Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

Ryan Shrouts Picks

December is upon us, and that means the holidays are just around the corner! In the following pages, the PC Perspective editors have outlined their top picks for gifts that they would like to receive or that would make great gifts for others.


Once you have read through the guide, feel free to share your picks in the comments below. Everyone at PC Perspective would like to wish you a safe and joyous holiday! Thank you for continuing to support the site.


Ryan Shrout's Picks Pro Tech Tool Kit

There comes a time in every tech nerds life when you just don't have the tool for the job and you sit and stare at your trusted Philips screwdriver and curse.  That happened to me while I was taking apart the Nintendo Wii U recently, and I don't want it to happen YOU.  So picking up this kit ahead of time will save you a lot of frustration for not a lot of money.

Inside the packages you'll find a 54-bit driver kit with unique pieces like tri-wing and triangles and...stuff.  Several shapes of tweezers, suction cups, spudgers (prying tools) and even an anti-static wrist strap are included!  For the low, low price of just $59.95.



AMD A10-5800K Trinity APU

Yes, there are faster processors out there, but that's not the point here.  AMD's Trinity APUs make great for starting your own HTPC, as detailed over the past couple of weeks by our own Chris Barbere's HTPC guide.  For just about $115 you get a quad-core processor that runs as high as 4.2 GHz with an integrated GPU that can handle some 720p and 1080p game at modest quality settings, all for under 100 watts of TDP. 

Be sure to check out Josh's review of the processor as well.


See more holiday tech picks from our staff in the full article!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Running Windows Media Center for the First Time

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


We’ve finished tweaking our Windows 7 Home Premium installation in preparation for Media Center in our previous installment and now it’s time to get down to the core of our project and finally roll our sleeves up and dive into Media Center itself.  Windows Media Center is an excellent product with an extremely passionate group of fans and one simply needs to check out the Green Button forums or the DTVUSA Forums to find like-minded Cord Cutters.  Considering how well thought out and excellent Media Center is for most ‘set top box’ type tasks, I never understood why Microsoft didn’t put more effort behind pushing it and yet they worked double time to try and push projects like Clippy and the Kin.  Unfortunately, not only has Microsoft not supported Media Center, some of their actions with Windows 8 make it feel like they’re actively working to kill it off.

Regardless, Windows Media Center is still the product to beat for an all in one Cord Cutting solution in my opinion.  While I’m building my media center in Windows 7 Home Premium, if you are building a Windows 8 Media Center, many of the steps will be very similar, if not the same, to what I’m doing here.  Many of the setup screens are mirror images between the two versions of Windows and you should be able to follow along with this guide for Windows 8 as well.  Unless you just absolutely must use Windows 8 for some reason, I highly suggest using Windows 7 for your Media Center as Microsoft has decided to leave some key features out of the Windows 8 version that makes Windows 7 superior in my opinion.


My Experience: Working through the Windows Media Center setup is much easier to do on a computer monitor as opposed to trying to do it while hooked up to your Television.  We’ll hook our HTPC up to a television when we’re wrapping things up, but in the meantime, save yourself some hassle and just do everything on a monitor.

Continue reading Cutting the Cord Part 4 to “Get Started” with Windows Media Center!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Installing Windows and Preparing for Media Center

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:

Now that we've walked through installing all our hardware in our previous article, we’re ready to install our operating system and configure it to get the most out of Media Center.  As I mentioned before, I originally was planning to do this build with Windows 8 Professional and the Windows 8 Media Center pack, but there’s a few things that Microsoft has removed from Media Center in the new version that make using it for a Media Center a non-starter in my opinion.  Not being able to boot directly into Media Center and having to boot into Metro and then launch Media Center is a deal breaker for me so I fell back to what’s been working great for me these past few years, Windows 7 Home Premium.



Before we even start with our Operating System install, there are a few settings you are going to want to configure in your BIOS/UEFI for the best system performance and stability.

  •  First, ensure that your Hard Drive/SATA controllers are in “AHCI Mode” as opposed to IDE or Legacy IDE.  AHCI stands for “Advanced Host Controller Interface” and offers some features and performance improvements over the old IDE interface such as hot swapping of drives and NCQ (Native Command Queuing). 


  • Some motherboards will allow you to detect if there is a mouse and/or keyboard connected and stop the boot process if it does not see them.  Since we’ll likely not be running the media center with a mouse/keyboard attached, make sure to disable this.
  • Set the primary hard drive (your SSD or the big spindle drive if you don’t have a SSD) as the First boot device.  You may want to temporarily set the CD/DVD drive to be the First boot device to complete your Windows installation and then go back in and change the First boot device back to your primary hard drive.


Now that we have our motherboard BIOS/UEFI ready to go, continue reading for the installation and preparation of Windows 7!

Subject: General Tech

What is a HTPC anyways?

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


Continuing with our series on Cutting the Cord and building your own HTPC, we move beyond the "Assessment Phase" we discussed in part one and into the realm of actually building your own Home Theater PC with Windows 7 Media Center.  In Part 2, we walk through our hardware picks for our HTPC.  But before we dive headlong into that, I need to get something off my chest.

 My Experience: /rant on.  When I first planned to write this article, I thought it would be interesting to write a new HTPC building guide soon after Windows 8 was released in order to spotlight Windows 8 Media Center.  While I initially had some concerns with Microsoft’s choice of separating Media Center from Windows 8 itself, and some other issues I heard rumor of, my own experience attempting to build a Windows 8 Media Center would push this long time Microsoft fan to the limits.  Long story short, I spent nearly two days working up the article and building a Windows 8 Media Center only to come to terms with the fact that Microsoft has so jacked with some of the key features of Media Center in Windows 8 that I can’t recommend anyone use it.   With that being said, I had to start over from scratch, rebuilding my HTPC with Windows 7 and doing a complete rewrite of the article.  I want to thank Microsoft for showing us that they care more about cramming the Metro UI down our throats than they care about the passionate Media Center community that has rallied around and supported them these many years.  Anyways, /rant off and back to our previously schedule HTPC building guide.

 The market is currently littered with all manners of bringing content to your television set.  There are devices that help you manage your current cable/satellite television subscription such as TiVo, Xbox with Verizon FIOS, Xbox with Comcast XFinity, or even the Google TV .  There’s devices out there that give you access to additional features above and beyond your television viewing such as the Apple TV, the Roku, or the Boxee Box.  There’s even a slew of “Smart TV’s” and Streaming Sticks that will turn any TV into a Smart TV that are loaded with applications to overlay content or get access to other services.  For the hardcore DiY crowd, there’s also some other options to build your own devices with distributions like MythTV or XBMC (Xbox Media Center).



With so many new boxes, devices and options hitting the street just about every day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood of options.  Luckily Veronica Belmont’s Mega Set Top Box List is still being maintained and has some great information to help you weed through the mess.



With so many options, many of which are $100 or less, you’d think that building a $500-$700 Media Center PC is overkill.  Unfortunately many of these devices will not do everything you want them to do and I’ve not found anything that combines all the capabilities and functions I wanted into a single package as good as Windows Media Center (though the new Boxee TV Box might be a new contender on the block.)  Building and running your own Media Center offers the flexibility and power all in one package to meet every scenario you could throw at it.  You’re not stuck waiting for some developer to get around to writing new firmware or applications to add in support for what you want.  If you can View, Read or Watch it on a Windows desktop, then you can most likely get it working directly through Windows Media Center.  I still don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t licensed or even produced their own device with their excellent Media Center UI. 



Read on to dive headlong into our HTPC build!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

The Skinny about Cutting the Cord

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:

There was a time in the not too long past that having a Cable or Satellite TV subscription was just a given.  Like water, phone or electricity, if you wanted to watch anything other than a few local networks or crazy UHF stations you had to pay your local cable /satellite conglomerate a tidy little sum to pump the channels into your TV.


That’s where I was back in January of 2010.  Staring at a $150 bill for Time Warner Cable with the “Basic Package + HD” and a pair of TiVo’s I began to wonder if I was just wasting money since 80% of our regular viewing consisted of a dozen or so shows scattered across only four or five channels.  Within a month, and after some deliberation, we decided we’d try to ‘cut the cord’ and since that time I’ve happily saved nearly $5,000 that would have been lining the pockets of some Time Warner/TiVo executives.  Ponder that for a moment, $5,000 spent on television.  Even after I factor out the cost of hardware I needed to buy and setup, that’s enough money to buy a new big screen TV every year and then some.


Regardless of what big cable and satellite companies say, between 2008 and 2011, 2.65 million households dropped cable/satellite subscriptions.  A recent survey found that 9 percent of the people surveyed had cancelled their cable subscriptions in the last year and Time Warner Cable alone has had 10 straight quarters of Pay for TV customer losses.

This multipart series on PC Perspective will walk you through the process of becoming a “Cord Cutter” yourself.  Starting with some thoughts on whether or not cutting the cable is right for you we’ll walk you through everything from start to finish.

  • Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
  • Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
  • Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
  • Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
  • Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options

I’ll also include a few little personal tidbits from My Experiences in my quest to cut the cord and stay that way for the last few years.  

To Cut, or Not to Cut, That is the Question…

While dropping your cable or satellite subscription can save you some serious money, it’s not for everyone.  Television is a central part of the entertainment for many households, and you need to look at it from all angles before you call your provider and tell them you want out.  Cutting the cord may require some concessions and serious changes to the way you get your television content.  While you might not mind some inconvenience, your significant other or children may have a meltdown if they can’t get their regular fix of Honey Boo Boo or Yo Gabba Gabba the moment it’s aired.


Regardless, with some consideration and pre-work you can determine if cutting the cord is right for you and make the transition nice and smooth if you decide to kick your cable or satellite provider to the curb.

If you’re willing to take that chance, read on to see if Cord Cutting is for you!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Tt eSPORTS

Thermaltake brings BMW to the mouse

Our friends at Thermaltake recently sent us a fun new toy, the Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M adjustable gaming mouse.  Yes, that's a lot of letters to describe a mouse, but I can assure you this mouse is unlike any you might have seen before. 

Here are the key selling points:

  • Air-through Ventilation
  • 3D Steering
  • Macro / Lighting software
  • RGB LEDs in several places for customization
  • Laser sensor up to 8300 DPI

The idea of the ventilation is to keep your sweaty hands a bit drier and cooler while the 3D steering allows the user to adjust the mouse surface in two different directions (one for height, one for horizontal angle) to find their preferred placement.  The LEDs do allow for some interesting color combinations as long as you are okay with the preset colors that Tt eSPORTS has available in software.

Speaking of software, the application for customization is a little over exaggerated on the "extreme" design cues but enables the feature set you are looking for.  Custom macros can be created and assigned to one of four buttons (A-D) with adjustments for timing, delay, etc.  In addition, you can combine macros, lighting and DPI settings into one of five profiles that you can switch between easily with the thumb stick on the left side of the mouse. 

Even better - all of this information (macros, profiles) is saved in the mouse after you disconnect it and take it to a different PC - no need to install the software to get the presets you configured before.

After a couple of us have used the mouse for a few days in the office, we put together the video below for you to see our thoughts and opinions as well as how the Level 10 M looks and feels.  Even though it was designed in partnership with BMW, a current selling price of $95 on Newegg makes it hard to recommend the mouse to anyone but those of you that know for sure this is the mouse you want to use going forward. 



For more photos of the Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M gaming mouse, click here!!

Manufacturer: Nintendo

We go inside the Wii U

Last night after the midnight release of the new Nintendo Wii U gaming console, we did what any self respecting hardware fan would do: we tore it apart.  That's right, while live on our PC Perspective Live! page, we opened up a pair of Wii U consoles, played a couple of games on the Deluxe while we took a tri-wing screwdriver to the second.  Inside we found some interesting hardware (and a lot more screws) and at the conclusion of the 5+ hour marathon, we had a reassembled system with only a handful of leftover screws!

If you missed the show last night we have archived the entire video on our YouTube channel (embedded below) as well as the photos we took during the event in their full resolution glory.  There isn't much to discuss about the teardown other than what we said in the video but I am going to leave a few comments after each set of four images.

OH!  And if you missed the live event and want to be apart of another one, we are going to be holding a Hitman: Absolution Game Stream on our Live Page sponsored by AMD with giveaways like Radeon graphics cards and LOTS of game keys!  Stop by again and see us on on Tuesday the 20th at 8pm ET.


During the stream we promised photos of everything we did while taking it apart, so here you go!  Click to get the full size image!


Getting inside the Wii U was surprisingly easy as the white squares over the screws were simply stickers and we didn't have to worry about any clips breaking, etc.  The inside is dominated by the optical drive provided by Panasonic.

Continue reading to see ALL the images from our Nintendo Wii U Teardown!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Lantronix

A simple device for a complex problem

Sometimes an odd product finds its way into our office and this week we have one of those very items.  The xPrintServer Home from Lantronix is a networking device that easily configures existing printers on your home or office network to work with the AirPrint capability on your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.  It does this without the need for special applications on your phone, without having to buy new printers and without complex software based work arounds.


The unit itself is a small white plastic case that has an Ethernet connection, USB port and power connection.  The Ethernet port needs to be connected to your router / switch and the USB port is for connecting one of more USB printers (via a USB hub).  After attaching the power, the device goes through an incredibly simple, automatic configuration process. 


After the orange light goes solid, you can simply go to an AirPlay enabled application like Safari, Photos, Notes, Mail and more and hit the print option; your network or USB printer should already be configured.  The process is impressively easy!


Inside the device is a basic Atmel designed ARM926 core SoC running at 400 MHz - more than enough power for the print spooling that it does on the Lantronix device.

By far the most impressive part about the xPrintServer is the ease of setup; we were literally up and printing on an iPhone 5 within 2 minutes of opening the box.  If you are the kind of person that would like the capability to print from your iPad or iPhone but without having to buy a new printer with AirPrint built in, definitely check out this product. 

You can currently find the Lantronix xPrintServer Home for $95 at

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Windows RT: Runtime? Or Get Up and Run Time?

Update #1, 10/26/2012: Apparently it does not take long to see the first tremors of certification woes. A Windows developer by the name of Jeffrey Harmon allegedly wrestled with Microsoft certification support 6 times over 2 months because his app did not meet minimum standards. He was not given clear and specific reasons why -- apparently little more than copy/paste of the regulations he failed to achieve. Kind-of what to expect from a closed platform... right? Imagine if some nonsensical terms become mandated or other problems crop up?

Also, Microsoft has just said they will allow PEGI 18 games which would have received an ESRB M rating. Of course their regulations can and will change further over time... the point is the difference between a store refusing to carry versus banishing from the whole platform even for limited sharing. The necessity of uproars, especially so early on and so frequently, should be red flags for censorship to come. Could be for artistically-intentioned nudity or sexual themes. Could even be not about sex, language, and violence at all.


Last month, I suggested that the transition to Windows RT bares the same hurdles as transitioning to Linux. Many obstacles blocking our path, like Adobe and PC gaming, are considering Linux; the rest have good reason to follow.

This month we receive Windows RT and Microsoft’s attempt to shackle us to it: Windows 8.


To be clear: Microsoft has large incentives to banish the legacy of Windows. The way Windows 8 is structured reduces it to a benign tumorous growth atop Windows RT. The applications we love and the openness we adore are contained to an app.

I will explain how you should hate this -- after I explain why and support it with evidence.

Microsoft is currently in the rare state of sharp and aggressive focus to a vision. Do not misrepresent this as greed: it is not. Microsoft must face countless jokes about security and stability. Microsoft designed Windows with strong slants towards convenience over security.

That ideology faded early into the life of Windows XP. How Windows operates is fundamentally different. Windows machines are quite secure, architecturally. Con-artists are getting desperate. Recent attacks are almost exclusively based on fear and deception of the user. Common examples are fake anti-virus software or fraudulent call center phone calls. We all win when attackers get innovative: survival of the fittest implies death of the weakest.

Continue reading why we think the Windows you Love is gone...

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

And Why the Industry Misses the Point


I am going to take a somewhat unpopular stance: I really like stereoscopic 3D. I also expect to change your mind and get you excited about stereoscopic 3D too - unless of course a circumstance such as monovision interferes with your ability to see 3D at all. I expect to accomplish where the industry has failed simply because I will not ignore the benefits of 3D in my explanation.

Firstly - we see a crisp image when our brain is more clearly able to make out objects in a scene.

We typically have two major methods of increasing the crispness of an image: we either increase the resolution or we increase the contrast of the picture. As resolution increases we receive a finer grid of positional information to place and contain the objects in the scene. As contrast increases we receive a wider difference between the brightest points and the darkest points from a scene which prevents objects from blending together in a mess of grey.

We are also able to experience depth information by comparing the parallax effect across both of our eyes. We are able to encapsulate each object into a 3D volume and position each capsule a more defined distance apart. Encapsulated objects appear crisper because we can more clearly see them as sharply defined independent objects.

Be careful with this stereoscopic 3D image. To see the 3D effect you must slowly cross your eyes until the two images align in the center. This should only be attempted by adults with fully developed eyes and without prior medical conditions. Also, sit a comfortable distance away so you do not need to cross your eyes too far inward and rest your eyes until they no longer feel strained. In short - do not pull an eye muscle or something. Use common sense. Also move your mouse cursor far away from the image as it will break your focusing lock and click on the image to make it full sized.


Again, be careful when crossing your eyes to see stereoscopic 3D and relax them when you are done.

The above image is a scene from Unreal Tournament 3 laid out in a cross-eyed 3D format. If you are safely able to experience the 3D image then I would like you to pay careful attention to how crisp the 3D image appeared. Compare this level of crispness to either the left or right eye image by itself.

Which has the crisper picture quality?

That is basically why 3D is awesome: it makes your picture quality appear substantially better by giving your brain more information about the object. This effect can also play with how the brain perceives the world you present it: similar to how HDR tonal mapping plays with exposure ranges we cannot see and infrared photography plays with colors we cannot see to modify the photograph - which we can see - for surreal effects.

So what goes terribly wrong? Read on to the article to find out.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Thoughts about Interface Design in General

I have been in several situations where a variety of people claim the gamepad is superior for gaming because that is what it was designed for. No elaboration or further justification is given. The controller is designed for gaming and is therefore clearly better. End of – despite often being start to – discussion in their minds.

Really it is a compromise between the needs of popular games and the environment of a couch.

Interface design is complicated. When you design an interface you need to consider: the expected types of applications; the environment of the user; what you are permitted to use; what tolerances are allowed; what your audience is used to; and so on, so forth. There is a lot to consider when you design an application for a user and I could make an educated guess that it is at least as hard to design the input device itself.

The history of keyboard design is a great example of tradeoffs in input devices.

Sometimes it is better to be worse...


The first wave of keyboards were interfaces to the mechanical typewriter. These keyboards were laid out in alphabetical order because as long as each key is accessible and the user could find the letter they wanted – who cares, right? We already have an order for the alphabet that people understands so the users should not have too much difficulty in finding the letter they need.

Another constraint quickly game to light: typists were too fast and the machines jammed.

The engineers now needed to design an input method which could keep up with the typist. Correcting the machine itself was somewhat futile so the solution was to make the typist as slow as possible. The most common letters in the English language were spread all over the place and – while possibly by fluke – the left hand is favored, as in made do more work, over the often dominant right hand.

The problem required making the most aggravating keyboard layout engineers could imagine. QWERTY was born.

What has been designed to threaten QWERTY? Read on to find out.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective
Tagged: windows 8, linux, bsd

Or: the countdown to a fresh Start.

Over time – and not necessarily much of it – usage of a platform can become a marriage. I trusted Windows, nee MS-DOS, guardianship over all of my precious applications which depend upon it. Chances are you too have trusted Microsoft or a similar proprietary platform holder to provide a household for your content.

It is time for a custody hearing.

These are the reasons why I still use Windows – and who could profit as home wreckers.

Windows 8 -- keep your rings. You are not ready for commitment.

1st Reason – Games


The most obvious leading topic.

Computer games have been dominated by Windows for quite some time now. When you find a PC game at retail or online you will find either a Windows trademark or the occasional half-eaten fruit somewhere on the page or packaging.

One of the leading reasons for the success of the PC platform is the culture of backwards compatibility. Though the platform has been rumored dead ad-infinitum it still exists – surrounded by a wasteland of old deprecated consoles. I still play games from past decades on their original platform.

Check in after the break to find out why I still use Windows.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

I say let the world go to hell

… but I should always have my tea. (Notes From Underground, 1864)

You can praise video games as art to justify its impact on your life – but do you really consider it art?


Best before the servers are taken down, because you're probably not playing it after.

Art allows the author to express their humanity and permits the user to consider that perspective. We become cultured when we experiment with and to some extent understand difficult human nature problems. Ideas are transmitted about topics which we cannot otherwise understand. We are affected positively as humans in society when these issues are raised in a safe medium.

Video games, unlike most other mediums, encourage the user to coat the creation with their own expressions. The player can influence the content through their dialogue and decision-tree choices. The player can accomplish challenges in their own unique way and talk about it over the water cooler. The player can also embed their own content as a direct form of expression. The medium will also mature as we further learn how to leverage interactivity to open a dialogue for these artistic topics in completely new ways and not necessarily in a single direction.

Consciously or otherwise – users will express themselves.

With all of the potential for art that the medium allows it is a shame that – time and time again – the industry and its users neuter its artistic capabilities in the name of greed, simplicity, or merely fear.

Care to guess where I am headed? Buckle in.

Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and Externals

Corsair manufactures a wide variety of components and peripherals for PC enthusiasts. They essentially target the most enthusiastic customers in whatever market they enter – breaking the ice with the coldest and harshest critics who are never above nitpicking faults and flaws. Despite tossing their first generation products to the sharks they perform uncharacteristically well for a new contender almost every time. They look before they leap.


The Corsair K60 and K90 were launched simultaneously and represent Corsair’s first attempt at producing a mechanical keyboard. Corsair has included media keys, a metal volume wheel, and a Windows-key lock on both keyboards if you find yourself yelling, “I HATE THIS KEY!” at your desktop because your game is now minimized and cannot receive your hatred.



Rubberized when down, not when up -- but stable either way.

I never said I wasn't one of the nitpickers.

Both keyboards are built around an aluminum chassis with a nonslip coating to each key. Each keycap has a sharply defined edges compared to the more round edges found on a Razer Blackwidow and other similar keyboards. Neither keyboard has rubberized tips on their ergonomic flaps although slipping has not been an issue in my testing.

Check in after the break to learn more about Corsair's first mechanical keyboards.

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Introduction, Design And Features


The gaming keyboard market seems to rigorously follow a common rule of consumer products - more is more. If a keyboard is for gamers it should include lots of fancy gaming related features, and the more that are included, the more hardcore the keyboard. Macro buttons, customizable back-lighting and LCD screens are all features of modern gaming keyboards–and you don’t see many companies going the other direction.

But there are products that buck the trend. One of them is the CMStorm QuickFire Rapid, a mechanical gaming keyboard that became available in North America earlier this year. Unlike most competitors, the QuickFire rapid cuts features instead of adding them. Back-lighting? Macro keys? You’re kidding me, right? This keyboard doesn’t even include a numpad.

Cooler Master (the company behind CMStorm) has not cut out the features that matter, however. This keyboard comes with Cherry MX keys (the blue variant, in this case) and also supports PS/2 connections for full NKRO. For those who’ve seen the light of day recently, this gobbly gook means the QuickFire Rapid scans key activation individually and therefore can detect new key activations even when other keys are still depressed. It’s a feature hardcore gamers love because of their tendency to press multiple keys simultaneously.

Cutting back on unneeded features has a notable side effect–it reduces price. Currently this keyboard is available for $79.99 at retail or as low as $65 on Only Razor’s bare-bones version of the BlackWidow keyboard sells for less, and it only beats the QuickFire by $5 dollars.

So can you really buy a decent gaming keyboard for $65, and will you miss the numpad? Let’s find out.

Continue reading our review of the CMStorm QuickFire Rapid Keyboard!!

Manufacturer: SiliconDust

An HTPC Perspective on home theater PC technology

We conducted a reader survey a few weeks ago, and one of the tech topics that received a surprising amount of interest in was HTPC coverage. You, our awesome readers, wanted to know more about the hardware and software behind them. I’ll admit that I was ardent about the prospects of talking HTPCs with you. As a relatively new entrant to that area of tech myself, I was excited to cover it, and give you more coverage on a topic you wanted to see more of!

Today we won't be talking about home theater PCs in the sense of a computer in the living room AV rack (Ryan covered that earlier this week), but rather a related technology that makes the HTPC possible: the CableCARD-equipped TV tuner.

I will forewarn you that this article is quite a bit more informal than my usual writings, especially if you only follow my PC Perspective postings. In the future, it may not be that way, but I wanted to give some backstory and some personal thoughts on the matter to illustrate how I got into rolling my own DVR and why I’m excited about it (mainly: it saves money and is very flexible).


Despite my previous attempts to “cut the cord” and use only Internet-based services for television, me and my girlfriend slowly but surely made our way back to cable TV. For about a year we survived on Netflix, Hulu, and the various networks’ streaming videos on their respective websites but as the delays between a shows airing and web streaming availability increased and Netflix instant Streaming started losing content the price of cable started to look increasingly acceptable.

She was probably the first one to feel the effects of a lack of new content – especially with a newfound love for a rather odd show called True Blood. It was at some point thereafter, once she had caught up with as many seasons offered on Netflix of various shows as possible that she broke down and ordered U-Verse. U-Verse is an interesting setup of television delivery using internet protocol (IPTV). While we did have some issues at first with the Residential Gateway and signal levels, it was eventually sorted out and it was an okay setup. It offered a lot of channels – with many in HD. In the end though, after the promotional period was up, it got very expensive to stay subscribed to. Also, because it was IPTV, it was not as flexible as traditional cable as far as adding extra televisions and the DVR functionality. Further, the image quality for the HD streams, while much better than SD, was not up to par with the cable and satellite feeds I’ve seen.

Being with Comcast for Internet for about three years now, I’ve been fairly happy with it. One day I saw a promotion for currently subscribed customers for TV + Blast internet for $80, which was only about $20 more than I was paying each month for its Performance tier. After a week of hell Therefore, I decided to sign up for it. Only, I did not want to rent a Comcast box, so I went searching for alternatives.

Enter the elusive and never advertised CableCARD

It was during this search that I learned a great deal about CableCARDs and the really cool things that they enabled. Thanks to the FCC, cable television providers in the United States have to give their customers an option other than renting a cable box for a monthly fee – customers have to be able to bring their own equipment if they wish (they can still charge you for the CableCARD but at a reduced rate, and not all cable companies charge a fee for them). But what is a CableCARD? In short, it is a small card that resembles a PCMIA expansion card – a connector that can commonly be found in older laptops (think Windows XP-era). It is to be paired with a CableCARD tuner and acts as the key to decrypt the encrypted television stations in your particular subscriber package. They are added much like a customer-owned modem is, by giving the cable company some numbers on the bottom of the card that act as a unique identifier. The cable company then connects that particular card to your account and sends it a profile of what channels you are allowed to tune into.

Cablecard_for_PC Perspective_Tim_Verry.jpg

There are some drawbacks, however. Mainly that On Demand does not work with most CableCARDS. Do note that this is actually not a CableCARD hardware issue, but a support issue on the cable company side. You could, at least in theory, get a CableCARD and tuner that could tune in On Demand content, but right now that functionality seems to be limited to some Tivos and the rental cable boxes (paradoxically some of those are actually CableCARD-equipped). It’s an unfortunate situation, but here’s hoping that it is supported in the future. Also, if you do jump into the world of CableCARDs, it is likely that you will find yourself in a situation where you know more about them than the cable installer as cable companies do not advertise them, and only a small number of employees are trained on them. Don’t be too hard on the cable tech though, it's primarily because cable companies would rather rent you a (expensive) box, and a very small number of people actually know about and need a tech to support the technology. I was lucky enough to get one of the “CableCARD guys,” on my first install, but I’ve also gotten techs that have never seen one before and it made for an interesting conversation piece as they diagnosed signal levels for the cable modem (heh). Basically, patience is key when activating your CableCARD, and I highly recommend asking around forums like DSLReports for the specific number(s) to call to get to the tier 2 techs that are familiar with CableCARDs for your specific provider when calling to activate it if you opt to do a self-install. Even then, you may run into issues. For example, something went wrong with activation on the server side at Comcast so it took a couple of hours for them to essentially unlock all of my HD channels during my install.

Continue reading to find out why I'm so excited about CableCARDs and home theater PCs!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Corsair


Following the successful launch of its HS1 headset, Corsair has come back with a Vengeance line of gaming peripherals including three new headsets. Included in the new lineup are the 1100, 1300, and 1500 gaming headsets.

The Vengeance 1100 is the smallest of the three gaming headsets, and features a behind-the-head headphone design using 40mm drivers and an unidirectional boom microphone extending from the left speaker. The 1100 can be connected via two analog 3.5mm audio jacks or by USB with the included adapter.


Continue reading our review of the Corsair Vengeance 1300 and 1500 headsets!!

Manufacturer: ASUS

An overview of Thunderbolt Technology

The promise of Thunderbolt connectivity has been around for a couple of years now. Today, Thunderbolt is finally finding its way to the PC platform in the form of motherboards from ASUS and MSI. First unveiled as "Light Peak" at the Intel Developer Forum in 2009, the technology started out as a way to connect multiple devices to a system over a fiber optic cable (hence the 'light' in the name), though the final products have changed the implementation slightly.


The first prototype implementations actually used a USB-style connection and interface. It further required fiber optic cables. When it was renamed to Thunderbolt and then released in conjunction with a new lineup of Apple MacBook laptops, not only did the physical interface move to a mini-DisplayPort connection but the cable was made to use copper rather than fiber. Without diving too far into the reasons and benefits of either direction, the fact is that the copper cables allow for modest power transfer and are much cheaper than fiber optic variants would be.


Thunderbolt's base technology remains the same, however. It is a transfer standard that allows for 10 Gbps of bandwidth for each channel (bi-directional) and concurrently supports both data and display connections. The actual interface for the data path is based on PCI Express and connected devices actually appear to Windows as if they are internally connected to the system which can offer some interesting benefits – and headaches – for hardware developers. The display connection uses the DisplayPort standard and can be used along with the data connection without affecting bandwidth levels or performance.  


For current Intel processor implementations, the Thunderbolt connection is supported by a separate controller chip on the motherboard (or a riser card) – and some routing is required for correct usage. The Thunderbolt controller does not actually include a graphics controller, so it must be fed an output from another graphics processor, obviously in this case directly from the Ivy Bridge / Sandy Bridge processors. In theory, these could be from other controllers, but with the ubiquitous nature of integrated processor graphics on IVB and SNB processors, this is going to be the implementation going forward according to motherboard and system designers. 

Continue reading our review of Thunderbolt on Windows and the ASUS P8Z77-V Premium!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Western Digital


A few weeks ago I witnessed a technology demo by Western Digital. I arrived expecting to see something storage related, but what I saw was completely different - a new line of routers!


The new 'My Net' series of Western Digital routers are intended to cover the mid to high end of the home usage spectrum. Models start with 4 ports of Fast Ethernet and scale all the way up to 7x GigE switching. All models support some form of simultaneous dual band (2.4 and 5 GHz), with a minimum of 2x2 and scaling up to 3x3 configurations (more detail / explanation on that later).

Read on for our full review!

Manufacturer: NVIDIA

NVIDIA puts its head in the clouds

Today at the 2012 NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC), NVIDIA took the wraps off a new cloud gaming technology that promises to reduce latency and improve the quality of streaming gaming using the power of NVIDIA GPUs.  Dubbed GeForce GRID, NVIDIA is offering the technology to online services like Gaikai and OTOY.  


The goal of GRID is to bring the promise of "console quality" gaming to every device a user has.  The term "console quality" is kind of important here as NVIDIA is trying desperately to not upset all the PC gamers that purchase high-margin GeForce products.  The goal of GRID is pretty simple though and should be seen as an evolution of the online streaming gaming that we have covered in the past–like OnLive.  Being able to play high quality games on your TV, your computer, your tablet or even your phone without the need for high-performance and power hungry graphics processors through streaming services is what many believe the future of gaming is all about. 


GRID starts with the Kepler GPU - what NVIDIA is now dubbing the first "cloud GPU" - that has the capability to virtualize graphics processing while being power efficient.  The inclusion of a hardware fixed-function video encoder is important as well as it will aid in the process of compressing images that are delivered over the Internet by the streaming gaming service. 



This diagram shows us how the Kepler GPU handles and accelerates the processing required for online gaming services.  On the server side, the necessary process for an image to find its way to the user is more than just a simple render to a frame buffer.  In current cloud gaming scenarios the frame buffer would have to be copied to the main system memory, compressed on the CPU and then sent via the network connection.  With NVIDIA's GRID technology that capture and compression happens on the GPU memory and thus can be on its way to the gamer faster.

The results are H.264 streams that are compressed quickly and efficiently to be sent out over the network and return to the end user on whatever device they are using. 

Continue reading our editorial on the new NVIDIA GeForce GRID cloud gaming technology!!