Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 4, 2014 - 09:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Chromebox, asus
Often, people purchase a device with the intent of running a web browser on it. I understand the appeal of Joshtekk.com and we can all relate to the desire for it to have a dedicated machine. Google, through Chrome OS, targets this market with a line of laptops dedicated to web browsing. They are effective against virulent infections, a useful feature for casual Joshtekk encounters, with its limited native applications and simple recovery process.
ASUS is, by no means, first to this market. Samsung had a couple of Chromebox models almost two years ago. That said, the ASUS Chromebox will start at $179 USD (which is much cheaper than Samsung's $329 offering). The base model will contain an Intel Celeron 2955U processor (the aforementioned Samsung packed a Celeron B840), which is not a high-performance processor, but may suffice for your web browsing needs. If not, an Intel Core i3 model has also been announced but I do not have pricing to relay about that one. A Core i7-4600U version may or may not surface, as well. Its graphics will support options up to an Intel HD 4400.
One feature that is unexpected is its video outputs. The ASUS Chromebox supports both HDMI and DisplayPort connections for dual monitors and 4K. Given that this is a 5-inch by 5-inch (and fanless) design, with access to Netflix and other streaming services, it could make a good replacement for a "smart TV".
The ASUS Chromebox will be available in March starting at $179 USD. This price comes with 100GB of Google Drive space, free for 2 years. Also free: a VESA mount kit to, I believe, attach the Chromebox to the back of an HDTV.
If interested, read on for the press release.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 28, 2014 - 04:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: gigabyte brix, gigabyte, amd
If you feel a little déjà vu while reading this, it is because this system is identical to the MAINGEAR SPARK. Both devices are powered by an AMD A8-5557M APU backed with an AMD Radeon R9 M275X mobile discrete GPU. They even use the same case with the same color scheme. The only difference that I could find is the MAINGEAR logo on the front versus the GIGABYTE logo on the top. I think we could safely say that both devices are made at the same place. I expect that GIGABYTE was the OEM for MAINGEAR's Steam Machine.
Check out Tim's post about the SPARK.
Check out GIGABYTE's product page for the BRIX Gaming.
When Tim published his post about the SPARK for CES, back on January 6th, little was known about the R9 M275X (beyond its 2GB of GDDR5). That is still the case. AMD has not said anything further about the mobile GPU. The press release from GIGABYTE claims that it will support DirectX 11.1 (which implies it will not support DirectX 11.2) and OpenGL 4.1 (which implies a lack of support for OpenGL 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4). GIGABYTE also claims that it will support "the latest OpenCL 1.1 standard" (which implies lack of support for OpenCL 1.2).
I seriously doubt that this is true.
I cannot see AMD regressing that heavily on API compatibility. OpenGL 4.2 has been supported since the HD 5000 (desktop) and HD 6000M (laptop) series. OpenCL 1.2 has been supported since the HD 5000 (desktop) and HD 7000M (laptop) line. One of the main features of OpenCL 1.2 is the ability share resources with DirectX 11 (OpenCL 1.1 shares with DirectX 10). In fact, I cannot find a single chip that AMD produced which supports OpenGL 4.1 and OpenCL 1.1 and fails to support OpenGL 4.2 and OpenCL 1.2.
I would not trust GIGABYTE's press release when it comes to the R9 M275X.
Still nothing on pricing and availability for the GIGABYTE BRIX Gaming. Its product code will be the "GB-BXA8G-8890", which totally rolls off the tongue, so we have that going for us. It is a very interesting device. I wonder if we will see it, and other BRIX entries, find their way into the catalogs of other system builders.
Subject: Systems | January 27, 2014 - 03:55 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: shuttle, XPC Barebone, SZ87R6
Shuttle has updated their XPC Barebone system with Haswell parts. At 332x261x198mm (13x10.2x7.8") it is not the smallest chassis on the market but is small enough to fit in most spaces and with a style that would not look out of place among stereo components. It ships with a Z87 motherboard and a 500W PSU as well as a custom CPU cooler but you get to pick and choose which components you will be putting in this machine, it is a Barebone system after all. MadShrimps put a full system together using this as the base and were impressed by the cooling performance and overall look of the system.
"Shuttle has refreshed its latest XPC Barebone with a new configuration featuring the Z87 chipset, for allowing installation of the Intel Haswell processors and also features plenty of connectivity options. Thanks to the 500W power supply, we should not have a lot of issues when choosing a high performance video card, two 3.5’’ drives and a CPU with a rated TDP up to 95W."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- MESH Elite Mini Gamer Plus System @ Kitguru
- HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8 @ SPCR
- Supermicro 7047AX-TRF/72RF SuperWorkstation @ Kitguru
- Intel NUC KIT D54250WYKH Review @ Legit Reviews
- Zotax Zbox Nano AQ01 Plus Review @ Bjorn3D
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 25, 2014 - 07:42 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Lenovo, IBM, x86, servers
Lenovo will take (or purchase) the x86 torch away from IBM in the high-end server and mainframe market, too. The deal is worth $2.3 billion of which $2 billion will be cash, the remains will be paid to IBM in stock. IBM walked away from talks with Lenovo last year in a deal that was believed to be similar to this one.
Lenovo, famously, took over IBM's PC business in 2005.
... which is increasingly not IBM.
x86-based servers have been profitable, even for IBM. This is yet another example of a large company with a desire to increase their margins at the expense of overall profits. This is similar to the situation with HP when they considered getting out of consumer devices. Laptops and desktops were still profitable but not as much as, say, an ink cartridge. Sometimes leaving money on the table tells a better story and that is okay. Someone will take it.
Lenovo will also become an authorized reseller of IBM cloud computing and storage solutions (plus some of their software). IBM will continue to operate their server and mainframe businesses based on their own architectures (such as Power and Z/Architecture).
Approximately 7,500 of IBM's current employees will be hired by Lenovo as a part of this agreement. Unfortunately, I do not know how many current employees are affected. 7,500 could be the vast majority of that workforce or only a small fraction of it. Hopefully this deal will not mean too many layoffs, if any at all.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 22, 2014 - 01:27 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SteamOS
When Valve launched SteamOS, it was definitely a beta product. Its installer prompted Ryan to make a troubleshooting video on our Youtube channel. It also apparently required a computer equipped with a UEFI which only became common about two or three years ago. It is also very difficult to install as a dual-boot configuration which complicates its coexistence with Windows (because Microsoft will certainly not support it from their end).
Thankfully, most or all of these issues are being addressed in the latest beta SteamOS ISO... at your own risk. They are very careful to highlight that this beta has not been properly tested. Given that their initial release could nuke a random hard drive full of data, I would take that warning seriously.
These changes come from the project, "Ye Old SteamOSe". I am not sure that it solves the USB overwrite issue that we experienced (unless it was already fixed at some point) but I would expect that custom partitions and dual-boot would be impossible if that bug still existed. The highlighted features, according to the announcement's comments, are:
- Non-EFI support
- DVD install support
- Custom partitions in Expert mode (cannot resize NTFS partitions).
- Dual-boot in Expert mode.
If you would like to give SteamOS installation another shot, on a machine that you feel comfortable testing software with, then check out the Steam Universe thread.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 21, 2014 - 03:39 AM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Memory, Systems | January 20, 2014 - 02:40 AM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 12, 2014 - 03:08 AM | Tim Verry
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.
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?
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 9, 2014 - 03:10 AM | Tim Verry
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.
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.
Subject: Systems | January 7, 2014 - 05:08 AM | Josh Walrath
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.
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.
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.
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.
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