Overshadowing the Previous Gen
To say that sim racing has had a banner year is perhaps an understatement. We have an amazingly robust ecosystem of titles and hardware that help accentuate the other to provide outstanding experiences for those who wish to invest. This past year has seen titles such as Project CARS 2, Forza 7, DiRT 4, and F1 2017 released as well as stalwarts such as iRacing getting major (and consistent) updates. We also have seen the rise of esports with racing titles, most recently with the F1 series and the WRC games. These have become flashy affairs with big sponsors and some significant prizes.
Racing has always had a niche in PCs, but titles such as Forza on Xbox and Gran Turismo on Playstation have ruled the roost. The joy of PC racing is the huge amount of accessories that can be applied to the platform without having to pay expensive licenses to the console guys. We have really seen the rise of guys like Thrustmaster and Fanatec through the past decade providing a lot of focus and support to the PC world.
This past year has seen a pretty impressive lineup of new products addressing racing on both PC and console. One of the first big releases is what I will be covering today. It has been a while since Thrustmaster released the TS-PC wheel set, but it has set itself up to be the product to beat in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Dropping Price Points for Wider Appeal
Fanatec needs little introduction for anyone that has seriously considered racing wheel and the corresponding components. It is a German based company that produces high quality and authentic feeling gear for PC and console racers. Their ClubSport products are their top end models which also commands a top level price. Solid construction, high quality materials, and sharp looking designs have defined the company since its inception.
Fanatec always features a classy design. The first portion of the 4-flap saying is on the top. Otherwise, a bit confusing if you didn't know that...
Last year I was given the chance to test out some of the latest, and highest end, Fanatec gear. The ClubSport V2 base and pedals were fantastic performers. The build quality, fit and finish, and functionality were all superior to anything that I had used before. The unfortunate part of the setup was the corresponding price. These parts were not inexpensive. Thankfully, most people who are familiar with Fanatec know that they cater to a more discerning crowd where price constraints are not the driving factor for this gear. Even though these parts are expensive, they are still far less than the direct-drive counterparts that typically cost two to three times more.
Like any company, Fanatec is looking to expand and attract new users. Their biggest hurdle with the ClubSport series is obviously price. To attract new customers Fanatec introduced a new, more cost effective design that provides much the same experience as the higher end ClubSport series, but at a more reasonable price tag. The CSL Elite series (ClubSport Lite) is aimed to address this area with more reasonably priced units that promise the same build quality and attention to detail as the higher end products in the ClubSport realm. Costs were cut throughout, but Fanatec hopes that the overall product will provide much the same gaming experience as their higher end products.
The packing is always well designed and copious when it comes to materials.
Subject: Motherboards | April 24, 2017 - 07:31 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: X370GTN, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, racing, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, biostar, B350GTN, amd, AM4
We covered news of BIOSTAR's upcoming mini-ITX motherboards for AMD Ryzen processors at the beginning of March, and now the company has made them official. The RACING X370GTN and B350GTN are "the world’s first mini-ITX motherboards for AMD AM4 platform", and both support up to 95W AM4 processors and DDR4 speeds up to 3200 MHz - though officially only up to 2667 MHz for Ryzen CPUs.
"BIOSTAR is thrilled to announce the latest addition to the growing mini-ITX family of BIOSTAR motherboards with the introduction of the world’s first mini-ITX motherboards for AMD AM4 platform and the first mini-ITX RGB LED-capable motherboards with AMD X370 and AMD B350 chipsets. BIOSTAR is pleased to welcome the new BIOSTAR RACING X370GTN and RACING B350GTN mini-ITX motherboards into the RACING Series family.
Both motherboards aim to deliver the best balance of form and function, delivering the full potential that the AMD AM4 platform offers especially with AMD RYZEN CPUs, all in a small package. The BIOSTAR RACING X370GTN and RACING B350GTN comes equipped with BIOSTAR 2nd-gen RACING features like 5050 LED Fun Zone with dual 5050 LED header for DIY customization, the BIOSTAR exclusive VIVID LED DJ with full RGB LED control that lets enthusiasts design their own system lighting with precise control. Together with that, BIOSTAR also adds performance and quality features for maximum system performance and stability."
Both motherboard models are identical (other than the chipset, of course)
The full specs from BIOSTAR for both motherboards are reproduced below:
|BIOSTAR Mini-ITX AM4 Motherboard Specifications|
|Form Factor||Mini-ITX (170 mm x 170 mm)|
|Chipset||AMD X370||AMD B350|
|CPU Support||AMD A-series APU / Ryzen CPU / NPU for Socket AM4
Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 95Watt
|Memory||Support Dual Channel DDR4 3200(OC)/ 2933(OC)/ 2667/ 2400/ 2133/ 1866 MHz
Support Non-ECC & ECC Un-buffered DIMM Memory modules
2 x DDR4 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 32GB Memory
* DDR4 2667 for AMD Ryzen CPU
|Storage||4 x SATA3 Connector
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,10
1 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector, support M.2 type 2260/ 2280 SATA 6Gb/s & PCI-E Storage(on the back of the motherboard)
* M.2 (32Gb/s) : The bandwidth is depended on CPU, Ryzen is 32Gb/s ; APU & NPU is 16Gb/s
|LAN||Realtek RTL8118AS - 10/100/1000 Controller
Support Super LAN Surge Protection
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support BIOSTAR Hi-Fi
|USB||1x USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s) Type-C port (1 on rear I/Os)
1x USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s) Type-A port (1 on rear I/Os)
6x USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gb/s) port (4 on rear I/Os and 2 via internal header)
2x USB 2.0 port (2 via internal header)
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (x16 for Ryzen CPU only, NPU/APU run at x8 speed)|
|Rear I/O||1 x PS/2
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C Port
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Port
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Port
1 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096 x 2160 @24Hz or 3840 x 2160 @30Hz
1 x DVI-D Connector, resolution up to 1920 x 1200 @60Hz
1 x RJ-45 Port
5 x Audio Connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Port
|Internal I/O||1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Header
1 x USB 2.0 Header
4 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
1 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector, support M.2 type 2260/ 2280 SATA 6Gb/s & PCI-E Storage(on the back of the motherboard)
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x CPU Fan Header
1 x System Fan Header
2 x 5050 LED Header
|OS Support||Windows 7 (x64), Windows 10 (x64)|
The rear I/O for both the X370 and B350 versions
As to pricing, BIOSTAR has set the MSRP for the RACING X370GTN at $129, with the RACING B350GTN at $109. A search of Amazon and Newegg does not show results for either board at time of press, but we should expect these in the retail pipeline soon.
Subject: Motherboards | March 4, 2017 - 11:32 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: X370GTN, x370, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, racing, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, B350GTN, b350, amd, AM4
The first images of a mini-ITX AM4 motherboard are here, courtesy of BIOSTAR (via ComputerBase). Part of their second-generation RACING-series of gaming motherboards, BIOSTAR is now the first company to show an AMD Ryzen-capable mini-ITX option with their X370GTN.
Image credit: ComputerBase
There had been mention of an upcoming mITX board for AMD Ryzen CPUs from BIOSTAR, with a (rather low-key) mention of such a product in a recent company press release (“the exciting new RACING X370GTN in the mini-ITX form factor will also be available”), and these images from the company's RACING event are now circulating along with the specs of two different mITX offerings.
Image credit: ComputerBase
There will in fact be two mini-ITX motherboards, with both X370 (shown) and the lower-end B350 chipsets (with the RACING B350GTN). ComputerBase provided slides with specifications (via Zolkorn, Thai language) who covered the BIOSTAR event:
BIOSTAR has not announced availability or pricing of their mini-ITX Ryzen boards yet, but given the pent-up demand for mini-ITX solutions for enthusiast AMD processors (with AM3 conspicuously absent from mITX), this is great news for small form-factor enthusiasts.
Subject: General Tech | March 3, 2017 - 01:48 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: xbox one, wheels, wheel base, rally, racing, PC, Fanatec, ClubSport V2.5, ClubSport V2
Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2016 - 12:12 AM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: wheel base, wheel, TX, Thrustmaster, T500, T300, racing, force feedback, Alcantara
Thrustmaster is announcing today the upcoming availability of their latest PC focused racing wheel and base. The TS-PC is a brand new design that integrates many new features as compared to their previous offerings. The press release did not mention compatibility on consoles, but it seems for now that it is aimed squarely at the PC (hence the name).
The big improvement from past part is the inclusion of a 40 watt motor providing more force than what we had seen previously in the T500, T300, and TX series of wheel bases. I do not know how it compares to the Fanatec CSL’s 6 Nm of force, or the higher end ClubSport V2’s 8 Nm. My guess is that it could very well be somewhere between those two options.
The motor needs some extra cooling so that apparently has received a pretty good upgrade. Thrustmaster seems to like their acronyms, so they are calling this cooling system the MCE. This stands for Motor Cooling Embedded. Few details were provided, but this system is in place to keep the motor at peak efficiency even at high transient levels of force. It does this without ramping up the speeds of the fans in the base. Hopefully soon we can find out how Thrustmaster was able to increase the thermal capacity in a base that is not all that much larger than previous products.
Thrustmaster is also implementing what they call a F.O.C algorithm (Field Oriented Control) that supposedly boosts the already impressive precision of the H.E.A.R.T. system (Hall Effect AccuRate Technology). I told you they like acronyms. This features the same 16 bit resolution of the T500 and T300 products, but it seems the new software reading the values is able to do a better job at it than previous parts.
Powering all of this is an external power supply that supports up to 400 watts of peak power. This is a peak number and not what it can do under constant load. That number is probably closer to 100 watts, but the specifics have not been released yet. The motor in the wheel base does not pull a constant amount of current, so its needs are varied depending on the type of inputs required by the application. When more force is required, it typically is not for extensive periods of time. It seems that the power supply that Thrustmaster is using is going to be quite a bit more powerful than those that were integrated into the T500/T300/TX wheel bases.
The open wheel itself is a new design. It features suede grips, an aluminum plate, and aluminum paddles. Thrustmaster claims that it has optimized stiffness and weight to give it the best overall response for the size of the product. More mass is never a good thing when trying to transmit small or subtle variations of force feedback, so the less mess in a wheel while maximizing rigidity gives the best overall experience no matter how strong the motor is.
The TS-PC is compatible with the entire Thrustmaster ecosystem of parts. This includes the 599XX Alcantara wheel that I reviewed some months back. Wheels, pedals, and shifters are all compatible with the new base so users can customize their experience as needed.
The TS-PC will be available on Dec. 5, 2016 for $499.
Stepping Up the Simulation Game
I don’t exactly remember when I first heard about Fanatec, but it likely was sometime after the release of DiRT 2. I was somewhat into racing games before that, but that particular title sold me on the genre and I have not looked back since. Before then I used a Microsoft Sidewinder FFB stick for my racing, but it was D2 that convinced me to purchase a wheel for the full fledged experience. The initial impression of Fanatec was of course “high priced, but really nice gear”. These were products that I did not think I would ever see in any personal capacity as they were out of my price range and my driving passion was just not amped up enough to rationalize it.
My dog is quite suspicious of the amount of boxes the set came in.
I know I probably talk about it too much, but the introduction of DiRT Rally really supercharged my interest in driving accessories due to the work they did on physics and Force Feedback effects. My older Thrustmaster Ferrari F430 wheel featured a meager 270 degrees of rotation and clunky FFB that did not translate well with this particular title. It may have done OK with older, more arcade based racers, but with the latest generation of sims that focus on accuracy in experience it just did not cut it. Purchasing a Thrustmaster TX based unit was a night and day experience for these latest titles.
The next few months after that I spent time with multiple other wheels and accessories and provided a few reviews based on them. My level of interest grew exponentially about what the industry offered. I was able to contact Fanatec and they agreed to put together a bundle of products based on their latest ClubSport V2 products. This would include the ClubSport V2 Base, ClubSport Universal Hub for Xbox One, ClubSport Pedals V3, ClubSport Shifter SQ, and the desk mounting hardware for the units.
Fanatec is not for the faint of heart when it comes to pricing. The total package I received is worth 1800 Euro, or about $2016 US. This is a pretty tremendous amount of money for racing gear, but it is about average for higher end products that exist in this market. People will question why it costs so much, but after my experience with it I now know why.
The New Corinthian Leather?
I really do not know what happened to me, but I used to hate racing games. I mean, really hate them. I played old, old racing games on Atari. I had some of the first ones available on PC. They did not appeal to me in the least. Instant buyer’s remorse for the most part. Then something strange happened. 3D graphics technology changed that opinion. Not only did hardware accelerated 3D help me get over my dislike, but the improvements in physical simulations also allowed a greater depth of experience. Throw in getting my first force feedback device and NFS: Porsche Unleashed and I was hooked from then on out.
The front of the box shows the lovely Ferrari 599XX supercar with the wheel in the foreground.
The itch to improve the driving experience only grows as time goes on. More and more flashy looking titles are released, some of which actually improve upon the simulation with complex physics rewrites, all of which consume more horsepower from the CPU and GPU. This then leads to more hardware upgrades. The next thing a person knows they are ordering multiple monitors so they can just experience racing in Surround/Eyefinity (probably the best overall usage for the technology).
One bad thing about having a passion for something is that itch to improve the experience never goes away. DiRT 2 inspired me to purchase my first FFB wheel, the TM Ferrari F420 model. Several games later and my disappointment for the F420’s 270 degree steering had me pursue my next purchase which was a TX F458 Ferrari Edition racing wheel. This featured the TX base, the stock/plastic Ferrari wheel, and the two pedal set. This was a tremendous upgrade from the older TM F420 and the improvement to 900 degrees of rotation and far better FFB effects was tremendous. Not only that, but the TX platform could be upgradeable. The gate leading to madness was now open.
The TX base can fit a variety of 2 and 3 pedal systems, but the big push is towards the actual wheel itself. Thrustmaster has several products that fit the base that feature a materials such as plastic, rubber, and leather. These products go from $120 on up to around $150. These are comprised of three GT style wheels and one F1 wheel. All of them look pretty interesting and are a big step up from the bundled F458 replica that comes standard with the TX set.
The rear shows the rim itself at actual size.
I honestly had not thought about upgrading to any of these units as I was pleased with the feel and performance of the stock wheel. It seemed to have fit my needs. Then it happened. Thrustmaster announced the Ferrari 599XX EVO wheel with honest-to-goodness Alcantara ™ construction. The more I read about this wheel, the more I wanted it. The only problem in my mind is that it is priced at a rather dramatic $179. I had purchased the entire TX F458 setup on sale for only $280 some months before! Was the purchase of the 599XX worth it? Would it dramatically change my gaming experience? I guess there is only one way to find out. I hid the credit card statement and told my wife, “Hey, look what I got in for review!”
Subject: Editorial | January 27, 2016 - 01:27 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Thrustmaster, T150, Rocket League, racing wheel, racing, project cars, livestream, GRID Autosport, gaming, force feedback, DiRT Rally, Assetto Corsa
Did you miss the live stream for yesterday racing action? No worries, catch up on the replay right here!
On Thursday, January 28th at 5:30 PM ET we will be hosting a livestream featuing some racing by several of our writers. We welcome our readers to join up and race with us! None of us are professionals, so there is a very good chance that anyone that joins can easily outrace us!
We have teamed up with Thrustmaster to give away the TM T150 Racing Wheel! The MSRP on this number is $199.99, but we are giving it away for free. This was reviewed a few months ago and the results were very good for the price point. You can read that entire review here!
We will be playing multiple games throughout the livestream, so get those Steam clients fired up and updated.
We will be racing through the Rallycross portion of DR. These are fun races and fairly quick. Don't forget the Joker lap!
This is another favorite and features a ton of tracks and cars with some interesting tire (tyre) physics thrown in for good measure!
Another fan favorite with lovely graphics and handling/physics that match the best games out there.
We will be announcing how to join up in the contest during the livestream! Be sure to tune in!
Build Your Own Setup
Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun? I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited. I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430. I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience. After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.
The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.
I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light. The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers. DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel. This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.
The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides. The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees. It is compatible with PC and Xbox One. It does not support the PS3 or PS4. It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface. It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US. It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.
This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.
Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500). These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.
It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts. Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use. This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets. Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices. The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.