Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech

Is Mechanical Mandatory?

The Logitech G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard offers the company's unique Mech-Dome keys and customizable RGB lighting effects, and it faces some stiff competition in a market overflowing with gaming keyboards for every budget (including mechanical options). But it really comes down to performance, feel, and usability; and I was interested in giving these new Mech-Dome keys a try.

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“The G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard features Logitech Mech-Dome keys that are specially tuned to deliver a superior tactile response and performance profile similar to a mechanical keyboard. Mech-Dome keys are full height, deliver a full 4mm travel distance, 50g actuation force, and a quiet sound operation.

The G213 Prodigy gaming keyboard was designed for gaming, featuring ultra-quick, responsive feedback that is up to 4x faster than the 8ms report rate of standard keyboards and an anti-ghosting matrix that keeps you in control when you press multiple gaming keys simultaneously.”

I will say that at $69.99 the G213 plays in a somewhat odd space relative to the current gaming keyboard market; though it would be well positioned in a retail setting, where at a local Best Buy it would be a compelling option vs. a $100+ mechanical option. But savvy internet shoppers see the growing number of <$70 mechanical keyboards available and might question the need for a ‘quasi-mechanical’ option like this. I don’t review products from a marketing perspective, however, and I simply set out to determine if the G213 is a well-executed product on the hardware front.

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Continue reading our review of the Logitech G213 gaming keyboard!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Qualcomm aptX

Introduction

Bluetooth has come a long way since the technology was introduced in 1998. The addition of the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) in 2003 brought support for high-quality audio streaming, but Bluetooth still didn’t offer anywhere near the quality of a wired connection. This unfortunate fact is often overlooked in favor of the technology's convenience factor, but what if we could have the best of both worlds? This is where Qualcomm's aptX comes in, and it is a departure from the methods in place since the introduction of Bluetooth audio.

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What is aptX audio? It's actually a codec that compresses audio in a very different manner than that of the standard Bluetooth codec, and the result is as close to uncompressed audio as the bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth technology can possibly allow. Qualcomm describes aptX audio as "a bit-rate efficiency technology that ensures you receive the highest possible sound quality from your Bluetooth audio device," and there is actual science to back up this claim. After doing quite a bit of reading on the subject as I prepared for this review, I found that the technology behind aptX audio, and its history, is very interesting.

A Brief History of aptX Audio

The aptX codec has actually been around since long before Bluetooth, with its invention in the 1980s and first commercial applications beginning in the 1990s. The version now found in compatible Bluetooth devices is 4th-generation aptX, and in the very beginning it was actually a hardware product (the APTX100ED chip). The technology has had a continued presence in pro audio for three decades now, with a wider reach than I had ever imagined when I started researching the topic. For example, aptX is used for ISDN line connections for remote voice work (voice over, ADR, foreign language dubs, etc.) in movie production, and even for mix approvals on film soundtracks. In fact, aptX was also the compression technology behind DTS theater sound, which had its introduction in 1993 with Jurassic Park. It is in use in over 30,000 radio stations around the world, where it has long been used for digital music playback.

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So, while it is clear that aptX is a respected technology with a long history in the audio industry, how exactly does this translate into improvements for someone who just wants to listen to music over a bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth connection? The nature of the codec and its differences/advantages vs. A2DP is a complex topic, but I will attempt to explain in plain language how it actually can make Bluetooth audio sound better. Having science behind the claim of better sound goes a long way in legitimizing perceptual improvements in audio quality, particularly as the high-end audio industry is full of dubious - and often ridiculous - claims. There is no snake-oil to be sold here, as we are simply talking about a different way to compress and uncompress an audio signal - which is the purpose of a codec (code, decode) to begin with.

Continue reading our review of Qualcomm aptX audio technology!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Nintendo

Price and Other Official Information

Since our last Nintendo Switch post, the company had their full reveal event, which confirmed the two most critical values: it will launch on March 3rd for $299.99 USD ($399.99 CDN). This is basically what the rumors have pointed to for a little while, and it makes sense. That was last week, but this week gave rise to a lot more information, mostly from either an interview with Nintendo of America’s President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, or from footage that was recorded and analyzed by third parties, like Digital Foundry.

From the GameSpot interview, above, Reggie was asked about the launch bundle, and why it didn’t include any game, like 1 - 2 - Switch. His response was blunt and honest: they wanted to hit $299 USD and the game found itself below the cut-off point. While I can respect that, I cannot see enough people bothering with the title at full price for it to have been green-lit in the first place. If Nintendo wasn’t interested in just eating the cost of that game’s development to affect public (and developer) perceptions, although they might end up taking the loss if the game doesn’t sell anyway, then at least it wasn’t factored into the system.

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Speaking of price, we are also seeing what the accessories sell at.

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From the controller side of things, the more conventional one, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, has an MSRP of $69.99 USD. If you look at its competitors, the DualShock 4 for the PlayStation 4 at $49 and the Xbox Wireless Controller for the Xbox One at the same price, this is notably higher. While it has a bunch of interesting features, like “HD rumble”, motion sensing, and some support for amiibos, its competitors are similar, but $20 cheaper.

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The Switch-specific controllers, called “Joy-Con”, are $10 more expensive than the Pro Controller, at $79.99 USD for the pair, or just $49.99 USD for the left or right halves. (Some multiplayer titles only require a half, so Nintendo doesn’t force you to buy the whole pair at the expense of extra SKUs, which is also probably helpful if you lose one.) This seems high, and could be a significant problem going forward.

As for its availability? Nintendo has disclosed that they are pushing 2 million units into the channel, so they are not expecting shortages like the NES Classic had. They do state that demand is up-in-the-air a bit, though.

Read on to find out about their online component and new performance info!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

PC Components

It's that time of year again where the holidays are upon us, it's freezing outside, and balancing work, school, and family events makes us all a bit crazy. If you are still procrastinating on your holiday shopping or are just not sure what to get the techie that seems to have everything already, PC Perspective has you covered! And if you dare not venture outside into the winter wasteland, there is still time to order online and have it arrive in time!

Following the same format as previous years, the first set of pages are picks that the staff has put together collectively and are recommendations for things like PC hardware components like CPUs, graphics cards, and coolers, mobile hardware (phones, tablets, etc.), and finally accessories and audio. Beyond that, the staff members are given a section to suggest picks of their own that may not fit into one of the main categories but are still thoughtful and useful gift ideas!

Good luck out there, and thank you for another wonderful year of your valued readership! May you have safe travels and memorable holidays!

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Image courtesy maf04 via Flickr creative commons.

Processors

Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $344, Amazon

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It's a bit of an interesting time for CPUs with Intel's Kaby Lake (e.g. 7700K) not out yet and AMD's Ryzen Zen-based (e.g. 8 core Summit Ridge) processors slated for release early next year. Last year the i7-6700K was  our top pick, and due to timing of upcoming releases, it is still the pick for this year though it may be wise to look at other gift ideas this year unless they really want that gaming PC ASAP. On the plus side, it is a bit cheaper than last year! You can read our review of the Core i7 6700K here.

AMD Athlon X4 880K Unlocked Quad Core - $92, Amazon

On the AMD side of things, the Athlon X4 880K is a great processor to base a budget gaming build around. The pricing works out a bit cheaper than the old 860K as well as offering slightly faster clockspeeds and a better stock cooler.

Continue reading our holiday gift guide for our picks for graphics cards, storage, and more!

Graphics Cards

NVIDIA GTX 1080 (EVGA FTW Hybrid) - $730, EVGA (Amazon has non FTW Hybrid for $700)

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The NVIDIA GTX 1080 is the current consumer-grade performance king, and there are a number of brands to choose from. Whichever you go with, the Pascal-based graphics card is ready for 1440 and even 4k gaming along with VR (virtual reality) gaming. The EVGA FTW Hybrid is a beast of a card that can easily be overclocked with keeping temperatures in check.

If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, AMD's RX 480 is a great midrange graphics card that can easily do 1080p with the details cranked up. Sapphire has a good factory overclocked card with the RX 480 Nitro+ which can be found for $250. For reference, check out our reviews on the RX 480 (we also have a video of the Sapphire card specifically) and it's competitor the GTX 1060.

Storage

Samsung 960 Evo 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD - $480, Amazon

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Samsung's recently released 960 Evo is not the fastest SSD available, but it's no slouch either. Using Samsung's TLC V-NAND flash, its Polaris controller, and 1GB of DDR3 cache, the drive packs 1TB of speedy storage into the M.2 form factor. The NVMe SSD is rated at 3,200 MB/s sequential reads, 1,900 MB/s sequential writes, 380,000 4k random reads and 360,000 4k random writes (IOPS ratings at QD32). It is rated at 1.5 million hours MTBF and while it does not have the lifetime or write speeds of the pro version (960 Pro), it is quite a bit cheaper! The gamer in your life will appreciate the super fast loading times too!

If you are looking for something a bit more down to earth, SATA SSDs continue to get cheaper and more capacious and there are even some good budget M.2 options these days!

MyDigitalSSD BPX 480GB NVMe M.2 SSD - $200, Amazon

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MyDigitalSSD's BPX solid state drive pairs a Phison PS5007-E7 controller with up to 480GB of 2D MLC NAND. The drive is rated at a respectable 2,600 MB/s sequential reads, 1,300 MB/s sequential writes, and approximately 208,728 4k random read IOPS and 202,713 4k random write IOPS. Despite being from a less well known company, the budget drive puts up very nice numbers for the price and comes with a 5 year warranty, 2 million hours MTBF rating, and 1,400 TB total bytes written rating on the flash. Pricing is much more budget friendly at $200 for the 480GB model, $115 for the 240GB, and $70 for the 120GB drive.

SATA SSD Recommendations

SATA SSDs are still great options for a system build and/or HDD upgrade, and Allyn has a few picks later on in this guide.

The following pages are individual selections / gift ideas from each staff member!

Continue with the rest of our last minute holiday gift guide for nerds!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Das Keyboard

Premium Minimalism

Das Keyboard describes their products as "the ultimate experience for badasses", and the Austin, TX based company has delivered premium designs since their initial (completely blank) keyboard in 2005. The Prime 13 is a traditional 104-key design (with labeled keys), and features Cherry MX Brown switches and simple white LED backlighting. So it is a truly "badass" product? Read on to find out!

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"Das Keyboard Prime 13 is a minimalist mechanical keyboard designed to take productivity to the next level. Free of fancy features, the Prime 13 delivers an awesome typing experience by focusing on premium material and simple design. Featuring an anodized aluminum top panel, Cherry MX switches with white LEDs, USB pass-through and an extra-long braided cable, the Prime 13 is the ideal mechanical keyboard for overachievers who want get the job done."

I don't need to tell prospective mechanical keyboard buyers that the market is very crowded, and it seems to grow every month. Just about PC accessory maker offers at least one option, and many have tried to distinguish themselves with RGB lighting effects and software with game-specific profiles and the like. So is there still room for a simple, non-RGB keyboard with no special software involved? I think so, but it will need to be quite a premium design to justify a $149 price tag, and that's what the Prime 13 will run at retail. First impressions are very good, but I'll try to cover the experience as well as I can in text and photos in this review.

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A close look at the MX Brown switches within the Prime 13

Continue reading our review of the Das Keyboard Prime 13 mechanical keyboard!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

Maybe Good that Valve Called their API OpenVR?

Update, December 6th, 2016 @ 2:46pm EST: Khronos has updated the images on their website, and those changes are now implemented on our post. The flow-chart image changed dramatically, but the members image has also added LunarG.

Original Post Below

The Khronos Group has just announced their VR initiative, which is in the early, call for participation stage. The goal is to produce an API that can be targeted by drivers from each vendor, so that applications can write once and target all compatible devices. The current list of participants are: Epic Games, Google, Oculus VR, Razer, Valve, AMD, ARM, Intel, NVIDIA, VeriSilicon, Sensics, and Tobii. The point of this announcement is to get even more companies involved, before it matures.

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group

Valve, in particular, has donated their OpenVR API to Khronos Group. I assume that this will provide the starting point for the initiative, similar to how AMD donated Mantle to found Vulkan, which overcomes the decision paralysis of a blank canvas. Also, especially for VR, I doubt these decisions would significantly affect individual implementations. If it does, though, now would be the time for them to propose edits.

In terms of time-frame, it’s early enough that the project scope hasn’t even been defined, so schedules can vary. They do claim that, based on past experiences, about 18 months is “often typical”.

That’s about it for the announcement; on to my analysis.

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group, modified

First, it’s good that The Khronos Group are the ones taking this on. Not only do they have the weight to influence the industry, especially with most of these companies having already collaborated on other projects, like OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan, but their standards tend to embrace extensions. This allows Oculus, Valve, and others to add special functionality that can be picked up by applications, but still be compatible at a base level with the rest of the ecosystem. To be clear, the announcement said nothing about extensions, but it would definitely make sense for VR, which can vary with interface methods, eye-tracking, player tracking, and so forth.

If extensions end up being a thing, this controlled competition allows the standard as a whole to evolve. If an extension ends up being popular, that guides development of multi-vendor extensions, which eventually may be absorbed into the core specification. On the other hand, The Khronos Group might decide that, for VR specifically, the core functionality is small and stable enough that extensions would be unnecessary. Who knows at this point.

Second, The Khronos Group stated that Razer joined for this initiative specifically. A few days ago, we posted news and assumed that they wanted to have input into an existing initiative, like Vulkan. While they still might, their main intentions are to contribute to this VR platform.

Third, there are a few interesting omissions from the list of companies.

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Microsoft, who recently announced a VR ecosystem for Windows 10 (along with the possibly-applicable HoloLens of course), and is a member of the Khronos Group, isn’t part of the initiative, at least not yet. This makes sense from a historical standpoint, as Microsoft tends to assert control over APIs from the ground up. They are, or I should say were, fairly reluctant to collaborate, unless absolutely necessary. This has changed recently, starting with their participation with the W3C, because good God I hope web browsers conform to a standard, but also their recent membership with the Khronos Group, hiring ex-Mozilla employees, and so forth. Microsoft has been lauding how they embrace openness lately, but not in this way yet.

Speaking of Mozilla, that non-profit organization has been partnered with Google on WebVR for a few years now. While Google is a member of this announcement, it seems to be mostly based around their Daydream initiative. The lack of WebVR involvement with whatever API comes out of this initiative is a bit disappointing, but, again, it’s early days. I hope to see Mozilla and the web browser side of Google jump in and participate, especially if video game engines continue to experiment with cross-compiling to Web standards.

It's also surprising to not see Qualcomm's name on this list. The dominant mobile SoC vendor is a part of many Khronos-based groups including Vulkan, OpenCL, and others, so it's odd to have this omission here. It is early, so there isn't any reason to have concern over a split, but Qualcomm's strides into VR with development kits, platform advancements and other initiatives have picked up in recent months and I imagine it will have input on what this standard becomes.

And that’s all that I can think of at the moment. If you have any interests or concerns, be sure to drop a line in the comments. Registration is not required.

Move Over T150...

The Thrustmaster TMX was released this past summer to address the Xbox One ecosystem with an affordable, entry level force-feedback wheel.  This is essentially the Xbox version of the previously reviewed Thrustmaster T150 for the PS3/PS4.  There are many things that these two wheels have in common, but there are a few significant differences as well.  The TMX is also PC compatible, which is what I tested it upon.

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A no-nonsense box design that lets the buyer know exactly what systems this product is for.

The Basics

The TMX is priced at an MSRP of $199.  Along with the T150 this is truly an entry level FFB wheel with all of the features that racers desire.  The wheel itself is 11” wide and the base is compact, with a solid feel.  Unlike the T150, the TMX is entirely decked out in multiple shades of black.  The majority of the unit is a dark, slick black while the rubber grips have a matte finish.  The buttons on the wheel are colored appropriately according to the Xbox controller standards (yellow, blue, green, and red).  The other buttons are black with a couple of them having some white stenciling on them.

The motor in this part is not nearly as powerful as what we find in the TX and T300rs base units.  Those are full pulley based parts with relatively strong motors while the TMX is a combination gear and pulley system.  This provides a less expensive setup than the full pulley systems of the higher priced parts, but it still is able to retain pretty strong FFB.  Some of the more subtle effects may be lost due to the setup, but it is far and away a better solution than units that feature bungee cords and basic rumble functionality.

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The back shows a basic diagram of the mixed pulley and geared subsystem for force-feedback.

The wheel features a 12 bit optical pickup sensor for motion on the wheel.  This translates into 4096 values through 360 degrees of rotation.  This is well below the 16 bit units of the TX and T300rs bases, but in my racing I did not find it to be holding me back.  Yes, the more expensive units are more accurate and utilize the Hall Effect rather than an optical pickup, but the TMX provides more than enough precision for the vast majority of titles out there.  The pedals look to feature the same 10 bit resolution that most other Thrustmaster pedals offer, or about 1024 values for several inches of travel.

Click to read the entire wheel review!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: AUKEY

Introduction and First Impressions

Aukey, a prominent seller of mobile accessories on Amazon, has an interesting product for PC enthusiasts: an RGB mechanical gaming keyboard for $59.99. The price is definitely right, but is it any good? We’ll take a look!

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“The AUKEY KM-G3 mechanical keyboard takes the gaming experience to a new level. Tactile, responsive mechanical keys put you in control for an outstanding typing or gaming experience. The KM-G3 offers preloaded multi-color RGB backlit lighting effects and patterns. Ideal for FPS, CF, COD, LOL and Racing games - Just use the Function key to easily switch between gaming presets.”

The KM-G3 keyboard is a standard 104-key design, using blue switches (presumably a generic switch as no brand is listed), and there is RGB lighting which can be cycled between various colors and patterns, or switched off if desired. Aukey is also offering a 2-year warranty on the keyboard, which should help allay any fear about a purchase.

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Continue reading our review of the AUKEY KM-G3 RGB mechanical gaming keyboard!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech

Introduction and Specifications

The Prodigy G231 is the budget-minded gaming headset in the Prodigy line, and with a standard analog connection Logitech has emphasized stereo sound quality in lieu of the simulated surround effects found on their pricier G633/G933 models. I tested these headphones with a variety of material to find out how well the G231 works at providing entertaining audio, and how comfortable they are in the process.

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Plain old 2-channel stereo can still offer a fantastic listening experience for music, gaming, and movies - when it’s done right. Things like the perceived “width” of the stereo sound, clarity of audio across the frequency spectrum, and dynamic shifts in volume can go far in providing an immersive experience - even without surround effects. Logitech’s existing gaming headsets (G633, G933) performed very well as stereo cans when connected with a 3.5 mm cable, and if this G231 comes close it presents a good value proposition.

Still, 7.1 channel sound, even if it is being simulated with single-driver designs like Logitech’s, obviously has a lot of fans, and for good reason. Willingness to accept 2-channel headphones for gaming will be up to the individual, and just as there are enthusiasts who would no sooner accept simulated surround as use a sound bar in their home theater, there are listeners who believe that dedicated drivers are essential to proper directional surround in a gaming headset. Multi-driver presents its own issues for a cohesive experience from a variety of content, and stereo music in particular just sounds better from a pair of high quality drivers.

Continue reading our review of the Logitech Prodigy G231 gaming headset!!

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.

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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.

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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.

Click here to read the rest of the Fanatec Review!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Evoluent

The Handshake Approach

Evoluent is a maker of ergonomic mice and keyboards, and we received one of the company's vertical mice for review. At a glance you can see that it's a very different design than the typical mouse, as it is intended to be used with the arm in a "handshake" position.

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"The patented ergonomic shape supports your hand in an upright neutral posture that eliminates forearm twisting. Many users said the Evoluent VerticalMouse provides superior comfort and even relieved their wrist pain."

The vertical design has been implemented to reduced strain on the arm and wrist, but how much of an adjustment is there in moving to this orientation? How sensitive and accurate is the sensor? Depending on your workload, precision might trump comfort, but if the VerticalMouse can provide both it would be quite an achievement.

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To test it out I resolved to use the VerticalMouse with my PC exclusively for a week. It was a startling change at first, feeling quite foreign in the first minutes. For someone who uses a standard mouse hours a day (sound familiar?) I felt like I wasn't in control as I attempted to move the cursor around, and I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to adjust. But I pushed on, and rapidly began to grow accustomed to the feeling.

Switching to something that promises to ease discomfort doesn't always mean instant gratification, as any seller of orthopedic shoes can tell you. There is going to be a period of adjustment, with the end result outweighing any initial hesitation - when it's effective, of course. I could spoil the review a bit here and tell you if I'm still using the mouse after a week (I am), but I'll fully describe my impressions below.

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Continue reading our review of the Evoluent VerticalMouse C Right wireless mouse!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Monster

Introduction and First Impressions

The Fatal1ty by Monster FXM100 gaming headset is designed to be very lightweight for a comfortable fit, while delivering powerful sound. It uses what the company calls “fHex720 Sound Chamber Technology”, which is said to provide clear, natural sound without distortion. In this review we’ll take a look at the design, and then explore fit, comfort, and (most of all) audio performance.

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We received the version of the headset currently being sold at retail, and while it's marketed for console gaming and mobile use (with a single 3.5 mm connector), an adapter for PC use is available. To evaluate PC sound I simply plugged the headset into my computer’s headphone jack, but if you need to split the headphone and microphone output (the headset’s 3.5 mm connector is a 3-conductor plug that handles both) you’ll need an adapter. We were told that the version of the headset that will be available for purchase online will include this adapter.

Monster lists these features for the FXM 100 headset:

  • Designed for Long Wear and Comfortable Fit
  • Built Strong and Durable to Take Anywhere
  • Exclusive fHex720 Sound Chamber Technology
  • Game-tuned Pure Monster Sound
  • Detachable Noise Cancelling Microphone
  • Exclusive Sound Chamber Technology​
  • Game-tuned Pure Monster Sound​
  • Custom Built Drivers for Maximum Detail​
  • Detachable Noise Canceling Microphone​
  • In-line Audio Controls ​
  • Tangle-free Cable​
  • Comfortable Over-Ear design

(Curiously, there are no specifics - driver size, sensitivity, frequency response, etc. - listed for these.)

One of the biggest features of this headset is its weight, and at just 6 oz it's a very light pair of gaming headphones. Just how powerful can the sound be when the total weight is so low? Let's find out!

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Continue reading our review of the Fatal1ty by Monster FXM 100 Gaming Headphones!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Penclic

Introduction

The Professional Typist MK1 from Penclic is a compact, tenkeyless (TKL) mechanical keyboard with Kailh Brown switches that the Swedish company has designed "for the professional typist that wants to type fast, really fast."

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"Whether you are an engineer writing reports, journalist writing articles, or anyone else who uses a keyboard a lot, you require the best tool for the job. The brown mechanical keys give a distinct feel for when you have pressed far enough and are more responsive than membrane alternatives and the keystroke sound is also suitable for the office environment. These features enable users with extra nimble fingers to type superfast."

A relative newcomer to the PC industry (and one I had not heard of before now), Penclic was founded in 2011 and specializes in ergonomics and "smart, clean Scandinavian design". I can certainly appreciate the clean design aesthetic, which is refreshing after mainly covering products in an industry that thinks PC enthusiasts want RGB lighting on everything and Batmobile-inspired industrial design.

This keyboard may not be targeted specifically at "gamers", (it is called the "Professional Typist MK1" after all) but it could certainly be used in that capacity. Key switches are a personal thing - as is standard vs. TKL (and 60%, etc.) - but Penclic may just have produced a product that can appeal to just about any user.

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Continue reading our review of the Penclic Professional Typist MK1 mechanical keyboard!!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech G

Play More

I don’t think it should come as a surprise that, as the PC gaming market has grown, so has the need for high performance and deeply customizable accessories. Just look at the explosion of companies like Razer, Corsair and SteelSeries, all fairly new entrants into the world of gaming-specific PC keyboards, mice, audio devices and more. Logitech is likely the oldest name in keyboards and mice that many of us know; also, if you have been paying even a semblance of attention recently, you know that the Logitech G brand has been putting the giant back into the mix in regards to those coveted high end PC gaming buyers.

But what about the rest of the community, the growing segment that includes kids, parents and users that were once dedicated console gamer? For many of the people that fall into this category, the idea of paying $150 for a keyboard and $150 for a mouse seems ludicrous, and sometimes it’s hard not to agree with them. To counter, how many of these newer and less experiences gamers are banging away on keyboards that shipped with their computer or with a keyboard and mouse combination that Mom or Dad brought home from the office? There remains a need for a set of gaming peripherals that are both gaming-centric but easy to use and low cost enough to address the mass market.

Logitech’s answer is the Logitech G Prodigy brand of devices. Launching today with two mice (wired and wireless), a keyboard and a headset, the Prodigy collection is meant to be low cost and easy to use, but still offers the key technologies and advantages that higher end hardware has created.

G403 Prodigy Gaming Mouse

Available in both a wired and wireless version, priced at just $69 and $99 respectively, the G403 Prodigy mouse is a step above standard mice for gaming. The shape and feel of the unit are very clearly an iteration of the old Microsoft Intellimouse, which is one of the most, if not THE most popular input devices of the last 20 years. This gives the mouse an instantaneous familiarity to a large number of gamers and hey: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

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The G403 has some impressive performance as well, with the same 1ms polling rate as the majority of Logitech G’s gaming mice. Both wired and wireless versions use the PMW3366 optical sensor, of which I am big fan of based on previous reviews and long term usage. This sensor is the same as the one used in the G900, for example, that doesn’t utilize pixel rounding giving gamers the most accurate translation from hand movement to screen without annoying mouse acceleration.

Continue reading our preview of the new Logitech G Prodigy product line!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Audeze

Introduction, Specifications, and Design

More than an ordinary pair of headphones, the SINE headphones from Audeze feature planar magnetic drivers, and the option of direct connection to an Apple Lightning port for pure digital sound from the SINE's inline 24-bit DAC and headphone amp. So how does the "world’s first on-ear planar magnetic headphone" sound? We first had a chance to hear the SINE headphones at CES, and Audeze was kind enough to loan us a pair to test them out.

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"SINE headphones, with our planar magnetic technology, are the next step up in sound quality for many listeners. Instead of using ordinary dynamic drivers, our planar technology gives you a sound that’s punchy, dynamic, and detailed. In fact, it sounds like a much larger headphone! It’s lightweight, and folds flat for easy travelling. Once again, we’ve called upon our strategic partner Designworks, a BMW group subsidiary for the industrial design, and we manufacture SINE headphones in the USA at our Southern California factory."

Planar headphones certainly seem be be gaining traction in recent years. It was a pair from Audeze that I was first was able to demo a couple of years ago (the LCD-3 if I recall correctly), and I remember thinking about how precise they sounded. Granted, I was listening via a high-end headphone amp and lossless digital source at a hi-fi audio shop, so I had no frame of reference for what my own, lower-end equipment at home could do. And while the SINE headphones are certainly very advanced and convenient as an all-in-one solution to high-end audio for iOS device owners, there’s more to the story.

One the distinct advantages provided by the SINE headphones is the consistency of the experience they can provide across compatible devices. If you hear the SINE in a store (or on the floor of a tradeshow, as I did) you’re going to hear the same sound at home or on the go, provided you are using an Apple i-device. The Lightning connector provides the digital source for your audio, and the SINE’s built-in DAC and headphone amp create the analog signal that travels to the planar magnetic drivers in the headphones. In fact, if your own source material is of higher quality you can get even better sound than you might hear in a demo - and that’s the catch with headphones like this: source material matters.

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One of the problems with high-end components in general is their ability to reveal the limitations of other equipment in the chain. Looking past the need for quality amplification for a moment, think about the differences you’ll immediately hear from different music sources. Listen to a highly-compressed audio stream, and it can sound rather flat and lifeless. Listen to uncompressed music from your iTunes library, and you will appreciate the more detailed sound. But move up to 24-bit studio master recordings (with their greater dynamic range and significantly higher level of detail), and you’ll be transported into the world of high-res audio with the speakers, DAC, and headphone amp you need to truly appreciate the difference.

Continue reading our review of the Audeze SINE Planar Magnetic headphones!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Various

Introduction

Even before the formulation of the term "Internet of things", Steve Gibson proposed home networking topology changes designed to deal with this new looming security threat. Unfortunately, little or no thought is given to the security aspects of the devices in this rapidly growing market.

One of Steve's proposed network topology adjustments involved daisy-chaining two routers together. The WAN port of an IOT-purposed router would be attached to the LAN port of the Border/root router.

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In this arrangement, only IOT/Smart devices are connected to the internal (or IOT-purposed) router. The idea was to isolate insecure or poorly implemented devices from the more valuable personal local data devices such as a NAS with important files and or backups. Unfortunately this clever arrangement leaves any device directly connected to the “border” router open to attack by infected devices running on the internal/IOT router. Said devices could perform a simple trace-route and identify that an intermediate network exists between it and the public Internet. Any device running under the border router with known (or worse - unknown!) vulnerabilities can be immediately exploited.

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Gibson's alternative formula reversed the positioning of the IOT and border router. Unfortunately, this solution also came with a nasty side-effect. The border router (now used as the "secure" or internal router) became subject to all manner of man-in-the-middle attacks. Since the local Ethernet network basically trusts all traffic within its domain, an infected device on the IOT router (now between the internal router and the public Internet) can manipulate or eavesdrop on any traffic emerging from the internal router. The potential consequences of this flaw are obvious.

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The third time really is the charm for Steve! On February 2nd of this year (Episode #545 of Security Now!) Gibson presented us with his third (and hopefully final) foray into the magical land of theory-crafting as it related to securing our home networks against the Internet of Things.

Continue reading our editorial covering IOT security methodology!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Make Sure You Understand Before the Deadline

I'm fairly sure that any of our readers who want Windows 10 have already gone through the process to get it, and the rest have made it their mission to block it at all costs (or they don't use Windows).

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Regardless, there has been quite a bit of misunderstanding over the last couple of years, so it's better to explain it now than a week from now. Upgrading to Windows 10 will not destroy your original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license. What you are doing is using that license to register your machine with Windows 10, which Microsoft will create a digital entitlement for. That digital entitlement will be good “for the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device”.

There's three misconceptions that kept recurring from the above paragraph.

First, “the supported lifetime of the Windows 10-enabled device” doesn't mean that Microsoft will deactivate Windows 10 on you. Instead, it apparently means that Microsoft will continue to update Windows 10, and require that users will keep the OS somewhat up to date (especially the Home edition). If an old or weird piece of hardware or software in your device becomes incompatible with that update, even if it is critical for the device to function, then Microsoft is allowing itself to shrug and say “that sucks”. There's plenty of room for legitimate complaints about this, and Microsoft's recent pattern of weakened QA and support, but the specific complaint that Microsoft is just trying to charge you down the line? False.

Second, even though I already stated it earlier in this post, I want to be clear: you can still go back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x. Microsoft is granting the Windows 10 license for the Windows 7 or Windows 8.x device in addition to the original Windows 7 or Windows 8.x license granted to it. The upgrade process even leaves the old OS on your drive for a month, allowing the user to roll back through a recovery process. I've heard people say that, occasionally, this process can screw a few things up. It's a good idea to manage your own backup before upgrading, and/or plan on re-installing Windows 7 or 8.x the old fashioned way.

This brings us to the third misconception: you can re-install Windows 10 later!

If you upgrade to Windows 10, decide that you're better with Windows 7 or 8.x for a while, but decide to upgrade again in a few years, then your machine (assuming the hardware didn't change enough to look like a new device) will still use that Windows 10 entitlement that was granted to you on your first, free upgrade. You will need to download the current Windows 10 image from Microsoft's website, but, when you install it, you should be able to just input an empty license key (if they still ask for it by that point) and Windows 10 will pull down validation from your old activation.

If you have decided to avoid Windows 10, but based that decision on the above three, incorrect points? You now have the tools to make an informed decision before time runs out. Upgrading to Windows 10 (Update (immediate): waiting until it verifies that it successfully activated!) and rolling back is annoying, and it could be a hassle if it doesn't go cleanly (or your go super-safe and back-up ahead of time), but it might save you some money in the future.

On the other hand, if you don't want Windows 10, and never want Windows 10, then Microsoft will apparently stop asking Windows 7 and Windows 8.x users starting on the 29th, give or take.

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Thrustmaster

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.

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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.

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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!”

Click here to read the entire Thrusmaster 599XX EVO Alcantara Edition Wheel Review!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: ARM

ARM Releases Egil Specs

The final product that ARM showed us at that Austin event is the latest video processing unit that will be integrated into their Mali GPUs.  The Egil video processor is a next generation unit that will be appearing later this year with the latest products that utilize Mali GPUs up and down the spectrum.  It is not tied to the latest G71 GPU, but rather can be used with a multitude of current Mali products.

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Video is one of the biggest usage cases for modern SOCs in mobile devices.  People constantly stream and record video from their handhelds and tablets, and there are some real drawbacks in current video processor products from a variety of sources.  We have seen the amazing increase in pixel density on phones and tablets and the power draw to render video effectively on these products has gone up.  We have also seen the introduction of new codecs that require a serious amount of processing capabilities to decode.

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Egil is a scalable product that can go from one core to six.  A single core can display video from a variety of codecs at 1080P and up to 80 fps.  The six core solution can play back 4K video at 120 Hz.  This is assuming that the Egil processor is produced on a 16nm FF process or smaller and running at 800 MHz.  This provides a lot of flexibility with SOC manufacturers that allows them to adequately tailor their products for specific targets and markets.

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The cores themselves are fixed function blocks with dedicated controllers and control logic.  Previous video processors were more heavy on the decode aspects rather than encode.  Now that we have more pervasive streaming from mobile devices and cameras/optics that can support higher resolutions and bitrates, ARM has redesigned Egil to offer extensive encoding capabilities.  Not only does it add this capability, but it enhances it by not only decoding at 4K but being able to encode four 1080p30 streams at the same time.

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Egil will eventually find its way into other products such as TVs.  These custom SOCs will be even more important as 4K playback and media become more common plus potential new functionality that has yet to be implemented effectively on TVs.  For the time being we will likely see this in mobile first, with the initial products hitting the market in the second half of 2016.

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ARM is certainly on a roll this year with introducing new CPU, GPU, and now video processors.  We will start to see these products being introduced throughout the end of this year and into the next.  The company certainly has not been resting or letting potential competitors get the edge on them.  Their products are always focused on consuming low amounts of power, but the potential performance looks to satisfy even power hungry users in the mobile and appliance markets.  Egil is another solid looking member to the lineup that brings some impressive performance and codec support for both decoding and encoding.

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer:

Introduction and Specifications

The Corsair VOID Surround Gaming Headset is a hybrid product of sorts, combining a traditional stereo gaming headset with a Dolby Headphone-enabled USB dongle to unlock virtual 7.1 surround sound. We’ll have a look, and listen, in this review.

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The market for gaming headsets being what it is, one of the most important factors with each new product inevitably becomes price. There are different tiers of products out there from many companies, and Corsair themselves offer a few different choices and various price-points. With the VOID Surround we have a pretty affordable option at $79.99, which is about half the price of the previous wired pair of gaming headphones I looked it, Logitech’s G633.

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One of the advantages Corsair offers with this VOID headset is a pair of 50mm drivers, which theoretically offer better bass than 40mm options (though of course size alone is not a guarantee). The 7.1 surround effect is via Dolby Headphone, which is a virtual effect that is commonly found with single-driver options such as this. If the effect is convincing, a headset like the VOID can save the user a lot of money over the pricey discrete multi-driver options on the market.

Continue reading our review of the Corsair VOID Surround Gaming Headset!