The 7 Year Console Refresh
The consoles are coming! The consoles are coming! Ok, that is not necessarily true. One is already here and the second essentially is too. This of course brings up the great debate between PCs and consoles. The past has been interesting when it comes to console gaming, as often the consoles would be around a year ahead of PCs in terms of gaming power and prowess. This is no longer the case with this generation of consoles. Cutting edge is now considered mainstream when it comes to processing and graphics. The real incentive to buy this generation of consoles is a lot harder to pin down as compared to years past.
The PS4 retails for $399 US and the upcoming Xbox One is $499. The PS4’s price includes a single controller, while the Xbox’s package includes not just a controller, but also the next generation Kinect device. These prices would be comparable to some low end PCs which include keyboard, mouse, and a monitor that could be purchased from large brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy. Happily for most of us, we can build our machines to our own specifications and budgets.
As a directive from on high (the boss), we were given the task of building our own low-end gaming and productivity machines at a price as close to that of the consoles and explaining which solution would be superior at the price points given. The goal was to get as close to $500 as possible and still have a machine that would be able to play most recent games at reasonable resolutions and quality levels.
Subject: General Tech | March 16, 2013 - 03:08 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: piixl, PC, Media Center, htpc, edgecenter
London-based startup PiixL recently launched a new media center PC called the EdgeCenter that attaches to the back of your television via VESA mount to turn any TV into a so-called smart TV. The PC comes in one of three configurations with (Media, Gamer, and Max) Windows 8 and increasing levels of hardware performance. The aluminum EdgeCenter chassis will attach to most TVs larger than 32-inches and can extend to bring the optical drive and other front IO ports to the edge of your TV for easy access. The EdgeCenter reportedly offers a quiet cooling system capable of dissipating 500W in a chassis that is (up to) 54mm thick. Users can use traditional mouse, keyboard, or remote to control it, or they can use gesture-based controls from up to 5 meters away.
The Media Edition offers up an AMD A10 5700 APU with HD7660D graphics, 1TB of mechanical storage, and 4GB of RAM. The Gamer Edition steps things up a notch with an Intel Core i5 3550 processor, an AMD 7870 2GB graphics card, 2TB of mechanical storage, and 8GB of RAM. Finally, the Max Edition features an Intel Core i7 3770 CPU, a NVIDIA GTX 680 4GB graphics card, 2TB HDD, 20GB SLC SSD (Intel SRT), and 16GB of RAM. Not bad at all for a PC that sits behind the TV. Having a PC mounted via VESA mount is not a new concept, but the EdgeCenter looks to pack the most horsepower an OEM has managed to cram into such a PC.
All three models support Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, Blu Ray playback, optical and analog audio output, and an SD card slot for getting your media onto the device. The Media Edition EdgeCenter has VGA, HDMI, and DVI vidio outputs, while the Gamer edition has DVI, HDMI, and two mini-DisplayPort outputs. Finally, the Max Edition EdgeCenter PC has one DisplayPort, one DVI, and one HDMI port. It is definitely an interesting design with plenty of computing horsepower for gaming and media center needs. PiixL has fitted each model with an 80+ Gold power supply and has stated that the PCs are designed with 24/7 operation in mind.
The PiixL EdgeCenter is available for purchase now, but the performance will cost you a lot more money than your typical media center PC. The Media Edition, Gamer Edition, and Max Edition PCs start at £720.28, £1,116.76, and £1,513.25 respectively. For US customers that works out to about $1,085.97, $1,683.74, and $2,281.45. And that’s the bad news, it offers some impressive hardware, but is fairly expensive. Hopefully, if the EdgeCenter does well, we will see cheaper versions stateside at some point.
Subject: Systems | March 5, 2013 - 04:16 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: shuttle, SFF, PC, Intel, ds47, celeron
If various sources are to be believed, Shuttle will be launching a new small form factor PC in April called the DS47. The new PC will be powered by an Intel Celeron 847 processor and features a fan-less design.
The Shuttle DS47 measures 200mm x 29.5mm x 165mm and weighs in at 2.05 kg. The internals include a motherboard with UEFI BIOS, dual core Intel Celeron 847 processor clocked at 1.1 GHz (2MB cache, 18W TDP), HD 2000 processor graphics, up to 16GB of RAM via two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, and a 2.5” HDD or SSD. The motherboard supports SATA 3 6Gbps, and there is space for a single laptop-sized internal drive. The system also includes a Mini-PCI-E slot for half-size cards and a mSATA port for an SSD.
For such a small PC, it packs quite a bit of port options. The Shuttle DS47 includes the following external IO:
- 1 x SD card reader
- 4 x USB 2.0 ports
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet jacks
- 2 x RS232 connections
- 1 x DVI
- 1 x HDMI
- 2.1 channel analog audio output
The DS47 has a nice feature set, and the dual Ethernet ports opens up the possible applications. Thanks to the DS47 opting for the Celeron over an Atom processor, it could easily operate as a file server, NAS, firewall, router, HTPC, or simply a low power desktop computer for example.
Pricing will be where the DS47 succeeds or fails as it aims to strike a balance between the Intel NUC and Atom-powered PCs. Unfortunately, there is no word on just how much this SFF PC will cost. It is rumored for an April launch, however so expect to see official pricing announced shortly.
Read more about small form factor systems at PC Perspective!
Subject: Graphics Cards | January 31, 2013 - 08:04 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: PC, gaming, amd, graphics drivers, gpu, Crysis 3, catalyst
The Crysis 3 beta was launched January 29th, and AMD came prepared with its new Catalyst 13.2 beta driver. In addition to the improvements rolled into the Catalyst 13.1 WHQL graphics driver, Catalyst 13.2 beta features performance improvements in a number of games.
Foremost, AMD focused on optimizing the drivers for the Crysis 3 beta. With the new 13.2 beta drivers, gamers will see a 15% performance improvement in Crysis 3 when using high MSAA settings. AMD has also committed itself to future tweaks to improve Crysis 3 performance when using both single and CrossFire graphics configurations. The driver also allows for a 10% improvement in CrossFire performance in Crytek’s Crysis 2 and a 50% performance boost in DMC: Devil May Cry when running a single AMD GPU. Reportedly, the new beta driver also reduces latency issues in Skyrim, Borderlands 2, and Guild Wars 2. Finally, the 13.2 beta driver resolves a texture filtering issue when running DirectX 9.0c games.
Subject: General Tech | December 26, 2012 - 09:28 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: PC, gaming, dx9, dmc, devil may cry 4
DMC: Devil May Cry is coming next month. The latest entrant in the Devil May Cry series, the game is published by Capcom and is being developed by Ninja Theory. Further, Ninja Theory has outsourced the PC version of the game to QLOC. DMC: Devil May Cry is a gothic-themed hack ‘n slash game set in an alternate reality in the Devil May Cry universe.
The game is coming out on PC, PS3, and the Xbox 360, with the console versions being released as early as January 15th, 2013 and the PC version coming January 25th, 2013. The PC version will, of course, bump up the graphical quality as well as allowing frames per second rates above 60 FPS. The PC version will also support keyboard/mouse, Xbox 360 controller, and direct input gamepad input.
When purchased on Steam (it is available for pre-order now), DMC: Devil May Cry will utilize cloud saving, achievments, friend support, and leaderboards. The specific release schedule is as follows:
The game will be available on the PC starting January 25th in both retail and digital versions across Europe and by digital distribution services in North America. Currently, that means Valve's Steam and EA's Origin stores. There is no word yet on if it will be available at retail in Japan or what other digital distribution services will offer the title. The game is already available for pre-order on Steam, however. Additionally, Capcom has released the minimum and recommened system requirements for the PC version. The specifications are listed below for reference.
Minimum PC Requirements:
- OS: Windows Vista®/XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
- Processor: AMD Athlon™ X2 2.8 GHz or better, Intel® Core™2 Duo 2.4 Ghz or better
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Hard Disk Space: 8 GB free hard drive space
- Video Card: ATI Radeon™ HD 3850 or better, NVIDIA® GeForce® 8800GTS or better
- DirectX®: 9.0c or greater
- Sound: Standard audio device
Recommended PC Requirements:
- OS: Windows Vista®/XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
- Processor: AMD Phenom™ II X4 3 GHz or better, Intel® Core™2 Quad 2.7 Ghz or better
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Hard Disk Space: 9 GB free hard drive space
- Video Card: AMD Radeon™ HD 6950 or better
- DirectX®: 9.0c or greater
- Sound: Standard audio device
The game is based on the Unreal 3 engine, and while it is not going to push the upper boundaries of gaming PC hardware, it should look fairly good on the computer. If you are interested in the game, the Capcom-Unity website has a number of screenshots and videos showing off the game that are worth checking out.
Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2012 - 06:36 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: PC, gaming, Crysis 3, crysis, CryENGINE 3
Crysis 3, the third major installment in EA’s popular sandbox nanosuit-toting FPS is just over two months away. And unlike Crysis 2, this iteration is one that PC gamers should look forward to as much as the original. In an interview with Crysis 3’s Technical Director Marco Corbetta, PC Gamer was told that Crytek has made several optimizations and improvements to CryENGINE 3 that take full advantage of the horsepower offered by today’s high-end gaming PCs. Reportedly, with Crysis 2, there was a focus on delivering a console title, but with Crysis 3 PC gamers will get advanced graphics options and the high resolution textures on launch day that they deserve (my opinion there).
PC Gamer quoted Corbetta in stating that Crysis 3 improves upon the “AI navigation system, animation system, water, fog volumes, cloud shadows, POM, AA, cloths, vegetation, particles, lens flares, and grass.” Basically all of the little details that PC gaming is known for. On the topic of grass, the technical director expanded in saying that Crysis 3 is able to model each blade of grass which the player and NPCs will interact with, allowing movement to be spotted in the brush (and now I’m having flashbacks of Jurassic Park and it’s tall grass...). In essence, Crysis 3 is reportedly returning to its PC roots with a vengeance.
As far as advanced graphics, users will be able to adjust a number of features to tweak the graphics details to get the most out of their hardware (or at least make the game playable until the next generation of cards?). From the top down, the advanced graphics menu has the following options: Game Effects, Objects, Particles, Post Processing, Shading, Shadows, Water, Anisotropic Filtering (AF), Texture Resolution, Motion Blur Amount, and Lens Flares. There are no sliders, but you will be able to choose from low, medium, high, and very high (for most settings). And if the previously announced PC system requirements are any indication, you will need a rather beefy multi-GPU system in order to crank these settings to the maximum.
You can find more details and the full interview over at PC Gamer. If you’re interested in the upcoming Crysis title, it’s worth a read.
Subject: Cases and Cooling | December 6, 2012 - 12:57 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: waterproof, stealth, PC, nettop, Intel, desktop, atom d525
Stealth has debuted a new rugged and waterproof computer called the WPC-525F. The nettop-like system is a ruggedized small form factor PC powered by Intel’s Atom D525 processor and ICH8M chipset. IP67/NEMA 6 rated, the company states that the WPC-525F is dust, rain, and splash resistant as well as, allegedly, being capable of being run over by a pickup truck and continuing to function.
If only the tire tread came as a standard silkscreen option...
On the outside, the WPC-525F is a black box with covered ports on the rear, a VESA mount on the bottom, and a power button on the front. Simple enough. Dimensions are 10.15” (W) x 6.22” (D) x 2.04” (H) (258x158x52mm), and it weighs 5.1 pounds without cables. Interestingly, instead of typical ports, it has water resistant “Bayonet” connections with cables that lead away from the back of the PC to the devices. With all the cables connected, you get the following IO options:
4 x USB 2.0
2 x RJ45 LAN (Gigabit Ethernet)
1 x RS232 serial
1 x VGA
1 x Power
It can accept 6 to 36V DC input for power. According to Stealth, the entire system will consume 16W when idle and 19W under full load.
The outside of the Stealth WPC-525F is impressive, but the internals are certainly not as flashy. It features an Intel Atom D525 dual core processor clocked at 1.8GHz (1MB cache), 4GB DDR3 RAM, and a 120GB MLC SSD. The board also includes two internal Mini-PCIe expansion slots. For video, the computer uses the onboard Intel GMA 3150. As implied by the ports listed above, there is no audio support on the WPC-525F, though you could add a USB sound card if it was really needed.
The WPC-525F is fanless and uses the aluminum chassis to facilitate cooling. The ruggedized PC is available now with a starting price of $1595 USD. (Keep in mind that that is without an OS or AC power adapter.) You can find more photos and specifications on the product page.
Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2012 - 01:31 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: razer orochi, razer, PC, mouse, mobile, laptop, gaming
Razer has been on an updating kick this month with a number of its gaming mice being refreshed with better hardware and support for Synapse 2.0 (cloud syncing) software. This time, Razer is turning to its mobile lineup and giving the Orochi an upgrade for a 2013 release.
The ambidextrous mouse can be used in a wired or wireless configuration. While the original Orochi featured a 4000 DPI laser sensor, the updated model upgrades the sensor to 6400 DPI. Further, Razer has bumped up the Bluetooth radio to one rated at Bluetooth 3.0 specifications. Powered by two AA batteries, Razer has reportedly improved battery life by a significant margin. The company rates the mobile gaming mouse at up to 30 hours of continuous gaming, and three months of normal use.
The refreshed mouse maintains the traditional LED-lit scroll wheel, mouse buttons, and two side buttons of the original Orochi. Interestingly, it comes in a shinier "chrome" colored variant in addition to the standard black blade addition.
The refreshed Orochi 2013 is available for pre-order now for $69.99. According to the Razer website, the blade edition will ship in 1-2 weeks and the chrome variant will ship in a little over a month.
Subject: Systems | November 17, 2012 - 03:59 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SFF, PC, Lenovo, ideacentre q190, htpc
Lenovo recently launched a new small form factor PC with the IdeaCentre Q190. This small desktop measures 192mm x 155mm x 22mm and packs some hardware punch that handily surpasses the specs of traditional net-top computers. Exact hardware specifications have not yet been released, but the company has talked about the top-end model.
The IdeaCentre Q190 PC will have up to a 2nd generation Core i3 Intel Sandy Bridge processor, 8GB DDR3 memory, HD3000 integrated (processor) graphics, a 1TB hard drive, and a 24GB caching SSD. These specifications are, of course, for the top end model.
The IdeaCentre Q190 with the optional optical drive attached.
In addition, the Q190 can support a DVD writer or Blu ray optical drive that mounts on top of the PC, which adds a bit of depth but can still be mounted vertically with the supplied stand. Other optional accessories include a handheld wireless keyboard and mouse trackpad.
External IO includes an SDXC card reader, S/PDIF optical audio port, VGA video output, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
The Q190 will come preloaded with Windows 8, and an option for Windows 8 Pro. Lenovo is pushing the HTPC merits of the computer, and it will certainly do a serviceable job. It would also make for a nice low-power desktop system as well, and it looks nice enough to display on your desk.
The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 will be available in January 2013 and will have a starting price of $349, with the top end model described above costing a bit more (the exact amount is as yet unknown).
In a recent press release, Zotac unveiled three new ZBox small form factor computers, including one PC that features a blu-ray optical drive. Specifically, the new models include the ZBOX ID82, ZBOX Nano ID61, and the ZBOX Blu-ray AD05. In addition, the company offers "plus" versions of the three ZBOX computers that add 2GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive to the hardware package. Carsten Berger, marketing director for ZOTAC stated that the company is constantly pushing the small form factor envelope and the latest Intel Core i3 Sandy Bridge processors "enables us to give demanding users the performance edge they need."
The ZBOX Nano ID61
The ZBOX ID61 is the smallest of the three PCs and is the latest in their Nano form factor. It is powered by a dual core Intel Celeron 867 processor, a single DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, and an integrated multimedia card reader. Connections include HDMI, Displayport, 2 USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, 1 eSATA port, Bluetooth 3.0, and a built in IR receiver. The ID61 plus further features 2 GB of DDR3 1333 MHz laptop RAM and a 320 GB SATA III (6Gbps) hard drive.
The ZBOX ID82
The ID82 represents the latest ZBOX PC, and while it is a big bulkier than the Nano series, it packs a lot more punch with an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3-2330. The new Intel CPU is a dual core 2.2 GHz processor which further includes Hyper-Threading tech for a total of four virtual cores. Further, the PC has two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, DVI-I, and Bluetooth 3.0. The ZBOX ID82 Plus includes 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320 GB laptop hard drive.
The ZBOX Blu-ray AD05
Finally, the ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 is a small form factor PC that moves to AMD for their processor and GPU with the AMD E-450 APU with integrated Radeon 6320 GPU. The extra hardware horsepower provides the "oomph" needed to support smooth blu-ray playback. The mini PC holds a 4x Blu-ray reader that doubles as a 8x DVD +/- writer. It includes support for two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots and an 2.5" SATA II hard drive. Connections include HDMI, DVI, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and one combo USB 2.0/eSATA port. The ZBOX Blu-ray AD05 Plus version further includes 2 GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive.
All three of the mini ZOTAC ZBOX PCs (wow, that's a lot of caps) also feature Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and a bundled Media Center remote and USB IR receiver. No matter the model, the user is still responsible for providing an OS as one does not come bundled. Unfortunately, there is no word on pricing or availability.
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