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As the neighborhoods are adorned with lights and reindeer decorations, and the airwaves are ringing with Christmas carols, one realizes that it is that time of year again! Although December arrived much faster than any of us at PC Perspective expected, there is no doubt that time to purchase gifts is running short and this year is almost over.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, the PC Perspective team got into a discussion about items and services that we would want for Christmas and that we felt would make really great gifts for our loved ones. And thus the PC Perspective Holiday Gift Guide 2011 was born!
Introduction: Griefing the grieving
PC Gaming has been on its death bed for years -- if you believe the countless debates that have occurred most commonly over the last decade. The drum beat roared from the masses: “Why game on the PC anymore when you could just buy a console?” The focus of conversation was set upon the attack and defense of the PC as a viable platform at all, let alone the platform of choice. The question that swarms naggingly through my brain is quite the opposite: “In the long run, why game on a console?” The concept that consoles are better than PCs, given a fraction of the support that consoles receive, is about to die; console supporters are in various levels of grief.
U mad Mario Bros.?
I am an avid, though this editorial may suggest livid, video game supporter. My first exposure to video gaming was mixed between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the family 80286. I have equally fond memories with the keyboard as with the gamepad. The balance between console and PC was level throughout my life until just a few years ago when I carefully thought the situation over. The PC is now my platform of choice.
Introduction, Campaign Testing
As you might have noticed, we’re a bit excited about Battlefield 3 here at PC Perspective. It promised to pay attention to what PC gamers want, and shockingly, it has come through. Dedicated servers and huge multi-player matches are supported, and the browser based interface is excellent.
If we’re honest, a lot of our hearts have been stirred simply by the way the game looks. There aren’t many titles that really let a modern mid-range graphics card stretch its legs, even at 1080p resolution. Battlefield 3, however, can be demanding - and it looks beautiful. Even with the presets at medium, it’s one of the most attractive games ever.
But what does this mean for laptops? Has the resident laptop reviewer at PC Perspective, I know that gaming remains a challenge. The advancements over the last few years have been spectacular, but even so, most of the laptops we test can’t run Just Cause 2 at a playable framerate even with all detail set to low and a resolution of just 1366x768.
To find out if mobile gamers were given consideration by the developers of Battlefield 3, I installed the game on three different laptops. The results only go to show how far mobile gaming has come, and has far it has to go.
The Mechanics of a Keyboard
During the duration of this review Razer announced two new mechanical keyboards, the BlackWidow Stealth and the BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth. This review is not for those products. Razer ninja’d me with stealth.
Keyboards are often overlooked during the purchase of a new computer; for many there does not appear to be any real difference between any two keyboards outside of wireless technology, backlighting, or extra keys. Those who game heavily or those who are typing enthusiasts for work or hobby might be in the market for a more personalized experience. There are whole categories of keyboard styles which allow a tailored solution to your personal style of use right down to the type of switch used to register a keystroke. Razer is no stranger to the production of input devices but they are stepping slightly out of their element with their recent products: The BlackWidow and the BlackWidow Ultimate, the first two from Razer which are based on mechanical switches.
Popping Razer’s CherryMX?
Membrane keyboards comprise the majority of the cheapest keyboards in the market with scissor-switch taking up the laptop and thin-profile keyboard market. Despite being cheap, these keyboards also have the advantage of being quite silent. A mechanical keyboard on the other hand uses an actual mechanical switch for each and every key. While such as system costs substantially more than a membrane keyboard the cost may be offset by the precision, the response, or the ability to type without “bottoming-out” each keystroke.
If the concept of a mechanical keyboard interests you then you will likely be dealing indirectly with Cherry Corp in the near future most likely with their MX line of switches. I say indirectly as Cherry avoids selling their keyboards except to business, industrial, governmental, and medical suppliers. For the rest of us there exist several companies who purchase large quantities of mechanical switches and manufactures keyboards with them for retail end-users. Some common mechanical keyboard brands include Filco, SteelSeries, XArmor, Optimus, Das Keyboard, and Ducky. Keep in mind that while there are many brands, almost all of their keyboards are produced by iOne, Datacomp, or Costar with a few exceptions. In our situation, Razer’s BlackWidow and BlackWidow Ultimate are produced by iOne who also produces the XArmor line of mechanical keyboards.
Read on for the rest of the review including benchmarks… yes that is possible!
True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset
Cooler Master is a household name in the PC case world, and an established player in the cooling industry. Not content with those two areas, Cooler Master has expanded into power supplies, keyboards, mousepads, and a plethora of other accessories where they apparently make a tidy bundle. Coolermaster is now moving into a new area; gaming audio. Under the “CM Storm” brand, Coolermaster is releasing its own set of cans.
We were sent a production quality sample, but it did not come in the retail box that is availble now.
Cooler Master is hoping to deliver a profound audio experience to users with their CM Storm Sirus (not Sirius mind) True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headphones. The design and packaging certainly look impressive, but what counts in the end is the sound emanating from these products.
Last week we were in Dallas, Texas covering Quakecon 2011 as well as hosting our very own PC Perspective Hardware Workshop. While we had over 1100 attendees at the event and had a blast judging the case mod contest, one of the highlights of the event is always getting to sit down with John Carmack and pick his brain about topics of interest. We got about 30 minutes of John's time over the weekend and pestered him with questions about the GPU hardware race, how Intel's intergrated graphics (and AMD Fusion) fit in the future of PCs, the continuing debate about ray tracing, rasterization, voxels and infinite detail engines, key technologies for PC gamers like multi-display engines and a lot more!
One of our most read articles of all time was our previous interview with Carmack that focused a lot more on the ray tracing and rasterization debate. If you never read that, much of it is still very relevant today and is worth reading over.
This year though John has come full circle on several things including ray tracing, GPGPU workloads and even the advantages that console hardware has over PC gaming hardware.
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
The Nexus S 4G is a Google phone through and through. Following Google’s first hardware venture into the handset market, the Nexus One, this phone is how Google envisions the Gingerbread (Android 2.3) platform. Manufactured by Samsung, the Nexus S originally debuted as a GSM unlocked phone and on T-Mobile in the US earlier this year. Now, for the debut on CDMA networks, Samsung and Sprint have teamed together to add a 4G, WiMAX modem.
Because it is a Google tuned experience, the Nexus S 4G software is extremely polished, and provides a great user experience. Being the first phone to ship with Gingerbread, and still being one of the few phones shipping with it at this point in the game, it provides the absolute best small form-factor experience that Android is capable of.
Hit this link to keep reading our review of the Samsung Nexus S...
A Headset for All Seasons
After being impressed by the Corsair SP2500 2.1 speaker system, I geared up to give their headphone audio a try. The technology that Corsair has implemented into their headphones certainly looks impressive, but only when we hear the sound will we know how well they accomplished this feat. Read on to see if Corsair can be the next Grado Labs in portable audio.A few weeks back I was able to listen to, and review, the SP2500 speakers from Corsair. These impressed me a great deal with their clarity, depth of sound, and overall representation in all three major aspects of computer audio (music, movies, and gaming). These were the first Corsair audio products that I had a chance to listen to, but they were not the first that Corsair had released at that time. Some months before the release of those speakers, Corsair had introduced the Gaming Audio HS1 USB headphones.
Pardon the quality of the picture, my camera is dying. The boys is well constructed and protects the headphones nicely.
The Relative Lack of SLI on AMD
Several years back we were introduced to the Lucid Hydra technology, and it seemed like an impressive multi-GPU implementation which could leverage the power of different video card combinations to improve performance over that of one card. Quite a few years have passed, and we have a handful of motherboards now supporting this technology. We take a look at the technology now implemented on the AMD side, and how it performs when using both AMD and NVIDIA based video cards.The first we heard of Lucid was a few years back when they showcased working silicon running multiple video cards together. Whether these were NVIDIA or ATI/AMD cards, Lucid had a way of allowing them to render a scene in a unique way, then composite the results to create a near seamless experience. It took some time before the first products hit the streets, and there is also quite a bit of controversy behind the actual implementation.
The primary rendering mode for both SLI and CrossFire is alternate frame rendering. Basically this allows each video card to process alternating frames, which theoretically can double performance. We have never seen true linear scaling in such situations, but it is not unheard of to reach 85% scaling or slightly more with the latest video cards on fast systems. Lucid does things a bit differently.
Block diagram of the Lucid Hydra chip and how it connects to the system.
Out is Light, in is Copper
Yup, you read that right: Intel Light Peak is no more and it has been replaced by the official branding of Intel Thunderbolt Technology. Love it or hate it, that is what we are going to be using for the future and now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty about what it does and what it can do.
A well-known peripheral company, Logitech makes everything from keyboards to webcams to racing wheels, and is generally well regarded. The G series of gaming peripherals has many successful products in its portfolio, and among them is the G13, which Logitech calls an “Advanced Gameboard.” That’s a fancy way of saying “keyboard replacement.”
Corsair 2.1 Audio: Hold the DRAM!
Corsair is a name well known in the industry for making high quality memory aimed at enthusiasts and high end applications. For the past few years they have expanded into other areas including cases, power supplies, and CPU coolers. The latest push is for computer audio, and the SP2500 is a hefty shot across the bow for the current competition.
Introduction and Specifications
Gigabyte has a reputation of being one of the industry's top motherboard and graphics card manufacturers and now they are focusing their efforts on expanding their product line to include more PC components aimed at the PC gaming crowd. One of their newest additions to accommodate PC gamers is the Aivia K8100 gaming keyboard. This $69 keyboard comes in red, yellow, and black and includes LED backlight keys and Gigabyte's Ghost Macro Engine.
Introduction and Specifications
Corsair has reinvigorated its product line in 2010 by adding several new components including new solid state drives, power supplies, PC enclosures, and now their first 7.1 USB gaming headset dubbed the HS1. The HS1 is a combination of style, comfort, and immersive Dolby 7.1 surround sound technology that should give other popular gaming headsets on the market this holiday season a run for their money.
Introduction, Features, Technical Specifications
Lamptron has quietly created many quality PC gaming and modding products that expand how users monitor and track a variety of system functions. Their latest fan controller is dubbed the FC6 and combines a colorful temperature monitor and fan controller system into one 5.25" bay device. Users can monitor the CPU, hard drive, graphics card, overall case temperatures, and case fan speeds easily through a configurable LCD display that can be changed to match seven different color schemes.
The love of mechanical keyboards is a secret bond that most “normal” people can’t understand. Indeed, those who find the clickity-clack of mechanical keys to be as relaxing as a gentle spring rain seem to be a special breed of geek who is sometimes misunderstood even by fellow enthusiasts. As a result, some geeks have had to choose between the happiness of their fingertips and the happiness of their family or co-workers. In most cases, the later wins.
Introduction and Features
Modern home networking technology solutions integrate all types of home appliances and security devices that can be monitored from any smartphone or PC connected to the internet around the world. WowWee wanted a piece of the action and introduced the Rovio mobile webcam at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2008. Their goal with the Rovio was simple -- create a wireless and portable webcam that could be manipulated and viewed from any PC 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Introduction and Specifications
Hardcore gamers know the importance of quality sound when they are playing online or during gaming tournaments. Plantronics has always had their back and their new GameCom 777 headset gives them Dolby 7.1 virtual surround to add depth and clarity to their gaming experience. The GameCom 777 features a lightweight frame, noise cancelling technology, and 7.1 sound to make any movie, Skype conversation, or gaming match sound like your in a virtual surround sound theater.
Introduction and Specifications
Psyko AudioLabs is bridging the gap between the benefits of a stand-alone 5.1 surround sound setup and standard gaming headphones with their Psyko 5.1 headphones. These $300 headphones were previewed at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and were even recognized with a 2009 CES Innovation Award. We will see if these high-end cans give us an edge in our favorite FPS games.
The new Xbox 360 "Slim" Gets Unwrapped
We picked up one of the new Xbox 360 S / Slim consoles and decided to rip it apart to see what was inside. How does the technological shift in the new system change the properties of the console and how does it affect power consumption, noise and heat? Step in to read, and watch, our results!