Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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XSPC Raystorm D5 Photon RX480 V3 WaterCooling Kit
Courtesy of XSPC

XSPC is well known in the water cooling community for their high performance, yet affordable cooling product design. XSPC's latest release comes in the form of their Raystorm D5 Photon RX480 V3 WaterCooling kit, featuring a massive 480mm (4 x 120mm) radiator, a Photon 170 Reservoir with integrated D5 pump, and a Raystorm CPU block. They were kind enough to provide us with a sample of this kit to see how it stacks up against other liquid and air coolers we've tested previous. With a retail price at $314.99, the kit comes at a premium price, but remains a fair price considering the components included in the kit.

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D5 Photon 170 Reservoir/Pump Combo
Courtesy of XSPC

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D5 Photon 170 Reservoir/Pump Combo with LED
Courtesy of XSPC

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RX480 Quad Fan Radiator V3
Courtesy of XSPC

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Raystorm CPU Waterblock
Courtesy of XSPC

XSPC bundled in many of their high end components into the Raystorm D5 Photon RX480 V3 kit, including the Raystorm CPU block, the RX480 quad fan radiator, the D5 Photon 170 reservoir / pump, two meters of 7/16" inner diameter / 5/8" outer diameter clear tubing, black chrome compression barbs, four 1650 RPM 120mm fans, four fan guards, both Intel and AMD bracket/mounting kits, LEDs for both the reservoir and CPU block, and all the hardware necessary to put it all together. The Photon 170 reservoir is capable of holding up to 410mL of liquid, direct feeding the inlet of the integrate D5 pump. XSPC's D5 pump can process up to 1200 lph (liters per hour) of fluid, translating to a US-style flowrate of about 5 gpm (gallons per minute). All components are copper, brass, Acetal, or glass to minimize the possibility of mixed-metal corrosion occurring in the loop.

Continue reading our review of the XSPC Raystorm D5 Photon RX480 V3 water cooling kit!

Manufacturer: Intel

When Magma Freezes Over...

Intel confirms that they have approached AMD about access to their Mantle API. The discussion, despite being clearly labeled as "an experiment" by an Intel spokesperson, was initiated by them -- not AMD. According to AMD's Gaming Scientist, Richard Huddy, via PCWorld, AMD's response was, "Give us a month or two" and "we'll go into the 1.0 phase sometime this year" which only has about five months left in it. When the API reaches 1.0, anyone who wants to participate (including hardware vendors) will be granted access.

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AMD inside Intel Inside???

I do wonder why Intel would care, though. Intel has the fastest per-thread processors, and their GPUs are not known to be workhorses that are held back by API call bottlenecks, either. Of course, that is not to say that I cannot see any reason, however...

Read on to see why, I think, Intel might be interested and what this means for the industry.

Author:
Manufacturer: MSI

The Radeon R9 280

Though not really new, the AMD Radeon R9 280 GPU is a part that we really haven't spent time with at PC Perspective. Based on the same Tahiti GPU found in the R9 280X, the HD 7970, the HD 7950 and others, the R9 280 fits at a price point and performance level that I think many gamers will see as enticing. MSI sent along a model that includes some overclocked settings and an updated cooler, allowing the GPU to run at its top speed without much noise.

With a starting price of just $229 or so, the MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming graphics cards has some interesting competition as well. From the AMD side it butts heads with the R9 280X and the R9 270X. The R9 280X costs $60-70 more though and as you'll see in our benchmarks, the R9 280 will likely cannibalize some of those sales. From NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 760 is priced right at $229 as well, but does it really have the horsepower to keep with Tahiti?

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Continue reading our review of the MSI Radeon R9 280 3GB Gaming Graphics Card!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of MSI

The MSI Z97 XPower motherboard is the flagship board in their Overclocking Series line of motherboards, optimized over the previous version XPower board to take advantage of the Intel Z97 Express chipset and Intel 5th generation Core processors. The design and the layout of the board remain reminiscent of that from the Z87 XPower with several components shifted to other locations to open up space and other switched out to be replaced by updated technologies. The most obvious changes to the board are the inclusion of integrated water barbs in the CPU VRM sink and the reduction of the integrated CPU power phases to 16 (from 32-power phases on the previous generation board). The board's color scheme is less diverse as well, with all integrated components colored to match the black and yellow theme. At a base MSRP of $399.99, the Z97 XPower carries a premium price to match its premium feature set.

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Courtesy of MSI

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Courtesy of MSI

The Z97 XPower motherboard was designed with 16 digital power phases for powering the CPU. The board alos comes standard with MSI's Military Class 4 digital components to maximize the board's performance potential, including Hi-C and Dark capacitors with super ferrite chokes and DrMOS MOSFET chips. To aid in cooling the CPU power circuitry and integrated PLX, MSI included a hybrid cooling solution into the sinks surrounding the CPU socket. The heat sinks can use traditional air cooling, or be hooked into an existing water loop using the provided 3/8" barbs.MSI integrated in the following components into the Z97 XPower's design: 10 SATA 3 ports; one M.2 10 Gb/s ports; an Intel I218-V GigE NIC; an Intel 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth adapter; five PCI-Express x16 slots for up to quad-card NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire support; two PCI-Express x1 slots; a 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, BIOS reset, cpu ratio control, base clock control, OC Genie, power discharge, and Go2BIOS buttons; Slow Mode boot,OC Genie mode, DirectOC mode, Multi-BIOS, and PCIe control switches; Realtek audio solution with isolated audio PCB and Nippon Chemi-con audio capacitors; dedicated per-channel headphone OP-AMPs; integrated V-Check voltage measurement points; hybrid VRM cooling solution; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of MSI

Continue reading our review of the MSI Z97 XPower motherboard!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction

Samsung has certainly been pushing the envelope in the SSD field. For the past two years straight, they have launched class leading storage products, frequently showing outside-the-box thinking. Their 840 PRO series was an impressive MLC performer to say the least, but even more impressive was the 840 EVO, which combined cost-efficient TLC flash with a super-fast SLC cache. The generous SLC area, present on each die and distributed amongst all flash chips within the drive, enabled the EVO to maintain PRO-level performance for the majority of typical consumer (and even power user) usage scenarios. The main win for the EVO was the fact that it could be produced at a much lower cost, and since its release, we've seen the EVO spearheading the push to lower cost SSDs.

All of these innovations might make you wonder what could possibly be next. Today I have that answer:

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If you're going "Hey, they just changed the label from 840 to 850!", well, think again. This SSD might have the same MEX controller as its predecessor, but Samsung has done some significant overhauling of the flash memory itself. Allow me to demonstrate.

Here's standard (2D) flash memory, where the charge is stored on a horizontal plane:

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..and now for 3D:

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The charges (bits) are not stored at the top layer. They are stored within all of those smaller, thinner layers below it. You're still looking at a 2D plane (your display), so here's a better view:

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Read on as we dive even deeper into this awesome new 3D flash technology!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: OCZ Storage Solutions

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

OCZ's RevoDrive series has been around for quite some time. We reviewed the first of the series over four years ago, and they just kept coming after that initial launch

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The full line of (now legacy) Revo / Z-Drive series products.

With the recent acquisition by Toshiba, it was only a matter of time before OCZ revamped the RevoDrive line with their new flash. It just makes sense, as Toshiba can be obtained much more readily (and cheaply) since they are now an in-house source for OCZ. With the Vector 150 and Vertex 460 already driving 19nm Toshiba flash, we now have the RevoDrive 350:

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We suspected they might also count this as an update to the Revo line and not just a flash swap, so with a sample to test, let's see what's what!

Read on for our full review!

Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction, Hardware, and Subjective Feel

This review comes before the end of the pre-order period. The reason why I targeted that deadline is because the pre-order perks are quite significant. First, either version of the mouse is listed for about $50 off of its MSRP (which is half price for the plastic version). EVGA also throws in a mouse pad for registering your purchase. The plastic mouse is $49.99 during its pre-order period ($99.99 MSRP) and its carbon fiber alternative is $79.99 ($129.99 MSRP). EVGA has supplied us with the plastic version for review.

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Being left-handed really puts a damper on my choice of gaming mice. If the peripheral is designed to contain thumb buttons, it needs to either be symmetric (because a right hand's thumb buttons would be controlled by my pinky or ring finger) or be an ergonomic, curved mouse which comes in a special version for lefties that is mirrored horizontally (which is an obvious risk, especially when the market of left-handed gamers is further split by those who learned to force themselves to use right-handed mice).

Please read on to see my thoughts on the EVGA Torq X10

Introduction and Features

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SilverStone was one of the first PC power supply manufacturers to design and market a fanless power supply for silent operation.  While many of their competitor’s fanless products have come and gone, SilverStone continues to build on their reputation and recently added the SST-NJ520 520W fanless power supply to the Nightjar Series, which currently includes three models: NJ520, ST50NF, and ST40NF. The Nightjar 520W PSU incorporates premium quality components and a state of the art design to deliver high efficiency (80 Plus Platinum certified), tight voltage regulation (±2%), and clean DC outputs. The new NJ520 fanless power supply comes with fully modular, flat ribbon-style cables that provide 4+4 pin ATX12V/EPS and 6+2 pin PCI-E connector support.

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Here is what SilverStone has to say about their new fanless 520W PSU: “SilverStone’s Nightjar NJ520 is a fanless power supply that offers a whole new experience of quietness and stability. Its premium components and engineering helped it achieve 80 Plus Platinum level of efficiency, reducing wasted heat and enabling reliable operation without a fan. This noiseless performance can be maintained with stringent electrical characteristics even in 40°C operating environments.

As a versatile power supply, the NJ520 has a powerful +12V output of 43A for high-end system usage and its flexible, flat modular cables make assembly easy for improved case airflow. For professionals looking to build PCs or workstations for specialized settings such as recording studios or sound-optimized laboratories, the Nightjar series PSUs with their consistent emphasis on quality, stability, and reliability, are sure to satisfy.

SilverStone Nightjar NJ520 Power Supply Key Features:

•    Fanless thermal solution, 0 dBA acoustics
•    High efficiency with 80 Plus Platinum certification
•    100% Modular cables
•    Strict ±2% voltage regulation and low AC ripple & noise
•    Class leading single +12V rail, up to 43A (516W)
•    Four PCI-E 6+2 pin connectors
•    Protections: OCP, OVP, OPP, OTP, UVP, and SCP
•    Universal AC input and Active PFC
•    MSRP $149.99 USD

Please continue reading our SilverStone NJ520 fanless power supply review!

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Various

The Road to 1080p

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The stars of the show: a group of affordable GPU options

When preparing to build or upgrade a PC on any kind of a budget, how can you make sure you're extracting the highest performance per dollar from the parts you choose? Even if you do your homework comparing every combination of components is impossible. As system builders we always end up having to look at various benchmarks here and there and then ultimately make assumptions. It's the nature of choosing products within an industry that's completely congested at every price point.

Another problem is that lower-priced graphics cards are usually benchmarked on high-end test platforms with Core i7 processors - which is actually a necessary thing when you need to eliminate CPU bottlenecks from the mix when testing GPUs. So it seems like it might be valuable (and might help narrow buying choices down) if we could take a closer look at gaming performance from complete systems built with only budget parts, and see what these different combinations are capable of.

With this in mind I set out to see just how much it might take to reach acceptable gaming performance at 1080p (acceptable being 30 FPS+). I wanted to see where the real-world gaming bottlenecks might occur, and get a feel for the relationship between CPU and GPU performance. After all, if there was no difference in gaming performance between, say, a $40 and an $80 processor, why spend twice as much money? The same goes for graphics. We’re looking for “good enough” here, not “future-proof”.

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The components in all their shiny boxy-ness (not everything made the final cut)

If money was no object we’d all have the most amazing high-end parts, and play every game at ultra settings with hundreds of frames per second (well, except at 4K). Of course most of us have limits, but the time and skill required to assemble a system with as little cash as possible can result in something that's actually a lot more rewarding (and impressive) than just throwing a bunch of money at top-shelf components.

The theme of this article is good enough, as in, don't spend more than you have to. I don't want this to sound like a bad thing. And if along the way you discover a bargain, or a part that overperforms for the price, even better!

Yet Another AM1 Story?

We’ve been talking about the AMD AM1 platform since its introduction, and it makes a compelling case for a low cost gaming PC. With the “high-end” CPU in the lineup (the Athlon 5350) just $60 and motherboards in the $35 range, it makes sense to start here. (I actually began this project with the Sempron 3820 as well, but it just wasn’t enough for 1080p gaming by a long shot so the test results were quickly discarded.) But while the 5350 is an APU, I didn't end up testing it without a dedicated GPU. (Ok, I eventually did but it just can't handle 1080p.)

But this isn’t just a story about AM1 after all. Jumping right in here, let's look at the result of my research (and mounting credit card debt). All prices were accurate as I wrote this, but are naturally prone to fluctuate:

Tested Hardware
Graphics Cards

MSI AMD Radeon R7 250 2GB OC - $79.99

XFX AMD Radeon R7 260X - $109.99

EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 - $109.99

EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti SC - $153.99

Processors

AMD Athlon 5350 2.05 GHz Quad-Core APU - $59.99

AMD Athlon X2 340X 3.2 GHz Dual-Core CPU - $44.99.

AMD Athlon X4 760K 3.8 GHz Quad-Core CPU - $84.99

Intel Pentium G3220 3.0 GHz Dual-Core CPU - $56.99

Motherboards

ASRock AM1B-ITX Mini-ITX AMD AM1 - $39.99

MSI A88XM-E45 Micro-ATX AMD A88X - $72.99

ECS H81H3-M4 Micro-ATX Intel H81 - $47.99

Memory 4GB Samsung OEM PC3-12800 DDR3-1600 (~$40 Value)
Storage Western Digital Blue 1TB Hard Drive - $59.99
Power Supply EVGA 430 Watt 80 PLUS PSU - $39.99
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit - $99

So there it is. I'm sure it won't please everyone, but there is enough variety in this list to support no less than 16 different combinations, and you'd better believe I ran each test on every one of those 16 system builds!

Keep reading our look at budget gaming builds for 1080p!!

Manufacturer: Noctua
Tagged:

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of Noctua

Noctua is well known among enthusiasts for their high performance and sonically tolerable processor cooling solutions. Their U-series coolers combine unrivaled cooling performance with an innovative design to ensure quiet operation and motherboard compatibility. The NH-U12S is composed of a single aluminum-finned radiator with five nickel-plated copper heat pipes seamlessly integrated into the copper base plate. For performance testing of the NH-U12S cooler, we put it up against other high-performance liquid and air-based coolers. With a retail MSRP of $69.99, the NH-U12S CPU cooler is an affordable solution offering superior cooling potential.

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Courtesy of Noctua

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Courtesy of Noctua

Noctua construct the NH-U12S cooler for optimal heat transfer between the processor and its 125mm wide aluminum radiator. The NH-U12S contains a total of five heat pipes directly integrated into the copper base plate, terminating on each side of the aluminum-finned radiator. The use of copper heat pipes allows for optimal heat transfer of heat from the processor to the aluminum radiator fins and ultimately the air medium. To facilitate this transfer, Noctua paired the NH-U12S with their NF-F12 120mm, 1500RPM fan. The fan features rubber cover plates on all four corners to minimize fan vibration and vibration transfer to the radiator, further reducing fan noise. The CPU base plate is seamless and polished to a mirror finish, ensuring an optimal mating surface.

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SecureFirm2™ LGA115x mount kit
Courtesy of Noctua

Noctua bundles their SecureFirm2™ mounting kits for using the NH-U12S with any current AMD or Intel socket motherboard. Also included are the Noctua-branded NF-F12 120mm 1500RPM fan, NT-H1 thermal paste, a PWM power splitter cable, and two sets of fan mounts (four mounts total) for use with up to two fans with the unit.

Continue reading our review of the Noctua NH-U12S CPU air cooler!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of EVGA

The Z97 Classified motherboard is among EVGA's newest offerings in their Intel Z97 line of products. EVGA improved upon their previous revision Classified boards, adding in support for 5th generation Intel Core processors through integration with the Intel Z97 chipset. Most flagship motherboard command a premium price with the Z97 Classified being no exception. It's $379.99 MSRP may price it out of reach for many enthusiasts, but its integrated components and overclocking-friendly features more than justify the price.

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Courtesy of EVGA

EVGA designed the Z97 Classified board with an 8-phase digital power delivery system for the CPU, ensuring a stable system under any operational conditions. The Z97 Classified has the following integrated features: eight SATA 3 ports; an mSATA/mPCI-E port; dual Intel GigE NIC ports; five PCI-Express x16 slots; a PCI-Express x1 slot; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, and dual CMOS clear buttons; triple BIOS switche; PCIe disable switch jumper block; integrated EZ Voltage measurement points; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of EVGA

Continue reading our review of the EVGA Z97 Classified motherboard!

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Design

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It was only last year that we were singing the praises of the GT60, which was one of the fastest notebooks we’d seen to date. Its larger cousin, the GT70, features a 17.3” screen (versus the GT60’s 15.6”), faster CPUs and GPUs, and even better options for storage. Now, the latest iteration of this force to be reckoned with has arrived on our desks, and while its appearance hasn’t changed much, its performance is even better than ever.

While we’ll naturally be spending a good deal of time discussing performance and stability in our article here, we won’t be dedicating much to casing and general design, as—for the most part—it is very similar to that of the GT60. On the other hand, one area on which we’ll be focusing particularly heavily is that of battery life, thanks solely to the presence of NVIDIA’s new Battery Boost technology. As the name suggests, this new feature employs power conservation techniques to extend the notebook’s life while gaming unplugged. This is accomplished primarily via frame rate limiting, which is a feature that has actually been available since the introduction of Kepler, but which until now has been buried within the advanced options available for such products. Battery Boost basically brings this to the forefront and makes it both accessible and default.

Let’s take a look at what this bad boy is packing:

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Not much commentary needed here; this table reads like a who’s who of computer specifications. Of particular note are the 32 GB of RAM, the 880M (of course), and the 384 GB SSD RAID array (!!). Elsewhere, it’s mostly business as usual for the ultra-high-end MSI GT notebooks, with a slightly faster CPU than the previous model we reviewed (the i7-4700MQ). One thing is guaranteed: it’s a fast machine.

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Continue reading our review of the MSI GT70 2PE Gaming Notebook!!

Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Features and Specifications

Introduction

As the popularity and availability of small form factor PC components continues to grow, more companies are coming out with new enclosures that support this expanding market.  Today, we are taking a detailed look at Cooler Master’s latest entry into the mini-ITX arena; the Elite 110 case. It’s amazing just how powerful a PC can be built around one of the latest mini-ITX motherboards and how much hardware can be stuffed into a small cube. In addition to basic computing needs, the Elite 110 enclosure offers a great many expansion options, with support for overclocking, a high end graphics adapter, up to four HDD/SSDs, a full size ATX power supply, and even water-cooling; all inside a small ~10” cube!

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Cooler Master Elite 110 mini-ITX case key features:
•    Small footprint: 280 x 208 x 260 mm (11.1 x 9.2 x 10.3”)
•    Supports mini-ITX motherboard
•    Front mesh panel with vents on both sides and top
•    One 120mm intake fan in front (included) or one 140mm fan (optional)
•    Two 80mm fans on the side (optional)
•    Supports a 120mm radiator in front for water-cooling
•    Supports a standard length ATX PSU (up to 180mm)
•    Supports one dual-slot graphics card (up to 210mm length)
•    Supports up to three 3.5” HDDs / four 2.5” SSDs
•    External I/O panel with two USB 3.0 ports
•    Blue LED On/Off switch on front panel

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Specifications for the Elite 110 case (Courtesy of Cooler Master):

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Please continue reading our Cooler Master Elite 110 Case review!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Seagate
Tagged: sshd, Seagate, hybrid, 4TB

Introduction

Introduction

We've looked at many hybrid options over the past few years. First we checked out Intel's RST Caching solution, introduced on the Z68 chipset. Then we looked into Seagate's first few rounds of SSHD's, which were basically a standard HDD with an 8GB cache tacked on to the controller. Despite larger adoption of SSD's taking place, Seagate continues to push further into the hybrid market, with the addition of dual mode caching and other advancements. Today we take a look at their most recent push:

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Yup, that's 4TB of hybrid goodness right there. No doubt this is a desktop class product, but how well can it handle desktop workloads?

Read on for the full review!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Gigabyte

FM2+ Has a High End?

AMD faces a bit of a quandary when it comes to their products.  Their APUs are great at graphics, but not so great at general CPU performance.  Their products are all under $200 for the CPU/APU but these APUs are not popular with the enthusiast and gaming crowd.  Yes, they can make excellent budget gaming systems for those who do not demand ultra-high resolutions and quality settings, but it is still a tough sell for a lot of the mainstream market; the primary way AMD pushes these products is price.

Perhaps the irony here is that AMD is extremely competitive with Intel when it comes to chipset features.  The latest A88X Fusion Control Hub is exceptionally well rounded with four native USB 3.0 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports, and eight SATA-6G ports.  Performance of this chipset is not all that far off from what Intel offers with the Z87 chipset (USB and SATA-6G are slower, but not dramatically so).  The chip also offers RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 support as well as a 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC (but a physical layer chip is still required).

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Now we get back to price.  AMD is not charging a whole lot for these FCH units, even the top end A88X.  I do not have the exact number, but it is cheap as compared to the competing Intel option.  Intel’s chipset business has made money for the company for years, but AMD does not have that luxury.  AMD needs to bundle effectively to be competitive, so it is highly doubtful that the chipset division makes a net profit at the end of the day.  Their job is to help push AMD’s CPU and APU offerings as much as possible.

These low cost FCH chips allow motherboard manufacturers to place a lot of customization on their board, but they are still limited in what they can do.  A $200+ motherboard simply will not fly with consumers for the level of overall performance that even the latest AMD A10 7850K APU provides in CPU bound workloads.  Unfortunately, HSA has not yet taken off to leverage the full potential of the Kaveri APU.  We have had big developments, just not big enough that the majority of daily users out there will require an AMD APU.  Until that happens, AMD will not be viewed favorably when it comes to its APU offerings in gaming or high performance systems.

The quandary obviously is how AMD and its motherboard partners can create inexpensive motherboards that are feature packed, yet will not break the bank or become burdensome towards APU sales?  The FX series of processors from AMD do have a bit more leeway as the performance of the high end FX-8350 is not considered bad, and it is a decent overclocker.  That platform can sustain higher motherboard costs due to this performance.  The APU side, not so much.  The answer to this quandary is tradeoffs.

Click here to read the entire review of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper A88X!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Plextor

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

You might not expect it from who was originally an optical drive company, but Plextor has been cranking out SSDs for a while now. We will be taking a look at the recent wave of releases from Plextor, starting with the M6M:

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This SSD contains the same Marvell 88SS9188 controller seen in the Crucial M550, MX100, and ADATA SP920 SSDs, but with additional firmware tweaks claimed by Plextor.

Let's dive right in. Read on for our full review!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

The Z97X-SOC Force motherboard is the premier offering in GIGABYTE's Overclocking Series of boards. The overclocking series boards are designed with enhancements and features meant to appeal to enthusiasts and professional overclockers alike. The Z97X-SOC Force board deign is based on the previous generation Z87X-OC Force, featuring the same black and orange coloration typical to the series. The board does contain several evolutionary changes making the board easier to use and more appealing to its target users. At an MSRP of $209.99, the Z97X-S0C Force is competitively priced to appeal to all levels of enthusiasts.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE enhanced the board power regulation system designed into the current generation boards, allowing for use of a simplified cooling and fewer power phases. As a result, the Z97X-SOC Force is packed with 8-phase digital power circuit for the CPU, using International Rectifier (IR) based PowIRstage digital controllers and 10k-rated black solid capacitors to ensure system stability under any conditions. The Z97X-SOC Force board comes standard with the following integrated features: six SATA 3 ports; one SATA Express 10 Gb/s ports; a Qualcomm® Atheros Killer E2201 NIC; four PCI-Express x16 slots; a PCI-Express x1 slots; two PCI slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, CMOS battery clear, OC Ignition, OC Tag, OC Turbo, OC Touch, Settings Lock, Direct to BIOS, and Memory Safe buttons; Dual-BIOS, active BIOS, and IC Trigger switches; OC PCIe and OC DIMM switch jumper blocks; integrated voltage measurement points; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

Continue reading our review of the GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC Force motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A powerful architecture

In March of this year, NVIDIA announced the GeForce GTX Titan Z at its GPU Technology Conference. It was touted as the world's fastest graphics card with its pair of full GK110 GPUs but it came with an equally stunning price of $2999. NVIDIA claimed it would be available by the end of April for gamers and CUDA developers to purchase but it was pushed back slightly and released at the very end of May, going on sale for the promised price of $2999.

The specifications of GTX Titan Z are damned impressive - 5,760 CUDA cores, 12GB of total graphics memory, 8.1 TFLOPs of peak compute performance. But something happened between the announcement and product release that perhaps NVIDIA hadn't accounted for. AMD's Radeon R9 295X2, a dual-GPU card with full-speed Hawaii chips on-board, was released at $1499. I think it's fair to say that AMD took some chances that NVIDIA was surprised to see them take, including going the route of a self-contained water cooler and blowing past the PCI Express recommended power limits to offer a ~500 watt graphics card. The R9 295X2 was damned fast and I think it caught NVIDIA a bit off-guard.

As a result, the GeForce GTX Titan Z release was a bit quieter than most of us expected. Yes, the Titan Black card was released without sampling the gaming media but that was nearly a mirror of the GeForce GTX 780 Ti, just with a larger frame buffer and the performance of that GPU was well known. For NVIDIA to release a flagship dual-GPU graphics cards, admittedly the most expensive one I have ever seen with the GeForce brand on it, and NOT send out samples, was telling.

NVIDIA is adamant though that the primary target of the Titan Z is not just gamers but the CUDA developer that needs the most performance possible in as small of a space as possible. For that specific user, one that doesn't quite have the income to invest in a lot of Tesla hardware but wants to be able to develop and use CUDA applications with a significant amount of horsepower, the Titan Z fits the bill perfectly.

Still, the company was touting the Titan Z as "offering supercomputer class performance to enthusiast gamers" and telling gamers in launch videos that the Titan Z is the "fastest graphics card ever built" and that it was "built for gamers." So, interest peaked, we decided to review the GeForce GTX Titan Z.

The GeForce GTX TITAN Z Graphics Card

Cost and performance not withstanding, the GeForce GTX Titan Z is an absolutely stunning looking graphics card. The industrial design started with the GeForce GTX 690 (the last dual-GPU card NVIDIA released) and continued with the GTX 780 and Titan family, lives on with the Titan Z. 

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The all metal finish looks good and stands up to abuse, keeping that PCB straight even with the heft of the heatsink. There is only a single fan on the Titan Z, center mounted, with a large heatsink covering both GPUs on opposite sides. The GeForce logo up top illuminates, as we have seen on all similar designs, which adds a nice touch.

Continue reading our review of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Z 12GB Graphics Card!!

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

A refresh for Haswell

Intel is not very good at keeping secrets recently. Rumors of a refreshed Haswell line of processors have been circulating for most of 2014.  In March, it not only confirmed that release but promised an even more exciting part called Devil's Canyon. The DC parts are still quad-core Haswell processors built on Intel's 22nm process technology, but change a few specific things. 

Intel spent some time on the Devil's Canyon Haswell processors to improve the packaging and thermals for overclockers and enthusiasts. The thermal interface material (TIM) that lies in between the die and the heat spreader has been updated to a next-generation polymer TIM (NGPTIM). The change should improve cooling performance of all currently shipping cooling solutions (air or liquid), but it is still a question just HOW MUCH this change will actually matter. 

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You can also tell from the photo comparison above that Intel has added capacitors to the back of the processor to "smooth" power delivery. This, in combination with the NGPTIM, should enable a bit more headroom for clock speeds with the Core i7-4790K.

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In fact, there are two Devil's Canyon processors being launched this month. The Core i7-4790K will sell for $339, the same price as the Core i7-4770K, while the Core i5-4690K will sell for $242. The lower end option is a 3.5 GHz base clock, 3.9 GHz Turbo clock quad-core CPU without HyperThreading. While a nice step over the Core i5-4670K, it's only 100 MHz faster. Clearly the Core i7-4790K is the part everyone is going to be scrambling to buy.

Another interesting change is that both the Core i7-4790K and the Core i5-4690K enable support for both Intel's VT-d virtualization IO technology and Intel's TSX-NI transactional memory instructions. This makes them the first enthusiast-grade unlocked processors from Intel to support them!

As Intel states it, the Core i7-4790K and the Core i5-4690K have been "designed to be used in conjunction with the Z97 chipset." That being said, at least one motherboard manufacturer, ASUS, has released limited firmware updates to support the Devil's Canyon parts on Z87 products. Not all motherboards are going to be capable, and not all vendors are going to the spend the time to integrate support, so keep an eye on the support page for your specific motherboard.

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The CPU itself looks no different on the top, save for the updated model numbering.

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Core i7-4790K on the left, Core i7-4770K on the right

On the back you can see the added capacitors that help with stable overclocking.

The clock speed advantage that the Core i7-4790K provides over the Core i7-4770K should not be overlooked, even before overclocking is taken into consideration. A 500 MHz base clock boost is 14% higher in this case and in those specific CPU-limited tasks, you should see very high scaling.

Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i7-4790K Devil's Canyon CPU!!

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Manufacturer: MSI

Lightning Returns

With the GPU landscape mostly settled for 2014, we have the ability to really dig in and evaluate the retail models that continue to pop up from NVIDIA and AMD board partners. One of our favorite series of graphics cards over the years comes from MSI in the form of the Lightning brand. These cards tend to take the engineering levels to a point other designers simply won't do - and we love it! Obviously the target of this capability is additional overclocking headroom and stability, but what if the GPU target has issues scaling already?

That is more or less the premise of the Radeon R9 290X Lightning from MSI. AMD's Radeon R9 290X Hawaii GPU is definitely a hot and power hungry part and that caused quite a few issues at the initial release. Since then though, both AMD and its add-in card partners have worked to improve the coolers installed on these cards to improve performance reliability and decrease the LOUD NOISES produced by the stock, reference cooler.

Let's dive into the latest to hit our test bench, the MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning.

The MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning

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MSI continues to utilize the yellow and black color scheme that many of the company's high end parts integrate and I love the combination. I know that both NVIDIA and AMD disapprove of the distinct lack of "green" and "red" in the cooler and box designs, but good on MSI for sticking to its own thing. 

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The box for the Lightning card is equal to the prominence of the card itself and you even get a nifty drawer for all of the included accessories.

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We originally spotted the MSI R9 290X Lightning at CES in January and the design remains the same. The cooler is quite large (and damn heavy) and is cooled by a set of three fans. The yellow fan in the center is smaller and spins a bit faster, creating more noise than I would prefer. All fan speeds can be adjusted with MSI's included fan control software.

Continue reading our review of the MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning Graphics Card!!