Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 1

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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Now that we have our Windows Media Center up and running, we can investigate a few additional add-ons and plugins that can further improve upon the experience you can get from your Media Center.  In addition to discussing some great add-ons, I’m going to discuss how well our HTPC build has done with our power efficiency goals, so without further ado let’s jump right into it!

My Experience: The add-ons and plug-ins that I’m going to walk through are by no means all that’s out there.  There are tons of add-ons that will add anything from Local Weather to full overlays for your movie collection.  One thing to keep in mind is that any add-on or plugin can completely bork up your Media Center.  Always test the add-on on another box first, or even better, do a full image/backup of your Media Center before you try any new add-on or plugin.  You do have a full image of your brand new Media Center build on another machine that you can re-image yourHTPC with right?  (Check out Clonezilla or Acronis True Image if not…)

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins

Windows Media Center is excellent right out of the box, but there are a few add-ons and plugins I like to add to our Media Center to give us some additional functionality and increased usability.  By a wide margin, the one we use the most is Netflix.

Netflix

 

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Back when Netflix was a scrappy newcomer, trying to get subscribers, they were putting their client on every device and platform that would talk to them.  They worked out a deal with Microsoft to have the Netflix client pre-installed right into Windows Media Center menu.

My Experience: The built in application was apparently a joint project between Microsoft and Netflix, which may seem great, but has actually turned out to be a quagmire of finger pointing.  Since it was originally released, the application has not been updated since and both companies have washed their hands of it and point to the other as being responsible for the application.  The UI badly needs a facelift, in particular with the way you navigate through titles that have multiple seasons.  While all seasons of the title will show up as a single entry in your Instant Queue, there is no way to easily jump from season to season and the only way to navigate episodes is to pull up episode lists that starts at Season 1, Episode 1, every time you open up the episode list.  While this may not seem like a big deal, if you watch a show with a lot of episodes (like Cheers with 11 Seasons and 275 episodes) you have to scroll past every single prior episode to get to the next one you want to watch.  Clicking the down arrow on your remote over 200 times to get to the next episode you want to watch not only gets old real fast, but eats batteries like mad.

 

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Episode list problems aside, we still use Netflix on a daily basis and it’s relatively easy to setup.  First, scroll up to the “Movies” line and select the Netflix tile.

 

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You’ll be greeted with a full Netflix splash screen.  Put a check in the “I have read and understand the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement” checkbox which will then activate the “Install” button.  Click on Install and off we go.

Read on to see more add-ons that you can add to your Media Center!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

Ryan Shrouts Picks

December is upon us, and that means the holidays are just around the corner! In the following pages, the PC Perspective editors have outlined their top picks for gifts that they would like to receive or that would make great gifts for others.

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Once you have read through the guide, feel free to share your picks in the comments below. Everyone at PC Perspective would like to wish you a safe and joyous holiday! Thank you for continuing to support the site.

 

Ryan Shrout's Picks

 

iFixIt.com Pro Tech Tool Kit

There comes a time in every tech nerds life when you just don't have the tool for the job and you sit and stare at your trusted Philips screwdriver and curse.  That happened to me while I was taking apart the Nintendo Wii U recently, and I don't want it to happen YOU.  So picking up this kit ahead of time will save you a lot of frustration for not a lot of money.

Inside the packages you'll find a 54-bit driver kit with unique pieces like tri-wing and triangles and...stuff.  Several shapes of tweezers, suction cups, spudgers (prying tools) and even an anti-static wrist strap are included!  For the low, low price of just $59.95.

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AMD A10-5800K Trinity APU

Yes, there are faster processors out there, but that's not the point here.  AMD's Trinity APUs make great for starting your own HTPC, as detailed over the past couple of weeks by our own Chris Barbere's HTPC guide.  For just about $115 you get a quad-core processor that runs as high as 4.2 GHz with an integrated GPU that can handle some 720p and 1080p game at modest quality settings, all for under 100 watts of TDP. 

Be sure to check out Josh's review of the processor as well.

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See more holiday tech picks from our staff in the full article!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Running Windows Media Center for the First Time

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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We’ve finished tweaking our Windows 7 Home Premium installation in preparation for Media Center in our previous installment and now it’s time to get down to the core of our project and finally roll our sleeves up and dive into Media Center itself.  Windows Media Center is an excellent product with an extremely passionate group of fans and one simply needs to check out the Green Button forums or the DTVUSA Forums to find like-minded Cord Cutters.  Considering how well thought out and excellent Media Center is for most ‘set top box’ type tasks, I never understood why Microsoft didn’t put more effort behind pushing it and yet they worked double time to try and push projects like Clippy and the Kin.  Unfortunately, not only has Microsoft not supported Media Center, some of their actions with Windows 8 make it feel like they’re actively working to kill it off.

Regardless, Windows Media Center is still the product to beat for an all in one Cord Cutting solution in my opinion.  While I’m building my media center in Windows 7 Home Premium, if you are building a Windows 8 Media Center, many of the steps will be very similar, if not the same, to what I’m doing here.  Many of the setup screens are mirror images between the two versions of Windows and you should be able to follow along with this guide for Windows 8 as well.  Unless you just absolutely must use Windows 8 for some reason, I highly suggest using Windows 7 for your Media Center as Microsoft has decided to leave some key features out of the Windows 8 version that makes Windows 7 superior in my opinion.

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My Experience: Working through the Windows Media Center setup is much easier to do on a computer monitor as opposed to trying to do it while hooked up to your Television.  We’ll hook our HTPC up to a television when we’re wrapping things up, but in the meantime, save yourself some hassle and just do everything on a monitor.

Continue reading Cutting the Cord Part 4 to “Get Started” with Windows Media Center!

Manufacturer: Seasonic

Introduction and Features

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Seasonic’s G Series includes four new power supplies ranging in output capacity from 360W up to 650W. The G Series was designed for customers who are building small to mid-size systems and they offer high quality but without all the bells and whistles of Seasonic’s popular Platinum and X Series. The new G Series is available in 360W, 450W, 550W, and 650W models. In comparison to the Seasonic Platinum and X Series, the G Series uses a high quality 120mm Adda fan paired with the S2FC fan control, rather than the super Sanyo Denki SanAce fan and S3FC fan control. The 360W model we are reviewing comes with standard fixed cables while the 450W, 550W and 650W models come with a hybrid combination of fixed and modular cables. All power supplies in the G Series are 80 Plus Gold certified and backed by Seasonic’s 5-year warranty.

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Seasonic G Series 360W Power Supply Key Features:

• 80Plus Gold certified and eco-friendly
• DC-to-DC converter design provides superior dynamic response
• Tight voltage regulation (±3%)
• Smart and Silent Fan Control (S2FC)
• High reliability 105°C electrolytic capacitors
• Conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors
• High current gold plated terminals
• 12cm Ball bearing cooling fan
• Ultra ventilation (Honeycomb structure)
• Video card support (one or more PCI-E connectors)
• Universal AC input (Full Range) and Active PFC
• 5-Year Warranty

Please continue reading our Seasonic G Series 360W power supply review!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Installing Windows and Preparing for Media Center

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


Now that we've walked through installing all our hardware in our previous article, we’re ready to install our operating system and configure it to get the most out of Media Center.  As I mentioned before, I originally was planning to do this build with Windows 8 Professional and the Windows 8 Media Center pack, but there’s a few things that Microsoft has removed from Media Center in the new version that make using it for a Media Center a non-starter in my opinion.  Not being able to boot directly into Media Center and having to boot into Metro and then launch Media Center is a deal breaker for me so I fell back to what’s been working great for me these past few years, Windows 7 Home Premium.

 

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Before we even start with our Operating System install, there are a few settings you are going to want to configure in your BIOS/UEFI for the best system performance and stability.

  •  First, ensure that your Hard Drive/SATA controllers are in “AHCI Mode” as opposed to IDE or Legacy IDE.  AHCI stands for “Advanced Host Controller Interface” and offers some features and performance improvements over the old IDE interface such as hot swapping of drives and NCQ (Native Command Queuing). 

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  • Some motherboards will allow you to detect if there is a mouse and/or keyboard connected and stop the boot process if it does not see them.  Since we’ll likely not be running the media center with a mouse/keyboard attached, make sure to disable this.
  • Set the primary hard drive (your SSD or the big spindle drive if you don’t have a SSD) as the First boot device.  You may want to temporarily set the CD/DVD drive to be the First boot device to complete your Windows installation and then go back in and change the First boot device back to your primary hard drive.

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Now that we have our motherboard BIOS/UEFI ready to go, continue reading for the installation and preparation of Windows 7!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer:

What is a HTPC anyways?

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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Continuing with our series on Cutting the Cord and building your own HTPC, we move beyond the "Assessment Phase" we discussed in part one and into the realm of actually building your own Home Theater PC with Windows 7 Media Center.  In Part 2, we walk through our hardware picks for our HTPC.  But before we dive headlong into that, I need to get something off my chest.

 My Experience: /rant on.  When I first planned to write this article, I thought it would be interesting to write a new HTPC building guide soon after Windows 8 was released in order to spotlight Windows 8 Media Center.  While I initially had some concerns with Microsoft’s choice of separating Media Center from Windows 8 itself, and some other issues I heard rumor of, my own experience attempting to build a Windows 8 Media Center would push this long time Microsoft fan to the limits.  Long story short, I spent nearly two days working up the article and building a Windows 8 Media Center only to come to terms with the fact that Microsoft has so jacked with some of the key features of Media Center in Windows 8 that I can’t recommend anyone use it.   With that being said, I had to start over from scratch, rebuilding my HTPC with Windows 7 and doing a complete rewrite of the article.  I want to thank Microsoft for showing us that they care more about cramming the Metro UI down our throats than they care about the passionate Media Center community that has rallied around and supported them these many years.  Anyways, /rant off and back to our previously schedule HTPC building guide.

 The market is currently littered with all manners of bringing content to your television set.  There are devices that help you manage your current cable/satellite television subscription such as TiVo, Xbox with Verizon FIOS, Xbox with Comcast XFinity, or even the Google TV .  There’s devices out there that give you access to additional features above and beyond your television viewing such as the Apple TV, the Roku, or the Boxee Box.  There’s even a slew of “Smart TV’s” and Streaming Sticks that will turn any TV into a Smart TV that are loaded with applications to overlay content or get access to other services.  For the hardcore DiY crowd, there’s also some other options to build your own devices with distributions like MythTV or XBMC (Xbox Media Center).

 

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With so many new boxes, devices and options hitting the street just about every day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood of options.  Luckily Veronica Belmont’s Mega Set Top Box List is still being maintained and has some great information to help you weed through the mess.

 

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With so many options, many of which are $100 or less, you’d think that building a $500-$700 Media Center PC is overkill.  Unfortunately many of these devices will not do everything you want them to do and I’ve not found anything that combines all the capabilities and functions I wanted into a single package as good as Windows Media Center (though the new Boxee TV Box might be a new contender on the block.)  Building and running your own Media Center offers the flexibility and power all in one package to meet every scenario you could throw at it.  You’re not stuck waiting for some developer to get around to writing new firmware or applications to add in support for what you want.  If you can View, Read or Watch it on a Windows desktop, then you can most likely get it working directly through Windows Media Center.  I still don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t licensed or even produced their own device with their excellent Media Center UI. 

 

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Read on to dive headlong into our HTPC build!

Author:
Manufacturer: ASUS

A ton of technology in here

In the world of graphics cards there a lot of also-rans, cards that were released but didn't really leave a mark on the industry.  Reference cards are a dime a dozen (not really, though $0.10 HD 7970s sounds like a great thing to me) and when the only thing vendors can compete on is price it is very hard to make a compelling argument for one card over another.  The ASUS Matrix Platinum HD 7970 that we are looking at today in no way suffers from these problems - it is a custom design with unique features that really give it the ability to stand out from the clogged quarters of the GPU shelf.

As you should expect by now with the ASUS ROG brand, the Matrix HD 7970 not only has a slightly overclocked clock speed on the GPU and memory but also some unique features like VGA Hotwire, TweakIt buttons and more!

ASUS ROG Matrix Design

Before we dive into performance and our experiences in overclocknig the HD 7970 with the ASUS Matrix Platinum we wanted to go over some of the design highlights that make this graphics card unique.  Available in both Matrix and Matrix Platinum (hand picked chips) revisions, this triple-slot design will include a custom built PCB with 20-phase power and quite a bit more. 

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This "exploded" view of the Matrix HD 7970 shows a high-level view of these features with details to follow below.  Some of the features are really aimed at the extreme overclockers that like to get their hands into some LN2 but there is still a lot to offer users that just want to try their hand at getting additional performance through air overclocking. 

ASUS' custom DirectCU II cooler is at work on the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 using all copper heatpipes to help lower temps by 20% compared to the reference HD 7970 while also running quieter thanks to the larger 100mm fans.  These fans can be independently controlled and include the ASUS dust proof fan technology we have seen previously.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 3GB Graphics Card!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

The Skinny about Cutting the Cord

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


There was a time in the not too long past that having a Cable or Satellite TV subscription was just a given.  Like water, phone or electricity, if you wanted to watch anything other than a few local networks or crazy UHF stations you had to pay your local cable /satellite conglomerate a tidy little sum to pump the channels into your TV.

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That’s where I was back in January of 2010.  Staring at a $150 bill for Time Warner Cable with the “Basic Package + HD” and a pair of TiVo’s I began to wonder if I was just wasting money since 80% of our regular viewing consisted of a dozen or so shows scattered across only four or five channels.  Within a month, and after some deliberation, we decided we’d try to ‘cut the cord’ and since that time I’ve happily saved nearly $5,000 that would have been lining the pockets of some Time Warner/TiVo executives.  Ponder that for a moment, $5,000 spent on television.  Even after I factor out the cost of hardware I needed to buy and setup, that’s enough money to buy a new big screen TV every year and then some.

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Regardless of what big cable and satellite companies say, between 2008 and 2011, 2.65 million households dropped cable/satellite subscriptions.  A recent survey found that 9 percent of the people surveyed had cancelled their cable subscriptions in the last year and Time Warner Cable alone has had 10 straight quarters of Pay for TV customer losses.

This multipart series on PC Perspective will walk you through the process of becoming a “Cord Cutter” yourself.  Starting with some thoughts on whether or not cutting the cable is right for you we’ll walk you through everything from start to finish.

  • Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
  • Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
  • Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
  • Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
  • Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options

I’ll also include a few little personal tidbits from My Experiences in my quest to cut the cord and stay that way for the last few years.  

To Cut, or Not to Cut, That is the Question…

While dropping your cable or satellite subscription can save you some serious money, it’s not for everyone.  Television is a central part of the entertainment for many households, and you need to look at it from all angles before you call your provider and tell them you want out.  Cutting the cord may require some concessions and serious changes to the way you get your television content.  While you might not mind some inconvenience, your significant other or children may have a meltdown if they can’t get their regular fix of Honey Boo Boo or Yo Gabba Gabba the moment it’s aired.

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Regardless, with some consideration and pre-work you can determine if cutting the cord is right for you and make the transition nice and smooth if you decide to kick your cable or satellite provider to the curb.

If you’re willing to take that chance, read on to see if Cord Cutting is for you!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of EVGA

Sometimes, good things do come in small packages. The latest board on our test bench from EVGA proves that fact, the EVGA Z77 Stinger. The Z77 Stinger is a micro-ITX form factor board based on the Intel Z77 chipset, but don’t let its size fool you. This board is packed with features and delivers the performance that we’ve come to expect out of its full-size brethren. At a mere $199.99 base price, the EVGA Z77 Stinger would be at home in any enthusiast’s full tower case or HTPC build.

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Courtesy of EVGA

Even with its small stature, the EVGA Z77 Stinger promises to pack some power. It features support for the following: SATA 2, SATA 3, eSATA, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 type devices; two different network types featuring an Intel GigE NIC and an Atheros Bluetooth adapter; PCI-Express x16 3.0 and m-PCIe ports; and HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.1a style video ports. With the addition of an m-PCIe adapter, the board can support onboard Wi-Fi as well.

Continue reading our review of the EVGA Z77 Stinger mini-ITX Motherboard!!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Tt eSPORTS

Thermaltake brings BMW to the mouse

Our friends at Thermaltake recently sent us a fun new toy, the Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M adjustable gaming mouse.  Yes, that's a lot of letters to describe a mouse, but I can assure you this mouse is unlike any you might have seen before. 

Here are the key selling points:

  • Air-through Ventilation
  • 3D Steering
  • Macro / Lighting software
  • RGB LEDs in several places for customization
  • Laser sensor up to 8300 DPI

The idea of the ventilation is to keep your sweaty hands a bit drier and cooler while the 3D steering allows the user to adjust the mouse surface in two different directions (one for height, one for horizontal angle) to find their preferred placement.  The LEDs do allow for some interesting color combinations as long as you are okay with the preset colors that Tt eSPORTS has available in software.

Speaking of software, the application for customization is a little over exaggerated on the "extreme" design cues but enables the feature set you are looking for.  Custom macros can be created and assigned to one of four buttons (A-D) with adjustments for timing, delay, etc.  In addition, you can combine macros, lighting and DPI settings into one of five profiles that you can switch between easily with the thumb stick on the left side of the mouse. 

Even better - all of this information (macros, profiles) is saved in the mouse after you disconnect it and take it to a different PC - no need to install the software to get the presets you configured before.

After a couple of us have used the mouse for a few days in the office, we put together the video below for you to see our thoughts and opinions as well as how the Level 10 M looks and feels.  Even though it was designed in partnership with BMW, a current selling price of $95 on Newegg makes it hard to recommend the mouse to anyone but those of you that know for sure this is the mouse you want to use going forward. 

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For more photos of the Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M gaming mouse, click here!!

Subject: Networking
Manufacturer: ASUS

ASUS RT-N56U Wireless Router Review

On deck for review today is the ASUS RT-N56U “Black Diamond” Dual-band Gigabit Wireless-N Router.  ASUS has a broad stable of networking equipment including wireless adapters, wireless routers, wired networking gear and even some power line networking gear.  Released in late 2010, the RT-N56U is one of the lower cost offerings in ASUS’ Dual Band N series and can be found online for around $99

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ASUS RT-N56U Wireless-N Router Overview

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The media review information supplied to us by ASUS claims the ASUS RT-N56U “Black Diamond” offers “Extreme performance in style.”   The router’s “Aesthetic design” has a “Sexy and stylish approach with streamlined, meticulously designed and well-rounded appearance, just like diamonds sparkling and twinkling in the dark.”  Now I don’t know about you, but if it’s dark, I’m not sure how you see diamond’s twinkling?  But I digress; the RT-N56U is a great looking router, with the black cross hatched lattice surface we liked from previous ASUS routers. 

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Is the ASUS RT-N56U a worthy contender to handle all your router needs?  Read on to find out!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Moving Towards BGA Only?

The sky is falling.  Does this mean that Chicken Little is panicking for no reason or is Chicken Little the Cassandra of our time?  It has been widely reported that Intel will not be offering the next generation Broadwell architecture as a LGA based product.  Broadwell is a 14 nm product that will integrate southbridge functions into the chip, making it essentially a SOC.  It will be offered only as a BGA only product, which means that it will be soldered onto a motherboard with no chance of being able to be swapped out.  Broadwell is the successor to the upcoming Haswell, itself a 22 nm product that features many architectural changes to both the CPU and graphics portion as compared to the current 22 nm Ivy Bridge.

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Will Broadwell be the death of the desktop industry and enthusiasts?  Will LGA become as scarce as chicken teeth?  Will we ever see a product with a swappable CPU after 2014?

Broadwell is aimed at TDPs ranging from 10 watts to 57 watts.  Current high end Ivy Bridge parts max out at 77 watts and do not feature any southbridge type functionality.  So that means that another 5 to 7 watts are added in for the chipset when discussing basic system TDPs.  So we are looking at around 87 watts for a top end product when including SATA and USB functionality.  30 watts is a pretty big deal in OEM circles.  We see right off the bat that Intel is aiming this architecture at a slightly different market, or at least a changing marketplace.

The unease that we are seeing is essentially this; Intel appears to be trying to take more profits from this setup and pass more costs onto the motherboard industry.  This is not necessarily new for Intel, as they did this when transitioning to the LGA socket.  LGA sockets are more expensive and more troublesome for the motherboard manufacturers as compared to a more traditional pin based interface.  AMD continues to use pin based chips as this lowers the cost that is incurred by the motherboard manufacturers, and it also lowers overall support issues.  LGAs are pretty solid, but it is very easy to bend one or more of those contacts so that they in fact do not create a solid connection with the CPU.  This is something that is uncommon with pin based CPUS, but the downside of pin based is that it is more expensive to produce the CPU in the first place as compared to a LGA chip which only features the pads on the substrate of the CPU.

Continue reading our thoughts on Intel's move to BGA processors...

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: OCZ SSD Product Page
Tagged: vector, ssd, sata, ocz, mlc

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction

OCZ has been in the SSD game for quite some time, and has previously done quite well mixing and matching hardware from other vendors into solutions of their own. It was a good way to put out a large array of products, fitting many a niche for a decent cost. Further, OCZ has always been known as somewhat of an underdog who tailored their parts more towards the power user / tweaker crowd. All of that said, they have been taking steps to become more of a major player in the SSD market, and the fruits of that labor begin their payoff today, with the release of the OCZ Vector:

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A new Indilinx Controller?

The Vector comes equipped with a bunch of firsts for OCZ. The controller is OCZ's first 100% in-house part, and has been engineered from the ground up to be as high of a performing part as possible. There has been a paradigm shift within OCZ lately, and the Vector went through a large beta test phase *before* release, as to avoid the need for a series of rapid fire firmware updates just after the product ships. Vector should perform at or near its maximum potential today, not after some firmware updates seen months from now. Here's a look at the controller functional block diagram:

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Read on for the full review!

Manufacturer: LEPA

Introduction and Features

LEPA is a relatively new player in the PC power supply market and they continue to expand their power supply offerings with the introduction of a second generation Gold Series 650W, 750W, and 850W PSUs.  LEPA also offers five other power supplies in the original G Series ranging from 500W all the way up to 1600W! We will be taking a detailed look at LEPA’s new Gold Series 750W PSU in this review.

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Up until now, the LEPA name has traditionally been considered a house-brand for Enermax but the new LEPA Gold Series is manufactured by Channel Well and not Enermax – interesting. ECOMASTER is the authorized US agent for both Enermax and LEPA brand products.

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LEPA Gold 750W Power Supply Key Features:

• 750 watt continuous power output (up to 40°C)
• 80Plus Gold certified to deliver up to 92% efficiency
• Low load, Fanless Mode (=15% load)
• DC-to-DC converter design ensures system reliability
• Double Forward circuit design provides high efficiency
• High efficiency 5VSB circuit helps meet EU ErP Lot 6 (2013) standards
• Solid state capacitors and all Japanese-made capacitors for reliability
• 140mm dual-ball bearing fan with thermal programmed speed control
• Hybrid modular cabling with flat, ribbon-style modular cables
• Powerful single +12V rail (62A) offers great compatibility
• Active PFC (up to 0.99)
• Universal AC input (100-240 VAC) full range
• OP, OV, OT, SC and Brown-out protection
• ATX12V and EPS12V version compliant

Please continue reading our LEPA Gold 750W power supply review!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Ivy Bridge without the HD Graphics

The processor market is kind of stale these days; there aren't a lot of releases and the dominance of Intel in the high-end CPU market kind of makes things uninteresting.  We still have lot of great AMD processors in the low and mid-range markets but if you want a $200+ card part you will probably find your way into the world of Intel.

Today's processor review cuts across segments with a unique twist.  The Intel Core i5-3350P can be picked up at Newegg.com for $189 putting it right in the price point of the AMD FX-8150 (Zambezi) and the AMD FX-8320 (Vishera).  It also undercuts the very popular Intel Core i5-3570K by $50 or so while still offering some impressive performance results.

The only catch: this Ivy Bridge based processor does not include any integrated graphics.

The Intel Core i5-3350P

Intel recently released a couple of Ivy Bridge based processors that have disabled the integrated graphics completely, the 3350P being one of them.  This allows Intel to sell processor die that might have a defect on the GPU portion to increase the relative yield rate of their 22nm process and also gives them another weapon to fight off any pricing competition from AMD.

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Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i5-3350P Ivy Bridge Processor!!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Digital Storm

A small, custom chassis

UPDATE 11/22/2012

Right before the holiday weekend we got an email from Digital Storm detailing some changes to the Bolt system based on ours, and other reviewers, feedback.  Design changes include:

  • "Quieter operation" after moving from a Bronze level 500 watt 1U power supply to a Gold level unit.  I have put that part in quotes because I am hesitant to believe that much has changes on the sound levels of the system; we are still talking about a 1U unit here with two tiny fans.  Until DS publishes some sound level metrics, we'll consider this a modest change.
  • Digital Storm has also given the Bolt "a less glossy and improved external finish" to help prevent fingerprints and dust from reflecting in light.

In addition, there have been some hardware changes in the Level 3 unit that we were sent that are fairly significant:

  • Upgrade from a 60GB cache SSD to a 120GB SSD dedicated to the OS installation.
  • Storage drive lowered from a 1TB to a 500GB
  • Upgrade from a Core i5-3570K to a Core i7-3770K CPU

That is a pretty hefty change in hardware specs, in particular the move from the Core i5-3570K to the i7-3770K.  That increases the CPU performance of the Bolt pretty handily and they were able to do that without raising the price.  

This definitely gives us a better opinion overall for the entire Digital Storm Bolt configuration as tested and makes it a much better option when compared to the other recent systems we have reviewed.

END UPDATE 11/22/2012

A couple of months ago Digital Storm contacted us about a new design they were working on that they claimed would easily become the highest performance, smallest custom PC on the market.  The result of that talk was the new Digital Storm Bolt, a system designed in-house by DS to target PC gamers that want a powerful PC without the bulk of traditional desktop designs.

Digital Storm claims that the Bolt is the "thinnest, most powerful gaming PC ever designed" and we tend to agree.  This is not chassis that you can buy off the shelf but instead was custom designed for this system and actually requires some very specific hardware for it to function completely.  Items like a 1U power supply, 90 degree PCI Express riser extensions and slim-line optical drives aren't found in your standard gaming PCs.

Available in several starting "levels" of configuration, the Digital Storm Bolt can include processors from the Core i3-2100 all the way up to the Core i7-3770K and graphics cards starting at the GTX 650 Ti 2GB and increasing to the GTX 680 2GB.  Our system came with the following hardware:

  • Intel Core i5-3570K @ 4.2 GHz
  • Low Profile CPU Heatsink
  • 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory
  • GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
  • 60GB cache SSD + 1TB 7200 RPM HDD
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WiFi motherboard
  • 1U 500 watt power supply
  • Windows 7 Home Premium x64
  • Custom DS Bolt Chassis

Starting cost for this configuration is $1,599.

Check out our quick video review!

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The box the Bolt ships in is pretty timid compared to some of the crates that have hit our office recently but that's just fine by me.  Due to the small size of the case though I have actually had some laptop boxes (the Alienware M18x comes to mind) that were bigger!

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There she is, the Digital Storm Bolt, a combination of custom steel case design and fingerprint-loving piano black paint.  Measuring just 14-in tall and 3.6-in wide the case is going to be able to fit and blend in places other desktops simply could not.

Continue reading our review of the Digital Storm Bolt system!!

Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Dell

The Dell All-in-One

 

Reviewers, at times, can be somewhat myopic.  I speak for myself in this particular instance.  My job as a writer is to test hardware on a daily basis, and as such I have a very keen understanding (or so I hope) of the intricacies of computer design.  If I need to build a machine, whether for test purposes or something that my wife can play Song Pop on, I have a near infinite variety of components that I can choose from to fit the needs of the project.  As such, we often forget that not everyone has that level of expertise.  Most people, in fact, just want to be able to buy something that not only fits their needs, but also simply just has to work.

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Dog is unimpressed with packaging.  UPS complained profusely though.

This is the reason why we have the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world.  The vast majority of people out there are unwilling to build their own machine and support it themselves.  They neither have the time nor patience to dive in and learn the ins and outs of a modern PC and the software that runs them.  This is not a bad thing.  Just as I do not have the patience to learn how to sew, I still like wearing clothes.  At least during our podcasts.  For the most part.

We must also admit that we are moving well away from the typical beige box that dominated the 90s and early 2000s.  Manufacturers have a much better eye for not only functionality, but also aesthetics.  No longer do we have the hulking CRTs of yesteryear, and neither do we have the large boxes that are nearly indistinguishable from one or another.  Multiple form factors abound and these large manufacturers have design teams that pay very close attention to things like compatibility, power consumption, and thermal dissipation.  With these things in mind, they are able to create unique devices that not just serve the needs of consumers, but also just simply work.

Apple has been at the forefront of this type of design for quite some time.  This is a company that has prized fit, finish, and functionality far more than they have pursued cost cutting and homogenization.  This has lead to much higher margins for the company, and a nearly rabid following by the people buying their platforms.  We certainly can argue that they probably perfected the “all-in-one” machine back in the Macintosh days, and since that time they have not stood still.  The iMac was a further advancement in that field, but the introduction of relatively inexpensive and large LCD panels allowed them to further shrink the all-in-one.  It also allowed them to further sculpt the design into what we see today.

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Everything is nicely supported in the box.

Obviously people around the industry have noticed this trend, and noticed the devoted following of the Apple consumers.  It is hard to miss.  The world is a big place though, and surely there are people who crave the type of design that Apple pushes, but do not necessarily want to jump on that particular bandwagon.  Dell has recognized this and created their XPS One lineup of products.  Not everyone wants to run OSX and pay the Apple tax.  If this is the case for a reader, then this might be the product that catches their attention.

Continue reading our review of the new Dell XPS One 27-in PC!!

Author:
Manufacturer: Nintendo

We go inside the Wii U

Last night after the midnight release of the new Nintendo Wii U gaming console, we did what any self respecting hardware fan would do: we tore it apart.  That's right, while live on our PC Perspective Live! page, we opened up a pair of Wii U consoles, played a couple of games on the Deluxe while we took a tri-wing screwdriver to the second.  Inside we found some interesting hardware (and a lot more screws) and at the conclusion of the 5+ hour marathon, we had a reassembled system with only a handful of leftover screws!

If you missed the show last night we have archived the entire video on our YouTube channel (embedded below) as well as the photos we took during the event in their full resolution glory.  There isn't much to discuss about the teardown other than what we said in the video but I am going to leave a few comments after each set of four images.

OH!  And if you missed the live event and want to be apart of another one, we are going to be holding a Hitman: Absolution Game Stream on our Live Page sponsored by AMD with giveaways like Radeon graphics cards and LOTS of game keys!  Stop by again and see us on http://pcper.com/live on Tuesday the 20th at 8pm ET.

 

During the stream we promised photos of everything we did while taking it apart, so here you go!  Click to get the full size image!

 

Getting inside the Wii U was surprisingly easy as the white squares over the screws were simply stickers and we didn't have to worry about any clips breaking, etc.  The inside is dominated by the optical drive provided by Panasonic.

Continue reading to see ALL the images from our Nintendo Wii U Teardown!!

Subject: Networking
Manufacturer: Amped Wireless

Amped Wireless R20000G and UA2000 Introduction

Continuing with our networking adapter and router reviews, today we have a pair of devices on tap from a relative newcomer to the home and office networking field, Amped Wireless.  Founded in 2007, they began selling Wi-Fi products in 2010.  In those 2 years they’ve already pushed out a wide array of Routers, Range Extenders, Access Points, USB Adapters and Antennas/Boosters.  While they don’t have the history of Cisco, Netgear or D-Link, it’s great to see new companies entering the fray as more competition can only benefit the consumer.

 

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 Today we’re looking at their flagship High Power Router, the Wireless-N 600mw Gigabit Dual Band R20000G as well as one of their leading USB adapters, the High Power Wireless-N Directional Dual Band UA2000.  List price for the router and adapter is $169 and $99 respectively, but the router and adapter can be found online for about $10 less each at Newegg.

 

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Continue reading our review of the Amped Wireless R20000G Router and UA2000 Adapter!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and Specs

Introduction

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Courtesy of ECS

As part of their Black Extreme line of motherboards, the ECS Z77H2-AX pairs the promise of performance and a mile-long feature list with looks that could kill. We decided to put this board through the paces, throwing our normal suite of benchmark and functionality tests to see how well it lived up to its reputation. The ECS Z77H2-AX seems to be well priced at its $309.99 base price with all the higher-end features and bling built into the board.

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Courtesy of ECS

From the initial unboxing of the board, I was dumbstruck. ECS literally gold-plated every heat-producing surface on this board, giving it a very unique look and feel. The board itself has no shortage of features with SATA 2, SATA 3, mSATA, and eSATA ports, support for 3 different networking types, and enough USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports for anyone.

Continue reading our review of the ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Motherboard!!