Saturday, May 26, 2012

HS25 Review – Part 14 – Low light shooting and an inadvertent computer upgrade to the Zambesi 8150 8-core …

It was once again time to open Pandora’s box. I had so many troubles with my computer and finally achieved stability with fixes to my Crucial M4 SSD drive – the latest firmware and setting Windows 64 power management profile to “performance”, which require a custom profile. This disables the Intel driver feature that causes the M4 to hang and crash Explorer after half an hour or so.

So after all that, I had an unnecessary motherboard upgrade with an AM3+ socket, which meant that the sales on the 8-core Zambesi were now interesting to me. Coupled with an accidental upgrade to 16GB of RAM because my son wanted to expand from 4GB and later found out that his MB does not handle all four slots filled but that reseating the RAM would enable both sticks for 8GB, it was time to really get a taste of pandemonium. So I dropped by the local shop to see if they could match Newegg’s sale on the Zambesi chip (also known as Bulldozer) and it turned out that they charged only a bit more normally, so I decided to support the local business and ordered one. As good an excuse to waste money as any. :-)

But wait … I was not done. The owner, Chris, popped out from the back and we chatted for a while. We got our black belts in Karate together back in 1996 and since he opened his local shop near my home (it’s called Over The Top Computing), we have touched base off an on over the years. Anyway, as we were shooting the proverbial shit, I mentioned that the Zambesi would be great for Photoshop but that a video card like the amazing new 670s that he just got in stock. 1332 CUDA cores is mind blowing. Well, the lid creaked open a bit further when he mentioned that an employee in the back had a pair of 570s (512 cores) for sale quick cheaply ($120 off) and they were very slightly used. So I bit.

What follows is the build. I documented it with the HS25 because, well, that’s the camera I am shooting with until I send it back. As I write this, it remains in my possession. Still liking it, although my Toronto report will expose some flaws that are rather annoying.

Anyway … here is the main event.

Fuji HS25  800iso  f/3.6  1/18s

This is a very noisy image for 800ISO. There are two causes – the huge white balance shift required to compensate for the halogen lighting, and a slight underexposure of the shadows. The box is black, after all.

Note: I’m adopting 1000px across in Lightroom as my new standard web presentation, so when you click on the images, you see a bit more of the detail that might be present.

Once the old CPU cooler has been removed, the surrounding clamp infrastructure is also gone since my better quality cooler has its own back plate. This leaves very clear access to the CPU for cleaning. Cleaning is simple … lots of Q-Tips and 99% pure rubbing alcohol. Spin the Q-Tip as you swipe, don’t ever use the dirty section again.

Fuji HS25  400ISO  f/3.6  1/20  -1ev

The reason you do this cleaning before removing the CPU itself is to prevent getting the thermal compound onto the main bed where the many hundred tiny holes are. Thermal compound is often conductive and getting some under the chip will wreck havoc on your build.

I immediately transfer the cleaned up 1055T to my previous motherboard, which I have now proven to be perfectly serviceable, and compare it to the incoming FX chip. Yowsa … the new chip is so purdy …

Fuji HS25  800ISO  f/4.5  1/30  -1ev

A quick shot of the old video card and the new video card. Wow … it barely fits in the case, and it sucks massive power. (This comes up later as Pandora’s box asserts itself again.)

Fuji HS25  800ISO  f/3.6  1/30  -1/3ev

The CPU is now in and the cooler must be brought back to new looking. Same drill … lots of Q-Tips with careful swiping. Here is the before and after. This is a beautiful, yet not that expensive unit.

Fuji HS25  800iso  f/3.6  1/30  -1/3ev

Fuji hs25  800iso  f/4  1/30  -1/3ev

Ready for mounting the cooler once more. I will apply three small strips of Cooler Master thermal compound in the middle and the pressure will spread it out to cover the entire surface. Works perfectly. I don’t really like it when I see people advocating the credit card method of covering the whole chip, as it makes a mess and there are videos on YouTube showing that it is unnecessary.

fuji hs25  400iso  f/3.6  1/220  -2ev

Note the heavy exposure compensation. The chip is very reflective. At any typical exposure, the lettering was invisible. The only way to capture the image was to set –2EV and then process a bit in Lightroom. I like how it came out …

fuji hs25  400iso  f/3.6  1/55  -1.67ev

I tried this one without as much compensation but had to come back almost all the way to get a good capture.

You can see the new memory there and the empty slot for the video card. The cooler was as easy to install as it was the first time. But for the video card, I actually had to go find a pair of 5.25” adapters to move the SSD from a 3.5inch bay up to sitting beneath the DVD drive, as shown in the final shot of the build. New blue SATA III cables helpe for all my drives to perform their fastest.

fuji hs25  800iso f/3.6  -2/3ev

The NZXT Gamma case is a classic and still for sale in many places. This case hits the sweet spot between strong functionality and price. 49 bucks buys a great case with lots of room and a modern bottom mounted power supply bay. It comes with one large and very quiet case fan, which is all I have needed so far.

The new video card takes up two slots. It can display port and HDMI, although I use two DVI cables for my two monitors.

Fuji hs25  800iso  f/3.6  1/15  -2/3ev

And that is that.

Now … Pandora’s box. When you open it, you must be prepared for the unexpected.

  1. First thing I notice is that the video card is unbearably loud. Three fans screaming all the time. The fix is easier than I would have thought … run MSI’s Afterburner application and let it control the fans on the video card based on temperature. Blessed silence again.
  2. There is a subtle high-pitched whine in the background. Cannot isolate it yet, but weak power supplies are implicated.
  3. There is a high pitched clicking sound as I move my mouse. The loudness varies from almost quiet to really annoying. This is either a cap on the power supply or on the motherboard. Either way, lack of power is implicated. I have a new high end 850 watt power supply on the way.

I actually ran a power supply calculator on my build and found that 827 watts was recommended. So after debating for a few days, I decided to get a high end one (Corsair HX series) from …

If it helps, I’ll try to remember to update this article. I’ll know next week.


  • Do not open Pandora’s box unless you are willing to take this kind of pain. Note that my rendering times in Sony Vegas has gone down from about 1.2:1 (a little slower than real time) to about 1:4 (1/4 real time) … of course, that is not a perfect comparison since I did not have something I could rerender. But the extra cores make a real difference. The video card has not yet been brought to bear on rendering as I cannot quite figure out why it is not seen in the video preferences page. That’s usually drivers, and I will keep trying.
  • Overclocking the Zambesi chip has been largely unsuccessful. This is often a power supply issue, so strike two. Another good reason to use the right size.
  • The HS25 (I didn’t forget Smile) worked really well for this task. The only noisy image was the first image and I suspect that I could deal with that if I felt like reprocessing it. But it is fine as a documentary image. Every one of these images has heavy white balance adjustment, which means the blue channel is accentuated. This tiny sensor really did a good job with that. Keeping ISO down a bit by turning up the lights to maximum did help, but in the end tiny sensors can do it or they cannot. This one apparently can.