Week in Tech: Intel 9 Series, £200 GPUs, VR And Fast Food

Where awesome game developers go.

Bit of a mish mash this week starting with a quick update on Intel’s new 9 Series chipset and the motherboards that go with it. The boards are now on sale, but new CPUs of note are missing, so what gives? Meanwhile AMD has officially cut the price of ye olde Radeon R9 280 to $249 which seems like a good cue to look at the state of graphics at that £200 sweet spot here in Blighty (apologies for the mixed currency messaging). While we’re talking AMD, there’s confirmation that new high performance FX CPUs are on the way. Hurrah. But probably not until 2016. Haroo. Oh, and try this bombshell for size. Oculus Rift will be testing out its headsets on snotty youths at none other than the swashbuckling culinary trend setter and conspicuous Michelin star non-awardee that is Chuck E. Cheese’s. And some other stuff that I haven’t quite decided on as I write these very words. Click through and you never know what you might find. It might even be worth reading.

Those Intel chipsets in full
So, Intel 9 Series chipsets. Do we care? A bit and for two reasons. Firstly, compatibility. Remember those tweaked Intel Haswell K series chips (ya know, the ones with better thermal paste or whatever inside the chip package and known as Devil’s Canyon)? They may not be compatible with existing 8 Series motherboards. Ah.

Intel’s next major CPU family, known as Broadwell (14nm die shrink, recently confirmed for release late this year) definitely won’t be compatible with 8 Series boards. If you’re buying an Intel board today, that makes the 9 Series fairly compelling, methinks. I just hate the idea of buying a new board that’s already a dead end. Of course, Intel knows this and that’s why it breaks compatibility. It’s all about me!

Anywho, the other bit is next-gen storage. Again, we’ve covered this before, but the main thing to grasp is that the 9 Series supports both SATA Express and M.2, so all your future storage needs are theoretically covered.

The knee bone’s connected to the full-duplex serial thigh bone.

Quick note on that – apparently, you’re limited to a pair of Gen 2 PCI Express lanes for any and all next-gen storage connectivity on the 9 Series. On the face of it, a bit disappointing. But in practice it still allows a decent performance bump over SATA 6Gbps and in any case it’s probably improved random access performance and lower latency from NVMe that will make the biggest difference to the feel of PCs. See my post on on SATA Express for a few more details.

Put it all together and you have a fairly decent argument for buying 9 Series if you are pulling the trigger today. So the only question is high end Z97 or the more mainstream H97? The main advantages of Z97 are theoretically full overclocking access and multi-GPU support.

The latter is a niche feature in my book, you’ll know if you want it. As for overclocking, there’s been a bit of an ongoing spat between motherboard makers and Intel regards overclocking on boards not based on its top ‘Z’ chipset.

In theory, only ‘Z’ chipsets like the Z87 and the new Z97 give you access to the unlocked multiplier on K Series CPUs and thus allow proper overclocking. But some board makers released BIOS work arounds that unleashed K Series CPUs on non-Z boards like the H87.

Then stories emerged claiming Intel planned to release microcode that would re-lock non-Z boards. Honestly, I’m not sure where things stand right now, but at best it’s unclear whether H97 boards will allow overclocking. If they do, I’d be tempted to go H97 and save a few quid.

As for those Devil’s Canyon Haswell CPUs, the samples are circulating soon, I’m told. It won’t be long now and rumour has it they might be good for 5GHz. Nice.

High-end graphics at mid-range prices
Next up, AMD has cut the price of its Radeon R9 280 to $249. This is perhaps of more significance to US readers since Radeon prices seem to have been more influenced Stateside by the cryptocurrency mining insanity than here in Blighty.

Finally affordable…

Anyway, I note 3GB R9 280 prices as low as £170 in the UK. On the Nvidia side, I also like the look of a GTX 770 for £200. Personally, I view £200 as a cut-off point in terms of sensible money for a GPU and the product cycle is such that you can now have the top GPUs from the previous gen for that much or less. I’d prefer if they had been £200-£250 at launch. But at least they’re more attainable now and they remain excellent gaming chips. It’s also a big step up, money-wise, to R9 290 or GTX 780.

The other AMD news is more forward looking. Thank science and all things empirical, but AMD has been caught confirming plans to release some new high performance FX chips by 2016 as part of the push I mentioned previously to do a brand new x86. Who knows what will happen, but at least they say they plan to compete in the performance PC space (this news comes from an interview from AMD’s APU14 event in Beijing, if you’re wondering).

Hold the cheese
Now, then. Oculus Rift and quality eateries. Apparently, Oculus is planning to use Chuck E. Cheese’s, er, pre-pubescent clientèle to test parental attitudes to their progeny strapping on headsets and zoning out from the real world.

A prudent move for an outfit that’s now owned by a big corporate and presumably has world domination plans? No doubt. A bit sinister and not immediately reassuring regards a focus on what you might call grown up gaming? Perhaps.

Then again, birthday outings to arcades and a pocketful of quarters for machines like Out Run and Ms Pac-Man probably remain my fondest gaming memories of all. So don’t diss the kids.

120Hz, 1440p gaming
Kneel before Rog!

And finally…news just in that the Jesus monitor, AKA the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q, will finally arrive in June. At least, I think it will. It’s hard to be 100 per cent sure. OK, it’s TN. And not 4K. But actually, 120Hz, G-Sync, 27-inch, cuting-edge TN and 2,560 by 1,440 is probably the ultimate for pure gaming right now. Until next week when something better comes along. Or you prefer a 60-Hz, 4K, 28-inch, no-sync panel for roughly the same price. I’m currently leaning 60Hz-28-inch-4K-TN. Decisions, decisions.

The Steambox loss-making machine
OK, this really is the last bit. A senior suit at Alienware has been making downbeat noises to the Wall Street Journal about the prospects of its own Steamboxes. At least, he’s been saying that they’ll be hard to make money on for Alienware if the prices are kept in line with consoles, describing them as likely to be, “the least profitable system we ever sell.”

The main problem is that there’s no scope for the likes of Alienware to cash in on software sales post ‘box purchase, which is obviously a big part of the console business model. Sell the hardware cheap or even at a loss, make money on the games.

Of course, if the prospects are so grim, why would Alienware and its Dell overlord even bother? Perhaps unsurprisingly, said suit then ‘clarified’ his position to PC Gamer, confirming Alienware’s commitment to the whole Steambox thang and emphasising that the downbeat outlook only applies to its first product, not the broader project.

Alienware’s first Steambox effort may not be a money spinner. Ya think?

Still, it remains a reminder that the PC and consoles have very different business models. And that’s why so many Steamboxes look awfully expensive next to the consoles.

That said, m’colleague Dave James on ye olde PC Format magazine has been playing with an AMD desktop chip with AMD’s Jaguar cores (codename momentarily escapes me) which he reckons actually does a decent job as a cheap Steambox CPU. It’s £40, the motherboard to go with it is £25, you can get a case with PSU for another £35. If you’ve got an old GPU, hard drive and some memory lying around…well, you get the idea. Could be interesting and underlines that Steamboxes probably make more sense homebrew than over-the-counter.


  1. Ich Will says:

    Oculus better solve the Rift’s nausea issues then.

    • Continuity says:

      Yep, fortunately I think the nausea is just function of the performance of the Rift, so once they get things like the motion to photon latency down to a minimum, a decent solution for IPD, and good quality high res screens etc.. the nausea should just disappear. I hope so anyway as I’m rather prone to motion sickness.

    • DXN says:

      My understanding is that the DK2 is much better with motion-sickness, if not eliminating it altogether…

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Correct. The nausea was caused by the inability of the DK1 to pick up translational head movement. If you think of “The Egyptian Head Dance” (you know the one), the DK1 would not pick up the head-level-but-side-to-side. However if you sat there and nodded, looked round over your shoulder or did the Indian ‘yes’ head waggle, it could do that fine. Watch videos of lets plays with the DK1, and the time most people get nauseous is if they are in a cockpit and try to lean forward and look down, as if you were trying to find a penny you had dropped on the floor. Everyone who does that goes “Oh my god I’m gonna puke”. Most people are ok as long as they think of their head as being a swivel stuck in one spot.

        The DK2 is designed to pick up translation, which removes this cause of nausea and allows for similar head movement capability to the TrackIR.

        EDIT: This is a good link to show how some game designers took measures to get around the error in DK1, by emulating translation

  2. Universal Quitter says:

    Do you guys have Chuck E Cheese in the UK, by the way? Of all of the things I would export, fuckin’ Chuck E Cheese is close to the bottom of the list, right next to Oscar Mayer and Taco Bell.

    I mean, you guys are closer to Italy, anyway. I doubt any of you want our pizza advice.

    • Dozer says:

      Nah, no Chuck E Cheese here. Strange name. Suggests “We give you cheese that makes you vomit”. Which potentially ties in with the Oculus Facerift.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I think there’s allegedly a Taco Bell somewhere in London.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Legend claims that when the Taco Bell tolls, the gates to the Underground will be opened, and the denizens within shall emerge to eat the fast food of the living.

        • Geebs says:

          After the Taco Bell is tolled, all that will be left is nachos.

      • GenBanks says:

        Their website says there are three branches in the UK! I had no idea… probably because two (!) are in Essex and one’s in Manchester hehe.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      No Chuck E Cheese’s in UK as far as I am aware. And not that it matters, but I’d say the best pizza is in the US, not in Italy. Best pizza I have ever had (and I’d like to think of myself as something of a world authority on the subject!) was made by Greeks in Connecticut, second best made by hipsters in San Francisco!

      • Tams80 says:

        No, no, no! You are wrong, wrong, wrong!

        Italy does have the best pizza you just must have gone to bad places, you bad man.

        That or the nearest fast food place after a night out; all pizza tastes heavenly then. Nutella and banana pizza ftw.

        • Jeremy Laird says:

          Nutella and banana pizza? Dear god, man. There are very, very few non-standard toppings I will allow. I’m an absolute purist!

          • Tams80 says:

            To be fair it’s only really good for keeping banter going. Even when extremely drunk it doesn’t taste good, and that’s saying a lot.

          • P.Funk says:

            Define purist? Are we talking a Margherita limited to sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, maybe some basil? Best pizza I ever had was one of those made in Steveston outside of Vancouver BC. Last place I expected to have a religious food moment.

          • Jeremy Laird says:

            Basically yeah. I will allow for certain sliced sausage in the pepperoni ballpark at a push. But that’s the absolute limit!

          • amateurviking says:

            I just moved to Italy and the pizza is pretty good! But only the slightly thicker Southern style from Napoli. The ultra thin Northern pizzas are structurally unsound, especially with the kind of super wet mozzarella they tend to use.

            Fun fact, I nearly caused a minor international incident by ordering red wine with pizza. Beer only apparently.

          • arboreal says:

            Neapolitan pizzas are phenomenal. If you want to instigate a furrowed brow-calypse though, rather than a minor international incident, try ordering a cappuccino after a meal.

          • frightlever says:

            A “pizza” with a pastry base, nutella sauce and banana toppings sounds delicious. Also, not a pizza. Still, delicious.

            I have all the ingredients… breakfast!

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Aye, read below. As an italian i can guarantee that you’ll very often find bad places. Or at least, average places.

            Going south is also extremely recommended, but at that point even if you eat the very best pizza ever, you shouldn’t just go for it, you totally have to try all the other stuff. Everything, really.

            Or you can join me in Leghorn ( Livorno ) to have the real “Cacciucco”, which again is something many bad restaurants will try to rip you off with. The real deal is rare but it’s great.

            There is no all encompassing recipe, it’s born out of poor fishers tradition and so it’s in part throwaway fish that they wouldn’t know where to sell, but the freshest. Some obscure fish are far tastier than people expect.

            link to media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

        • Phasma Felis says:

          I really *wanted* to be that guy who smugly says “Oh, you like [Mexican/Chinese/Korean/Mediterranean/etc]? Well, you’ll *love* this little place I found. It’s *authentic,* you see.”

          The problem is, the more authentic-cuisine places I try, the more I find that I actually prefer the Americanized versions. Yeah, I know it’s probably full of sugar and salt and fat and whatever. I’ve tried to teach myself better, but at the end of the day, I find the flavors and textures more compelling at Chipotle than at that delightful little *taquería* on the corner.

          I guess I’m doomed to a lifetime of lowbrow gustatory delight.

          • LionsPhil says:

            All hail the deep-pan pizza loaded with toppings!

          • jrodman says:

            Your taqueria must be bad.

            Really there’s a lot of “authentic” establishments that aren’t that good. And sometimes they do a few things well and others poorly. You have to be willing to suffer through the mediocre to find your own gems. Or you can go on word of mouth from people who have proven trustworthy.

            However, here in San Francisco finding a better burrito than Chipotle is nearly automatic.

      • DRoseDARs says:

        577 Chuck E Cheese locations spread between the United States (obvs), United Arab Emirates, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Saudi Arabia. Yeah, I know. Very weird.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        I’m italian, and we’re full to the brim of very average pizza. We have our good spots as it’s sensible to imagine, and i can guarantee you that it’s heavenly there.

        I’d say excellent pizza is found on a 1/5 ratio, with horrible pizza on a 1/15, more if you count the various crappy fast foods. In that particular scenario, i’m also willing to bet that the US are far ahead, even with Pizza.

        Then again, the real deal is not pizza, really. I mean, it’s not much problematic to “copy” it and do it in a similar way somewhere else, provided that, say, in your San Francisco example there is a way to find some good tomatoes and proper olive oil etc.

        Our real deal is in pretty much anything else though, and that’s mostly because of how good are the core elements, other than our tradition off course. Since we sadly are all a bunch of scumbags, we tend to export some very crappy “made in Italy” things, with the New York Times rightfully accusing us of diluting oil with random crap.

    • randomkeyhits says:

      Not seen Taco Bell here yet but Chipotle has been spotted in London slowly spreading.

  3. Moraven says:

    I loved all the VR like and AR games at the various arcades in the 90s. They were the best.

    I wonder if Valve will look to start offering rebates on Steamboxes to help bring down the price. Hell the Dota 2 compendium sales could easily be used to lower the price of Steamboxes. They should try to do some sort of subsidy.

  4. rexx.sabotage says:

    BYOB Frankenstein Steambox? sounds like fun on a bun!

  5. rockman29 says:

    Though generally consoles have been sold at a loss in the past, the WiiU and PS4 are both already being sold for a profit. Hirai has recently spoken in Japan to confirm this is the case for PlayStation. I’m not sure if this also applies to Xbox One.

  6. Tams80 says:

    Ignoring the pizza debacle above…

    I hope that the AMD performance CPUs are taking that long to get out because they have rethought their strategy. That does raise the question of what will they focus on this time?

    • GenBanks says:

      Yeah, it’s about time AMD made a comeback. I stupidly bought shares in them in 2007 when they were $13, now they’re $4. Luckily I also bought Intel shares, which have done better. So I’ve broken even. Yay stock market!

  7. crazyd says:

    Now that Steam In Home Streaming is a thing I can use, I see no point in buying a Steambox. I thought this was going to be a SteamOS specific feature, and was considering picking up a cheap one for streaming, but now I think I’m gonna be just fine using my existing low end media PC.

    • Martel says:

      I think it’s that they’re for 2 different markets. A Steambox is to hopefully encourage a console gamer to play PC games (purchased via Steam of course) while In-home streaming is for PC Gamers that want to play some games on the couch.

    • fish99 says:

      Well I think there will be some low end Steam boxes specifically designed to be streaming clients.

      Have to say I’ve had poor result from Steam streaming, even using wired ethernet cables. Good picture, but unplayably laggy (and no on-screen messages to indicate any issues).

  8. DanMan says:

    Isn’t G-Sync already dead, now that AMD and VESA have developed a standard that does pretty much the same? I mean, I thank nVidia for getting the ball rolling but…

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Kind of. Except DisplayPort 1.2a isn’t out yet. If you want a ‘synced’ display right now, well, G-Sync it is. If you already have an Nvidia GPU and you fancy 1,440p, 120Hz and some kind of sync, then the Asus display might just make sense.

      • DanMan says:

        Maybe. I buy my monitors every 5-10 years though, and I don’t like the thought of GPU vendor lock-in. Even though I’ve only ever used nVidia cards since the Riva128.

        • instantcoffe says:

          So when are GPUs with 1.2a going to be available?

          • FriendlyFire says:

            GPUs I wouldn’t be too worried. It’ll take a generation or two after the standard is out, most likely. I’d be more concerned with how long until we see DP1.2a monitors. Monitor manufacturers are quite slow at making product refreshes and even then they tend to be very conservative.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Next year; the DX12 generation is my prediction.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Free sync is similar but not the same stuff, and it’s based on a VESA feature that was specifically designed to save energy by limiting pointless refreshing.

      It can be used for gaming but it’s still an abstraction with it’s own overhead included, with VBLANK being controlled depending on the the nature of the GPU output, whereas with G-sync you have constant cooperation between both GPU and the module in your monitor working in tandem.

      G-sync is still better for gaming’s very specific needs as far as functionality goes. Obviously, being locked to Nvidia is a con.

  9. serioussgtstu says:

    Fantastic, I’ve picked a very good time to upgrade my CPU. I think I’m going to go with a Z97 just because they’ve made overclocking so simple, all you have to do is set the temperature and clock speed and away you go, no need to bother with doing it manually.

    I’m a bit confused about these Devil’s Canyon processors though, is 5ghz reserved for the high end i7 models, or will the i5 be able to pull that off after overclocking? Regardless, I’m just happy they’ll run cooler.

    • GenBanks says:

      I think the 5ghz rumours are just based on the fact that the i7 4790k is stock clocked at 4ghz with 4.4ghz turbo boost, so unless it’s a terrible overclocker (which it could be, I suppose) it should be able to hit 5ghz fairly easily.

      The i5 4690k is 3.4ghz with 3.9ghz boost, so we’ll have to wait and see.

      I’m also upgrading now, my new Z97 Maximus VII Ranger just arrived in the mail! Although I’m impatient so will probably go ahead and get an i5 4670k…

  10. MacPoedel says:

    “Firstly, compatibility. Remember those tweaked Intel Haswell K series chips (ya know, the ones with better thermal paste or whatever inside the chip package and known as Devil’s Canyon)? They may not be compatible with existing 8 Series motherboards. Ah.

    Intel’s next major CPU family, known as Broadwell (14nm die shrink, recently confirmed for release late this year) definitely won’t be compatible with 8 Series boards.”

    Firstly, Devil’s Canyon will just work on Z87 motherboards, it’s just the overclockable chips of Haswell refresh and those work on Z87 right? (with a BIOS update)

    Secondly, there’s not a lot known about Broadwell, I’ve seen a slide where Intel says that Broadwell will work with 9 series chipsets (obviously), but that doesn’t mean it won’t work with 8 series chipsets. I’ve also read that Broadwell will just work on all boards that support Haswell refresh (and release the appropriate BIOS update). Even 9 series motherboards appearing now will need a BIOS update to make Broadwell work. When Ivy Bridge was launched, Intel barely even mentioned that those cpu’s would also work on 6 series motherboards, since Intel wants to sell chipsets just as much as they want to sell cpu’s.

    Oh and about the Jaguar core thingy, you’re probably talking about AM1, with that price it would be the Athlon 5350. You don’t really need an old gpu with it though, that would sort of ruin the very low power consumption of the system. I’m looking into building something with that apu as well, would be excellent as a media pc and of course for Steam in home streaming. Some indie games might just run locally on it.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Yeah that’s what i was bout to say, while Z97 will work with Haswell, the Refresh, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell, some 8-series motherboards may support Devil’s Canyon as well…compatibility isn’t clear yet.

  11. Premium User Badge

    geoffreyk says:

    I would like to point out that the Chuck E. Cheese thing is not an official Oculus/Facebook sponsored thing. A company is using Rift dev kits to put together a thing, that they’re selling/demoing through a Chuck E. Cheese tailored experience. As much as I will never want to partake of this particular experience, it at least highlights that Rift is a relatively open platform (so far), with broad possibilities. Including terrible, terrible ones.

  12. Somerled says:

    Barely relevant trivia: Chuck E. Cheese was founded by Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, as a way to market Atari games. Also junk food and terror puppets.

    • Marblecake says:

      Dang it, I was just about to post that. But, yeah, due to that factoid the Chuck E. Rift thingy didn’t really strike me as odd, more as oddly fitting. Full circle and all that jazz.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Very nice factoid. I award you five non-transfer, non-refundable, not-actually-real RPS points!

  13. frightlever says:

    I’ve never had an Alienware machine, but I’m under the impression they’re at least somewhat performance orientated because that’s their USP. But, do they still bundle crapware with Windows? I think PC manufacturers make about $20-50 by shovelling bloatware onto their machines and this is obviously something you can’t do with SteamOS.

    • phelix says:

      Considering Windows is still the main platform for PC video games I’d say bundling bloatware with your preinstalled PCs is a logical step to more profit for very little effort.

      • frightlever says:

        Well, yeah obviously, but Dell are specifically complaining about the profitability of their SteamOS machines, which don’t run Windows, so I’m wondering whether part of this is the money they might lose by not incorporating bloatware, but since I’ve no personal experience of Alienware machines I was asking if they did, in fact, include any. But thanks for taking an interest!

  14. Grey_Ghost says:

    This article eventually sent me down a rabbit hole of ShowBiz Pizza’s (which basically bought out Chuck E. Cheese, then eventually converted into it) The Rock-afire Explosion animatronic band’s videos on YouTube. One of the coolest things to witness in person when I was a kid.

    ShowBiz Pizza, where a kid can be a kid!

  15. Chaz says:

    This maybe a really dopey question, but what kind of food does Chuck E. Cheese sell? I have visions of people sitting down to tuck into plates of assorted cheeses, maybe with a side order of pickle.

    Fun fact, Jarlsberg is my favourite cheese.