilentPCReview.

Intel's fancy new Turbo Boost 3 (TB3) seems to be a way to realize gains from per-core overclocking. Right now it's only on their latest i7-E chips, but that's where it makes the most sense. Usually, as you add CPU cores, the top frequency drops because people usually limit their overclocks to the weakest core. This is because it's not only easier to test all the cores at the same time for stability but it's a pain to make sure the different required voltages are supplied properly and make sure that core affinities are set optimally. Even with core affinity automation software like Process Lasso, I read somewhere that a given core assignment doesn't always correspond to the same physical core.

TB3 fixes that by uniquely identifying each core according to their quality and automatically assigning the most intensive threads appropriately. In theory, that means that buying a processor with more cores should mean a higher top frequency because the chances of getting a golden core improve with more cores.

But my experience with Intel's software has been just wait for the next version – if there is a next version. Step in the right direction though.***

Caching Hardware

The Integrated Memory Controller (IMC) on Intel's chips seems to have been refined bigly with Skylake. It's still the silicon lottery with both processor and RAM, but Silicon Lottery also tests IMC strength – for a price.

Speaking of RAM, 2016 saw the widespread adoption of Samsung's high performance B-die in DDR4 sticks. Perfect for the beefier Skylake IMCs (though a quality motherboard is also required to achieve good overclocks). Synergy.

Optane should be hitting the market in 2017 along with appropriate supporting hardware. It's meant to be much faster than SSDs though early benchmarks give me the suspicion that this is might end up RAMBUS-tier. But if it can deliver the low queue depth 4K goods, then sign me up. If not, Samsung's recently released 960 Pro should be on the short list of any 2017 build. Unlike most SSDs, some kind of extra cooling is needed to keep the 960 Pro (and its OEM predecessor SM961) from thermal throttling, something I take perverse delight in.


Zen is probably not going to be as fast as Intel's best. So 2017 will probably see the prices on Intel and nVIDIA's flagships creep up. Most people don't buy the top of the line CPU or GPU, but competition at the top means fiercer price competition at all levels. If AMD can produce a $1000 10-core CPU that outperforms Intel's $1700 10 core CPU, not only does Intel's 10 core CPU price get slashed to around $1000, but it also means Intel's $1000 8 core CPU gets a price reduction and so on.

Hope springs eternal, but maybe it's a return to Athlon form. Zen, like Athlon, is an elegant architecture name. Note to AMD, names like: Hammer, Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Sledgehammer, don't really make sense if the product performs worse than the competition. I don't know what I'm going on about but I do know what I want. And that is ... for Jim Keller to Make. AMD. Great. Again.^


Pretty sure Jim Keller's pixie dust didn't land on the ATI team so I Vega 10 is probably going to be a bust. It might be a good product but I think nVIDIA has already telegraphed, via locked voltages on its newest cards, an intention to drop a slightly weaker Titan Pascal with whatever clocks are necessary to beat Vega 10. Even if Vega 10 wins in DX12 performance, that (still) won't be relevant in 2017. On the other hand, ATI vs nVIDIA seems to have had a lot more back and forth than AMD vs Intel.


All indications are that Sony's PS4 VR is a great product and the Chinese are going to have their Vive/Rift clones out soon which will be good for everyone. The physical and spatial aspects that VR adds could be a powerful adjunct to meditation and learning. It's the Wild West out here and it's wonderful.

End notes:

** Aquarium filter manufacturers are you listening?

*** Intel has this legendary reputation in hardware that makes its software shortcomings hysterical. On reflection, Intel hasn't been infallible at all but there's this kind of reverence computer people have toward the company. Like pre-2008 Greenspan.

^ I know he left but writing "Jim Keller to have 'Made AMD Great Again'" is awkward

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