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We catch up with some our favorite IT and enthusiast component hardware makers at IDF

While much of the juicy material at the 2013 Intel Developer Forum (2013 IDF) was soaked in at Intel's keynotes and technical sessions, many hardware partners were showing their upcoming wares on the show floor.  We caught up with some top enthusiast brands and checked out what's in the pipeline.


OCZ Technology Group Inc. (OCZ) has consistently vied for the title of fastest solid state drives, with a broad product line spanning from budget SSDs to the high-end.  Fresh off a recent power supply family rollout, OCZ at IDF was primarily focused on its SSD product.

While a refresh of the premium Vector SSD family is expected late this year, for now the product mix was mostly the same as the lineup we saw at the 2013 CES in January.

An exception was AEON, a rare 3.5-inch form factor SSD.  We've seen hybrid hard disk and NAND drives in the past, but AEON offers a new twist, featuring a mixture of embedded NAND and DRAM for dramatically reduced latencies.  OCZ refers to the drive as "nonvolatile memory" (NVM), a kind of all-encompassing term for this hybrid drive.


While OCZ did not reveal pricing or the specific DRAM/NAND quantities onboard, it did show that the drive consists of four internally linked circuit boards with attached NAND/DRAM chips.

OCZ Aeon

OCZ is targeting the drives at High Frequency Transaction (HFT) applications.  HTF applications -- such as time critical data mining or stock trading/analysis -- typically require sub-100 microsecond (µs) response times.  OCZ's drive should be more than capable of that.  At past presentations it promised 10 µs responses and 140K IOPS [source].  Expect this drive to pack a high price tag, but given that time critical data mining is essentially like printing money if correctly applied to the aforementioned problems, we're guessing many will happily pay for this aggressive low-latency performance.

II. Gigabyte

Gigabyte Technology Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2376) showed off a mixture of chic mini-ITX PCs and its latest motherboards.

My personal favorite among its product lineup was the appropriately named "Iris" mini-PC, which fits in the palm of your hand and features gorgeous supercar-esque styling, with red and yellow trim colors.  The box supports various Haswell chips up to an Intel Corp. (INTC) Core i7 4770R (3.2 GHz (3.9 GHz turbo), quad-core, Iris Pro graphics).  There's support for up to two monitors, a single 2.5-inch internal hard drive/SSD, a pair of mini-PCI express slots, and external USB 3.0 ports galore.

Gigabyte Iris

It's pretty incredible what Haswell is allowing in terms of design factors, given its cool operation and drastically improved onboard graphics.

Gigabyte also highlighted its use of the Killer NIC chip from Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) (see the little "K" lettered chip near center below).  You may recall that originally this startup debuted in PCI-express Ethernet card form factors and was met with much skepticism.

Fortunately Qualcomm took over via an acquisition and transformed Killer NIC's promising, but bulky/expensive technology into a tiny die, which can be attached to motherboards.  It's a pretty impressive transformation, to be certain.

Gigabyte - Killer NIC on motherboard

Rather than lock you in to the Killer NIC, though, Gigabyte generously offers an onboard Intel ethernet chip as well.  Enthusiasts can switch which ethernet chip is active, based on their preferences/personal needs.

Gigabyte Thunderbolt II

Many of Gigabyte’s new and upcoming boards also feature Thunderbolt II ports.  Backwards compatible with first-generation Thunderbolt cables, this new communication technology improves data throughput by merging the input and output channels into a bidirectional channel.  

While that won't necessarily be game changing when you're pushing a full load both directions, in the more common instance where you're pushing a load in one direction (e.g. pushing a large file to a Thunderbolt drive), this may nearly double your data throughput.

Gigabyte projector

Last, but not least, Gigabyte showed us a cute mini-projector, which is also a fully function mini-ITX PC.  Dubbed "Brix", this design requires an external mini-SATA drive as it has no internal hard drive, but it does preserve the pair of mini-PCI express slots from the Iris design.  It packs a lighter Haswell chip -- the Core i3 4010U (1.7 GHz, dual-core, Intel HD 4400 graphics).  In addition to its 75-lumen DLP projector, it features dual monitor outputs.

Brix will ship in Q4 2013 and be priced around $699 USD.  A price was not announced for the Iris boxes, which are also expected for Q4.

[All Images (c) Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

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Switching NIC chips?
By amanojaku on 9/16/2013 1:15:10 PM , Rating: 1
Not sure why you'd want to switch between NIC chips. I thought the controversy with Killer was that there were no obvious improvements in performance initially, but I don't remember performance dropping. Am I wrong? What's the benefit of using the Intel chip over the Killer chip? That's the sort of information I'd expect to see in a tech article, especially one without sources I can follow up on.

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By JasonMick on 9/16/2013 1:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
I did ask about that... my Gigabyte contacts told me this was a feature customers requested.

I tried to dig out a more specific explanation (if there was one), but the best I got was vague answers.

Based on the general discussion, though I suspect that given the controversy/contention surrounding the Killer NIC brand in its PCIe card days, that Gigabyte didn't want to force customers to use a product that many have a negative image of uncomfortable with. Some customers might not buy a motherboard that exclusively used the Killer NIC.

Or perhaps Intel has some sort of financial arrangement with Gigabyte to buy its solution as well. Who knows, but the people I talked to either didn't know why or were unwilling to go into details, other than claiming customers wanted the ability to choose their NIC.

And since it's now just a cheap mini-die solution, Gigabyte doesn't lose much from offering its customers flexibility, whether or not it offers much outside of a sense of comfort. :P

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By amanojaku on 9/16/2013 2:30:45 PM , Rating: 1
Thanks, Jason. I'd all but forgotten about the Killer NIC, to be honest. Didn't even know Qualcomm bought Bigfoot two years ago. I don't think there were any driver issues, hardware failures, etc... I just remember people saying that for $250 (or whatever it was), it wasn't slower than onboard or dedicated ports, but it wasn't even twice as fast. So Gigabyte could have just stuck with just Intel or Killer. But if it's a feature customers requested, Gigabyte was right to add it.

I guess I'm just a little sensitive about manufacturers offering "features" that have no obvious benefit. Like Android skins (Sense and TouchWiz), or 64-bit CPUs in smartphones with less than 4GiB of RAM.

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By Samus on 9/17/2013 12:09:33 PM , Rating: 2
My guess would be PIX/bootrom support. I've seen a Killer NIC in an MSI notebook and a Bigfoot card, and neither had bootrom support IIRC. The other angle is drivers. Intel NICs are the de-facto in the Linux community, and are among the only properly supported controllers in OSX (for those that bother running Mac clones)

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By AstroCreep on 9/16/2013 1:33:25 PM , Rating: 2
Based on this (and other descriptions I have read) it sounds like you can control which NIC is active via the uEFI/BIOS. Not so much an "on-the-fly" sort of switch, but more as "If you want to switch from the Intel to the KillerNIC" for whatever reason.

As to the performance, we'll have to wait until this board is released, but I do recall that the performance of the KillerNIC devices old were good, but they simply weren't that much better than on-board NICs at the time. Since this one will be on-board (and as long as the cost isn't atrocious) I'd consider using it over the Intel NIC (and this coming from someone who bought a dual-port Intel NIC for his main system).

We'll just have to wait & see.

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By bug77 on 9/16/2013 1:38:28 PM , Rating: 2
What's the benefit of using the Intel chip over the Killer chip?

Driver support comes to mind.

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By mjz on 9/16/2013 2:04:06 PM , Rating: 2
Re. Intel Chips.. ask all the people having trouble with their Intel Wireless N dropping after a few hours with windows 8

RE: Switching NIC chips?
By Samus on 9/17/2013 12:30:04 PM , Rating: 2
Intel Networking and Intel Wireless are two completely separate divisions. Intel Networking has arguably made the most solid NICs since 3COM.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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