Author:
Manufacturer: HTC

Why things are different in VR performance testing

It has been an interesting past several weeks and I find myself in an interesting spot. Clearly, and without a shred of doubt, virtual reality, more than any other gaming platform that has come before it, needs an accurate measure of performance and experience. With traditional PC gaming, if you dropped a couple of frames, or saw a slightly out of sync animation, you might notice and get annoyed. But in VR, with a head-mounted display just inches from your face taking up your entire field of view, a hitch in frame or a stutter in motion can completely ruin the immersive experience that the game developer is aiming to provide. Even worse, it could cause dizziness, nausea and define your VR experience negatively, likely killing the excitement of the platform.

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My conundrum, and the one that I think most of our industry rests in, is that we don’t yet have the tools and ability to properly quantify the performance of VR. In a market and a platform that so desperately needs to get this RIGHT, we are at a point where we are just trying to get it AT ALL. I have read and seen some other glances at performance of VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive released today, but honest all are missing the mark at some level. Using tools built for traditional PC gaming environments just doesn’t work, and experiential reviews talk about what the gamer can expect to “feel” but lack the data and analysis to back it up and to help point the industry in the right direction to improve in the long run.

With final hardware from both Oculus and HTC / Valve in my hands for the last three weeks, I have, with the help of Ken and Allyn, been diving into the important question of HOW do we properly test VR? I will be upfront: we don’t have a final answer yet. But we have a direction. And we have some interesting results to show you that should prove we are on the right track. But we’ll need help from the likes of Valve, Oculus, AMD, NVIDIA, Intel and Microsoft to get it right. Based on a lot of discussion I’ve had in just the last 2-3 days, I think we are moving in the correct direction.

Why things are different in VR performance testing

So why don’t our existing tools work for testing performance in VR? Things like Fraps, Frame Rating and FCAT have revolutionized performance evaluation for PCs – so why not VR? The short answer is that the gaming pipeline changes in VR with the introduction of two new SDKs: Oculus and OpenVR.

Though both have differences, the key is that they are intercepting the draw ability from the GPU to the screen. When you attach an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive to your PC it does not show up as a display in your system; this is a change from the first developer kits from Oculus years ago. Now they are driven by what’s known as “direct mode.” This mode offers improved user experiences and the ability for the Oculus an OpenVR systems to help with quite a bit of functionality for game developers. It also means there are actions being taken on the rendered frames after we can last monitor them. At least for today.

Continue reading our experience in benchmarking VR games!!

Manufacturer: Thermaltake

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

In this follow-up discussion on Thermaltake's Core X9 E-ATX Cube Chassis, we look at advanced setup and configuration features, and just how much stuff you can cram into this massive case. For an in-depth overview of the case and a walk through of its features, please see our original review of the case here.

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Courtesy of Thermaltake

The Thermaltake Core X9 E-ATX Cube Chassis is one of the largest and most configurable they've developed. The case is roughly cube shaped with a steel and plastic construction. The height and depth of the unit allows the Core X9 to support up to quad-fan radiators mounted to its top or sides and up to a tri-fan radiator in front. At an MSRP of $169.99, the Core X9 E-ATX Cube Chassis features a competitive price in light of its size and configurability.

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Courtesy of Thermaltake

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Courtesy of Thermaltake

The Core X9 case was designed to be fully modular, supporting a variety of build configurations to be able to adapt to the whatever build style the end user can dream up. The case comes with a variety of mounts for mounting fans or liquid cooling radiators to the top, side, or bottom of the case. Until you can accurately visually just how many radiators and fans that this case supports, you really don't have a feel for the immense size of the Core X9. From front to back, the case support 4 x 120mm fans or a 480mm radiator along either of its lower sides or in the dual top mounts. On top, you can actually mount a total of eight 120mm fans or dual 480mm radiators if you so choose. And that doesn't take into account the additional two 140mm fans that can be mounted in the upper and lower sections of the case's rear panel, nor the three 120mm fans, dual 200mm fans, or 360mm radiator that can be mounted to the case's front panel.

Continue reading our review of the Thermaltake Core X9 Cube chassis!

Author:
Subject: Editorial, Mobile
Manufacturer: Samsung

Hardware Experience

Seeing Ryan transition from being a long-time Android user over to iOS late last year has had me thinking. While I've had hands on with flagship phones from many manufacturers since then, I haven't actually carried an Android device with me since the Nexus S (eventually, with the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade). Maybe it was time to go back in order to gain a more informed perspective of the mobile device market as it stands today.

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So that's exactly what I did. When we received our Samsung Galaxy S7 review unit (full review coming soon, I promise!), I decided to go ahead and put a real effort forth into using Android for an extended period of time.

Full disclosure, I am still carrying my iPhone with me since we received a T-Mobile locked unit, and my personal number is on Verizon. However, I have been using the S7 for everything but phone calls, and the occasional text message to people who only has my iPhone number.

Now one of the questions you might be asking yourself right now is why did I choose the Galaxy S7 of all devices to make this transition with. Most Android aficionados would probably insist that I chose a Nexus device to get the best experience and one that Google intends to provide when developing Android. While these people aren't wrong, I decided that I wanted to go with a more popular device as opposed to the more niche Nexus line.

Whether you Samsung's approach or not, the fact is that they sell more Android devices than anyone else and the Galaxy S7 will be their flagship offering for the next year or so.

Continue reading our editorial on switching from iOS to Android with the Samsung Galaxy S7!!

Author:
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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Earlier this year we reviewed the EVGA 750W GQ power supply and found it to be a worthy addition to EVGA’s already plentiful power supply lineup. Today we are taking a detailed look at another member of the GQ series, the 650W GQ. It’s always nice to be able to compare different models of the same series for consistency. The GQ series is aimed at price conscious consumers who want good value while still maintaining many of the performance features found in EVGA’s premium models. The GQ Series contains four models ranging from 650W up to 1000W: the EVGA 650 GQ, 750 GQ, 850 GQ and 1000 GQ.

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All of the GQ series power supplies are 80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency and feature modular cables, high-quality Japanese brand capacitors, and a quiet 135mm cooling fan with a fluid dynamic bearing. The GQ series power supplies are NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire Ready and are backed by a 5-year warranty.

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EVGA 650W GQ PSU Key Features:

•    Fully modular cables to reduce clutter and improve airflow
•    80 PLUS Gold certified, with up to 90%/92% efficiency (115VAC/240VAC)
•    100% Japanese brand capacitors ensure long-term reliability
•    Quiet 135mm Fluid Dynamic bearing fan for reliability and quiet operation
•    ECO Intelligent Thermal Control allows silent, fan-less operation at low power
•    NVIDIA SLI & AMD Crossfire Ready
•    Ready for 4th Generation Intel Core Processors (C6/C7 Idle Mode)
•    Compliant with ErP Lot 6 2013 Requirement
•    Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
•    5-Year warranty and EVGA Customer Support

EVGA was founded in 1999 with headquarters in Brea, California. They continue to specialize in producing NVIDIA based graphics adapters and Intel based motherboards and keep expanding their PC power supply product line, which currently includes thirty-eight models ranging from the high-end 1,600W SuperNOVA T2 to the budget minded EVGA 400W power supply.

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(Courtesy of EVGA)

As you can see in the table above, EVGA currently offers six different variations of 650W power supplies. Let’s get started with the review and see how the 650 GQ compares to the 750 GQ.

Please continue reading our review of the EVGA 650W GQ PSU!!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: EVGA

A new fighter has entered the ring

When EVGA showed me that it was entering the world of gaming notebooks at CES in January, I must admit, I questioned the move. A company that, at one point, only built and distributed graphics cards based on NVIDIA GeForce GPUs had moved to mice, power supplies, tablets (remember that?) and even cases, was going to get into the cutthroat world of notebooks. But I was promised that EVGA had an angle; it would not be cutting any corners in order to bring a truly competitive and aggressive product to the market.

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Just a couple of short months later (seriously, is it the end of March already?) EVGA presented us with a shiny new SC17 Gaming Notebook to review. It’s thinner than you might expect, heavier than I would prefer and packs some impressive compute power, along with unique features and overclocking capability, that will put it on your short list of portable gaming rigs for 2016.

Let’s start with a dive into the spec table and then go from there.

  EVGA SC17 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-6820HK
Memory 32GB G.Skill DDR4-2666
Graphics Card GeForce GTX 980M 8GB
Storage 256GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD
1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6G HDD
Display Sharp 17.3 inch UDH 4K with matte finish
Connectivity Intel 219-V Gigabit Ethernet
Intel AC-8260 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.2
2x USB 3.0 Type-A
1x USB 3.1 Type-C
Audio Realtek ALC 255
Integrated Subwoofer
Video 1x HDMI 1.4
2x mini DisplayPort (1x G-Sync support)
Dimensions 16-in x 11.6-in x 1.05-in
OS Windows 10 Home
MSRP $2,699

With a price tag of $2,699, EVGA owes you a lot – and it delivers! The processor of choice is the Intel Core i7-6820HK, an unlocked, quad-core, HyperThreaded processor that brings desktop class computing capability to a notebook. The base clock speed is 2.7 GHz but the Turbo clock reaches as high as 3.6 GHz out of the box, supplying games, rendering programs and video editors plenty of horsepower for production on the go. And don’t forget that this is one of the first unlocked processors from Intel for mobile computing – multipliers and voltages can all be tweaked in the UEFI or through Precision X Mobile software to push it even further.

Based on EVGA’s relationship with NVIDIA, it should surprise exactly zero people that a mobile GeForce GPU is found inside the SC17. The GTX 980M is based on the Maxwell 2.0 design and falls slightly under the desktop consumer class GeForce GTX 970 card in CUDA core count and clock speed. With 1536 CUDA cores and a 1038 MHz base clock, with boost capability, the discrete graphics will have enough juice for most games at very high image quality settings. EVGA has configured the GPU with 8GB of GDDR5 memory, more than any desktop GTX 970… so there’s that. Obviously, it would have been great to see the full powered GTX 980 in the SC17, but that would have required changes to the thermal design, chassis and power delivery.

Continue reading our review of the EVGA SC17 gaming notebook!!

Manufacturer: Reeven

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of Reeven

The Reeven Four-Eyes Touch Fan Controller is a new revision of their existing four-channel controller, integrating a touch-based interface into the design. The Four-Eyes controller is housed in a metal enclosure that fits into a single 5.25" drive bay. With an MSRP of $49, the Four-Eyes Touch Fan Controller makes a good match for any enthusiast build.

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Courtesy of Reeven

The Four-Eyes Touch has a front screen divided into seven distinct sections, all touch capable. The upper four sections are tied to individual fan channels each supporting up to a 2.5A fan with total power provided of up to 30 watts. The lower right section controls the unit warning sound and display temperature with the lower left used to set the display to one of seven colors. The lower middle section is used to set the fan speed, you simply swipe your finger across the section to increase or decrease the active channel's fan speed.

Technical Specifications (taken from the Thermaltake website)

Model Number RFC-03
Dimensions (W)148 x (H)42 x (D)100mm
DC Input DC5V & DC12V
DC Output 3.7V ~ 12V (±10%)
Output Ampere 2.5A per Channel
Temperature Range 0 ~ 99C
Fan Speed Range 0 ~ 9990rpm
Weight 200g

Continue reading our review of the Reeven Four-Eyes Touch Fan Controller!

Author:
Manufacturer: Various

A system worthy of VR!

Early this year I started getting request after request for hardware suggestions for upcoming PC builds for VR. The excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive has caught fire across all spectrums of technology, from PC enthusiasts to gaming enthusiasts to just those of you interested in a technology that has been "right around the corner" for decades. The requests for build suggestions spanned our normal readership as well as those that had previously only focused on console gaming, and thus the need for a selection of build guides began.

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

I launched build guides for $900 and $1500 price points earlier in the week, but today we look at the flagship option, targeting a budget of $2500. Though this is a pricey system that should not be undertaken lightly, it is far from a "crazy expensive" build with multiple GPUs, multiple CPUs or high dollar items unnecessary for gaming and VR.

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With that in mind, let's jump right into the information you are looking for: the components we recommend.

VR Build Guide
$2500 Spring 2016
Component Amazon.com Link B&H Photo Link
Processor Intel Core i7-5930K $527 $578
Motherboard ASUS X99-A USB 3.1 $264 $259
Memory Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR4-3000 $169  
Graphics Card ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti STRIX $659 $669
Storage 512GB Samsung 950 Pro
Western Digital Red 4TB
$326
$180
$322
$154
Power Supply Corsair HX750i Platinum $144 $149
CPU Cooler Corsair H100i v2 $107 $107
Case Corsair Carbide 600C $149 $141
Total Price   Full cart - $2,519  

For those of you interested in a bit more detail on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.

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Unlike the previous two builds that used Intel's consumer Skylake processors, our $2500 build moves to the Haswell-E platform, an enthusiast design that comes from the realm of workstation products. The Core i7-5930K is a 6-core processor with HyperThreading, allowing for 12 addressable threads. Though we are targeting this machine for VR gaming, the move to this processor will mean better performance for other tasks as well including video encoding, photo editing and more. It's unlocked too - so if you want to stretch that clock speed up via overclocking, you have the flexibility for that.

Update: Several people have pointed out that the Core i7-5820K is a very similar processor to the 5930K, with a $100-150 price advantage. It's another great option if you are looking to save a bit more money, and you don't expect to want/need the additional PCI Express lanes the 5930K offers (40 lanes versus 28 lanes).

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With the transition to Haswell-E we have an ASUS X99-A USB 3.1 motherboard. This board is the first in our VR builds to support not just 2-Way SLI and CrossFire but 3-Way as well if we find that VR games and engines are able to consistently and properly integrate support for multi-GPU. This recently updated board from ASUS includes USB 3.1 support as you can tell from the name, includes 8 slots for DDR4 memory and offers enough PCIe lanes for expansion in all directions.

Looking to build a PC for the very first time, or need a refresher? You can find our recent step-by-step build videos to help you through the process right here!!

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For our graphics card we have gone with the ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti Strix. The 980 Ti is the fastest single GPU solution on the market today and with 6GB of memory on-board should be able to handle anything that VR can toss at it. In terms of compute performance the 980 Ti is more than 40% faster than the GTX 980, the GPU used in our $1500 solution. The Strix integration uses a custom cooler that performs much better than the stock solution and is quieter. 

Continue reading our recommend build for a VR system with a budget of $2500!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

As we were publishing our full review of the Western Digital Red 8TB, we noted something odd. While the street prices of the bare drives seemed to be a bit high ($333), the WD My Book was on sale for $250. Ryan happened to look them up and discovered that our local Best Buy actually had them available for store pick-up. Since the 8TB Red and My Book 8TB were launched simultaneously, and we were just provided early samples of the 8TB Reds last week, how could there already be 8TB Reds on the shelf just down the street? Could they have shipped some earlier form of the 8TB Red in the external My Book and continued tweaking their NASware algorithms / firmware prior to the Red launching? Our curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to find out.

Sebastian ran out to his local Best Buy and picked up a single WD My Book 8TB model, promptly took it home and ripped it open. I don’t think he even plugged it in first. This is what he found:

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Well, that’s not a Red label, but it does say Western Digital, and it’s clearly a HelioSeal housing (common to HGST He Series and WD Red 8TB). One thing that immediately stuck out to me was the model number. WD model numbers have a specific pattern (WD80EFZX), and that number above does *not* follow that pattern. The pattern it does follow, however, is that of the HGST He8 line:

He8 part number decoder.png

Sebastian noted something else almost immediately. The label looked like it was on top of another one. Peeling this one back showed this pure white label:

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…and peeling back *that* label gave us this:

Read on for the suspense-filled conclusion!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Various

More power for VR

Early this year I started getting request after request for hardware suggestions for upcoming PC builds for VR. The excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive has caught fire across all spectrums of technology, from PC enthusiasts to gaming enthusiasts to just those of you interested in a technology that has been "right around the corner" for decades. The requests for build suggestions spanned our normal readership as well as those that had previously only focused on console gaming, and thus the need for a selection of build guides began.

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

I have already given suggestions for a minimum specification build, with a target price of just $900, in a previous build guide. Today we are going to up the ante a bit more with some additional cash. What can we change and upgrade if given a budget of $1500 for a PC that will handle VR and standard PC gaming?

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It turns out you can get quite a jump in performance with that added budget:

VR Build Guide
$1500 Spring 2016
Component Amazon.com Link B&H Photo Link
Processor Intel Core i7-6700K $362 $374
Motherboard MSI Z170A Gaming M5 $200 $183
Memory 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000 $79 $94
Graphics Card MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4GB $459 $466
Storage 500GB Samsung 850 EVO
Seagate 2TB Barracuda
$149
$71
$149
$71
Power Supply Seasonic X650 Gold 650 watt $129  
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $29 $28
Case Fractal Design Define S Windowed $111  
Total Price   Full cart - $1,589  

For those of you interested in a bit more detail on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.

cpu.jpg

The Core i7-6700K is the highest end consumer processor in Intel's lineup based on the Skylake architecture. This part is a quad-core CPU with HyperThreading enabled that allows for eight threads of processing at an extremely high base clock of 4.0 GHz. Even better, because of the K-designation, if you chose to venture into the world of overclocking, you'll be able to hit 4.5-4.7 GHz with little effort. The MSI Z170A Gaming M5 motherboard has all the overclocking features you'll need to get the job done while also including support for SLI and CrossFire multi-GPU setups, USB 3.1, dual M.2 storage connections and an improved audio interface. We were able to bump from 8GB to 16GB of DDR4 memory in this budget - a benefit for more than just gaming.

Looking to build a PC for the very first time, or need a refresher? You can find our recent step-by-step build videos to help you through the process right here!!

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MSI is also the manufacturer of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 graphics card we have selected, a a product that is easily the most important (and most expensive) component for your gaming and VR PC. With 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 2048 CUDA processing cores and the highest level of software and driver support for modern GPUs, the GTX 980 nets you anywhere from 15-25% additional performance over the GTX 970 from our $900 VR system build. For users considering an AMD option, the Radeon R9 390X and the Radeon R9 Nano are both fantastic options as well. 

Continue reading our selections for a $1500 VR system build!!

Manufacturer: CRYORIG

Introduction and First Impressions

The CRYORIG C7 is a compact air cooler for Intel and processors, designed to fit anywhere a stock solution will. Standing just 47 mm tall, and featuring a footprint close in size to an Intel stock cooler, CRYORIG claims this ultra-compact design will still outperform the stock solution.

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An attractive design, the C7 is further sweetened by a $29.99 retail, which places it in a favorable position in the compact CPU cooler market. Designs like these are rarely useful for enthusiasts, but there it certainly a need for good aftermarket options when overclocking isn't a consideration. There was a time when the stock Intel cooler was sufficient for many basic builds, and for some that may still be the case. But if you've spent a little more to get higher performance, a better heatsink can certainly help; and if you're an enthusiast, the stock cooler was never adequate anyway (even before Intel stopped shipping it in K series CPUs).

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In this review we'll find out if this small cooler can deliver on its performance promise, and see just how much noise it might make in the process.

Continue reading our review of the CRYORIG C7 Ultra-Compact CPU Cooler!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

Introduction and Specifications

Introduction

Storage devices for personal computers have always been a tricky proposition. While the majority of computer parts are solid state, the computer industry has spent most of its life storing bits on electromechanical mechanical devices like tapes and floppy disks. Speaking relatively, it was only recently (less than a decade) that solid state storage became mainstream, and even today the costs of flash production make rotating media the better option for bulk data storage. Hard drives are typically vented to atmosphere, as the Bernoulli Effect is necessary as part of what keep the drive heads flying above the rotating platters. With any vented enclosure, there is always the risk of atmospheric contaminants finding their way in. Sure there are HEPA-class filters at the vent holes, but they can’t stop organic vapors that may slightly degrade the disk surface over time.

By filling a hard disk with an inert gas and hermetically sealing the disk housing, we can eliminate those potential issues. An added bonus is that if Helium is used, its lower density enables lower air friction of the rotating platters, which translates to lower power consumption when compared to an equivalent air-filled HDD. Ever since HGST released their Helium filled drives, I’ve been waiting for this technology to trickle down to consumer products, and Western Digital has recently brought such a product to market. Today we will be diving into our full performance review of the Western Digital 8TB Red.

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Specifications (source)

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Compared to the 6TB Red, the 8TB model doubles its cache size to 128MB. We also see a slight bump in claimed transfer rates. Idle power consumption sees a slight bump due to different electronics in use, and power/capacity figures check out as well (more on that later as we will include detailed power testing in this article).

Continue reading our review of the 8TB Western Digital Red Helium-filled HDD!!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Various

The entry point for PC VR

Early this year I started getting request after request for hardware suggestions for upcoming PC builds for VR. The excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive has caught fire across all spectrums of technology, from PC enthusiasts to gaming enthusiasts to just those of you interested in a technology that has been "right around the corner" for decades. The requests for build suggestions spanned our normal readership as well as those that had previously only focused on console gaming, and thus the need for a selection of build guides began.

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

This build will focus on the $900 price point for a complete PC. Months and months ago, when Palmer Lucky started discussing pricing for the Rift, he mentioned a "total buy in cost of $1500." When it was finally revealed that the purchase price for the retail Rift was $599, the math works out to include a $900 PC. 

system1.jpg

With that in mind, let's jump right into the information you are looking for: the components we recommend.

VR Build Guide
$900 Spring 2016
Component Amazon.com Link B&H Photo Link
Processor Intel Core i5-6500 $204 $204
Motherboard Gigabyte H170-Gaming 3 $94  
Memory 8GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-2400 $43  
Graphics Card EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Superclock $309 $334
Storage 250GB Samsung 850 EVO
Seagate 2TB Barracuda
$88
$71
$88
$71
Power Supply EVGA 500 watt 80+ Bronze $49  
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $29 $28
Case Corsair SPEC-01 Red $52 $69
Total Price   Full cart - $939  

For those of you interested in a bit more details on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.

cpu.jpg

Starting at the beginning, the Core i5-6500 is a true quad-core processor that slightly exceeds the minimum specificaiton requirement from Oculus. It is based on the Skylake architecture so you are getting Intel's latest architecture and it is unlikely that you'll find an instance where any PC game, standard or VR, will require more processor horsepower. The motherboard from Gigabyte is based on the H170 chipset, which is lower cost but offers fewer features than Z170-class products. But for a gamer, the result will be nearly identical - stock performance and features are still impressive. 8GB of DDR4 memory should be enough as well for gaming and decent PC productivity.

Looking to build a PC for the very first time, or need a refresher? You can find our recent step-by-step build videos to help you through the process right here!!

The GPU is still the most important component of any VR system, and with the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 selection here we are reaching the recommended specifications from Oculus and HTC/Valve. The Maxwell 2.0 architecture that the GTX 970 is based on launched in late 2014 and was very well received. The equivalent part from the AMD spectrum is the Radeon R9 290/390, so you are interested in that you can find some here.

Continue reading our selections for a $900 VR PC Build!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction

Since Samsung’s August 2015 announcement of their upcoming 48-layer V-NAND, we’ve seen it trickle into recent products like the SSD T3, where it enabled 2TB of capacity in a very small form factor. What we have not yet seen was that same flash introduced in a more common product that we could directly compare against the old. Today we are going to satisfy our (and your) curiosity by comparing a 1TB 850 EVO V1 (32-layer - V2) to a 1TB 850 EVO V2 (48-layer - V3).

**edit**

While Samsung has produced three versions of their V-NAND (the first was 24-layer V1 and only available in one of an enterprise SSDs), there have only been two versions of the 850 EVO. Despite this, Samsung internally labels this new 850 EVO as a 'V3' product as they go by the flash revision in this particular case.

**end edit**

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Samsung’s plan is to enable higher capacities with this new flash (think 4TB 850 EVO and PRO), they also intend to silently push that same flash down into the smaller capacities of those same lines. Samsung’s VP of Marketing assured me that they would not allow performance to drop due to higher per-die capacity, and we can confirm that in part with their decision to drop the 120GB 850 EVO during the switch to 48-layer in favor of a planar 750 EVO which can keep performance up. Smaller capacity SSDs work better with higher numbers of small capacity dies, and since 48-layer VNAND in TLC form comes in at 32GB per die, that would have meant only four 48-layer dies in a 120GB SSD.

48-V-NAND.png

Samsung's 48-Layer V-NAND, dissected by TechInsights
(Similar analysis on 32-Layer V-NAND here)

Other companies have tried silently switching flash memory types on the same product line in the past, and it usually does not go well. Any drops in performance metrics for a product with the same model and spec sheet is never welcome in tech enthusiast circles, but such issues are rarely discovered since companies will typically only sample their products at their initial launch. On the flip side, Samsung appears extremely confident in their mid-line flash substitution as they have voluntarily offered to sample us a 1TB 48-layer 850 EVO for direct comparison to our older 1TB 32-layer 850 EVO. The older EVO we had here had not yet been through our test suite, so we will be comparing these two variations directly against each other starting from the same fresh out of the box and completely unwritten state. Every test will be run on both SSDs in the same exact sequence, and while we are only performing an abbreviated round of testing for these products, the important point is that I will be pulling out our Latency Percentile test for detailed performance evaluation at a few queue depths. Latency Percentile testing has proven itself far more consistent and less prone to data scatter than any other available benchmark, so we’ll be trusting it to give us the true detailed scoop on any performance differences between these two types of flash.

Read on for our comparison of the new and the old!
(I just referred to a 3D Flash part as 'old'. Time flies.)

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Some Hints as to What Comes Next

On March 14 at the Capsaicin event at GDC AMD disclosed their roadmap for GPU architectures through 2018.  There were two new names in attendance as well as some hints at what technology will be implemented in these products.  It was only one slide, but some interesting information can be inferred from what we have seen and what was said in the event and afterwards during interviews.

Polaris the the next generation of GCN products from AMD that have been shown off for the past few months.  Previously in December and at CES we saw the Polaris 11 GPU on display.  Very little is known about this product except that it is small and extremely power efficient.  Last night we saw the Polaris 10 being run and we only know that it is competitive with current mainstream performance and is larger than the Polaris 11.  These products are purportedly based on Samsung/GLOBALFOUNDRIES 14nm LPP.

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The source of near endless speculation online.

In the slide AMD showed it listed Polaris as having 2.5X the performance per watt over the previous 28 nm products in AMD’s lineup.  This is impressive, but not terribly surprising.  AMD and NVIDIA both skipped the 20 nm planar node because it just did not offer up the type of performance and scaling to make sense economically.  Simply put, the expense was not worth the results in terms of die size improvements and more importantly power scaling.  20 nm planar just could not offer the type of performance overall that GPU manufacturers could achieve with 2nd and 3rd generation 28nm processes.

What was missing from the slide is mention that Polaris will integrate either HMB1 or HBM2.  Vega, the architecture after Polaris, does in fact list HBM2 as the memory technology it will be packaged with.  It promises another tick up in terms of performance per watt, but that is going to come more from aggressive design optimizations and likely improvements on FinFET process technologies.  Vega will be a 2017 product.

Beyond that we see Navi.  It again boasts an improvement in perf per watt as well as the inclusion of a new memory technology behind HBM.  Current conjecture is that this could be HMC (hybrid memory cube).  I am not entirely certain of that particular conjecture as it does not necessarily improve upon the advantages of current generation HBM and upcoming HBM2 implementations.  Navi will not show up until 2018 at the earliest.  This *could* be a 10 nm part, but considering the struggle that the industry has had getting to 14/16nm FinFET I am not holding my breath.

AMD provided few details about these products other than what we see here.  From here on out is conjecture based upon industry trends, analysis of known roadmaps, and the limitations of the process and memory technologies that are already well known.

Click here to read the rest about AMD's upcoming roadmap!

Shedding a little light on Monday's announcement

Most of our readers should have some familiarity with GameWorks, which is a series of libraries and utilities that help game developers (and others) create software. While many hardware and platform vendors provide samples and frameworks, taking the brunt of the work required to solve complex problems, this is NVIDIA's branding for their suite of technologies. Their hope is that it pushes the industry forward, which in turn drives GPU sales as users see the benefits of upgrading.

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This release, GameWorks SDK 3.1, contains three complete features and two “beta” ones. We will start with the first three, each of which target a portion of the lighting and shadowing problem. The last two, which we will discuss at the end, are the experimental ones and fall under the blanket of physics and visual effects.

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The first technology is Volumetric Lighting, which simulates the way light scatters off dust in the atmosphere. Game developers have been approximating this effect for a long time. In fact, I remember a particular section of Resident Evil 4 where you walk down a dim hallway that has light rays spilling in from the windows. Gamecube-era graphics could only do so much, though, and certain camera positions show that the effect was just a translucent, one-sided, decorative plane. It was a cheat that was hand-placed by a clever artist.

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GameWorks' Volumetric Lighting goes after the same effect, but with a much different implementation. It looks at the generated shadow maps and, using hardware tessellation, extrudes geometry from the unshadowed portions toward the light. These little bits of geometry sum, depending on how deep the volume is, which translates into the required highlight. Also, since it's hardware tessellated, it probably has a smaller impact on performance because the GPU only needs to store enough information to generate the geometry, not store (and update) the geometry data for all possible light shafts themselves -- and it needs to store those shadow maps anyway.

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Even though it seemed like this effect was independent of render method, since it basically just adds geometry to the scene, I asked whether it was locked to deferred rendering methods. NVIDIA said that it should be unrelated, as I suspected, which is good for VR. Forward rendering is easier to anti-alias, which makes the uneven pixel distribution (after lens distortion) appear more smooth.

Read on to see the other four technologies, and a little announcement about source access.

Author:
Manufacturer: Thermaltake

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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There has been growing interest in recent years in quiet computing with more users looking for components that will help them build a quiet PC. Thermaltake’s new Suppressor F31 Silent ATX mid-tower chassis is aimed squarely at this audience. Thermaltake has been around since 1999 and is a well-respected name in the PC industry. They offer a full line of cases, power supplies, cooling components, and accessories.

The Suppressor F31 chassis is available with or without a side window and comes in black. Thermaltake also offers several other variations in the Suppressor line, which include the Suppressor F31 Power Cover Edition (large baffle located over the PSU area) and the Suppressor F51 Mid-Tower case (slightly larger chassis capable of mounting an Extended-ATX form factor motherboard). We will be taking a detailed look at the Suppressor F31 Window ATX Mid-Tower Chassis in this review.

The Thermaltake Suppressor F31 is wider than most mid-tower enclosures (250mm/9.8”) and incorporates sound dampening panels on the front, top and both sides. Note: the Window version replaces the left side panel sound dampening material with a large acrylic window. The top panel has three separate sound dampening panels that can easily be removed to make room for additional case fans or a top mounted liquid cooling radiator. The Suppressor F31 comes with two quiet case fans installed: one 120mm intake on the front and one 120mm exhaust on the back.

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The roomy chassis offers numerous options for adding more case fans (up to nine total) for increased airflow as well as several options for installing liquid cooling systems of various sizes (single, dual, and/or triple fan/radiators). All of the potential fan locations are designed to mount either 120mm or 140mm fans. The front panel can mount one 200mm fan and the top panel can mount two 200mm fans if desired.

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(Courtesy of Thermaltake)

Suppressor F31 Window ATX Mid-Tower Case Key Features:
•    Mid-Tower ATX enclosure (HxWxD, 497x250x515mm, 19.5x9.8x20.3”)
•    Large clear acrylic side window (also available without a side window)
•    Supports ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards (F51 supports E-ATX)
•    Extremely quiet case for noise sensitive applications
•    Sound dampening panels on front, side, and top
•    Easily removed dust filters on front, top and bottom panels
•    Two included Thermaltake fans (120mm intake and 120mm exhaust)
•    Numerous cooling options for adding fans and/or liquid cooling
•    (2) USB 3.0, (2) USB 2.0 and HD audio jacks on the top I/O panel
•    Three internal 3.5” hard drive / 2.5” SSD trays
•    Three optional 3.5”/2.5” drive mounting locations behind mobo tray
•    Two external 5.25” drive bays
•    Tool-free mounting for all 3.5” internal and 5.25” external drives
•    Up to 278mm (10.9”) clearance for graphic cards
•    Up to 420mm (16.5”) for long graphic cards (with HDD cage removed)
•    Up to 180mm (7.1”) of space for tall CPU coolers
•    Price: $99.99 USD

Please continue reading our Suppressor F31 case review!!!

Author:
Manufacturer: GitHub

A start to proper testing

During all the commotion last week surrounding the release of a new Ashes of the Singularity DX12 benchmark, Microsoft's launching of the Gears of War Ultimate Edition on the Windows Store and the company's supposed desire to merge Xbox and PC gaming, a constant source of insight for me was one Andrew Lauritzen. Andrew is a graphics guru at Intel and has extensive knowledge of DirectX, rendering, engines, etc. and has always been willing to teach and educate me on areas that crop up. The entire DirectX 12 and Unified Windows Platform was definitely one such instance. 

Yesterday morning Andrew pointed me to a GitHub release for a tool called PresentMon, a small sample of code written by a colleague of Andrew's that might be the beginnings of being able to properly monitor performance of DX12 games and even UWP games.

The idea is simple and it's implementation even more simple: PresentMon monitors the Windows event tracing stack for present commands and records data about them to a CSV file. Anyone familiar with the kind of ETW data you can gather will appreciate that PresentMon culls out nearly all of the headache of data gathering by simplifying the results into application name/ID, Present call deltas and a bit more.

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Gears of War Ultimate Edition - the debated UWP version

The "Present" method in Windows is what produces a frame and shows it to the user. PresentMon looks at the Windows events running through the system, takes note of when those present commands are received by the OS for any given application, and records the time between them. Because this tool runs at the OS level, it can capture Present data from all kinds of APIs including DX12, DX11, OpenGL, Vulkan and more. It does have limitations though - it is read only so producing an overlay on the game/application being tested isn't possible today. (Or maybe ever in the case of UWP games.) 

What PresentMon offers us at this stage is an early look at a Fraps-like performance monitoring tool. In the same way that Fraps was looking for Present commands from Windows and recording them, PresentMon does the same thing, at a very similar point in the rendering pipeline as well. What is important and unique about PresentMon is that it is API independent and useful for all types of games and programs.

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PresentMon at work

The first and obvious question for our readers is how this performance monitoring tool compares with Frame Rating, our FCAT-based capture benchmarking platform we have used on GPUs and CPUs for years now. To be honest, it's not the same and should not be considered an analog to it. Frame Rating and capture-based testing looks for smoothness, dropped frames and performance at the display, while Fraps and PresentMon look at performance closer to the OS level, before the graphics driver really gets the final say in things. I am still targeting for universal DX12 Frame Rating testing with exclusive full screen capable applications and expect that to be ready sooner rather than later. However, what PresentMon does give us is at least an early universal look at DX12 performance including games that are locked behind the Windows Store rules.

Continue reading our look at the new PresentMon tool!!

Manufacturer: Corsair
Tagged:

Introduction and First Impressions

The Corsair Carbide 400C is a mid-tower enclosure that offers a very large window to show off your build through a side panel that’s also a hinged, and latching, door.

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With the Carbide 600 series Corsair introduced a new full-tower enclosure with an understated style, and some very nice features. The matching 400 series offer a slightly smaller version of these enclosures, with a few changes. These new Carbide 600 and 400 series cases offer both noise-reducing quiet versions (600Q, 400Q), as well as clear side-panel versions (600C, 400C). We recently looked at the full-tower Carbide 600Q, which performed well from a thermal standpoint, and, to a greater extent, with noise output.

The case we’ll be taking a look at today is the mid-tower cousin of the Carbide 600C, and this 400C drops the larger enclosure’s inverse ATX design in favor of a standard layout, but retains most other aspects of the design. Corsair’s 400 series duplicates many aspects of the larger, and more expensive, 600 series full-tower enclosures, and are priced $50 less. From the outside the 400C looks like a slightly smaller version, but once inside there are some notable differences.

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The Carbide 400C does not offer the noise dampening of the 400Q, dropping in favor of a large window and hinged, latching door. This tradeoff has allowed Corsair to market both version at the same price point, leaving it up to the consumer to decide where their priorities are. As mentioned, the 400 series are not simply smaller version of the 600C/600Q, as the internals are quite different. For instance, the PSU mount (and plastic shroud covering it) moves down to the case floor with to o400 series, and there are no 5.25-inch bays this time.

Beyond the changed layout, this clear version will likely differ from the results we saw with the 600Q. Thermal performance might be affected by the ATX layout, but the lack of insulation could mitigate this. Another factor is the noise output from a “C” version, which would presumably be significantly louder than the very quiet 600Q previously tested. We’ll cover all of that - along with build quality and ease of installation - in this review.

Continue reading our review of the Corsair Carbide 400C case!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

The ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 motherboard is the latest addition to the TUF (The Ultimate Force) product series. ASUS updated the armored-version of their Sabertooth board for Skylake processor support using the Intel Z170 chipset, including other functionality upgrades and design changes to for a better user experience. The Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 comes with an MSRP of $259.00 with features to more than justify its cost.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS continues to evolve the armored Sabertooth board, enhancing and improving the last generation design with the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1. The board includes the line's signature TUF Thermal Armor board overlay and TUF Fortifier back plate. With the new revision of the Thermal Armor, ASUS integrated to fan ports into the rear panel and middle of the board into its design as well as flow ports over the wrap-around CPU VRM heat sinks to adjust the airflow through the Thermal Armor. The board is designed with an 8+4 phase digital power system featuring alloy chokes redesigned to run cooler than previous generation chokes, 10k-rated Titanium capacitors, and military-grade TUF MOSFETs. Additionally, ASUS integrated on board ESD (elctro-static discharge) protection into the rear panel keyboard/mouse, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, LAN, and audio ports to protect the motherboard and integrated components from voltage fluctuations and power surges.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 motherboard!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Clockspeed Jump and More!

On March 1st AMD announced the availability of two new processors as well as more information on the A10 7860 APU.

The two new units are the A10-7890K and the Athlon X4 880K.  These are both Kaveri based parts, but of course the Athlon has the GPU portion disabled.  Product refreshes for the past several years have followed a far different schedule than the days of yore.  Remember back in time when the Phenom II series and the competing Core 2 series would have clockspeed updates that were expected yearly, if not every half year with a slightly faster top end performer to garner top dollar from consumers?

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Things have changed, for better or worse.  We have so far seen two clockspeed bumps for the Kaveri /Godavari based APU.  Kaveri was first introduced over two years ago with the A10-7850K and the lower end derivatives.  The 7850K has a clockspeed that ranges from 3.7 GHz to the max 4 GHz with boost.  The GPU portion is clocked at 720 MHz.  This is a 95 watt TDP part that is one of the introductory units from GLOBALFOUNDRIES 28 nm HKMG process.

Today the new top end A10-7890K is clocked at 4.1 GHz to 4.3 GHz max.  The GPU receives a significant boost in performance with a clockspeed of 866 MHz.  The combination of CPU and GPU clockspeed increases push the total performance of the part exceeding 1 TFLOPs.  It features the same dual module/quad core Godavari design as well as the 8 GCN Units.  The interesting part here is that the APU does not exceed the 95 watt TDP that it shares with the older and slower 7850K.  It is also a boost in performance from last year’s refresh of the A10-7870K which is clocked 200 MHz slower on the CPU portion but retains the 866 MHz speed of the GPU.  This APU is fully unlocked so a user can easily overclock both the CPU and GPU cores.

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The Athlon X4 880K is still based on the Godavari family rather than the Carizzo update that the X4 845 uses.  This part is clocked from 4.0 to 4.2 GHz.  It again retains the 95 watt TDP rating of the previous Athlon X4 CPUs.  Previously the X4 860K was the highest clocked unit at 3.7 GHz to 4.0, but the 880K raises that to 4 to 4.2 GHz.  A 300 MHz gain in base clock is pretty significant as well as stretching that ceiling to 4.2 GHz.  The Godavari modules retain their full amount of L2 cache so the 880K has 4 MB available to it.  These parts are very popular with budget enthusiasts and gaming builds as they are extremely inexpensive and perform at an acceptable level with free overclocking thrown in.

Click here to read more about AMD's March 2016 Refresh!