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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:
Introduction and Features
SilverStone Technology was one of the original manufacturers to enter the HTPC case market and they continue to offer one of the largest selections of HTPC enclosures available today. SilverStone currently offers 18 different HTPC enclosures spanning three different series including the Crown, Grandia and Lascala series. In addition to designing premium HTPC enclosures, SilverStone has a long-standing reputation among PC enthusiasts for providing a full line of high quality computer chassis, power supplies, cooling components, and accessories.
(Courtesy of SilverStone)
The Crown Series CW02 HTPC chassis that we will be taking an in depth look at in this review is a beautiful enclosure capable of housing a full, high-end gaming system or media server and provides internal storage for up to six HDDs and comes with a built-in multifunction LCD display and remote control. The all aluminum alloy CW02 features elegant styling and is available with either a black or silver (clear) anodized finish, which is sure to blend in and compliment your other high-end, audio-video equipment.
Over the past several months I have received several inquiries from readers asking about a HTPC enclosure that is capable of housing a high-end gaming system or multi-media server. As one reader wrote; "I'm looking for a large, high quality HTPC case that will let me install my dual purpose gaming system and media server. It needs to have plenty of room for a full size ATX mobo, dual graphic cards, a large PSU, good case cooling and at least 5 internal 3.5" drive bays (four HDDs and one SSD)." At first glance it appears the CW02 may be just what this reader is looking for. Later on, we are going to install a high-end gaming system (water-cooled Intel i7 CPU, dual GTX680 graphics cards, 1000W PSU, and 12 Terabytes of storage space) into the CW02 enclosure; this should be fun.
A new SKU for a new battle
On launch day we hosted AMD's Evan Groenke for an in-studio live interview and discussion of about the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. For the on-demand version of that event, check it out right here. Enjoy!
AMD has had a good run in the discrete graphics market for quite some time. With the Radeon HD 5000 series, the company was able to take a commanding mindshare (if not marketshare) lead from NVIDIA. While that diminished some with the HD 6000 series going up against NVIDIA's GTX 500 family, the release of the HD 7970 and HD 7950 just before the end of 2011 stepped it up again. AMD was the first to market with a 28nm GPU, the first to support DX11.1, the first with a 3GB frame buffer and the new products were simply much faster than what NVIDIA had at the time.
AMD enjoyed that crowned location on the GPU front all the way until the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 launched in March. In a display of technology that most reviewers never thought possible, NVIDIA had a product that was faster, more power efficient and matched or exceeded just about every feature of the AMD Radeon HD 7000 cards. Availability problems plagued NVIDIA for several months (and we just now seeing the end of the shortage) and even caused us to do nearly-weekly "stock checks" to update readers. Prices on the HD 7900 cards have slowly crept down to find a place where they are relevant in the market, but AMD appears to not really want to take a back seat to NVIDIA again.
While visiting with AMD in Seattle for the Fusion Developer Summit a couple of weeks ago, we were briefed on a new secret: Tahiti 2, or Tahiti XT2 internally. An updated Radeon HD 7970 GPU that was going to be shipping soon with higher clock speeds and a new "boost" technology in order to combat the GTX 680. Even better, this card was going to have a $499 price tag.
The GK107 GPU
Introduction, Driver Interface
There exist a particular group of gamers that are consumed by dreams of gigantic dual-SLI laptops that replace towering desktops. And who can blame them? Walking into a LAN party with a $5,000 laptop under your arm is the geek equivalent of entering a party wearing a $2,500 jacket or driving through your neighborhood in a $250,000 car. We can dream, right?
On the other hand, those super-powerful laptops are a bit...boring from a critic’s standpoint. Why? Because they are almost always excellent machines (due to price) and because most readers gandering at a review (of an expensive gaming laptop) I pen about will never buy one – again, due to the price.
Most folks – even many geeks – lust over a beefy gaming rig, but end up buying a $600 to $1000 multimedia laptop. This is the laptop that the average person can actually afford, regardless of his or her enthusiasm about computer hardware.
In the past, this market segment was a gaming wasteland, but that began to change about five years ago. The change was due in part to the fact that many game developers started to veer away from (a focus on) jaw-dropping graphics in favor of expanding their potential markets by going after clients with average/medium-range hardware.
About two and a half years ago Intel (again) committed to raising the bar on integrated graphics with the release of Intel HD and has since consistently improved its IGP offering with each new generation. AMD has done the same with its Fusion products and NVIDIA (already in the game with its numerous x10/x20/x30M products) just recommitted to power efficient GPUs with its Kepler architecture.
These changes mean that “serious” gaming is now possible on an inexpensive laptop. But how possible? What sacrifices do you make and how do low-end IGPs and GPUs stack up against each other?
A few weeks ago I witnessed a technology demo by Western Digital. I arrived expecting to see something storage related, but what I saw was completely different - a new line of routers!
The new 'My Net' series of Western Digital routers are intended to cover the mid to high end of the home usage spectrum. Models start with 4 ports of Fast Ethernet and scale all the way up to 7x GigE switching. All models support some form of simultaneous dual band (2.4 and 5 GHz), with a minimum of 2x2 and scaling up to 3x3 configurations (more detail / explanation on that later).
A case for quiet and for performance
In recent years, some of my favorite cases have come from Corsair - a statement that not too long ago I would have never thought I'd be making. Since the company's rapid expansion into nearly all things enthusiast computing, the Corsair Obsidian line of chassis have helped move along a pretty stagnant industry and foster innovation and change.
Today we are going to be looking at the new Corsair Obsidian 550D, a case that claims to master both noise reduction and sound isolation as well as offering flexibility for some intense cooling capability.
Check out our video review below!
Overall we found the 550D to be a great case for the money and the ability to run it in both a quiet and a cooling mode will allow users to swap components and PC designs without having to buy another case at the same time.
Introduction, Design, User Interface
This summer is shaping up to be an amazing time to buy a gaming laptop. Intel has launched its Ivy Bridge processors, bringing faster performance to the entire range without increasing power consumption. Nvidia’s new Kepler based parts, although technically launched a couple months ago, are only now widely available.
We’ve already looked at many low-end solutions including Trinity, HD 4000 and the Kepler-based Nvidia GT 640M. We’ve also looked at one high-end gaming solution in the form of the ASUS G75V.
Today we're reviewing the Origin EON17-S, an obvious competitor to the G75V. It's packing an Nvidia GTX 675M. An Intel Core i7-3920XM joins the party as well. Clearly, this laptop is meant to provide maximum performance - as the other specifications make clear.
Though it has gobs of high-performance hardware our review unit did not arrive with an internal optical drive (it did come with an external Blu-Ray). The drive had been removed and a 1TB hard drive installed in its place. This is a clever bit of packaging that makes a lot of sense and isn’t offered by Alienware, Maingear or ASUS. While I know some gamers do still use optical drives, I personally can’t remember the last time one was required for install.
Our review unit tallies up at about $3500 bucks, which is expensive but not outrageous. Spending much more is difficult and requires that you either pony up for every frivolous option available or buy Nvidia Quadro graphics cards instead of the consumer-market GTX. Or you can put the price in reverse by downgrading to a Core i7-3610QM, which saves you over $1000.
ioSafe: Introduction and Internals
Cloud storage is all the talk these days, and our own Tim Verry has been hard at work detailing as much of it as he can keep up with. While all of us at PCPer currently use cloud based solutions for many of the day-to-day goings on, it's not for everyone, and it tends to not be for very large chunks of data, either. Sometimes local storage is just the way to go – especially when you want to be the one in absolute control of the reliability and integrity of your data.
The general rule for proper backups is to have your local copy, a local backup (RAID is *not* a backup), and an additional off-site backup to cover things like theft, fires or floods. So lets say you simply have too much sensitive data for your internet connection to support bulk transferring to an off-side / cloud storage location. Perhaps the cloud storage for that much space is simply cost prohibitive, or your data is sensitive enough that – despite encryption – you don't want it leaving your network and/or premesis? Perhaps you're just stubborn and want only one backup of your data? I think I might have the answer you've been looking for – behold the ioSafe SoloPRO:
What is this thing, you may ask? On the inside it's one of the available 1, 2, 3, or even 4TB 3.5" hard drives. On the outside it's a very durable and solid steel enclosure. The hard drive is wrapped in a thermally conductive yet water resistant 'HydroSafe' foil that enables water resistance rated at a 10 ft depth for 3 days with no data loss. The bonus, however, is not the water resistance - that featuer is present primarily to battle the side effects of something much more drastic - the ioSafe is fire-proof. That feature comes from what sits between the steel casing and the shrink wrapped hard drive - something ioSafe calls a DataCast (pictured below):
I'm going to break from my normal warranty voiding and show a photo from this past Storage Visions conference at the Consumer Electonics Show, where an ioSafe was already cracked open for our viewing pleasure:
What does $399 buy these days?
I think it is pretty safe to say that MSI makes some pretty nice stuff when it comes to video cards. Their previous generation of the HD 6000 and GTX 500 series of cards were quite popular, and we reviewed more than a handful here. That generation of cards really seemed to stake MSI’s reputation as one of the top video card vendors in the industry in terms of quality, features, and cooling innovation. Now we are moving onto a new generation of cards from both AMD and NVIDIA, and the challenges of keeping up MSI’s reputation seem to have increased.
The competition has become much more aggressive as of late. Asus has some unique solutions, and companies such as XFX have stepped up their designs to challenge the best of the industry. MSI has found themselves to be in a much more crowded space with upgraded cooler designs, robust feature sets, and pricing that reflects the larger selection of products that fit such niches. The question here is if MSI’s design methodology for non-reference cards is up to the challenge.
Previously I was able to review the R7970 Lightning from MSI, and it was an impressive card. I had some initial teething problems with that particular model, but a BIOS flash later and some elbow grease allowed it to work as advertised. Today I am looking at the R7950 TwinFrozr3GD5/OC. This card looks to feature a reference PCB combined with a Twin Frozr III cooling solution. I was not entirely sure what to expect with this card, since the Lightning was such a challenge at first.
Introduction and Features
Courtesy of ASUS
ASUS continues to optimize their hardware for the overclocking and PC gaming crowds, but they are also catering to a niche audience looking for ultra stable and durable PC components. ASUS's Sabertooth X79 motherboard is their one of their latest products to bear the TUF series label and sport customized hardware and thermal components as well as a desert camo color scheme to complete the military look. This $329 motherboard comes with a five-year warranty, digital power management system, rugged chokes, solid capacitors, and MOSFETs that have been certified through third party, military-grade testing.
Courtesy of ASUS
The Sabertooth X79 also comes with a host of other features to improve SSD caching and give users quad GPU support for CrossfireX and SLI graphics card configurations. This board also includes a unique UEFI BIOS and natively supports 2TB hard drives with 64-bit operating systems. The USB BIOS "Flashback" feature also helps new users update their motherboard BIOS without entering the BIOS. ASUS states that users can use any USB storage device with the latest BIOS, push the BIOS button located on the back I/O panel for three seconds, and the board will automatically update the BIOS using standby power. Very cool!
Courtesy of ASUS
The back I/O panel on the Sabertooth X79 is no slouch either as it gives users a healthy amount of USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA 6GB/s ports for greater performance and expandability options. They also added a small fan over the back I/O panel as part of their "TUF Thermal Armor" feature that will help cool and exhaust heat from ther motherboard out the back of the chassis. Let's move on to the rest of the Saberbooth X79's features where we will get our first out-of-the-box look at this motherboard.
Inside and Out
When you are a little fish in the great big pond of PC builders, you need to do something to stand out from the rest. The people behind DV Nation apparently were well aware of that when entering the system vendor business and offering up SSDs to every single system configuration. Through a new system they are offering, provocatively named the "RAMRod PC", DV Nation provides a pre-built system that has some very unique components and configuration settings.
Built around the Antec Three Hundred Two chassis, the first glance at the RAMRod doesn't really indicate anything special is going on under the hood. But let's take a quick look at the specs:
- Intel Core i7-3820 @ 4.4 GHz
- 64GB DDR3-1600 Memory from G.Skill
- Radeon HD 6990 4GB
- 2x Seagate Momentus XT 750GB Hybrid HDD in RAID-0
- OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 480GB PCIE SSD
- RAMCache: SuperSpeed Supercache 8GB on PCIE SSD, 8GB on Momentus
- RAMDisk: 42GB ROMEX Primo rated at 8000 MB/s
- Cost: $5,400
Obviously there is a LOT of storage work going on in the RAMRod and the purpose of the rig is to be the fastest pre-configured storage available anywhere. If you are looking for a cheaper version of this system you can get a base model with 16GB of memory, 10GB RAMDisk, 2GB RAMCache, 240GB PCIe SSD, single standard hard drive and even at GTX 680 for $2999.
Let's take a quick walk around the rest of the system before diving into the benchmarks!
Introduction, Design, User Interface
In August of 2011 I reviewed the Acer AC700-1099, one of two Chromebooks available in the North American market. The review was almost entirely negative. The hardware wasn’t great and the operating system was a bit of a mess–capable of only the most basic tasks.
Since then, the small surge of hype that surrounded the Chrome OS release has receded. You could be mistaken for thinking Google has abandoned it, but they haven’t. In typical Google fashion it has been slowly, quietly improved. Performance tweaks have allegedly improved web browsing, a proper file manager has been added and Google has just launched Google Drive, its cloud storage service.
Such enhancements could address a lot of the concerns I had with the Acer rendition. Do they? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with the basics - what’s inside?
The hardware inside the Samsung Series 5 is nearly identical to what was inside the Acer AC700-1099 that we reviewed late last year. We’re talking an Atom processor that must rely on its own IGP, two gigabytes of RAM and a tiny–but quick–16GB solid state drive.
While the equipment is the same, the pricing has changed. When we reviewed the Acer Chromebook it was $349.99. That has been slashed to $279.99. The Series 5, which used to be priced at $429, is now sold for just $299.
Introduction, Product Specifications And Line-Up
Earlier this year I penned an editorial about ultrabooks. It wasn’t all that nice. I pointed out that they are slow, that they require design sacrifices that not everyone will enjoy and that ultraportables often provide a better experience at the same price or lower.
Since then I’ve also discovered, through various reviews, that ultrabooks so far have not shown any battery life advantage over ultraportables. The advantage of a low-voltage processor is consistently negated by the smaller batteries squeezed into Intel’s thin form-factor.
I’m not on the bandwagon. This, however, should not come as a surprise. It’s exceedingly rare for a company, even of Intel’s size, to knock a new product out of the park on its first try. The models that released so far were decent products in some ways, but they were also the hardware equivalent of a beta. Intel and laptop manufacturers are now responding to what they’ve discovered.
This brings us to Ivy Bridge. As I noted in my Ivy Bridge for mobile review, Intel’s architectural update seems to be more exciting for laptops than for desktops. The Core i7-3720QM we received in our Ivy Bridge reference laptop was a beast, easily defeating all previous processor benchmarks and also posting surprisingly good results in gaming tests. Despite this, battery life seemed to at least remain the same.
XFX Throws into the Midrange Ring
Who is this XFX? This is a brand that I have not dealt with in a long time. In fact, the last time I had an XFX card was some five years ago, and it was in the form of the GeForce 8800 GTX XXX Edition. This was a pretty awesome card for the time, and it seemed to last forever in terms of performance and features in the new DX 10 world that was 2007/2008. This was a heavily overclocked card, and it would get really loud during gaming sessions. I can honestly say though that this particular card was troublefree and well built.
XFX has not always had a great reputation though, and the company has gone through some very interesting twists and turns over the years. XFX is a subsidiary of Pine Technologies. Initially XFX dealt strictly with NVIDIA based products, but a few years back when the graphics market became really tight, NVIDIA dropped several manufacturers and focused their attention on the bigger partners. Among the victims of this tightening were BFG Technologies and XFX. Unlike BFG, XFX was able to negotiate successfully with AMD to transition their product lineup to Radeon products. Since then XFX has been very aggressive in pursuing unique designs based on these AMD products. While previous generation designs did not step far from the reference products, this latest generation is a big step forward for XFX.
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