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Week in Tech: Intel Loves You, VR, $3,000 Graphics

Intel remembers which side its bread is buttered

Right, then, it's been an intriguing week or so in PC gaming tech. The virtual reality roadmap just got a rocket up the bum with the news that social network and moneybags megacorp Facebook has snapped up Oculus VR while Sony has injected additional momentum by showing off its own prototype headset for the PS4. Meanwhile, remember when you could buy a cheap Intel chip and overclock the twangers off it? Those days may be returning. Intel has apparently decided that it cares about we PC enthusiasts after all. Well, kinda. Oh, and Nvidia has another catastrophically expensive video card which you won't be buying. Same old.

We've covered the Facebook-buys-Oculus news elsewhere. And Sony's Project Morpheus headset for the PlayStation 4 obviously isn't for PCs. But suddenly it feels like VR just got very serious. A bit of competition can only be a good thing and already it looks like Sony's entrance might help push things in a more ergonomic direction as regards the design of headsets.

Admittedly, the idea of Facebook taking over Oculus VR makes me feel a bit queasy and not just because it's a moderately bizarre acquisition at first glance. Romantic if ultimately unrealistic notions of Oculus VR being a purist tech company with gamer's interests at heart pretty much go out the window, that's for sure.

But with Facebook bankrolling the thing, at least you can be fairly sure the project won't want for investment. As for the Sony angle, on paper even the PS4's hardware looks a little weedy for high-res VR rendering.

Sony's 'open air' headset is a new take on VR ergonomics

Smooth frame rates and minimal lag are proving hyper critical for avoiding motion sickness when it comes to VR and the PS4's GPU is a relatively modest bit of kit by modern PC standards. But if Sony can make it work at HD resolutions, it suggests big-money hardware may not be entirely necessary for a decent VR experience. Promising.

So, to Intel. One of my big beefs with Chipzilla in recent years has been its general disdain for PC enthusiasts. We all get that mobile is the big growth market and that has to be where much of Intel's attention is focused.

But that doesn't explain things like cynically locking down CPU overclocking to a few premium models, cheaping out on thermal packaging and generally dragging its feet.

My theory on part of this is simple. All Intel CPUs should be unlocked. The overclocking community isn't huge so I doubt it would hit Intel terribly hard if a few enthusiasts and gamers bought slightly cheaper chips and overclocked them.

But it would generate good will with a group of people who would surely evangelise Intel products if only they had reason to do so. At worst it's got to be zero sum.

I have a similar hunch as regards high end desktop CPUs with more cores. Intel makes much bigger margins on Xeon CPUs than desktop chips, granted. But I doubt the cannibalisation would be that catastrophic should Intel put out some Core i7s with a few more cores. Xeons top out at 15 cores, current desktop Core i7s at just six. It's pretty pathetic.

And again, some truly exciting desktop product would be good PR. The thermal packaging issue is a bit trickier. I have no idea how much money Intel saves by using cheap paste inside the packaging of its recent chips.

Anyway, the good news is that Intel does appear to be waking from its slumber when it comes to showing enthusiasts a bit of love. It's recently announced a number of relatively interesting chips.

Cheesy 'Anniversary' branding, but a cheapo chip with an unlocked multiplier? Yes please

First up is confirmation of an eight-core Haswell-E chip. OK, it's an LGA2011 chip, it will cost a bomb, it's still seven cores short of the top Xeon and I'd rather see Intel adding cores to chips that drop into its mainstream socket. But what the hell, it's got more cores.

Oh, and it will link in with a new chipset that debuts DDR4 memory support from Intel, which is a welcome development that will eventually filter down to the mainstream.

Next up are some new K series models based on the existing Haswell quad-core chip with overclocking enhancements. Intel has mentioned improvements to the thermal packaging, though no specifics have been mentioned and it's not clear what sort of points we're looking at.

It's possible these chips could have higher default clocks, too, which would be very welcome, here's hoping.

Another new product involves a chip based on the upcoming 14nm Broadwell die shrink and offering Intel's fastest Iris Pro integrated graphics in socketed, unlocked desktop format. That puts an end to any doubts that Broadwell would even be available as a socketed chip.

But most intriguing of all is news of a cheapo unlocked 'Pentium Anniversary' CPU. Conceived to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the Pentium brand, the chip will likely be a dual-core model and will definitely be fully unlocked.

Bargain basement gaming rig based on a heavily overclocked budget CPU? That's my kind of system, so fingers crossed.

Again, no prices on any of these, but everything I've mentioned will roll out this year. Like I said, I'd rather see Intel unlock the lot. But this is all definitely a step in the right direction, so I'm trying not to be too grumpy.

$3,000? Cheap at twice the price

And finally, Nvidia has announced the Titan Z, a dual-GPU video board with a budget-conscious $2,999 price tag. It's basically a pair of GK110 Titan Black GPUs in one chassis and thus sports 5,760 stream processors and 12GB of video. Cue much rejoicing.

The sharper among you will note that it's about 50 per cent pricier than a pair of Titan Blacks. Ostensibly, it has the advantage of being a single video card. But the form factor looks to be getting on for triple slot, so any space saving over a dual-board arrangement is pretty moot.

It is thus a halo product for Nvidia to shout about and ensure the Radeon board with dual R9 290X GPUs AMD has been teasing us with lately but has yet to actually announce doesn't claim the fastest video card title. It makes very little sense to actually buy a Titan Z.

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