First Look: Enthusiast System Architecture

Written by Tim Smalley

November 5, 2007 | 16:24

Tags: #architecture #control #enthusiast #industry #monitor #monitoring #power #real #standard #supply #system #systems #time #water

Companies: #asus #dell #esa #hp #nvidia

Industry Support:

Even though ESA is only just being announced, there is a lot of industry support for the specification already. Nvidia has managed to get both Dell and HP – the two largest PC OEMs in the world on board, along with Alienware, Falcon Northwest and Maingear. Not only that but the three major enthusiast motherboard manufacturers – Asus, Gigabyte and MSI – have joined the group along with EVGA and XFX, who both sell ‘designed by Nvidia’ motherboards.

There are also power supply, cooling and chassis manufacturers that have joined the programme and will be releasing ESA-enabled products in the future. These companies include Cooler Master, CoolIT Systems, PC Power & Cooling, Silverstone, Tagan, Thermaltake and Ultra.

During the briefing, we had the chance to speak to Rahul Sood, HP Gaming’s Chief Technology Officer, who had a few things to say about how HP plans to use ESA. “When we created Blackbird – HP’s flagship desktop PC – we wanted to focus on the user experience, first and foremost. We really wanted to make significant tangible experiences for our target customer that they would notice right away.

“There are certain platforms that we’ve seen over the years, some have been successful – like SLI on nForce and Centrino – and others haven’t. When you look at platforms, the successful ones have been designed from an engineering perspective, while the unsuccessful ones were created from a marketing perspective.

“ESA is cool because it’s an open standard and it makes tangible sense to our customers – there is a lot of neat things you can do with ESA and our engineers are buzzing about it right now. Things like being able to see the hotspots inside your case is really neat, as is being able to control system noise. The fact that we’re not borrowing from the motherboard’s USB headers and using something that is potentially integrated into the chassis is pretty interesting and there are plenty of ways to be more creative.”

Platform Support:

One of the things that concerned us was how this was going to be implemented into platforms, because it requires a software layer. Nvidia has designed a new version of Nvidia Monitor, which only works on Nvidia platforms. Nvidia’s reasoning for this was that it wasn’t making money directly from ESA, but hopes that it will be paid back in the long run, as more people may want to buy its products in the future because of ESA.

First Look: Enthusiast System Architecture Initial Thoughts...

What Nvidia’s representatives did reaffirm though is the fact that the standard is completely open and will be available for download, meaning that anyone will be able to create software for monitoring ESA-enabled components.

What was more interesting though was the fact that the software is only officially supported on Nvidia’s next-generation platform. The company’s representatives told us that there is nothing it is doing to prevent the monitoring software from working on current and previous-generation nForce hardware – all that it isn’t doing is QAing the software on its older platforms.

I found this a little disconcerting, even though Nvidia says that it has done nothing to prevent it from working on, for example, an nForce 680i SLI motherboard; the fact that it hasn’t been QAed means that it may not work. I would have hoped that Nvidia would at least support its current generation products to improve the community uptake. At the moment, it could easily be viewed as a way to push PC enthusiasts to buy products based on the company’s next generation platform when it’s eventually released, as that’s the only platform which is supported by Nvidia's software.

Initial Thoughts...

On the whole, I think Nvidia should be commended for drafting the Enthusiast System Architecture specification, as I believe the industry can benefit from an open standard for hardware monitoring and control, but I still have my concerns. While ESA sounds great in theory, the problem is that the only thing being certified is the protocol and that information is being sent to the host PC.

What it doesn’t do is guarantee that the information being sent to the host PC is correct. For example, your power supply could be reporting incorrect voltages or load while your water cooler is reporting the wrong liquid temperature or flow rate. The current draft of the specification means that you wouldn’t be able to determine whether the information you’re actually being presented with is accurate.

On this point, the other worry is that hardware sites reviewing power supplies might use the monitoring software to record the power supply's rails, and the manufacturer could easily engineer the rails (or at least the data being sent using ESA) to be almost perfect. Obviously at bit-tech and many other top publications these days, power supplies are tested using industry-standard loading equipment, but not every hardware site has access to this equipment.

Combined, this will mean that the usefulness of ESA will come down to how well component manufacturers implement the specification. We’ll be having a closer look at some ESA-enabled devices in the near future and we will be back to report our findings.
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