Maingear prepares for Battlefield 4 with exclusive PCs featuring the new AMD Radeon R9 290X

Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 9, 2013 - 12:24 PM |
Tagged:

Kenilworth, New Jersey – October 9, 2013 (9:00am EST) - MAINGEAR, an award-winning PC system builder of custom gaming desktops and notebooks has been working closely with AMD and EA to build two exclusive branded flagship systems that will sport the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics solutions to offer the best PC gaming experience for the highly anticipated BATTLEFIELD 4 game.

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The flagship MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops will be equipped with the new AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card that harnesses the visionary GCN architecture, providing higher clockspeeds on the whim and offering better performance on high performance for PC gamers such as BF4. The SHIFT will offer two R9 290X cards in CrossFire with options to configure up to 3 cards, while the F131 will start with one R9 290X and configurable up to two cards in CrossFire. This new generation of AMD graphics provides the best gaming experience possible with maximum detail settings enabled. The AMD Radeon R9 290X architecture offers the horsepower necessary to support ultra-resolution 4K gaming with smooth and consistent frame rates. Loaded with up to 4GB of memory and with AMD TrueAudio Technology that offers more immersive audio, gamers won’t miss anything and will hear every pin drop and explosion. The exclusive MAINGEAR BF4 SHIFT and F131 with Radeon R9 GPUs combined with AMD’s FX 590 unlocked CPU processor will be the top choice for gaming.

These elegant PCs will feature exclusive Battlefield 4 aesthetics including artwork that is illustrated on the side panel of the SHIFT and laser etched on the F131. The SHIFT will include subtle touches of the iconic Battlefield 4 orange color on the exterior and interior and the MAINGEAR logo on the front panel on the F131 will have an orange glow. Both systems will have an exclusive wallpaper of Battlefield 4 artwork on the desktop and of course a game code that comes with the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics while supplies last.

“Powered by the AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card, the latest and greatest in graphics technology, the MAINGEAR SHIFT and F131 desktops are ready for combat in ‘Battlefield 4’,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager, Graphics Business Unit, AMD. “The partnership between AMD and MAINGEAR delivers high performance rigs designed to bring the finest PC gaming experience for ultra-enthusiasts.”

"We're pleased to work with AMD and EA on these exclusive Battlefield 4 systems featuring the exciting AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. AMD has been a great technology partner and the new Radeon R9 290X is a fantastic addition to our award winning lineup of high performance gaming PCs. Forward-looking technologies like TrueAudio and especially Project Mantle show AMD's commitment to gaming. And bundling Battlefield 4 is just icing on the cake!"

The special edition MAINGEAR Battlefield 4 SHIFT and F131 desktops are available for pre-orders today. The SHIFT starts at $3,789 with two AMD Radeon R9 290X in CrossFire while the F131 starts at $2,199 with one AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card. All MAINGEAR system receive lifetime labor and phone support with one to three year hardware warranty For more information, go to: www.maingear.com/bf4

Source: Maingear

6 tuners, 1 card; not as dirty as it sounds

Subject: Systems | October 7, 2013 - 06:09 PM |
Tagged: htpc, ceton, tv tuner

TV addicts and members of large families rejoice as Ceton's InfiniTV6 PCIe digital cable tuner card allows you to record up to 6 separate channels concurrently.  The $300 price tag makes it a bit of an investment but for those uninterested in online TV streaming services may really like the idea of being able to record that many shows at the same time.  Activating and pairing your cable card is not too difficult and the included instructions should be able to help anyone who does encounter troubles.  Missing Remote mentions that Win7 is the way to go with this card, Win8 support is in beta and nowhere near as reliable.

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"Six is a good number – even better when it is equated to the number of tuners in your current HTPC. Obviously it is possible to get by with less, but after considering EPG overlaps, a couple children and the spouse – what was an impossible luxury not that long ago quickly becomes a celebrated necessity. With ClearQAM disappearing and ATSC difficult to master in some markets, it is hard to argue with the simplicity that a single Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) provides. Ceton InfiniTV6 PCIe Digital Cable Tuner card includes the ability to use an M-CARD CableCARD to record any channel you subscribe to from your Cable TV Provider."

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

HTPC

Steam Machine Specifications Revealed...?

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Cases and Cooling, Systems | October 4, 2013 - 07:19 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine

Well, that did not take long.

Valve announced the Steam Machines barely over a week ago and could not provide hardware specifications. While none of these will be available for purchase, the honor of taking money reserved for system builders and OEMs, Valve has announced hardware specifications for their beta device.

Rather, they announced a few of them?

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The raw specifications, or range of them, are:

  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce Titan through GeForce GTX660 (780 and 760 possible)
  • CPU: Intel i7-4770 or i5-4570, or i3-something
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)
  • Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD
  • Power Supply: 450W
  • Dimensions: approx. 12" x 12.4" x 2.9"

Really the only reason I could see for the spread of performance is to not pressure developers into targeting a single reference design. This is odd, since every reference design contains an NVIDIA GPU which (you would expect) a company who wants to encourage an open mind would not have such a glaring omission. I could speculate about driver compatibility with SteamOS and media streaming but even that feels far-fetched.

On the geeky side of things: the potential for a GeForce Titan is fairly awesome and, along with the minimum GeForce 660, is the first sign that I might be wrong about this whole media center extender thing. My expectation was that Valve would acknowledge some developers might want a streaming-focused device.

Above all, I somewhat hope Valve is a bit more clear to consumers with their intent... especially if their intent is to be unclear with OEMs for some reason.

The only thing that beats a NUC is an overclocked NUC

Subject: Systems | September 30, 2013 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: overclocking, nuc, Intel, d54250wyk

Perhaps your first thought upon seeing the new Haswell based NUC was something other than how to overclock it but when Legit Reviews got their hands on the D54250WYK they went straight to the BIOS to see what they could get out of this tiny system.  Intel's Visual BIOS made it a snap with their Performance Dashboard page that allows you access to all the usual frequencies you need.  Along the way they investigated RAM compatibility, both speed and size, but in the end they succeeded in getting 1866MHz RAM running full speed.

Don't forget our review of the NUC!

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"We’ve spent pretty much all our free time this week using the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK and if you couldn’t tell from our review, we love the new design and the Intel 4th Generation Core i5-4250U Haswell processor that powers it. In our review we showed you the general performance of the system running at stock speeds. The one question that we didn’t answer at that time is how it performs when overclocked. There aren’t too many things that you can overclock on the NUC since the CPU multiplier and bus speeds are locked down, but we can overclock the DDR3 memory. In the past overclocking the memory clock frequency has yielded some pretty good results for memory bandwidth limited applications and gaming benchmarks. Read on to see how the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK performs with 1866MHz memory!"

Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:

Systems

Manufacturer: Microsoft

If Microsoft was left to their own devices...

Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.

The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.

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Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.

It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.

Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.

A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.

Keep reading to see what Microsoft... probably still cannot.

Author:
Manufacturer: Intel

Another Next Unit of Computing

Just about a year ago Intel released a new product called the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC for short.  The idea was to allow Intel's board and design teams to bring the efficient performance of the ultra low voltage processors to a desktop, and creative, form factor.  By taking what is essentially Ultrabook hardware and putting it in a 4-in by 4-in design Intel is attempting to rethink what the "desktop" computer is and how the industry develops for it.

We reviewed the first NUC last year, based on the Intel Ivy Bridge processor and took away a surprising amount of interest in the platform.  It was (and is) a bit more expensive than many consumers are going to be willing to spend on such a "small" physical device but the performance and feature set is compelling. 

This time around Intel has updated the 4x4 enclosure a bit and upgrade the hardware from Ivy Bridge to Haswell.  That alone should result in a modest increase in CPU performance with quite a bit of increase in the integrated GPU performance courtesy of the Intel HD Graphics 5000.  Other changes are on the table to; let's take a look.

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The Intel D54250WYK NUC is a bare bones system that will run you about $360.  You'll need to buy system memory and an mSATA SSD for storage (wireless is optional) to complete the build.

Continue reading our review of the Intel NUC D54250WYK SFF System Review - Haswell Update!!

Valve Hardware Pt. 3: Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | September 27, 2013 - 02:42 PM |
Tagged: SteamOS, Steam Controller, reverse-consolitis

Steam Controller is the third, and final, announcement in the Steam Hardware event. Sure, the peripheral looks weird. It looks very weird. The first thing(s?) you will notice, and likely the driving influence for the iconography, is... or are... the touch pads which replace the expected thumbsticks. The second thing you will notice is the "high resolution" (no specific resolution or dimension was provided) touchscreen.

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The most defining aspect of the controllers, as previously stated, is its pair of trackpads. This input method might actually stand the chance of precise controls while maintaining comfort for a couch. To start, I will quote Valve:

In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.

The emphasis was placed by me.

Last year, almost to the date, I published an editorial, "Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?" In it, I analyzed console controllers from an engineering standpoint. I blamed velocity-based joystick control for the need to enable auto-aim on console titles. Quoting myself, which feels a little weird to be entirely honest:

Analog sticks are a velocity-oriented control scheme where the mouse is a relative position-oriented control scheme. When you move a joystick around you do not move the pointer to a target rather you make it travel at some speed in the direction of the target. With a mouse you just need to move it the required distance and stop. It is easier to develop a sensitivity to how far you need to pull a mouse to travel to the target than a sensitivity to how long to hold a joystick in a given direction to reach a target. Joysticks are heavily reliant on our mental clocks and eye coordination.

Each trackpad can also be clicked, like the thumbsticks of current controllers just probably more comfortably, to provide extra functionality. From a User Experience (UX) standpoint, I can envision a first-person shooter which emulates a (velocity-based) joystick when the right trackpad is pressed (assuming it is very light to press and comfortably to rub your thumb against while pressing) but switches to position-based when touched but not pressed.

The implication is quick rotation when firing from the hip, but positionally-based targeting when precision is required. Maybe other methods will come up too? I find the technology particularly exciting because Valve, clearly, designed it with the understanding of position-based versus velocity-based control. This challenge you rarely hear discussed.

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The touchscreen is also a large clickable surface. The controller recognizes touch input and overlays the contents of the screen atop the user's screen but it will not commit the action until the touchpad is pressed. This is designed so the gamer will not need to look at their controller to see what action they are performing.

Personally, I hope this is developer-accessible. Some games, as the WiiU suggests, can benefit from hiding information.

Haptic feedback also ties into the trackpads. Their intent is to provide sensations to the thumbs and compensate for loss of mechanical sensation with thumbsticks. Since they are in there, Valve decided to offer a large, programmable, data channel to very precisely control the effect.

They specifically mention the ability to accept audio waveforms to function as speakers "as a parlour trick".

The devices will be beta tested, via the Steam Machine quest, but without wireless or touchscreen support. Instead of a touchscreen, the controller will contain a four-quadrant grid of buttons mapped to commands.

Thus wraps up the three-pronged announcement. Valve directs interested users to their Steam Universe group for further discussion.

Source: Steam

APC Plays Rock, Paper, Firefox OS. Fix Bug? Free Device!

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 26, 2013 - 05:25 PM |
Tagged: Rock, Paper, Firefox OS, APC

Update: (9/28/2013) APC responded to my email and confirmed all models support up to 32GB microSD cards (so, microSD or microSDHC).

Firefox OS is an operating system which boots into a web standards rendering engine. All applications and user interface elements are essentially web sites, often hosted by the device but could obviously have online components as the creator desires, web standards making it easier to port and manage code.

Hardware designers are continuing to adopt the platform.

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APC Paper

APC, an initiative of VIA Technologies, got our attention over a year ago when they launched their smaller-than-a-banana Android desktop. It was an interesting design which came out at roughly the same time as the Raspberry Pi. I cannot tell whether that boost or harmed consumer interest.

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From behind

Either way, the APC has announced two successors: The APC Paper and the APC Rock. Both devices dropped Android (side note: the $50 APC 8750 based on Android 2.3 is apparently still available) replacing it, instead, with Firefox OS. Both devices are in the Neo-ITX form factor although that should not matter too much, for Paper, as it includes a case.

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APC Rock

Paper covers Rock, get it?

The raw specifications are as follows:

  • SoC: VIA ARM Cortex-A9 @ 800 MHz
  • GPU: Built in 2D/3D up to 720p
  • Memory: 512MB DDR3
  • Storage: 4GB NAND Flash
  • Expandable Storage: microSD (maximum 32GB)
    • Update: APC confirmed all models support up to 32GB, which is microSDHC
  • I/O: HDMI, VGA (Rock-only), 2x USB 2.0, MicroUSB, 3.5mm Headphone/Mic

This build of Firefox OS contains mouse and keyboard support. If you wish to install your own operating system, while you are on your own, the kernel and bootloader are available on the APC website and the hardware is unlocked. They also provide access to the ARM debug headers for the real developer types.

If you are one of these developer types, would you consider fixing a known issue? APC will donate free devices to users who submit fixes for specially tagged bugs on their Github repo. Think of it like investing time fixing a product which, if you would have bought it, probably would have crushed the bug anyway.

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It would have been nice to see a bump in processor performance and graphics functionality, and perhaps more than 512 MB of RAM, although it should be sufficient for light web browsing. As a developer of GPU-intensive web applications, which I expect to have an article on soon, I am not sure how much that colors my view of these devices. Then again, we are also talking about devices in the Roku price-point, so (apart from sticking with 720p... come on now) I may not have a valid complaint.

Both devices are available now, in limited quantities, through the manufacturer website. The Paper carries a price tag of $99 USD while the Rock is slightly cheaper at $79 USD.

Source: APC

Valve Hardware Pt. 2: Steam Machines Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 25, 2013 - 02:16 PM |
Tagged:

If you were hoping to purchase a Valve-stamped device then you will be disappointed.

Valve, as it becomes increasingly clear, does not want to limit SteamOS to specific hardware. With the tag line, "Finally, a multiple choice answer", Valve wants consumers to purchase from OEMs or create the devices themselves.

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Valve will make 300 of their own boxes and deliver them to selected beta testers, for free, after an "eligibility quest" ending October 25th. No specifications have been announced for these devices except that they are high performance, upgradable, and open. Even if you do not get one of these boxes, completing the quest will earn you a Steam badge so, that is something, right?

The most important announcement, hidden in the FAQ, is that game streaming will be available during the Beta test. I could assume, from this, that it will be available at launch. This allows users to access "the 3,000 games on Steam" whether running natively or networked to your gaming computer. Also in the FAQ, SteamOS will have mouse and keyboard support although it clearly is designed for gamepad input, too.

The longer this goes, the more correct I feel about Valve picking up the slack left behind by Microsoft. These boxes look at consoles from the model of "Media Center Extenders" except with Steam and other streaming partners being the Media Center server instead of actual Windows Media Center. Sure, I expect them to be more powerful than Roku boxes and many even more powerful than the Xbox One and PS4, but they are looking to follow that market segment.

I do not see these devices even trying to compete with PC market share.

You can purchase your own Steam Machine from a number of OEMs in 2014. The beta contest closes October 25th and those devices will be shipped between now at the end of the year. For details on the "eligibility quest", check out Steam's page.

Make sure to come back on Friday for the last of three announcements. Also, if you're around in 45 minutes (after publish), check out AMD's Hawaii GPU announcement live stream.

Source: Steam

Valve Hardware Pt. 1: SteamOS Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 23, 2013 - 02:20 PM |
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, Steam Box, big picture mode

SteamOS is the first announcement, of three, in Valve's attempt to install a PC into your living room. The operating system is unsurprisingly built from Linux and optimized for the living room. Still no announcement of hardware although the second part is less than 48 hours away. The key features of SteamOS will also be ported to the Steam client on Windows, OSX, and Linux. Are you seeing... the big picture?

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The four main features are: in-home streaming, media services, family sharing, and family options.

In-home streaming allows users to, by leaving their Steam client running on their PC or Mac, use their network to transmit video and controller input to SteamOS. The concept is very similar to OnLive and Gaikai. Latency is barely an issue, however, as the server is located on your local network. As the user owns the server, also known as their home computer, there is less concern of the service removing the title from their library. Graphics performance would be dictated by that high-end PC, and not the gaming consoles.

As a side note: Gabe Newell, last year at CES, mentioned plans by NVIDIA to allow virtualized GPUs with Maxwell (AMD is probably working on a similar feature, too). Combined with in-home streaming, this means that two or more Steam boxes could play games from the same desktop even while someone else uses it.

SteamOS will have music, movie, and TV functionality. Very little details on this one but I would assume Netflix is a possibility. The Steam distribution platform can physically handle video and audio streaming, especially with their updates a couple of years ago, but their silence about content deals leads me to assume they are talking about third-party services... for now, at least. We do know, from LinuxCon, that Gabe Newell is a firm believer in one library of content regardless of device.

We have already discussed Steam Family Sharing, but this is obviously aimed at Steam Box. One library for all content includes games.

Lastly, Steam will be updated for family control options. Individual users can be restricted or hidden from certain titles in other users' libraries. This helps keep them at-or-above parity with the gaming consoles for concerned parents.

Valve also believes in user control.

Steam is not a one-way content broadcast channel, it’s a collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform, in which each participant is a multiplier of the experience for everyone else. With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.

SteamOS will be free, forever, to everyone. Both users and system builders (including OEMs) can download the operating system and install it on their machines. No release date, yet, but it will be available soon... Valve Time?

The second announcement will occur at 1PM EDT this Wednesday, September 25, 2013. According to their iconography, we can now assume SteamOS will be the circle. The next announcement is circle in square brackets: SteamOS in a box? If you come on over to find out (please do! : D), stick around an extra couple of hours (minus the time it takes to write the article) for our AMD Hawaii Live Stream at 3PM EDT also on September 25th.

Source: Steam