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Hard choices: The Week In Tech

Zoom, Zoom, Hardware News

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something doomed. That's the remit, chaps, keeping you updated with all things hard and gamey every week. I'll stick the best of the latest kit and most RPS-relevant trends under your snouts, a mix of kit I've tried, stuff I haven't got my hands on yet but looks interesting and other things wot you need to know. This week, some sexy new screens, a new SSD from Intel, a pint-sized gaming portable, AMD on the ropes and more. So much more.

AOC's bezelless beauties

Edge-to-edge IPS: AOC's new panels

First up, a pair of new LCD panels from AOC. We're talking 23 and 27 inches. We're talking IPS. And we're talking zero bezel. Well, almost zero bezel. Hold that thought.

AOC isn't exactly renown for producing premium panels. Cheap and anonymous is AOC's typical ruse. And these things aren't the most aggressively priced panels. But there's nothing quite like them, that I'm aware of at least.

To be clear, I haven't done a full review of either and I've only seen the 27 incher in the liquid crystal. Anyway, what makes them special is down to the no-bezel effect. I'm not sure exactly how it's achieved - i.e. whether AOC is simply packaging panels differently or whether there's something new going on terms of the layers of filters and coatings. But the screens don't have conventional bezels.

The surface of the panel, complete with a matte anti-glare coating (huzzah), extends very nearly to the very edge of the chassis. The limits of the actual pixel grid / display content don't reach quite that far. But from a normal viewing distance the effect is very much of virtually zero bezel.

Visually, it's pretty dramatic stuff. Suddenly, every other monitor on the market looks a bit dated, a bit clunky. Once you've seen one of these things in action, anything with a conventional bezel kind of blows.

Performance wise, I suspect we're dealing with 6-bit panel tech. And the chassis quality is patchy upon close inspection. But from what I've seen, the 27-inch model has nice image quality and is well up to a bit of gaming.

There's also an interesting angle involving multiple panels. With so little bezel, multi-monitor gaming could be interesting. OK, there's no 120Hz action. And both panels are merely 1080p. No 2,560-pixel hawtness here. But I likey. Hopefully, other manufacturers will follow suit. Anyway, codes and prices for the two screens:

AOC I2367FH, circa £150
AOC I2757FM, circa £230

Step forward NVIDIA's real high-end GPU

The NVIDIA Tesla K20X: Note lack of video ports

Some of you get upset about this. But as far as I'm concerned, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680 isn't a high end GPU. It's a mid-range GPU that turned out so brilliantly, NVIDIA can get away with charging top dollar for it.

But now the real high-end chip from the latest Kepler generation has finally hit the market. Problem is, it's currently only available in co-processor form as an NVIDIA Tesla card, namely the Tesla K20X and Tesla K20.

They're designed for general-purpose compute and specifically applications that benefit from massively parallelised floating point performance. In other words, they're not graphics cards and you can't use them as such. Anyway, the GPU at the heart of these cards is known as GK110 and it's twice as complex as the GK104 chip found in the GTX 680.

Yes, some of that complexity is spent on functionality that's utterly irrelevant to squirting out games at silly frame rates. But we're still talking 2,496 shader cores to the 680's 1,536. Youch.

What's more, there are times when the 680's somewhat cut-down architecture does hurt frame rates. GK110, I suspect, would beat just about any current game engine into a quivering, bloody pulp. Yes, maybe even Crysis the First. But will it ever make it into a graphics card?

I hope so. I like outrageously high end GPUs. They deliver in games in ways silly-money CPUs do not. And it's just plain annoying to know NVIDIA has an epic graphics chip in hand, but won't allow the world to game with it. But I honestly don't know if it's going to happen.

On the one hand, AMD's aggressive pricing means it has a mightily competitive bunch of GPUs right now. And NVIDIA has past form when it comes to ensuring it scores the PR win of having the fastest single GPU in the world and at almost any cost.

On the other, m'colleague on ye olde print favourite PC Format, Dave James, recently pointed out that NVIDIA is holding strong on pricing in the face of AMD's competition. So, maybe it's not bothered. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Intel's new killer SSD

Back in control: Intel's new SSD has an in-house chipset again

Dabbling with SSDs has been a bit hit and miss for Intel. When it launched the X25-M back in 2008, there was much rejoicing. Intel had made SSDs reliable. Then it turned out Intel's SSDs stuttered, too.

Since then, Intel's SSD's have had plenty of ups and downs. It's earned a reputation for best-in-the-industry validation and reliability. But it's fallen behind on raw technology and speed, eventually buying in controllers from third parties.

But now the new Intel SSD DC S3700 has arrived and it very much looks like Intel is back in the game. It sports Intel's own third-gen controller. Overall, the new drive seems to match the best when it comes to the usual showbiz benchmarks but throw a whole new level of performance consistency and reliability into the mix.

I've been too busy driving the new Range Rover in Morocco (possibly the best new car launched this year, if anyone cares) to have a play with one just yet. But it looks awfully, awfully promising.

A bit better than benchmarking SSDs...

Anywho, if I was in the market for a drive at this very picosecond, I'd probably wing it and get an S3700. I know. Crazy.

Update: For clarity, the S3700 is targetted at enterprise customers, not consumers, so it's very expensive. But I'm hoping the controller goodness will tranistion to Intel's consumer drives fairly soon.

Eurocom's little Monster

Not big, but is is tolerably clever

You've probably had enough talk of portable gaming in recent Hard Choices posts. But I've had the Eurocom Monster in for a few weeks and it's worth a little mention.

It's a 13-inch lappie with decent gaming chops. The headline specs of my sample are GeForce GT 650M and Core i7 quad-core, so it's a little CPU heavy to be perfectly balanced for gaming.

But it's genuinely compact and there aren't many systems so small that can game like this wee beastie. The context here is ultraportables, so you'll forgive the slight contradiction with my previous guidance re mobile GPUs.

Downsides include the bland, slightly cheapo whitebook chassis from Clevo, a mediocre LCD panel (piss poor viewing angles, but at least the 1,366 x 768 native is a good match for the GPU) and disappointing battery life of around three and a half hours. Anyway, it's yours for about £650. It's not perfect, but with the above caveats in mind, it's worth a butchers. I'd put it on your shortlist if you're looking for something very small but gaming-plausible.

AMD on deathrow

Say it ain't so

Bear with me on this, there's going to be some investor speak. But it's worth it. AMD's stock price is hideous right now, very nearly its lowest since 1990. That's a very, very long time ago.

Sales of the new Trinity mobile chip are apparently poor. Its server chip sales are weak. And the Steamroller update for its core CPU design is rumoured to have been delayed to 2014. The graphics chips are doing well, but that's a relatively small part of its business.

What about revenues from games consoles you (very probably don't) cry? My understanding is that they don't ultimately amount to much. AMD is still mostly about conventional x86 CPUs.

Intel and NVIDIA stock are bombing, too. But AMD is much weaker overall. It's almost entirely dependant on traditional PC products, while NVIDIA has its Tegra ultramobile chip for phones and tablets as a get-out-of-jail card and Intel is simply big enough to bleed for years before turning terminal and has the resources to diversify in the meantime.

AMD reportedly has over $1 billion in cash in the bank, believe it or not. But at current burn rates, it'll hit probably the wall within 18 months. Sooner if things get worse, which many expect. And with doubts over its future and its stock price in the pan, it can't borrow money to invest its way out of trouble.

Put simply, AMD is in the poo. It needs to launch a miracle product inside a year. But all the interesting new stuff probably won't appear until 2014.

If it does die, it will be truly horrible for the competition for both gaming CPUs and GPUs. This will effect you if it happens. You have been warned.

The good news is that we'll know fairly soon. If AMD is still with us in two year's time, then the crisis will be over. In the meantime, tell everyone you know to buy AMD products!

And finally...

Windows 8: Wot you think?

Windows 8 is out. OK, it's not hardware. And I've not got a lot to say about it currently other than suspecting a Windows 8 tablet convertible is almost definitely in my future. I need more time to feel it in my bones. So what do you guys think about Windows 8? Have you tried it yet?

Toodles for now.

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