Smaller than a breadbox; building mini-ITX systems

Subject: Systems | May 31, 2013 - 04:01 PM |
Tagged: htpc, mini-itx

Building a mini-ITX system that is small enough to be attached to the back of a monitor or hidden with your stereo components takes a bit more thought than assembling a full ATX system.  It is not just about the size of the components you are purchasing, heat dissipation is much more important in a small system especially if it will be located somewhere that does not have great air circulation.  TechSpot has put together a guide for those thinking of building such a system, using the Akasa Euler Case as the housing and powered with a Core i5-3470T.  As you can see from the picture below, the final system is smaller than an HD7970.

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"The idea behind the Thin Mini-ITX form factor, besides the obvious which is to create seriously compact computers, is also to allow for DIY all-in-ones (think of little PCs you can attach to the back of your monitor). Having that said, we don't fully intend to go the all-in-one route in this article, but are aiming to build a powerful Thin Mini-ITX system that can be used in the office or at home as a media PC.

This is what our finished system should look like: extremely compact, powerful, and near silent operation, as in no-moving-parts silent. For less than $700 including a 256GB SSD, we believe you'll love what the final product will look like."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Source: TechSpot

Windows 8.1 can Boot to Desktop and has a Start Button

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2013 - 04:16 PM |
Tagged: windows blue, Windows 8.1, windows, microsoft

Personally, I really cannot care too much about the user experience quirks inherent to Windows modernization; the wedge slowly being shoved between the user and their machine is far too concerning. No matter how they modify the interface, restricting what users and developers can install and create on their machine is a deal breaker. But, after that obligatory preface reminding people not to get wound up in UX hiccups and be complacent to the big issues, Windows Blue will certainly address many of those UX hiccups.

As we reported, last month, boot-to-desktop and the Start Button were planned for inclusion with Windows 8.1. Then, the sources were relentless to emphasize: "Until it ships, anything can change."

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Images courtesy, Paul Thurrott.

Mary Jo Foley gathered quite a few details since then. Firstly, the option (as in, disabled by default) to boot directly to desktop will be there; from the sounds of it, it looks like it will be disabled by default but not exclusive to Enterprise SKUs. This is somewhat promising, as it would be slightly less likely for Microsoft to kill support for the desktop (and, by extension, x86 applications) if they feel pressure to punctuate it. Still, assuming because "it makes sense" is a bad way to conduct business.

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Also available (albeit, enabled by default) is the Start Button, seen in higher quality above. This will be, as far as we know, enabled by default. Its functionality will be to bring up the Start Screen or, alternatively, a new All Apps screen visible at ZDNet. Now this has me interested: while I actually like the Start Screen, a list of apps should provide functionality much closer to the Start Menu than Microsoft was previously comfortable with. Previously, the Start Screen attempted to make the desktop applications feel less comfortable than modern apps; this interface appears like it would feel more comfortable to the desktop. While probably still jarring, it looks to make finding desktop applications easier and quickly gets out of the way of your desktop experience.

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According to Paul Thurrott, for those who wish to personalize the Start Screen, you will have the option to share your desktop wallpaper with the it. For tasteful backgrounds, like the one above, I can see this being of good use.

Just please, do not grief someone with a background full of fake tiles.

As a final note, there is still no word about multiple monitor support for "Modern Apps". If you have tried to use them in the past, you know what I am talking about: basically only one at a time, it will jump between monitors if you bring up the Start Screen, and so forth.

Cirrus7 Launches SFF Nimbus PC With Aluminum Fin Stack (Heatsink) Case

Subject: Systems | May 28, 2013 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: SFF case, SFF, passive cooling, nimbus, heastink, fanless, cpu cooler, cirrus7

German PC manufacturer Cirrus7 has launched a new small form factor (SFF) PC called the Nimbus that uses slices of aluminum that do double duty as both a case and a passive CPU cooler (heatsink).

The Nimbus PC features an Intel DQ77KB motherboard and low-power Intel processor along with configurable DDR3 and mSATA storage options. The base model will come with 4GB of DDR3 and a 60GB mSATA SSD. CPU options include the Intel G1610T, G2020T, Core i3-3220T, i3-3470T, i5-3570T, and i7-3770T. From there you can add up to two 7mm 2.5” hard drives (or SSDs) and increase the amount of RAM (for a higher price, of course).

Cirrus7 Nimbus SFF PC.jpg

The Intel DQ77KB board supports vPro and KVM over IP on systems with the Core i5 or higher processor. It has the following external IO options:

  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x Intel Gigabit LAN
  • 2 x Audio jacks (green jack is dual purpose, mini-TOSLink compatible)
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort

The SFF PC comes preloaded with either Ubuntu 13.04, Ubuntu 12.04, or Windows 8 (depending on your choice at checkout).

Cirrus7 Nimbus PC.jpg

Check out more photos of the Nimbus at FanlessTech.

In order to keep the hardware cool, Cirrus7 has opted for an all-aluminum enclosure that is built around and over the motherboard in a fin-spacer-fin pattern. Each aluminum fin is 12mm high and the height of the system can be varied by adding or reducing the number of fins used. For example, using all fins allows Cirrus7 to support higher TDPs like the Core i7 3770T. Alternatively, if you are just using an i3-3220T, you could get by with a smaller (and lighter) case/heatsink. Notably, judging by the hands-on photos over at FanlessTech, the Nimbus does not use a copper CPU block which may have reduce the heatsink's effectiveness. That, or maybe Cirrus7 expects that they have slapped enough aluminum fins on the system that it doesn't matter much (heh). Also note that the case is not completely sealed, so although it is passively cooled, it is definitely not water or dust proof. Beyond that though, the case looks nice and the system would make a nice silent backup server, router, or HTPC!

The Nimbus will be available towards the end of June in Germany and Europe, with worldwide shipping available upon request. The system starts at €499 for the base model which is approximately $640 USD (before shipping). That price includes the case, processor, motherboard, RAM, and mSATA drive. Cirrus 7 has stated that Haswell-based models of the Nimbus will be available at some point, but are not expected until around the end of 2013 at the earliest.

Source: Cirrus7

Console manufacturers don't want much, just the impossible.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 27, 2013 - 12:08 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, consolitis, consoles

So, as Wired editorial states it: hardcore console gamers don't want much, just the impossible. They want a "super-powered box" tethered to their TV; they want the blockbuster epics and innovative indie titles; they want it to "just work" for what they do. The author, Chris Kohler, wrote his column to demonstrate how this is, and has for quite some time been, highly unprofitable.

I think the bigger problem is that the console manufacturers want the impossible.

Console manufacturers have one goal: get their platform in your house and require their hand be in the pocket of everything you do with it. They need to make an attractive device for that to be true, so they give it enough power to legitimately impress the potential buyer and price it low enough to catch the purchasing impulse. Chances are this involves selling the box under cost at launch and for quite some time after.

But, if all of this juicy control locks the user into overspending in the long run, then it is worth it...

... right?

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But Microsoft should be thankful that I cost them money to be acquired as a customer.

Well, looking at the Wired article, not only are console gamers ultimately overspending: it is still not enough! Consoles truly benefit no-one! The console manufacturers are not doing any more than maybe breaking even, at some point, eventually, down the line, they hope. Microsoft and Sony throw obnoxious amounts of money against one another in research, development, and marketing. Redundant technologies are formed to pit against their counterparts with billions spent in marketing to try to prove why either choice is better.

All of this money is spent to corral users into a more expensive experience where they can pocket the excess.

Going back to the editorial's claims: with all of this money bleeding out, Microsoft wants to appeal more broadly and compensate the loss with more cash flowing in. Sure, Microsoft has wanted a foothold in the living room for decades at this point, but the Xbox Division bounces between profitability and huge losses; thus, they want to be an entertainment hub if just for the cash alone.

But think back to the start, these troubles are not because it is impossible to satisfy hardcore gamers. These troubles are because Microsoft and Sony cannot generate revenue from their acquired control quicker than they can bleed capital away trying to acquire that control, or at least generate it more than just barely fast enough.

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The other solution, which I have felt for quite some time is the real answer (hence why I am a PC gamer), has a large group of companies create an industry body who governs an open standard. Each company can make a substantial profit by focusing on a single chunk of the platform -- selling graphics processors, maintaining a marketplace, or what-have-you -- by leveraging the success of every other chunk.

This model does work, and it is the basis for one of humanity's most successful technology products: the internet.

As a side note: this is also why PC gaming was so successful... Microsoft, developers, Steam/GoG/other marketplaces, and hardware vendors were another version of this... albeit Microsoft had the ability to override them and go in whatever direction they wanted. They didn't, until Windows RT.

And the internet might even be the solution. The web browser is capable, today, of providing amazing gaming experiences and it does not even require a plugin. It is getting more powerful, even faster than the rate at which underlying hardware has evolved.

You could, in some browsers today, plug a USB flash drive into your computer; browse to some "index.html" file on it; and run an Unreal Engine 3 (and as Epic stated in a recent interview, soon Unreal Engine 4) game that is programmed in Javascript and is stored on that USB device. Never an internet connection required -- although if you wanted online features, web browsers are kind-of good at that, go figure.

To end on an ironic note, that makes a web browser more capable of offline play than our current understanding of the Xbox One (and Sony has said nothing either way, for that matter).

I guess the takeaway message is: love the web browser, it "just works".

Source: Wired

Epic Games is disappointed in the PS4 and Xbox One?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 03:40 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games

Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.

Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.

Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.

A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.

As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.

Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.

This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.

Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.

But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.

Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:

MSI Launches GX70 and GX60 Gaming Notebooks Powered By AMD Richland APUs

Subject: Systems | May 21, 2013 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: Richland, msi, gx70, gx60, gaming notebook, gaming, APU, amd

MSI announced two new gaming notebooks powered by AMD's latest Richland APUs today called the GX70 and GX60. Both gaming notebooks use AMD A10-5750M processors, a discrete AMD graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 750GB (7200 RPM) hard drive. Other shared specifications include a Killer E2200 NIC, Blu-ray drive, THX certified speakers, a headphone amp, and a large 9-cell battery.

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The GX70 is the largest of the two gaming notebooks at 8.6 pounds and packing a 17.3” display. The GX70 uses the A10-5750M APU and a Radeon 8970M discrete mobile GPU to deliver gaming performance to the 1080p display. The system is also capable of outputting to multiple displays over HDMI and supports AMD's Eyefinity 3D technology. On the outside, the MSI GX70 features a 17.3” 1920 x 1080p display with an anti-reflective coating as well as a SteelSeries gaming keyboard.

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Meanwhile, the MSI GX60 is a 15-inch notebook that weighs 7.7 pounds. This gaming notebook uses an AMD A10-5750M APU and a Radeon 7970M mobile discrete GPU. Further, the GX60 has a 15.6” 1080p anti-reflective display and SteelSeries gaming keyboard.

MSI-GX70.jpg

MSI claims that the new AMD Richland APUs will give its gaming notebooks much better battery life. The new GX70 and GX60 will have up to 40% better graphical performance compared to previous generations thanks to the new APUs and discrete cards. According to MSI VP of Sales Andy Tung, “the GX70 and GX60 deliver the ultimate sensory experience for both professional and amateur gamers.” More information on the new gaming notebooks can be found on this MSI press release.

Source: MSI

Xbox One announced, the games: not so much.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems | May 21, 2013 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox

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Almost exactly three months have passed since Sony announced the Playstation 4 and just three weeks remain until E3. Ahead of the event, Microsoft unveiled their new Xbox console: The Xbox One. Being so close to E3, they are saving the majority of games until that time. For now, it is the box itself as well as its non-gaming functionality.

First and foremost, the raw specifications:

  • AMD APU (5 billion transistors, 8 core, on-die eSRAM)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 500GB Storage, Bluray reader
  • USB 3.0, 802.11n, HDMI out, HDMI in

The hardware is a definite win for AMD. The Xbox One is based upon an APU which is quite comparable to what the PS4 will offer. Unlike previous generations, there will not be too much differentiation based on available performance; I would not expect to see much of a fork in terms of splitscreen and other performance-sensitive features.

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A new version of the Kinect sensor will also be present with all units which developers can depend upon. Technically speaking, the camera is higher resolution and more wide-angle; up to six skeletons can be tracked with joints able to rotate rather than just hinge. Microsoft is finally also permitting developers to use the Kinect along with a standard controller to, as they imagine, allow a user to raise their controller to block with a shield. That is the hope, but near the launch of the original Kinect, Microsoft filed a patent to allow sign language recognition: has not happened yet. Who knows whether the device will be successfully integrated into gaming applications.

Of course Microsoft is known most for system software, and the Xbox runs three lightweight operating environments. In Windows 8, you have the Modern interface which runs WinRT applications and you have the desktop app which is x86 compatible.

The Xbox One borrows more than a little from this model.

The home screen, which I am tempted to call the Start Screen, for the console has a very familiar tiled interface. They are not identical to Windows but they are definitely consistent. This interface allows for access to Internet Explorer and an assortment of apps. These apps can be pinned to the side of the screen, identical to Windows 8 modern app. I am expecting there to be "a lot of crossover" (to say the least) between this and the Windows Store; I would not be surprised if it is basically the same API. This works both when viewing entertainment content as well as within a game.

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These three operating systems run at the same time. The main operating system is basically a Hyper-V environment which runs the two other operating systems simultaneously in sort-of virtual machines. These operating systems can be layered with low latency, since all you are doing is compositing them in a different order.

Lastly, they made reference to Xbox Live, go figure. Microsoft is seriously increasing their server capacity and expects developers to utilize Azure infrastructure to offload "latency-insensitive" computation for games. While Microsoft promises that you can play games offline, this obviously does not apply to features (or whole games) which rely upon the back-end infrastructure.

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And yes, I know you will all beat up on me if I do not mention the SimCity debacle. Maxis claimed that much of the game requires an online connection due to the complicated server requirements; after a crack allowed offline functionality, it was clear that the game mostly operates fine on a local client. How much will the Xbox Live cloud service offload? Who knows, but that is at least their official word.

Now to tie up some loose ends. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games although that is no surprise. Also, Microsoft says they are allowing users to resell and lend games. That said, games will be installed and not require the disc, from what I have heard. Apart from the concerns about how much you can run on a single 500GB drive, once the game is installed rumor has it that if you load it elsewhere (the rumor is even more unclear about whether "elsewhere" counts accounts or machines) you will need to pay a fee to Microsoft. In other words? Basically not a used game.

Well, that has it. You can be sure we will add more as information comes forth. Comment away!

Source: Xbox.com

Haswell Laptop specs! NEC LaVie L to launch in Japan

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems, Mobile | May 14, 2013 - 12:54 PM |
Tagged: haswell, nec

While we are not sure when it will be released or whether it will be available for North America, we have found a Haswell laptop. Actually, NEC will release two products in this lineup: a high end 1080p unit and a lower end 1366x768 model. Unfortuantely, the article is in Japanese.

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IPS displays have really wide viewing angles, even top and bottom.

NEC is known for their higher-end monitors; most people equate the Dell Ultrasharp panels with professional photo and video production, but their top end offers are ofter a tier below the best from companies like NEC and Eizo. The laptops we are discussing today both contain touch-enabled IPS panels with apparently double the contrast ratio of what NEC considers standard. While these may or may not be the tip-top NEC offerings, they should at least be putting in decent screens.

Obviously the headliner for us is the introduction of Haswell. While we do not know exactly which product NEC decided to embed, we do know that they are relying upon it for their graphics performance. With the aforementioned higher-end displays, it seems likely that NEC is intending this device for the professional market. A price-tag of 190000 yen (just under $1900 USD) for the lower end and 200000 yen (just under $2000 USD) for the higher end further suggests this is their target demographic.

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Clearly a Japanese model.

The professional market does not exactly have huge requirements for graphics performance, but to explicitly see NEC trust Intel for their GPU performance is an interesting twist. Intel HD 4000 has been nibbling, to say the least, on the discrete GPU marketshare in laptops. I would expect this laptop would contain one of the BGA-based parts, which are soldered onto the motherboard, for the added graphics performance.

As a final note, the higher-end model will also contain a draft 802.11ac antenna. It is expected that network performance could be up to 867 megabits as a result.

Of course I could not get away without publishing the raw specifications:

LL850/MS (Price: 200000 yen):

  • Fourth-generation Intel Core processor with onboard video
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB HDD w/ 32GB SSD caching
  • BDXL (100-128GB BluRay disc) drive
  • IEEE 802.11ac WiFi adapter, Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB3.0, 2x2W stereo Yamaha speakers
  • 1080p IPS display with touch support
  • Office Home and Business 2013 preinstalled?

LL750/MS (Price: 190000 yen):

  • Fourth-generation Intel Core processor with onboard video
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB HDD (no SSD cache)
  • (Optical disc support not mentioned)
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi adapter, Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB3.0, 2x2W stereo Yamaha speakers
  • 1366x768 (IPS?) touch-enabled display
Author:
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: iBuyPower

Power and Value

We have seen our fair share of mini-ITX cases and system builds over the last six months, including rigs from Digital Storm and AVADirect.  They attempt to offer a balance between performance, power, noise and size and some do it better than others.  With the continued development of the mini-ITX form factor more users than ever are realizing you can get nearly top-end performance for gaming in a smaller package. 

Today we are taking a look at the iBuyPower Revolt, in particular the Revolt R770, the highest end base offering of the system.  Built around a small, but not tiny, PC chassis iBuyPower is able to include some pretty impressive specifications:

  • Intel Core i7-3770K processor
  • Custom built Z77 mini-ITX motherboard
  • NZXT CPU water cooler
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 2GB graphics cards
  • 8GB DDR3-1600 memory
  • 120 GB Intel 320 Series SSD
  • 1TB Western Digital Blue hard drive

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You get all of this in a case that is only 16-in x 16-in x 4.5-in built with a glossy black and white color scheme.  The company claims that the Revolt was "designed to be a gaming system for any location" including a home theater, a dorm room or in your study.  It includes "vents and air channels positioned precisely to deliver cool ambient air exactly where it is needed" and "integrated atmospheric lighting system is customizable in color."

Check out or quick video review below and then follow on to the full post for more photos of the system and a quick check of performance!

Continue reading our review of the iBuyPower Revolt Mini-ITX gaming system!!

Deal for May 9th - Alienware X51 Core i7 mini Gaming PC @ $1200

Subject: Systems | May 9, 2013 - 09:45 AM |
Tagged: deals

Sometimes it is much easier to buy a complete gaming system than to build one yourself for a variety of reasons, perhaps one good reason would be a two year warranty so you won't have to worry about spending your quality time with a recalcitrant PC.  The Alienware X51 sports some nice components for the price tag such as a Core i7-3770 @ 3.4GHz, 8GB DDR3, a 2TB SATA III Hard Drive, and Blu-ray.  Perhaps the only possible letdown is the GeForce GTX 660 1.5GB, but consider the price and the form factor before you dismiss the system.  Also worth noting, it ships with Win7 64bit, not Win8.

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To get our recommended Alienware X51 deal, follow these steps:

1. Start here at Dell Home direct store
2. Configure as per needs (optional), click Review & Buy button at the top
3. Add to cart
4. Apply coupon code: BHW1L0MX0D?MCX in shopping cart and proceed to final checkout/payment

Source: LogicBUY