Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | April 8, 2014 - 01:11 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: BUILD 2014, microsoft, windows, winRT
A few days ago, I reported on the news from BUILD 2014 that Windows would see the return of the Start Menu and windowed apps. These features, which are not included with today's Windows 8.1 Update 1, will come in a later version. While I found these interface changes interesting, I reiterated that the user interface was not my concern: Windows Store certification was. I did leave room for a little hope, however, because Microsoft scheduled an announcement of changes. It was focused on enterprise customers, so I did not hold my breath.
And some things did change... but not enough for the non-enterprise user.
Microsoft is still hanging on to the curation of apps, except for "domain-joined" x86 Enterprise and x86 Pro PCs; RT devices and "not domain-joined" computers will only allow sideloaded apps with a key. This certificate (key) is not free for everyone. Of course, this does not have anything to do with native x86 applications. Thankfully, the prospect of WinRT APIs eventually replacing Win32, completely, seems less likely now. It could still be possible if Windows Store has a major surge in popularity but, as it stands right now, Microsoft seems to be spending less effort containing x86 for an eventual lobotomy.
If it does happen, it would be a concern for a variety of reasons:
Governments, foreign or domestic, who pressure Microsoft to ban encryption software.
Internet Explorer's Trident would have no competition to adopt new web standards.
Cannot create an app for just a friend or family member (unless it's a web app in IE).
When you build censorship, the crazies will come with demands to abuse it.
So I am still concerned about the future of Windows. I am still not willing to believe that Microsoft will support x86-exclusive applications until the end of time. If that happens, and sideloading is not publicly available, and web standards are forced into stagnation by a lack of alternative web browsers, then I can see bad times ahead. I will not really feel comfortable until a definitive pledge to allow users to control what can go on their device, even if Microsoft (or people with some form of authority over them) dislikes it, is made.
But I know that many disagree with me. What are your thoughts? Comment away!
Athlon and Pentium Live On
Over the past year or so, we have taken a look at a few budget gaming builds here at PC Perspective. One of our objectives with these build guides was to show people that PC gaming can be cost competitive with console gaming, and at a much higher quality.
However, we haven't stopped pursuing our goal of the perfect inexpensive gaming PC, which is still capable of maxing out image quality settings on today's top games at 1080p.
Today we take a look at two new systems, featuring some parts which have been suggested to us after our previous articles.
|AMD System||Intel System|
|Processor||AMD Athlon X4 760K - $85||Intel Pentium G3220 - $65|
|Cores / Threads||4 / 4||2 / 2|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte F2A55M-HD2 - $60||ASUS H81M-E - $60|
|Graphics||MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180||MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180|
|System Memory||Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73||Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60||Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master GX 450W - $50||Cooler Master GX 450W - $50|
|Case||Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50||Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50|
(Editor's note: If you don't already have a copy of Windows, and don't plan on using Linux or SteamOS, you'll need an OEM copy of Windows 8.1 - currently selling for $98.)
These are low prices for a gaming computer, and feature some parts which many of you might not know a lot about. Let's take a deeper look at the two different platforms which we built upon.
First up is the AMD Athlon X4 760K. While you may not have known the Athlon brand was still being used on current parts, they represent an interesting part of the market. On the FM2 socket, the 760K is essentially a high end Richland APU, with the graphics portion of the chip disabled.
What this means is that if you are going to pair your processor with a discrete GPU anyway, you can skip paying extra for the integrated GPU.
As for the motherboard, we went for an ultra inexpensive A55 option from Gigabyte, the GA-F2A55M-HD2. This board features the A55 chipset which launched with the Llano APUs in 2011. Because of this older chipset, the board does not feature USB 3.0 or SATA 6G capability, but since we are only concerned about gaming performance here, it makes a great bare bones option.
Subject: Systems | March 24, 2014 - 01:49 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gigabyte brix, brix pro
The Tech Report got their hands on the rather impressive Brix Pro from Gigabyte, a tiny PC that packs a fair amount of power. Hidden in this 2.4 x 4.3 x 4.5" box is a Core i7-4770R with accompanying HD 5200 Iris Pro graphics, a 240GB 525 Series SSD and 8GB of DDR3-1600, though the last two components are optional. The new Intel GPU was able to handle BF4 and Borderlands 2, though some strange artifacting was noticeable in the latter title. Overall they like the new Brix Pro but thought Gigabyte shrunk the device a little too much as the fan was quite loud when under load; a larger heatsink and fan combo may have avoided that minor irritation.
"The first, Intel-built NUC (short for Next Unit of Computing) debuted a little over a year ago, and our own Scott Wasson picked it apart at the time. Today, we're back with a mini-PC that's based on the same form factor but trades the power-sipping mobile CPU for a quad-core desktop specimen."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- CyberpowerPC Zeus Mini-I 780 mITX System Review @ Legit Reviews
- Asrock Vision HT 420D @ Legion Hardware
- Gigabyte Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R Mini-PC Review @MissingRemote
- Shuttle Barebone DS437 Fanless Slim PC with Celeron CPU Review @ Madshrimps
- MSI Nightblade @ Kitguru
- Monster Build Part 2: The Machine @ TechwareLabs
- CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini System Review @ Hardware Asylum
- YOYOTech M-Cube WS2 @ Kitguru
Subject: Processors, Systems | March 19, 2014 - 08:00 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: ready mode, Intel, gdc 14, GDC
Intel Ready Mode is a new technology that looks to offer some of the features of connected standby for desktop and all-in-one PCs while using new power states of the Haswell architecture to keep power consumption incredibly low. By combining a 4th Generation Core processor from Intel, a properly implemented motherboard and platform with new Intel or OEM software, users can access the data on their system or push data to their system without "waking up" the machine.
This feature is partially enabled by the C7 state added to the Haswell architecture with the 4th Generation Core processors but could require motherboard and platform providers to update implementations to properly support the incredibly low idle power consumption.
To be clear, this is not a desktop implementation of Microsoft Instant Go (Connected Standby) but instead is a unique and more flexible implementation. While MS Instant Go only works on Windows 8 and with Metro applications, Intel Ready Mode will work with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and actually keeps the machine awake and active, just at a very low power level. This allows users to not only make sure their software is always up to date and ready when they want to use the PC but enabled access to a remote PC from a remote location - all while in this low power state.
How low? Well Intel has a note on its slide that mentions Fujitsu launched a feature called Low Power Active Mode in 2013 that was able to hit 5 watts when leveraging the Intel guidelines. You can essentially consider this an incredibly low power "awake" state for Intel PCs.
Intel offers up some suggested usage models for Ready Mode and I will be interested to see what OEMs integrate support for this technology and if DIY users will be able to take advantage of it as well. Lenovo, ASUS, Acer, ECS, HP and Fujitsu are supporting it this year.
Subject: Systems | March 12, 2014 - 07:38 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, SFF, projector, i3-4010u, gigabyte, bxpi3-4010, brix projector, brix
With more than a few of NUC-sized SFF PCs floating around these days, the BRIX Projector, with a catchy model number of BXPi3-4010, has something that no other option can offer: an integrated mini projector. As the name would imply, the BRIX Projector is part BRIX and part projector, and the combination is unique to the market as far as I can tell.
The guts of the BXPi3-4010 are split seemingly in half between the computer components that make up the BRIX and the DLP LED projector that rests on top. The processor inside is a Core i3-4010U that runs at up to 1.7 GHz and includes integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics. With a dual-core HyperThreaded design, the 4010U is competent, but nothing more, for standard application workloads and productivity. The HD 4400 graphics can run your most basic of games (think Peggle, FTL, Starbound) but isn't up to the task of most demanding 3D games like Bioshock.
You'll get a set of four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, mini-DisplayPort and HDMI output. Combined with the projector, you can use any TWO displays at one time: projector plus HDMI, HDMI plus mDP, etc.
The mini-HDMI input is pretty interesting and allows you to use the BRIX Projector as a stand alone projector, hooking up a DVD player, game console or anything to be displayed. The power button on the projector is separate from the PC power and you can run each without the other.
The unit comes as a barebones design, meaning you'll have to add mSATA storage and DDR3 low power SO-DIMMs to get up and running. Once you have your OS installed, you are going to be met with a rather small 854x480 resolution projector powered by a 75 lumen output. It's good, but not great.
That low resolution causes some issues with browsing the web and using some applications like Steam because we have all moved past the likes of 800x600 - thank goodness. Windows works fine and even Big Picture mode in Steam is an easy fix.
You can see in the video review below that image quality was pretty good for such a small device but the noise levels of the fan cooling the projector are quite high. I was even thinking of ripping it open and trying more creative ways of cooling the display components until Gigabyte informed me they need it back in a...functional capacity. Oh well.
The Gigabyte BRIX Projector BXPi3-4010 is selling for about $550 on both Newegg.com and Amazon.com which does NOT include the memory or storage you'll need (WiFi is included though). That seems kind of steep but considering other pico or mini projectors can easily cost $250-350, this BRIX unit is a better deal that the price might first indicate.
Subject: Systems | March 12, 2014 - 10:36 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, nuc, next unit of computing, Intel, d54250wykh
In September of 2013 we reviewed the updated Intel NUC device that implemented the latest Haswell architecture in the form of the Core i5-4250U processor. In the conclusion I wrote:
The Next Unit of Computing is meant to be a showcase for different form factors and implementations that Intel's architectures can reach and I think it accomplishes this goal quite well and should be a blueprint for other system integrators and embedded clients going forward. Enthusiasts and standard PC users will be to adopt it too without feeling like they are leaving performance on the table which is impressive for this form factor.
At CES we first learned about the new D54250WYKH model and what it added - support for a 2.5-in HDD/SSD. While that isn't a drastic change, it does allow for more variance in configuration options including both mSATA and 2.5-in storage with only a minimal increase in size of the system.
Check out the video below for a quick overview of the H-variant of the Intel NUC!
Subject: Systems | March 6, 2014 - 07:18 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: DIY, system build
The Tech Report have re-imagined their system build for this update, with what they describe as being more focused on the individual components as opposed to the entire build. While they still provide different levels of machines, the Budget, Sweet Spot and and High End they spend more time explaining why a particular component was chosen and in some cases offer you a choice of multiple components. Now the pages are set up to describe the components for each build as opposed to each build having a separate page. Check out their new format and see what you think.
"We've reworked our famous TR System Guide with a new, component-centric format, which tells readers not just which components to choose, but also how to choose them."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- TechwareLabs Monster Build Part 1: The Gear @ TechwareLabs
- PC Specialist ‘Vanquish 230XT’ Gaming System @ eTeknix
- Gigabyte Brix Pro Review – GB-BXi7-4770R @ Legit Reviews
- How To Get More Graphics Performance From The Intel NUC @ Legit Reviews
- YOYOTech M-Cube WS @ Kitguru
Subject: General Tech, Systems | March 2, 2014 - 02:29 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Tamesh, Kabini, fit-PC4, compulab, amd
Passively cooled PCs are an interesting niche, often associated with the need for silence. Be it audio recording or home theater appliances, some situations are just not well suited to having a whirring fan.
Recently announced is the fit-PC4 is a fanless system, fourth in its lineage. This time the system is using AMD for its CPU and GPU. Two models are available, separated into "Pro" and "Value". Its specifications are broken down into the table below.
|fit-PC4 Pro||fit-PC4 Value|
|Processor||AMD GX-420CA (25W TDP, Kabini)||AMD A4-1250 APU (8W TDP, Temash)|
|- CPU||Quad-core (Jaguar-based) @ 2.0 GHz||Dual-core (Jaguar-based) @ 1.0 GHz|
|- GPU||Radeon HD 8400E||Radeon HD 8210|
|RAM||Up to 16GB (2 DIMM)|
|Storage||2.5" HDD/SSD + mSATA + microSD|
2x HDMI 1.4a (1920x1200 max) with CEC support
S/PDIF, line-out, mic-in (I assume 3.5mm)
2x Gigabit Ethernet
mini-PCIe slot for cellular modem
2x USB 3.0 and 6x USB 2.0
|Bluetooth||4.0||3.0 + HS|
|Dimensions||16cm x 19cm x 3.7cm||16cm x 16cm x 2.5cm|
Interestingly, the company considers these devices "ruggedized" as well as fanless. As such, they have a 5-year warranty. It seems to be quite the feature-packed device with two HDMI 1.4 outlets, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and an available slot for a cellular modem. The Pro even has 802.11ac WiFi. I am not entirely sure the intended purpose of this device, but the company claims that the previous generation product was often purchased by video surveillance and digital signage customers. Interestingly, Windows 7 and Linux are the two choices for operating systems.
The fit-PC4 is available now in either a $299 (Value-Barebone) or $380 (Pro-Barebone) model.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | March 1, 2014 - 03:51 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a tiny and cheap (as in a starting price of ~$28) computer that was originally intended for educational purposes. It is built around a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC which itself is based on the ARM architecture. Its VideoCore IV 3D graphics processor relies upon a closed-source driver because, until yesterday, Broadcom had not provided documentation or code. Technically, the code they released is for a different SoC but both Broadcomm and the Raspberry Pi Foundation believe the tools are there to port it over.
And the foundation wants to drum up interest by offering a $10,000 bounty for Quake III running acceptably on the Pi with the ported open source drivers.
If interested, you can look at Broadcom for the documentation and 3-clause BSD-licensed source code. You can also check out the Raspberry Pi Foundation for a blog post which mentions the competition (as well as their 2-year anniversary). GPU drivers are a good thing to be open-sourced. As I have been saying, the further "upstream" a piece of code is, the more it trickles down as a dependency for other software. The vocabulary that software needs to communicate with a hardware platform is quite high up there. Leaving those tools to society is a good thing for society.
Granted, it will probably not have a meaningful impact in this case... but there is a chance.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 23, 2014 - 01:01 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: tablet, MWC 14, MWC, lenovo yoga, Lenovo
At Mobile World Congress 2014, Lenovo has announced the YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. Just last month, we discussed the Yoga Tablet 8 and Yoga Tablet 10 which were presented in October. Those tablets each had a 1280x800 display (even the 10-inch model), both sizes use the same MediaTek MT8125 SoC (Wi-Fi, MT8389 for 3G), and it is 1GB of RAM all-around. Performance was expected to be in the ballpark of a Tegra 3 device.
These are all areas which are bumped for the new YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. The 10.1-inch screen is now at 1080p quality, the SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad running at 1.8 GHz, and the RAM is doubled to 2GB. It will running Android 4.3 with an alleged over-the-air (OTA) update to 4.4 KitKat, at some point.
Make sure to bend at the knee and put your hands toge... oh right.
Comparing between the Yoga Ultrabooks, running Windows, and the YOGA Tablets, running Android, would probably not be wise. They are very different designs. The Ultrabooks hinge with an always-attached keyboard while the tablets have a keyboard-less stand. Rather than the Ultrabooks trying to make a keyboard comfortable in tablet usage, the tablets use the small metal hinge to prop up the screen. They key aspect of the cylindrical hinge is its usage as a handle and the volume it provides as battery storage. Ryan found the old versions' 18-hour rated battery life to be fairly accurate, and the new 10 HD+ is rated for the same duration (actually, with a bonus 1000 mAh over the original Tablet 10). Another benefit of its battery location is that, if you are holding the tablet by its hinge, the battery's weight will not have much torque on your fingers.
Of course, now comes the all-important pricing and availability. The Lenovo YOGA Tablet 10 HD+ will be released in April starting at $349. This is higher than the prices of the Tablet 8 and Tablet 10, $199 and $274 respectively, but you also get more for it.