Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On internet service in metropolitan centers


I live in a large city in western Washington. Bellevue.
I'm in practically the second largest tech center in the world.
I can literally walk to the Microsoft Headquarters in less than 25 minutes.
I have two real options for internet.

In a day when internet video streaming has become so ubiquitous, it's beyond belief that the pipelines that bring that video to all of our electronic devices is so completely and utterly broken.

I'm lucky! I pay for 150Mbps down and 10Mbps up and it only costs me $51 per month including a modem rental. In reality I get about 125Mbps down, 13Mbps up, and a 15ms ping. In many parts of this country, people are paying three to four or more times that price for orders of magnitude worse service.

The difference is I am in a city. Not any city but a tech city that encompasses huge companies like Valve and T-Mobile USA and is right next to the Headquarters of Microsoft, Nintendo America, Amazon, and major corporate offices of Google and Facebook. That seems like enough to warrant some decent internet service right? How else are you going to enjoy 50+ GB games from Steam, 4K video streaming from amazon, and endless YouTube videos?

The problem is that regardless of these facts, I and everyone else around here save for a couple dozen high-rise apartment buildings downtown are stuck between two ISPs. The great Satan, Comcast, and Centurylink.
I can get the service that I get for the price I pay or if for some reason I don't feel like supporting Comcast I always have the great choice of paying $40 a month for blazing fast 7 or 12Mbps "broadband" service.

The funny thing is that on the off chance that I'm watching cable TV I'm seeing advertisements for Centurylink's Gigabit Fiber service for only $80* a month or Comcast's seemingly heavenly 2Gbps Fiber.

The issue here is that as far as I've seen, Centurylink's service is only available in half-a-neighborhood in Seattle and that star you see next to the $80 there is because you've also got to pay an extra $40 a month for TV and sign a yearlong contract.

The issue with Comcast's fantastic service I found after a wonderful call with their representatives is many fold. Funny story, the automatic voiceover for the Fiber hotline tells you about their "Two Gigabyte" Fiber service. The service however not only costs a whopping $300 per month plus a $20 per month mandatory modem rental but also requires a $500 installation fee as well as a $500 activation fee as well as a two year contract with a $1150 cancellation fee. Not only that but they also reserve the right to institute an arbitrary data cap on that service whenever they feel like it during that contract. To top all of that off you can be forced wait between six to eight weeks for the installation to even occur in the first place.

If you're not familiar with Comcast's fantastic new data cap policies that they've instituted in the southeast then I'll enlighten you. They decided that they weren't making enough money despite record profits so they thought they'd cap the internet that you already pay handsomely for at a measly 350GB per month and charge $10 per 50GB you went above that cap. If you're like me and enjoy in excess of 3 Terrabytes of data a month then you're suddenly paying an extra $530 a month if you forgot to pay the 35 bucks to wave the cap in the first place.

Luckily Comcast was gracious and just recently upped that cap to a marginally more reasonably 1TB of data per month but raised data cap waver up to $50.

Look.
I know that a whole Terrabyte sounds like a lot and it is but you also have to remember the following.
modern video games are now in excess of 50GB a piece, a 1080p Blu-ray movie is 50GB with 4K Blu-rays reaching 100GB, and video streaming in general tends to consume in excess of 2GB per hour for low quality 1080p streams.

Once you're enjoying high quality content, have multiple family members, or use your internet for high capacity offsite backups, 1TB stops being a lot of data.

I've done some calculations based on the $625 + $50 I spend right now on rent for a small room and internet and the fact that I could rent one of these apartments with true $80 Gigabit fiber for $1250 plus the internet.

If I needed Gigabit internet for less than 6 months, it would literally be cheaper for me to move to this fancy studio apartment with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, the whole shebang, and move back afterwards than it would be to get Comcast Fiber and pay the whole installation fees, service, and cancellation fees.


Orange = Fancy Apartment + GigaWave
Blue = Comcast Fiber and Rented Room

We need Google Fiber like Gigabit service for less than $100 and we need it in more than a dozen smaller cities nationwide. Just because some of us are still cool with dial-up doesn't mean most of us are. We massively under-invest in infrastructure which is why we're seeing bridges and roads collapse far too often but I'd argue that internet infrastructure is even more important for the future where we can get Amazon drones delivering everything and VR becomes something uncannily like reality.

Thanks for reading my little rant and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, June 6, 2016

On Core i5 bottlenecking


Sure, a good Core i5 is going to be more than you'll ever need for regular gaming.
That is until you actually decide to play one of a huge variety of surprisingly CPU intensive games.

For reference, I have a relatively high end Core i5-4690 paired with an EVGA GTX 970 FTW with a 1080p 144 Hz monitor and according to post after post online I should never run into any CPU bottlenecks because single core performance doesn't get much better and games don't really use that many threads. Right?

Anandtech's benchmarks say that my processor is the best CPU based on the Haswell architecture or earlier to run a game like Battlefield 4 with a similar GPU to mine.

"Top-end CPUs offer rapidly diminishing returns when it comes to gaming performance. As such, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Core i5-6600K"

TechSpot benchmarks show no significant difference in Battlefield 4 performance with a 290X between a core i3-3220 and a core i7-4960X.

Logical Increments still recommends a similar caliber CPU to mine (Core i5-6600) for GPUs a decent bit more powerful than mine such as a R9 Fury.


And /r/buildapc notes in their wiki:

"[i5s] are currently the most popular CPU for high end gaming as the performance benefit of an i7 is negligible and not worth the price increase for many people."

After reading these comments from a large variety of very reputable sources in the PC building community one might be inclined to purchase a $200-$250 Core i5 rather than dishing out another $100 for a "negligible" performance improvement in "high end gaming". 

The problem is that in everything I've tested in extremely popular games such as Battlefield 4, Rainbow Six Siege, Grand Theft Auto V, and Civilization V prove that my processor is woefully inadequate for the task.

Some anecdotes from my experience include Battlefield 4 running at roughly the same frame-rate (within 5%) running at the minimum preset verses the high preset. Looking at the Rivatuner overlay I see that on minimum settings my GPU is running at <60% usage the entire time. This is the clear marker of a CPU bottleneck.

Playing Rainbow Six Siege results in similar trends. I am unable to push the frame-rate of the game above about 125 Fps at 1080p regardless of the settings I choose. Another notable symptom is the fact that all four cores of my Core i5-4690 are pinned at 100% CPU usage the entire time I'm playing the game.
Civilization V takes its sweet time to process the AI once you get a few turns into a game.
Also, Grand Theft Auto V which was released initially in 2011 refuses to run over 100 Fps on my computer no matter what I've tried.
God forbid I try to download something in Steam when I play Battlefield 4 because instead of 100-150 Fps, I'm suddenly running a stutter filled mess at less than 45 Fps.

I've attached some screenshots in Rainbow Six Siege and Battlefield 4 below with a RivaTuner overlay.









I also have reports from others like /u/UN1203who remarks that: 

"Hey so the results are in and I have to say I was wrong, and you might be on to something. I was seeing FPS scaling all the way up to my max overclock of 4.8ghz on a 6600k. Here are the pics for you.
I could not get back to the same spot for screenshot 3 because the map had changed, but I picked the spot on the map where my sustained fps was the lowest.
Ultimately I don't really remember what it was like to play BF4 at anything under 4.4-4.5ghz and I didn't figure it would scale at all after the 3.9ghz your chip puts out but it certainly does. So it looks like it's upgrade time for you my friend. Get more cores or get to overclocking... If cost is not a major concern for you as you say, wait for the broadwell-e to drop, put that bitch under water, and let her stretch her legs at 4.5ghz+, that will be an absolute monster. And with BF5 coming out soon you will want all the firepower you can get."

I'm stuck with this huge disparity between the information I'm given and the results I'm experiencing and finding the solution for this beyond my knowledge. I see massive stagnation in the high end enthusiast processor market with Broadwell-E failing to improve the performance per dollar rate over Haswell-E and even failing to improve maximum performance when overclocking according to a decent number of reports.

I guess I'll try upgrading to a core i7-5820k and hope that does the trick and I'll let you guys now how that turns out.

Thanks for reading.

Edit: 
Some people are asking for a full spec. list so here it is:
Intel Core i5-4690
Gigabyte GA-Z97-HD3P
EVGA GTX 970 FTW
Windows 10 64-bit Professional
HyperX 16GB 1866MHz DDR3
Samsung 850 Evo 512GB
Acer GN246HL 1080p144Hz
Roccat Ryos MK Cherry MX Black
Coolermaster Recon
Blue Yeti
Fiio E10K
Sennheiser HD598 Special Edition

Edit 2:
I've read comments talking about how clearly I'm an idiot and there must be some other program in the background ruining my performance, Windows 10 is the spawn of Satan and idles the processor, and that I should just be happy getting around 100 Fps and just give up on expecting a locked 144 Fps on new games. I love how people love to condescend and spout "user error" on anything that makes them consider some other person's reality.

My response is simple, I'm not content with "good enough". I want and expect great performance with great hardware and I value smooth and responsive game-play above all else.

I understand that adaptive-sync will help but 100 Fps is 100 Fps. I want 144 Hz or higher.
I'd also like to clarify that BF4 stuttering while downloading from Steam is entirely due to CPU usage. I'm downloading to a different drive, my internet is fast enough, and I have more than enough RAM.

Edit 3:
Thank you so much for all of your comments and views. Over 2000 of you have seen this article and I hope my future articles are half as successful.