CeBIT 2008 Coverage: Part 1

This year CeBIT trade-show kicked off a little earlier than usual and it is really cold in Hannover, Germany. But it should not be chilly in large pavilions of Deutsche Messe, where thousands of this season’s hottest IT products are exhibited. We managed to picture the first AMD’s 45nm wafer candidates, Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2, Freon cooling system from Thermaltake and many other interesting devices and products.

by Anton Shilov
03/09/2008 | 06:06 AM

Faster, Higher, Stronger: 2133GHz with CAS8 from Corsair Memory

Corsair Memory, on of the world’s largest makers of memory modules, demonstrated what they call to be the world’s fastest memory modules on the Earth: the modules that can run at 2133MHz with CAS 8 timings.

 

Despite of the fact that memory module makers have to make hard choices when it comes to performance products (e.g., capacity vs. clock-speeds vs. latency settings), they still tend to focus on extreme frequencies, simply due to the fact that this attracts a lot of attention from enthusiasts.

This year Corsair decided to showcase its Dominator DDR3 memory modules capable of running at rather unprecedented clock-speed and timings: 2133MHz with 8-8-8 latency settings. Just several days before CeBIT took off, Kingston Memory managed to demonstrate 2.13GHz memory modules, but at that time latencies were set at 9-9-9. Obviously, there will hardly be any substantial performance difference between real-world performance of Corsair’s and Kingston’s ultra high-end memory, but formally Corsair now has the DDR3 speed crown.

It is interesting to note that both companies used Nvidia nForce 790i SLI-based mainboards to run DDR3 modules at 2.13GHz, but not Intel X48-based platforms. Theoretically, this may mean that at this time Intel X48 is not as good overclocker as Nvidia’s new-generation core-logic. However, it should be pointed out that Nvidia’s nForce 790i SLI still needs further development: from time to time demo system at Corsair’s booth at CeBIT crushed, an indicator that the platform still needs to pass thorough testing before going on the market.


Nvidia nForce 790i SLI-based system running Corsair Dominator memory modules at 2133GHz

Thanks to efforts of companies like Elpida Memory and Micron Technology, both DDR2 and DDR3 clock-speeds are hardly limited by chips themselves, but rather by design of memory modules as well as capabilities of memory controllers. Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp. are doing their best provide platforms that have incredible overclocking capabilities and those chipsets are definitely appreciated by enthusiasts. But what is not completely clear now is the future if ultra high-speed memory modules and custom platforms. Intel’s code-named Nehalem processors will have built-in triple-channel DDR3 memory controller. It is not obvious that the memory controller will be good for overclocking, while it is natural that third-party chipset developers will not be able to help to improve it.

Second Impact: Power Color Develops Own Dual-Chip Graphics Card

For many years suppliers of graphics cards have not developed a single own-design high-end graphics board because both ATI Technologies and Nvidia Corp. did not let anyone to change their reference designs and controlled the production process of their high-end graphics solutions. But it looks like ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, has changed its mind and Power Color was allowed to create its own ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 board.


Power Color own-design ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card

Power Color’s dual-chip ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card looks completely differently compared to ATI’s original X2 model. The version from the maker of add-in-cards has higher print-circuit board, different cooler, different power supply circuitry and, most importantly, it carries GDDR4 memory onboard instead of GDDR3 on reference design.


Power Color own-design ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card

Power Color clocks graphics processing unit (GPU) at 825MHz, just according to recommendations of ATI, however, memory chips operate at 2250MHz, up considerably from the frequency of typical Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards. Despite of possible expectations, GDDR4-based graphics adapter should cost only about $20 more compared to GDDR3 version, which is not a huge hike considering potential performance increase that the card from Power Color should bring. The manufacturer expects the new product to reach the market sometime in late-March or early-April.

But the new ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics card may have a relatively short lifespan. A rumour says that ATI R700, the graphics accelerator based on two ATI RV770 processors is on-track to be released in mid-2008. If the information is correct, then Power Color’s own-made X2 board will only have about three months of life left. Still, it is a nice news that graphics cards vendors started to develop graphics cards themselves: this should ensure that going forward there will be graphics boards based on similar GPUs at different price-levels offering different performance (we do hope nobody plans to down performance of solutions vs. reference design).

Through Thorns to the… Cities: AMD Demos 45nm Wafers, Servers on Shanghai Processors.

It has been a tough year for Advanced Micro Devices: first, ATI Radeon HD 2000-series graphics chips did not come out on time, then quad-core AMD Opteron and AMD Phenom chips faced massive delays, then the microprocessor maker found an erratum inside chips based on the latest micro-architecture and afterwards the company delayed introduction of higher performance microprocessors. But maybe the things will change when AMD starts transition to 45nm process technology?


AMD's first 300mm wafers produced using 45nm process technology

At CeBIT 2008 AMD demonstrated its chips made using 45nm process technology for the first time. Unlike usually in such cases, AMD demonstrated not only wafers consisting of new dice, but a functioning system running quad-core AMD processors produced using 45nm fab tech. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to picture a server running them, but we will take the claim as granted…


Screenshot allegedly made on a system based on AMD's quad-core microprocessors produced using 45nm process technology

AMD does not tell exactly when the new chips will hit the mass market, but the history tells us that it is not going to happen really shortly.

The world’s second largest maker of x86 central processing units (CPUs) demonstrated first wafers with its quad-core code-named Barcelona chips for servers at CeBIT 2007, in mid-March. Shipments of such microprocessors started in late August, about five months afterwards.

Theoretically, AMD’s 45nm chips may emerge commercially as early as in four to six months from now, which is in either as early as in late June, or as late as in late August, 2008. It is not clear whether desktop versions of the chips will be considerably behind server versions of microprocessors in terms of timeframe, but it is obvious that it is in AMD’s interest to launch higher-performance desktop CPUs as early as possible.

Personal Computers for Everyone: GeCube Competes with Asus Eee PC

Asustek Computer’s Eee PC has become really poplar despite of the fact that it lacks performance and massive amount of capabilities. It looks like there is a customer base not looking for performance and feature-set, but focused on getting themselves something that sports a limited amount of capabilities at an affordable price-point. Following Asustek, numerous other Taiwan-based makers of hardware introduced their simplistic personal computers.

Despite of expectations, large motherboard producers Elitegroup Computer Systems, Gigabyte Technologies and Microstar International did not intro their low-cost small form-factor notebooks that would compete against Eee PC at CeBIT, however, Infotec Corp., which is best known for its GeCube-branded devices, introduced two systems that may potentially be considered as competitors for Asus Eee 7” machine. Perhaps, one is even better, however, considering the fact that GeCube hardly has the right channels for distribution of such devices, the potential of such devices my not be fully utilized.


GeCube Genie 10.2" notebook

The more advanced GeCube Genie small form-factor low-cost system has 10.2” screen, Via C7-M 1GHz microprocessor, 256MB or 512MB DDR2 memory as well as 2.5” hard disk drive. Depending on customer’s desires and wishes, the computers may come with either Linux or Windows operating system. While all the technical details about the product indicate that it may easily compete against Asus Eee PC in terms of performance, the obvious problem with it is that it is too bulky for this kind of performance. Moreover, GeCube brand-name is still not as well-known as Asus, which is likely to slowdown or even exclude adoption of the device by potential customers in developed countries. However, GeCube can easily sell its Genie 10” in developing countries.


GeCube Genie 7" notebook

The less powerful small form-factor low-cost system from GeCube has 7” display, embedded Intel 300MHz processor, up to 256MB of DDR2 memory and up to 2GB of local storage. GeCube is extremely tight-lipped regarding the CPU that it uses with such system, but what it does disclose is that the machine comes with x86 microprocessor. The lower-end PC from GeCube can only run Linux operating system. While the system is definitely not bulky and is really neat, the fact that it has even lower performance compared to Asus Eee PC makes it rather unusable even for users not demanding performance. Still, in developing markets like China, India and so on the Genie 7” may easily find adopters.

Generally speaking, the fact that GeCube again tries to penetrate a new markets should be considered as a positive one for the company, however, the current products may not bring immediate success, but their followers, if there are any, should definitely pose a lot of interest.

Cold As Ice: Thermaltake Demos Stock Freon Cooling System

For years Freon and cascade cooling systems for personal computers’ chips were proprietary and could hardly become a product for the mass market. But Thermaltake, a maker of various cooling solutions, has developed something that may revolutionize the market: a standardized Freon-based cooling solution.


Computer system equipped with Freon-based cooling solution by ThermalTake

Thermatake’s Freon cooling system, which does not have its name yet, will come up with the company’s own computer case. The company does not know yet whether it plans to offer different designs of its computer case with Freon cooling system, but that is certainly a thing that Thermaltake is taking into account and plans to consider shortly.


Computer system equipped with Freon-based cooling solution by ThermalTake

Given that copper is a relatively flexible metal, the system should be compatible with the vast majority of mainboards available on the market. However, in certain scenario Thermaltake may use certain flexible plastic to connect that CPU liquid block to the rest of the refrigerating system.

At the show Thermaltake demonstrated a system running Intel Core 2 processor at about 3.20GHz with temperature of just 28°C - 29°C.


Screenshot with system information made on the computer system equipped with Freon-based cooling solution by ThermalTake

The whole solution, which consists of a computer case and Freon-based refrigerating system itself, is expected to cost about $200, which is definitely not a lot considering the capabilities that it can offer.

Two Is Always Better Than One: EVGA Demonstrates Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2

While Nvidia has never announced its new-generation dual-chip graphics card called GeForce 9800 GX2, many graphics cards suppliers demonstrated one at the show. The only problem was that nobody could talk about performance of the solution.


EVGA e-GeForce GX2 graphics card based on two G92 graphics processing units

The design of Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 is completely different compared to both GeForce 7900/7950 GX2 as well as Radeon HD 3870 X2. Instead of placing two graphics processing units (GPUs) on the same print-circuit board (PCB) or just “merging” two pretty similar cards into one system, Nvidia created a solution that features two pretty different PCBs with chips facing each other. This allowed Nvidia to put only one fan on the graphics card, which may mean that the board will be relatively quiet. However, with two chips sharing one heatsink, the board should be rather hot and may require computer case with compulsory several fans inside.


EVGA e-GeForce GX2 graphics card based on two G92 graphics processing units

EVGA was among a number of companies that demonstrated Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics cards, however, it was the only maker who demonstrated the novelty without plastic enclosures, which allowed us to check out PCB of the new dual-chip solution. In addition, EVGA demonstrated specially-developed liquid-cooling solution for the new GX2 from Innovatek. EVGA plans to release the liquid-cooled GeForce 9800 GX2 at the same time with normal version, however, it will not increase clock-speeds of the product due to restrictions from Nvidia.


EVGA e-GeForce GX2 graphics card with liquid cooling solution

We do not know exact specifications of the product, but here is what we do know: Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 has its GPUs clocked in the range of 600-625MHz/1500MHz and 1GB of GDDR3 memory functioning at about 2GHz. Each GPU is projected to contain 128 active unified shader processors, hence, the whole solution may boast with 256 stream processors.


EVGA e-GeForce GX2 graphics card with liquid cooling solution

While performance of the model 9800 GX2 should be quite impressive, the whole solution may have a really short lifespan after it launches on the 18th of March, 2008. It is rumoured that Nvidia is on track to release a truly next-generation product that has considerably higher performance in mid-2008, just about a quarter after the 9800 GX2. There is no information about the next-generation by Nvidia, however, considering that the GeForce 8800 GTX was a considerably better performer than the GeForce 7950 GX2, it is almost inevitable that the new board will dethrone the GeForce 9800 GX2 immediately after the launch.