Mac Pro Refresh 2019 – Expansion and memory

Apple finally brought a new Mac Pro design to the table. It is a return to the tower format, with some serious expandability and options.

Mac Pro 2019 front view

The CPU(s) are still Xeon workstation class processors, which means far higher expandability and bandwidth to interface with the world than the consumer Core i-series CPUs. Available Xeons go from a base of 8 cores to 28 cores, each with Hyperthreading for 2x the number.

Twelve memory sockets in 6 banks means a maximum of 768 GB on the 8 – 16 core machines and 1.5 TB of memory in the top-end 24 and 28 core models. Memory is DDR4-2666 MHz or 2933MHz ECC Registered or Load Reduced DIMMs

CanadaRAM has memory for this specification, compatibility will be confirmed after the Mac Pro ships.

Bringing back the PCI-e slot is huge. This is one of the things that killed the Cylindrical MacPro design, lack of ability to install upgrades. Well they are back in a big way, eight PCI-e slots to be exact, fed by 64 lanes of PCI-e communications from the Xeon CPU. Four of the PCI-e 3.0 slots are double-width, full length so they can accommodate large video cards. Apple announced proprietary single and dual GPU (AMD Vega II and Vega II Duo) graphics accelerators for rendering and support of multiple high resolution monitors. Up to 2 of the Vega cards can be installed for up to 4 GPUs. Apple is using MPX, a proprietary extension to the slot, to provide power and additional PCI-e lanes to these modules.

Mac Pro 2019 side (open) showing 2 x Vega II modules and one Afterburner module installed

Also announced is something else we haven’t seen for some time, a PCI-e hardware co-processor module (Afterburner) for high end video rendering. Apple software (Final Cut Pro X and QuickTime Player X) exploit the Afterburner module, we will have to wait and see which other software manufacturers get on board with it.

Four Thunderbolt 3 ports (on the USB-C connector style) are included, (two of them on the top of the tower) and internal storage is on two M.2-style SSD blades encrypted by the onboard T2 chip (no spinning hard drives inside this machine). These SSD slots are likely to be proprietary Apple modifications to the M.2 standard, we will see when the MacPro ships.

Expansion strategies for content producers will be two to four M.2 SSD blades on a PCI-e card, plus multidrive Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C RAID arrays. We expect OWC to come out of the gate with replacement SSD blades, PCI-e cards, plus they already have an array of Thunderbolt 3 RAID drives under their OWC and Akitio brand names.

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iMac 2019 Memory configuration

The 27 inch iMac for 2019 (5K, 2019) introduced DDR4 memory at the 2666 MHz speed, and an upper limit of 128 GB RAM. DDR4-2666 (PC4-21300) non ECC SODIMMs. Apple originally stated a 64 GB limit, however 32 GB modules have been tested and work in a 128 GB configuration.

(As usual, the 21.5 inch (4K, 2019) machine is not user-upgradeable in RAM, although a professional installed can strip the machine down to access the needlessly buried sockets.)

The 27 inch iMac remains at four memory sockets, which should be installed in pairs of memory. The standard configuration is 2 x 4 GB SODIMMs for 8 GB total (which today is the absolute minimum that a machine needs to run, 16 GB is the practical starting point for running applications)

You can install 2 pairs with different capacities, so you could add 2 x 8 GB to the stock 2 x 4 GB for 24 GB of RAM. Later you could take out the 2 x 4 GB and add 2 x 16 GB for 48 GB total

CanadaRAM memory for iMac 2019

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Can I build a gaming computer under $1000 March 2018 edition

It’s March 2018 and we are revisiting our exercise in budget computing: Can we build a computer that will give acceptable gaming performance for under $1000 Canadian?

Here’s what’s new: DDR4 RAM has doubled in price, and dragged SSD pricing higher along with, it due to shortages in chip production. The demand from cryptocurrency miners has played Hob with video card prices and availability, which means to get a gaming system under $1000 some serious trade-offs have to be made in video card performance.

NVidia still have the 10xx series GeForce cards, which came out in 2016. However the 1070 and 1080 cards are almost impossible to get.  AMD’s Radeon RX 5xx series is competitive and the price point / hash rates of the RX 580 card has proven irresistible to miners, so they are similarly unavailable, and prices have skyrocketed on both brands of high end cards.

The component that has the most impact on performance in a gaming computer is the video card, so budget compromises have to be made between the relative costs of the GPU video card vs CPU processor vs SSD drives.

And here is where we have our problem, because the GTX 1060 6GB (Passmark score 8,899, average cost about $500) GTX 1060 3G (8,872, $409), RX 570 (6,726, $460) and R9 580 4GB (8,284, $522) were the price-performance choices but this price equation has been severely skewed.  The NVidia GTX 1070 (11,113, $800+) breaks the bank thoroughly and none of these cards are readily available.

The GTX 1050TI (5,858, $308)  and the RX 560 (4,497, $245) gain us some savings, but we give up a substantial amount of speed.

An off-the-wall way to get a lowest price machine is to get a Ryzen 3-1300G based machine with AMD Radeon Vega graphics onboard, and plan to upgrade to a video card later. This can be done under $800, or for $963 with the better Ryzen 5 2400G and 16 GB RAM.

The best bang for the buck on CPUs is still an entry level Intel Core i5 CPU or the new AMD Ryzen 5 1600 6-core CPU. The dark horse is the Intel Coffee Lake i3-8xxx series, which has 4 cores, no hyperthreading or overclocking, but delivers excellent base clock speed.  At the moment it still requires a bit more expensive of a motherboard.

Here are suggested configurations at about the $1000 price point (before tax, Canadian dollars, current to Mar 1 2018).  We have had to stretch the definition of “about” and the definition of “gaming performance”

In all of the configurations, we have gone with motherboards that have:

  • one PCI-e video card slot x16
  • USB 3.1 on board
  • SATA III (6.0 Gb/s) on board
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000BT), no WiFi
  • On the AMD build we have dropped down to a micro-ATX board with 2 RAM slots and a single video card PCI-e x16 slot to save some cash, as long as you are willing to live with 32 GB max memory.  Upgrading to an ATX board with four RAM slots, additional PCI-e lanes, and 64 GB of RAM capacity would add about $100 more.  SLI and Crossfire are fading in popularity, so the advantage of two video card x16 slots is diminishing.

We have gone with a 240 GB SSD drive as a primary drive on each machine, for the speed of booting and loading.  Its easy to add an extra hard drive if you need the space for file storage. Please note that we have costed-in a retail Windows 10 license (which is necessary unless you have a retail license of Windows 10, because manufacturer-bundled Windows versions can’t be transferred from one machine to another)

So here are our contenders:

AMD Ryzen 5 – 4 core system – the costs of video cards, DDR4 RAM and SSD has blown the budget on a discrete video card system.  By dropping to a cheap case and powersupply, a 2-RAM socket entry level motherboard, a single RAM DIMM and a lower end graphics card, just about powerful enough for gaming, we can get it to $1100.  Of course if you already have a keyboard and mouse and a retail version of Windows, you can save there.  The downside of this is that you will need to invest in more RAM later, and in a new power supply if you upgrade to a higher end video card.

Case Epower Case  Mid Tower with 450W PSU TP-2001BB-450 $54
Motherboard Asus Motherboard PRIME A320M-K AMD AM4 A320 DDR4 up to 32GB 3200MHz, SATA, M.2, USB 3.0 uATX, HDMI, DVI $86
Power supply  included with case
 SSD drive Kingston 240 GB  UV400 Series SSD $135
Memory DDR4-2400 8GB DIMM $130
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 1400  4 cores 8 threads with fan YD1400BBAEBOX $231
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS $20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01 $39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) $15
Video card Asus GTX 1050TI 4 GB









OS Windows 10 OEM KW9-00140 $131
Cooler Stock cooler Included with CPU
PCI-eG Power Power cable for Video card 8 pin adapter cable  $10
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly  AMD RX560


NVidia 1050TI




 Options / substitutions more RAM

Ryzen 5 1800X 6 core/ 12 thread chip

GTX 1060 6GB video card

to a total of 16GB

faster clock speed and more powerful for multi-threaded apps

Higher performance GPU

Add $120




AMD No Graphics Card Ryzen 3 G

The Ryzen / Radeon Vega system makes use of system RAM for the graphics, so its important to have enough RAM. But also, it makes the performance of the graphics more than usually dependent on the memory speed, so this is one instance where you’d consider dropping some extra memory into DDR4-3000 or even 3200 MHz RAM.

Case Epower Case  Mid Tower with 450W PSU TP-2001BB-450 $54
Motherboard Asus Motherboard PRIME A320M-K AMD AM4 A320 DDR4 up to 32GB 3200MHz, SATA, M.2, USB 3.0 uATX, HDMI, DVI $86
Power supply 450W  included with case
 SSD drive Kingston 240 GB  UV400 Series SSD $135
Memory DDR4-2400 8 Gb $130
CPU  AMD AM4 Ryzen3 2200G BOX 65W with Wraith Stealth cooler YD2200C5FBBOX $146
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS $20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01 $39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) $15
Video card None
OS Windows 10 OEM KW9-00140 $131
Cooler Stock cooler Included with CPU
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly $756
Options/ Substitutions Ryzen 5 2400G 4 core 8 thread 3.2GHz/3.9 Turbo

16 GB RAM (2x8GB) 2400 MHz

Upgrade to 16 GB RAM, 3000 MHz

 with Radeon Vega 11, 11-core GPU graphics onboard


Dual channel. Add to base price


Add to base price



Add $87


Add $120



Intel 4-core system – here’s where things get interesting. Last year’s build had an i5-4460 in a B85 motherboard. For today’s system we are moving to the Coffee Lake i3-8100 at 3.6 GHz. To bring it below $1200, we will have to compromise with a lower video card, as budget-priced motherboards for the Coffee Lake CPUs haven’t shipped yet.


Case CoolerMaster Case Elite 350 ATX Mid Tower 500W Power Supply 4/1/(6) Bay USB Audio Black RC-350-KKR500-GP  89
Motherboard MSI ATX Intel Z370 up to 64GB DDR4 2 x PCI Express x16, SATA, GB LAN, M.2 Z370-A PRO 179
Power supply 500W included with case
SSD Drive Kingston UV400 240 GB 135
Memory DDR4-2400 8GB DIMM 130
CPU Intel i3-81000 4 core  3.6 GHz, 6MB cache BX80684I38100 170
Optical drive Asus DVD-RW DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS  20
Keyboard and Mouse Thermaltake Keyboard  USB COMMANDER Gaming Gear Combo KB-CMC-PLBLUS-01  39
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case) 15
Video card

Overclocked, 2 GB of video memory

NVidia GTX 1050TI 4 GB









OS Windows 10 OEM 131
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly  AMD RX560


NVidia GTX 1050TI 4 GB




 Options / substitutions more RAM

Intel i3 4 core CPU 4GHz and cooler

GTX 1060 6GB video card

to a total of 16GB dual channel

BX80684I38350K faster clock speed and 8MB cache

Higher performance GPU

Add $120



Other upgrades:

Gaming Mouse: (note that you don’t want a wireless mouse or keyboard for gaming)

Keyboard: Logitech Gaming Keyboard G110 12 programmable keys, backlighting, USB audio $96 or mechanical keyboard, $150 and up

Previous posts

April 2015
Feb 2014

Posted in General Computer, How-To, PC Gaming, Performance, Upgrading | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where did the screw holes go? 8 and 10 TB hard drive mounting issue

So you’ve got your shiny new Seagate IronWolf or Western Digital Red Pro 10 TB hard drive and your’re itching to install it in your MacPro or NAS appliance.  You pull out the drive tray and grab your screwdriver and…  There’s 4 screw holes on the bottom of the drive, widely spaced, and only the end two line up with your drive tray.  What’s  going on?

The newest large capacity hard drives have add an extra data platter (or two) in order to fit a gargantuan amount of data in the 3.5 inch form factor.  In order to make room for this, they have had to move two of the screw holes on the bottom surface of the drive. The side mounting holes are present and accounted for, so mounting in most PC cases is no problem.  But, for machines that use a tray for the hard drive, (also known as a carrier or a sled), if that tray relies on the older narrow bolt pattern for bottom mounting, you are in a pickle.

From Western Digital
in this example, the older narrow pattern is called ‘Current’ and the wide pattern is called ‘Alternate’.

Hard Drive Screw Holes

As far as we can tell, all 4 TB drives are fine with the narrow pattern, and starting with Seagate 5 and 6 TB drives, some drives use the new wide pattern, including all of the current 10 TB drives. Western Digital produced some 4 and 5 platter larger drives with the old pattern but with shallower side screw holes, meaning that shorter screws have to be used or a washer has to be employed. Later WD high capacity drives went to the new wide hole pattern.

What’s confusing is that, even within the same model line, such as the 8 TB Red series from WD, newer Reds (rebadged Hitachi drives) use the wide pattern while older 8 TB Reds used the narrow pattern with shallow holes.

Some Seagate large capacity drives have also done away with the center screws on the sides, which is a problem for some tool-less trays that have studs in the center position.

For the Mac Pro tower machines (2006-2012), there is a solution, OWC has a replacement drive tray which is compatible with both of the hard drive screw patterns

OWCMPRODBKTLG6  CAN$39 purchase link

OWC Mac Pro Drive Bracket

For some PC cases, and for many NAS and RAID multi-drive enclosures, you’ll want to inspect your unit before purchasing drives to ensure they use the side-mounting screws, and/or modify your existing drive trays to suit the new pattern.

Posted in Hard Drive News, Hard Drives and SSD, Mac questions, Windows questions | 1 Comment

The king is dead, long live the king – iMac Pro announced

Apple announced the release in December 2017 of the iMac Pro, a multicore Xeon based iMac all in one machine.

Its hard to see this as anything other than the death-knell for the cylindrical MacPro platform – the same processor, the same connectivity.  Sales of the MacPro slumped when Apple went from the aluminum tower to the cylindrical  MacPro – in my opinion for the very simple reason that video and audio production environments eat hard drives for breakfast, the MacPro tower had a generous four hard drive bays (plus two optical drive bays). The rotating-diskless format 2013 MacPro forced users to invest heavily in external Thunderbolt storage enclosures.

So what differentiates the MacPro from the iMac Pro? The screen. Apple has basically taken a Xeon server architecture, juiced up with a proprietary Apple T2 controller chip, a new SSD RAID format, swapped out the dual Fire GPUs for a single Radeon Pro Vega 56 or 64 GPU with 8 GB GDDR, rolled it flat, and glued it into the iMac 27 inch chassis behind a Retina 5K screen.

Does this mean that Apple no longer wants video and engineering professionals to choose their own monitor screens?  You’ll be able to add another two 5K screens by Thunderbolt 3 / Displayport (or more, if you can live with lower resolution), but you are married to the 27 inch screen purchase whether you like it or not.

By pre-announcing the iMac Pro by 6 months, (which if I recall correctly is unprecedented in Apple marketing history), Apple has chilled sales of the MacPro 2013 machine, and all but announced there will be no further updating of that platform as we now know it.

Transcript: Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi and John Ternus on the state of Apple’s pro Macs

The iMac Pro was announced with 8- 10- and 18-core versions of the Intel Xeon processor (a 14 core config was added later), 1TB, 2TB or 4TB of SSD, and DDR4-2666 ECC memory that is ‘Configurable’ to 64 or 128 GB.  If you have been following, ‘configurable’ is Applespeak for “You cannot upgrade the memory or the SSD yourself”, so you are locked into the configuration that you order from the factory.  There are some indications that the memory does have sockets, so an Apple authorized service centre can add RAM,

This means that you cannot get the base level machine (if you can consider US$4999 to be basic) and then upgrade RAM and SSD as the budget allows. You have to make the spending commitment up front.

The following are in Canadian dollars, comparing the Jan 2018 to the Sept 2019 pricing

Basic 8-Core machine 32 GB RAM 1 GB SSD
2018-01 $6,299  same price in 2019-09
Configure 32 GB to 64 GB: 2018-01 $960 2019-09 $480
Configure 32 GB to 128 GB: 2018-01 $2,880 2019-09 $2,400

(Of course you can get your upgrade memory from CanadaRAM for a considerable savings iMac Pro memory )

Configure 1 TB SSD to 2 TB SSD 2018-01: $960  2019-09 $480
Configure 1 TB SSD to 4 TB SSD 2018-01: $3,360 2019-09 $1,440

Xeon 8 core to 10 core:  $960 same price in 2019
Xeon 8 core to 14 core:  $1,920 same price
Xeon 8 core to 18 core:  $2,880 same price

So the envelope says… the real buy-in is $8,219 to $15,419 for an upgraded machine.

For their part, Apple has said they are ‘completely rethinking’ the MacPro design – “our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers” – and may have an announcement this year.

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2017 iMac machines use DDR4 memory

Apple released a refresh to the iMac lineup June 5 2017.

The iMac machines are noted for their all in one desktop design with high-quality ‘Retina’ LCD screens (5K resolution on the 27 inch, 4K resolution on the 21.5 inch).  These latest iMacs use the Intel Kaby Lake series processors, which are faster and cooler than their predecessors.

The biggest change on the memory front is that they have switched to DDR4 memory from the earlier DDR3.

As we have seen before, the iMac 21.5 inch models are not upgradeable, you can choose a pre-installed RAM amount from the factory only (Configurable to 16 GB, or to 32 GB on the top 3.4GHz model). These machines are glued together, and are not accessible to someone other than a technician.

The new 27 inch machines have a 4-SODIMM slot configuration like earlier models, and the 3.6 GHz and 3.8 GHz machines can go to 64 GB RAM with four DDR4 16 GB SODIMM modules.  The modules are specified at 2400 MHz (PC4-19600), which is one step up from the entry level 2133 MHz that most DDR4 machines use.

One puzzle is that the 27 inch 3.4 GHz i5 machine is limited to 32 GB total RAM in the Apple Technical Specifications.  This may be a hardware limitation, or purely a marketing decision on Apple’s part.  There’s no technical reason the memory controller in the Kaby Lake CPU can’t handle 64 GB. stocks DDR4  memory for the iMac 2017 models

Apple’s other claims for the new machines include faster graphic performance with Radeon Pro 500-series discrete graphic chips, and faster performing SSD drives (claiming 50% faster). Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the machine will run 50% faster, these figures are a bit of specsmanship – raw theoretical bandwidth numbers are several steps removed from real-world performance improvement.

All of the 27 inch models come standard Quadcore i5 CPUs and with 1TB or 2TB Fusion drives (a hybrid of a small SSD and a larger spinning hard drive, ‘spliced’ together by the operating system).  Fusion drive sets are faster than standard hard drives but slower than straight SSD drives. Apple is choosing this approach to bridge between the high storage demands of media (all those iTunes Movies and Photos libraries) and the high cost of large SSD drives.

The standard configurations can be customized with larger Fusion drives, or 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD drives, and the 3.6GHz and 3.8 GHz models with Quadcore i7 processors (note that 8 core i7s are not offered)

Apple claims that their latest Retina screens are brighter and have more accurate color that the previous models, partially due to the use of red-green LED backlighting.

The iMacs come standard with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which share the same connector form factor as USB C.  With the correct Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 peripherals, this enables high speed storage as well as connection of multiple displays. Owners of Thunderbolt 1 and 2 peripherals will have to get a TB3 to TB2 converter. The iMacs retain 4 standard USB 3.0 A-Type ports for peripherals like keyboard, mice and printers.

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New MacBook Pros and USB C (and Thunderbolt and video, and network, and power)

The new MacBook Pros announced October 27 2016 have taken the plunge that we guessed was coming: All USB Type C ports, all the time.  (for a refresher on Type C, see our article here)

Following on after the opening salvo of the 2015 MacBook Retina, Apple has jettisoned all other digital ports in favour of the small USB Type-C 3.1 port for power, video, storage, networking and peripherals.  The first and most obvious effect is that your USB printers, mice, USB memory sticks, scanners and external hard drives have nowhere to plug in, and neither do your cabled network connection and expensive new Thunderbolt drives.  That’s more than a little inconvenient.

Fortunately there are some adapters on the market to make things connectible.  Cable adapters are available for USB C to:

  • USB 3.0 A Female (this is the one for using your existing peripherals with)
  • USB 3.0 A Male (this will be little used but can be used for charging. Reportedly, this can be used in Target Disk Mode between two Macs)
  • HDMI video (in both 1080p and 4K versions)
  • VGA video (carry this if you have to hook up to other peoples projectors for meetings and presentations
  • DVI Video and DVI video plus USB C charging port
  • RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet (for wired networks when WiFi won’t do)
  • USB 3.o Micro B and USB 2.0 Micro B and USB 2.0 Mini B (for phones, tablets, cameras, etc., choose the right one(s) for your devices)
  • Lightning (for iPhones and iPads)
  • USB C to USB C for charging and for connecting USB C peripherals.


There are also combination adapters that give multiple USB 3.0 Female ports, and/or video and network outputs.  One key thing to look for in a combo adapter is the presence of a USB C Female port for charging power.  If you have a combo adapter with video & or network out, plus an extra charger and a C to C cable, then you have a functional desktop dock that you can leave at your desk and plug into your laptop with just one connection when you sit down. Combo adapters are available in

  • 4 x USB 3.0 A Female plus USB C charging port
  • 1 x USB 3.o A Female,1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x HDMI video plus USB C charging port
  • 3 x USB 3.0 A Female 1 x Gigabit Ethernet plus USB C charging port

Link to CanadaRAM’s USB 3.1/Type C cables, adapters and hubs page

OWC has a full blown USB C docking station with 4 x USB 3.1 A Female (Gen 1) . HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio out, SD card reader, 2 x USB C 3.1 Female and has its own 80W power input to charge the MacBook Pro and power the USB A ports.


But what about Thunderbolt?

The new Thunderbolt 3 specification uses the USB Type C, connector, so Thunderbolt is included in the USB C ports of the new Macs, which means you can potentially have four Thunderbolt drive daisy-chains (but read more later*).  As of this writing, the only game in town for Thunderbolt 1 and 2 devices is the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.


So if you are keeping track, there was the DisplayPort video interface, which Apple implemented using the Mini DisplayPort connector, then Thunderbolt was introduced using the same connector as MiniDisplay port, so you had storage+video. Now the USB bus + Thunderbolt storage + DisplayPort video protocol are all embedded in the new USB C / Thunderbolt 3 port.

Those of us still using Firewire drives, video cameras and audio interfaces may be at the end of the road, as it is yet to be seen if the triple shuffle of Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter then an Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter will work.

* For more details, the USB C ports on the Late 2016 machines do implement the full Gen 2 10 Gbps bandwidth USB 3.1 protocol, as opposed to the MacBook Retina (which ran Gen 1 at half the potential speed), and all ports on the new MacBook Pros support Thunderbolt 3.  However the MacBook Pro 13 inch models with the TouchBar do not implement the full Thunderbolt 3 throughput on 2 of the 4 ports, the ones on the right hand side have reduced PCI-e performance.  The USB C port on the 2015 Retina MacBook does not support Thunderbolt.

Apple has done this before, abandoning 3.5in floppy drives long before the rest of the industry, dropping Firewire from their Pro models for Thunderbolt, dropping optical drives and abandoning SATA internal drive connections and hard drives in the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro models entirely for frustratingly proprietary SSD interfaces.


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I have lousy WiFi reception – what can I do?

I can’t get good WiFi reception in my living room, my router is in the basement on the opposite side of the house

In order to achieve reliable WiFi performance, you have to get a strong radio signal from the router to your computer, tablet or TV streaming device. There  are a variety of things that can degrade the wireless signal:

  • Distance – radio waves follow the inverse square power law: if you are twice as far away from the source, the power of the signal will drop to 25% of what it was.  The closer you are to the router, the better the signal – and the signal drops off precipitously as you get further away.
  • Blocking – the construction of the building and furnishings can block the transmission of the radio signals.  Prime problems are brick, marble, rock or concrete (doubly so if reinforced), 1950’s plaster or stucco on wire mesh, large metal appliances, water and mirrors.
  • Interference – microwave ovens, other wireless devices such as cordless phones, game controllers, Bluetooth devices (especially older ones), garage door openers, fluorescent lights, improperly installed satellite dishes and particularly -all your neighbors’ wireless networks – can interfere by creating noise on the frequencies that your router uses.

WiFi is designed to be resilient, if it can’t get the data packet through the first time, it will keep trying. Unfortunately, while this means that your network is still showing as “working”, it also means that the performance is slowed down, and sometimes too slow to be usable for timing-critical applications like streaming video and Skype calls.

Things you can do right away

  • Re-position the router and or the device so that they are closer together and/or avoid being blocked. Occasionally all that is needed is to move a machine a few feet.
  • Change the frequency band on a dual-band router (and on the device to match) – if you have a problem with interference on the 2.4 GHz band, switching the router to the 5 GHz band may help by moving the WiFi signal away from the frequencies of the interference.
  • Change the channel of the router – in the administrative settings of the router, you should be able to find a setting for the channel, which is probably set to one default, or automatic. Typically you will see channels 1 – 11 as options.  Try different channels until you find the one that gives the most reliable reception.
  • If all of your wireless devices are Wireless N standard, set the router to work on N only, not “automatic” or B/G/N mode.

Longer term fixes

  • Run a cable. Yes, it is a big one-time effort, but wired Ethernet will always be more reliable than wireless.  See if you can utilize a crawlspace, attic, or interior closets to help run CAT6 (Category 6 unshielded twisted pair) Ethernet cable, or consult with a low-voltage cabling contractor.

    I couldn’t get acceptable NetFlix performance on my AppleTV until I ran a cable from the router to the AppleTV directly.

  • Get a more powerful router, and one with dual band capability that can operate in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
  • Add stronger antennas to your existing router if it has the standard RP-SMA antenna connectors. Your standard router antennas are probably 2dB gain, replacement antennas can be 5dB or 8dB. Some aftermarket antennas are free-standing and come with a length of cable, allowing you to re-position the antennas independently from the router.
  • Get a better WiFi adapter for your laptop or desktop.  If your laptop machine has built in WiFi, it will be using an antenna that is typically looped around the LCD screen in the machines top.  You might get better results with a USB connected WiFi adapter that has its own external antenna.
  • Add a range extender (also called a repeater or an access point). A range extender is typically positioned mid-way between the router and your problem location. It picks up the radio signal from the router, and rebroadcasts it at full power for the devices in its area.The range extender can only work as well as the signal it gets, so  you have to position it where it gets some reliable reception from the main router.  If there are zero or 1 “bars” of WiFi reception at the range extender’s location, then it won’t be able to help much. Re-position the range extender where it can get a better signal.

    This technique was used for one client who had a massive stone fireplace in the center of the house, with literally zero reception 20 feet from the router on the other side of the fireplace. We used a range extender to do a triangle around the fireplace, putting it where it was line of sight to both the router and the device.

  • Or even better, run an Ethernet cable from the router to the range extender – check the specifications of the range extender first, not all of them accept a wired connection. Some routers such as the Asus RT-N series have AP/Range extender modes, so can be configured to work together with another router.
  • If there is no possibility of installing Ethernet cable, you could investigate Powerline Ethernet, which uses pairs of adapters to send a signal over the building’s AC power wires.  There are some limitations with this approach, and the electrical outlets being used have to be on the same circuit panel.  This approach is highly variable, it sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
  • If you are setting up outdoor WiFi, or trying to send a signal from one building to another, there are specialized antennas and access points that are made for outdoor mounting, and with the option of directional antennas.  The normal router antenna broadcasts the signal in a 360 degree circle (omnidirectional).  A directional antenna takes the radio signal power, and focuses it all in one direction, which allows for longer distances.



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USB 3.1 and USB Type C: What *is* that port?

The latest iteration of the USB standard is making its way onto motherboards and into notebooks.  With USB 3.1 Type A connectors and USB C (or Type C) connectors, 5 Gbps and 10 Gbps, we have a bit of ‘splaining to do…

There’s some ground to cover:  Port Type, Power, and Signalling type

Port Type
There are two ports in play, the USB 3.1 Type A connector, which looks like the USB 3.0 Type A, and is backwards compatible to 3.0 and 2,0, and the Type C connector which is smaller but is now reversible (so no more rotating the plug around until it fits).

One wrinkle is that the Type C connector does not have to be USB 3.1 – it can be used with a plain USB 3.0 signal, such as with a smartphone which doesn’t need (or want) the extra speed and higher power demands of 3.1.  You won’t be able to tell by looking at the Type C connector whether it is a 3.0 or 3.1 implementation.

USB 3,1 Type C-A Comparison

In order to use a Type C connector with USB Type A or B device, you’ll need some adapters or adapter cables.

The USB Type C standard allows for higher power connections through the USB ports, up to 100W (up to 2A at 5V; 5A at 12V; and 5A at 20V). This is good news for larger, faster hard drives, external monitors, and all manner of peripherals that languish with the USB 2.0 500mA limitation or the USB 3.0 2.0A cap.  Some machines, like the new stripped-down MacBook 2015 model, turn the tables on the USB interface and use the Type C USB 3.1 jack as the power input for the machine.

Signalling is where the rubber meets the road. There are two Generations to the USB 3.1 signal standard, Gen 1 and Gen 2 (branded as SUPERSPEED+).

  • Gen 1 provides for 5 Mbps bandwidth, the same as USB 3.0,
  • Gen 2 provides for 10 Mbps bandwidth (theoretically up to 1.2 GB/sec)

In addition to the wider bandwidth, the Gen 2 USB 3.1 signalling improves on the encoding of the data over previous USB versions, making it quite a bit more efficient by reducing the overhead to as little as 3%.

However, there are still limitations to USB as a hard drive connection (with TRIM on SSDs and handling multi-drive RAID arrays) which mean that Thunderbolt 2 (2o Gbps with PCI-e signalling and robust drive support) will remain the king of the externally-connected professional storage castle for the foreseeable future. has done some testing of real-world transfer speeds on USB 3.1

What’s on the horizon for products?

Apple is early out of the gate with the MacBook, which loses ALL of its ports (video, power and USB) and replaces them with a single USB 3.1 Type C.  Its worth mentioning that the 2015 MacBook only implements USB 3.1 Gen 1 on its Type C port, so it does not gain superhuman transfer speed strength.

Apple sells USB 3.1 Type C male to Type A Female passive adapters

Google’s latest Chromebook design more sensibly includes two Type C and two Type A ports.

MSI have been equipping 12 of their high end motherboards with USB 3.1 support.
MSI USB 3,1MSI’s newest motherboards. These ones:

  • Z97A (for Haswell CPUs and DDR3)
  • X99A motherboards (for Haswell-ES CPUs and DDR4)
  • 970A and 99FX for AMD

include USB 3.1 Type A ports
And the Z97A GAMING 6 motherboard includes USB 3.0 Type A ports and one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C port at 10 Mbps. (It also includes a M.2 SSD slot and a SATA-Express combo connector so it’s just chock full of newness).

Asus_USB_3_1_CardAsus has announced motherboards and an add-in USB 3.1 PCI-e card which can theoretically add USB 3.1 to any machine with an available PCI-e slot (Driver and BIOS updates will be required, apparently.  Check the Asus Qualified Vendor List for compatibility first).



And of course, to be able to use the power and speed of USB 3.1, you’ll need peripherals such as drives that have USB 3.1 support circuitry. We are watching to see what products hit the market first.


LaCie has announced external USB 3.1 Type C hard drives to match the MacBook 2015, their Porsche Design aluminium series in 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB sizes.


HighPoint have announced a RocketStor 5411D USB 3.1 Type A 5 Gbps hard drive dock with additional USB 3.0 ports, a SD card reader, Ethernet RJ-45 and audio input/output, intended to be used as a docking station for a MacBook 2015. Highpoint have confirmed that although it comes with an AC adapter for its own functions, the RocketStor will not charge the MacBook while plugged in.



Cables and adapters for USB 3.1 are available from Kanex, Startech and Vantec  (CanadaRAM USB 3.1 cables and adapters Link)


USB-C > Gigabit Ethernet AdapterKanex_KU3CGBT_USB3C-GbENRJ45F

USB-C > HDMI Adapter

USB-C > USB Female Type A Adapter Kanex KU3CA107I USB3C-USB3FemaleA
USB-C > USB Male Type A CableKanex_KU3CA111M_USB3C-USB3MaleA

USB-C > Micro USB CableKanex_KU3CMB111M_USB3C-USB2MicroB
USB-C > Micro-B CableKanex_KU3CMB111M_USB3C
USB-C > Mini-B CableKanex_KUCMN111M_USB3C
USB-C > Standard-B USB 3.0 Type B Peripheral CableKanex_KU3CSB111M_USB_C-B


Vantec have announced USB 3.1 drive enclosures with Gen II Type A interfaces for 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch SATA drives

Startech have announced cables to be available later this summer.
USB2AC1M USB 2.0 USB-C to USB 2.0 A cable (male) 1m (3ft)

USB2CB1M USB 2.0 USB-C to USB 2.0 B cable (male) 1m (3ft)

USB2CUB1M USB 2.0 USB-C to USB 2.0 Micro-B cable (male) 1m (3ft)

USB31AC1M USB 3.1 USB-C to USB 3.0-A cable (male) 1m (3ft)

USB31CAADP USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) USB-C to USB-A Female adapter, 6in


AData have announced USB flash drives with 3.1 Type C On The Go (OTG) connectorsAData_UD350C_USB3_C_OTG

and the ADATA SE700 series external USB 3.1 Type C hard drivesAData_SE700_USB3_1_Drive

SanDisk have announced swiveling Dual USB flash drives with both USB3.1 Type A  and USB3.1 Type C OTG connectors.

Unitek have shown a docking solution which has USB 3.0 Type A ports, HDMI video, Gigabit Ethernet, and crucially, a PD (Power Delivery) Type C port for a MacBook 2015 power adapter, which can charge the MacBook while the dock is in use.  Shipping dates  have not yet been announced.

J5Create has announced a Type C USB hub with USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort, Ethernet and a PD port, availability is listed as “soon”.



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DDR4 memory makes its debut

DDR4 memory starts shipping for desktop machines and servers.

Through the years, the DDR Memory standard has been updated to DDR2, DDR3 and now DDR4 (JEDEC Satandard JESD79-4). It’s worthwhile to note that despite sharing the DDR name, each of these standards is unique, and they are mutually exclusive – a motherboard designed for DDR2 cannot take DDR3 for example.  Also note that “GDDR5” is a variant of DDR3 that is designed for graphic card memory, and is not another generation of the DDR standard.  (Currently there are no successors to DDR4 in the DDR standard under consideration, the next memory standard is likely to be a completely different signalling format, likely with a high speed serial, rather than parallel, interface.)

History: DDR (Double Data Rate) memory has been the standard for about fifteen years; as the PC133 SDRAM standard was being retired, there were two contenders for the next generation of higher performance RAM; DDR and RamBus (RDRAM).  RAMBus at 533 – 1066 MHz was technically superior and faster, while DDR at its introductory speed of 400 MHz was the low-rent cousin. However the owners of the RAMBus patents made a fatal strategic error – they insisted on high licensing fees for their superior design, so motherboard manufacturers fled in droves to the lower performing but cheaper DDR design.  Without the demand driven by motherboard and computer sales, RAMBus was relegated to a footnote in RAM history, and DDR memory took off, becoming faster as the technology was developed, and less expensive through massive economies in scale in production allowed by the near-universal adoption of the standard.

The advances with the DDR4 standard are:

  • Higher module density (up to 128 GB per module as opposed to 16 GB for DDR3)
  • Higher clock frequencies and therefore data transfer speeds (DDR4 2133 MHz to 3200 MHz vs. 800 MHz to 2400 MHz for DDR3).
  • Lower voltages for the memory chips, DDR4 1.2V vs. between 1.35V and 1.65V for DDR3 (with a low voltage DDR4 standard to come at 1.o5V).

Running at lower voltage means less waste heat, as well as making it easier to design components with smaller circuitry. On the other hand, increased frequencies, lower voltages and smaller traces makes it more important for the designers to guard against electrical noise and crosstalk.

The first DDR4 modules to ship to the market in 2014 were ECC modules for Intel Xeon LGA 2011-v3 E5-1600 and E5-2600 series CPU-based servers and high end workstations, where their premium price can be justified by the increase in performance, and the higher densities may permit the opportunity for server motherboard makers to economise by installing fewer memory sockets, (four or eight instead of 12 or 16 sockets).

The Intel LGA 2011-v3 socket Core i7-5800 and i7-5900 series Haswell-ES processors and accompanying X99 motherboards are just coming to market as of this writing, and are the first desktop class machines to support DDR4.

The DDR4 DIMM package has some differences from DDR3.

  • Although the modules are the same length, there are more connector pins (288 vs 240 pins) so consequently the connectors are narrower,
  • the modules are a bit taller,
  • the key in the connector edge is in a different position,
  • the circuit boards are thicker (1.2mm vs. 1mm in DDR3) and
  • there is a subtle curve to the connector edge to make inserting the module easier.

Photos courtesy Kingston Technology


DDR4_vs_DDR3_thickness DDR4_curved_edge

DDR4_SODIMMWe will also see a DDR4 SODIMM package for laptops and compact desktops and servers, however machines to use them will not hit the market until late 2015

Photo courtesy Crucial





A note on Latency
The default CAS latency for DDR4-2133 is 15, compared with 9 0r 10 for DDR3-1600. These longer latencies eat up some of the performance gain of the increased MHz clock speed.
DDR3 at 1600 MHz, 9 cycles of CAS latency is 11.25 nanoseconds
DDR3 at 2133 MHz, 10 cycles of latency is 9.38 ns
DDR4 at 2133 MHz, 15 cycles of latency is 14.06 ns
so the latency of the DDR4 RAM does impose a relatively higher penalty.

However, this is offset by the faster bus speed and higher bandwidth, and also by the Haswell-E’s memory controller’s ability to do quad-channel access when you have four matching RAM modules.  And the latency penalty will become progressively lower as both the speed of DDR4 modules increases and the yield of lower latency (CL13) modules increases.

Corsair has posted some benchmarks here discussing the effect of latency on bandwidth.

A technical discussion of DDR4 including latency concepts is here

CanadaRAM’s DDR4 product page

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How can I reinstall OSX and keep my bookmarks and mail?

I would like to do a reinstall my OSX as I am having problems. I do have a backup
Can I transfer my browsers favorites, contacts and previous e-mails without losing them?

Here are several specific points, but read this post all the way to the end..

1) Favorites and Bookmarks
Backing up your browser favorites is a matter of going into your browser(s) and Exporting the favorites to an HTML or other text based file. Copy that file to a safe location and you can Import it later. Search the help files for each browser for specific import export instructions.
Firefox_export_bookmarksFirefox – Go to Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks, click on the tool icon on the right of the toolbar…up-or-transfer


Safari_export_BookmarksSafari – Go to main menu File > Export Bookmarks




Chrome_Bookmark_ManagerChrome: Go to Bookmarks > Bookmark Manager and click on the “gear”
Export bookmarks from Chrome to Safari – How to – Macworld UK


2) Email Data
Transferring emails depends on what email program(s) you are using. The email files are usually held in your user folder, in the ~Library folder (~ denotes the user folder for your account. Other users will have their own Libraries).

Inconveniently, this folder is hidden; but you can get access to it:

In OSX 10.7 and 10.8 by opening your User folder and then Option-Clicking the Go menu in the Finder (Library will appear) 18 ways to view the ~/Library folder in Lion and Mountain Lion | Macworld

In OSX 10.9 and 10.10 by opening you home folder and choosing View Options from the menu, and turning on Show Library How to view the ~/Library folder in Mavericks and Yosemite | Macworld

Apple Mail stores its mail databases in ~Library/Mail/

Thunderbird stores its mail in ~Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/Mail

Microsoft Entourage (if you still have it) stores mail in a different place, in
user folder/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office(versionIdentities
depending on what version you have.

Keep in mind that the Entourage database is s single, large file, and has to be opened in Entourage. Also if you let this file get larger than 8 GB in size, bad things start happening.

Microsoft Outlook 2011 stores in
~/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2011 Identities/Main Identity/
Under that directory, e-mail is stored as individual message files in /Data Records/Messages

If you take care to back up these folders, it is possible to restore the mail data to a new installation. It gets more difficult if you are attempting to migrate mail into a new mail program from an old one.

Also, if you are using an IMAP based hosted webmail account, (like GMail, Hotmail) then your emails are saved on the mailserver, so they should be available on any machine when you log on.  Just check to see that you haven’t made custom folders to download and organize your mail on your machine.  The easiest way to check if you will have what you expect is to log on via a web browser from another machine.  Is everything you expect to be there, there?

3) Contacts and Addresses
Your contacts and email address lists are also in various places depending on the program. Again, you should export Contacts to tab text or .csv files as backups, using the export/import menu options in your particular mail program.  These files can be imported into different programs with a little bit of work.

AddressBook_ExportThe Apple Address Book contacts are in your home folder Library folder
~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook
and you an export from the AddressBook app by using
File -> Export... -> Address Book Archive

Note that one thing that often does not get successfully exported and imported when migrating from one email program to another, is Groups or Mail Lists where you have saved sets of email addresses. Most times, you will need to recreate these by hand.  If you can print out a copy of the group or mail list members before you migrate, that can help.

But before you do it the hard way…

4) Migrate the Data in one go
Now, about the easy way for preserving your data (and programs) during an OSX reinstall.

The easiest way is to have an external drive with either a complete clone (bootable backup) of your drive, or an up-to-date TimeMachine backup.

This allows you to just go ahead with an OSX install, and when you are proceeding through the installer it will ask you if you want to import your User accounts, files, settings and programs from another disk or TimeMachine backup. (You have some options of which items get transferred in, but the easy option is import everything and delete unwanted items later).

Select the source drive, and let the installer put everything back into place for you.

Migration_AssistantOr, you can do this at a later date by running Migration Assistant by itself

How To Restore Data From Time Machine Backups

And its even easier if you have a bootable USB memory stick with your OSX installer on it. More…

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How can I make a bootable OSX USB installer?

Reinstalling OSX on a Macintosh is sometimes necessary, whether you are upgrading or whether you need to repair a problem.

The problem is that after Snow Leopard, Apple abandoned DVD media and gone exclusively to downloadable installers.  And, many recent Macintosh machines no longer have DVDs, or you may have sacrificed your DVD drive for a second hard drive in your machine.   The easiest solution is to have a bootable USB stick with the OSX installation you need on it.  Note:  It is a good idea to get this made BEFORE you have problems, because you need a fully functioning Mac with an Internet connection to set it up.

First, you will need to log onto the Apple App Store, and download the latest OSX installer. Just do the download, don’t start the installer. Currently, the only choice you have for free is OSX 10.13 High Sierra.

However if you previously had downloaded OSX 10.7, 10.8 10.9, 10.10, 10.11 or 10.12 , you should be able to re-download the installer from your Apple App Store Purchases list.  Again just do the download, don’t start the installer.  Get yourself a 16 GB USB stick (an 8 GB will do, but I like to be on the safe side – also note that the stick is going to get erased in the process, so don’t use one that has any important data on it.)

Then get the shareware program Diskmaker X which has scripts that will do the rest for you. It will ask you where you have stored your Installer file, and then burrow into it to find the disk image, and Restore that to your USB stick.  Diskmaker X is currently having a problem with 10.13, we are waiting for an announcement on a fix.

Some of the Apple installers have a bug in them – if they were downloaded before February 2016, they go out to check an Apple server for authentication, but those servers no longer exist.  The fix, as long as you can boot the Mac still, is to set the date back to January 2016 or earlier, then proceed with the install, then reset the date to current.

As an alternative you can find the files manually:

If your machine came with 1o.7 or higher, and you haven’t purchased any upgrades, then you don’t have a way to download anything except 10.13. However your machine originally came with a hidden Recovery partition and if you still have the original hard drive (or if you migrated the Recovery partition properly to a new drive) you can still build an installer using Apple’ OSX Recovery Disk Assistant 

One note, never try to install an OSX version earlier than the one that shipped originally with the machine.



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Can I build a $600 gaming machine?

The CAN$600 question is, can an uber-affordable machine deliver an acceptable gaming experience?  GF_Case_3205BAnd the answer is: with the right expectations, yes.

The first thing that has to go out the window is the idea that you have to play all games at maximum resolution and maximum quality settings.  You could do that, of course, as long as you were OK counting to ten between frames.  But being willing to compromise on resolution and fine detail will let you play with acceptable frame rates on a machine that won’t break the bank.  The exact settings “sweet spot” is going to vary from game to game, so do some testing with your favorites.

Intel_Pentium_Anniversary For a low-cost gaming build, we are going to sacrifice CPU cores and go for flat out dual-core speed.  The Haswell Pentium dual core chips start out fast, and can be handily tweaked, so the the Anniversary Edition Pentium will power our platform. Starting at 3.2 GHz, it can be overclocked to 4.0 GHz with the stock air cooler.

The MSI Intel B85 motherboard has SATA 6.0 Gbps connections, USB 3.0 ports, solid capacitors and “milspec” components for reliability, and unusually for a mATX board, it has four DDR3 DIMM memory sockets and can go to 32 GB of RAM if you wish.MSI_B85M-E45 This also means you could populate it with some 2 GB DDR3-1600 MHz DIMMs that you may be able to pick up cheaply from someone who has upgraded.

MSI is big on gaming, and they have overclocking support built into their BIOS.

The big ticket item, and the most direct influence on game frame rates is the video card, so about 30% of our budget will go there.

AMD_R7_260XThe Radeon R7 260X 2GB card is reasonably priced with performance close to the NVidia GTX 750ti version (which sells for $40 more). Both cards can run without dedicated PCI-e Graphics power connectors from a 350-400W power supply.

For this build, the first item to get tossed overboard is the hard drive.  This is a gaming machine, not a media library.  You can add a couple of TB of spinning drive storage later for $100 or so if you really want, or you can re-purpose an drive from an older machine or one from a buddy who has upgraded. (A data storage and backup drive does not have to be fast).

SanDisk_X100_128On the flip side, we are going to go with an SSD flash-based drive for the boot drive, because the price point has crossed the critical bar where a 128 GB SSD is as inexpensive as a 500 GB hard drive.  Yeah, it’s a small drive. But it is FAST – your mission if you choose to accept it is to keep your system lean and mean, with no superfluous programs or data (lay off of that Download Now button).  Apart from the fast booting and lightning-speed loading of programs and data, an SSD exacts far less of a time penalty on virtual memory swap files than an hard drive – near zero latency and triple the bandwidth means that you don’t suffer nearly as bad a performance hit if you exceed your physical RAM capacity.

About that memory: 4 GB RAM is just enough, 8 GB would be better, so that’s the obvious first upgrade.  Or you may be able to scrounge up 2 GB module or two to make it 6 GB or 8 GB.

As usual, prices are estimates only, in Canadian dollars, and subject to change.

Case GoldenField 3205B mATX case with 500W PSU
CSE-3205B-500W $ 45
Motherboard MSI Motherboard LGA1150 B85 DDR3 max 32GB RAM Sata 6.0Gbps, USB 3.0
B85M-E45 $ 81
Power supply 500W included with case    
SSD Drive SanDisk X110
SD6SB1M-128G-1022i $ 79
Memory DDR3-1600 CL10 4 GB (1x4GB DIMM) $ 36
CPU Intel Pentium G3258 Anniversary edition dual core 3.2 GHz
BX80646G3258 $ 91
Optical drive Asus DVD-RW DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS $ 20
Keyboard and Mouse Microsoft or Logitech Desktop combo
$ 17
Cooler Stock cooler
Video card Radeon R260X 2GB Overclock Example Asus R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5 $ 159
TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly $ 528
Upgrade RAM To 8 GB +$ 36
OS Windows 8.1 OEM WN7-00615 $ 116
Upgrade video card
NVidia GTX 750ti -159 + 199 =
+$ 40

Looks good, we’re hitting the mark at $528 plus tax, but there’s a cheat here; that’s without the Windows OS, which puts us over the $600 mark by a long ways.

There are a limited number of legal alternatives here. You could install Linux, but then your gaming selection and installation requirements are radically altered.

If you have an unused retail copy of Windows 7 (as opposed to a Windows that came bundled with a machine purchase) you could use that.

Or, if you are willing to do a bit of work and take some minor risks of compatibility and crashing, for a limited time you can download the Windows 10 beta (Technical Preview ISO) here and follow the instructions to burn it onto a USB stick for installation on the machine.

What are the tradeoffs? Besides the CPU choice, 4 GB of RAM and the small SSD drive, the Golden Field case and power supply combo is, how can we say? Basic.  Although the PSU is rated at 500W, I would really call it a 350W unit, which is still fine for this build.  If you wanted a more attractive case, a larger power supply or the ability to power PCI-e Graphics cards, you’d have to invest $50 – $100 more

Previous articles

April 2015 $1000 gaming machine

Feb 2014 $1000 gaming machine

Dec 2011 $2000 gaming machine

2011 $1000 gaming machine

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Can I build a gaming computer under $1000? (Apr 2015 edition)

It’s April 2015 and we are revisiting our exercise in budget computing: Can we build a computer that will give acceptable gaming performance for under $1000 (In our 80 pound weakling Canadian dollars)?

In the past year we have seen DDR3 memory prices go up and then ease back just a little, the Canadian dollar go down precipitously adding 20% to the cost of nearly everything, and SSDs (flash based hard drives) steadily dropping in price and increasing in capacity.

The component that has the most impact on performance in a gaming computer is the video card, so budget compromises have to be between the relative costs of the GPU video card vs CPU processor vs SSD drives. Fortunately, video cards have been improving in performance, and the latest generation of NVidia Maxwell chips is particularly impressive.

The best bang for the buck on CPUs is still an entry level Intel Core i5 CPU or a 6-core or 8-core AMD FX series CPU. For the cheapest possible machine, an AMD FM2 A8 or A10 APU could be used, or one of the fast dual-core Pentium chips, but that sacrifices CPU power to the point that it can affect game-play.

Here are suggested configurations at about the $1000 price point (before tax, Canadian dollars, current to April 25 2015) In all of the configurations, we have gone with motherboards that have:

  • at least two PCI-e video card slots compatible with Crossfire (or SLI) for future acceleration (with more money, you can get 2 PCI-e x16 slots with full 16 lane support on each, but at this price level, the second slot can be limited to 4 lanes).
  • USB 3.0 on board
  • SATA III (6.0 Gb/s) on board
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000BT)
  • 4 RAM sockets with overclocked DDR3 capability, with a mximum RAM capacity of 32 GB. This allows us to get 8 GB of Dual Channel RAM installed, with room to upgrade later as budget allows.

A micro-ATX board with 2 slots can save some cash, if you are willing to live with a single PCI-e x16 slot and 2 memory sockets with 16 GB maximum, you could save up to $50

In brute computing performance benchmarks using all cores, the 3.5 GHz AMD 8-core FX-8320 out-performs the Intel i5-4440. (However in the real world we’re often in the position where not all 8 cores are utilized to the max,, and there the 4-core i5 holds its own). We have gone with a 240 GB SSD drive as a primary drive on each machine, for the speed of booting and loading.  Its easy to add an extra hard drive if you need the space for file storage.

So here are our contenders:

AMD FX 8-Core system.

Case Coolermaster CMForce 500 CSE-FOR500KR500   $87
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AMD AM3+ 970/SB950 DDR3 SATA PCI Express USB 3.0 ATX $91
Power supply Coolermaster Elite 500W   included with case    
 SSD drive  Kingston 240 GB     $135
Memory DDR3-1600 CL9 8 GB (2x4GB DIMM) BLS2KIT4G3D1609DS1S00 $89
CPU AMD FX-8320 8 core 3.5 GHz / 4.0 GHz boost FD8320FRHKBOX   $199
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS   $20
Keyboard and Mouse Coolermaster CMStorm Devastator combo SGB-3010-KKMF1-US   $34
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case)     $11
Video card Asus R7 260X 2GB OC R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5 Overclocked, with 2 GB of video memory   $159
OS Windows 8.1 OEM WN7-00615   $116
Cooler Stock cooler  Included with CPU    
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly     $941

The Black edition FX-8350 chip would be fun if you want to experiment with overclocking, but it adds $40 or more to the cost plus the cost of a better cooler.  (If you’re going to spend the money, the Intel i5-4670K is about $100 more, but offers about 25% better performance than the FX-8350)

Intel 4-core system.

For today’s system we are moving the i5 up to the slightly more powerful 4460 at 3.2 GHz, and going with SSD as the primary drive, and it just sneaks in under $1000 before tax.

Case Coolermaster CMForce 500 CSE-FOR500KR500  87
Motherboard Gigabyte ATX 4*DDR VGA DVI HDMI Main Board GA-B85-HD3 109
Power supply 500W included with case    
SSD Drive Kingston 240 GB   135
Memory DDR3-1600 CL9 8 GB (2x4GB DIMM) BLS2KIT4G3D1609DS1S00 89
CPU Intel i5-4460 3.2 GHz 4 core / 3.4 GHz boost BX80646I54440 239
Optical drive Asus DVD-RW DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS  20
Keyboard and Mouse Coolermaster CMStorm Devastator combo SGB-3010-KKMF1-US  34
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case)   11
Video card Radeon R260X 2GB Overclock Example Asus R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5 159
OS Windows 8.1 OEM WN7-00615  116
Cooler Stock cooler    
 TOTAL  before tax, shipping and assembly   $999
Cooler for overclocking Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R1  $32
Upgrade the video card  NVidia GTX750TI  2GB GDDR5  $197 -159= +$38
Upgrade the video card  NVidia GTX960
(+ power supply adapter cables or upgrade PSU)
 2GB GDDR5  $282 -159= +$123
Upgrade the Power Supply If you want a high powered video card, you’ll have to up the PSU’s capabilities. Switch to CM Elite 371 BLACK Case and CM GX2 650W 80+ Bronze PSU, less the cost of the CM Force 500
  $135 – $87 = +$48  

The video card is the obvious first step to upgrade beyond the basic level. The GTX 750ti, which runs the NVidia Maxwell architecture gives a small but real upgrade in some specific games over the R7 260X $197  (the AMD card does better in some benchmarks, and in a few titles).  Plus the 750ti is very energy efficient and does not need supplemental PCI-e power connectors.

The next big step up is the GeForce GTX960, with the second generation of NVidia Maxwell GPU architecture $282.

Some GTX960 cards require one 8 pin PCI-e power connector and some need two 6 pin connectors.  Since the CM500 Elite PSU has one 6-pin PCI-e connector, the GTX960 upgrade would require either an upgrade to the stock power supply, or some adapter cables to provide connection from 4-pin peripheral power connectors.

These computer builds rely on the stock cooling fans, which is perfectly fine at the rated clocks – if you are intending to overclock, then you may be wise to look into third party CPU coolers, and the Intel Core I5 i5-4670K, 3.4GHz Unlocked “K” version of the CPU for about $67 more than the stock i5, which will push the Intel system just over $1100. For overclocking as well, there are RAM upgrades in the 1866 MHz region for not much more, and in the 2100 – 2400 MHz region for quite a lot more.

Other upgrades:

Mouse: Logitech Gaming Mouse G500 USB $79
(note that you don’t want a wireless mouse or keyboard for gaming)

Keyboard: Logitech Gaming Keyboard G110 12 programmable keys, backlighting, USB audio $96

RAM: 16 GB rather than 8 GB  Add about $100

Next time, we’ll see if we can put together a credible $600 machine.

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Feb 2014

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