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3+ Hours of discussion later...
The beginning of QuakeCon is always started by several hours of John Carmack talking about very technical things. This two hour keynote typically runs into the three to four hour range, and it was no different this time. John certainly has the gift of gab when it comes to his projects, but unlike others his gab is chock full of useful information, often quite beyond the understanding of those in the audience.
The first topic of discussion was that of last year’s Rage launch. John was quite apologetic about how it went, especially in terms of PC support. For a good portion of users out there, it simply would not work due to driver issues on the AMD side. The amount of lessons they learned from Rage were tremendous. iD simply cannot afford to release two games in one decade. Rage took some six plus years of development. Consider that Doom 3 was released in 2004, and we did not see Rage until Fall 2011. The technology in Rage is a big step up due to the use of iD Tech 5, and the art assets of the title are very impressive.
iD also made some big mistakes in how they have marketed the title. Many people were assuming that it would be a title more in line with Bethesda’s Fallout 3 with a lot of RPG type missions and storyline. Instead of a 80 hour title that one would expect, it was a 10+ hour action title. So marketing needs to create a better representation of what the game entails. They also need to stay a bit more focused on what they will be delivering, and be able to do so in a timely manner.
Event kickoff, hardware workshop prizes, packed BYOC!
Yesterday marked the official start of Quakecon 2012 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. This four-day event includes PC gaming awesomeness for more than 2,800 gamers in the Bring Your Own Computer LAN section as well as access to numerous gaming vendors and PC hardware exhibits. The event is sponsored by many big names in the gaming and PC hardware industry as well like Alienware, Intel, Ventrilo, Plantronics Gamecom, Cooler Master, Western Digital, and many others.
The day got off to a rocky start as id Software co-founder John Carmack's annual keynote address was delayed by more than two hours. Hundreds of gamers also lined the hallways waiting throughout the day for the opportunity to get into the already packed BYOC. But, unfortunately many were turned away from gaming at the event. This is one of the first times in almost a decade that the BYOC area was filled to capacity on the very first day of Quakecon!
Introduction and Design
An HTPC Perspective on home theater PC technology
We conducted a reader survey a few weeks ago, and one of the tech topics that received a surprising amount of interest in was HTPC coverage. You, our awesome readers, wanted to know more about the hardware and software behind them. I’ll admit that I was ardent about the prospects of talking HTPCs with you. As a relatively new entrant to that area of tech myself, I was excited to cover it, and give you more coverage on a topic you wanted to see more of!
Today we won't be talking about home theater PCs in the sense of a computer in the living room AV rack (Ryan covered that earlier this week), but rather a related technology that makes the HTPC possible: the CableCARD-equipped TV tuner.
I will forewarn you that this article is quite a bit more informal than my usual writings, especially if you only follow my PC Perspective postings. In the future, it may not be that way, but I wanted to give some backstory and some personal thoughts on the matter to illustrate how I got into rolling my own DVR and why I’m excited about it (mainly: it saves money and is very flexible).
Despite my previous attempts to “cut the cord” and use only Internet-based services for television, me and my girlfriend slowly but surely made our way back to cable TV. For about a year we survived on Netflix, Hulu, and the various networks’ streaming videos on their respective websites but as the delays between a shows airing and web streaming availability increased and Netflix instant Streaming started losing content the price of cable started to look increasingly acceptable.
She was probably the first one to feel the effects of a lack of new content – especially with a newfound love for a rather odd show called True Blood. It was at some point thereafter, once she had caught up with as many seasons offered on Netflix of various shows as possible that she broke down and ordered U-Verse. U-Verse is an interesting setup of television delivery using internet protocol (IPTV). While we did have some issues at first with the Residential Gateway and signal levels, it was eventually sorted out and it was an okay setup. It offered a lot of channels – with many in HD. In the end though, after the promotional period was up, it got very expensive to stay subscribed to. Also, because it was IPTV, it was not as flexible as traditional cable as far as adding extra televisions and the DVR functionality. Further, the image quality for the HD streams, while much better than SD, was not up to par with the cable and satellite feeds I’ve seen.
Being with Comcast for Internet for about three years now, I’ve been fairly happy with it. One day I saw a promotion for currently subscribed customers for TV + Blast internet for $80, which was only about $20 more than I was paying each month for its Performance tier.
After a week of hell Therefore, I decided to sign up for it. Only, I did not want to rent a Comcast box, so I went searching for alternatives.
Enter the elusive and never advertised CableCARD
It was during this search that I learned a great deal about CableCARDs and the really cool things that they enabled. Thanks to the FCC, cable television providers in the United States have to give their customers an option other than renting a cable box for a monthly fee – customers have to be able to bring their own equipment if they wish (they can still charge you for the CableCARD but at a reduced rate, and not all cable companies charge a fee for them). But what is a CableCARD? In short, it is a small card that resembles a PCMIA expansion card – a connector that can commonly be found in older laptops (think Windows XP-era). It is to be paired with a CableCARD tuner and acts as the key to decrypt the encrypted television stations in your particular subscriber package. They are added much like a customer-owned modem is, by giving the cable company some numbers on the bottom of the card that act as a unique identifier. The cable company then connects that particular card to your account and sends it a profile of what channels you are allowed to tune into.
There are some drawbacks, however. Mainly that On Demand does not work with most CableCARDS. Do note that this is actually not a CableCARD hardware issue, but a support issue on the cable company side. You could, at least in theory, get a CableCARD and tuner that could tune in On Demand content, but right now that functionality seems to be limited to some Tivos and the rental cable boxes (paradoxically some of those are actually CableCARD-equipped). It’s an unfortunate situation, but here’s hoping that it is supported in the future. Also, if you do jump into the world of CableCARDs, it is likely that you will find yourself in a situation where you know more about them than the cable installer as cable companies do not advertise them, and only a small number of employees are trained on them. Don’t be too hard on the cable tech though, it's primarily because cable companies would rather rent you a (expensive) box, and a very small number of people actually know about and need a tech to support the technology. I was lucky enough to get one of the “CableCARD guys,” on my first install, but I’ve also gotten techs that have never seen one before and it made for an interesting conversation piece as they diagnosed signal levels for the cable modem (heh). Basically, patience is key when activating your CableCARD, and I highly recommend asking around forums like DSLReports for the specific number(s) to call to get to the tier 2 techs that are familiar with CableCARDs for your specific provider when calling to activate it if you opt to do a self-install. Even then, you may run into issues. For example, something went wrong with activation on the server side at Comcast so it took a couple of hours for them to essentially unlock all of my HD channels during my install.
Introduction, Design and Connectivity
A selection of parts
AMD is without a doubt going through some very tough times with massive personnel issues as well as some problems with products and profitability. But that doesn’t mean the current product line from AMD is without merit and that you can’t build a great system for various environments, including those users looking for a mainstream and small form factor gaming and home theater PC.
While preparing for Quakecon 2012 we needed to build a system to take on the road for some minor editing and presentation control purposes. We wanted the PC to be small and compact, yet still powerful enough to take on some basic computing and gaming tasks. I happen to have some AMD Llano APUs in the office and thought they would fit perfectly.
If you are on the hunt for a small PC that can do some modest gaming and serve as an HTPC, then you might find our build here interesting. And while it isn't nearly as exciting as building a Llano PC while blindfolded - it's pretty close.
Case: Lian-Li PC-Q08B
Introduction and Features
Enermax has a well earned reputation for delivering reliable power supplies, enclosures, and other accessories to the PC enthusiast market. Their new Platimax Series includes five power supplies ranging from 600W to 1200W. We will be taking a detailed look at the Platimax 1000W power supply in this review. All Platimax power supplies are certified to deliver 80 Plus Platinum efficiencies and feature modular cables and quiet operation. Ecomaster is the authorized US agent for Enermax branded products.
Enermax Platimax 1000W PSU Key Features:
• 89Plus Ready: World's leading modular cables PSU series with 89-94% efficiency @ 20-100% load. Compliant with 80 Plus Platinum standard.
• ErP Lot 6 Ready: Helps system meet ErP Lot 6 2010 (<1W at standby mode) with high efficiency +5vsb circuitry (with ErP Lot 6 enabled motherboard).
• High Compatibility Ready: Single rail +12V output highly compatible with various types of high-end graphics cards at full-load operation.
• 24/7 @ 50°C Ready: Non-stop industrial class performance at 50°C ambient.
• World Ready: 100-240 VAC universal AC input with Active PFC for Global usage.
• C6 & Hybrid Ready: Maximum compatibility with C6 & Hybrid states of current and future CPU & GPU generations by Zero Load design.
• DXXI Ready: 100% 6+2 pin (8P) PCI-E connectors to support new generation DXXI graphics cards.
• Future Ready: 12P modular design to support upcoming new CPU & GPU 10P and/or 12P connectors.
• Server Ready: SSI PSDG support for latest Intel Core Extreme/i7, Xeon and AMD Opteron and SLI or CrossFireX and downward compatible with EPS12V v2.92, v2.8.
• HeatGuard: Keeps PSU fan running for 30-60 seconds after shutdown to dissipate the remaining system heat and prolong system life.
• SafeGuard: Industry leading multiple protection circuitry for OCP, OVP, DC UVP, OPP, OTP, SCP, and SIP.
• SpeedGuard: World's leading patented fan control starting with unmatched 550 RPM to a maximum of 1500 RPM for optimal cooling and minimum noise.
• CordGuard: Fixing the AC cord tightly to receptacle to avoid accidental shutdowns of your PC.
• Dynamic Hybrid Transformer Topology: Technological breakthrough using a staged dynamic transformer array for extremely high efficiency with the most durable and stable output at any load.
• Twister Bearing Fan: 13.9cm Twister bearing fan with low noise and long lifetime (100,000 hours MTBF, Patented).
• 100% 105°C Japanese Electrolytic Capacitors: Highest component standards for maximum durability and stability.
Introduction, Hardware To Look For
The HAWK Returns
The $300 to $400 range of video cards has become quite crowded as of late. If we can remember way back to March when AMD introduced their HD 7800 series of cards, and later that month we saw NVIDIA release their GTX 680 card. Even though NVIDIA held the price/performance crown, AMD continued to offer their products at what many considered to be grossly overpriced considering the competition. Part of this was justified because NVIDIA simply could not meet demand of their latest card, and they were often unavailable for purchase at MSRPs. Eventually AMD started cutting back prices, but this led to another issue. The HD 7950 was approaching the price of the HD 7870 GHz Edition. The difference in prices between these products was around $20, but the 7950 was around 20% faster than the 7870. This made the HD 7870 (and the slightly higher priced overclocked models) a very unattractive option for users.
It seems as though AMD and their partners have finally rectified this situation, and just in time. With NVIDIA finally being able to adequately provide stock for both the GTX 680 and GTX 670, the prices on the upper-midrange cards has taken a nice drop to where we feel they should be. We are now starting to see some very interesting products based on the HD 7850 and HD 7870 cards, one of which we are looking at today.
The MSI R7870 HAWK
The R7870 Hawk utilizes the AMD HD 7870 GPU. This chip has a reference speed of 1 GHz, but with the Hawk it is increased to a full 1100 MHz. The GPU has the entire 20 compute units enabled featuring 1280 stream processors. It has the 256 bit memory bus running 2GB of GDDR-5 memory at 1200 MHz, which gives a total bandwidth of 160 GB/sec. I am somewhat disappointed that MSI did not give the memory speed a boost, but at least the user can enable that for themselves through the Afterburner software.
Following the successful launch of its HS1 headset, Corsair has come back with a Vengeance line of gaming peripherals including three new headsets. Included in the new lineup are the 1100, 1300, and 1500 gaming headsets.
The Vengeance 1100 is the smallest of the three gaming headsets, and features a behind-the-head headphone design using 40mm drivers and an unidirectional boom microphone extending from the left speaker. The 1100 can be connected via two analog 3.5mm audio jacks or by USB with the included adapter.
Quick glance at the new MBP
The newly released retina-screen MacBook Pro has been an interesting product to me since it was first announced. I have long been a proponent of higher resolution screens for PCs, hoping for the lower cost screens that we are just now finding in the Korean 27-in screen market (like the Achieva Shimian we recently reviewed). When Apple announced a 15-in notebook with a screen resolution of 2880x1800, my hopes were raised that other vendors would take note and duplicate the idea – thereby lowering costs and increasing visual quality for users across the board.
While I didn’t have enough time with the retina MacBook Pro to give it a full review, I did spend an afternoon with one that had Windows 7 installed. After getting some benchmarks and games installed I thought I would report back to our readers with my thoughts and initial impressions on the laptop from a PC perspective.
The hardware inside the new retina MacBook Pro includes an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M discrete GPU, 512GB Apple-branded solid state drive, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt and of course that impressive 2880x1800 screen.
From Viewers Like You...
About two months ago, a viewer of the podcast that Ryan co-hosts on the This Week in Tech network, This Week in Computer Hardware, wrote in with some information that immediately excited the staff here at PC Perspective. Ryan for a long time has been of the opinion that the proliferation of 1080p displays, and prohibitive cost of high resolution monitors has been holding the industry back as a whole. With talk of 4K displays being introduced for consumers this year, a major topic on the podcast in the weeks prior to this viewer email had centered around why we haven't seen affordable 2560x1440 (or 2560x1600) displays.
This brings us back to the knowledge which the listener Jeremy bestowed upon us. Jeremy brought to our attention that various eBay sellers were reselling and exporting generic 27", IPS, LED backlight, 2560x1440 monitors from South Korea. What is remarkable about these displays however is that various models can be found for just around, or even under $350. Everyone listening, including Ryan and his co-host Patrick Norton became immediately interested in these monitors, and I went into research mode.
Introduction and Internals
I'm going to let the cat out of the bag right here and now. Everyone's home RAID is likely an accident waiting to happen. If you're using regular consumer drives in a large array, there are some very simple (and likely) scenarios that can cause it to completely fail. I'm guilty of operating under this same false hope - I have an 8-drive array of 3TB WD Caviar Greens in a RAID-5. For those uninitiated, RAID-5 is where one drive worth of capacity is volunteered for use as parity data, which is distributed amongst all drives in the array. This trick allows for no data loss in the case where a single drive fails. The RAID controller can simply figure out the missing data by running the extra parity through the same formula that created it. This is called redundancy, but I propose that it's not.
Introduction and Design
Introduction and Design
In the wilds of the laptop market, nestled between the hordes of 15.6” mainstream laptops and the slim ultraportables, there is an odd breed. The 14” multimedia laptop. Even describing them as such is limiting because each model seems to offer its own take on the concept. Some are nearly as thin and light as laptops with much smaller displays while others are bulky powerhouses hidden behind a façade of portability.
Lenovo has long been a proponent of the 14-incher in actions if not words. IdeaPads of this size have also been common, usually gracing Lenovo’s website as a smaller alternative to a 15.6” laptop with a similar model name.
As a result, absolutely no one was shocked when Lenovo announced the IdeaPad Y480. It’s exactly the kind of product most consumers end up buying and exactly the kind of product tech journalists don’t care to talk about.
So what’s powering this new mid-size laptop? Let’s have a look.
Less Risk, Faster Product Development and Introduction
There have been quite a few articles lately about the upcoming Bulldozer refresh from AMD, but a lot of the information that they have posted is not new. I have put together a few things that seem to have escaped a lot of these articles, and shine a light on what I consider the most important aspects of these upcoming releases. The positive thing that most of these articles have achieved is increasing interest in AMD’s upcoming products, and what they might do for that company and the industry in general.
The original FX-8150 hopefully will only be a slightly embarrasing memory for AMD come Q3/Q4 of this year.
The current Bulldozer architecture that powers the AMD FX series of processors is not exactly an optimal solution. It works, and seems to do fine, but it does not surpass the performance of the previous generation Phenom II X6 series of chips in any meaningful way. Let us not mention how it compares to Intel’s Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge products. It is not that the design is inherently flawed or bad, but rather that it was a unique avenue of thought that was not completely optimized. The train of thought is that AMD seems to have given up on the high single threaded performance that Intel has excelled at for some time. Instead they are going for good single threaded performance, and outstanding multi-threaded performance. To achieve this they had to rethink how to essentially make the processor as wide as possible, keep the die size and TDP down to reasonable sizes, and still achieve a decent amount of performance in single threaded applications.
Bulldozer was meant to address this idea, and its success is debatable. The processor works, it shows up as an eight logical core processor, and it seems to scale well with multi-threading. The problem, as stated before, is that it does not perform like a next generation part. In fact, it is often compared to Intel’s Prescott, which was a larger chip on a smaller process than the previous Northwood processor, but did not outperform the earlier part in any meaningful way (except in heat production). The difference between Intel and AMD in this aspect is that as compared to Prescott, Bulldozer as an entirely new architecture as compared to the Prescott/Northwood lineage. AMD has radically changed the way it designs processors. Taking some lessons from the graphics arm of the company and their successful Radeon brand, AMD is applying that train of thought to processors.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Gigabyte
PC gaming is alive and well and hardware vendors are working to create unique features in their product lines to entice this niche audience. Gigabyte has always had a soft spot for gamers who want the best components for their LAN rigs so they can own their friends in any game genre they choose to play. Gigabyte has broadened their product line to include performance gaming mice, keyboards, and PC cases. They also have a line of "G1-Killer" motherboards that Gigabyte claims is designed with 3D gaming in mind. One of their latest boards in the G1-Killer series is the G1.Sniper M3, and just happen to have a sample that we are reviewing today.
Courtesy of Gigabyte
The G1.Sniper M3 was designed into a micro ATX form factor that sports Intel's latest Z77 Express chipset and supports the third generation of Intel's LGA 1155 "Ivy Bridge" processors. It is challenging to pack enough performance features and overclocking options onto a micro ATX footprint, but Gigabyte's G1.Sniper M3 has broken the code in this department. This $180 board includes a digital power phase design with auto voltage compensation, dual UEFI BIOS, and an onboard Creative Sound Core3D quad-core audio processor for rich, high-definition audio.
An overview of Thunderbolt Technology
The promise of Thunderbolt connectivity has been around for a couple of years now. Today, Thunderbolt is finally finding its way to the PC platform in the form of motherboards from ASUS and MSI. First unveiled as "Light Peak" at the Intel Developer Forum in 2009, the technology started out as a way to connect multiple devices to a system over a fiber optic cable (hence the 'light' in the name), though the final products have changed the implementation slightly.
The first prototype implementations actually used a USB-style connection and interface. It further required fiber optic cables. When it was renamed to Thunderbolt and then released in conjunction with a new lineup of Apple MacBook laptops, not only did the physical interface move to a mini-DisplayPort connection but the cable was made to use copper rather than fiber. Without diving too far into the reasons and benefits of either direction, the fact is that the copper cables allow for modest power transfer and are much cheaper than fiber optic variants would be.
Thunderbolt's base technology remains the same, however. It is a transfer standard that allows for 10 Gbps of bandwidth for each channel (bi-directional) and concurrently supports both data and display connections. The actual interface for the data path is based on PCI Express and connected devices actually appear to Windows as if they are internally connected to the system which can offer some interesting benefits – and headaches – for hardware developers. The display connection uses the DisplayPort standard and can be used along with the data connection without affecting bandwidth levels or performance.
For current Intel processor implementations, the Thunderbolt connection is supported by a separate controller chip on the motherboard (or a riser card) – and some routing is required for correct usage. The Thunderbolt controller does not actually include a graphics controller, so it must be fed an output from another graphics processor, obviously in this case directly from the Ivy Bridge / Sandy Bridge processors. In theory, these could be from other controllers, but with the ubiquitous nature of integrated processor graphics on IVB and SNB processors, this is going to be the implementation going forward according to motherboard and system designers.
A slightly lower cost Ivy Bridge
Just a couple of short months ago, Intel released the desktop versions of its latest CPU architecture codenamed Ivy Bridge – and officially named the Intel 3rd Generation Core Processor. Ivy Bridge has a much cleaner sound to it if you ask me.
At launch, we tested and reviewed the highest-end offering, the Core i7-3770K, a quad-core HyperThreaded part that runs as fast as 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost. It included the highest end processor graphics Intel has developed – the HD 4000. Currently selling for only $350, the i7-3770K is a fantastic processor, but isn't the bargain that many DIY PC builders are looking for. The new Core i5-3470 from Intel – the processor we are reviewing today – might be just that.
I am not going to spend time discussing the upgrades and benefits that the new Ivy Bridge processors offer over their predecessors, or the competition, from an architectural stand point. If you want some background on Ivy Bridge and why it does what it does, you'll want to read the first few pages of our original Core i7-3770K / Ivy Bridge review from April.
The Core i5-3470 Processor
Interestingly, in the initial information from Intel about the Ivy Bridge processor lineup, the Core i5-3470 wasn't even on the list. There was a 3450 and 3550, but nothing in between. The Core i5-3470 currently sells for about $200 and compares with some other Ivy Bridge processors with the following specifications:
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