Intel And Sapphire
Intel: Content With The Crown
We met briefly with Intel, but already knew that the company didn’t have much to talk about so close on the heels of its Core i7 launch. Representatives reiterated plans for the mainstream Core i7 variant later this year with on-chip graphics, a different socket interface, and two channels of DDR3 memory support.
We also talked a bit about Nvidia’s Ion platform and Intel conceded that supply on the popular Atom processors is currently tight. However, the chip is, in fact, available in one of two forms: by itself or in a package with Intel’s complementary chipset, which jives with what we heard from Nvidia. In essence, it all boils down to price.
Afterward, we spent some time meandering around Intel’s large booth and ran into the guys from Hardcore Computers. They had their Reactor system on display, which is unlike any machine we’ve ever seen. It starts with a 790i motherboard sourced from Tyan and attached to a rack-like tray, which drops down into a large reservoir that is, in fact, the body of the chassis. Depending on the model you choose, the platform includes anything from a Core 2 Duo E8600 to a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 onboard. Some of the base specs look a little anemic, like 2 GB of DDR3 and a single 1 TB hard drive on the $4,500 Reactor Pro, but Hardcore does offer customization to up that to 4 GB.
Of course, if you’re really swimming in cash, you can take the Reactor to its limit with optional SLC SSDs, 3-way SLI using GeForce GTX 280s, and redundant 650 W power supplies. But the feature common to all Reactor configurations is Hardcore’s total submersion cooling system, whereby all of the components inside are surrounded by a synthetic, non-conductive (obviously) coolant. It was hard to tell on the noisy show floor, but the result of a design like that is naturally going to be quiet operation as the array of fans found in air-cooled machines get cut down to one 250 cfm blower.
There’s a lot of custom work that went into bringing the Reactor to market, so it’s hardly a surprise that Hardcore isn’t quite ready with its next-generation design. Nevertheless, the company says it’s still selling the systems based on Core 2 processors, and is completely comfortable putting the Reactor up against competing i7-based configurations. We’re looking forward to getting one of the boxes in-house in the near future.
Sapphire Talks Re-Worked Radeons
Nvidia is on the offensive right now with its GeForce GTX 295 and GTX 285 graphics cards, based on a new 55 nm manufacturing process from TSMC. As we’ll see over the next couple of days, both boards challenge AMD in areas where it has enjoyed significant success over the past six months. AMD’s Radeon HD 4870 1 GB and HD 4870 X2 cards have taken the company a long way in attracting enthusiast affection, but now it knows it needs to counter Nvidia’s moves.
In talking to Sapphire, we learned that, in addition to significant price cuts on the Radeon HD 4870 X2 (expected to take it to $399 after mail-in-rebate or $449 without), the company will also be re-working its Radeon HD 4850 X2, at the very least, to offer more compelling performance against Nvidia’s latest creations. If you were looking to scoop up a good deal on the 4850 X2, it might be worth waiting until those cards get whatever tweak Sapphire has planned.
Our own Don Woligroski had encountered some issues with the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 chosen for his last System Builder Marathon. Because that card remains a Sapphire exclusive, drivers still need to come from the company’s own Web site rather than AMDs. However, there are a new BIOS and driver available, which are said to fix the issues we were encountering last month.