Razer Blade Haswell Gaming Notebook is Damn Sexy, Powerful

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | June 12, 2013 - 08:47 PM |
Tagged: E3, razer, blade, haswell, gtx 765m, geforce

With the launch of Intel's Haswell processor, accessory maker-turned notebook vendor Razer announced a pretty slick machine, the Blade.  Based on a quad-core, 37 watt Core i7 Haswell CPU and a GeForce GTX 765M GPU, the Razer Blade packs a lot of punch.

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It also includes 8GB of DDR3-1600 memory, an mSATA SSD and integrates a 14-in 1600x900 display.  The design of the unit looks very similar to that of the MacBook Pro but the black metal finish is really an attractive style change. 

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The embedded battery is fairly large at 70 Whr and Razer claims this will equate to a 6 hour battery life when operating non-gaming workloads.  With a weight just barely creeping past 4 lbs, the Razer Blade is both portable and powerful it seems.

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The price tag starts at $1799 so you won't be able to pick one of these up on the cheap, but for users like me that are willing to pay a bit more for performance and style in a slim chassis, the Blade seems like a very compelling option.  There are a lot of questions left to answer on this notebook including the thermal concerns of packing that much high frequency silicon into a thin and light form factor.  Does the unit get hot in bad places?  Can the screen quality match the performance of Haswell + Kepler? 

We are working with Razer to get a model in very soon to put it to the test and I am looking forward to answering if we have found the best gaming portable on the market.

Oculus VR Rift HD 1080p Prototype Headset Impresses

Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | June 12, 2013 - 08:24 PM |
Tagged: Oculus, oculus rift, VR, E3

I have been a big proponent of the Oculus Rift and its move into the world of consumer-ready VR (virtual reality) technology.  I saw it for the first time at Quakecon 2012 where Palmer Luckey and John Carmack sat on stage and addressed the new direction.  Since then we saw it at CES and finally got in our own developer kit last month for some extended hands-on.

While I have definitely been impressed with the Rift in nearly every way while using it, the first thing anyone says when putting on the headset for the first time is about the graphics - the resolution of the unit was just too low and it creates a "screen door" effect because of it.  As I wrote in my first preview:

I will say that the low resolution is definitely a barrier for me.  Each eye is only seeing a 640x800 resolution in this version of the kit and that close up you can definitely see each pixel.  Even worse, this creates a screen door effect that is basically like looking through a window with a screen installed.  It's not great but you could get used to it if you had to; I am just hoping the higher resolution version of this kit is closer.

At E3 2013 the team at Oculus was able to put together a very early prototype of an HD version of the screen.  By using a new 1920x1080 display each eye is able to see 960x1080; roughly twice the pixel density of the initial developer kit.

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I got to spend some time with the higher resolution model today and I have to say that the difference is striking - and instantly noticeable.  Gone was the obvious screen door effect and I was able to focus purely on the content.  The content itself was new as well - Oculus and Epic were showing the Unreal Engine 4 integration with a custom version of the Elemental demo.  The colors were crisp, the effects were amazing and only in a couple of rare instances of solid white color did we notice the black lines that plagued the first version.

As of now Oculus doesn't have plans to offer an updated developer kit with the 1080p screen installed but you just never know.  They are still looking at several different phone screens and haven't made any final decisions on which direction to go but they are definitely close.

When I inquired about improvements on head tracking latency and accuracy to aid in motion sickness concerns (like I seem to have) Oculus was hesitant to say there was any single fix.  Instead, a combination of lower latency, better hardware and even better thought out content were key to reducing these effects in gamers.

E3 2013: Monoprice Shows New 27-in and 30-in High-Res, Low Cost Monitors

Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | June 12, 2013 - 07:58 PM |
Tagged: wqxga, wqhd, monoprice, ips, E3, 2560x1440

While wandering the halls at E3 to talk with NVIDIA and AMD about the future of gaming, I ran across a small booth with Monoprice in it.  If you don't know Monoprice, it is an online seller of electronics and cables and much of its merchandise can be found throughout the offices at PC Perspective.

In recent months Monoprice made news with PC gamers as one of the first major retailers to begin selling the low-cost 27-in 2560x1440 monitors shipping from Korea.  While the monitors are likely very much the same, buying from a local company in the US rather than trusting an eBay buyer in Korea brings a lot of peace of mind to the transaction.  Getting a dead pixel and 1 year warranty along with it helps too.

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On hand at E3 was the Monoprice IPS-ZERO-G Monitor that runs at a 2560x1440 resolution with a single dual-link DVI input.  This is an updated to the first model Monoprice shipped with a newer, thinner design and an even better $390 price point

Monoprice also is offering a model with an internal scalar that allows the display to include additional inputs like HDMI, VGA and DisplayPort.  The 27-in IPS-G Pro will sell for $474 and will also be tuned for AdobeRGB and sRGB options. 

In addition to the two 27-in models, Monoprice also has added 30-in 2560x1600 monitors: the IPS CrystalPro and the IPS Pro with the same primary differentiation - input support. 

I am looking forward to getting my hands on these Monoprice display options to see if they can live up to the levels of the other Korean-built displays we have in the office.  If they do, then I think we have a new reason for PC gamers to celebrate.

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Another interesting find at the booth were some new HDMI cables using a RedMere controller on the connector to allow for extremely thin (and long) runs.  First shown at CES in 2008, the RedMere RM1689 chip runs solely on the power provided by the HDMI output and allows cables to use much less copper to create thinner designs.  They will obviously cost a bit more than standard options but you can see from the photo above the difference is striking. 

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A necessary gesture

NVIDIA views the gaming landscape as a constantly shifting medium that starts with the PC.  But the company also sees mobile gaming, cloud gaming and even console gaming as part of the overall ecosystem.  But that is all tied together by an investment in content – the game developers and game publishers that make the games that we play on PCs, tablets, phones and consoles.

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The slide above shows NVIDIA targeting for each segment – expect for consoles obviously.  NVIDIA GRID will address the cloud gaming infrastructure, GeForce and the GeForce Experience will continue with the PC systems and NVIDIA SHIELD and the Tegra SoC will get the focus for the mobile and tablet spaces.  I find it interesting that NVIDIA has specifically called out Steam under the PC – maybe a hint of the future for the upcoming Steam Box?

The primary point of focus for today’s press meeting was to talk about the commitment that NVIDIA has to the gaming world and to developers.  AMD has been talking up their 4-point attack on gaming that starts really with the dominance in the console markets.  But NVIDIA has been the leader in the PC world for many years and doesn’t see that changing.

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With several global testing facilities, the most impressive of which exists in Russia, NVIDIA tests more games, more hardware and more settings combinations than you can possibly imagine.  They tune drivers and find optimal playing settings for more than 100 games that are now wrapped up into the GeForce Experience software.  They write tools for developers to find software bottlenecks and test for game streaming latency (with the upcoming SHIELD). They invest more in those areas than any other hardware vendor.

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This is a list of technologies that NVIDIA claims they invented or developed – an impressive list that includes things like programmable shaders, GPU compute, Boost technology and more. 

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Many of these turned out to be very important in the development and advancement of gaming – not for PCs but for ALL gaming. 

Continue reading our editorial on NVIDIA's stance on it's future in PC gaming!!

WWDC 13: Dissecting Apple's New Hardware Changes. MacBook Air and the new Mac Pro.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 11, 2013 - 04:06 AM |
Tagged: wwdc 13, MacBook Air, Mac Pro, apple

Sometimes our "Perspective" is needed on Apple announcements because some big points just do not get covered by the usual sources. Other times, portions of the story can be relevant to our readers. This is one of those days where both are true. Either side should review our thoughts and analysis of Apple's recent ultrabook and, especially, their upcoming desktop offerings.

The MacBook Air has been, predictably, upgraded Intel's Haswell processors. Battery life is the first obvious benefit of the CPU, and that has been well reported. The 11-inch MacBook Air gains an extra four hours of battery life, usable for up to 9 hours between charges. The extra space on the 13-inch MacBook Air allows it to last 12 hours between charges.

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Less discussed, both MacBook Airs will contain Intel's Iris iGPU more commonly known as Intel HD 5000. You cannot get Intel HD 5000 graphics without selecting a BGA socket component which you would install by soldering it in place. While there are several better solutions from competing GPU vendors, Apple will have one of the first shipping implementations of Haswell's canonical graphics processor. Iris is said to have double the performance of previous generation Ivy Bridge graphics for a fraction of its power consumption.

Also included in the MacBook Air is an 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi network adapter and Bluetooth 4.0. Apple is not typically known to introduce new standards and often lags severely behind what is available on the PC unless they had a hand in trademarking it, USB 3.0 being the obvious and recent example.

The specifications will be somewhat customizable, the user is able to select between: an i5 and an i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128, 256, or 512GB SSD. It has shipped the day it was announced with base prices ranging between $999 for an entry-level 11-inch and $1099 for an entry-level 13-inch.

But now we move on to the dying industry, desktop PCs, where all innovation has died unless it is to graft a touch interface to anything and everything.

"Can't innovate any more, my ass", grunts Phil Schiller, on the keynote stage.

Whether you like it, or think "innovation" is the best word, it's a legitimate new design some will want.

While the new Mac Pro is not a system that I would be interested in purchasing, for issues I will outline soon, these devices are what some users really want. I have been a very strong proponent of OEM devices as they highlight the benefit of the PC industry: choice. You can purchase a device, like the new Mac Pro, from a vendor; alternatively, you can purchase the components individually to assemble yourself and save a lot of money; otherwise, you can hire a small business computer store or technician.

We need more companies, like Apple, to try new devices and paradigms for workstations and other high-performance devices. While it is less ideal for Apple to be the ones coming up with these redesigns, Apple's platform encourages applications to be vendor-specific (only run on a Mac), it can still benefit the PC industry by demonstrating that life and demand still exists; trying something new could reap large benefits. Not everyone wants to have a full ATX case with discrete components but still want workstation performance, and that is okay.

Now when it comes to actual specifications, the typical coverage glossed over what could be easily approximated by a trip to Wikipedia and Google. Sure, some may have been in a rush within the auditorium, but still.

The specifications are:

  • Intel Xeon E5-2600 V2-class CPU, Ivy Bridge-E, 12 cores max (suggests single-socket)
  • 4-channel DDR3 ECC RAM, apparently 4 DIMMS which suggests 4x16GB (Max).
  • Dual FirePro GPUs, 4096 total shaders with 2x6GB GDDR5.
  • PCIe SSD
  • Thunderbolt 2, USB3.0, and WiFi ac (+ a/b/g/n??), Bluetooth 4.0

Now the downside is that basically anything you wish to add to the Mac Pro needs to be done through Thunderbolt, Bluetooth 4.0, or USB 3.0. When you purchase an all-in-one custom design, you forfeit your ability to reach in and modify the components. There is also no mention of pricing, and for a computer with this shoplist you should expect to pay a substantial invoice even without "The Apple Tax", but that is not the point of purchasing a high-end workstation. Apple certainly put in as close to the best-of-the-best as they could.

Now could people stop claiming the PC is dead and work towards sustaining it? I know people love stories of jarring industry shifts, but this is ridiculous.

Source: Apple

Computex 2013: The Comedic Return of the Ultra GPUs

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | June 10, 2013 - 02:49 AM |
Tagged: Ultra, geforce titan, computex

So long to Computex 2013, we barely knew thee. You poured stories all over our news feed for more than a whole week. What say you, another story for the... metaphorical road... between here... and... Taipei? Okay, so the metaphorical road is bumpy and unpaved, work with me.

It was substantially more difficult to decipher the name of a video card a number of years ago. Back then, products would be classified by their model numbers and often assigned a suffix like: "Ultra", "Pro", or "LE". These suffixes actually meant a lot, performing noticeably better (or maybe worse) than the suffix-less number and possibly even overlapping with other number-classes.

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Image Credit: zol.com.cn via Tom's Hardware

Just when they were gone long enough for us to miss them, the suffixes might make some measure of a return. On the show floor, Colorful exhibited the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Ultra Edition. This card uses a standard slightly-disabled GK110-based GeForce GTX Titan GPU, with the usual 2688 CUDA cores, and 6GB of GDDR5. While the GK110 chip has potential for 2880 CUDA cores, NVIDIA has not released any product (not even Tesla or Quadro) with more than 2688 CUDA cores enabled. Colorful's Titan Ultra and the reference Titan are electrically identical; this "Ultra" version just adds a water block for a cooling system and defaults to some amount of a factory overclock.

But, this is not the first time we have heard of a Titan Ultra...

Back in April, ExtremeTech found a leak for two official products: the GTX Titan LE and the GTX Titan Ultra. While the LE would be slightly stripped down compared to the full GTX Titan, the GTX Titan Ultra would be NVIDIA's first release of a GK110 part without any CUDA cores disabled.

So if that rumor ends up being true, you could choose between Colorful's GTX Titan Ultra with its partially disabled GK110 based on the full GTX Titan design; or, you could choose the reference GTX Titan Ultra based on a full GK110 GPU unlike the partially disabled GK110 on the full GTX Titan.

If you are feeling nostalgic... that might actually be confusion... as this is why suffixes went away.

E3 2013: Serious Sam 4, Humble Bundle, 4 Serious?

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 08:21 PM |
Tagged: serious sam, E3 13, E3

We still have another 5-or-so days left on the Serious Sam Humble Weekly Sale and so if you were interested in donating a bunch of money for mindless shooters, you still have a chance. Also, you apparently have another reason to do so.

Crowdfunding is popular these days, we even did it. Basically anyone can set up a project, collect money from random people on the internet, and give perks in return. In this case, according to PC Gamer, Croteam is apparently using revenue collected from the Humble Bundle to fund the creation of the next Serious Sam: Serious Sam 4.

If you wish to snag a bunch of Serious Sam games for yourself or your friends, all while supporting Croteam and their future titles, then donate to the Humble Sale by Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at (I believe) 2PM EDT. By the way, that is the last official day of E3.

Source: PC Gamer

E3 2013: Thief trailer & confirmed PC, PS4, and Xbox One

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 06:24 PM |
Tagged: E3, E3 13, thief, Thief 4

The pre-expo press conferences are still three days out but only suckers want to get swamped in the press coverage, right? It is like people who leave work two days early to beat the traffic caused by people leaving a day early from a long weekend to beat traffic. This is all like that, if it were directed by Michael Bay.

And speaking of live action E3 movies, Eidos released a trailer for their upcoming Thief reboot. I really cannot tell which sections are in-engine, which are pre-rendered, and which are live action. As for the game? Well, all I know is that you are going to be stealing stuff.

Thief will be coming to the PC, PS4, and Xbox One sometime in 2014.

Let us play a little game here: what do you think is in-engine; what do you think is pre-rendered; and what do you think is live action? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Eidos

Computex 2013: New Haswell-Ready PSUs From SeaSonic Pictured

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | June 7, 2013 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: seasonic, PSU, m12II evo, m12II bronze, haswell, computex 2013, computex

Following Intel's announcement of new Haswell sleep states, various power supply manufacturers have released compatibility lists detailing which PSUs are able to deliver the low load necessary to support the power sipping sleep states on the 12V rail (which has not been much of a concern until Haswell).

One such PSU manufacturer was Seasonic, who has quite a few Haswell-ready power supplies across several lineups including its Platinum, G, and M12II series, among others. Included in that compatibility list were two new power supplies that Seasonic is showing off at Computex this week: the Seasonic Platinum 1200 and Seasonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition.

SeaSonic Platinum 1200

The Platinum 1200 is a high-end modular power supply that is capable of powering beefy multi-GPU setups. It is 80+ Platinum rated and is up to 92% efficient at 50% load.

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Sesonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition

The Seasonic M12II Bronze Evo Edition is an updated version on past models and includes two SKUs that come in at 750W and 850W. It is a fully modular unit with flat black cables and fan control tech. It is 80+ Bronze and Energy Star rated, and is compatible with Intel's 4th Generation Core processors.

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Also read: The full list of Haswell-compatible Seasonic power supplies @ PC Perspective.

Source: SeaSonic

E3 2013: Bludgeon that horse again! Xbox One DRM

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 08:46 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, E3 13, E3

So heading up to E3, Microsoft decided to drop their DRM bombshell so it would get buried over the next couple of days. In terms of permissiveness, the Xbox One is not nearly as bad as feared; of course, it is still terrible in certain ways.

Microsoft will allow games to be played offline on the Xbox One... for 24 hours. If your internet connection has been offline for longer than that period (unclear whether the timer starts when internet goes out or from last update) then your system will be locked to live TV and disc-based movies. Games and apps, even ones which should have no online functionality, will cease to function until you reconnect with Xbox servers.

This also means that if the Xbox servers have an outage lasting between 24 hours and "taken offline forever", all gaming and apparently apps will cease to function on the Xbox One.

And people wonder why I freak out about Windows Store.

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It's like if Wall-E grew a Freddie Mercury

But at least they will allow some level of used-game transfer... if the publisher agrees. Check out this statement from Microsoft Studios:

In our role as a game publisher, Microsoft Studios will enable you to give your games to friends or trade in your Xbox One games at participating retailers. Third party publishers may opt in or out of supporting game resale and may set up business terms or transfer fees with retailers. Microsoft does not receive any compensation as part of this. In addition, third party publishers can enable you to give games to friends. Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.

So this will be an interesting experiment: how will revenue and profitability be affected for game publishers who deny used game sales? I honestly expect that used game sales actually promote the purchasing of more games and that initiatives to limit used game transfers will reduce user engagement. Of course Microsoft is now taking all of the flak from Sony, who may or may not be considering the same practice, but I am sure at least Microsoft is hoping that everyone will forget this when shiny new trailers erase the collective gamer memory.

In return, however, Microsoft is being fairly permissive when it comes to how many users can be licensed on a single disk. Up to ten family members are allowed access to your collective library.

And, after all, it should not be a surprise that a console game disappears when Microsoft shuts down their servers: consoles were always designed to be disposable. I have been proclaiming that for quite some time. The difference is now, people cannot really deny it.

Source: Microsoft