Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Design

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The next candidate in our barrage of ThinkPad reviews is the ThinkPad Yoga, which, at first glance, might seem a little bit redundant.  After all, we’ve already got three current-gen Yoga models to choose from between the Yoga 2 11- and 13-inch iterations and the Yoga 2 Pro top-end selection.  What could possibly be missing?

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer:

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

A few months back, we took a look at the ADATA Premier Pro SP920 series of SSDs. Those came equipped with the Marvell 88SS9189 controller. Marvell SSD controllers have always done a good job, and they were among the first to support SATA 6Gbit speeds. Crucial was one of the first to adopt the Marvell controller into their SATA SSD products, so it seems fitting that we revisit the 88SS9189 controller in the form of Micron's Crucial M550 Series of SSDs:

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Being one of the big manufacturers of SSDs, Micron has some cool production videos. Here's one of their videos covering the production of flash all the way through to the assembly of an SSD. We actually toured one of these plants a few years back. Good stuff:

Continue reading as we evaluate all available capacities of the Crucial M550!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital
Tagged: wdc, WD, Red Pro, red, hdd, 6tb, 4TB

Introduction and Specs

Introduction:

*** NOTE ***

In the preparation for this review, we noted abnormal behavior with the 6TB Red. After coordination with Western Digital, they replicated our results and will be issuing a firmware to correct the issue. We are publishing this piece as-is, with caveats added as appropriate. We will revisit this piece with an additional update once we have retested the 6TB Red on the updated firmware / configuration. More information / detail is available in our related news post on this matter.

*** END NOTE ***

Last year we covered the benefits of TLER enabled drives, and the potential for drive errors in a RAID can lead to the potential loss of entire arrays. Western Digital solved this problem by their introduction of the WD Red series. That series was since incrementally updated to include a 4TB capacity, and other Western Digital lines were also scaled up to 4TB capacities.

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This week the Red line was updated to include both 5TB and 6TB models, sporting 1.2TB per platter. Performance is expected to be slightly improved over the older / smaller capacities of the Red. The upgraded line will use an improved 'NASware 3.0' firmware, which makes improvements to Western Digital's software based vibration compensation. These improvements mean WD can now support up to 8 Reds in a single chassis (up from 5 with NASware 2.0).

Also announced was the new Red Pro line, available in capacities up to 4TB. The Red Pro is just as it sounds - a 'Pro' version of the Red. This model borrows more features from WD's enterprise line, making it very similar to an SE series HDD. Imagine a Red, but at 7200RPM and more aggressive seek times. The Red Pro also borrows the enterprise-grade 5-year warranty and is supported in chassis up to 16 bays, thanks to built-in hardware vibration compensation. When all is said and done, the Red Pro is basically a WD SE with firmware tweaked for NAS workloads.

As a recap of what can potentially happen if you have a large RAID with 'normal' consumer grade HDD's (and by consumer grade I mean those without any form of Time Limited Error Recovery, or TLER for short):

  • Array starts off operating as normal, but drive 3 has a bad sector that cropped up a few months back. This has gone unnoticed because the bad sector was part of a rarely accessed file.
  • During operation, drive 1 encounters a new bad sector.
  • Since drive 1 is a consumer drive it goes into a retry loop, repeatedly attempting to read and correct the bad sector.
  • The RAID controller exceeds its timeout threshold waiting on drive 1 and marks it offline.
  • Array is now in degraded status with drive 1 marked as failed.
  • User replaces drive 1. RAID controller initiates rebuild using parity data from the other drives.
  • During rebuild, RAID controller encounters the bad sector on drive 3.
  • Since drive 3 is a consumer drive it goes into a retry loop, repeatedly attempting to read and correct the bad sector.
  • The RAID controller exceeds its timeout threshold waiting on drive 3 and marks it offline.
  • Rebuild fails.
  • Blamo, your data is now (mostly) inaccessible.

I went into much further detail on this back in the intro to the WD 3TB Red piece, but the short of it is that you absolutely should use a HDD intended for RAID when building one.

Continue reading our review of the new WD 6TB Red and 4TB Red Pro!!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Redefining Price/Performance with AMD Motherboards

Motherboards are fascinating to me.  They always have been.  I remember voraciously reading motherboard reviews in the mid-90s.  I simply could not get enough of them.  Some new chipset from SiS, VIA, or ALi?  I scoured the internet for information on them and what new features they would bring to the table.  Back then motherboards did not have the retail presence they do now.  The manufacturers were starting to learn to differentiate their products and cater to the enthusiasts who would not only buy and support these products, but also recommend them to friends/family/the world.

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Today motherboards are really the foundation for any PC build.  Choosing a motherboard is no longer just picking up some whitebox board that has a 440 BX chipset.  Now users are much more active in debating what kind of features they need, what kind of feedback has this manufacturer received from consumers, what kind of ratings the board has on Amazon or Newegg.  Features like build quality or overclocking performance sway users from company to company and product to product.

In the past 15 years or so we have seen some pretty rigid guidelines for pricing of motherboards.  The super cheap “PC Chips” style motherboards existed below the $90 range.  The decent, but unexciting motherboards with the bare minimum of features would go from $90 to $150.  The $150 and beyond products were typically considered enthusiast class motherboards with expanded features, better build quality, and more robust power delivery options.  Thankfully for consumers, this model is being shaken up by the latest generation of products from AMD.

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MSI insures that everything is nicely packed and protected in their black and red box.

I mentioned in the previous Gigabyte G1.Sniper.A88X review that AMD and its partners do not have the luxury of offering a $150 and above FM2+ motherboard due to the nature (and pricing) of the latest FM2+ APUs.  I am fairly sure the amount of people willing to spend $200 on a motherboard to house a $179 APU that seemingly overclocks as well on a cheap board as it does a more expensive one (meaning, not very well at all) is pretty low.  If there is one bright side to the latest Kaveri APUs, it is that the graphics portion is extremely robust in both graphics and OpenCL applications.  The hope for AMD and users alike is that HSA will in fact take off and provide a significant performance boost in a wide variety of applications that typically require quite a bit of horsepower.

Click here to read the entire MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Review!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

SHIELD Tablet with new Features

It's odd how regular these events seem to come. Almost exactly one year ago today, NVIDIA launched the SHIELD gaming device, which is a portable Android tablet attached to a controller, all powered by the Tegra 4 SoC. It was a completely unique device that combined a 5-in touchscreen with a console-grade controller to build the best Android gaming machine you could buy. NVIDIA did its best to promote Android gaming as a secondary market to consoles and PCs, and the frequent software updates kept the SHIELD nearly-up-to-date with the latest Android software releases. 

As we approach the one year anniversary of SHIELD, NVIDIA is preparing to release another product to add to the SHIELD family of products: the SHIELD Tablet. Chances are, you could guess what this device is already. It is a tablet powered by Tegra K1 and updated to support all SHIELD software. Of course, there are some new twists as well.

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The NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet is being targeted, as the slide above states, at being "the ultimate tablet for gamers." This is a fairly important point to keep in mind as you we walk through the details of the SHIELD tablet, and its accessories, as there are certain areas where NVIDIA's latest product won't quite appeal to you for general purpose tablet users. 

Most obviously, this new SHIELD device is a tablet (and only a tablet). There is no permanently attached controller. Instead, the SHIELD controller will be an add-on accessory for buyers. NVIDIA has put a lot of processing power into the tablet as well as incredibly interesting new software capabilities to enable 10-ft use cases and even mobile Twitch streaming.

Continue reading our preview of the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet and Controller powered by Tegra K1!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Xiaomi

The First with the Tegra K1 Processor

Back in May a Chinese company announced what was then the first and only product based on NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 SoC, the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9. Since then we have had a couple of other products hit our news wire including Google’s own Project Tango development tablet. But the Xiaomi is the first to actually be released, selling through 50,000 units in four minutes according to some reports. I happened to find one on Aliexpress.com, a Chinese sell-through website, and after a few short days the DHL deliveryman dropped the Tegra K1 powered machine off at my door.

If you are like me, the Xiaomi name was a new one. A privately owned company from Beijing and has become one of China’s largest electronics companies, jumping into the smartphone market in 2011. The Mi Pad marks the company’s first attempt at a tablet device, and the partnership with NVIDIA to be an early seller of the Tegra K1 seems to be making waves.

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The Tegra K1 Processor

The Tegra K1 SoC was first revealed at CES in January of 2014, and with it came a heavy burden of expectation from NVIDIA directly, as well as from investors and the media. The first SoC from the Tegra family to have a GPU built from the ground up by NVIDIA engineers, the Tegra K1 gets its name from the Kepler family of GPUs. It also happens to get the base of its architecture there as well.

The processor of the Tegra K1 look very familiar and include four ARM Cortex-A15 “r3” cores and 2MB of L2 cache with a fifth A15 core used for lower power situations.  This 4+1 design is the same that was introduced with the Tegra 4 processor last year and allows NVIDIA to implement a style of “big.LITTLE” design that is unique.  Some slight modifications to the cores are included with Tegra K1 that improve performance and efficiency, but not by much – the main CPU is very similar to the Tegra 4.

The focus on the Tegra K1 will be on the GPU, now powered by NVIDIA’s Kepler architecture.  The K1 features 192 CUDA cores with a very similar design to a single SMX on today’s GeForce GTX 700-series graphics cards.  This includes OpenGL ES3.0 support but much more importantly, OpenGL 4.4 and DirectX 11 integration.  The ambition of bringing modern, quality PC gaming to mobile devices is going to be closer than you ever thought possible with this product and the demos I have seen running on reference designs are enough to leave your jaw on the floor.

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By far the most impressive part of Tegra K1 is the implementation of a full Kepler SMX onto a chip that will be running well under 2 watts.  While it has been the plan from NVIDIA to merge the primary GPU architectures between mobile and discrete, this choice did not come without some risk.  When the company was building the first Tegra part it basically had to make a hedge on where the world of mobile technology would be in 2015.  NVIDIA might have continued to evolve and change the initial GPU IP that was used in Tegra 1, adding feature support and increasing the required die area to improve overall GPU performance, but instead they opted to position a “merge point” with Kepler in 2014.  The team at NVIDIA saw that they were within reach of the discontinuity point we are seeing today with Tegra K1, but in truth they had to suffer through the first iterations of Tegra GPU designs that they knew were inferior to the design coming with Kepler.

You can read much more on the technical detail of the Tegra K1 SoC by heading over to our launch article that goes into the updated CPU design, as well as giving you all the gore behind the Kepler integration.

By far the most interesting aspect of the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9 tablet is the decsion to integrate the Tegra K1 processor. Performance and battery life comparisons with other 7 to 8-in tablets will likely not impact how it sells in China, but the results may mean the world to NVIDIA as they implore other vendors to integrate the SoC.

Continue reading our review of the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9 tablet powered by Tegra K1!!

Author:
Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Corsair

Need 128GB at 450 MB/s in your pocket?

We don't normally do reviews on USB flash drives, even if they are USB 3.0 based. But the Corsair Flash Voyager GTX turned out to be a bit different. Not only is this a USB 3.0 capable thumb drive, it is powered by an SSD controller, pushing performance as high as 460 MB/s in our testing! Add to that capacity options of 128GB and 256GB and you have a flash drive that really stands out from majority of the market.

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Check out the video review below that Allyn and I made about the Corsair Flash Voyager GTX 128GB flash drive and then continue on to see some more pictures and our quick benchmark results.

The Flash Voyager GTX is a bit large in pantheon of USB thumb drives but it's actually smaller than I expected it when I heard the capacity options available. You'll definitely be able to keep this around your neck or in your pocket without noticing it and you may still be able to keep it on your key ring. 

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What do you do with 128GB or 256GB of flash drive? Well, other than the obvious of having a huge capacity drive for your "sneaker net" implementation at your home or office, you can investigate more interesting usage models. If you are looking for a more secure place to store sensitive files that you don't want on your home or work PC full time, just keep them on the Flash Voyager GTX and plug it into a USB 3.0 port when you want access. You'll get performance on par with an SSD but the ability to quickly disconnect it.

Continue reading our review of the Corsair Flash Voyager GTX 128GB USB 3.0 SSD Flash Drive!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The ASUS Z97-WS motherboard is the latest release for the workstation board line with several evolutionary changes over its predecessor to take advantage of the Intel Z97 chipset features. ASUS changed little as far as the layout goes from the Z87 revision of the board, updating the board aesthetics with a richer gold and black coloration which is carried over into the board's capacitors and MOSFETs as well. The Z97-WS also features both SATA-Express and M.2 ports as well as optimizations to its CPU power circuitry to enhance the CPU 's performance potential and optimize power utilization. ASUS priced the Z97-WS competitively with a $289.00 MSRP in comparison to boards from other manufacturers with a similar feature set.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS designed the Z97-WS motherboard with an enhanced power delivery system, optimized to deliver the necessary power to the CPU with minimized power loss from excessively stressed components. The Z97-WS comes standard with eight digital power phases, featuring a new revision of the Dr MOS MOSFETs, Beat Thermal chokes, and Japanese-sourced 12k-hr rated solid capacitors. The Beat Thermal chokes offer up to 93% load-based power efficiency, resulting from the thermal-sensitive packaging design with integrated cooling fins as well as a specialized gold coating. The ASUS integrated the following features into the Z97-WS' design: four SATA 3 ports; an M.2 (NGFF) 10 Gb/s port; two SATA Express 10 Gb/s ports; an eSATA port; dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet NICs - an Intel I218-LV and an Intel I210-AT; four PCI-Express Gen3 x16 slots; one PCI-Express Gen2 x4 slot; two PCI-Express Gen2 x1 slots; dual 2-digit diagnostic LED displays; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, MemOK!, Q-Code Logger, and BIOS Flashback buttons; TPU, EPU, Dr. Power, and EZ_XMP switches; Realtek 8-channel audio solution; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.

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Courtesy of ASUS

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Z97-WS motherboard!

Manufacturer: Corsair

Features and Specifications

Introduction

Corsair is on a roll in 2014 as they continue to expand their PC enclosure lineup. Today we are taking a detailed look at Corsair’s new Graphite Series 760T Arctic White Full-Tower Windowed case (the 760T is also available in black). In addition to the 760T, the Graphite Series currently includes the 730T Full-tower, the 600T Mid-Tower, and the 230T Compact Mid-Tower cases.  And Corsair continues to offer one of the largest selections of memory products, SSDs, power supplies, coolers, gaming peripherals, and PC accessories currently on the market today!

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760T Arctic White (with white LED fans)                    760T Black (with red LED fans)

The new Graphite Series 760T is a large full-tower enclosure that supports numerous motherboards ranging in size from mini-ITX up to Extended ATX and XL-ATX form factors. Corsair states the 760T is a visually stunning case and we have to agree; it made an outstanding first impression, which continued as we spent more time working with the case.

The Graphite Series 760T Arctic White Full-Tower Windowed case features two swing-out side panel doors that can be easily removed when working on the case. The left side panel incorporates a large smoked-acrylic window. The 760T offers internal storage locations for up to six 3.5”/2.5” HDD/SSDs with four more locations for 2.5” SSDs. The case comes with three Corsair AF140L fans pre-installed and provides mounting locations for up to eight fans total. And if you want to include water-cooling in your build, the 760T supports numerous options for mounting different fan/radiator combinations in single, dual and triple 120mm and single or dual 240mm sizes.

Key Features for the Corsair Graphite Series 760T Full-Tower Windowed Case:
•    Stylish, elegant design with swing-out side panel doors
•    Large full-tower enclosure with smoked acrylic side window
•    Supports mini-ITX, micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, and XL-ATX motherboards
•    Two 140 LED intake fans and one 140mm exhaust fan included
•    Built-in two speed fan controller
•    Locations for up to eight total case fans
•    Supports 120mm, 240mm, and 360mm radiators for water-cooling
•    Modular drive cage system for highly customizable layouts
•    Three external 5.25” drive bays
•    Six internal 3.5”/2.5” drive bays
•    Four internal 2.5” SSD drive bays
•    Removable mesh dust filters on front panel and under PSU
•    External I/O panel with two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports
•    Excellent cable routing with rubber grommets around cutouts
•    Designed for fast and straight forward builds

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Please continue reading our Corsair 760T Case review!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

Introduction and Packaging

Introduction:

Late last year, Western Digital launched their My Cloud series, first with a single-drive My Cloud, and immediately followed up with a beefier small-office product, the 4-drive My Cloud EX4. Then earlier this year, they filled My Cloud gap (so to speak), with a 2-drive variant of the EX4 - the My Cloud EX2. As the EX2 was more of a business type of NAS, it commanded a bit of a price premium as compared to competing 2-bay NAS devices. The logical solution is was for WD to expand the standard My Cloud lineup upward by adding a 2-bay device to their existing consumer line.

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The My Cloud Mirror is very similar to the My Cloud EX2. You get the bulk of the same features as compared with the EX2, but with some of the more workstation / enterprise features removed. Here's a couple of slides to help explain those differences:

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Packaging:

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Packaging is simple, with only a power adapter, ethernet cable, and quick start guide needed.

Read on for more on Western Digital's new My Cloud Mirror!

Author:
Manufacturer: Puget Systems

Clearly a contender

Open air cases are a pretty niche market. The number of DIY users that are interested or willing to have their components fully exposed need to have some specific goals in mind. You could be a full time overclocker, looking for easy access to the CPU socket for LN2 or to hit that BIOS reset button. You could also be an enthusiast that is always swapping out components so the ability to bypass getting under a desk and removing a door makes things faster. Or you could just be a show off and want to be certain your friends and family see the gear you have purchased to power your PC gaming.

Just don't be someone with curious cats. 

Puget Systems is a high end system builder based in the north west United States and though they don't plan on making a living selling these open air cases, called the Puget Systems EATX V1 Test Bench, they decided if they were making it, they might as well sell it too. Used primarily for the company's own internal testing and evaluation, the open air test bench is an acrylic structure that holds the power supply and storage on a bottom level along with the motherboard and other components up top, totally open to the elements.

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It is expensive though, at $170.

The stand out features include support for a 120mm or even 240mm water cooler mount, triple GPU support and of course, as the name implies, the capability to hold EATX motherboards. Check out the full video review above and if you just want to see some more photos, click the link below!

Continue to see some more photos of the Puget Systems Test Bench EATX Version 1!!

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!!