Thursday, July 21, 2016

Intel Skylake and Z170 graphics : transitional technology. Skip it if you want 4K in your home theater PC

Intel released the Skylake CPUs in mid-2015, as well as the Z170 chipset to go along with it. These features 4K video capability, ie. 3840x2160 resolution at 60 Hz.

Unfortunately, 4K is only available on motherboards that feature a DisplayPort connector. The majority of Z170 motherboards don't feature a DisplayPort connector.

Furthermore, the majority of 4K TVs don't feature a DisplayPort connector either. Instead, they feature HDMI 2.0 connectors. Skylake only supports HDMI 1.4 . What this means is that you will only be able to get 4K resolution with the built-in Skylake graphics at 30 Hz on your TV, rather than 60 Hz.

What this means is that if you want to drive your HDMI 2.0 4K TV at 60 Hz, you will need a a separate, discrete video card, such as one from with an AMD or nVidia chipset.

While an adapter from Club 3D exists to convert DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0, the reports of compatibility with various DisplayPort GPUs and HDMI 2.0 TVs are mixed. And in the context of a home theater, an HDMI 2.0 receiver may be in the mix as well, which would further complicate compatibility, and thus I would not recommend it.

The bottom line is - the Skylake and Z170 GPU is fairly useless in the context of a 4K home theater PC. If you are upgrading an existing HTPC, it would be best to just switch the discrete GPU to a new model, and skip Skylake altogether. If you are building one from scratch in 2016, you may still consider Skylake CPU and a Z170 motherboard, but you will most likely want to disable the built-in GPU and buy a separate one from AMD or nVidia. If you are on a budget, going for a previous generation of motherboard and CPUs may save you enough money to save for an HDMI 2.0 discrete GPU.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Get some cash back by using your rewards credit to pay other bills.

I normally don't make commercial posts here, but hey, never say never

If you don't already have a credit card that earns rewards, feel free to skip this post.

But if you do, read on. Especially if the card has a sign-up bonus that requires a minimum amount of spending.

Here is how it works :
  1. Sign up for Plastiq with my referral link at .  If you don't use this link, then the promotion described below won't apply. Make sure to click "continue to site", as for some reason the "send download link" doesn't actually work at the moment.
  2. Using your rewards credit card on Plastiq, make a $20 payment towards any bill you have, except a credit card. You will incur a 2.5% fee of 50 cents.
  3. A few hours after your payment is complete, you will earn $200 fee-free dollars.
  4. Using your rewards credit card on Plastiq, make a $200 payment towards any bill you have, except a credit card. You will not incur a fee.
  5. Make sure you pay your credit card in full every month to avoid interest - otherwise this doesn't make sense.
  6. Afterwards, you will earn rewards on your credit card on a $220.50 purchase. With a typical 1% cash back credit card, this would be $2.20 . Or it could be much more, depending on the card you have. If you have a signup bonus with minimum spending to satisfy, it could be far more. For example, with a card that requires $4000 spending in 3 months to earn $500 cash back, the math is as follows :
    a) 220/4000 * 500 =$27.50 cash back earn from the signup bonus
    b) 220 *0.01 = $2.20 cash back earn from regular 1% spending
    Total cash back earned : $29.50
If you do signup, definitely do it through a referral link, preferrably mine, otherwise you won't get the $200 fee-free dollars for making the $20 payment. With the regular 2.5% fee, using Plastiq typically does not make sense. It only makes sense if the fee is much lower, or waived, as in the case of this promotion.

Note that the referrer (hopefully me) will also get $400 fee-free dollars. Once you have an account, you can refer somebody else and earn more fee-free dollars to earn more rewards on your card.

This is useful to earn rewards on your regular bills that you typically can't pay with a credit card, such as your mortgage, electric & gas company, water company, etc.

I suspect the Plastiq promotion won't last forever. I will take down this post when the referral program ends, as it surely will after Plastiq gets a sufficient number of users.