ASRock Adds VisionX 471D To Small Form Factor PC Lineup

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 30, 2015 - 03:03 AM |
Tagged: visionx, SFF, radeon, m270x, haswell, asrock, amd

ASRock has unleashed an update to its small form factor VisionX series. The new VisionX 471D adds a faster Haswell processor and dedicated Radeon mobile graphics to the mini PC.

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The 7.9” x 7.9” x 2.8” PC chassis comes in black or silver with rounded corners. External I/O is quite expansive with a DVD optical drive, two audio jacks, one USB 3.0 port, one MHSL* port (MHL compatible port that carries both data and video), and a SD card reader on the front. Further, the back of the PC holds the following ports:

  • Audio:
    • 5 x Analog audio jacks
    • 1 x Optical audio out
  • Video:
    • 1 x DVI
    • 1 x HDMI
  • Networking:
    • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet jack
    • 802.11ac (2 antennas)
  • Storage/Peripherals:
    • 5 x USB 3.0
    • 1 x USB 2.0
    • 1 x eSATA

ASRock has gone with the Intel Core i7-4712MQ processor. This is a 37W Haswell quad core (with eight threads) clocked at up to 3.3GHz. Graphics are handled by the AMD Radeon R9 M270X which is a mobile “Venus” GCN-based GPU with 1GB of memory. The 28nm GPU with 640 cores, 40 TMUs, and 16 ROPs is clocked at 725 MHz base and up to 775 MHz boost. The PC further supports two SO-DIMMS, two 2.5” drives, one mSATA connector, and the above-mentioned DVD drive (DL-8A4SH-01 comes pre-installed).

ASRock VisionX 471D Rear IO.jpg

The VisionX 471D is a “barebones” system where you will have to provide your own OS but does come with bundled storage and memory. Specifically, for $999, the SFF computer comes with 8GB of DDR3 memory, a 2TB mechanical hard drive, and a 256GB mSATA SSD (the ASint SSDMSK256G-M1 using a JMF667 controller and 64GB 20nm IMFT NAND). This leaves room for one additional 2.5” drive for expansion. Although it comes without an operating system, it does ship with a Windows Media Center compatible remote.

This latest addition to the VisionX series succeeds the 420D and features a faster processor. At the time of this writing, the PC is not available for purchase, but it is in the hands of reviewers (such as this review from AnandTech) and will be coming soon to retailers for $999 USD.

The price is on the steep side especially compared to some other recent tiny PCs, but you are getting a top end mobile Haswell chip and good I/O for a small system with enough hardware to possibly be "enough" PC for many people (or at least a second PC or a HTPC in the living room).

Source: ASRock
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ECS

The ECS Z97-Machine motherboard is one of the boards in ECS' L337 product line, offering in-built support for the Intel Z97 Express chipset. ECS rethought their board design with the Z97-Machine, creating a stripped down enthusiast-friendly product that does not compromise on any of the design areas important to the expected performance of the board. At an MSRP of $139.99, ECS hits a lucrative price-point that many other manufacturers have failed to reach with an integrated Intel Z97 chipset in light of the offered features and performance.

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Courtesy of ECS

The ECS Z97-Machine motherboard offers an interesting cost-to-performance proposition, cutting back on unnecessary features to keep the overall cost down while not sacrificing on quality of the core components. ECS designed the board with a 6-phase digital power delivery system, using high efficients chokes (ICY CHOKES), MOSFETs rated at up to 90% efficiency, and Nichicon-source aluminum capacitors for optimal board performance under any operating conditions. The Z97-Machine board offers the following in-built features: four SATA 3 ports; an M.2 (NGFF) 10 Gb/s port; an Intel I218-V GigE NIC; two PCI-Express Gen3 x16 slots; 3 PCI-Express x1 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power and reset buttons; voltage measurement points; Realtek audio solution with ESS Sabre32 DAC; integrated VGA, DVI, and HDMI video port support; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

Continue reading our review of the ECS Z97-Machine motherboard!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The ASUS Maximus VII Impact motherboard is among ASUS' ROG (Republic of Gamers) board offerings in their Intel Z97 Express product line. The board builds on the strengths of its predecessor with the a similar layout and add-in card design implementation. ASUS augmented the new version of the board with an updated chipset and as well as additional support for the latest hard drive and audio technologies. The Maximus VII Impact has a premium price of $239.99 for its small status, but come packed full for features and power to more than justify the cost.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS did not pull any punches in designing the Maximus VII Impact board, integrating a similar 8-phase digital power system as found on the Maximus VII Formula ATX board. The power system combines 60A-rated BlackWing chokes, NexFET MOSFETs with a 90% efficiency rating, and 10k Japanese-source Black Metallic capacitors onto an upright board to minimize the footprint of those components. Additionally, ASUS integrated their updated SupremeFX Impact II audio system for superior audio fidelity using the included SupremeVX Impact II add-in card.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Maximus VII Impact motherboard!

Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano; are you a fan of fanless mini PCs?

Subject: Systems | November 13, 2014 - 04:03 PM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox ci540 nano, fanless, haswell, i5-4210Y

The Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano is a bit more powerful than your average Bay Trail based mini-PC, it sports a Haswell based dual core i5-4210Y which runs between 1.5-1.9GHz and has Intel's HD4200 onboard.  This won't play AC:Unity but comes close to matching a NUC containing a Core i5-4250U, you give up a bit of horsepower for completely silent operation and for media it sports enough power to watch your favourite videos.  As you look at Silent PC Reviews' article you can see the honeycomb patterned knockouts on the casing to allow heat to dissipate and to let in liquid if you don't put some thought into where you are going to place the ZBOX.  It does have Bluetooth and there is an unofficial optional IR receiver that can be used to make it easy to place this tiny computer in a safe place.

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"The Zotac ZBOX CI540 Nano gives up a little CPU/GPU horsepower to deliver a completely fanless, silent and full-featured mini-PC experience."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Newly Refreshed Cirrus7 Nimbus Looks Cool (Pun Intended)

Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 11, 2014 - 11:11 PM |
Tagged: haswell-t, haswell, fanless

This one is more for our European readers, because this company operates out of Germany, but the Cirrus7 Nimbus is an interestingly designed, fanless system. Its fin shape is said to be assembled out of laser-cut layers of aluminum that sandwiches in the I/O plate at the rear. FanlessTech has noted that the systems are now available with Haswell processors, up to a Core i7 based on Haswell-T. Their storage options now also include the Samsung 850 Pro, up to 1TB.

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Image Credit: Cirrus7 via FanlessTech

The customization options are actually pretty decent. I find that a lack of meaningful upgrades to be a problem with modern PC builders, however this one does not apply. Eight CPUs are offered, ranging from a Celeron up to a 45W Haswell-T; RAM comes in 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB; up to three drives can be installed, up to one mSATA and up to two SATA; Intel Wireless N or AC is available; external DVD or BluRay burners are an option; and one of seven OSes can be installed, including two versions of Linux (Ubuntu 14.04 or Ubuntu 14.10). If you get all of the bells and whistles, you are probably up to about 3,000 USD, but you cannot expect two terabytes of Samsung 850 Pro SSDs to be cheap. It seems reasonable enough, especially for the EU. The big limiter is the lack of a discrete GPU unless you are using this device for something like audio recording, which an Intel HD 4600 can easily handle.

The Cirrus7 Nimbus is available now at their website.

Source: Cirrus7

The ASRock Z97 Extreme6 has a surprise for you M.2 fans

Subject: Motherboards | October 23, 2014 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: asrock, Z97 Extreme6, Broadwell, haswell

For just under $200 the ASRock Z97 Extreme is a good base to build a Broadwell or Haswell platform on for significantly less than a brand new Haswell-E system.  The design is quite clean and well spaced out to allow the use of a large cooler along with integral heat sinks improving the looks and thermals of the motherboard.  The first two PCIe 3.0 16x slots share 16 lanes between them, the third slot is PCIe 2.0 and is limited to a maximum of two lanes, with two 1x and a mini PCIe slot each getting one lane.  Four of the remaining PCIe 3.0 lanes are taken up by the M.2 socket, which gives you up to 32Gbps of transfer speed, not too shabby for a Z97 board.  There are a lot of other features, including two separate physical UEFI chips and a very comprehensive software suite to manage the system, which you read about at The Tech Report.

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"With Broadwell compatibility and a secondary M.2 socket connected to four PCIe Gen3 lanes in the CPU, ASRock's Z97 Extreme6 might just be the most future-proof Haswell motherboard around. It's surprisingly affordable, too, despite having loads of other extras. Read on for more on a truly unique Z97 contender."

Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:

Motherboards

Apple Announces New Mac Minis with Haswell. What?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | October 17, 2014 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: Thunderbolt 2, thunderbolt, mac mini, mac, Intel, haswell, apple

I was not planning to report on Apple's announcement but, well, this just struck me as odd.

So Apple has relaunched the Mac Mini with fourth-generation Intel Core processors, after two years of waiting. It is the same height as the Intel NUC, but it also almost twice the length and twice the width (Apple's 20cm x 20cm versus the NUC's ~11cm x 11cm when the case is included). So, after waiting through the entire Haswell architecture launch cycle, right up until the imminent release of Broadwell, they are going with the soon-to-be outdated architecture, to update their two-year-old platform?

((Note: The editorial originally said "two-year-old architecture". I thought that Haswell launched about six months earlier than it did. The mistake was corrected.))

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I wonder if, following the iTunes U2 deal, this device will come bundled with Limp Bizkit's "Nookie"...

The price has been reduced to $499, which is a welcome $100 price reduction especially for PC developers who want a Mac to test cross-platform applications on. It also has Thunderbolt 2. These are welcome additions. I just have two, related questions: why today and why Haswell?

The new Mac Mini started shipping yesterday. 15-watt Broadwell-U is expected to launch at CES in January with 28W parts anticipated a few months later, for the following quarter.

Source: Apple

Intel Announces Q3 2014: Mucho Dinero

Subject: Editorial | October 15, 2014 - 12:39 PM |
Tagged: revenue, Results, quarterly, Q3, Intel, haswell, Broadwell, arm, amd, 22nm, 2014, 14nm

Yesterday Intel released their latest quarterly numbers, and they were pretty spectacular.  Some serious milestones were reached last quarter, much to the dismay of Intel’s competitors.  Not everything is good with the results, but the overall quarter was a record one for Intel.  The company reported revenues of $14.55 billion dollars with a net income of $3.31 billion.  This is the highest revenue for a quarter in the history of Intel.  This also is the first quarter in which Intel has shipped 100 million processors.

The death of the PC has obviously been overstated as the PC group had revenue of around $9 billion.  The Data Center group also had a very strong quarter with revenues in the $3.7 billion range.  These two groups lean heavily on Intel’s 22 nm TriGate process, which is still industry leading.  The latest Haswell based processors are around 10% of shipping units so far.  The ramp up for these products has been pretty impressive.  Intel’s newest group, the Internet of Things, has revenues that shrank by around 2% quarter over quarter, but it has grown by around 14% year over year.

Intel-Swimming-in-Money.jpg

Not all news is good news though.  Intel is trying desperately to get into the tablet and handheld markets, and so far has had little traction.  The group reported revenues in the $1 million range.  Unfortunately, that $1 million is offset by about $1 billion in losses.  This year has seen an overall loss for mobile in the $3 billion range.  While Intel arguably has the best and most efficient process for mobile processors, it is having a hard time breaking into this ARM dominated area.  There are many factors involved here.  First off there are more than a handful of strong competitors working directly against Intel to keep them out of the market.  Secondly x86 processors do not have the software library or support that ARM has in this very dynamic and fast growing section.  We also must consider that while Intel has the best overall process, x86 processors are really only now achieving parity in power/performance ratios.  Intel still is considered a newcomer in this market with their 3D graphics support.

Intel is quite happy to take this loss as long as they can achieve some kind of foothold in this market.  Mobile is the future, and while there will always be the need for a PC (who does heavy duty photo editing, video editing, and immersive gaming on a mobile platform?) the mobile market will be driving revenues from here on out.  Intel absolutely needs to have a presence here if they wish to be a leader at driving technologies in this very important market.  Intel is essentially giving away their chips to get into phones and tablets, and eventually this will pave the way towards a greater adoption.  There are still hurdles involved, especially on the software side, but Intel is working hard with developers and Google to make sure support is there.  Intel is likely bracing themselves for a new generation of 20 nm and 16 nm FinFET ARM based products that will start showing up in the next nine months.  The past several years has seen Intel push mobile up to high priority in terms of process technology.  Previously these low power, low cost parts were relegated to an N+1 process technology from Intel, but with the strong competition from ARM licensees and pure-play foundries Intel can no longer afford that.  We will likely see 14 nm mobile parts from Intel sooner as opposed to later.

Intel has certainly shored up a lot of their weaknesses over the past few years.  Their integrated 3D/GPU support has improved in leaps and bounds over the years, their IPC and power consumption with CPUs is certainly industry leading, and they continue to pound out impressive quarterly reports.  Intel is certainly firing on all cylinders at this time and the rest of the industry is struggling to keep up.  It will be interesting to see if Intel will keep up with this pace, and it will be imperative for the company to continue to push into mobile markets.  I have never counted Intel out as they have a strong workforce, a solid engineering culture, and some really amazingly smart people (except Francois… he is just slightly above average- he is a GT-R aficionado after all).

Next quarter appears to be more of the same.  Intel is expecting revenue in the $14.7 billion, plus or minus $500 million.  This continues along with the strong sales of PC and server parts for Intel that helps buoy them to these impressive results.  Net income and margins again look to appear similar to what this past quarter brought to the table.  We will see the introduction of the latest 14 nm Broadwell processors, which is an important step for Intel.  14 nm development and production has taken longer than people expected, and Intel has had to lean on their very mature 22 nm process longer than they wanted to.  This has allowed a few extra quarters for the pure-play foundries to try to catch up.  Samsung, TSMC, and GLOBALFOUNDRIES are all producing 20 nm products with a fast transition to 16/14 nm FinFET by early next year.  This is not to say that these 16/14nm FinFET products will be on par with Intel’s 14 nm process, but it at least gets them closer.  In the near term though, these changes will have very little effect on Intel and their product offerings over the next nine months.

Source: Intel
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

The Z97X-UD5H motherboard is one of the middle tier offerings in GIGABYTE's channel line of boards. GIGABYTE updated the previous revision of their UD5H board, integrating the Intel Z97 Express chipset as well as updated heat sink and power circuitry design. At an MSRP of $189.99, the Z97X-UD5H offers a premium feature set at an affordable price.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE designed the board in accordance with the latest revision of their Ultra Durable design specifications, integrating a 12-phase digital power system so that the board would remain stable under any operating conditions. Ultra Durable brings several high-end power components into the board's design: International Rectifier (IR) manufactured PowIRstage™ ICs and PWM controllers, Nippon Chemi-con manufactured Black Solid capacitors with a 10k hour operational rating at 105C, 15 micron gold plating on the CPU socket pins, and two 0.070mm copper layers embedded into the PCB for optimal heat dissipation. The Z97X-UD5H motherboard includes the following integrated features: six SATA 3 ports; one SATA Express 10 Gb/s ports; one M.2 10 Gb/s port; dual Gigabit NICs - an Intel I217-V NIC and a Qualcomm® Atheros Killer E2201 NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slot; two PCI-Express x1 slots; two PCI slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, and CMOS clear buttons; Dual-Bios and active BIOS switches; integrated voltage measurement points; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

Continue reading our review of the GIGABYTE Z97X-UD5H motherboard!

ECS Launches L337 Gaming Z97I-Drone Mini ITX Motherboard

Subject: Motherboards | October 12, 2014 - 01:27 AM |
Tagged: z97, PCI-E 3.0, mini ITX, M.2, L337 Gaming, intel i218v, haswell, ECS

ECS recently introduced the mini ITX Z97I-DRONE under its L337 Gaming series. This new motherboard is aimed at gamers and overclockers looking to put together a high end small form factor system based around Intel’s Haswell processor and Z97 Express chipset.

Z97I-DRONE_V1_LGA_1150_Intel_Motherboard_3.jpg

The Z97I-DRONE is a mini ITX form factor board measuring 170mm x 170mm. It is based around the Intel Z97 Express chipset and supports Haswell processors. ECS has integrated several features aimed at gamers including Sound Blaster Cinema 2 audio, PCI-E 3.0, and an Intel I218V NIC. Beyond that, the Z97I-DRONE also incorporates high end power management hardware that enables overclocking. ECS uses what it calls “Hybrid Power” technology on the new mini ITX board which entails a 5-phase PWM to manage stable power delivery to the processor and memory, dual MOSFETs (which are reportedly 90% power efficient), Nichicon Japanese capacitors, and Icy Chokes which ECS states are more stable and produces 13% less heat versus ferrite chokes.

The internal layout is unique, with the internal headers, PCH, and five SATA III ports placed along the top half of the motherboard and the LGA 1150 socket sitting in the bottom right corner. The right edge of the board hosts two dual channel DDR3 memory slots that support a maximum of 16GB clocked at 3000+ MHz when overclocked. The power management “Hybrid Power” hardware sits to the left of the processor socket. A single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot sits on the bottom edge of the board. Further, Morry will be ecstatic to know that the CMOS battery is vertically mounted on the opposite side of the GPU slot and sits directly to the left of the M.2 slot above the processor socket (to the right of the southbridge). The board has internal headers for two USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports. ECS is using a Realtek ALC1150 8-channel audio codec to drive the audio outputs and an Intel I218V Gigabit LAN NIC for networking.

Z97I-DRONE_V1_LGA_1150_Intel_Motherboard_2.jpg

Rear IO on the mini ITX Z97I-DRONE consists of the following ports:

  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 3 x Video Outputs
    • 1 x DVI
    • 1 x DisplayPort
    • 1 x HDMI
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x RJ45 (Intel I218V)
  • 6 x Audio Outputs
    • 5 x Analog Audio
    • 1 x Optical S/PDIF

Pricing and availability have not yet been announced, but if you are interested in this board keep an eye on this ECS product page.

Also read: ECS 2014 Press Event: LIVE, LIVA, LEAD, L337 @ PC Perspective.

Source: ECS