Summary: This year, more hardware manufacturers came out to play with their uber-rigs to compete for the Ultimate Gaming Rig award in FiringSquad's second annual Invitational Gaming Tournament which took place during Computex 2005. See plenty of hardware photos, booth babes, and event shots right here! Also, find out which rig came out on top and be awarded the top award!
With last years FiringSquad Computex Industry Invitational Tournament still fresh in our minds, this year’s event was not nearly as difficult to plan and execute. Whereas last year on the eve of Computex we only had 3 systems fully tested, this year the manufacturers were expecting us, and by the eve of Computex, three days before the event, we had already received 8 ultimate gaming systems. Of course there were a few stragglers and by the time the tournament date rolled around, we had a full 13 companies technology and efforts represented.
No event of this size would be complete without a few hitches. Last year it was the event pictures that were inadvertently destroyed. This year Brandon’s flash disk with all our custom demos we use for testing and other benchmarking software had conveniently erased itself somewhere on the 12,000-mile trek from Austin, TX to Taipei. So, before we could even start benchmarking we had to spend several hours re-downloading all the software (ultimately, we had to rely solely on 3Dmark 05 and SiSoft Sandra for testing).
Event day and everything was going smoothly until we discovered to our horror that many of the systems were “missing” power cables….so this meant a hectic trip throughout the smoggy and traffic choked streets of Taipei via taxi to the computer store closest to the event to get power cables…but of course Murphy, wherever he is, was laughing at our plight: the computer store was all sold out of power cables! This meant another trip halfway across town to another computer store, racing against the clock. The irony is that we were 33 stories above the 2nd largest computer trade show in the world, and couldn’t scrounge up a couple of extra power cables to save our lives.
Once we got all the systems connected, it was EA’s turn to install Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth; fortunately there was plenty of Heineken and a great DJ playing laid back hip hop, so everyone was in a good mood and mixing and mingling, which is one of the main objectives of the tournament. Computex is such a hectic time that a lot of people appreciated having a place to come hang out and have a drink with out being forced to discuss too much business. The whole tournament format was really designed to be this way, and in future years we hope to make the gaming part an even more casual affair where anyone is invited to stop by in the afternoon, hang out, play a few games and meet some people, just the way a good LAN is supposed to be. Having the manufacturers compete against each other would be far too political, and frankly, would be a headache for almost everybody.
However, the business of hardware is another matter entirely; the awards are meant to be competitive designed to let the manufacturers strut their stuff and show off their latest innovations.
Overall, this year’s event was a huge success. Considering this was our second event, and it happens during one of the busiest times of the year for the PC industry, we were needless to say stoked! We successfully managed to assemble the fastest PC’s in the world from the biggest names in the PC industry into one room for 5 hours and then let them play head to head against each other in a LAN tournament. All this power came at a price. Although we had the same layout and venue as last year’s event, the power requirements alone were probably double with essentially with the same number of machines.
With the exception of only a few, we had all the top name PC companies attend our event. Although ATI did not officially enter into the competition, they brought along a CrossFire PC, one of only 3 systems they’d brought for the show. A big thanks to Paul Ayscough and Jay Marsden for making this happen.
EA’s Taiwan office did another outstanding job making our event a huge success. Headed by their fearless leader Titus Ou, they brought all the teams together for several hours of fun playing LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth. Additionally, everyone who played got to go home with a copy of the game. In fact, towards the end of tournament time we had a hard time getting people to leave their PC’s. EA also had Battlefield 2 setup and were letting the attendees all have a try.
We also owe a special thanks to our keynote speakers, Eric Lee, President of SOFTSTAR the largest software and games development company in Taiwan. Eric’s company is heavily involved in development of MMORPG’s in China and throughout Asia. Due to the rampant distribution of illegal games, MMOG’s are the only game model worth developing for the China market if you actually intend to make money.
We also heard from Mr Enoch Du, Chairman of the Taiwanese Computer Association the co-organizers of our tournament and Computex, and from Mr. Jimmy Wu who sits on our Board of Directors. Fortunately for us, Jimmy was passing through Taiwan just in time for this year’s big event.
The FiringSquad Industry Invitational 2005 was a huge success, not because we made it so, but because of all the hard work from those companies that attended. A very special thank you to every one involved:
As we just mentioned, ATI was on hand demonstrating their recently announced CrossFire technology. CrossFire, in case you didn’t know, is ATI’s multiple graphics card technology. The concept of CrossFire is simple: combine two graphics cards together for nearly double the performance, or, in CPU-bound applications, better image quality. This is accomplished via CrossFire’s SuperAA modes, which bring 8x, 10x, 12x, and 14x AA modes to the desktop PC for the first time ever.
ATI is making CrossFire available for both Intel and AMD platforms, VPUs supported include the entire X800 family, including PCI Express RADEON X800 PRO and RADEON X800 XT/X800 XT Platinum Edition, which were launched around this time last year, as well as the R430-based X800 and X800 XL. Cards supported at the extreme high-end include the RADEON X850 PRO, RADEON X850 XT, and X850 XT Platinum Edition.
Motherboards based on ATI’s CrossFire chipset will support the latest technologies, including DDR2-667 and 1066MHz FSB for the Intel platforms, and 300MB/sec SATA with NCQ support (provided externally) for AMD processors. Both will support dual-core processing as well as SMP. Most attractive of all however will be price, ATI expects CrossFire motherboards to sell for roughly the same price nForce4 Ultra motherboards sell for today. This would give CrossFire a price advantage over nForce4 SLI.
ATI’s CrossFire system was located at the front of the ballroom, greeting everyone who walked in to attend the invitational. Funnily enough, this caught the attention of multiple NVIDIA employees, as their suite was located across the hall from us on the opposite side of the world trade center building.
A few hours after the invitational event got underway, ATI’s Director of Corporate Marketing, Paul Ayscough, gave a CrossFire demonstration to event attendees. Paul went over all the key features found in CrossFire, concluding with a demo of the CrossFire system running Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory in timedemo mode to showcase the CrossFire system’s performance. The system managed to run the stock timedemo included with the game at 80-90 frames per second with settings of 1024x768 with 4xAA/8xAF.
The rules for this year’s invitational were the same as our 2004 invitational. Each manufacturer was to submit two systems one high-end rig would be submitted into the contest, while the second PC was to be used solely in the Battlefield Lord of the Rings gaming tournament we were conducting (which was ultimately won by VIA).
AOpen is an established name in the OEM sector, with their products shipping in a number of systems. AOpen produces a wide variety of system components, from optical drives, to graphics cards and motherboards, cases, CPU coolers, speakers, and input devices. AOpen even produces LCD monitors and notebook computers! In other words, name any system component and chances are AOpen produces it. With margins on some of these components razor thin (such as motherboards) this protects AOpen financially.
AOpen’s submission into our invitational was a very late entry – the system literally showed up the morning of the show! As a result, we weren’t able to run our full suite of benchmarks on it, but we did manage to look over the system’s specs. At the heart of the system was AOpen’s nForce4 Ultra motherboard, the nCK804Ua-LFS. AOpen then paired the board with an Athlon 64 3000+ processor. Cooling the chip was AOpen’s AC48L cooler.
For graphics, AOpen used their Aeolus 6800Ultra-DVD256 PCI-E card, while on the memory side, the system was equipped with 512MB of Kingston HyperX DDR400 memory. The entire system was housed inside a green AOpen Nouveau aluminum case.
ABIT is the first company we’ll highlight today. ABIT is a company that continues to innovate with their motherboard and graphics card products. ABIT was actually the first manufacturer to implement jumperless technology into their motherboards, with the company still continuing to gear their products towards the enthusiast/overclocking community. Since then ABIT has spearheaded other efforts: their “RAID for everyone” initiative was responsible for making IDE RAID a standard feature on most motherboards, and is so popular it’s been added to the latest chipsets from Intel, NVIDIA, and VIA.
ABIT has put great amount of emphasis on their new Fatal1ty line of products over the last year, releasing a number of highly praised Fatal1ty motherboards and graphics cards.
These products are geared exclusively towards the high-end crowd, with features such as enhanced OTES cooling and, more recently, ABIT’s AudioMAX technology, which is designed to reduce the audio interference you’ll sometimes encounter with onboard sound.
ABIT’s submission featured their highly successful, Intel 925XE-based Fatal1ty AA8XE motherboard. The AA8XE features ABIT’s patented OC strips, OTES RamFlow, and OTES AeroFlow for better cooling as well as dual OTES fans near the processor. The motherboard automatically overclocked the bundled Pentium 4 3.73GHz Extreme Edition CPU ABIT used to 3.78GHz, but ABIT chose to not manually overclock their submission.
Also included was ABIT’s Radeon X800XL graphics card, and 1GB of Corsair XMS2 DDR2 Memory. For casing, ABIT used a brand-new Thermaltake Eclipse DV case, one that should be available to buy sometime in late July / early August.
Albatron, a company only in it’s third Computex, was a newcomer to this year’s tournament. The company has done very well worldwide in the motherboard and graphics card markets, often specializing in powerful mid-ranged products. Besides motherboards and graphics cards, Albatron also manufactures LCD TVs and plasma displays.
For our invitational event, Albatron’s submission was built on their latest motherboard product, the nForce4 SLI-based K8SLI motherboard. For processing, Albatron included AMD’s Athlon 64 3200+ CPU with the board, and the system was outfitted with 512MB of DDR 400 memory. Albatron also included their new PC6800Q GeForce 6800 cards in SLI mode.
The PC6800Q is one of Albatron’s first cards to take advantage of their latest heatpipe-based WiseFan technology. WiseFan uses an aluminum heatsink outfitted with a heatpipe cooler to cool the GPU. Sitting atop this is an enclosure with three fans inside, supplying the heatsink and heatpipe with fresh, cool air. The fan enclosure uses Albatron’s 2+1 backup fan technology, which uses two fans to cool the card, plus a third fan, which is available in case one of the fans fails.
As the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer, ASUS is a company that’s probably familiar to most, if not all of you. At last year’s invitational event, ASUS’ focus was mobility – they brought two gaming notebooks with them to demonstrate that gaming on the go with one of their notebooks wasn’t just feasible, it was actually quite enjoyable. Their L5GA sported ATI’s latest graphics chip at the time, MOBILITY 9700, while the second notebook they brought along, the W1, sported a 15.4” widescreen display. For this year’s event ASUS went in the complete opposite direction, bringing top-of-the-line high-end PCs.
ASUS partnered with Corsair and had 1GB of Corsair XMS DDR PC3200XL memory in the their system. The new ASUS A8N SLI Premium motherboard, based on the nForce 4 SLI chipset, was used in the rig.
The A8N SLI Premium is ASUS’ replacement for the A8N-SLI Deluxe. It features heatpipe cooling on the North Bridge of the chipset, with ASUS’ AI Selector Electronic Quick Switch technology, so you won’t have to use an SLI connector to switch from single GPU to SLI mode. The A8N SLI Premium runs completely silent, there are no fans on the motherboard itself. ASUS also claims that the board features enhanced FSB overclocking.
To demonstrate this, ASUS chose to overclock their system, overclocking their Athlon 64 FX-55 CPU from 2.6GHz to 2.73GHz. For the PC’s graphics, ASUS used two ASUS Extreme N6800U GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards running in SLI mode.
DFI’s really been going out of their way to entice gamers and hardware enthusiasts. Their LANPARTY series of motherboards were the first to ship with round IDE cables, and also include other goodies such as customizable FRONTX 5.25” front panel bays and a convenient strap for carrying your PC to LAN parties. Not only do these motherboards come with lots of extra features, but they also provide great performance and reliability, with competitive pricing.
DFI had a great system at last year’s event, and this year it was no different. The company was running their DFI LANPARTY UT nForce4 Ultra motherboard, with an overclocked, air-cooled, AMD Athlon 64 3000+ running at 2.25GHz (up from 1.8GHz stock). The most impressive part of this was the cooler chosen: DFI’s board was running on the stock AMD aluminum CPU cooler you get when you purchase the retail-boxed Athlon 64!
DFI’s submission also featured 1GB of DDR 400 memory and a GeForce 6800GT graphics card.
Kingston Technology is a name that’s probably familiar to you if you’ve shopped for memory lately. They’ve been in the memory business for nearly two decades now, and according to market research firm iSuppli, Kingston holds the largest market share of any memory manufacturer holding a commanding 27% share of the market in 2004. Kingston modules can be found practically everywhere, from brick and mortar stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City, to online e-tailers such as Newegg and ZipZoomFly. Kingston modules can also be found as standard equipment shipping inside many OEM systems.
Kingston was a newcomer to this year’s event, and was one of the few companies that chose to overclock their Ultimate Gaming PC submission.
The company submitted a Pentium 4 based PC featuring the very successful ASUS P5WD2 motherboard, based on the Intel 925XE chipset. Kingston included the Intel 3.73GHz Extreme Edition CPU, and easily overclocked it to 4GHz, using Kingston’s highly overclockable 512MB HyperX DDR2-667 memory modules. Like DFI, this was accomplished on reference, stock air-cooling.
For the visuals, Kingston included ATI’s Radeon X850 Pro 256MB graphics card.
MSI is a company known world-round as a top tier motherboard and graphics card manufacturer. Over the last few years they’ve continued to build up their reputation as among the best in the hardware industry, constantly developing new motherboard and graphics card technologies, all while maintaining some of the best motherboard technical support facilities in the United States.
Their nForce4 SLI motherboard is one of the best around thanks to its unique combination of price, performance, and features. It’s the only nForce4 SLI motherboard on the market to feature Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! audio onboard, as well as a PCI Express-based storage controller from Silicon Image. This board recently took home our Bull’s Eye Award in our nForce4 SLI motherboard roundup. This is also the same motherboard MSI used for their invitational system.
Besides the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI motherboard, MSI’s submission was also equipped with AMD’s Athlon 64 4000+. This chip is basically an Athlon 64 FX-53 CPU without the unlocked clock multiplier. For graphics, MSI included two MSI GeForce 6800GT graphics cards running in SLI.
MSI used A-Data DDR 400 2-2-2-5 1GB memory with their K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI motherboard, and built their PC on their tradeshow display station.
PowerColor was back again for this years tournament, with the company continuing to focus on graphics cards while parent company TUL provides a wide range of products, including motherboards and barebones systems.
For mainstream/value cards, most manufacturers tend to play it conservative, sticking with ATI’s reference design in order to keep price down. PowerColor on the other hand provides a line of basic, no-frills ATI reference boards, as well as a separate line of high-end cards, their “Bravo Edition” boards.
In the case of their X800 Bravo Edition, PowerColor uses high-speed 1.6ns GDDR3 memory. These are the same modules used on more expensive X850 Platinum cards, and are rated for speeds up to 600MHz. PowerColor also equips the board with VIVO support, an HDTV cable, and as we mentioned earlier, dual DVI. We enjoyed this board so much we gave it our Editor’s Choice Award earlier this year.
For their X700 Bravo Edition board, PowerColor not only provides dual DVI, but the card runs completely silent, with heatpipe cooling as well.
Powercolor’s invitational submission featured their new TUL AX480A-GF XPRESS 200 motherboard, powered by ATI’s Radeon Xpress 200 chipset. The company used a very fast AMD Athlon 64 4000+ CPU, running in conjunction with 1GB of DDR 400 system memory.
Powerecolor also included their flagship graphics card into the mix, the Powercolor Radeon X850XT PE. This card ships with a copy of Pacific Fighters, one of the newest flight sims on the market.
Despite increased competition in the small form factor market (including competition from companies many times larger than them), Shuttle continues to dominate the segment. Shuttle’s dominance is due in large part to the company’s unique ability to innovate. Shuttle is always one of the first, if not the very first manufacturer to incorporate the latest desktop technologies.
At the heart of Shuttle’s invitational submission was their SN25P XPC barebone system, based on the NVIDIA nForce 4 Ultra chipset. Inside the SN25P was AMD’s flagship desktop CPU, the AMD Athlon 64 4800+, the most powerful CPU at the event.
The SN25P XPC featured 1GB of DDR 400 memory and a NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT graphics card.
With AMD’s dual-core Athlon 64 4800+ and a GeForce 6800GT in the box, Shuttle’s latest XPC combined high performance in a very small package. While the system was roughly the same size as a toaster, it delivers performance greater than most desktop PCs! For this reason we gave it our best portable design award.
The highlight of Computex for VIA was C7-M, VIA’s latest mobile processor which is designed for use in thin and light, mainstream, as well as ultra portable notebooks.
VIA was also on hand at our event, displaying first hand some of the new technologies they’re showing off at their booth. Their invitational system utilized the company’s popular AMD Athlon 64 PCI Express chipset, VIA K8T890. The PC also featured AMD’s Athlon 64 4000+ processor and 1GB of DDR 400 memory.
However, the unique feature of the system was the fact that it was running two GeForce 6600GT graphics cards in SLI mode. VIA did this by hacking one of NVIDIA’s past Detonator releases, but doesn’t expect to be shipping a K8T890 motherboard supporting SLI anytime soon.
As we stated earlier, the systems submitted were competing for one of seven awards: Best Portable Design, Highest Overclock, Best CPU/Motherboard Performance, Best Visual Design, Best Graphics Performance, Best Low Noise Design, and the Ultimate Gaming Rig. On to the winners:
Ultimate Gaming System: ASUS
Best Video Performance: MSI
Best Portable Design: Shuttle
With AMD's dual-core Athlon 64 4800+ and a GeForce 6800 GT card inside, Shuttle's XPC combined high performance in a very small package. While the system was roughly the same size as a toaster, it delivers performance greater than most desktop PCs! For this reason we gave it our best portable design award.
Best CPU/Motherboard Performance: Kingston
Kingston just missed out on the highest overclock award, but by overclocking their Pentium Extreme Edition processor to 4GHz they turned in the high scores in our CPU/motherboard/memory testing. Only Shuttle’s dual-core system turned in higher CPU scores, but they’d already taken home the award for best portable design.
Highest Overclock: DFI
DFI managed to overclock their Athlon 64 3000+ CPU by 20%, from 1.8GHz stock to
Best low noise design: Albatron
Albatron’s PC6800Q cards utilize Albatron's WiseFan technology. WiseFan uses heatpipe cooling to help keep the graphics core cool, this allows the card's fans to run slower and quieter. As a result, the PC6800Q was the quietest of all the graphics cards we tested.
Best visual design: AOpen
AOpen's Nouveau case looked great, and was decked-out with an LED that rotated from red to blue. In addition, the case wasn't very large, and thanks to its aluminum design was lightweight with good cooling. Nouveau also ships with AOpen’s SilenTek power supply and, like most high-end cases, is entirely screwless. Nouveau is without a doubt one of the sharpest cases we’ve ever seen, and can be found in multiple colors, just in case green isn’t your color.
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