Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Steiger Dynamics

Overview

Often times, one of the suggestions of what to do with older PC components is to dedicate it to a Home Theater PC. While in concept this might seem like a great idea, you can do a lot of things with full control over the box hooked up to your TV, I think it's a flawed concept.

With a HTPC, some of the most desired traits include low power consumption, quiet operation, all while maintaining a high performance level so you can do things like transcode video quickly. Older components that you have outgrown don't tend to be nearly as efficient as newer components. To have a good HTPC experience, you really want to pick components from the ground up, which is why I was excited to take a look at the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC.

As it was shipped to us, our Maven Core is equipped with an Intel Core i5-4690K and an NVIDIA GTX 980. By utilizing two of the most power efficient architectures available, Intel's Haswell and NVIDIA's Maxwell, the Maven should be able to sip power while maintaining low temperature and noise. While a GTX 980 might be overkill for just HTPC applications, it opens up a lot of possibilities for couch-style PC gaming with things like Steam Big Picture mode.

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From the outside, the hand-brushed aluminum Steiger Dynamics system takes the form of traditional high-end home theater gear. At 6.85-in tall, or almost 4U if you are comfortable with that measurement system, the Maven Core is a large device, but does not stand out in a collection of AV equipment. Additionally, when you consider the standard Blu-Ray drive and available Ceton InfiniTV Quad PCIe CableCARD tuner giving this system the capability of replacing both a cable set top box and dedicated Blu-Ray player all together, the size becomes easier to deal with.

Digging deeper into the hardware specs of the Maven Core we find some familiar components. The Intel Core i5-4690K sits in an ASUS Z97-A motherboard along with 8GB of Corsair DDR3-1866 memory. For storage we have a 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD paired with a Western Digital 3TB Hard Drive for mass storage of your media.

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Cooling for the CPU is provided by a Corsair H90 with a single Phanteks fan to help keep the noise down. Steiger Dynamics shipped our system with a Seasonic Platinum-series 650W power supply, including their custom cabling option. For $100, they will ship your system with custom, individually sleeved Power Supply and SATA drive cables. The sleeving and cable management are impressive, but $100 would be a difficult upsell of a PC that you are likely never going to see the inside of.

As we mentioned earlier, this machine also shipped with a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe CableCARD tuner. While CableCARD is a much maligned technology that never really took off, when you get it working it can be impressive. Our impressions of the InfiniTV can be found later in this review.

Continue reading our review of the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC!

Building a new PC for the holidays?

Subject: Systems | October 29, 2014 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: system build

The Tech Report have updated their system build recommendations for the latter part of 2014, with changes to their system components as well as a reluctant recommendation for Win 8.1 as Win7 is scheduled for EOL in the New Year.   The Core i7-5960X did not make it as the  i7-5930K reaches similar performance for just over half the price which also means that DDR4 has appeared for the first time, specifically the Crucial 16GB and 32GB DDR4-2133 kits.  There is a lot of choice right now when it comes to GPUs; four under $150, five under $250 and four ranging from ~$300 to $630 ensuring that you can find one in your price range.  Check out the full array of choices in their update.

Make sure to check out the recent updates on our Hardware Leaderboard as well.

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"Join us for another System Guide update, this time with just about all the tools you need to build a holiday PC early. We've got Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 900-series graphics cards, one of AMD's recently discounted A-series APUs, and much more."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction

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When Intel revealed their miniature PC platform in 2012, the new “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC) was a tiny motherboard with a custom case, and admittedly very little compute power. Well, maybe not so much with the admittedly: “The Intel NUC is an ultra-compact form factor PC measuring 4-inch by 4-inch. Anything your tower PC can do, the Intel NUC can do and in 4 inches of real estate.” That was taken from Intel’s NUC introduction, and though their assertion was perhaps a bit premature, technology does continue its rapid advance in the small form-factor space. We aren’t there yet by any means, but the fact that a mini-ITX computer can be built with the power of an ATX rig (limited to single-GPU, of course) suggests that it could happen for a mini-PC in the not so distant future.

With NUC the focus was clearly on efficiency over performance, and with very low power and noise there were practical applications for such a device to offset the marginal "desktop" performance. The viability of a NUC would definitely depend on the user and their particular needs, of course. If you could find a place for such a device (such as a living room) it may have been worth the cost, as the first of the NUC kits were fairly expensive (around $300 and up) and did not include storage or memory. These days a mini PC can be found starting as low as $100 or so, but most still do not include any memory or storage. They are tiny barebones PC kits after all, so adding components is to be expected...right?

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It’s been a couple of years now, and the platform continues to evolve - and shrink to some startlingly small sizes. Of the Intel-powered micro PC kits on today’s market the LIVA from ECS manages to push the boundaries of this category in both directions. In addition to boasting a ridiculously small size - actually the smallest in the world according to ECS - the LIVA is also very affordable. It carries a list price of just $179 (though it can be found for less), and that includes onboard memory and storage. And this is truly a Windows PC platform, with full Windows 8.1 driver support from ECS (previous versions are not supported).

Continue reading our look at the ECS LIVA Mini PC!!

Viva la LIVA, your USB powered system

Subject: Systems | October 20, 2014 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: LIVA, silvermont

Yes, you read that right; this system can be powered by a USB power source, as long as it can provide a minimum of 2.1 amps.  It runs Windows 8.1 on a Silvermont generation Atom, with 64GB of local storage and 2GB of RAM and it is amazingly small, instead of showing you the exterior you can see the size of the board in comparison to the Atom and the VGA port.  It has a UEFI BIOS, certainly pared down in comparison to a high end motherboard but with more than enough options for what this device needs to do.  Check out the MadShrimps review here and be ready for another review to appear on our front page.

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"The mini PC kit ECS has offered is shipped in a DIY format, and incorporates a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. The footprint of the product allows us to carry it anywhere and it can be even powered by an USB powerbank, if it can deliver at least 2.1 A"

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Source: MadShrimps

Apple Announces New Mac Minis with Haswell. What?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | October 17, 2014 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: Thunderbolt 2, thunderbolt, mac mini, mac, Intel, haswell, apple

I was not planning to report on Apple's announcement but, well, this just struck me as odd.

So Apple has relaunched the Mac Mini with fourth-generation Intel Core processors, after two years of waiting. It is the same height as the Intel NUC, but it also almost twice the length and twice the width (Apple's 20cm x 20cm versus the NUC's ~11cm x 11cm when the case is included). So, after waiting through the entire Haswell architecture launch cycle, right up until the imminent release of Broadwell, they are going with the soon-to-be outdated architecture, to update their two-year-old platform?

((Note: The editorial originally said "two-year-old architecture". I thought that Haswell launched about six months earlier than it did. The mistake was corrected.))

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I wonder if, following the iTunes U2 deal, this device will come bundled with Limp Bizkit's "Nookie"...

The price has been reduced to $499, which is a welcome $100 price reduction especially for PC developers who want a Mac to test cross-platform applications on. It also has Thunderbolt 2. These are welcome additions. I just have two, related questions: why today and why Haswell?

The new Mac Mini started shipping yesterday. 15-watt Broadwell-U is expected to launch at CES in January with 28W parts anticipated a few months later, for the following quarter.

Source: Apple

MSI Upgrades 27” All-in-One Gaming PC’s with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 900M

Subject: Systems | October 16, 2014 - 04:18 PM |
Tagged: all-in-one, msi, gtx 900m, AG270 2QC, AG270 2QE

Who says All-in-One PCs can't be high end machines?  MSI just updated their 27" lineup with some rather impressive components.  One definite benefit to these machines is the matte display, which has been updated with a new feature called Anti-Flicker which reduces the amount of blue light generated by the display.   The base model is $1800 so you are paying a premium for the form factor but you do get an impressive looking and fully functional system for that price.

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City of Industry, Calif. – October 22, 2014 – MSI Computer Corp announces the availability of their lineup of 27-inch All-in-One gaming computers featuring NVIDIA GeForce GTX 900M graphics cards. MSI’s lineup of gaming AIOs are powered by Intel Core i7 processors, up to 16 GB DDR3L memory, Killer E2200 Game Networking, and MSI’s Super RAID technology.

MSI’s upgraded gaming AIOs feature NVIDIA GeForce GTX 900M GPUs, the world’s fastest and most powerful mobile gaming graphics card. NVIDIAs latest GPU packs the power of a high-end performance graphics card into the silhouette of a mobile unit through a Maxwell architecture that delivers up to 35% increase in 3DMark11 performance.

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“Gamers crave performance and our new lineup of 27-inch gaming AIOs will leave them breathless,” says Andy Tung, CEO of MSI Pan America. “The outstanding combination of state-of-the-art components, including NVIDIA’s latest GPU, deliver the most immersive gaming experience available and is guaranteed to outperform any other unit on the market.”

MSI complements the GPU with other cutting-edge components, including Intel Core i7 processor and Super RAID technology for ultra-fast storage speed with dual mSATA SSD’s in RAID 0, Killer E2200 Game Networking for lighting fast and lag-free connectivity, and dual Yamaha speakers and amplifier for an incredible sound experience. Yamaha speakers feature a built-in full-range monomer and an independent subwoofer to create a 2-way speaker system that pumps out intense explosions, clear footsteps and piercing screams.

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To ensure a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience, even in prolonged battle sessions, MSI equipped the AIOs with an anti-glare matte display with Anti-Flicker technology. MSI’s proprietary Anti-Flicker technology generates 75% less blue light by stabilizing the electrical current on the display, thus preventing flickering and decreasing eye fatigue.

Source: MSI

Lenovo Introduces New Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14 Tablet PCs

Subject: Systems, Mobile | October 9, 2014 - 03:41 PM |
Tagged: yoga tablet 2, yoga tablet, Windows 8.1, windows, Thinkpad, lenovo yoga, Lenovo, haswell, Broadwell

At a press event in London (watch the livestream), Lenovo showed off two new convertible PCs – the Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14 – aimed at the consumer and business markets respectively that each incorporate evolutionary improvements over their predecessors. The Windows 8.1 PCs will be available at the end of October.

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The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is the company's new flagship multi-mode system, and features build quality and internal processing power enhancements over the Yoga 2 Pro while being 17% thinner (0.5") and 14% lighter (2.62 lbs). Lenovo attributes the size and weight reductions to its new watchband hinge which is uses 800 pieces of aluminum and steel to achieve a thin yet flexible hinge with six focus points that resembles a metal watchband. Additionally, Lenovo has updated the display to a 13.3" multi-touch panel with (QHD+) 3200x1800 resolution. Other external features include JBL stereo speakers, a 720p webcam, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 and DC-input port, one micro HDMI output, and one audio combo jack.

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Lenovo's new hand-constructed watchband-style hinge with six focus points.

Internally, Lenovo is using the Intel Core M-70 (Broadwell) processor, up to 8GB of DDR3L memory, and a 256GB SSD. Lenovo claims up to 9 hours of battery life, depending on usage. The PC will be available in Clementine Orange, Platinum Silver, or Champagne Gold.

Lenovo also announced the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14. While it does not have the kinds of form factor and hinge design improvements as the Yoga 3 Pro, it does maintain the useful Lift 'n Lock keyboard and feature welcome internal upgrades. The ThinkPad Yoga 14 measures 13.3" x 9.4" x 0.82" and weighs 4.1 pounds. The magnesium alloy frame holds a 14" 1920x1080 IPS display with 10-point multi-touch, a 720p webcam, dual microphones with noise cancelation, stereo speakers, a backlit Lift 'n Lock keyboard (which, when in tablet mode, raises the frame flush with the keys which lock in place), full keyboard, trackpad, and trackpoint nub.

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This PC is noticeably bulkier and heavier than the Yoga 3 Pro, but it trades bulk for processing power, storage, and external I/O. Externally, the PC has one full HDMI video out (which is preferable to having to remember a micro HDMI adapter on the road or to meetings), two USB 3.0 ports, one combo USB 2.0/DC power/OneLink docking connector, one SD card slot, and one audio combo jack. The ThinkPad Yoga 14 is powered by an Intel Core i5 (Haswell) processor, NVIDIA GeForce 840M GPU, either 4GB or 8GB of DDR3L memory, and 1TB hard drive paired with 16GB flash for caching purposes. It comes with Windows 8.1 and "all day" battery life of up to eight hours.

In all, it has some useful updates over last year's model which we reviewed here.

Pricing and Availability:

The Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14 will be available at the end of October from Lenovo.com or Best Buy. The Yoga 3 Pro has an MSRP of $1,349 while the ThinkPad Yoga 14 starts at $1,149.

Both systems continue the Yoga family forward, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the Broadwell-powered Yoga 3 Pro performs in particular. I do wish the Lift 'n Lock keyboard technology had trickled down to the consumer models even understanding it would add additional weight and thickness. Obviously, Lenovo felt the tradeoff was not worth it though.

Source: Lenovo
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

If there is one message that I get from NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 900M-series announcement, it is that laptop gaming is a first-class citizen in their product stack. Before even mentioning the products, the company provided relative performance differences between high-end desktops and laptops. Most of the rest of the slide deck is showing feature-parity with the desktop GTX 900-series, and a discussion about battery life.

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First, the parts. Two products have been announced: The GeForce GTX 980M and the GeForce GTX 970M. Both are based on the 28nm Maxwell architecture. In terms of shading performance, the GTX 980M has a theoretical maximum of 3.189 TFLOPs, and the GTX 970M is calculated at 2.365 TFLOPs (at base clock). On the desktop, this is very close to the GeForce GTX 770 and the GeForce GTX 760 Ti, respectively. This metric is most useful when you're compute bandwidth-bound, at high resolution with complex shaders.

The full specifications are:

  GTX 980M GTX 970M
GTX 980
(Desktop)
GTX 970
(Desktop)
GTX 880M
(Laptop)
CUDA Cores 1536 1280 2048 1664 1536
Core (MHz) 1038 924 1126 1050 954
Perf. (TFLOP) 3.189 2.365 4.612 3.494 2.930
Memory Up to 4GB Up to 3GB 4GB 4GB 4GB/8GB
Memory Rate 2500 MHz 2500 MHz 7.0 (GT/s) 7.0 (GT/s) 2500 MHz
Memory Width 256-bit 192-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Architecture Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Maxwell Kepler
Process Node 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
DirectX Version 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 11.0

As for the features, it should be familiar for those paying attention to both desktop 900-series and the laptop 800M-series product launches. From desktop Maxwell, the 900M-series is getting VXGI, Dynamic Super Resolution, and Multi-Frame Sampled AA (MFAA). From the latest generation of Kepler laptops, the new GPUs are getting an updated BatteryBoost technology. From the rest of the GeForce ecosystem, they will also get GeForce Experience, ShadowPlay, and so forth.

For VXGI, DSR, and MFAA, please see Ryan's discussion for the desktop Maxwell launch. Information about these features is basically identical to what was given in September.

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BatteryBoost, on the other hand, is a bit different. NVIDIA claims that the biggest change is just raw performance and efficiency, giving you more headroom to throttle. Perhaps more interesting though, is that GeForce Experience will allow separate one-click optimizations for both plugged-in and battery use cases.

The power efficiency demonstrated with the Maxwell GPU in Ryan's original GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 review is even more beneficial for the notebook market where thermal designs are physically constrained. Longer battery life, as well as thinner and lighter gaming notebooks, will see tremendous advantages using a GPU that can run at near peak performance on the maximum power output of an integrated battery. In NVIDIA's presentation, they mention that while notebooks on AC power can use as much as 230 watts of power, batteries tend to peak around 100 watts. Given that a full speed, desktop-class GTX 980 has a TDP of 165 watts, compared to the 250 watts of a Radeon R9 290X, translates into notebook GPU performance that will more closely mirror its desktop brethren.

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Of course, you probably will not buy your own laptop GPU; rather, you will be buying devices which integrate these. There are currently five designs across four manufacturers that are revealed (see image above). Three contain the GeForce GTX 980M, one has a GTX 970M, and the other has a pair of GTX 970Ms. Prices and availability are not yet announced.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Splits Into Two Companies

Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 6, 2014 - 07:27 PM |
Tagged: restructure, layoffs, hp inc, hp, hewlett-packard enterprise

HP's restructure initiative has been ongoing for years, leading to tens of thousands of layoffs. This occurred in several phases, with low-margin businesses grouped alongside highly profitable ones. Originally, HP considered spinning off PC devices but later paired it with its highly profitable printing products.

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Today, HP announced plans to split into two companies: HP Inc., the aforementioned PC and printing division, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, which will handle servers, networking, and other infrastructure as well as enterprise software and services. Shareholders will receive stock in both companies in an "intended to be tax-free" transaction. Obviously, that may vary by jurisdiction.

The reasons are fairly straight-forward. Print and PC are not heavily growing markets, especially not compared to their enterprise division. These two companies are roughly equal in size, so separating them highlights each side's strengths and weaknesses, and allows new investors to bet on one without giving money to the other. While Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is expected to be the higher-growth company, HP Inc. is expected to get into 3D printing as a consumer service. It will also inherit the logo, likely because it is something that consumers still identify with.

Current CEO, Meg Whitman, will be CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and Chair of HP Inc.

The "transaction" for shareholders is expected by the end of FY15. It will also align with the loss of 5000 jobs, resulting in 55,000 layoffs since Whitman joined the company. I have yet to hear anything about where these cuts will occur.

Source: HP

ZOTAC Injects Palm-Sized ZBOX nano XS with Double Dose of Performance

Subject: Systems | October 1, 2014 - 01:29 PM |
Tagged: zotac, SFF, nano xs, MI521, Core i3 4030U

ZOTAC is releasing the new MI521 nano XS model using the Haswell Core i3 4030U with HD4400 graphics with support for mSATA SSDs and two DDR3 slots capable of handling up to 16GB of RAM.  The two models listed below are the same, in one case you do not have to supply your own RAM and SSD, the other comes with only the processor inside.  The branding is skewed more towards the multimedia capabilities but these could also function quite well for office work, with support for 4K workspaces and perhaps a little entertainment once you've polished off that Word doc.

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HONG KONG – Oct. 1, 2014 – ZOTAC International, a global innovator and manufacturer of graphics cards and mini-PCs, today injects the palm-sized ZBOX nano XS chassis with a double dose of performance from a 4th Generation Intel Core i3 processor. The new ZOTAC ZBOX MI521 nano XS series delivers a dual-core punch and expansive connectivity in an extra small size for an excellent mini-PC experience.

“ZOTAC is a pioneer when it comes to packing as much performance as possible into the smallest form factor possible. Our latest ZBOX MI521 nano XS series takes that same formula and gives it more performance and connectivity to create a mini-PC that’s perfect for office productivity or multimedia tasks,” said Tony Wong, CEO, ZOTAC International.

New to the ZBOX MI521 nano XS series is a very efficient and capable Intel Core i3 4030U dual-core processor with Intel HD Graphics 4400. The new processor enables dual display capabilities on the ZBOX MI521 nano XS series with standard HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs for maximum work productivity.

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A suite of Intel technologies including Clear Video HD, InTru 3D and Quick Sync Video transforms the ZBOX MI521 nano XS series into the perfect HTPC for high quality HD video playback, including CPU-intensive Hi10P formats. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi technologies round out the ZBOX MI521 nano XS series features to provide compatibility with popular input devices and high-speed network connectivity to wireless home networks.

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Source: Zotac