An Unlikely Friendship – AMD A8 and nVidia GTX

A while back I built a system for streaming; something inexpensive, portable, and powerful enough to record and stream multiple video inputs. I settled on an AMD A8-7650K. The price, performance, and beefed up integrated graphics proved to be an excellent combination. While building the water cooling system in my main rig my GTX 970 was laying around as well as my GTX 460. So naturally I did the unreasonable and compared the performance of the integrated Radeon R7 to a dedicated solution. But is it really all that unreasonable? The R7 proves to be an inexpensive platform for “console quality” but ideally a budget-based build leaves room to upgrade, so let’s see what happens when you do.

The system is composed of the afore-mentioned AMD A8-7650K APU overclocked from 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz in an MSI A68HM Grenade motherboard with 2x 4 GB sticks of Corsair DDR3 memory at 2188 MHz. Storage is a pair of Western Digital 750 GB Green hard drives in RAID 0. Power is courtesy of a 750 watt Corsair power supply. All of this is housed in an Antec P50 micro-ATX case which is badly in need of exhaust fans. During testing the stock APU cooler spins to defining levels despite the dual intake fans spinning at their maximum speed. The side panel was removed to exhaust hot air and keep the system ironically quieter.

For this round of tests the 460 will represent the “hand-me-down” video card you might get for free from a friend who’s upgrading their system. The 970 represents the “tax return” video card. Between these two cards we should be able to make reasonable estimates for how other cards, like a 780, might perform in a system like this.

The first test is 3D Mark’s Sky Diver test; a light snack for modern GPUs but provides a good baseline for integrated graphics and older video hardware. Unsurprisingly the integrated Radeon R7 was slaughtered in any test that woke up the GPU. Physics scores, which are CPU dependent, stayed the same across each test.

3D Mark's Sky Diver benchmark
3D Mark’s Sky Diver benchmark

Similar results can be seen while running the standard Fire Strike test.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark

It should be worth noting that Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike Ultra can’t run, or shouldn’t, run on the integrated R7 or the GTX 460 due to both processing and VRAM limitations. Only the GTX 970 was able to run these tests. With each level of Fire Strike the graphics scores dropped quickly but the physics scores remained stable. Since only larger textures and resolutions are being used it makes sense that the physics scores wouldn’t change.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC

Synthetic benchmarks only tell half the story, though. To get the other half let’s see what Lara Croft has to say about each of our GPU solutions.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

720p should be considered the default resolution for the integrated R7. If your computer spends its days plugged into a TV like this one does you’ll be hard pressed to notice any difference between 720 and 1080p. The game looks beautiful at normal settings and plays very well, even during scenes with explosions and collapsing caves. If you want to play with enhanced details or resolution you’ll need to add a dedicated GPU.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

That said, if you need 1080p resolutions the R7 may not be the best an option, depending on how demanding the game is. This is where the dedicated GPU solutions really shine.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.

And of course, when you toss in your “tax return” card, you can start playing at 1440 and 4K resolutions, even on a 1080p display. By enabling nVidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) your video card will render video at a higher resolution than your display, then downscale it to match your display’s resolution. The idea is that you get smoother, finer detail in things like hair, grass, object edges, etc. During my testing I lowered the anti-aliasing down to 2xSSAA on all of my tests and removed it entirely for the 4K tests.

So what’s the takeaway from all these charts and figures? The A8’s integrated R7 GPU does an adequate job at lower resolutions but is unlikely going to be a replacement for an Xbox One or Playstation 4. If you already own one and want to turn it into a medium-duty gaming rig a dedicated GPU will do the job just fine but you may still be limited by the raw processing power of the A8 APU.

PAX South 2016 – Days 2 & 3

With a correct perspective on what PAX South is we were able to start making the best of it. At PAX Prime our focus was on finding the key booths, playing the games we were the most excited about, and finding the most relevant panels. Down in Texas, though, we were able to dedicate all of Saturday to walking the show floor and sampling everything the vendors had to offer.

Yo, this is the convention center! At least, part of it. Seattle, step it up!

What games did we play? A few highlights would be a card game called Poop, Elite Dangerous, Cards and Castles, Freedom Planet (imagine if Sonic stayed 2D and 16-bit), Gungeon, Angry Video Game Nerd II: ASSimilation, a game like Mr. Driller but competitive, and a game where neighborhood kids use home-made weapons to fight monsters. We also entered as many raffles as we could which paid off big time. Well, maybe not “big time” but I did win a copy of Elite Dangerous and another member of our group won a SteelSeries mouse pad that’s probably the same size as her desk. Free games, free product (not just swag), beautiful weather, what’s not to love?

Frontier's Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.
Frontier’s Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.

I also go to meet some rad-ass dudes: Geoff Ramsey, who I was super awkward at but he was really kind and patient, and Matt Peak and Joel Rubin who are also really kind and patient. Seems to be a running theme with everyone at Rooster Teeth.

Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.
Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.

Hardware vendors were out in force with booths from HyperX, Zotac, DXRacer, OCZ, EVGA, Intel, AMD, Gunnar, and even a standind desk manufacturer who’s name I can’t remember or find in the program. Basically every part you needed to build and enjoy a PC you could look at and talk to someone about. Zotac even let me hold their AMP! Extreme 980 Ti (which I mentioned in the last post). Pretty cool stuff.

It's a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!
It’s a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!

A sign of how the industry is moving, PAX South saw not only Twitch in attendance but also XSplit (used for streaming to services like Twitch), GameWisp (a 3rd party solution for allowing streamers to subscribe outside of Twitch’s program), and Hauppage (makers of video capture hardware). There were also multiple panels on streaming, advising on proper ethics and work habits for prospective streamers.

PAX just wouldn’t be PAX without the Omegathon. Our group makes a point of always watching the final round to bring our PAX weekend to a close. We were skeptical that the Penny Arcade folks could out-do themselves after Spy Party and Mario Maker wrapped up PAX Prime 2014 and 2015. But they did, in glorious 64-bits, with Rare’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. And because they’re evil they left the joysticks inverted.

After each winning one round and going 9 kills each in the third first-to-10 match, which included a 1v1 double-kill, Palpitatertot took the final kill and the victory over RugPisser.

[post video here]

Of course, video games and shiny video card’s aren’t what make up the soul of PAX, it’s just the shiny paint. The real reason PAX is so amazing is the people. People that run the event, you meet, and the friends to go with.

Our crew.
Our crew.

Our crew, the Juans of Gamelon, traveled thousands of miles and sacrificed sleep and sanity to experience San Antonio, at least within walking distance of the convention center. If I went by myself it would have been miserable.

Our King!
Our King!

There’s not much else to say. Games are awesome, friends are awesome’r. If you have the chance to adventure with people to a cool new place, do it. Do it, do it, do it!