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Week in Tech: Buy A Decent Screen, That's An Order

Your good display deed for the decade

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While I slave away gathering all the bits for our upcoming home-build vs factory-built PC comparo extraordinaire, here’s something to think about and even get on with in the meantime. Buy a decent screen. I’ve touched on this before, but some recent shenanigans with 4K monitors and Laird Minor (little brother) being in need of a new screen have reminded me of something. My main PC display is seven years old. My secondary PC display is eight years old. And it’s only now that I’m beginning to even think about upgrading. Imagine trying to game on an eight-year-old CPU or graphics card. Nasty. Meanwhile, the skinny is out on Intel’s new anniversary-themed CPUs and the rumour mill is building up for the next wave of high-end graphics cards.
Re the buying screens thing, admittedly my monitors were pretty high end back when. And, OK, I didn’t pay for one of them. But it was a sudden moment of clarity and import the other day when I realised how old they were. For the record, we’re talking Samsung XL30 for my main rig (30-inch, 2.560 by 1,600, PVA) and Dell 3007WFP-HC (30-inch, 2,560 by 1,600, IPS) for my secondary system.

Imagine I just had the Dell, for which I paid £800 eight years ago. That’s just £100 a year for the privilege of running a glorious 30-inch IPS display. Personally, I think that’s a bargain. It’s still a bloody nice screen.

4K pixel pitches are marginal even on uber 32-inch panels

Even now and having seen most of the new 4K displays on the market, there’s nothing I’m absolutely convinced I’d take over my current displays. We’ve covered some of this before, but my issue with current 4K panels is a combo of pixel pitch and software. I absolutely hate using the Windows scaling settings and everything is just too bloody small at 100 per cent, certainly with the 28 and 24-inch 4K panels and probably even with the 32 inchers.

I’d need a 34 to 36-inch 4K panel to have a pixel pitch I’d be happy with at 4K resolutions. Then there’s the whole problem of driving 4K resolutions in games and the epic GPU power you need to do that. I can’t be doing with multi-GPU and even if I could it would mean a hefty additional investment.

Short version: I’m still probably years away from screen upgrades and it may well be a decade overall before it actually happens. That seems extraordinary to me and in that context and if you can manage to put a big wad of cash up front for a great screen, I think it pays long term more than any other PC component by a mile.

Asus’s ROG display. 1440p. 120Hz. Good to go for years and years.

I suppose the danger is that suddenly big OLED screens get super cheap or 36-inch 4K panels become affordable. But honestly, if you bought something like a nice 1440p 27-inch with high refresh support today, I doubt you’d have any urge to replace it for years and years.

On a related note, it looks like some additional GPU power that will edge us closer to single-GPU 4K gaming is coming.

AMD is said to be prepping a new version of the Hawaii chip as currently found in the Radeon R9 290 series. Allegedly, the chip has had 3,072 stream shaders all along, not the piffling 2,816 we’ve suffered so far.

You’ll also get a few more texture units, to boot. Branding for the new card is supposedly 290XT or perhaps 290XTX and a repeat of the 290’s crappy cooling débâcle is not expected.

Cheaper Radeon R9 290s should be the big upside to a new high-end AMD board

It’s a plausible enough rumour given common industry practice to have redundancy in-chip to increase yields. The performance increase will be more of a PR coup than a dramatic real-world game changer. But as ever the real benefit should be to push down prices on the 290 and 290X. I’m pretty hot for the 290, so if that gets cheaper, it will be even more attractive.

As for Nvidia, the rumours here involve the Maxwell architecture that’s so impressive in the GTX 750 making it into the high end. Apparently, Nvidia is still stuck at 28nm rather than making the leap to 20nm.

Normally, I’d say that was disastrous for a new high-end board. But Maxwell is so impressive in the 750, it augurs pretty darn well for the high end, even at 28nm. I’d expect the GTX 870 and 880 (as they are expected to be known) to deliver the sort of performance jump that normally comes with a new architecture and a new manufacturing process.

The new Nvidia cards will be based on the GM204 chip and thus not the absolute uber Maxwell chip, which will be the GM110 and I suspect will have to wait for 20nm.

Nvidia’s Maxwell was mighty enough in the measly GTX 750, so it could be killer for high-end graphics, even at 28nm

While we’re talking Nvidia. There’s been some noise regarding added 4K-60Hz support for Kepler-generation GPUs via a driver update. It’s not worth getting too granular with the details here, but suffice to know it’s a bit of a kludge that involves chucking out some image data to allow a 4K-60Hz signal through the bandwidth limitations of HDMI 1.4.

Given that 4K is all about uber image quality, for me it makes no sense to kludge it, though I haven’t seen exactly what the impact is of binning some of the colour data.

Anywho, back to those new GPUs, dates-wise this is all rumour but the AMD GPU feels pretty imminent while the Nvidia stuff is towards the end of the year. Just something to factor into any graphics buying you may be considering.

Finally, Intel’s new we-still-love-PC-enthusiasts CPU models are out. I haven’t had a chance to play with said due to an impromptu and unavoidable 2,500 mile traipse around Europe.

Intel’s K Series Devil’s Dumplings (not actually pictured here, before someone complains) apparently don’t deliver

As it happens, the dual-core Pentium G3258 does hit the 4.5GHz I’d hoped for despite not having the proper thermal gubbins that the renewed Core i5 and i7 K series chips (codenmaed Devil’s Canyon) receive.

At that speed, it performs pretty similarly in a lot of games to one of the cheaper locked quad-core Core i5s, which is pretty bloody interesting for just £55 in Blighty and $75 Stateside. As for those Devil’s Canyon chips with the new thermal materials, the Core i7-4790K and Core i5-4690K, I’m told they run a smidge cooler but are barely any better for overclocking. Pretty pointless, then. Oh well.

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Jeremy Laird

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