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Week in Tech: Ultrawide Monitors, DDR 4 & New Intel CPUs

Utterly pointless, but ooh it's purty: Asus's Hoth-spec mobo

Christ, it is Computex again? I can’t keep up. Surprisingly, we’ve never had a round up from what remains the greatest show of PC hardware on earth. But let’s pretend we’re old hands and ponder what another 12 months has bought us barring an incremental uptick in cynicism and one step closer to cold, infinite oblivion? Quicker, cheaper SSDs (yup, that again). Yay! A properly cheap and fully overclockable Intel CPU. Huzzah! The fastest optical mouse sensor ever. Haroo! Super-wide, beyond ultra-HD monitors. Argh! DDR4 memory that will revolutionise gaming (allegedly). Er, zorg?! And even an Hoth-spec tundra-camo motherboard. Mother. Of. God. Oh, and I’ve finally clapped eyes upon one of those cheap TN 4K panels and can confirm that they’re damn good and put an end to the need for anti-aliasing – yes, really. Ride your rodents for the round up.

UPDATE:
Thanks to an AMD Freesync demo, the possibility, albeit still remote, of firmware Freesync updates for existing monitors has emerged…

SSDs. Again
So, quicker SSDs? Yup, a repetitive theme, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. The long-awaited SandForce SF3700 SSD controller is finally about to ship out.

The big news here is improved simultaneous or ‘mixed’ read/write performance as opposed to just pure read or write throughput. Apparently, a good drive today will achieve circa 250MB/s for an 80/20 read/write traffic mix.

If I’m reading things right, the new SandForce controller ups that to as much as 1.3GB/s. No doubt an ideal/cherry picked scenario, but mixed traffic is certainly more realistic than one-way traffic. Watch this space.

Inevitably, Computex has also seen a bunch of M.2 SSDs appear and the form factor looks to be increasingly the one to go for in terms of ye olde ‘enthusiast’ PC, which overlaps gaming rigs in the Venn diagram of PCdom. We’re in the realms of contrived consumer categories, of course. But my general feeling is that if you or I were to build a PC a year from now, we’d almost definitely choose M.2 for the boot drive rather than SATA Express.

Intel’s cheapo chip
Next up, Intel’s anniversary-special Pentium G3258 processor. We’ve touched on this before, but here are the key numbers:

– 3.2GHz baseclock
– Two cores
– Fully unlocked
– $72 (circa £60)

No HyperThreading. No Turbo. Who cares? There is one snag. It’s not getting the NGPTIM stuff, aka the decent thermal interface material that comes with the new Devil’s Canyon Core i7-4790K and i5-4690K chips. It’s getting the same crappy material that is currently holding back existing Intel Haswell-generation processors. Poo.

Tight-wad Intel apparently hasn’t given the Pentium G3258 the same improved thermal material as the other new Devil’s Canyon Haswell refresh chip. Bah.

Still, I hold out hope it will hit 4.5GHz, in which case it’ll probably be all you need for a cheap gaming rig for $72 or I assume about £60. Win.

Any colour so long as it’s white
Meanwhile, Asus has a whole hill of new stuff, but two things caught my eye. First, the ROG Gladius gaming mouse. You get the usual niceties, like a figner-tip DPI switch.

The newsflash is the 6,400dpi optical sensor capable of tracking at up to 200 inches per second and 50G acceleration. Are these numbers actually of any import? Does super-high DPI matter beyond a certain point? I have no fugging, idea. But I like big numbers! What do you guys think?

But by far the snazziest Asus product is the limited-edition TUF Sabranco Z97 motherboard decked out in Empire Strikes Back tundra-white camo. Utter gimmickry. I’ll have three, thanks.

For all your gaming pleasure: Asus’s new Computex clobber

Super wide!
Then there’s Dell’s U3415W. Here we’re talking 34 inches, 21:9 aspect ratio, IPS and 3,440 by 1,440 pixels. It’ll be just one of a load of 34-inch 1440p panels and consensus is slowly building that it might just be an awesome solution for high-end gaming.

Critically, it adds up to five million pixels, which is a tonne less than the eight million of a 4K panel. So, materially less GPU load. And yet it’s still going to be seriously high detail (a 27-inch 2,560 by 1,440 panel gives you 3.6 million pixels) and gaming on a very grand scale. Interesting at the very least.

As for pricing, no word as yet. But I reckon a good yardstick involves existing 29-inch 21:9 panels. I don’t think these 34-inch IPSers are going to be positioned as truly premium. They won’t be cheap, but a budget brand like AOC (there is indeed an AOC U3477Pqu incoming) might make them attainable. Dare I hope for about £400 / $500, tops?

I’ve been banging on about 4K, but maybe 21:9 super-wide is actually where it’s at for gaming?

DDR bore
Anywho, the usual memory-making suspects have been hawking their brave new DDR4 wares and promising big things for gaming. Well, they’ve got to say something. The truth is, DDR4 will be restricted to the high-end X99 platform and Intel’s Haswell-E rebadged server chips for the foreseeable.

DDR4 will be interesting when it transitions to Intel’s mainstream socket – integrated graphics can do with all the bandwidth it can get. But as far as I’m aware, the next-gen Broadwell chips are DDR3, so that’s several years away.

4K redux
And finally, I’ve had a quick look at one of the new 28-inch 4K screens using TN panel tech. For the most part, the new panel is seriously impressive. Save for the vertical viewing angle, it does a very good impression of an IPS panel. Nice colours. Good contrast.

For me personally, 28 inches is still too small for 4K in Windows. I don’t want to have to set the scaling beyond 100% because it just doesn’t work and set to 100% everything is simply too small.

On the upside, the ludicrous pixel density at 28 inches means you truly, honestly no longer need to use anti-aliasing, which helps with the GPU load. There’s virtually no aliasing visible without AA enabled. But despite my general enthusiasm for 4K – games do look stupidly good – I’m not sold on 4K in this form factor.

STOP PRESS: Freesync firmware updates for existing monitors
Last minute addition. AMD’s been showing off a Freesync prototype monitor. Not huge news. Here’s the interesting bit. It was a standard retail monitor merely updated with firmware. In reality, I suspect few monitors will be upgradable in this way and that’s essentially AMD’s line. But a few may be if their manufacturers are feeling generous. For the lucky few, what a nice perk that will be. You’ll need a DisplayPort 1.2a-compliant graphics card, too, of course

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