Frank Stroupe’s Year In Review
Wow, we’re at the end of 2008. Looking back, it was a pretty significant year for PC geeks, at least in my department as a motherboard, memory, and video card guy. Intel took the FSB on their LGA 775 processors to 1333mHz, and then to 1600mHz. AMD’s Phenom finally became a reality. DDR3 memory came into its own by reaching 1600mHz, then 2000mHz and beyond. Late in the year, Intel released the i7, which looks to be a “turning the page” step in PC technology.
In my opinion, the big technological changes were in the video card department. Think about it.first, we get PCI-E 2.0, which doubled the bandwidth of the graphics interface. AMD/ATI released the first dual-GPU gaming card, the 3870 X2, then nVidia followed up with the 9800GX2. nVidia released the first sub-$200 gaming card capable of running AA with decent FPS in the geForce 9600GT, and a new generation of upper-end cards in the GTX 280 and GTX 260. Then ATI sets the market on its ear with the RV770 GPU, with 800 streaming processors, giving upper-end card performance in a sub-$200 card in the Radeon HD 4850, even better performance in the $300 HD 4870, and creating the most powerful gaming card in the world in the HD 4870 X2.
For those into the multiple video card game, nVidia’s Hybrid SLI, and ATI’s CrossFireX, both made significant advances in 2008. With Catalyst versions 8-11 and 8-12, it seems that ATI finally got it right, much to the pleasure of Radeon fans.
Like I said, a big year for PC Geeks.
I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank our sponsors for a great 2008.
As a hardware reviewer, 2008 was a pretty wild year for me, as I looked at some 75 products, more than doubling the number of reviews I did in 2007. I reviewed some really great products, and incredibly, none that you could have considered a “bad” product. Today I’ll point out a couple of those that I feel really stood out, and a couple that didn’t quite live up to the hype. As I normally continue to use a product long after the review, or give it to a friend, I get the opportunity to see benefits or flaws that may not have been obvious during the review.
To me, the most significant product to enter the market in 2008 was the Radeon HD 4850. Priced under $200, the 4850 gives performance that we previously had to pay well over $300 to get. Actually, it totally blew away nVidia’s 9800GTX, which was still selling for nearly $350 when the 4850 was released. The HD 4850, in my opinion, has significantly raised the bar for all future mid-range gaming video cards. I looked at two versions of the Radeon HD 4850, first the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic 512MB, a factory overclocked version of the HD 4850, sporting a Zalman VF-900 cooler. A few weeks later I reviewed the Palit Radeon HD 4850 Sonic 512MB, also factory overclocked, featuring a nice rectangular heatpipe cooler.
Both cards were equally impressive, and I still recommend either for someone wanting a powerful video card at a great price.
The second product I want to mention could also be called the most underrated high-end motherboard of the year, the Asus Striker II NSE. Sporting the nForce 790i SLI chipset, this motherboard was greatly overshadowed by its big brother, the Striker II Extreme, with its 790i Ultra SLI chipset, along with 790i Ultra SLI motherboards from other companies. I received this motherboard several weeks before its release, and at one point in time I wondered if Asus was actually going to sell them. About $100 cheaper than its Ultra brother, the only difference I could see between the two was the memory speed, 2000mHz on the Ultra version, and 1600mHz on the Striker II NSE. Though the Striker II Extreme and other 790i Ultra motherboards take some coaxing to get the full 2000mHz, I was able to take the Striker II NSE to DDR3-1818 with a little help from the technicians at Asus.
To be honest, I wasn’t totally impressed with the motherboard at first, but the more I used it, the more I loved it.
Not So Great
As I previously mentioned, I reviewed no “bad” products this year, so I first thought that it would be pretty hard to decide on the products I reviewed that didn’t live up to my expectations. But actually it was pretty easy with a quick glance over the products that I reviewed.
The Radeon HD 3850 X2 sounded like an awesome concept. A pair of 3850s hardwired in CrossFire with additional interface between the GPUs, and selling for over $100 less than its big brother, the HD 3870 X2, should have been a great video card. It wasn’t a bad card, but just didn’t perform as I thought that a $350 video card should. The biggest problem is the lack of AA capability, I assume being limited by the “master and slave” styled interface between the two GPUs. The HD 3850 didn’t handle AA well, and a pair of them did little better in the AA department. My conclusions stated that I felt it a “gotta have it” item, and I still feel that way. But to be honest, there is no reason to purchase this card now that the Radeon HD 4850 X2 is a reality.
Only a couple of companies produced the HD 3850 X2, including Asus, who happened to build this particular one.
I reviewed 19 motherboards this year. Each one had its good points and bad points, and most of the flaws were corrected by a BIOS update, and that includes this motherboard. The Asus P5Q-E isn’t a bad motherboard. Price, features, and performance are fine, and this motherboard is still being used daily by a good friend, who performs reviews using this board. I got the highest overclock that I’ve achieved on my C2D E-8400 with this board. It is a full-featured motherboard that sold for over $50 less than a mainstream board.
The only real problem I had with the P5Q-E was the out-of-the-box memory compatibility. It is the only motherboard I have owned that did not accept the first memory I installed. I have lots of memory around, so I was able to find a kit that worked so I could update the BIOS, which corrected the problem. The beginning builder doesn’t have the luxury of extra memory, including the six people that contacted me after the review asking how I got the board working, because they were having the same problem.
And even now, a few months later, if someone happens to pick up a P5Q-E with the original BIOS installed, they will have the same problem.
2009 – What Will it Bring?
So what do I expect from 2009? First, I will have the opportunity to welcome a new sponsor to ThinkComputers, MSI. My last review of this year or first of 2009 will be a video card from them. I expect to soon have an i7 processor, so expect some X58 motherboards and triple channel memory kits early in the year. AMD’s new generation of Phenom will hopefully come in the early spring, and I expect to be able to bring you some reviews of new motherboards for that system.
Who knows what ATI and nVidia will do next in the VGA department? Whatever they do, expect it to be awesome, considering how this year ended.
Finally, I’d like to thank you, our readers, for your support. I have received many personal emails this year thanking me for reviews, or for additional help I provided someone that read one of my reviews. I don’t take my job as a hardware reviewer lightly, and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. Have a great New Year.