Subject: Systems | January 6, 2014 - 09:30 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Windows 8.1, SteamOS, steambox, SFF, maingear, CES 2014, CES
Not content to let Digital Storm have all the fun with SteamOS, MAINGEAR has launched a small form factor SPARK Steambox PC! Clad in the traditional red and black colors of Maingear, the Spark is a stylish gaming system powered by an AMD APU that is about the size of an Intel NUC. Maingear is offering the system with Valve's Linux-based SteamOS as well as Microsoft's Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems.
The Steambox PC measures 4.5" x 4.23" x 2.34" and weighs 0.98 pounds. The system has a vivid red and black design with large mesh vents on the sides and rear panel. IO includes two USB 3.0 ports and two audio jacks on the front as well as one HDMI, one Mini DisplayPort, one Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports on the rear IO panel. The design is striking and likely to appeal to gamers though it may clash with your other A/V equipment in the entertainment center (which really comes down to personal tastes).
Despite the small size, Maingear has managed to pack a respectable amount of PC hardware into the Spark. The SFF Steambox is powered by an AMD A8-5557M APU (four threads) clocked at 2.1GHz base and 3.1GHz turbo along with an AMD Radeon R9 M275X graphics card with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and up to 16GB of DDR3 1600MHz memory (two SO-DIMMs). Storage includes a single SATA III 6Gbps port (with room in the case for a single 2.5" drive) and one mSATA slot that supports SSDs up to 256GB. The Spark does support Gigabit Ethernet, but it also comes with a pre-installed Mini-PCIe card that provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands) and Bluetooth 4.0. Users will be able to customize the RAM and storage options, but the other specifications are not user-configurable.
The Maingear Spark will be available for purchase in late Q1 2014 for an as-yet-undisclosed price. For what it's worth, Maingear has stated that the tiny Spark gaming PC will an "affordable PC solution."
Personally, depending on price, I am interested in this steam machine as I rather like the aesthetics and the internal hardware should be sufficient for basic gameplay on the hardware itself and game streaming from my main desktop when that feature becomes available.
What do you think about Maingear's miniscule APU-powered Steam Machine?
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2014 - 12:00 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: SteamOS, Digital Storm, CES 2014, CES
Another big expectation coming into CES, this year, was the announcement of Steam Machines. We have already seen a few announcements but most of those were just teasers of what is to come at the event. Unlike our fears with G-Sync, many of the products we have seen differ from one-another and attack specific niches. One attaches to the back of your TV while another is a pretty beefy system with a console price-tag.
This one is another small form factor (SFF) machine that includes both SteamOS and Windows to access both libraries. The Digital Storm Bolt II goes after the high end with a factory-overclocked CPU and easily accessible (their claim, I cannot form an opinion without using it) graphics card, storage, optical drive, and cooling system. They do stress the cooling capabilities of their SFF design so it would seem that was their development priority.
I am somewhat confused about the default dual-install, however. Everything special about SteamOS will be ported to the Steam Client so the main advantage of leaving Windows would be to access Linux-exclusive games. That does not seem like much of a market at least for the moment. I expect that, unless Microsoft completely blows away their own foot, anything that comes out for SteamOS will also be released on Windows. I would expect this feature to come much further down the line. It is certainly not a bad thing, however, apart from a little recovered harddrive space.
Apparently the device will be available soon, this month, with an $1899 MSRP.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
What is the Hardware Leaderboard
What is a Leaderboard? If you have to ask you really haven't clicked on enough of the tabs at the top of PC Perspective! The Leaderboard consists of four different systems, each with a price target and are updated monthly. They start with the ~$500 budget system which is for general family or dorm usage but not for heavy gaming usage, though it can certainly handle many online games without issue. The Mid Range machine can be yours for around $1000 and packs enough power under the hood to handle productivity software and can give a console a run for its money when gaming. Things start getting more serious when you look at the High End machine, even while keeping the price around $1500 you start to see serious performance that will show you why PC Gaming is still far more popular than some would have you believe. Finally is the Dream Machine which doesn't have a specific price cap but is limited by a certain amount of common sense; you can slap four GPUs in the system but you really will not be getting a great return on your investment as the performance scaling does not continue to increase at a linear pace.
You may notice several components missing from the HWLB and there is a reason for that. Enclosures are a very personal choice for system builders and no ones desires are exactly the same. Dremel owners with a good imagination want a case that is easily moddable while pet owners want washable filters on their systems. Some may want a giant white case while others an unobtrusive and quiet enclosure and who can tell where you prefer your front panel connectors to be but you? Cooling solutions are again a personal choice, do you plan on getting the biggest chunk of metal you can find with three 140mm fans strapped to it or were you thinking of using watercooling, either a self contained CPU cooler or a custom built cooling loop that incorporates multiple components? The same applies to monitors with some gamers preferring to sacrifice colour quality and viewing angle for the refresh rates of a TN display while others have a need to pick up a professional quality display at over $1000 for when they are working. Size is always personal; just how big can you fit in your place? (Editor's note: we did include a couple of case recommendations in the build guide summary tables, in case you are interested though.)
So continue on to see the components that make up the current four builds of the Hardware Leaderboard. Once you have all your components you can reference Ryan's videos covering the installation of the parts into the case of your choice as well as installing your OS and Steam so you can get right to gaming and surfing.
A not-so-simple set of instructions
Valve released to the world the first beta of SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system built specifically for PC gaming, on Friday evening. We have spent quite a lot of time discussing and debating the merits of SteamOS, but this weekend we wanted to do an installation of the new OS on a system and see how it all worked.
Our full video tutorial of installing and configuring SteamOS
First up was selecting the hardware for the build. As is usually the case, we had a nearly-complete system sitting around that needed some tweaks. Here is a quick list of the hardware we used, with a discussion about WHY just below.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4670K - $222|
|Motherboard||EVGA Z87 Stinger Mini ITX Motherboard - $257|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB 1866 MHz (2 x 4GB) - $109|
|Graphics Card||NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN 6GB - $999
EVGA GeForce GTX 770 2GB SuperClocked - $349
|Storage||Samsung 840 EVO Series 250GB SSD - $168|
|Case||EVGA Hadron Mini ITX Case - $189|
|Power Supply||Included with Case|
|Optical Drive||Slot loading DVD Burnder - $36|
|Peak Compute||4,494 GFLOPS (TITAN), 3,213 GFLOPS (GTX 770)|
|Total Price||$1947 (GTX TITAN) $1297 (GTX 770)|
We definitely weren't targeting a low cost build with this system, but I think we did create a very powerful system to test SteamOS on. First up was the case, the new EVGA Hadron Mini ITX chassis. It's small, which is great for integration into your living room, yet can still hold a full power, full-size graphics card.
The motherboard we used was the EVGA Z87 Stinger Mini ITX - an offering that Morry just recently reviewed and recommended. Supporting the latest Intel Haswell processors, the Stinger includes great overclocking options and a great feature set that won't leave enthusiasts longing for a larger motherboard.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 8, 2013 - 11:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 7
Users of Windows 7, current and planned, have a few dates to remember. First, as of October 30th, Microsoft has stopped selling retail (boxed) packages of that operating system. Second, OEMs can continue to sell systems with Windows 7 preloaded for a year after that date (October 30th, 2014). Third, the operating system will receive typical updates until January 13th, 2015. Fourth, security fixes will be provided until January 14th, 2020. Oddly, Microsoft's website disagrees with Mary Jo Foley's timeline; I expect it might just be out of date.
Windows XP is creeping towards the oblivion as April slowly arrives. The 8th of that month marks the end of security updates and other forms of utter chaos for machines with a vibrant green Start button. With Microsoft essentially turning a blind eye to unpatched exploits, it will become progressively more unsafe to use XP except in well controlled (virtualized, firewalled, etc.) instances.
But, according to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Microsoft will not sell them a retail copy of the Windows 7 any more (as of October 30th, 2013). The official Windows Product Lifecycle guide, however, still lists this date as "To be determined". Either Microsoft is very slow (updating their warning website after the date passes) or it was a much softer deadline than the editorial claims. Most of the Amazon product pages are for third party resellers, except for Windows 7 Pro Full, so it might just be clearing stock. Who knows.
OEMs will have a much easier time, however. Microsoft will continue allowing them to sell Windows 7 with new PCs for another year, until October 30th 2014. Again, this date is unlisted from the Windows Product Lifecycle guide.
It will all need to come to an end at some point though. Windows XP lost mainstream support back in April 14th, 2009; the same will come of Windows 7 in a little over a year: January 13th, 2015. That said, beyond new versions of Internet Explorer, Windows 7 has not been receiving too many updates as it stands. With DirectX now considered a core feature of Windows, the last couple of revisions are exclusive to the latest release. We still have Firefox and Chrome when they pull IE from our cold dead hands. I feel weird writing this...
The most devastating date, which XP users are about to face, is the end of extended support. Come January 14th, 2020, Microsoft will not longer provide security updates. Users of Windows 7 will need to be extra cautious and only deploy it in well controlled environments.
Like for me, if Microsoft continues going down the Windows Store path, a VM on a Linux machine.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 7, 2013 - 04:04 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: SteamOS, PiixL Jetpack
This is what an open ecosystem does best.
The Jetpack, by British PC developer Piixl, is a computer that can attach to the back of a TV. If your TV stands on its own, the Jetpack clings to the television's unused wall mount point. If you were intending to mount your TV on the wall, the PC can reside between the two. These are the user needs that can only be addressed by allowing organizations (large companies, small businesses, hobbyist groups, and individuals) to explore in the niches either to "scratch their own itch"or differentiate their product.
The computer is branded mostly for SteamOS but can also be installed with a full version of Windows or Linux (which you can then install a Steam Client on). It is looking more and more like Valve is successful in herding OEMs.
The internals of this computer are quite interesting. It looks like they are attaching a 2-wide videocard 90-degrees to a mini-ITX motherboard with the other components spaced out around those two parts. Their official media claims that they will support any GPU (I assume they are not considering ones with extra- thick coolers) which should make future upgrades easy.
I may never purchase a Steam machine but I am excited that they exist. The purpose for the PC ecosystem is that every user with any need can find or create a solution. That is why general purpose computation devices exist: perform whatever information storage or manipulation the user desires. I do not have many of the needs that these boxes satisfy... but some people do and there should be systems available for them.
The Verge claims that the Jetpack will be available in January. I can sense a theme for CES 2014.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | December 5, 2013 - 02:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: WQHD+, msi, 3K
High resolution displays are very nice to have especially when you are looking at text and symbols (or edges of 3D geometry). WQHD+ is one of the resolutions classified under the 3K moniker with dimensions of 2880 x 1620. It has slightly more pixels than 1440p.
MSI has launched two notebooks with a 15.6" display in this resolution: one gaming and one workstation. Both laptops are remarkably similar except for a few key differences.
Both laptops include:
- Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU (2.4 GHz w/ 3.4 GHz Turbo)
- 16 GB RAM
- 15.6" 2880x1620 (16:9) display
- 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
- Killer E2200 networking (yes, the workstation too)
- Killer N1202 a/b/g/n wireless (yes, workstation too)
- SDXC card reader
- HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, etc.
- Backlit Keyboard from SteelSeries
The GT60 2OD-261US (Gaming) also includes:
- Windows 8
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M GPU (4GB)
- Blu-ray reader
The GT60 2OKWS-278US (Workstation) instead includes:
- Windows 7 Professional
- NVIDIA Quadro K3100M (4GB)
- Blu-ray recorder
These laptops are currently available at two price points: $2200 for the gaming version and $2800 for the workstation. Press release after the break!
Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 5, 2013 - 02:38 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: amd, r9 270, Steam Machine, SteamOS
I cannot see how they will be making any money at this but, next year, iBuyPower will launch their first Steam Machine. At the price of $499, the same as an Xbox One, you will get an AMD CPU bundled with a discrete Radeon R9 270 graphics card.
Image Credit: The Verge
Oh, and Valve's controller will be included in that price.
Sure, they can save money on the free operating system, but that still looks pretty awesome. In terms of actual dimensions, the case is said to be between the size of the PS4 and the Xbox one. Frankly, if you like the look of home theater appliances, this could be a nice twist on that aesthetic. It will also come with a 500GB hard drive. Don't worry, though: it is a PC. If there is a USB 3.0 port anywhere on it, you can attach a giant drive for your games.
And the power supply is internal, too!
iBuyPower is expected to ship this device at some point in 2014 along with a wave of other Steam Machines. Prepare for many of these innovations to come out of CES.
Subject: Systems | November 28, 2013 - 02:26 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: htpc, fanless, nuc, Logic Supply, LGX ML300
Logic Supply's LGX ML300 lineup offers you choices from an empty case to a pre-built system costing over $1000, allowing to pick and choose the HTPC system you want. The case is completely fanless and the system sent to Silent PC Review consisted of a Core i5-3427U, 8GB DDR3-1333 and a 128GB mSATA SSD. The outputs offer enough choice for most users, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, two mini DisplayPort a mini-HDMI and gigabit LAN. Thermal performance was great with this case compared to some previous NUCs and SPCR had no issues with overheating during their tests.
"A slim, silent, fanless case for an Intel NUC with room enough for a 2.5" drive is Logic Supply's latest passively cooled project. With the right NUC innards, it becomes a perfect ultra-mini media PC with both zippy performance and enough storage space."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Shuttle XPC Barebone SH87R6 w/ Core i5-4570T @ techPowerUp
- Tranquil PC D33217GKE NUC Case @ techPowerUp
- Silverstone ML05 mini-ITX HTPC case @ SPCR
- Building an HTPC: Planning, Part Picking & Building @ Techgage
- Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex TV HD Media Player Review @ PCSTATS
Subject: General Tech, Systems | November 27, 2013 - 12:18 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, IHS
Parts and labor costs have surfaced for the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Last time around, both Microsoft and Sony were bleeding over a hundred dollars each time a console was produced and sold before you even consider research, development, support, and so forth. This time, both are fluttering around the break-even point.
Console fans commonly say, "You cannot build an equivalent gaming PC for what I can get a console for." My response has been, "Correct and neither can Sony or Microsoft; they are bleeding to gouge you later. Add up those license fees and PC gaming is often cheaper." That may change.
Easier for developers... and their CFO.
While it has not changed that PC gaming can still be cheaper, because it has less middlemen demanding license fees, the consoles might not be losing as much money. Last week, IHS iSuppli inventoried the Playstation 4 and determined that it costs Sony around $381 USD for every $399 console they sell. The Xbox One has also had its turn: $471 USD for the $499 device.
This may seem a lot, but the $499 launch PS3 (20GB) cost Sony $805.85 in parts and labor. The Xbox 360 was less devastating for Microsoft at a cost of $525 for their $399 console. None of these fees include research, development, support, store markup (if they are allowed any), etc.
The last generation of consoles, despite its length, may or may not have delivered any profit for either party. The recent several quarters of profits are easily offset by many more of losses. I expect that neither company is interested in repeating the last generation. It hurt.
But the consoles, despite being cheaper than last time, could still have a reasonable lifespan. A large chunk of the original PS3 bill of materials was the hardware "Emotion Engine" (most links are broken by now but I believe it was about as much per chip as the Cell processor). The consoles are now based upon commodity PC hardware. They can finally take advantage of the competition between other companies to focus their research and development costs on the platform itself.