It has been an abnormal week for us here at PC Perspective. Our typical review schedule has pretty much flown out the window, and the past seven days have been filled with learning, researching, retesting, and publishing. That might sound like the norm, but in these cases the process was initiated by tips from our readers. Last Saturday (24 Jan), a few things were brewing:
- Ryan was informed by NVIDIA that the memory layout of the GTX 970 was different than expected.
- The huge (now 168 page) overclock.net forum thread about the Samsung 840 EVO slowdown was once again gaining traction.
- Someone got G-Sync working on a laptop integrated display.
We had to do a bit of triage here of course, as we can only research and write so quickly. Ryan worked the GTX 970 piece as it was the hottest item. I began a few days of research and testing on the 840 EVO slow down issue reappearing on some drives, and we kept tabs on that third thing, which at the time seemed really farfetched. With those two first items taken care of, Ryan shifted his efforts to GTX 970 SLI testing while I shifted my focus to finding out of there was any credence to this G-Sync laptop thing.
A few weeks ago, an ASUS Nordic Support rep inadvertently leaked an interim build of the NVIDIA driver. This was a mobile driver build (version 346.87) focused at their G751 line of laptops. One recipient of this driver link posted it to the ROG forum back on the 20th. A fellow by the name Gamenab, owning the same laptop cited in that thread, presumably stumbled across this driver, tried it out, and was more than likely greeted by this popup after the installation completed:
Now I know what you’re thinking, and it’s probably the same thing anyone would think. How on earth is this possible? To cut a long story short, while the link to the 346.87 driver was removed shortly after being posted to that forum, we managed to get our hands on a copy of it, installed it on the ASUS G751 that we had in for review, and wouldn’t you know it we were greeted by the same popup!
Ok, so it’s a popup, could it be a bug? We checked NVIDIA control panel and the options were consistent with that of a G-Sync connected system. We fired up the pendulum demo and watched the screen carefully, passing the machine around the office to be inspected by all. We then fired up some graphics benchmarks that were well suited to show off the technology (Unigine Heaven, Metro: Last Light, etc), and everything looked great – smooth steady pans with no juddering or tearing to be seen. Ken Addison, our Video Editor and jack of all trades, researched the panel type and found that it was likely capable of 100 Hz refresh. We quickly dug created a custom profile, hit apply, and our 75 Hz G-Sync laptop was instantly transformed into a 100 Hz G-Sync laptop!
Ryan's Note: I think it is important here to point out that we didn't just look at demos and benchmarks for this evaluation but actually looked at real-world gameplay situations. Playing through Metro: Last Light showed very smooth pans and rotation, Assassin's Creed played smoothly as well and flying through Unigine Heaven manually was a great experience. Crysis 3, Battlefield 4, etc. This was NOT just a couple of demos that we ran through - the variable refresh portion of this mobile G-Sync enabled panel was working and working very well.
At this point in our tinkering, we had no idea how or why this was working, but there was no doubt that we were getting a similar experience as we have seen with G-Sync panels. As I digested what was going on, I thought surely this can’t be as good as it seems to be… Let’s find out, shall we?
Subject: Mobile | January 2, 2015 - 09:18 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: CES, wqxga, ultrabook, Samsung, notebook, laptop, intel core m, ces 2015, 5Y10c
Samsung has announced their latest ATIV ultrabook ahead of CES, and it looks impressive. Boasting a sleek all-aluminum design and packing 2560x1600 on its 12.2" screen, the latest ATIV Book 9 is powered by the newest Intel Core M technology with a fanless design for silent computing.
Beyond the Core M 5Y10c processor and Intel HD 5300 graphics, the Book 9 features a selectable 4GB or 8GB of memory, and either 128GB or 256GB of SSD storage. The notebook weighs in at just over 2 lbs (2.09, actually) and measures only 0.46 inches thick. The battery can provide up to 10.5 hours on a single charge according to Samsung, which would put it near the current-gen MacBook Air in that department (which honestly appears to be the direct inspiration for this notebook's design). Samsung hasn't skimped in the sound department, with a high-end Wolfson DAC for lossless audio playback.
You may have read Ryan's review of Broadwell-Y performance back in November, and the results for these new chips are impressive when considering the ultra-low power design. The processor in this Book 9 (the Core M 5Y10c) is targeting just 3.5W SDP (4.5W TDP) while providing up to 2.0 GHz with a 4MB cache. The extremely low power requirements from these 14nm parts will allow more fanless designs like this notebook going forward, though it will be interesting to see how performance scales under extended use without a fan.
Display: 12.2” WQXGA (2560x1600), 350nit (max 700nit) LED
Processor: Intel® Core™ M 5Y10c
Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 5300
Memory: 8GB (4GB also available)
Hard Disk: 256GB SSD (128GB also available)
Audio: PC-Fi (Wolfson WM5102 integrated)
Camera: 720p HD
Battery Life: Up to 10.5 hours
Dimensions: 11.19" x 8.37" x 0.46"
Weight: 2.09 pounds
Color: Imperial Black
I/O Ports: 2x USB 3.0, micro HDMI and SD, RJ45 (dongle), headphone/mic combo
Pricing: $1199.99 4GB RAM/128GB SSD, $1399.99 8GB RAM/256GB SSD.
Availability: Q1 2015 (listing already active on Amazon).
Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 29, 2014 - 01:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: laptop, google, dell, ChromeOS, Chromebook, chrome, acer
According to DigiTimes via The Tech Report, because of course DigiTimes, we should receive 15.4-inch Chromebooks in the near future. Their sources claim that both Acer and Dell have products planned with that operating system, in that size, and will cost less then $300. The Acer system is expected in March 2015 with Dell scheduled for some time in the first half of 2015.
One part that stands out for me is the maximum price of $300. The claim is that this is a Google mandated ceiling for Chromebooks with up-to Core i3 performance. This is troubling for two reasons. First, depending on the details, it might dance around inside the minefield of price-fixing laws, although I am sure that Google is doing this in a legally. I mean, Apple has been getting away with enforcing maximum retail prices of iPods and iOS devices for around a decade and I believe console manufacturers do about the same.
Second, and more importantly, it limits the ability for manufacturers to be creative and innovative, which is the major advantage of an open ecosystem. Being a web browser-based platform, there is already constraints on what manufacturers can implement. Sure, Google is probably open to communication with their partnered hardware vendors, but it is uncomfortable none-the-less. I could use the Nexus Q as an example of an experiment but unfortunately it was neither a hit nor did it cost over $300. Sure, they could add a more powerful processor to escape that clause but it is still
These Chromebooks are expected to launch in the early half of 2015.
Introduction and Design
MSI’s unapologetically large GT70 “Dominator Pro” series of machines knows its audience well: for every gripe about the notebooks’ hulking sizes, a snicker and a shrug are returned by the community, who rarely value such items as portability as highly as the critics who are hired to judge based on them. These machines are built for power, first and foremost. While featherweight construction and manageable dimensions matter to those regularly tossing machines into their bags, by contrast, MSI’s desktop replacements recognize the meaning of their classification: the flexibility of merely moving around the house with one’s gaming rig is reason enough to consider investing in one.
So its priorities are arguably well in line. But if you want to keep on dominating, regular updates are a necessity, too. And with the GT72 2QE, MSI takes it all up yet another notch: our review unit (GT72 2QE-208US) packs four SSDs in a RAID-0 array (as opposed to the GT70’s three), plus a completely redesigned case which manages to address some of our biggest complaints. Oh yeah, and an NVIDIA GTX 980M GPU with 8 GB GDDR5 RAM—the fastest mobile GPU ever. (You can find much more information and analysis on this GPU specifically in Ryan’s ever-comprehensive review.)
Of course, these state-of-the-art innards come at no small price: $2,999 as configured (around a $2,900 street price), or a few hundred bucks less with storage or RAM sacrifices—a reasonable trade-off considering the marginal benefits one gains from a quad-SSD array or 32 GB of RAM.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 24, 2014 - 06:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Samsung, Chromebook, laptop
This does not apply to our North American readers, although it is good for them to know. To our European fans: Samsung has pulled out of the laptop market, for devices running either Windows or ChromeOS, in your region. The company is not commenting on how many jobs will be lost as a result of this decision. Samsung is not halting operations in any other region and this decision "is not necessarily reflective of conditions in other markets".
Parallels are drawn with Sony and its VAIO division, but this is significantly different. Sony sold its PC business to Japanese Industrial Partners who, in July, relaunched the brand in Japan. Samsung has not sold any division although there is rumors of upcoming restructuring. While Samsung will retain their brand and continue to develop products for the other regions, pulling away is always concerning for customers. It really could be a geographic anomaly, like Xbox was in Japan, or it could be a warning tremor. We simply do not know.
Subject: General Tech | August 6, 2014 - 06:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: best buy, tablets, convertible, laptop
Hubert Joly, CEO of Best Buy, talked with Re/code about the overall health of their company and various industry trends. The first question (at least in the order Re/code presented them) asked about the decline of the PC industry. He responded that PC sales are actually recovering, to some extent, but that Android tablets are, now, "crashing".
His view is that laptops are adopting the successful bits of the tablet market, especially as a result of various two-in-one initiatives. He believes students, in particular, appreciate tablet/laptop hybrids. This is certainly what Intel has been hoping for, through its recent Ultrabook efforts. He hopes that innovation will be done at the high end, so consumers will not simply settle for the $300-tier.
He did back off on his "crashed" statement, regarding the tablet market, however. The growth of tablets, from the start, were amazing. However, like the argument with "good enough" PCs, there does not seem to be a compelling argument for users to move to the next device, at least not yet. Like PCs, devices are being replaced, just not driven from industry forces. Also, like smartphones, the market seems to have matured, slowing in growth.
Naturally, Joly believes that Best Buy will be around for years to come. I agree with his reasoning. He acknowledges the squeeze between online resellers and boutique shops, which puts Best Buy in an awkward middle niche when the goal of a big box store is to be not niche. My interpretation of his strategy is to, instead of being crushed, strive to overlap. Embrace what the customers want on either side while doing your thing in the middle.
It is still questionable whether it will work, but it seems like the right move.
Introduction and Design
The next candidate in our barrage of ThinkPad reviews is the ThinkPad Yoga, which, at first glance, might seem a little bit redundant. After all, we’ve already got three current-gen Yoga models to choose from between the Yoga 2 11- and 13-inch iterations and the Yoga 2 Pro top-end selection. What could possibly be missing?
Well, in fact, as is often the case when choosing between well-conceived notebook models, it isn’t so much about what’s missing as it is priorities. Whereas the consumer-grade Yoga models all place portability, slimness, and aesthetics in the highest regard, the ThinkPad Yoga subscribes to a much more practical business-oriented approach, which (nearly) always instead favors function over form. It’s a conversation we’ve had here at PC Perspective a thousand times before, but yet again, it is the core ThinkPad philosophy which separates the ThinkPad Yoga from other notebooks of its type. Suffice it to say, in fact, that really the only reason to think of it as a Yoga at all is the unique hinge design and affiliated notebook/tablet convertibility; excepting that, this seems much closer to an X240 than anything in Lenovo’s current consumer-grade lineup. And carrying a currently-configurable street price of around $1,595 currently, it’s positioned as such, too.
But it isn’t beyond reproach. Some of the same questionable decisions regarding design changes which we’ve covered in our recent ThinkPad reviews still apply to the Yoga. For instance, the much-maligned clickpad is back, bringing with it vivid nightmares of pointer jumpiness and click fatigue that were easily the biggest complaint about the T440s and X240 we recently reviewed. The big question today is whether these criticisms are impactful enough to disqualify the ThinkPad Yoga as a rational alternative to other ThinkPad convertibles and the consumer-grade Yoga models. It’s a tall order, so let’s tackle it.
First up, the specs:
While most of this list is pretty conventional, the astute might have already picked out one particular item which tops the X240 we recently reviewed: a possible 16 GB of dual-channel RAM. The X240 was limited to just 8 GB of single-channel memory thanks to a mere single SODIMM slot. The ThinkPad Yoga also boasts a 1080p screen with a Wacom digitizer pen—something which is clearly superior to our X240 review unit. Sadly missing, however, are the integrated Gigabit Ethernet port and the VGA port—and the mini DisplayPort has been replaced by a mini-HDMI, which ultimately is decidedly inferior.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | June 18, 2014 - 01:57 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Transformer, tablet, laptop, Chromebook, apple
If you are overwhelmed by the choice of mobile products on the market and are looking for a little guidance this article at The Tech Report is a good resource. Their staff have picked out what they feel are the best mobile devices from tablets to transformer pads to full sized laptops. You can choose between several models in each category depending on your budget, as the best solutions tend to be the most expensive. The budget models are nothing to sneer at though as even on the low end mobile devices pack a lot more power than they used to.
"Earlier this year, we revised the structure of the TR System Guide to focus exclusively on PC components. Our aim was to cover peripherals and mobile gear in separate articles. We posted our first standalone peripheral picks in April, and today, we're completing the set with our first standalone mobile staff picks."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- HP Machine: Memristor pioneer explains his discovery @ The Inquirer
- One in five SMBs refuse to let go of Windows XP @ The Inquirer
- Blackberry 10 to finally get Netflix app thanks to Amazon Appstore deal @ The Inquirer
- How to Control a Servo Motor from a BeagleBone Black on Linux @ Linux.com
- Unisys cozies closer to Intel, 'sunsets' proprietary processor @ The Register
- People will happily run malware if paid ONE CENT – new study @ The Register
Subject: General Tech, Processors | May 11, 2014 - 11:41 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: ulv, mobile apu, laptop, Kaveri, APU, amd
According to leaked information, AMD will allegedly be releasing mobile versions of its Kaveri APU later this year. There are reportedly seven new processors aimed at laptops and tablet that follow the same basic design as their desktop counterparts: steamroller CPU cores paired with a GCN-based graphics portion and an integrated memory controller.
According to information obtained by WCCF Tech, AMD will release four ULV and three standard voltage parts. All but one APU will have four Steamroller CPU cores paired with an Radeon R4, R5, R6, or R7 graphics processor with up to 512 GCN cores. The mobile APUs allegedly range in TDP from 17W to 35W and support various AMD technologies including TrueAudio, Mantle, and Eyefinity.
An AMD slide showing a die shot of the desktop "Kaveri" Accelerated Processing Unit (APU).
Of the seven rumored APUs, two of them are OEM-only parts that feature the “FX” moniker. The FX-7500 is the fastest ULV (ultra-low voltage) APU while the FX-7600P is AMD’s flagship mobile processor.
The FX-7600P is the chip that should most interest mobile gamers and enthusiasts looking for a powerful AMD-powered laptop or tablet. This processor allegedly features four CPU cores clocked at 2.7GHz base (that turbo to a maximum of 3.6GHz), a GPU with 512 GCN cores clocked at a base of 600MHz and a boost clock of 666MHz. The chip further uses 4MB of L2 cache and is a 35W TDP part. This should be a decent processor for laptops, offering acceptable general performance and some nice mobile gaming with the beefy integrated GPU!
The leaked AMD mobile Kaveri APU lineup via WCCF Tech.
Of course, for productivity machines where portability and battery life are bigger concerns, AMD will reportedly be offering up the dual core A6-7000. This 17W ULV processor combines two cores clocked at 2.2GHz (3.0GHz boost), a GPU based on the Radeon R4 with 192 GCN cores (494MHz base and 533MHz boost), and 2MB of L2 cache. Compared to the FX-7600P (and especially the desktop parts), the A6-7000 sips power. We will have to wait for reviews to see how it performs, but it will be facing stiff competition from Intel’s Core i3 Haswell CPUs and even the Bay Trail SoCs which come in at a lower TDP and offer higher thread counts. The GPU capabilities and GPGPU / HSA software advancements (such as LibreOffice adding GPGPU support) will make or break the A6-7000, in my opinion.
In all, the leaked mobile chips appear to be a decent upgrade over the previous generation. The new mobile APUs will bring incremental performance and power saving benefits to bear against competition from Intel. I’m looking forward to more official information and seeing what the OEMs are able to do with the new chips.
Introduction and Design
Arguably some of the most thoughtful machines on the market are Lenovo’s venerable ThinkPads, which—while sporadically brave in their assertions—are still among the most conservative (yet simultaneously practical) notebooks available. What makes these notebooks so popular in the business crowds is their longstanding refusal to compromise functionality in the interest of form, as well as their self-proclaimed legendary reliability. And you could argue that such practical conservatism is what defines a good business notebook: a device which embraces the latest technological trends, but only with requisite caution and consideration.
Maybe it’s the shaky PC market, or maybe it’s the sheer onset of sexy technologies such as touch and clickpads, but recent ThinkPads have begun to show some uncommon progressivism, and unapologetically so, too. First, it was the complete replacement of the traditional critically-acclaimed ThinkPad keyboard with the Chiclet AccuType variety, a decision which irked purists but eventually was accepted by most. Along with that were the integrated touchpad buttons, which are still lamented by many users. Those alterations to the winning design were ultimately relatively minor, however, and for the most part, they’ve now been digested by the community. Now, though, with the T440s (as well as the rest of Lenovo’s revamped ThinkPad lineup), we’re seeing what will perhaps constitute the most controversial change of all: the substitution of the older touchpads with a “5-button trackpad”, as well as optional touchscreen interface.
Can these changes help to keep the T440s on the cusp of technological progress, or has the design finally crossed the threshold into the realm of counterproductivity?
Compared with nearly any other modern notebook, these specs might not hold many surprises. But judged side-by-side with its T430s predecessor, there are some pretty striking differences. For starters, the T440s is the first in its line to offer only low-voltage CPU options. While our test unit shipped with the (certainly capable enough) Core i5-4200U—a dual-core processor with up to 2.6 GHz Turbo Boost clock rate—options range up to a Core i7-4600U (up to 3.30 GHz). Still, these options are admittedly a far cry from the i7-3520M with which top-end T430s machines were equipped. Of course, it’s also less than half of the TDP, which is likely why the decision was made. Other notables are the lack of discrete graphics options (previously users has the choice of either integrated graphics or an NVIDIA NVS 5200M) and the maximum supported memory of 12 GB. And, of course, there’s the touchscreen—which is not required, but rather, is merely an option. On the other hand, while we’re on the subject of the screen, this is also the first model in the series to offer a 1080p resolution, whether traditional or touch-enabled—which is very much appreciated indeed.
That’s a pretty significant departure from the design of the T430s, which—as it currently appears—could represent the last T4xxs model that will provide such powerhouse options at the obvious expense of battery life. Although some markets already have the option of the ThinkPad S440 to fill the Ultrabook void within the ThinkPad 14-inch range, that notebook can even be outfitted with discrete graphics. The T440s top-end configuration, meanwhile, consists of a 15W TDP dual-core i7 with integrated graphics and 12 GB DDR3 RAM. In other words, it’s powerful, but it’s just not in the same class as the T430’s components. What’s more important to you?