Build and Upgrade Components
Spring is in the air! And while many traditionally use this season for cleaning out their homes, what could be the point of reclaiming all of that space besides filling it up again with new PC hardware and accessories? If you answered, "there is no point, other than what you just said," then you're absolutely right. Spring a great time to procrastinate about housework and build up a sweet new gaming PC (what else would you really want to use that tax return for?), so our staff has listed their favorite PC hardware right now, from build components to accessories, to make your life easier. (Let's make this season far more exciting than taking out the trash and filing taxes!)
While our venerable Hardware Leaderboard has been serving the PC community for many years, it's still worth listing some of our favorite PC hardware for builds at different price points here.
Processors - the heart of the system.
No doubt about it, AMD's Ryzen CPU launch has been the biggest news of the year so far for PC enthusiasts, and while the 6 and 4-core variants are right around the corner the 8-core R7 processors are still a great choice if you have the budget for a $300+ CPU. To that end, we really like the value proposition of the Ryzen R7 1700, which offers much of the performance of its more expensive siblings for a really compelling price, and can potentially be overclocked to match the higher-clocked members of the Ryzen lineup, though moving up to either the R7 1700X or R7 1800X will net you higher clocks (without increasing voltage and power draw) out of the box.
Really, any of these processors are going to provide a great overall PC experience with incredible multi-threaded performance for your dollar in many applications, and they can of course handle any game you throw at them - with optimizations already appearing to make them even better for gaming.
Don't forget about Intel, which has some really compelling options starting even at the very low end (Pentium G4560, when you can find one in stock near its ~$60 MSRP), thanks to their newest Kaby Lake CPUs. The high-end option from Intel's 7th-gen Core lineup is the Core i7-7700K (currently $345 on Amazon), which provides very fast gaming performance and plenty of power if you don't need as many cores as the R7 1700 (or Intel's high-end LGA-2011 parts). Core i5 processors provide a much more cost-effective way to power a gaming system, and an i5-7500 is nearly $150 less than the Core i7 while providing excellent performance if you don't need an unlocked multiplier or those additional threads.
Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 31, 2016 - 01:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: BUILD, build 2016, microsoft, windows 10, windows phone
If you watched the opening keynote of Microsoft's Build conference, then you probably didn't see much Windows Phone (unless you were looking at your own). The Verge talked to Terry Myerson about this, and Microsoft confirmed that they are leading with non-Windows, 4-inch devices, and they want to “generate developer interest” on those platforms for this year.
PC World interpreted this conversation to say that Windows Phone is put on hold.
That might be a little hasty, though. Microsoft is still building Windows 10 for Mobile. In fact, since Microsoft updated “Windows OneCore” and jumped build to 14xxx-level build numbers with Windows 10 build 14251, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 PC are kept in lockstep. As far as I know, that is still the plan, and Windows Insiders should continue to receive these on compatible devices.
That said, Microsoft has basically admitted that Windows Phone would just be a distraction for developers this year. At the very least, they don't believe that the platform will be ready for them until next year's Build conference, which means that consumers will probably be even further down than that because there would be no applications for them. Yes, Windows Phone could be slowly shimmying out of the spotlight, but it could also be delayed until they make a good impression, and have the PC, Xbox, Hololens, and other ecosystems secure to lift it up.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 30, 2016 - 01:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, uwp, microsoft, build 2016, BUILD
When a platform vendor puts up restrictions, it can be scary, and with good cause. Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the successor of WinRT, which, in the Windows 8 era, forced web browsers to be reskins of Internet Explorer, forced developers to get both their software and themselves certified before publishing, and so forth. They still allowed the traditional, more open, Win32 API, but locked them into “the Desktop App”.
Naturally, UWP carries similar concerns, which some developers (like Tim Sweeney of Epic Games) voiced publicly. It's more permissive, but in a brittle way. We don't want Microsoft, or someone like a government who has authority over them, to flip a switch and prevent individuals from developing software, ban content that some stakeholder finds offensive (like art with LGBT characters in Russia, the Middle East, or even North America), or ban entire categories of software like encryption suites or third-party web browsers.
This is where we get to today's announcement.
Microsoft's Phil Spencer, essentially responding to Tim Sweeney's concerns, and the PC gaming community at large, announced changes to UWP to make it more open. I haven't had too much time to think about it, and some necessary details don't translate well to a keynote segment, but we'll relay what we know. First, they plan to open up VSync off, FreeSync, and G-Sync in May. I find this kind-of odd, since Windows 10 will not receive its significant update (“Anniversary Update”) until July, I'm not sure how they would deliver this. It seems a little big for a simple Windows Update patch. I mean, they have yet to even push new versions of their Edge web browser outside of Windows 10 builds.
The second change is more interesting. Microsoft announced, albeit without dedicating a solid release date or window, to allow modding and overlays in UWP applications. This means that software will be able to, somehow, enter into UWP's process, and users will be encouraged to, somehow, access the file system of UWP applications. Currently, you need to jump through severe hoops to access the contents of Windows Store applications.
They still did not address the issue of side-loading and developing software without a certificate. Granted, you can do both of those things in Windows 10, but in a way that seems like it could be easily removed in a future build, if UWP has enough momentum and whoever runs Microsoft at the time decides to. Remember, this would not be an insidious choice by malicious people. UWP is alluring to Microsoft because it could change the “Windows gets viruses” stigma that is associated with PCs. The problem is that it can be abused, or even unintentionally harm creators and potential users.
On the other hand, they are correcting some major issues. I'm just voicing concerns.
Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2015 - 06:38 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, build 2015, build 10074, BUILD
When Microsoft forked their build numbers into 100xx and 101xx lines, we predicted that they were preparing a version to release at BUILD 2015. We also predicted that it would be heavily tested and pushed to both Slow and Fast simultaneously, which would give a good entry point for developers and probably even enterprise evaluators. I was surprised when Microsoft released 10061 last week, and then updated it just two days ago (why???) with four patches, but we ended up being correct in the end.
Microsoft has just released Windows 10 build 10074 to both Fast and Slow users. Its comes with a very small list of known issues, and they are much less severe than they were in previous releases. The first issue tells developers that Developer Mode needs to be enabled in Group Policy, rather than the place in Settings that it will eventually be. The next two issues are more severe: some games cannot be played in full screen and the People app is still broken. I am not sure how wide-spread “some games” is, but they plan to patch it via Windows Update “as soon as possible”.
One major fix is that now, when certain applications that play audio are minimized, they will continue to play audio. This bug made many media players, such as a few SoundCloud apps in the Windows Store as well as Microsoft's own Music app, pretty much useless. Until 10074, you would basically need to launch them, then cover them up with other windows if you wanted more screen real-estate.
If you were a fan of Aero from Windows 7, then you will like the blurred transparency effect of Start and the taskbar. Personally, while I think it looks nice, I was never really attached to that aspect of the Windows UI. Honestly, it used to drive me nuts when it kicked me out of games to complain about how it cannot properly manage 2GB of video memory, despite running perfectly fine if I select ignore. Hopefully that will not come back with it. But, if it is here without causing any problems, it does look pretty. Also, the Start Menu can now be manually resized to better arrange your apps. It also looks like the semi-horizontal layout is a great compromise between the Start Menu and the Start Screen for desktops.
So, as we expected, this build is what happens when Microsoft picks a target and mostly cleans up all of their relevant branches into a solid release. It is still a bit buggy here and there, but it feels better than 10049, which was itself better than 10041. That said, I also upgraded my NVIDIA drivers from 349.90 to 352.63; that could have something to do with it (although I am using the same Intel drivers).
There has not been too many announcements regarding features that are not present in 10074 though. It makes you wonder, at least a bit, how much will be added to the 101xx path until the OS finally launches.
Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2015 - 07:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, BUILD, build 2015
BUILD 2015 begins tomorrow, and I expect we'll learn the last features that Microsoft intends to add to Windows 10 at launch. The conference is targeted at software and web developers first and foremost. We might not see too much on the consumer side, but we should get under-the-hood information that will be relevant to consumers. For instances, some questions about Windows Store, WinRT, and DirectX 12 might be answered. We might even get a public DirectX 12 SDK (and more).
Note: WinRT (API) is not the same as Windows RT (OS).
As we noted earlier, development was forked into a 100xx-branch and a 101xx-branch of build numbers. We assume that, due to the proximity to the conference, the lower build number is getting polished for public presentation while the higher builds will surface later, with more experimental features.
Microsoft published an introduction video, based on the 10061 build, to introduce the new OS to new users. I guess they are expecting a new wave of testers after the conference, probably both developers and enterprise evaluators. It is brief but interesting, although it surprisingly did not mention anything about the “Continuum” interface to switch between mouse/keyboard and touch experiences.
As stated, BUILD 2015 starts tomorrow and we will probably have a bit of coverage for it.
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 28, 2013 - 03:11 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows 8.1, MakerBot, BUILD 2013, BUILD
Even Microsoft believes that 3D printing is a cool movement.
Windows 8.1 will include native support for the 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutting devices. According to a stage demo at BUILD, Microsoft expects printing in 3D will be as easy as printing in 2D. It might be hard to think of more than a few practical applications for a home user to have access to such hardware, but often people will not realize when they avoid what could have been easily solved with the right tools.
- A standardized driver model for 3D Printers, CNC machines, and laser cutting devices
- APIs for apps to interface with the above drivers
- Device apps and extensions through the Windows Store
- Job spooling and queuing
- Easy ways to query what the device and its capabilities
The reliance upon the Windows Store might tell the larger tale. It appears that Microsoft is giving the nod to the maker community, not out of excitement, but to enable app developers to interface with these devices. Could the "modern" Windows APIs provide enough flexibility for 3D printing apps to exist without Microsoft's support? What about the next classification of peripherals?
All pondering aside...
The demo involved Antoine Leblond, of Microsoft, printing a vase from a MakerBot Replicator 2. According to TechCrunch, MakerBot will not only invade Windows 8.1 but also be stocked at Microsoft Stores. This is a solid retail win for the maker movement, giving users a chance throw one of these in the back seat of the car and drive it home from the store.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | June 28, 2013 - 02:05 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: BUILD, BUILD 2013, internet explorer, IE11, Windows 7
Windows 8.1 will be bundled with Microsoft's latest web browser, Internet Explorer 11. The line of browsers, starting with Internet Explorer 9, are very competent offerings which approach and eclipse many competitors. Microsoft has made some errors since then, breaking standards for personal gain, but their recent efforts in supporting W3C – and even arch-nemesis Khronos – displays genuine good faith.
HTML5 Developer Tools rivalling even Mozilla and Google
But Windows XP never surpassed Internet Explorer 8, and apart from glitch and vulnerability fixes, Windows 7 is in almost exactly the same state as the day Windows 8 shipped. Internet Explorer 10 made it to the platform, late and reluctantly, along with severely neutered back-ports of Windows 8 DirectX enhancements. The platform update was welcome, but lacks the importance of a full service pack.
More importantly, the hesitation to bring IE10 to Windows 7 suggested that it would be the last first-party web browser the platform would see.
Not true, apparently. During their Build conference, Engadget claims to have spoke with a Microsoft representative who confirmed Windows 7 will receive the latest Internet Explorer. This is good news for every user of IE and every web designer with a cool WebGL implementation but is held back by browser market share concerns.
Honestly, my main concern is with the future of Internet Explorer, 12 and beyond. I am encouraged by the recent effort by Microsoft, but with Windows RT demanding for every browser to be built atop Internet Explorer, it better keep up or we are screwed. The web browser might be our operating system in the near future, applications should not be held back by the least of all possible platforms – be it Internet Explorer, Webkit, or any other dominant browser.
Of course, I should note that Engadget was not being specific with their source, so some grain of salts would be wise until it ships.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 25, 2013 - 07:41 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows 8.1, BUILD 2013, BUILD, Blue
June 26th will be the first time for the general public to, legitimately, experience the preview build of Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, and the all blue'd-up Windows Server Essentials. This preview will be available through the Windows Store, but will not be upgradable to the final code.
Again, this preview will require, basically, Windows re-installation when final code hits.
Disclaimer aside, MSDN and TechNet subscribers got the updates ahead of time for server operating systems. Included with this release, a feature dubbed "Desktop Experience", providing the same interface as Windows 8.1.
Ars Technica played around with the updates and compiled several captioned screenshots into a carousel. Check them out. Of course, things could change, but this should be a better indication than -- for instance -- Windows 8 Developer Preview.
The final version of Windows 8.1 is expected to be released at some point later this year. The update will be free for current Windows 8 users.