Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Thanks for stopping by our coverage of the Intel Haswell, 4th Generation Core processor and Z87 chipset release!  We have a lot of different stories for you to check out and I wanted to be sure you knew about them all. 

  1. The Haswell Review - Intel Core i7-4770K Performance and Architecture
  2. PCPer Live! ASUS Z87 Motherboard and Intel Haswell Live Event! - Tuesday, June 4th we will be hosting a live streaming event with JJ from ASUS.  Stop by to learn about Z87 and overclocking Haswell and to win some motherboards and graphics cards!
  3. ASUS ROG Maximus VI Extreme Motherboard Review
  4. MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming Motherboard Review

 

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Gryphon Z87 is a new form factor being introduced into the TUF (The Ultimate Force) board line with its micro-ATX stature. It does not lack for features in what it lacks for physical size though. ASUS packed this board full of features with the same stability and performance that you have all come to expect from a TUF series motherboard. By default, the Gryphon Z87 does not come with the Thermal Armor overlay, but the armor kit will be offered as an upgrade for a minimal additional outlay. We but the ASUS Gryphon Z87 board through its paces to get a fuller performance picture. At a retail price of $169.00, this board would make a nice addition to any small form factor or normal sized system.

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Gryphon Z87 is designed with an 8 phase digital power delivery system for the CPU to ensure the best performance and stability possible under any conditions. The following features are integrated into the board's design: six SATA 6Gb/s ports; an Intel I217-V GigE NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots for dual-card support; one PCI-Express x1 slot; onboard power, reset, CMOS MemOK!, BIOS Flashback, and DirectKey buttons; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of ASUS

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Gryphon Z87 motherboard!

Manufacturer: XSPC

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

The latest rage in CPU cooling seems to be the self-contained water cooler because of the cooling potential of these coolers without the noise of a comparable air-based cooling system. This is something that cooling enthusiasts have known for years with the custom water cooling solution heat dissipation capacity only rivaled by its varied composition. A typical custom water loop is comprised of a pump, CPU cooling block, and a radiator in its simplest form.

Today, we are looking at the impact of the radiator on the custom water cooling loop, specifically the affects of radiator thickness and fin density on the cooling efficiency of the cooling loop. For this testing, we are comparing a single Swiftech MCR 320-QP Radiator, dual Swiftech MCR 320-QP Radiators in series, and an XSPC RX360 radiator while keeping the pump, CPU cooling block, and coolant used constant between tests.

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RX360 Radiator
Courtesy of XSPC

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MCR 320-QP Radiator
Courtesy of Swiftech

Both radiators used in this comparison are in a 3 x 120mm form factor, supporting up to six total 120mm fans in a push / pull configuration. The Swiftech MCR 320-QP radiator is approximately half the thickness of the XSPC RX360 radiator, but has 150% more surface fin density (measured in fpi (fins per inch)). A thicker radiator can handle more coolant as well as spreading the coolant over a larger surface volume for cooling capacity, while a higher fin density allow for more effective heat dissipation via the cooling fans. However, there are negatives of each. A thicker radiator can inhibit coolant flow speed because of its larger capacity and and surface volume. On the other hand, higher fin density requires a higher CFM rated fan to effectively pass air through the radiator effectively.

Technical Specifications (taken from the XSPC and Swiftech websites)

 

XSPC RX360

Swiftech MCR 320-QP

Dimensions
(WxDxH)

124mm x 63mm x 400mm 128mm x 34mm x 402mm

Body Material

Copper Brass

Fin Material

Copper Copper

Fin Density

8 fpi 12 fpi

Port Size

G1/4 G1/4

Finish

Black Matt Satin black

Continue reading our radiator comparison review!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

GK104 gets cheaper and faster

A week ago today we posted our review of the GeForce GTX 780, NVIDIA's attempt to split the difference between the GTX 680 and the GTX Titan graphics cards in terms of performance and pricing.  Today NVIDIA launches the GeForce GTX 770 that, even though it has a fancy new name, is a card and a GPU that you are very familiar with.

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The NVIDIA GK104 GPU Diagram

Based on GK104, the same GPU that powers the GTX 680 (released in March 2012), GTX 670 and the GTX 690 (though in a pair), the new GeForce GTX 770 has very few changes from the previous models that are really worth noting.  NVIDIA has updated the GPU Boost technology to 2.0 (more granular, better controls in software) but the real changes come in the clocks speeds.

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The GTX 770 is still built around 4 GPCs and 8 SMXs for a grand total of 1536 CUDA cores, 128 texture units and 32 ROPs.  The clock speeds have increased from 1006 MHz base clock and 1058 MHz Boost up to 1046 MHz base and 1085 MHz Boost.  That is a pretty minor speed bump in reality, an increase of just 4% or so over the previous clock speeds. 

NVIDIA did bump up the GDDR5 memory speed considerably though, going from 6.0 Gbps to 7.0 Gbps, or 1750 MHz.  The memory bus width remains 256-bits wide but the total memory bandwidth has jumped up to 224.3 GB/s.

Maybe the best change for PC gamers is the new starting MSRP for the GeForce GTX 770 at $399 - a full $50-60 less than the GTX 680 was selling for as of yesterday.  If you happened to pick up a GTX 680 recently, you are going to want to look into your return options as this will surely annoying the crap out of you.

If you want more information on the architecture design of the GK104 GPU, check out our initial article on the chips release from last year.  Otherwise, with those few specification changes out of the way, let's move on to some interesting information.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB Reference Card

Tired of this design yet?  If so, you'll want to look into some of the non-reference options I'll show you on the next page from other vendors, but I for one am still taken with the design of these cards.  You will find a handful of vendors offering up re-branded GTX 770 options at the outset of release but most will have their own SKUs to showcase.

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Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 graphics card!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Codename Kyoto

Kabini is a pretty nifty little chip.  So nifty, AMD is actually producing server grade units for the growing micro-server market.  As readers may or may not remember, AMD bought up SeaMicro last year to get a better grip on the expanding micro-server market.  While there are no official announcements from SeaMicro about offerings utilizing the server-Kabini parts, we can expect there to be sooner as opposed to later.

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The Kabini parts (Jaguar + GCN) will be branded Opteron X-series.  So far there are two announced products; one utilizes the onboard graphics portion while the other has the GCN based unit disabled.  The products have a selectable TDP that ranges from 9 watts to 22 watts.  This should allow the vendors to further tailor the chips to their individual solutions.

The X1150 is the GPU-less product with adjustable TDPs ranging from 9 to 17 watts.  It is a native quad core product with 2 MB of L2 cache.  It can be clocked up to 2 GHz, which we assume is that 17 watts range.  The X2150 has an adjustable TDP range from 11 to 22 watts.  The four cores can go to a max speed of 1.9 GHz while the GPU can go from 266 MHz up to a max 600 MHz.

Click here to read the entire article on the new Opteron X-series!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: OCZ Technology
Tagged: ocz, vertex 450, ssd, 20nm, sata

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction

Last month OCZ introduced the Vertex 3.20, which took their popular Vertex line to 20nm flash territory. The Vertex 3.20 used the same tride and true SandForce controller used in previous iterations of that line. The older Vertex line was starting to show its age, and the move to 20nm didn't really help the issue. We knew it was just a matter of time before they brought 20nm to their Indilinx Barefoot line, and that time is now. The new model suggests OCZ may abandon the Vector name, and resurrect the performance of their flagship product line by shifting their Indilinx Barefoot 3 (BF3-M10) over to a newly dubbed Vertex 450:

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Lets jump right into the specs:

Specifications:

  • Capacity: 128, 256GB, 512GB
  • Sequential read:  540 MB/sec
  • Sequential write: 525 MB/sec
  • Random read IOPS (up to):  85 k-IOPS
  • Random write IOPS (up to):  90 k-IOPS

Continue reading our review of the OCZ Vertex 450 256GB SSD!!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

GK110 Gets a Lower Price Point

If you want to ask us some questions about the GTX 780 or our review, join us for a LIVE STREAM at 2pm EDT / 11am PDT on our LIVE page.

When NVIDIA released the GeForce GTX Titan in February there was a kind of collective gasp across the enthusiast base.  Half of that intake of air was from people amazed at the performance they were seeing on a single GPU graphics cards powered by the GK110 chip.  The other half was from people aghast of the $1000 price point that NVIDIA launched it at.  The GTX Titan was the fastest single GPU card in the world, without any debate, but with it came a cost we hadn't seen in some time.  Even with the debate between it, the GTX 690 and the HD 7990, the Titan was likely my favorite GPU, cost no concerns.

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Today we see the extension of the GK110, by cutting it back some, and releasing a new card.  The GeForce GTX 780 3GB is based on the same chip as the GTX Titan but with additional SMX units disabled, a lower CUDA core count and less memory.  But as you'll soon see, the performance delta between it and the GTX 680 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz is pretty impressive.  The $650 price tag though - maybe not.

We held a live stream the day this review launched at http://pcper.com/live.  You can see the replay that goes over our benchmark results and thoughts on the GTX 780 below.

 

The GeForce GTX 780 - A Cut Down GK110

As I mentioned above, the GTX 780 is a pared-down GK110 GPU and for more information on that particular architecture change, you should really take a look at my original GTX Titan launch article from February.  There is a lot more that is different on this part compared to GK104 than simple shader counts, but for gamers most of the focus will rest there. 

The chip itself is a 7.1 billion mega-ton beast though a card with the GTX 780 label is actually utilizing much fewer than that.  Below you will find a couple of block diagrams that represent the reduced functionality of the GTX 780 versus the GTX Titan:

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Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB GK110 Graphics Card!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

The Architectural Deep Dive

AMD officially unveiled their brand new Bobcat architecture to the world at CES 2011.  This was a very important release for AMD in the low power market.  Even though Netbooks were a dying breed at that time, AMD experienced a good uptick in sales due to the good combination of price, performance, and power consumption for the new Brazos platform.  AMD was of the opinion that a single CPU design would not be able to span the power consumption spectrum of CPUs at the time, and so Bobcat was designed to fill that space which existed from 1 watt to 25 watts.  Bobcat never was able to get down to that 1 watt point, but the Z-60 was a 4.5 watt part with two cores and the full 80 Radeon cores.

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The Bobcat architecture was produced on TSMC’s 40 nm process.  AMD eschewed the upcoming 32 nm HKMG/SOI process that was being utilized for the upcoming Llano and Bulldozer parts.  In hindsight, this was a good idea.  Yields took a while to improve on GLOBALFOUNDRIES new process, while the existing 40 nm product from TSMC was running at full speed.  AMD was able to provide the market in fairly short order with good quantities of Bobcat based APUs.  The product more than paid for itself, and while not exactly a runaway success that garnered many points of marketshare from Intel, it helped to provide AMD with some stability in the market.  Furthermore, it provided a very good foundation for AMD when it comes to low power parts that are feature rich and offer competitive performance.

The original Brazos update did not happen, instead AMD introduced Brazos 2.0 which was a more process improvement oriented product which featured slightly higher speeds but remained in the same TDP range.  The uptake of this product was limited, and obviously it was a minor refresh to buoy purchases of the aging product.  Competition was coming from low power Ivy Bridge based chips, as well as AMD’s new Trinity products which could reach TDPs of 17 watts.  Brazos and Brazos 2.0 did find a home in low powered, but full sized notebooks that were very inexpensive.  Even heavily leaning Intel based manufacturers like Toshiba released Brazos based products in the sub-$500 market.  The combination of good CPU performance and above average GPU performance made this a strong product in this particular market.  It was so power efficient, small batteries were typically needed, thereby further lowering the cost.

All things must pass, and Brazos is no exception.  Intel has a slew of 22 nm parts that are encroaching on the sub-15 watt territory, ARM partners have quite a few products that are getting pretty decent in terms of overall performance, and the graphics on all of these parts are seeing some significant upgrades.  The 40 nm based Bobcat products are no longer competitive with what the market has to offer.  So at this time we are finally seeing the first Jaguar based products.  Jaguar is not a revolutionary product, but it improves on nearly every aspect of performance and power usage as compared to Bobcat. 

Continue reading our analysis of the new Jaguar and GCN architecture!!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: AMD

A Reference Platform - But not a great one

Believe it or not, AMD claims that the Brazos platform, along with the "Brazos 2.0" update the following year, were the company's most successful mobile platforms in terms of sales and design wins.  When it first took the scene in late 2010, it was going head to head against the likes of Intel's Atom processor and the combination of Atom + NVIDIA ION and winning.  It was sold in mini-ITX motherboard form factors as well as small clamshell notebooks (gasp, dare we say...NETBOOKS?) and though it might not have gotten the universal attention it deserved, it was a great part.

With Kabini (and Temash as well), AMD is making another attempt to pull in some marketshare in the low power, low cost mobile markets.  I have already gone over the details of the mobile platforms that AMD is calling Elite Mobility (Temash) and Mainstream (Kabini) in a previous article that launched today.

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This article will quickly focus on the real-world performance of the Kabini platform as demonstrated by a reference laptop I received while visiting AMD in Toronto a few weeks ago.  While this design isn't going to be available in retail (and I am somewhat thankful based on the build quality) the key is to look at the performance and power efficiency of the platform itself, not the specific implementation. 

Kabini Architecture Overview

The building blocks of Kabini are four Jaguar x86 cores and 128 Radeon cores colleted in a pair of Compute Units - similar in many ways to the CUs found in the Radeon HD 7000 series discrete GPUs.  Josh has written a very good article that focuses on the completely new architecture that is Jaguar and compared it to other processors including AMD's previous core used in Brazos, the Bobcat core. 

Continue reading our performance preview of the new AMD Kabini A4-5000 mainstream mobility APU!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

2013 Elite Mobility APU - Temash

AMD has a lot to say today.  At an event up in Toronto this month we got to sit down with AMD’s marketing leadership and key engineers to learn about the company’s plans for 2013 mobility processors.  This includes a refreshed high performance APU known as Richland that will replace Trinity as well as two brand new APUs based on Jaguar CPU cores and the GCN architecture for low power platforms. 

Josh has put together an article that details the Jaguar + GCN design of Temash and Kabini and I have also posted some initial performance results of the Kabini reference system AMD handed me in May.  This article will detail the plans that AMD has for each of these three mobile segments, starting with the newest entry, AMD’s Elite Mobility APU platform – Temash.

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The goal of the APU, the combination of traditional x86 processing cores and a discrete style graphics system, was to offer unparalleled performance in smaller and more efficient form factors.  AMD believes that their leadership in the graphics front will offer them a good sized advantage in areas including performance tablets, hybrids and small screen clamshells that may or not be touch enabled.  They are acknowledging though that getting into the smallest tablets (like the Nexus 7) is not on the table quite yet and that content creation desktop replacements are probably outside the scope of Richland. 

 

2013 Elite Mobility APU – Temash

AMD will have the first x86 quad-core SoC design with Temash and AMD thinks it will make a big splash in a relatively new market known as the “high performance” tablet. 

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Temash, built around Jaguar CPU cores and the graphics technology of GCN, will be able to offer fully accelerated video playback with transcode support as well with features like image stabilization and Perfect Picture enabled.  Temash will also be the only SoC to offer support for DX11 graphics and even though some games might not have the ability to show off added effects there are quite a few performance advantages of DX11 over DX10/9.  With more than 100% claimed GPU performance upgrade you’ll be able to drive displays at 2560x1600 for productivity use and even be able to take advantage of wireless display options. 

Continue reading our preview of the new 2013 mobility platforms featuring AMD APUs!!

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Design

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While Lenovo hasn’t historically been known for its gaming PCs, it’s poised to make quite a splash with the latest entry in its IdeaPad line. Owing little to the company’s business-oriented roots, the Y500 aims to be all power—moreso than any other laptop from the manufacturer to date—tactfully squeezed into a price tag that would normally be unattainable given the promised performance. But can it succeed?

Our Y500 review unit can be had for $1,249 at Newegg and other retailers, or for as low as $1,180 at Best Buy. Lenovo also sells customizable models, though the price is generally higher. Here’s the full list of specifications:

specs.png

The configurations offered by Lenovo range in price fairly widely, from as low as $849 for a model sporting 8 GB of RAM with a single GT 650M with 2 GB GDDR5. The best value is certainly this configuration that we received, however.

What’s so special about it? Well, apart from the obvious (powerful quad-core CPU and 16 GB RAM), this laptop actually includes two NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M GPUs (both with 2 GB GDDR5) configured in SLI. Seeing as it’s just a 15.6-inch model, how does it manage to do that? By way of a clever compromise: the exchange of the usual optical drive for an Ultrabay, something normally only seen in Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops. So I guess the Y500 does owe a little bit of its success to its business-grade brethren after all.

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In our review unit (and in the particular configuration noted above), this Ultrabay comes prepopulated with the second GT 650M, equipped with its own heatsink/fan and all. The addition of this GPU effectively launches the Y500 into high-end gaming laptop territory—at least on the spec sheet. Other options for the Ultrabay also exist (sold separately), including a DVD burner and a second hard drive. The bay is easily removable via a switch on the back of the PC (see below).

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Continue Reading our review of the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of MSI

With the Z77A-GD65 Gaming motherboard, MSI takes is award-winning Intel Z77-based board design and melds it with a Killer - a Killer NIC that is. MSI integrated the Killer e2205 GigE NIC into the board's design for the ultimate solution for online gaming. The Killer NIC is well known in gaming circles for its superior hardware-based network traffic prioritization engine, making it a natural integration choice for a top-end gaming board. We put the MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming through our rigorous suite of tests to measures is performance and were not disappointed. At a retail price of $179, this board is a steal.

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Courtesy of MSI

In designing the Z77A-GD65 Gaming board, MSI provided a total of 12 digital power phases for the CPU. MSI packed this board full of features: SATA 2 and SATA 3 ports; a Killer e2205 GigE NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots for up to tri-card support; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of MSI

Continue reading our review of the MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming motherboard!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction

Today, Gigabyte unveiled their Intel Z87-based board lineup to select members of the press at a live event from their headquarters in City of Industry, CA. Their Z87 boards are broken down into four series - the Extreme OC series, the Gaming Series, the Thunderbolt series, and the Standard series.

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Intel Z87 motherboard lineup
Courtesy of GIGABYTE

New Features

Gigabyte includes both a new interface for their UEFI BIOS and a new power paradigm, dubbed Ultra Durable 5 Plus, into each of their Intel Z87 boards.

UEFI BIOS Enhancement

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UEFI BIOS explanation
Courtesy of GIGABYTE

They also fully redesigned their UEFI BIOS interface to make it more customizable, easier to use, and to allow real-time feedback for settings changes.

Continue reading our preview of Gigabyte's upcoming Z87 motherboards!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction

Today, ASUS introduces their Intel Z87-based motherboard lineup with board refreshes across all of their product lines: ASUS (mainstream), Republic of Gamers (ROG), The Ultimate Force (TUF), and Workstation (WS). With the exception of their TUF and ROG board lines, ASUS decided to introduce a new and improved color scheme for their boards - black and gold. The motherboard surfaces are black with gold colored heat sinks. While black and gold may not seem like the best match-up, don't judge the boards until you have seen them first hand - the black and gold go very well together.

ROG Motherboards

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ASUS Maximus VI Gene
Courtesy of ASUS

Their ROG line will include the Maximus VI Extreme, the Maximus VI Formula, the Maximus VI Gene, and the Maximus VI Hero. All ROG boards feature the standard red and black color scheme common to that brand. Additionally, ASUS includes SupremeFX audio standard with all ROG boards and their Sonic Radar on-screen overlay technology. Sonic Radar is an in-game overlay that can be used to accurately pinpoint game-based sound sources. For powering these boards, ASUS includes 60amp-rated blackwing chokes and NexFET MOSFETS with 90% power efficiency operation. Use of these power components was seen to reduce on-board temperatures in the ASUS labs by as much as 5 degrees Celcius.

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ASUS Maximus VI Extreme
Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS upped the ante even more with their Maximus VI Extreme board by including the ASUS OC Panel. This panel includes a display and can be mounted in a 5.25" drive bay or used externally for real time voltage and temperature monitoring as well as tweaking of various frequency and voltage BIOS settings. The ASUS OC Panel is supported on all ROG boards and will be available for after-market purchase for the non-Extreme boards.

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ASUS Maximus VI Hero
Courtesy of ASUS

The Maximus VI Hero motherboard is the newest member of the ROG line, branded as a more affordable solution for the gamer. This board is marketed as a head-to-head competitor for MSI's MPOWER board.

Continue reading our preview of the ASUS Z87 motherboard lineup!

Subject: Storage
Tagged: sshd, Seagate, hybrid

Introduction

Introduction

Seagate recently announced and released their third generation of laptop Solid State Hybrid Drives. Originally thier hybrids carried the Momentus (laptop HDD) name forward, tacking on 'XT' to denote the on-board caching ability. The Momentus XT was intriduced in a 500GB (1st gen) and 750GB (2nd gen) model. The new line gets a new and simple title - Laptop SSHD.

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In addition to the new name, we now have two capacity points available. The 'Laptop SSHD' retains the old 9.5mm form factor and now pushes a full 1TB of capacity, while the 'Laptop Thin SSHD' drops a platter and reduces availabile capacity to 500GB. The bonus with the 500GB model is that it maintains similar performance yet shaves off some thickness, making it Seagate's first 7mm Hybrid.

Today we will take a look at the new Thin SSHD, comparing it to the performance of the older generation Seagate Hybrids, as well as to Intel's RST caching solution:

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Read on for the full review!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: iBuyPower

Power and Value

We have seen our fair share of mini-ITX cases and system builds over the last six months, including rigs from Digital Storm and AVADirect.  They attempt to offer a balance between performance, power, noise and size and some do it better than others.  With the continued development of the mini-ITX form factor more users than ever are realizing you can get nearly top-end performance for gaming in a smaller package. 

Today we are taking a look at the iBuyPower Revolt, in particular the Revolt R770, the highest end base offering of the system.  Built around a small, but not tiny, PC chassis iBuyPower is able to include some pretty impressive specifications:

  • Intel Core i7-3770K processor
  • Custom built Z77 mini-ITX motherboard
  • NZXT CPU water cooler
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 2GB graphics cards
  • 8GB DDR3-1600 memory
  • 120 GB Intel 320 Series SSD
  • 1TB Western Digital Blue hard drive

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You get all of this in a case that is only 16-in x 16-in x 4.5-in built with a glossy black and white color scheme.  The company claims that the Revolt was "designed to be a gaming system for any location" including a home theater, a dorm room or in your study.  It includes "vents and air channels positioned precisely to deliver cool ambient air exactly where it is needed" and "integrated atmospheric lighting system is customizable in color."

Check out or quick video review below and then follow on to the full post for more photos of the system and a quick check of performance!

Continue reading our review of the iBuyPower Revolt Mini-ITX gaming system!!

Manufacturer: Enermax/Ecomaster

Introduction and Features

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Enermax has a well-earned reputation for delivering reliable power supplies, enclosures, and other accessories to the PC enthusiast market.  Their new TriAthlor Series includes three power supplies including 550W, 650W and 700W models.  We will be taking a detailed look at the TriAthlor 550W power supply in this review.  All TriAthlor power supplies are certified to deliver 80 Plus Bronze efficiencies and feature modular cables and quiet operation.  Ecomaster is the authorized US agent for Enermax branded products.

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Enermax TriAthlor Series PSU Key Features:

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(Courtesy of Enermax)

Please continue reading our Enermax TriAthlor 550W PSU review!!!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Intel

A much needed architecture shift

It has been almost exactly five years since the release of the first Atom branded processors from Intel, starting with the Atom 230 and 330 based on the Diamondville design.  Built for netbooks and nettops at the time, the Atom chips were a reaction to a unique market that the company had not planned for.  While the early Atoms were great sellers, they were universally criticized by the media for slow performance and sub-par user experiences. 

Atom has seen numerous refreshes since 2008, but they were all modifications of the simplistic, in-order architecture that was launched initially.  With today's official release of the Silvermont architecture, the Atom processors see their first complete redesign from the ground up.  With the focus on tablets and phones rather than netbooks, can Intel finally find a foothold in the growing markets dominated by ARM partners? 

I should note that even though we are seeing the architectural reveal today, Intel doesn't plan on having shipping parts until late in 2013 for embedded, server and tablets and not until 2014 for smartphones.  Why the early reveal on the design then?  I think that pressure from ARM's designs (Krait, Exynos) as well as the upcoming release of AMD's own Kabini is forcing Intel's hand a bit.  Certainly they don't want to be perceived as having fallen behind and getting news about the potential benefits of their own x86 option out in the public will help.

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Silvermont will be the first Atom processor built on the 22nm process, leaving the 32nm designs of Saltwell behind it.  This also marks the beginning of a new change in the Atom design process, to adopt the tick/tock model we have seen on Intel's consumer desktop and notebook parts.  At the next node drop of 14nm, we'll see see an annual cadence that first focuses on the node change, then an architecture change at the same node. 

By keeping Atom on the same process technology as Core (Ivy Bridge, Haswell, etc), Intel can put more of a focus on the power capabilities of their manufacturing.

Continue reading about the new Intel Silvermont architecture for tablets and phones!!

Author:
Manufacturer: Intel

The Intel HD Graphics are joined by Iris

Intel gets a bad wrap on the graphics front.  Much of it is warranted but a lot of it is really just poor marketing about the technologies and features they implement and improve on.  When AMD or NVIDIA update a driver or fix a bug or bring a new gaming feature to the table, they are sure that every single PC hardware based website knows about and thus, that as many PC gamers as possible know about it.  The same cannot be said about Intel though - they are much more understated when it comes to trumpeting their own horn.  Maybe that's because they are afraid of being called out on some aspects or that they have a little bit of performance envy compared to the discrete options on the market. 

Today might be the start of something new from the company though - a bigger focus on the graphics technology in Intel processors.  More than a month before the official unveiling of the Haswell processors publicly, Intel is opening up about SOME of the changes coming to the Haswell-based graphics products. 

We first learned about the changes to Intel's Haswell graphics architecture way back in September of 2012 at the Intel Developer Forum.  It was revealed then that the GT3 design would essentially double theoretical output over the currently existing GT2 design found in Ivy Bridge.  GT2 will continue to exist (though slightly updated) on Haswell and only some versions of Haswell will actually see updates to the higher-performing GT3 options.  

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In 2009 Intel announced a drive to increase graphics performance generation to generation at an exceptional level.  Not long after they released the Sandy Bridge CPU and the most significant performance increase in processor graphics ever.  Ivy Bridge followed after with a nice increase in graphics capability but not nearly as dramatic as the SNB jump.  Now, according to this graphic, the graphics capability of Haswell will be as much as 75x better than the chipset-based graphics from 2006.  The real question is what variants of Haswell will have that performance level...

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I should note right away that even though we are showing you general performance data on graphics, we still don't have all the details on what SKUs will have what features on the mobile and desktop lineups.  Intel appears to be trying to give us as much information as possible without really giving us any information. 

Read more on Haswell's new graphics core here.

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Manufacturer: Oculus

Our first thoughts and impressions

Since first hearing about the Kickstarter project that raised nearly 2.5 million dollars from over 9,500 contributors, I have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of my Oculus Rift development kit.  Not because I plan on quitting the hardware review business to start working on a new 3D, VR-ready gaming project but just because as a technology enthusiast I need to see the new, fun gadgets and what they might mean for the future of gaming.

I have read other user's accounts of their time with the Oculus Rift, including a great write up in a Q&A form Ben Kuchera over at Penny Arcade Report, but I needed my own hands-on time with the consumer-oriented VR (virtual reality) product.  Having tried it for very short periods of time at both Quakecon 2012 and CES 2013 (less than 5 minutes) I wanted to see how it performed and more importantly, how my body reacted to it.

I don't consider myself a person that gets motion sick.  Really, I don't.  I fly all the time, sit in the back of busses, ride roller coasters, watch 3D movies and play fast-paced PC games on large screens.  The only instances I tend to get any kind of unease with motion is on what I call "roundy-round" rides, the kind that simply go in circles over and over.  Think about something like this, The Scrambler, or the Teacups at Disney World.  How would I react to time with the Oculus Rift, this was my biggest fear... 

For now I don't want to get into the politics of the Rift, how John Carmack was initially a huge proponent of the project then backed off on how close we might be the higher-quality consumer version of the device.  We'll cover those aspects in a future story.  For now I only had time for some first impressions.

Watch the video above for a walk through of the development kit as well as some of the demos, as best can be demonstrated in a 2D plane! 

Continue on to the full story for some photos and my final FIRST impressions of the Oculus Rift!

Subject: Editorial

Good effort goes a long way

The wait has been long and anxious for Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to 2010's StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Blizzard originally hinted at a very rapid release schedule which did not exactly come to fruition. The nearly three years of development time for Heart of the Swarm is longer than a single studio spends on a full Call of Duty title; although, one could make a very credible argument that a Blizzard expansion requires more effort to create than said complete Call of Duty title.

But as Duke Nukem Forever demonstrated, a long time in development does not guarantee a fully baked product coming out the other end.

Blizzard games have always been highly entertaining albeit without deep artistic substance; their games are not first on the list for a university literature syllabus. But, there is a lot of room in life for engaging entertainment. In terms of the PC, Blizzard has always been one of the leading developers for the platform; they know how to deliver an exceptional PC experience if they choose to.

Watch the video and read on to find out if they did!