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Week in Tech: Don't Buy A New Video Card

It's graphics card silly season again

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Actually, do. But possibly don’t. Or probably do. The problem here is partly ye olde NDA or non-disclosure agreement and the threat of legal immolation at the hands of sharp-suited lawyers and their homicidal liability clauses. I’m not actually under NDA, but I’ve seen things that are and there’s little value in getting people into trouble for the sake of 24 hours. And apparently Nvidia doesn’t fancy shifting its global PR campaign to suit RPS’s Thursday hardware slot. Short sighted as that may be, we must make do.

Nvidia is outing some new GPUs tomorrow and they’re definitely going to shake things up. In fact, they already have in terms of the pricing of existing graphics cards with some conspicuous bargains popping up – on this side of the pond at least. Meanwhile, there’s some interesting LCD screen news, including high refresh IPS on the horizon, and the Beast of Redmond officially brings the Xbone’s controller to the PC. Yay! But there’s no wireless support. Boo!

So, we’re right in the heart of the graphics silly season with Nvidia about to unleash some new high-end graphics cards on Friday – GeForces GTX 980 and 970 – and rumours building around AMD’s next uber GPUs. And yes, that does mean Nvidia is largely skipping the GeForce 800 Series in terms of branding on the desktop.

We’ll have to wait for the official announcement to get into the details, but these new GPUs are based on Nvidia’s new Maxwell technology as already seen in the GeForce GTX 750Ti. That’s enough to tell you they’ll likely to set new standards for efficiency. Trust me on this, these things are phenomenal, especially when you consider that Nvidia has been forced to use skanky old 28nm transistors once again instead of simply leaning on the usual efficiencies and performance gains that come with a shift to small transistors. When Maxwell GPUs get a die shrink they are going to be outrageously good.

Anyway, as far as I’m aware AMD doesn’t have any imminent product to respond to the new Nvidia GPUs, so price cuts it is for at least the next few months. Which is obviously great for you and we. There are already some tempting bargains on some of the usual retail outlets here in the UK, with Scan offering an XFX branded Radeon R9 290X for just £270 – less than its cheapest R9 290, in fact.

Doesn’t make much sense until you factor in the awful reference cooler on this particular 290X. It’s ridiculously noisy and not very good at cooling. You have been warned. Thing is, the 290X is a beast with a 512-bit bus and for £270 is bloody tantalising, even with a borked cooler. I probably still would.

Whatever, my advice for anyone in the market for a new GPU right now is keep your scanners peeled for some great deals in the next few days. No doubt there will be interesting deals where ever you’re based.

If this is the Jesus panel, think of the upcoming IPS equivalent as the gaming monitor Richard Dawkins would choose…

Next up, high-refresh IPS panel tech for gaming PC monitors. IPS is, of course, the LCD screen tech du jour. It’s higher quality in terms of colours, contrast and viewing angles than cheaper TN screens, but has so far been slower in terms of response. That’s why we haven’t seen 120Hz-plus IPS monitors so far.

The latest news involves good old AU Optronics, maker of an awful lot of the actual LCD panels you find in many affordable PC monitors. It’s announced a new 27-inch 2,560 by 1,440 IPS-type panel with native 144Hz refresh support.

I say ‘IPS-type’ because it’s an AHVA panel which is AU Optronics’ take on IPS – a bit like PLS is Samsung’s version. Anyway, I have an AU Optronics AHVA panel in my laptop and bloody nice is is, too.

So, before you dash out and buy that Asus ROG Swift with its slightly muddy 27-inch TN panel, you might want to ponder just how good something similar but IPS powered sounds. Pretty much perfect, if you ask me. Not sure exactly how long it will take for the AU Optronics panel to pop up in actual retail monitors, but I’m hoping to see something before the end of the year.

On a related note, VESA has nailed down the DisplayPort 1.3 standard. As ever, the big news is even more bandwidth and thus support over a single cable for irrelevancies like Dell’s new 5K monitor. That’s 5,120 by 2,880 on a 27-inch panel and nearly double the pixel count of a 4K display. Via Windows. Using today’s GPUs. Ha ha. Er, ha.

Of marginally more interest is the prospect of 4K at 120Hz. Again, it’s a slightly comical notion given the catastrophic GPU load that represents – your GPU would need to process and render roughly 480 million pixels per second to drive a 3D game at 4K 120Hz. But then my 30-inch panels have lasted me nigh-on a decade, so if I was buying a 4K panel today, having 120Hz support ready for GPU technology to catch up would certainly be attractive.

DisplayPort 1.3 also serves up a few additional frills including support for higher resolutions when daisy chaining multiple screens through a single connection as well as 4:2:0 pixel sub sampling. Yeah, that one’s got me whoop-whooping up and down the corridor, too.

In traditional Microsoft style, they’ve cocked up the initial Xbone-for-PC controller implementation

And finally, the Xbox One controller on the PC. As a grown up, I use a keyboard and mouse. Proper analogue joysticks are obviously suitable in the right context, too. But I’m told some PC gamers occasionally dabble with these control pad things. Ghastly.

In all seriousness, control pads are looking increasingly relevant as game streaming to multiple devices begins to take off. So official support for the Xbox One’s controller on the PC is certainly welcome. It’s a little outside of my area of expertise as I’ve never really jived with relative lack of precision you suffer with a pad. But I’m reliably informed that it’s a quality bit of kit.

The major snag, however, is that wireless operation isn’t supported for now, which does rather compromise utility for game streaming. Hopefully a dongle like the one Microsoft released for the Xbox 360 controller is in the works. Whatever, if you hadn’t already heard the news, you have now. Toodle pip.

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Jeremy Laird

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