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Setup And Overcoming Issues

External Graphics Over PCIe 3.0? Netstor's NA255A, Reviewed
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In theory, populating the NA255A should be as easy as dropping in graphics cards, connecting their power leads, and hooking the external enclosure up to the host PC's PCI Express card. The TurboBox is designed to extend standardized interfaces, so no software driver should be necessary. In the real world, though, setup isn't quite that easy.

We encountered a couple of snags along the way. First, I initially didn't realize that the PCIe-based interface cards have specific I/Os. If you look closely, one port on each card is etched with a x16 and the other is etched with a x8. I accidentally hooked the x16 up to the x8 and vice versa. The mistake was easy to reverse, but it doesn't appear to be mentioned anywhere in Netstor's documentation.

The second hang-up was a little more worrisome. Mainly, I couldn't get the TurboBox working at PCI Express 3.0 signaling rates. First- and second-gen PCI Express worked fine. But when the jumped was set to PCIe 3.0, the enclosure stopped recognizing the graphics cards I was plugging in. Netstor helped us work through the issue, which involved reconfiguring switches on the interface cards. This solved our issue.

Our third issue wasn't the TurboBox's fault at all. During our first round of benchmarks, we saw odd performance drops with three Radeon HD 7970s installed. Much troubleshooting revealed that some of our Tahiti-based boards weren't working together the way they should have. It turned out that boards from different vendors shipped with incompatible firmware, which hampered multi-card configurations (even though this should have been fine). Mixing and matching products, even those from the same family, is asking for trouble. Fortunately, we worked around the problem with a different card combo.

Finally, we weren't able to test four Radeon HD 7970s at the same time. Again, this wasn't Netstor's fault, however. The TurboBox is absolutely able to accommodate a quartet of dual-slot boards. But because some of the 7970s in our lab are a little larger, they don't fit into the strict space limitations of two expansion slots. As a result, we're testing with three Radeon HD 7970s. It all works out, though: the ASRock X79 Extreme9 motherboard I'm using only has room for three 7970s anyway, so that's our hard limit for comparing native on-board connectivity to the performance of Netstor's device.

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Top Comments
  • 23 Hide
    slomo4sho , March 29, 2013 12:35 AM
    An expensive solution to inferior Mac hardware...
  • 23 Hide
    dagamer34 , March 28, 2013 10:55 PM
    Now if only we could get external GPUs via Thunderbolt (or it's future iterations) so that laptops wouldn't be forever gimped, we'd be in business!
  • 21 Hide
    adgjlsfhk , March 29, 2013 4:01 AM
    Quote:
    But what about someone working on a Mac Pro? Apple's more limited ecosystem means there is no such thing as a three- or four-way graphics array. This could be one of the only options for enabling multiple GPUs. If massive compute potential is important, you might need to swallow hard and consider Netstor's solution the cost of doing business in Apple's world.

    Or you could use the $2000 to ditch your mac pro that is years out of date and use the money to buy a pc that is better in pretty much every way.
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    ohyouknow , March 28, 2013 10:12 PM
    Interesting
  • 9 Hide
    MasterMace , March 28, 2013 10:26 PM
    This is a nice article. I wonder if Tom's can do a multi-cpu article as well.
  • 23 Hide
    dagamer34 , March 28, 2013 10:55 PM
    Now if only we could get external GPUs via Thunderbolt (or it's future iterations) so that laptops wouldn't be forever gimped, we'd be in business!
  • 14 Hide
    jupiter optimus maximus , March 28, 2013 11:00 PM
    Whooo whoo, if i had the money to burn, i would get this NA255A, remove the PSU bundle, replace it with a Seasonic 1000 Platinum, slap four GTX Titans, add a custom water-cooling loop, connect it to my main PC and have (if it works) three more NA255A's for each of the PCIe for the main PC with a grand total of 16 GTX Titans for massive GPU computation. All for a grand total of $13,800. Massive electric bill, here i come!
  • 9 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 28, 2013 11:11 PM
    PCIE signals scale poorly to long wires. So it is a technical achievement to have these signals travel over a meter of wire.
  • 16 Hide
    A Bad Day , March 28, 2013 11:18 PM
    dagamer34Now if only we could get external GPUs via Thunderbolt (or it's future iterations) so that laptops wouldn't be forever gimped, we'd be in business!


    There are some external GPU cases.

    The only issue is that the cheapest is somewhere slightly less than $400.

    Please explain to me how an aluminum box, a micro-PSU, and a Thunderbolt-to-PCIE adapter adds up to even $200...
  • 5 Hide
    A Bad Day , March 28, 2013 11:19 PM
    EDIT: And when I meant the cheapest, I meant the ones that are only sufficient for a 7750. Want to pair a 7970 with a ultrabook?

    $400-$500 for a slightly longer box with a slightly more capable PSU.
  • 23 Hide
    slomo4sho , March 29, 2013 12:35 AM
    An expensive solution to inferior Mac hardware...
  • 2 Hide
    Vatharian , March 29, 2013 2:48 AM
    Good X79 workstation mobo with 7 PCI-e slots, and 4 K20x-s on each of them. That's a TON of computing power, and if you don't want to deal with high-speed networking multiple boxes, that's nice. Of course only if this thing can actuallty work in pairs or more and in some way circumvent the 15 gpu limit in bios memory mapping. Can this thing be turned on with working machine?
  • 21 Hide
    adgjlsfhk , March 29, 2013 4:01 AM
    Quote:
    But what about someone working on a Mac Pro? Apple's more limited ecosystem means there is no such thing as a three- or four-way graphics array. This could be one of the only options for enabling multiple GPUs. If massive compute potential is important, you might need to swallow hard and consider Netstor's solution the cost of doing business in Apple's world.

    Or you could use the $2000 to ditch your mac pro that is years out of date and use the money to buy a pc that is better in pretty much every way.
  • 18 Hide
    abbadon_34 , March 29, 2013 5:00 AM
    slomo4shoAn expensive solution to inferior Mac hardware...

    Mac/Apple users either don't care about or don't under price/performance . My guess, they won't care about the price, just that it doesn't come in pretty colors.
  • 1 Hide
    cozmium , March 29, 2013 5:04 AM
    Would have been nice to see some Nvidia hardware thrown in to see how they get on.
  • 8 Hide
    bjaminnyc , March 29, 2013 5:42 AM
    cozmiumWould have been nice to see some Nvidia hardware thrown in to see how they get on.


    What additional conclusions could be drawn concerning internal vs external throughput?
  • 9 Hide
    bunz_of_steel , March 29, 2013 6:04 AM
    imho
    Apple users are a select group of users, alot of high school kids and girls use them. Not trying to be funny just an observation. If you buy into the Apple thing you have to do things their way and on their terms. Apple has always been cost prohibitive and too restrictive for me personally.
  • 2 Hide
    A Bad Day , March 29, 2013 7:06 AM
    bunz_of_steelimhoApple users are a select group of users, alot of high school kids and girls use them. Not trying to be funny just an observation. If you buy into the Apple thing you have to do things their way and on their terms. Apple has always been cost prohibitive and too restrictive for me personally.


    My sister's thoughts when buying a 13" Macbook:

    "If it's light, not battery draining, durable, and works, then it's good enough."
  • 6 Hide
    downhill911 , March 29, 2013 7:08 AM
    Tomshardware Please please review this one! Thanks :-)

    ViDock 4 Plus Overdrive (Two 6-Pin/320W/329mm) $279US Plus $30US Worldwide Shipping
    http://www.villageinstruments.com/tiki-index.php?page=ViDock
    Unboxing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymYbE3JawLk
  • 4 Hide
    loops , March 29, 2013 9:00 AM
    2k?

    7990 x 2?

    Still have one PCI slot open for my phone modem card :) _
  • 6 Hide
    basketcase87 , March 29, 2013 9:44 AM
    jupiter optimus maximusWhooo whoo, if i had the money to burn, i would get this NA255A, remove the PSU bundle, replace it with a Seasonic 1000 Platinum, slap four GTX Titans, add a custom water-cooling loop, connect it to my main PC and have (if it works) three more NA255A's for each of the PCIe for the main PC with a grand total of 16 GTX Titans for massive GPU computation. All for a grand total of $13,800. Massive electric bill, here i come!

    $13,800? Check your math- I think you forgot a few titans.
    4x NA255A @ $2200 = $8800
    16x Titan @ $1000 = $16000
    4x Seasonic 1000 @ $230 = $920
    Total of $25,720 before adding the custom water loops.
  • 5 Hide
    kylerg , March 29, 2013 10:19 AM
    Three Radeon HD 7970's and Nvidia 310.70 beta drivers? Am I missing something here?
  • 3 Hide
    sna , March 29, 2013 10:29 AM
    this box should be 200$ max

    the PLX chips are being used in motherboards long ago , and the whole motherboard with PLX chip is 300$ only .. as a matter of fact the PLX chip is 50$ only

    add 50$ for case and power and 50$ for board and cables and 50$ profit

    what 2200$ ?

    I hope Asrock or Asus make such boxs soon for 200$ and with SLI option as well. ...

    who needs a stupid useless Thunderbolt when u can have native external PCIe 16 ?

    next stop add that port to a notebook .. one to one PCI 16 x no PLX chip... and notebooks will be desktops
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