HP: Save Your PC & $150 USD with Windows 7?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 21, 2014 - 03:39 AM |
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 7, hp

Windows 7 is not available to purchase at retail, officially, but system builders are still allowed to integrate it into their PCs until at least October. At the same time, Windows XP is nearing its end of life of April 8th (the day of its last security update). A third coincidence, modern Windows could easily be compared to modern art because it is made by someone who tells you what is legitimate and, when you actually attempt to admire it, makes no sense unless the designer explains everything.

HP took these three points as an opportunity.

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If you purchase from a set of select new desktop or laptops, HP will ship it with Windows 7 installed by default. On top of needing to physically choose Windows 8.1, the default Windows 7 install also comes with a $150 USD discount. The models are spread between Pavilion and Envy desktops and laptops.

I believe this is a very smart move for HP. You may soon have a mass of customers looking to replace expired devices and they may want the closest analogy to what they are used to. They will still have Windows 8-based options but they want to capitalize on anyone looking for something else.

Personally, trolling aside, I actually do not mind the interface of Windows 8.1. My only complaint is the reliance upon Windows Store and its potential future problems especially if it becomes the only way to install software. Could you imagine if someone like the NSA forced Microsoft to not certify encryption apps (or worse, tamper with them)? One of a million problems that mandatory certification, and the interest groups who abuse it, brings.

Source: HP

Corsair Quantifies the Benefits of Overclocking

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Memory, Systems | January 20, 2014 - 02:40 AM |
Tagged: corsair, overclocking

I rarely overclock anything and this is for three main reasons. The first is that I have had an unreasonably bad time with computer parts failing on their own. I did not want to tempt fate. The second was that I focused on optimizing the operating system and its running services. This was mostly important during the Windows 98, Windows XP, and Windows Vista eras. The third is that I did not find overclocking valuable enough for the performance you regained.

A game that is too hefty to run is probably not an overclock away from working.

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Thankfully this never took off...

Today, overclocking is easier and safer than ever with parts that basically do it automatically and back off, on their own, if thermals are too aggressive. Several components are also much less locked down than they have been. (Has anyone, to this day, hacked the locked Barton cores?) It should not be too hard to find a SKU which encourages the enthusiast to tweak some knobs.

But how much of an increase will you see? Corsair has been blogging about using their components (along with an Intel processor, Gigabyte motherboard, and eVGA graphics card because they obviously do not make those) to overclock. The cool part is they break down performance gains in terms of raising the frequencies for just the CPU, just the GPU, just the RAM, or all of the above together. This breakdown shows how each of the three categories contribute to the whole. While none of the overclocks are dramatic, Corsair is probably proud of the 5% jump in Cinebench OpenGL performance just by overclocking the RAM from 1600 MHz to 1866 MHz without touching the CPU or GPU.

It is definitely worth a look.

Source: Corsair

Zotac Shows Off Spherical ZBOX 01520 SFF PC

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 12, 2014 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox 01520, zbox, SFF, CES 2014, CES

Zotac unveiled a number of products at CES 2014 in Las Vegas including several small form factor (SFF) PCs. In addition to the ZBOX Steam Machine, Zotac showed off a ZBOX 01520 computer in a spherical form factor. The ZBOX 01520 comes in bare-bones and PLUS SKUs, similar to the other, existing, Zotac ZBOX computers.

On the outside, the new PC is a small black orb with straight edges on the back and bottom to support it. Inside, Zotac has fitted a tiny motherboard, an Intel Core i3-4010U dual core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz, two SO-DIMM slots (up to 16GB), a spot for a single 2.5" hard drive. The motherboard further includes one mSATA slot for a solid state drive and wireless radios for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

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Greek tech site Tech Blog managed to snap photos of the new Zotac PC.

Rear IO on the ZBOX 01520 orb includes four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI video output, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and a single 4-1 card reader slot.

The bare-bones kit includes the motherboard, CPU, and case while the PLUS version adds 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 500GB hard drive. Users can add their own mSATA drive for increased performance.

Beyond the basics, details are scarce on the new Zotac PC. Pricing and availability have not yet been announced. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more details on the SFF PC as it becomes available.

Are you interested in the spherical ZBOX 01520?

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: TechBlog

Boutique PC Vendor Xidax Now Accepting Bitcoin Payments

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 9, 2014 - 03:10 AM |
Tagged: xidax, gaming pc, bitcoin

Xidax Performance PC, a new boutique PC vendor founded in early 2013 has announced that it is now accepting Bitcoin for payment of its custom-built gaming computers. Reportedly in response to customer demand, Xidax has added bitcoin to its payment options, which are available upon configuring a PC on the website.

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Xidax Executive Operations Officer Zack Shutt has stated the following in a press release:

“We will do whatever it takes to make custom PC buying easier and give Xidax customers more options,” said Shutt. “We’re intrigued by the growing bitcoin phenomenon and we are happy to provide bitcoin users an easy, secure way to order a custom built PC.”

The bitcoins are handled through a bitcoin payment processor where it can then be converted back to USD (as Xidax is a US-based company). It is interesting to see a PC vendor accepting Bitcoin as it is now possible to purchase an entire, custom built, PC from a major company using funds gathered from mining on a PC (albeit alt-coins converted to BTC or a stockpile of BTC from when GPU mining was still effective). More options are nice, and bitcoin does offer a secure way to pay free of high fees from the likes of Paypal and credit card processors.

What do you think about Xidax accepting bitcoin? Will it add more credibility and/or usefulness to the digital cryptocurrency?

Read more about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining @ PC Perspective.

Source: Xidax

Digital Storm Releases the Bolt II: Steam Machine!

Subject: Systems | January 7, 2014 - 05:08 AM |
Tagged: CES, steam os, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, small form factor, dual boot, Digital Storm, CES 2014, Bolt 2

Today Digital Storm has announced the Bolt 2 small form factor computer.  This little number is marketed as a “Steam machine”, and for very good reasons.  This particular number packs in quite a punch in a very small space.

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The custom designed case has a very effective and logical layout.  It really is quite small, but it is very strong and robust.  It can handle a micro-ITX board, multiple drives, and a dual slot graphics card.  The system I saw was decked out with a GTX 780 Ti along with the Intel i7 4770K.  It includes Digital Storm’s proprietary lighting and cooling module which of course controls the lighting… and cooling fan speed for the system.

Cooling is primarily based on the Corsair H100i dual fan unit.  This portion takes air from one side/top of the case (depending on orientation) and then vents it through the rest of the chassis.  The graphics card takes air from the other side of the case and routes it out the back.  This cooling solution allows a fair amount of overclocking to be attempted by the end user, but it does have limitations as compared to a larger system with more airflow.

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The design utilizes a 700 watt power supply, which is pretty impressive considering the space constraints that Digital Storm has to deal with.  A lot of work with partners has allowed them to include this very small unit with a pair of 30 mm fans at either end.  One would expect such fans to produce a LOT of noise.  This is happily not the case.  The design is good enough, and efficient enough, that at higher loads (including overclocking) it stays very quiet.

The system is very accessible, far more than most would expect.  Anyone that has worked on an older small form factor case will testify as to how annoying and contorted setting up hardware (or swapping it out) can be.  Digital Storm again took their time with the design to make sure that installation and the changing of components is as simple as possible.  A person armed with a screwdriver can get to any major component in a few seconds.  Swapping out the video card would take the amount of time of removing four screws, unplugging the power, and making sure not to rip out the PCI-E 16X ribbon connecting the card to the board.

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Prices for the unit start at $1500 and go above $2500, depending on component choices.  When Valve finalizes the Steam OS and has it ready for prime time, Digital Storm will be including the Steam controller with the build.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

CES 2014: CyberPowerPC Steam Machine Series Coming In 2H 2014

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 6, 2014 - 11:53 PM |
Tagged: steambox, steam os, Steam Machine, Cyberpower, CES 2014, CES

Today, CyberPowerPC announced its series of SteamOS-powered Steam Machines. Set to be available in the second half of this year, the Steam Machine series will come in several customizable models ranging in price from $499 to $699.

All models share a custom Steam Machine gaming case, a 500GB 7200RPM mechanical hard drive, 8GB of DDR3 memory clocked at 1600MHz, Valve's Steam OS, and a bundled Steam Controller. From there, the systems differ by processor, graphics, and networking hardware.

CYBERPOWERPC Steam Machine.JPG

On the low end, the $499 CyberPowerPC Steambox is powered by a dual core AMD A6-6400K Richland APU clocked at 3.9GHz, a Radeon R9 270 graphics card with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and a Mini-ITX motherboard with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support.

Stepping up to the $699 mark gets you Intel and NVIDIA hardware in the form of a dual core/quad threaded Intel Core i3-4330 CPU clocked at 3.5GHz and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The networking is also upgraded to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

CyberPowerPC Steam Machine Specification List.png

The chassis is a white case with black front panel and green LEDs. A Valve logo is on the top of the case. It certainly has a gaming console look that should sit well in your entertainment center. The front of the case has three USB 3.0 ports and two audio jacks. Personally, I look at the case and am reminded of classic cartridge-loading game consoles due to the cutout/depressed gray accent.

As always, stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information as it becomes available!

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: CyberPower

CES 2014: Gigabyte's New SFF BRIX Pro Comes With Iris Pro 5200 Graphics

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 6, 2014 - 10:59 PM |
Tagged: SFF, iris pro, Intel, gigabyte, CES 2014, CES, brix pro, brix

Gigabyte is showing off a new small form factor BRIX-series PC at CES this week. This new BRIX Pro computer offers up desktop-level performance in a tiny form factor (approximately 4.2” width x 4.5” length x 2” height).

The BRIX Pro is available as a DIY kit that comes with a black or red chassis, choice of either Intel i7 4770R or Intel i5 4570R processor, mini PCI-E Wi-Fi card, and power adapter/cable. In addition to the CPU performance offered by the Haswell processor, the big news here is that the BRIX Pro ships with the processor-integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200. This GPU is the high-end model that comes with 64MB of eDRAM. Considering how rare the Iris Pro GPU with embedded DRAM has been in desktop PCs, having it available in the BRIX platform is good news for enthusiasts!

Gigabyte BRIX Pro with Intel Iris 5200 Graphics.png.png

Gigabyte claims that the BRIX Pro is capable of 3D gaming and is compatible with content creation/production applications. Additionally, it can output 4K resolutions over HDMI thanks to the Iris Pro 5200 GPU (at least the desktop and video, most gaming is out at 4K).

From there, users can add their own memory, mSATA SSD, and 2.5” SATA III drive. There is a mPCIe slot as well, but it is used by the 802.11ac Wi-Fi + BT 4.0 card.

Gigabyte BRIX Pro Internals.png

Photo courtesy Allyn Malventano (PC Perspective).

External IO on the BRIX Pro includes two USB 3.0 ports and a combination analog headphone/digital S/PDIF jack on the front. On the back of the SFF PC, users have two USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet jack, one Mini DisplayPort output, one HDMI video output, a DC power input, and a Kensington lock.

Gigabyte has not revealed pricing or availability information, but it should be coming out sooner rather than later in 2014. When it does become available, there will be two models: the GB-BXi7-4770R and the GB-BXi5-4570R.

Gigabyte BRIX Pro SFF PC.png

Photo courtesy Allyn Malventano (PC Perspective).

The BRIX Pro looks to be a powerhouse for its size, though I am curious about the noise levels produced by the cooling fan needed to keep the high end processor cool. Overall though, the BRIX Pro looks to be a nice addition to the compact BRIX PC lineup, and I am looking forward to reviews of it. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information as it becomes available. 

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: Gigabyte

CES 2014: Maingear Launches Tiny APU-Powered "Spark" Steambox PC

Subject: Systems | January 6, 2014 - 09:30 PM |
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. 

MG-Spark-hero.png

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).

MG-Spark-ports.png

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.

MG-Spark-specs.png

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?

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: Maingear

CES 2014: Digital Storm Bolt II SFF Steam Machine

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2014 - 12:00 PM |
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.

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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.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

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.

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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.

Jump straight to the Low End System Build Guide!!