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Build Your Own Setup
Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun? I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited. I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430. I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience. After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.
The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.
I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light. The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers. DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel. This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.
The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides. The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees. It is compatible with PC and Xbox One. It does not support the PS3 or PS4. It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface. It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US. It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.
This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.
Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500). These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.
It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts. Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use. This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets. Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices. The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.
It's that time of year again, where giving thanks has given way to the season of gift-giving. And what could be better than giving (or getting) the latest technology this year? Whatever your budget there's a good chance at least part of your holiday shopping this season will include some sort of tech hardware, and once again the staff here at PC Perspective have put together some of our recommendations. Sure, we might be biased in our belief that PC hardware and other tech gadgets make the best gifts, but we live and breathe this stuff every day (it's hard to turn it off!).
Our guide is once again broken up into categories, beginning with this page dedicated to PC components. Next up we have one for mobile devices like notebooks and tablets, and then one for PC accessories. Then our staff members have the chance to throw in some "wildcard" picks on the remaining pages.
We thank you for your support of PC Perspective through all of 2015. The links included below embed our affiliate code to Amazon.com (when applicable) and if you are doing other shopping for the holidays this year we would appreciate it if you used the button above before perusing Amazon.com. In case you want to know the affiliate code directly, it is: pcper04-20.
You can also support PC Perspective through your Amazon gift card purchases, and then purchase whatever you want!
Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $431, Amazon
Last year we picked the Intel Core i7-4790K as our high-end consumer desktop CPU, and with a current retail somewhere near $300 (Amazon) it's a fantastic option, and still the #1 selling CPU on Amazon. Going forward the Z170 platform will be the enthusiast standard as Z97 starts to be phased out, but the poor availability of the 6th-generation Intel Skylake unlocked parts (particularly this i7-6700K) has helped keep the new platform from wider adoption. The $400+ retail for this CPU is steep, but there is no faster option outside of the X99 platform processors.
Intel Core i5-6600K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $254.99, Amazon
For a more affordable option, particularly for gaming where the importance of Hyper-Threading is debatable, the unlocked quad-core i5-6600K is a very attractive option if you want to get into an unlocked Skylake CPU for a lot less money.
Intel Core i3-6100 - $131.49, Amazon
Having been very impressed with the performance of the 4th-gen Core i3-4130 processor, the move to 6th-gen Skylake will only provide more per-thread performance for a dual-core part that still plays the latest quad-core dependent games thanks to Hyper-Threading.
AMD Athlon X4 860K Quad-Core Processor - $69.99, Amazon
The king of the budget quad-core processors, the 860K provides very good performance that might be a little below Intel's Core i3, but for about half the price it's a sensational way to start a build that will still play all the latest games and provide a good productivity experience.
Fully Featured Wheel for $200 US
Gaming wheels are a pretty interesting subset of the hardware world. It seems the vast majority of gamers out there are keyboard and mouse players, or skew towards console controllers which are relatively inexpensive as compared to joysticks or wheels. For those that are serious about their racing games, a wheel is a must. Sure, there are plenty of people that are good with a console controller, but that does not provide the same experience. In fact, racing games do quite a bit of compensation when it comes to steering, acceleration, and braking when it detects a console controller.
Thrustmaster echoes the Playstation blue with their PS3/PS4/PC based T150 wheel.
This makes quite a bit of sense when we consider how many degrees of travel a thumbstick has as compared to a wheel. Or how much travel a button has as compared to a set of pedals. I have talked to a developer about this and they admit to giving a hand to keyboard and console controller users, otherwise cars in these games are nigh uncontrollable. A wheel and pedal set will give much more granular control over a car in a simulation, which is crazy to think about since we use a wheel and pedal set for our daily driving…
The very basic wheels are typically small units that have a bungie or spring system to center the wheel. They also feature a pretty limited rotation, going about 270 degrees at max. These products might reach to the $100 level at max, but they are pretty basic when it comes to the driving experience. There is then a huge jump to the $300 MSRP level where users can purchase the older Logitech G27 or the still current Thrustmaster TX series.
This was not always the case. Microsoft years back had offered their Sidewinder FFB Wheel around the $200 level. Thrustmaster also addressed this market with their now discontinued Ferrari F430 FFB wheel which had an initial MSRP of around $200. This particular wheel was popular with the entry level gamers, but it had a pretty big drawback; the wheel was limited to 270 degrees of rotation. This may be fine for some arcade style racers, but for those looking to expand into more sim territory had to set their sights on higher priced products.
A new controller for PC gamers
Last Friday, the early buyers of the Steam Controller and the Steam Link device, built by Valve directly, began to receive their hardware. I was one of the lucky early users to get my hands on both of the units. The Steam Controller has evolved drastically since I first got hands on with it and its implementation of unique haptic feedback and a thumb-specific touch pad on the right, rather than a second analog stick, make it quite different than the Xbox or PlayStation controllers popular today. The Steam Link is Valve's answer to GeForce GameStream and allows you to share your Steam library on your local network to another display or TV in your home.
The video below walks through a quick unboxing of the two new hardware options from Valve and demonstrates the use of the controller in a couple of games as well.
We'll definitely have more on the Steam Controller and Steam Link very soon, but I think this video should be able to help you decide if this is something you want to add to your gaming arsenal.
It's like Legos for the working man
Way back in January of 2015 at CES we were shown a new line of accessories from Lenovo called ThinkPad Stack. The company is targeting the professional user on the go with a collection of four devices that can be used together in a stackable form that offers up some impressive capability and function in a small package, though it does come with a business-user markup.
Last week Lenovo sent us a full set of the ThinkPad Stack devices including a portable router, external USB 3.0 hard drive, Bluetooth speaker and external battery. With a price tag totaling nearly $400 for the entire set, there is a pretty high expectation for functionality, build quality and usability that Lenovo needs to hit, and they do a better job than I expected (honestly) to hit it. You don't have to buy all of the available Stack accessories, and that is part of the charm of the new product line - you can customize them to your own needs.
Though it's not for everyone, I do find myself enjoying the idea of Lenovo's ThinkPad Stack products and how it enables the mobile professional. Let's take a look at what it is, how it works and if it's something you need.
Setup, Game Selection
Yesterday NVIDIA officially announced the new GeForce NOW streaming game service, the conclusion to the years-long beta and development process known as NVIDIA GRID. As I detailed on my story yesterday about the reveal, GeForce NOW is a $7.99/mo. subscription service that will offer on-demand, cloud-streamed games to NVIDIA SHIELD devices, including a library of 60 games for that $7.99/mo. fee in addition to 7 titles in the “purchase and play” category. There are several advantages that NVIDIA claims make GeForce NOW a step above any other streaming gaming service including PlayStation Now, OnLive and others. Those include load times, resolution and frame rate, combined local PC and streaming game support and more.
I have been able to use and play with the GeForce NOW service on our SHIELD Android TV device in the office for the last few days and I thought I would quickly go over my initial thoughts and impressions up to this point.
Setup and Availability
If you have an NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV (or a SHIELD Tablet) then the setup and getting started process couldn’t be any simpler for new users. An OS update is pushed that changes the GRID application on your home screen to GeForce NOW and you can sign in using your existing Google account on your Android device, making payment and subscription simple to manage. Once inside the application you can easily browse through the included streaming games or look through the smaller list of purchasable games and buy them if you so choose.
Playing a game is as simple and selecting title from the grid list and hitting play.
Let’s talk about that game selection first. For $7.99/mo. you get access to 60 titles for unlimited streaming. I have included a full list below, originally posted in our story yesterday, for reference.
Choosing the Right Platform
Despite what most people may think, our personal workstations here at the PC Perspective offices aren’t exactly comprised of cutting edge hardware. Just as in every other production environment, we place a real benefit on stability with the machines that we write, photo edit, and in this case, video edit on.
The current video editing workstation for PC Perspective offices is quite old when you look at the generations upon generations of hardware we have reviewed in the years since it was built. In fact, it has hardly been touched since early 2011. Built around the then $1000 Intel Core-i7 990X, 24GB of DDR3, a Fermi-based NVIDIA Quadro 5000, and a single 240gb SandForce 2 based SSD, this machine has edited a lot of 1080p video for us with little problems.
However, after starting to explore the Panasonic GH4 and 4K video a few months ago, the age of this machine became quite apparent. Real-time playback of high bit rate 4K content was choppy at best, and scrubbing through the timeline next to impossible. Transcoding to a lower resolution mezzanine file, or turning down the playback quality in Premiere Pro worked to some extent, but made the visual quality we gained more difficult to deal with. It was clear that we were going to need a new workstation sooner than later.
The main question was what platform to build upon. My initial thought was to build using the 8-core Intel Core i7-5960X and X99 platform. The main application we use, Adobe Premiere Pro (and it’s associated Media Encoder app) are very multithreaded. Going from 6-cores with the i7-990X to 8-cores with the i7-5960S with modest improvement in IPC didn’t seem like a big enough gain nor very future proof.
Luckily, we had a pair of Xeon E5-2680v2’s around from another testbed that had been replaced. These processors each provide 10 cores (Hyperthreading enabled for a resulting 20 threads each) at a base frequency of 2.8GHz, with the ability to boost up to 3.6GHz. By going with two of these processors in a dual CPU configuration, we will be significantly increasing our compute power and hopefully providing some degree of future proofing. Plus, we already use the slightly higher clocked Xeon E5-2690v2’s in our streaming server, so we have some experience with a very similar setup.
Taking Racing Games a Step Further
I remember very distinctly the first racing game I had ever played and where. It was in the basement of a hotel in Billings, MT where I first put a couple of quarters through the ATARI Night Driver arcade machine. It was a very basic simulator with white dots coming at you as if they were reflectors on poles. The game had a wheel and four gears available through a shifter. It had an accelerator and no brake. It was the simplest racing game a person could play. I was pretty young, so it was not as fun to me because I did not do well actually playing it. Like most kids that age, fun is in the anticipation of playing and putting the quarter in rather than learning the intricacies of a game.
Throughout the years there were distinct improvements. I played Pole Position and Enduro on the ATARI 2600, I had my first PC racer with Test Drive (the Ferrari Testarossa was my favorite vehicle) using only the keyboard. I took a break for a few years and did not get back into racing games until I attended the 3dfx T-buffer demo when I saw the latest NFS 4 (High Stakes) played at 1024x768 with AA enabled. Sure, it looked like the cars were covered in baby oil, but that was not a bad thing at the time.
One of the real breakthrough titles for me was NFS: Porsche Unleashed. EA worked with Porsche to create a game that was much closer to a simulation than the previous arcade racers. It was not perfect, but it was one of the first titles to support Force Feedback in racing. I purchased a Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 joystick. The addition of FFB was a tremendous improvement in the game as I could feel the tires start to slip and experience the increased resistance to turns. This was my first real attempt at a racing game and actually completing it. I still have fond memories and it would be great to get a remastered version with better graphics and physics, while still retaining the simulation roots.
After PU I again stopped playing racers. The release of Project Gotham racing for the XBox rekindled that a bit, but I soon tired of the feel of the controller and the rumble rather than real FFB effects. Fast forward to Quakecon 2009 when I saw the first gameplay videos of the upcoming DiRT 2. This title was one of the first to adopt DX11 that would push the HD 5800 and GTX 480 video cards for all they were worth. This re-ignited my desire to race. I purchased DiRT 2 as soon as it was available for the PC and played with the aging (but still solid) Sidewinder FFB P2.
The box was a little beat up when it got to me, but everything was intact.
Something was missing though. I really wanted more out of my racing game. The last time I had used a wheel on a racing game was probably an Outrun arcade machine in the late 80s. I did some shopping around and decided on the Thrustmaster F430 Ferrari FFB wheel. It was on sale at the time for a low, low price of $76. It had a 270 degree rotation which is more apt for arcade racers than sims, but it was a solid wheel for not a whole lot of money. It was a fantastic buy for the time and helped turn me into a racing enthusiast.
During this time I purchased my kids a couple of low end wheels that use the bungee cord centering mechanism. These of course lack any FFB features, but the Genius one I acquired was supposed to have some basic feedback and rumble effects: it never worked as such. So, my experience to this point has been joysticks, bungee wheels, and a 270 degree F430 wheel. This does not make me an expert, but it does provide an interesting background for the jump to a higher level of product.
A Diverse Lineup
ThinkPads have always been one of our favorite notebook brands here at PC Perspective. While there certainly has been some competition from well-designed portables such as the Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the ThinkPad line remains a solid choice for power users.
We had the chance to look at a lot of Lenovo's ThinkPad lineup for Broadwell, and as this generation comes to a close we decided to give a brief overview of the diversity available. Skylake-powered notebooks may be just on the horizon, but the comparisons of form factor and usability should remain mostly applicable into the next generation.
Within the same $1200-$1300 price range, Lenovo offers a myriad of portable machines with roughly the same hardware in vastly different form factors.
First, let's take a look at the more standard ThinkPads.
Lenovo ThinkPad T450s
The ThinkPad T450s is my default recommendation for anyone looking for a notebook in the $1000+ range. Featuring a 14" 1080p display and an Intel Core i5-5300U processor, it will perform great for the majority of users. While you won't be using this machine for 3D Modeling or CAD/CAM applications, general productivity tasks will feel right at home here.
Technically classified as an Ultrabook, the T450s won't exactly be turning any heads with it's thinness. Lenovo strikes a balance here, making the notebook as thin as possible at 0.83" while retaining features such as a gigabit Ethernet port, 3 USB 3.0 Ports, an SD card reader, and plenty of display connectivity with Mini DisplayPort and VGA.
For multi-device users
One of the things that we still wrestle with here at PC Perspective is keeping a host of phones, tablets and mobile gaming devices charged and ready to go when we need them. Reviewing items means we need to have multiple devices ready to go to run tests and benchmarks at any given time. Keeping that collection of technology powered up can be a pain in the rear - adapters everywhere, cables strewn across the shelf, etc.
The same is true for me at home - even though we are only a two adult household, my wife and I each have a tablet we use regularly, smartphones and a host of accessories like wireless headphones, smart watches and more. And when company comes over it is expected that at least someone will need to top off the power to their phone.
Skiva has a USB charging accessory to help alleviate much of the headache involved with these situations. The Powerflow 7 Stand Charger combines a 7-port USB charger capable of 2.4A to each port with a simple stand to support 7 tablets and phones vertically. The result is a neatly organized set of hardware that is accessible when you need it.
Handcrafted in Brooklyn, NY
First impressions usually count for a lot, correct? Well, my first impression of a Grado product was not all that positive. I had a small LAN party at my house one night and I invited over the audio lead for Ritual Entertainment and got him set up on one of the test machines. He pulled out a pair of Grado SR225 headphones and plugged them in. I looked at them and thought, “Why does this audio guy have such terrible headphones?” Just like most others that have looked at Grados the first time, I thought these were similar to a set of WWII headsets, and likely sounded about as good. I offered my friend a more “gaming friendly” set of headphones. He laughed at me and said no thanks.
The packaging is relatively bland as compared to other competing "high end" headphones. Grado has a reputation of under-promising, yet overperforming.
I of course asked him about his headphones that he was so enamored with and he told me a little bit about how good they actually were and that he was quite happy to game on them. This of course got me quite interested in what exactly Grado had to offer. Those “cheap looking” headphones are anything but cheap. While the aesthetics can be debated, but what can’t be is that Grado makes a pretty great series of products.
Grado was founded by Joseph Grado in 1953. Sadly, Joseph passed away this year. Though he had been retired for some time, the company is still family owned and we are now seeing the 3rd generation of Grados getting involved in the day to day workings of the company. The headquarters was actually the site of the family fruit business before Joseph decided to go into the audio industry. They originally specialized in phonograph heads as well as other phono accessories, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Grado introduced their first headphones. Headphones are not exactly a market where there are massive technological leaps, so it appears as though there has been around three distinct generations of headphone designs from Grado with the Prestige series. The originals were introduced in the mid-90s then in the mid 2000s with the updated “i” series, and finally we have the latest “e” models that were released last year.
The company also offers five different lines of headphones that range from the $50 eGrado up to the $1700 PS1000E. They also use a variety of materials from plastic, to metal, and finally the very famous wood based headphones. In fact, they have a limited edition Grado Heritage run that was made from a maple tree cut down in Brooklyn very near to the workshop where Grado still handcrafts their headphones.
That townhouse in the middle? That is where the vast majority of Grado headphones are made. Not exactly what most expect considering the reputation of the Grado brand. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grado)
I was sent the latest SR225e models to take a listen to some time back. I finally got to a place where I could just sit down and pen about my thoughts and experience with these headphones.
Killing those end of summer blues
As we approach the end of summer and the beginning of the life of Windows 10, PC Perspective and Gigabyte (along with Thermaltake and Kingston) have teamed up to bring our readers a system build guide and giveaway that is sure to get your gears turning. If you think that an X99-based system with an 8-core Intel Extreme processor, SLI graphics, 480GB SSD and 32GB of memory sounds up your alley...pay attention.
Deep in thought...
Even with the dawn of Skylake nearly upon us, there is no debate that the Haswell-E platform will continue to be the basis of the enthusiasts dream system for a long time. Lower power consumption is great, but nothing is going to top 8-cores, 16-threads and all the PCI Express lanes you could need for expansion to faster storage and accessories. With that in mind Gigabyte has partnered with PC Perspective to showcase the power of X99 and what a builder today can expect when putting together a system with a fairly high budget, but with lofty goals in mind as well.
Let's take a look at the components we are using today.
|Gigabyte X99 System Build|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-5960X - $1048|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte X99 Gaming 5P - $309|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4-2666 32GB - $325|
|Graphics Card||2 x Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 960 2GB - $199|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB SSD - $194|
|Case||Thermaltake Core V51 - $82|
|Power Supply||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 850 watt - $189|
|CPU Cooler||Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S - $94|
|Total Price||$1591 - Amazon Full Card (except CPU)
$1048 - Amazon Intel Core i7-5960X
Grand Total: $2639
After spending some time in the computer hardware industry, it's easy to become jaded about trade shows and unannounced products. The vast majority of hardware we see at events like CES every year is completely expected beforehand. While this doesn't mean that these products are bad by any stretch, they can be difficult to get excited about.
Everyone once and a while however, we find ourselves with our hands on something completely unexpected. Hidden away in a back room of Lenovo's product showcase at CES this year, we were told there was a product would amaze us — called the LaVie.
And they were right.
Unfortunately, the Lenovo LaVie-Z is one of those products that you can't truly understand until you get it in your hands. Billed as the world's lightest 13.3" notebook, the standard LaVie-Z comes in at a weight of just 1.87 lbs. The touchscreen-enabled LaVie-Z 360 gains a bit of weight, coming in at 2.04 lbs.
While these numbers are a bit difficult to wrap your head around, I'll try to provide a bit of context. For example, the Google Nexus 9 weighs .94 lbs. For just over twice the weight as Google's flagship tablet, Lenovo has provided a full Windows notebook with an i7 ultra mobile processor.
Furthermore the new 12" Apple MacBook which people are touting as being extremely light comes in at 2.03 lbs, almost the same weight as the touchscreen version of the LaVie-Z. For the same weight, you also gain a much more powerful Intel i7 processor in the LaVie, when compared to the Intel Core-M option in the MacBook.
All of this comes together to provide an experience that is quite unbelievable. Anyone that I have handed one of these notebooks to has been absolutely amazed that it's a real, functioning computer. The closest analog that I have been able to come up with for picking up the LaVie-Z is one of the cardboard placeholder laptops they have at furniture stores.
The personal laptop that I carry day-to-day is a 11" MacBook Air, which only weighs 2.38 lbs, but the LaVie-Z feels infinitely lighter.
However, as impressive as the weight (or lack thereof) of the LaVie-Z is, let's dig deeper into what the experience of using the world's lightest notebook.
Introduction, Packaging, and A Closer Look
We haven’t had a chance to sit down with any racing wheels for quite some time here at PC Perspective. We have an old Genius wheel on a shelf in the back of our closet here at the office. Ryan played around with that a few years back, and that was the extent of the racing wheel usage here at home base. Josh, on the other hand, frequents driving sims with a Thrustmaster F430. I hadn’t ventured into racing sims, though I do dabble with the real thing a bit.
Given our previous Logitech coverage, and especially following our recent Q&A covering the new LogitechG line, it only made sense for us to take a look at the new Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel.
Today we are covering the G29, which is a PS3/PS4/PC specific model from Logitech. There is an Xbox/PC variant coming soon in the form of the G920, with will have a different (fewer) button layout and no LED RPM/shift display.
A few years ago, we took our first look at the inexpensive 27" 1440p monitors which were starting to flood the market via eBay sellers located in Korea. These monitors proved to be immensely popular and largely credited for moving a large number of gamers past 1080p.
However, in the past few months we have seen a new trend from some of these same Korean monitor manufacturers. Just like the Seiki Pro SM40UNP 40" 4K display that we took a look at a few weeks ago, the new trend is large 4K monitors.
Built around a 42-in LG AH-IPS panel, the Wasabi Mango UHD420 is an impressive display. Inclusion of HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 allow you to achieve 4K at a full 60Hz and 4:4:4 color gamut. At a cost of just under $800 on Amazon, this is an incredibly appealing value.
Whether or not the UHD420 is a TV or a monitor is actually quite the tossup. The lack of a tuner
might initially lead you to believe it's not a TV. Inclusion of a DisplayPort connector, and USB 3.0 hub might make you believe it's a monitor, but it's bundled with a remote control (entirely in Korean). In reality, this display could really be used for either use case (unless you use OTA tuning), and really starts to blur the lines between a "dumb" TV and a monitor. You'll also find VESA 400x400mm mounting holes on this display for easy wall mounting.
Logitech Focuses in on Gaming
Logitech has been around seemingly forever. The Swiss based company is ubiquitous in the peripherals market, providing products ranging from keyboards and mice, to speakers and headsets. There is not much that the company does not offer when it comes to PC peripherals. Their 3 button mice back in the day were considered cutting edge that also happened to be semi-programmable. Since that time we have seen them go from ball mice, to optical mice, to the latest laser based products that offer a tremendous amount of precision.
Gaming has become one of the bigger movers for Logitech, and they have revamped their entire lineup as well as added a few new products to hopefully cash in on the popularity of modern gaming. To further address this market Logitech has designed and marketed a new batch of gaming headsets. These promise to be moderately priced, but high quality products that bear the Logitech name. We go from the very basic up to the top 7.1 wireless products. Originally these covered a pretty significant price range, but lately the discounts have been extremely deep. The lowest end gaming headset is at $40US while the 7.1 wireless model comes in around $90 US.
I am looking at two models today that span the lowest end to the 2nd highest. The first headset is the G230 analog set. The second is the G35 wired 7.1 USB with Dolby Headphone technology. I have never been a fan of wireless headphones, but the G35 should be a fairly good approximation of the performance of that part.
My goal is to look at these two wired units and see what Logitech can offer at these two very affordable price points.
Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging
Lexar is Micron’s brand covering SD Cards, microSD Cards, USB flash drives, and card readers. Their card readers are known for being able to push high in the various speed grades, typically allowing transfers (for capable SD cards) much faster than what a typical built-in laptop or PC SD card reader is capable of. Today we will take a look at the Lexar ‘Professional Workflow’ line of flash memory connectivity options from Lexar.
This is essentially a four-bay hub device that can accept various card readers or other types of devices (a USB flash storage device as opposed to just a reader, for example). The available readers range from SD to CF to Professional Grade CFast cards capable of over 500 MB/sec.
We will be looking at the following items today:
- Professional Workflow HR2
- Four-bay Thunderbolt™ 2/USB 3.0 reader and storage drive hub
- Professional Workflow UR1
- Three-slot microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-I USB 3.0 reader
- Professional Workflow SR1
- SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-I USB 3.0 reader
- Professional Workflow CFR1
- CompactFlash® USB 3.0 reader
- Professional Workflow DD256
- 256GB USB 3.0 Storage Drive
Note that since we were sampled these items, Lexar has begun shipping a newer version of the SR1. The SR2 is a SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II USB 3.0 reader. Since we had no UHS-II SD cards available to test, this difference would not impact any of our testing speed results. There is also an HR1 model which has only USB 3.0 support and no Thunderbolt, coming in at a significantly lower cost when compared with the HR2 (more on that later).
One hub to rule them all!
Inateck sent along a small group of connectivity devices for us to evaluate. One such item was their HB7003 7 port USB 3.0 hub:
This is a fairly standard powered USB hub with one exception - high speed charging. Thanks to an included 36W power adapter and support for Battery Charging Specification 1.2, the HB7003 can charge devices at up to 1.5 Amps at 5 Volts. This is not to be confused with 'Quick Charging', which uses a newer specification and more unique hardware.
- L/W/H: 6.06" x 1.97" x 0.83"
- Ports: 7
- Speed: USB 3.0 5Gbps (backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1)
- Windows Vista / OSX 10.8.4 and newer supported without drivers
Densely packed brown box. Exactly how such a product should be packaged.
Power adapter (~6 foot cord), ~4.5 foot USB 3.0 cord, instruction manual, and the hub itself.
Some quick charging tests revealed that the HB7003 had no issue exceeding 1.0 Amp charging rates, but fell slightly short of a full 1.5A charge rate due to the output voltage falling a little below the full 5V. Some voltage droop is common with this sort of device, but it did have some effect. In one example, an iPad Air drew 1.3A (13% short of a full 1.5A). Not a bad charging rate considering, but if you are expecting a fast charge of something like an iPad, its dedicated 2.1A charger is obviously the better way to go.
Performance and Usability:
As you can see above, even though the port layout is on a horizontal plane, Inateck has spaced the ports enough that most devices should be able to sit side by side. Some wider devices may take up an extra port, but with seven to work with, the majority of users should have enough available ports even if one or two devices overlap an adjacent port. In the above configuration, we had no issue saturating the throughput to each connected device. I also stepped up to a Samsung USB T1 which also negotiated at the expected USB 3.0 speeds.
Pricing and Availability
- $34.99 (Amazon)
Inateck is selling it these direct from their Amazon store (link above).
- Clean design 7-port USB 3.0 hub.
- Port spacing sufficient for most devices without interference.
- 1.5A per port charging.
- Low cost.
- 'Wall wart' power adapter may block additional power strip outlets.
At just $35, the Inateck HB7003 is a good quality 7-port USB 3.0 hub. All ports can charge devices at up to 1.5A while connecting them to the host at data rates up to 5 Gbps. The only gripe I had was that the hub was a bit on the light weight side and as a result it easily slid around on the desk when the attached cords were disturbed, but some travelers might see light weight as a bonus. Overall this is a simple, no frills USB 3.0 hub that gets the job done nicely.
Announced just this past June at last year’s Google I/O event, Android TV is a platform developed by Google, running Android 5.0 and higher, that aims to create an interactive experience for the TV. This platform can be built into a TV directly as well as into set-top style boxes, like the NVIDIA SHIELD we are looking at today. The idea is to bring the breadth of apps and content to the TV through the Android operating system in a way that is both convenient and intuitive.
NVIDIA announced SHIELD back in March at GDC as the first product to use the company’s latest Tegra processor, the X1. This SoC combines an 8-core big.LITTLE ARM processor design with a 256-core implementation of the NVIDIA Maxwell GPU architecture, providing GPU performance previously unseen in an Android device. I have already spent some time with the NVIDIA SHIELD at various events and the promise was clearly there to make it a leading option for Android TV adoption, but obviously there were questions to be answered.
Today’s article will focus on my early impressions with the NVIDIA SHIELD, having used it both in the office and at home for a handful of days. As you’ll see during the discussion there are still some things to be ironed out, some functionality that needs to be added before SHIELD and Android TV can really be called a must-buy product. But I do think it will get there.
And though this review will focus on the NVIDIA SHIELD, it’s impossible not to marry the success of SHIELD with the success of Google’s Android TV. The dominant use case for SHIELD is as a media playback device, with the gaming functionality as a really cool side project for enthusiasts and gamers looking for another outlet. For SHIELD to succeed, Google needs to prove that Android TV can improve over other integrated smart TV platforms as well as other set-top box platforms like Boxee, Roku and even the upcoming Apple TV refresh.
But first, let’s get an overview of the NVIDIA SHIELD device, pricing and specifications, before diving into my experiences with the platform as a whole.
High Bandwidth Memory
UPDATE: I have embedded an excerpt from our PC Perspective Podcast that discusses the HBM technology that you might want to check out in addition to the story below.
The chances are good that if you have been reading PC Perspective or almost any other website that focuses on GPU technologies for the past year, you have read the acronym HBM. You might have even seen its full name: high bandwidth memory. HBM is a new technology that aims to turn the ability for a processor (GPU, CPU, APU, etc.) to access memory upside down, almost literally. AMD has already publicly stated that its next generation flagship Radeon GPU will use HBM as part of its design, but it wasn’t until today that we could talk about what HBM actually offers to a high performance processor like Fiji. At its core HBM drastically changes how the memory interface works, how much power is required for it and what metrics we will use to compare competing memory architectures. AMD and its partners started working on HBM with the industry more than 7 years ago, and with the first retail product nearly ready to ship, it’s time to learn about HBM.
We got some time with AMD’s Joe Macri, Corporate Vice President and Product CTO, to talk about AMD’s move to HBM and how it will shift the direction of AMD products going forward.
The first step in understanding HBM is to understand why it’s needed in the first place. Current GPUs, including the AMD Radeon R9 290X and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980, utilize a memory technology known as GDDR5. This architecture has scaled well over the past several GPU generations but we are starting to enter the world of diminishing returns. Balancing memory performance and power consumption is always a tough battle; just ask ARM about it. On the desktop component side we have much larger power envelopes to work inside but the power curve that GDDR5 is on will soon hit a wall, if you plot it far enough into the future. The result will be either drastically higher power consuming graphics cards or stalling performance improvements of the graphics market – something we have not really seen in its history.
While it’s clearly possible that current and maybe even next generation GPU designs could still have depended on GDDR5 as the memory interface, the move to a different solution is needed for the future; AMD is just making the jump earlier than the rest of the industry.