Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Zotac

Introduction and First Impressions

The Zotac ZBOX CI321 nano is a mini PC kit in the vein of the Intel NUC, and this version features a completely fanless design with built-in wireless for silent integration into just about any location. So is it fast enough to be an HTPC or desktop productivity machine? We will find out here.

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I have reviewed a couple of mini-PCs in the past few months, most recently the ECS LIVA X back in January. Though the LIVA X was not really fast enough to be used as a primary device it was small and inexpensive enough to be an viable product depending on a user’s needs. One attractive aspect of the LIVA designs, and any of the low-power computers introduced recently, is the passive nature of such systems. This has unfortunately resulted in the integration of some pretty low-performance CPUs to stay within thermal (and cost) limits, but this is beginning to change. The ZBOX nano we’re looking at today carries on the recent trend of incorporating slightly higher performance parts as its Intel Celeron processor (the 2961Y) is based on Haswell, and not the Atom cores at the heart of so many of these small systems.

Another parallel to the Intel NUC is the requirement to bring your own memory and storage, and the ZBOX CI321 nano accepts a pair of DDR3 SoDIMMs and 2.5” storage drives. The Intel Celeron 2961Y processor supports up to 1600 MHz dual-channel DDR3L which allows for much higher memory bandwidth than many other mini-PCs, and the storage controller supports SATA 6.0 Gbps which allows for higher performance than the eMMC storage found in a lot of mini-PCs, depending on the drive you choose to install. Of course your mileage will vary depending on the components selected to complete the build, but it shouldn’t be difficult to build a reasonably fast system.

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Continue reading our review of the Zotac ZBOX CI321 nano!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The ASUS Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard is one of the newest motherboards to join their Intel Z97-based line of products. The board is squarely targeted at gaming enthusiasts, combining an appealing aesthetic with a compelling feature set for a must-have product. At an MSRP of $169.99, the Z97-Pro Gamer offers premium features to budget-conscious gamers.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

Even with its aggressive price-point, ASUS coupled the Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard with a top-rated power system dubbed Gamer's Guardian. The board includes an 8+2 phase digital power delivery system, 10k Japanese-source Black Metallic capacitors, DIGI+ VRMs, ESD (electro-static discharge) modules protecting the integrated ports, and DRAM overcurrent protection with integrated resetable fuses. For superior sound fedelity, ASUS integrated their updated SupremeFX audio system into the board's design, featuring illuminated board sheilding, 300 ohm headphone amplifier, and ELNA audio capacitors.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard!

Rumor: Intel Core i7-6700K (Skylake-S) Benchmarks Leaked

Subject: Processors | May 28, 2015 - 03:44 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Skylake, skylake-s, haswell, devil's canyon

For a while, it was unclear whether we would see Broadwell on the desktop. With the recently leaked benchmarks of the Intel Core i7-6700K, it seems all-but-certain that Intel will skip it and go straight to Skylake. Compared to Devil's Canyon, the Haswell-based Core i7-4790K, the Skylake-S Core i7-6700K has the same base clock (4.0 GHz) and same full-processor Turbo clock (4.2 GHz). Pretty much every improvement that you see is pure performance per clock (IPC).

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Image Credit: CPU Monkey

In multi-threaded applications, the Core i7-6700K tends to get about a 9% increase while, when a single core is being loaded, it tends to get about a 4% increase. Part of this might be the slightly lower single-core Turbo clock, which is said to be 4.2 GHz instead of 4.4 GHz. There might also be some increased efficiency with HyperThreading or cache access -- I don't know -- but it would be interesting to see.

I should note that we know nothing about the GPU. In fact, CPU Monkey fails to list a GPU at all. Intel has expressed interest in bringing Iris Pro-class graphics to the high-end mainstream desktop processors. For someone who is interested in GPU compute, especially with Explicit Unlinked MultiAdapter in DirectX 12 upcoming, it would be nice to see GPUs be ubiquitous and always enabled. It is expected to have the new GT4e graphics with 72 compute units and either 64 or 128MB of eDRAM. If clocks are equivalent, this could translate well over a teraflop (~1.2 TFLOPs) of compute performance in addition to discrete graphics. In discrete graphics, that would be nearly equivalent to an NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti.

We are expecting to see the Core i7-6700K launch in Q3 of this year. We'll see.

Source: CPU Monkey
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ECS

The ECS Z97-PK motherboard is the company's mATX solution for their Intel Z97 Express chipset-based product line. Similar to other boards in their Z97 series, the Z97-PK is simplified to include what you need for a working mATX system without compromising on component or build quality. With an MSRP of $79.99, the Z97-PK is a very approachable solution for any use, including those budget-constrained HTPC builds.

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Courtesy of ECS

The ECS Z97-PK motherboard was designed to be an affordable solution packed with lots of performance potential. ECS constructed the board with around a 4-phase digital power deliver system and high quality solid capacitors to keep the board running stable. The Z97-PK board offers the following in-built features: six SATA 3 ports; a Realtek GigE NIC; one PCI-Express Gen3 x16 slot; one PCI-Express Gen2 x16 slot (x4 maximum bandwidth); Realtek audio solution; 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-PK motherboard!

Asus Launches Premium ROG G501 Gaming Laptop

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | March 13, 2015 - 09:00 AM |
Tagged: haswell, GTX 960M, gaming laptop, g501, ASUS ROG, asus

Today Asus unveiled the Republic of Gamers (ROG) G501 gaming laptop. The G501 is a 4.54 pound 15.6” laptop that packs high end hardware into a thin aluminum shell.

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The ROG G501 features a dark gray 0.81” thick aluminum chassis with a brushed metal finish and red bezel accents. A 15.6” matte IPS display dominates the top half of the PC with a resolution of 3840x2160 (UHD). The lower half includes a red backlit keyboard (1.6mm key travel) with colored WASD keys and a number pad as well as a large trackpad.

External I/O on this gaming machine is extensive and includes:

  • 1 x Thunderbolt
  • 3 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x Audio combo jack
  • 1 x SD
  • 1 x 1.2MP webcam
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0

Asus is using the latest mobile technology with the G501 including a 47W Intel Haswell Core i7-4720HQ (4c/8t) processor, NVIDIA GTX 960M (4GB) graphics card, up to 16GB of DDR3 memory, and an impressive 512GB PCI-E x4 solid state drive (rated at 1,400MB/s reads). The laptop also supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Asus claims that its Hyper Cool technology will keep the system running cool by using copper heatpipes and giving the CPU and GPU their own heatsink and fan which can be independently controlled to maintain a balance of heat and noise. The laptop is powered by a 96Wh Lithium Polymer battery.

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This beastly gaming laptop will be available next month with an MSRP of $1,999 (with the configuration listed above). More information can be found at gseries.asus.com

In addition to the ROG G501, Asus’ GL551 and G751 series are also being refreshed to include NVIDIA’s new GTX 900 series graphics. The GL551JW will get the GTX 960M while the G751JL will use the GTX 965M.

Source: Asus

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).

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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: cirrus7, 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