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E Ink is one of those initially promising technologies that ultimately has lived a bit of a disappointing life. After the introduction of the original E-reader devices such as the Amazon Kindle, we were promised a future of all signage being replaced with readable, but electronically controllable E Ink displays. Even color E Ink displays teased us with very limited product rollouts.
However, E Ink has not been a magical cure-all. Lower demand and more difficult production methods mean that the cost of these displays remains much higher than other commodity technologies like LCD. Additionally, even though E Ink has substantially improved from the first E Ink displays, refreshing the display remains a slow process and a deal breaker for applications such as notebooks and tablets.
Or does it? For someone who spends a lot of time looking at LCDs all day, the idea of E-Ink still very much appeals to me. This led me to ask myself some questions earlier this year. Would I be willing to accept the trade-offs of E Ink for a solution to eyestrain? Are E Ink displays any better than when I lasted used one? Are there even any modern E Ink devices besides the Kindle?
That research brought me to what we are taking a look at today, the Onyx Boox Max 2, a 13.3" E-Ink tablet running Android 6.0.
2015 seems to have been a turning point for Microsoft's Surface hardware initiative. Despite the failure of Windows RT and the associated Surface RT, the Intel-powered Surface was beginning to gain some real traction and notoriety with the Surface Pro 3 in late 2014, but was still fairly niche.
In October of 2015, Microsoft signaled that they were taking this fledgling Surface thing seriously with the announcement of their second Surface device, the Surface Book. Fitting into a more traditional notebook-style form factor rather than the Surface's approach to the idea of a 2-in-1 design, the Surface Book introduced several radical design elements, both to Microsoft and the entire PC ecosystem at large.
The unique "dynamic fulcrum" hinge design, true detachable discrete graphics on a 2-in-1 device, and almost 10-hour battery life made the Surface Book stand out in the PC market.
But the original Surface Book wasn't without its faults. Hardware reliability became an issue as early adopters started to use these computers for extended amounts of time, and the lackluster of the available GPU option in the Surface Base mitigated some of the intended utility of the Surface Book Ecosystem.
However, this didn't stop Microsoft from announcing a follow-up in Late 2017, the Surface Book 2. The Surface Book 2 aimed to address some of the hardware issues with the first generation while providing a more powerful unit and introducing a new 15" display option.
On my continued search for a new personal notebook, I decided to purchase a Surface Book 2 13.5" unit for evaluation.
Not Just a Better Camera
Samsung’s updated Galaxy phones are available now, and while the external designs - while beautiful - look the same as last year, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ feature faster internals and an improved camera system. Is it worth an upgrade over the Galaxy S8? How does this new flagship from Samsung compare to Apple’s more expensive iPhone X? Read on to find out!
During the Galaxy S9 at Samsung’s “Unpacked” event unveiling the new phones, much was made about the GS9’s camera - and particularly its video recording capability, which features an ultra slow-motion mode. While camera is a vital part of the experience, and can make or break a handset for many people, it is the application processor that constitutes a bigger upgrade from last year’s Galaxy S8 phones.
In the USA, Samsung is using Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845, while many of the international versions of the phone use Samsung’s own Exynos SoC. We took an early look at performance with the Snapdragon 845 during Qualcomm’s recent media day, and now with shipping hardware and far more time for benchmarking we can really put this new mobile platform to the test. You can take or leave synthetic benchmark results, of course; I can offer my own subjective impressions of overall responsiveness, which is as much a test of software optimization as hardware.
|Samsung Galaxy S9+ Specifications (US Version)|
|Display||6.2-inch 1440x2960 AMOLED|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (SDM845)|
|CPU Cores||8x Kryo 385 up to 2.8 GHz|
|GPU Cores||Adreno 630|
|RAM||6 GB LPDDR4X|
|Storage||64 / 128 / 256 GB|
|Network||Snapdragon X20 LTE|
Bluetooth 5.0; A2DP, aptX
USB 3.1 (Type-C)
|Battery||3500 mAh Li-Ion|
|Dimensions||158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm, 189 g|
Samsung has opted to bring back the same industrial design introduced with last year’s Galaxy S8/S8+, but this was already a class-leading design so that is not a bad thing.
Despite the recent launch of the high-powered Hades Canyon NUC, that doesn't mean the traditional NUC form-factor is dead, quite the opposite in fact. Intel continues to iterate on the core 4-in x 4-in NUC design, adding new features and updating to current Intel processor families.
Today, we are taking a look at one of the newest iterations of desktop NUC, the NUC7i7DNHE, also known as the Dawson Canyon platform.
While this specific NUC is segmented more towards business and industrial applications, we think it has a few tricks up its sleeves that end users will appreciate.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-8650U (Kaby Lake Refresh)|
|Graphics||Intel UHD 630 Integrated|
|Memory||2 X DDR4 SODIMM slots|
Available M.2 SATA/PCIe drive slot
Available 2.5" drive slot
|Wireless||Intel Wireless-AC 8265 vPro|
2 x HDMI 2.0a
4 x USB 3.0
|Price||$595 - SimplyNUC|
Since it's introduction in early 2015, the modern iteration of the Dell XPS 13 has been one of the most influential computers in recent history. An example of the rise of desirable Windows-based notebooks back into the premium market, the XPS 13 has done what only a few OEMs have been able to—inspire knockoffs. Now, the market is filled with similar designs including ultrathin bezels (and some even copying the compromises of webcam placement), at similar price points.
Even though it's been regarded as one of the best PC notebooks for its entire tenure, it was clear for a while that Dell must move the brand of their flagship notebook forward, and here it is, the redesigned XPS 13 9370 for 2018.
From a quick glance, the 2018 XPS 13 is quite similar to the outgoing 9360 model from last year. Apart from this new, radical Alpine White and Rose Gold color scheme of our particular review unit, you would be hard-pressed to spot it as unique in public. However, once you start to dig in, the changes become quite evident.
While the new XPS 13 maintains the same physical footprint as the previous iterations, it loses a significant amount of thickness. Still retaining the wedge shape, although much less exaggerated now, the XPS 13 9370 measures only 0.46" at its thickest point, compared to 0.6" on the previous design. While tenths of inches may not seem like a huge difference, this amounts to a 23% reduction in thickness, which is noticeable for a highly portable item like a notebook.
A Snappy Budget Tablet
Huawei has been gaining steam. Even though they’re not yet a household name in the United States, they’ve been a major player in the Eastern markets with global ambitions. Today we’re looking at the MediaPad M3 Lite, a budget tablet with the kind of snappy performance and just better features that should make entry-level tablet buyers take notice.
- MSRP: $247.93
- Size: 213.3mm (H) x 123.3 mm (W) x 7.5mm (D)
- Color: White, Gold. Space Gray
- Display:1920 x 1200 IPS
- CPU: Qualcomm MSM8940, Octa-core
- Operating System: Android 7.0/EMUI5.1
- Memory: RAM+ROM 3GB+16GB (tested), 3GB+32GB, 4 GB+64 GB
- Network: LTE CAT4/Wi-Fi 11ac 2.4 GHz & 5 GHz
- GPS:Supports GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, and BDS.
- Connectivity: USB 2.0, high-speed Features supported: charging, USB OTG, USB tethering, and MTP/PTP
- Sensors: Gravity sensor, ambient light sensor, compass, gyroscope (only CPN-L09 support, CPN-W09 does not support)
- Camera: Rear camera: 8 MP and auto focus Front camera: 8 MP and fixed focus
- Audio: 2 Speakers+2 SmartPA Super Wide Sound (SWS) 3.0 sound effects, Harman Kardon tuning and certification
- Video: Video file format: *.3gp, *.mp4, *.webm, *.mkv, .ts, .3g2, .flv, and .m4v,
- Battery: 6600 mAh
- In the Box: Charger, USB Cable, Eject tool, Quick start guide, Warranty card
The tablet arrives well-packed inside a small but sturdy box. I’ve got to say, I love the copper on white look they’ve gone with and wish they’d applied it to the tablet itself, which is white and silver. Inside the box is the tablet, charging brick with USB cable, a SIM eject tool, and warranty card. It’s a bit sparse, but at this price point is perfectly fine.
The tablet looks remarkably similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, only missing the touch controls on either side of the Home button and shifting the branding to the upper left. This isn’t a bad thing by any means but the resemblance is definitely striking. One notable difference is that the Home button isn’t actually a button at all but a touch sensor that doubles as the fingerprint sensor.
The MediaPad M3 Lite comes in at 7.5mm, or just under 0.3”, thick. Virtually all of the name brand tablets I researched prior to this review are within 0.05” of each other, so Huawei’s offering is in line with what we would expect, if ever so slightly thinner.
One of the promises of moving to interfaces like USB 3.1 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 on notebooks is the idea of the "one cable future." For the most part, I think we are starting to see some of those benefits. It's nice that with USB Power Delivery, users aren't tied into buying chargers directly from their notebook manufacturer or turning to trying to find oddball third-party chargers with their exact barrel connector. Additionally, I also find it to be a great feature when laptops have USB-c charging ports on opposing sides of the notebooks, allowing me greater flexibility to plug in a charger without putting additional strain on the cable.
For years, the end-game for mobile versatility has been a powerful thin-and-light notebook which you can connect to a dock at home, and use a desktop PC. With more powerful notebook processor's like Intel's quad-core 8th generation parts coming out, we are beginning to reach a point where we have the processing power; the next step is having a quality dock with which to plug these notebooks.
While USB-C can support DisplayPort, Power Delivery, and 10 Gbit/s transfer speeds in its highest-end configuration, this would still be a bit lacking for power users. Thunderbolt 3 offering the same display and power delivery capabilities, but with its 40 Gbit/s data transfer capabilities is a more suitable option.
Today, we are taking a look at the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus, a Thunderbolt 3-enabled device that provides a plethora of connectivity options for your notebook.
Compared to manufacturers like Dell, HP, and ASUS, Razer is a relative newcomer to the notebook market having only shipped their first notebook models in 2013. Starting first with gaming-focused designs like the Razer Blade and Blade Pro, Razer branched out to a more general notebook audience in 2016 with the launch of the Razer Blade Stealth.
Even though Razer is a primarily gamer-centric brand, the Razer Blade Stealth does not feature a discrete GPU for gaming. Instead, Razer advertises using their Razer Core V2 external Thunderbolt 3 enclosure to add your own full-size GPU, giving users the flexibility of a thin-and-light ultrabook, but with the ability to play games when docked.
Compared to my previous daily driver notebook, the "Space Gray" MacBook Pro, the Razer Blade Stealth shares a lot of industrial design similarities, even down to the "Gunmetal" colorway featured on our review unit. The aluminum unibody construction, large touchpad, hinge design, and more all clearly take inspiration from Apple's notebooks over the years. In fact, I've actually mistaken this notebook for a MacBook Pro in a few quick glances around the office in recent weeks.
As someone who is a fan of the industrial design of the MacBook Pro lineup, but not necessarily Apple's recent hardware choices, these design cues are a good thing. In some ways, the Razer Blade Stealth feels like Apple had continued with their previous Retina MacBook Pro designs instead of moving into the current Touch Bar-sporting iteration.
|Razer Blade Stealth (Early 2018)|
|Screen||13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800) IGZO Touch Screen|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
|RAM||16GB LPDDR3-2133MHz (non-upgradeable)|
|Storage||256 GB PCIe||512 GB PCIe||1 TB PCIe|
|Network||Killer™ 1535 Wireless-AC (802.11a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth® 4.1)|
1 x Thunderbolt 3
|Connectivity||1 x Thunderbolt 3
2 x USB 3.0 (Type-A)
|Audio||Stereo Speakers, Array Microphone|
|Weight||2.98 lbs. / 1.35 kg|
|Dimensions||0.54” / 13.8 mm (Height) x 12.6” / 321 mm (Width) x 8.1” / 206 mm (Depth)|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
One of the things that surprised me most when researching the Razer Blade Stealth was just how equipped the base model was. All models include 16 GB of RAM, a QHD+ touch screen, and at least 256 GB of PCIe NVMe flash storage. However, I would have actually liked to see a 1080p screen option, be it with or without touch. For such a small display size, I would rather gain the battery life advantages of the lower resolution.
Delivering on the Promise of Thunderbolt 3
Despite the greatly increased adoption of Thunderbolt 3 over the previous 2 Thunderbolt standards, the market is still lacking actual devices that take advantage of the full 40Gbps bandwidth that Thunderbolt 3 offers.
External storage seems like a natural use of this PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface available with the Thunderbolt 3 standard, but storage devices that take advantage of this are few and far between. Most of the devices in the market currently are merely bridges for SATA M.2 drives to Thunderbolt 3, which would be limited by the SATA 6Gb/s interface.
However, this market gap seems poised to change. Today, we are taking a look at the TEKQ Rapide Thunderbolt 3 Portable SSD, which advertises sequential transfer speeds up to 2.3 GB/s Read and 1.3 GB/s Write.
The SDM845 Reference Platform and CPU Results
The Snapdragon 845 is Qualcomm’s latest flagship mobile platform, officially announced on December 6 and known officially as the SDM845 (moving from the MSMxxxx nomenclature of previous iterations). At a recent media event we had a chance to go hands-on with a development platform device for a preview of this new Snapdragon's performance, the results of which we can now share. Will the Snapdragon 845 be Qualcomm's Android antidote to Apple's A11? Read on to find out!
The SDM845 QRD (Qualcomm Reference Design) Device
While this article will focus on CPU and GPU performance with a few known benchmarks, the Snapdragon 845 is of course a full mobile platform which combines 8-core Kryo 385 CPU, Adreno 630 graphics, Hexagon 685 DSP (which includes the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine), Spectra 280 image processor, X20 LTE modem, etc. The reference device was packaged like a typical 5.5-inch Android smartphone, which can only help to provide a real-world application of thermal management during benchmarking.
Qualcomm Reference Design Specifications:
- Baseband Chipset: SDM845
- Memory: 6 GB LPDDR4X (PoP)
- Display: 5.5-inch 1440x2560
- Front: IMX320 12 MP Sensor
- Rear: IMX386 12 MP Sensor
- No 3.5 mm headset jack (Analog over USB-C)
- 4 Digital Microphones
- Connector: USB 3.1 Type-C
- DisplayPort over USB-C
At the heart of the Snapdragon 845 is the octa-core Kryo 385 CPU, configured with 4x performance cores and 4x efficiency cores, and offering clock speeds of up to 2.8 GHz. In comparison the Snapdragon 835 had a similar 8x CPU configuration (Kryo 280) clocked up to 2.45 GHz. The SDM845 is produced on 10 nm LPP process technology, while the SD835 (MSM8998) was the first to be manufactured at 10 nm (LPE). It is not surprising that Qualcomm is getting higher clock speeds from this new chip at the same process node, and increases in efficiency (the new 10nm LPP FinFET process) should theoretically result in similar - or possibly even lower - power draw from these higher clocks.
For the first time in several years, the notebook market has gotten very interesting from a performance standpoint. First, we had Intel’s launch of its Kaby-Lake Refresh 8th Generation processors which packed a true quad-core CPU into a 15W package. Then, we heard about AMD’s Raven Ridge which aimed to combine a quad-core mobile CPU with Radeon Vega graphics into that same 15W power target.
Even though the excitement over Raven Ridge may have subsided a bit after Intel and AMD’s joint announcement of Vega graphics combined with Intel CPUs in the Kaby-Lake G platform, that is still yet to be released and will reside in a significantly higher class of power usage.
So today we are taking a look at AMD’s Raven Ridge, what may be AMD’s first worthy entry into the thin-and-light notebook market.
For our Raven Ridge testing, we are taking a look at the HP Envy x360, which at the time of writing is the only machine to be shipping with these Ryzen Mobile processors (although more machines have been announced and are coming soon). Additionally, we also wanted to wait a while for the software ecosystem on this new platform to stabilize (more on that later).
The sub-$1000 notebook market is one that we rarely cover here at PC Perspective. It's not due to a lack of interest from us, but rather from notebook manufacturers.
Generally, companies are only interested in sending out their latest flagship products, which leaves us without much of an opinion on the notebooks that most people actually walk into a brick and mortar retailer to purchase.
Today, we're looking at one of these more mainstream notebooks which can be found with a quad-core 8th generation Intel processor for under $900—the Dell Inspiron 13 7373 2-in-1.
|Dell Inspiron 13 7373 2-in-1|
|MSRP||$879 (Configuration as reviewed)||$1049||$1149||$1299|
|Screen||13.3” FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS touch display|
|CPU||Core i5-8250U||Core i7-8550U|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
|Storage||256GB SATA||512GB SATA|
|Network||Intel 7265 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.2, Dual Band 2.4 & 5 GHz, 2x2|
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
|Audio||(2) tuned speakers; audio processing by Waves MaxxAudio® Pro|
|Weight||3.2 lbs ( 1.45 kg)|
|Dimensions||12.91-in x 8.5-in x 0.61-in
(309.6mm x 215.7mm x 15.51mm)
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
It's worth noting that while writing this review, these notebooks have been consistently available for under MSRP. The base configuration we are reviewing of the Dell Inspiron 13 7373 is remarkably well equipped and at the time of writing was available for $749. Considering that the $999 entry level model of the 2018 XPS 13 still comes with a paltry 4GB of system memory and 128GB SSD, this is a great value. For most consumers, including myself, I look at the 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD option as the sweet spot price comparison point between notebooks.
Despite their large global presence in smartphones, Huawei isn't a brand widely known to US consumers. While this has improved year by year with the introduction of unlocked phones from and their Mate brand, I don't think that most Americans realize how big of a consumer electronics company Huawei is.
One of the more recent categories that Huawei has entered is the Windows notebook and tablet market. Starting with the announcement of the original MateBook at Mobile World Congress in 2016 (see our subsequent review here), the MateBook line was expanded this year to include two traditional notebook form factors—the thin-and-light MateBook X, and the more mainstream MateBook D.
With the introduction of these new products, the 2-in-1 tablet formerly known as just the MateBook has been slightly revised and renamed to the MateBook E, the product that we are looking at today.
|Huawei MateBook E (configuration as reviewed)|
|Processor||Intel Core m3-7Y30|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 615|
|Screen||12-in 2160x1440 IPS|
128GB SanDisk SATA SSD
|Wireless||Intel 8275 802.11ac + BT 4.2 (Dual Band, 2x2)|
|Connections||1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C
Audio combo jack
|Dimensions||278.8mm x 194.1mm x 6.8mm (10.98" x 7.64" x .27")
2.43 lb (1100 g)
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
|Price||$699 - Amazon.com|
Overview and CPU Performance
When Intel announced their quad-core mobile 8th Generation Core processors in August, I was immediately interested. As a user who gravitates towards "Ultrabook" form-factor notebooks, it seemed like a no-brainer—gaining two additional CPU cores with no power draw increase.
However, the hardware reviewer in me was skeptical. Could this "Kaby Lake Refresh" CPU provide the headroom to fit two more physical cores on a die while maintaining the same 15W TDP? Would this mean that the processor fans would have to run out of control? What about battery life?
Now that we have our hands on our first two notebooks with the i7-8550U in, it's time to take a more in-depth look at Intel's first mobile offerings of the 8th Generation Core family.
A potential game changer?
I thought we were going to be able to make it through the rest of 2017 without seeing AMD launch another family of products. But I was wrong. And that’s a good thing. Today AMD is launching the not-so-cleverly-named Ryzen Processor with Radeon Vega Graphics product line that will bring the new Zen processor architecture and Vega graphics architecture onto a single die for the ultrathin mobile notebook platforms. This is no minor move for them – just as we discussed with the AMD EPYC processor launch, this is a segment that has been utterly dominated by Intel. After all, Intel created the term Ultrabook to target these designs, and though that brand is gone, the thin and light mindset continues to this day.
The claims AMD makes about its Ryzen mobile APU (combination CPU+GPU accelerated processing unit, to use an older AMD term) are not to be made lightly. Right up front in our discussion I was told this is going to be the “world’s fastest for ultrathin” machines. Considering that AMD had previously been unable to even enter those markets with previous products, both due to some technological and business roadblocks, AMD is taking a risk by painting this launch in such a light. Thanks to its ability combine CPU and GPU technology on a single die though, AMD has some flexibility today that simply did not have access to previously.
From the days that AMD first announced the acquisition of ATI graphics, the company has touted the long-term benefits of owning both a high-performance processor and graphics division. By combining the architectures on a single die, they could become greater than the sum of the parts, leveraging new software directions and the oft-discussed HSA (heterogenous systems architecture) that AMD helped create a foundation for. Though the first rounds of APUs were able to hit modest sales, the truth was that AMD’s advantage over Intel’s on the graphics technology front was often overshadowed by the performance and power efficiency advantages that Intel held on the CPU front.
But with the introduction of the first products based on Zen earlier this year, AMD has finally made good on the promises of catching up to Intel in many of the areas where it matters the most. The new from-the-ground-up design resulted in greater than 50% IPC gains, improved area efficiency compared to Intel’s latest Kaby Lake core design, and enormous gains in power efficiency compared to the previous CPU designs. When looking at the new Ryzen-based APU products with Vega built-in, AMD claims that they tower over the 7th generation APUs with up to 200% more CPU performance, 128% more GPU performance, and 58% lower power consumption. Again, these are bold claims, but it gives AMD confidence that it can now target premium designs and form factors with a solution that will meet consumer demands.
AMD is hoping that the release of the Ryzen 7 2700U and Ryzen 5 2500U can finally help turn the tides in the ultrathin notebook market.
|Core i7-8650U||Core i7-8550U||Core i5-8350U||Core i5-8250U||Ryzen 7 2700U||Ryzen 5 2500U|
|Architecture||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Kaby Lake Refresh||Zen+Vega||Zen+Vega|
|Base Clock||1.9 GHz||1.8 GHz||1.7 GHz||1.6 GHz||2.2 GHz||2.0 GHz|
|Max Turbo Clock||4.2 GHz||4.0 GHz||3.8 GHz||3.6 GHz||3.8 GHz||3.6 GHz|
|System Bus||DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s||DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s||DMI2 - 6.4 GT/s||DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s||N/A||N/A|
|Graphics||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||UHD Graphics 620||Vega (10 CUs)||Vega (8 CUs)|
|Max Graphics Clock||1.15 GHz||1.15 GHz||1.1 GHz||1.1 GHz||1.3 GHz||1.1 GHz|
The Ryzen 7 2700U will run 200 MHz higher on the base and boost clocks for the CPU and 200 MHz higher on the peak GPU core clock. Though both systems have 4-cores and 8-threads, the GPU on the 2700U will have two additional CUs / compute units.
How a ThinkPad is born
During Lenovo's recent ThinkPad 25th Anniversary Event in Yokohama, Japan, we were given an opportunity to learn a lot about the evolution of the ThinkPad brand over the years.
One of the most significant sources of pride mentioned by the Lenovo executives in charge of the ThinkPad division during this event was the team's Yamato Laboratory. Formerly located in Yamato City (hence the name) and relocated to Yokohama in 2011, the Yamato Labs have been responsible for every ThinkPad product, dating back to the IBM days and the original ThinkPad 700C.
This continuity from the earliest days of ThinkPad has helped provide a standard of quality and education passed down from engineer to engineer over the last 25 years of the ThinkPad brand. In fact, some of the original engineers from 1987 are still with the company and working on the latest and greatest ThinkPad innovations. It's impressive to see such continuity and pride in the Japanese development team considering Lenovo's acquisition of the brand back in 2005.
One of the most exciting things was a peek at some of the tests that every device bearing the ThinkPad name must go through, including non-notebook devices like the X1 Tablet.
A New Standard
With a physical design that is largely unchanged other than the addition of a glass back for wireless charging support, and featuring incremental improvements to the camera system most notably with the Plus version, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are interesting largely due to the presence of a new Apple SoC. The upcoming iPhone X (pronounced "ten") stole the show at Apple's keynote annoucement earlier this month, but the new A11 Bionic chip powers all 2017 iPhone models, and for the first time Apple has a fully custom GPU after their highly publicized split with Imagination Technologies, makers of the PowerVR graphics found in previous Apple SoCs.
The A11 Bionic powering the 2017 iPhones contains Apple’s first 6-core processor, which is comprised of two high performance cores (code-named ‘Monsoon’) and four high efficiency cores (code-named ‘Mistral’). Hugely important to its performance is the fact that all six cores are addressable with this new design, as Apple mentions in their description of the SoC:
"With six cores and 4.3 billion transistors, A11 Bionic has four efficiency cores that are up to 70 percent faster than the A10 Fusion chip, and two performance cores that are up to 25 percent faster. The CPU can even harness all six cores simultaneously when you need a turbo boost."
It was left to improvments to IPC and clock speed to boost the per-core performance of previous Apple SoCs, such as the previous A10 Fusion part, which contained a quad-core CPU split in an even arrangement of 2x performance + 2x efficiency cores. Apple's quad-core effort did not affect app performance beyond the two performance cores, with additional cores limited to background tasks in real-world use (though the A10 Fusion did not provide any improvement to battery life over previous efforts, as we saw).
The A11 Bionic on the iPhone 8 system board (image credit: iFixit)
Just how big an impact this new six-core CPU design will have can be instantly observed with the CPU benchmarks to follow, and on the next page we will find out how Apple's in-house GPU solution compare to both the previous A10 Fusion PowerVR graphics, and market-leading Qualcomm Adreno 540 found in the Snapdragon 835. We will begin with the CPU benchmarks.
Thanks goes out to CUK, Computer Upgrade King, for supplying the MSI GS63VR notebook for our testing and evaluation
It's been a few weeks since we took a look at our first gaming notebook with NVIDIA's Max-Q design, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus. We briefly touched on the broad array of announced Max-Q Notebooks on that review, and today we are taking a look at the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro.
One of the first notebooks to feature the GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design, the MSI GS63VR is a more traditional notebook form factor than the GTX 1080-toting ASUS ROG Zephyrus. In fact, the GS series has been a long running line of thin-and-light gaming notebooks from MSI. What is new though is the avalability of a GTX 1070-class option in this chassis. The GS63VR previously topped out with the GTX 1060 as the highest end option.
|MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro-002 (configuration as reviewed)|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700HQ (Kaby Lake)|
|Graphics||NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design (8GB)|
|Screen||15.6-in 1920x1080 120Hz|
512GB Samsung PM871a M.2 SATA SSD
1TB Seagate 5400RPM HDD
|Wireless||Intel 8265 802.11ac (2x2) + BT 4.1|
|Dimensions||379.98mm x 248.92mm x17.53mm (14.96" x 9.80" x 0.69")
3.96 lbs. (1792 g)
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
|Price||$2399 - Newegg.com CUKUSA|
Taking a look a look at the exact notebook configuration we are testing, we find a well-equipped gaming notebook. In addition to the GTX 1070 Max-Q, we find a 35W Quad-Core mobile CPU from Intel, 32GB of system RAM, and plentiful storage options including both M.2 SSD and traditional 2.5" SATA drive configurations. This specific notebook is equipped with a SATA M.2 SSD, but this notebook will also support PCIe devices with the same M.2 port.
Can you hear me now?
One of the more significant downsides to modern gaming notebooks is noise. These devices normally have small fans that have to spin quickly to cool the high-performance components found inside. While the answer for loud gaming desktops might be a nice set of headphones, for notebooks that may be used in more public spaces, that's not necessarily a good solution for friends or loved ones.
Attempting to address the problem of loud gaming notebooks, NVIDIA released a technology called WhisperMode. WhisperMode launched alongside NVIDIA's Max-Q design notebooks earlier this year, but it will work with any notebook enabled with an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or higher. This software solution aims to limit noise and power consumption of notebooks by restricting the frame rate of your game to a reasonable compromise of performance, noise, and power levels. NVIDIA has profiled over 400 games to find this sweet spot and added profiles for those games to WhisperMode technology.
WhisperMode is enabled through the NVIDIA GeForce Experience application.
From GFE, you can also choose to "Optimize games for WhisperMode." This will automatically adjust settings (in-game) to complement the frame rate target control of WhisperMode.
If you want to adjust the Frame Rate Target, that must be done in the traditional NVIDIA Control Panel and is done on a per app basis. The target can be set at intervals of 5 FPS from 30 to the maximum refresh of your display. Having to go between two pieces of software to tweak these settings seems overly complex and hopefully some upcoming revamp of the NVIDIA software stack might address this user interface falacy.
To put WhisperMode through its paces, we tried it on two notebooks - one with a GTX 1070 Max-Q (the MSI GS63VR) and one with a GTX 1080 Max-Q (the ASUS ROG Zephyrus). Our testing consisted of two games, Metro: Last Light and Hitman. Both of these games were run for 15 minutes to get the system up to temperature and achieve sound measurements that are more realistic to extended gameplay sessions. Sound levels were measured with our Extech 407739 Sound Level Meter placed at a distance of 6 inches from the given notebooks, above the keyboard and offset to the right.
In the original premise for today’s story, I had planned to do a standard and straight-forward review of the iPad Pro 10.5-inch model, the latest addition to Apple’s line of tablet devices. After receiving the 12.9-in variant, with the same processor upgrade but a larger and much more substantial screen, I started using them both as my daily-driver computing device. I was surprised at how well both handled the majority of tasks I tossed their way but there was still some lingering doubt in my mind about the usefulness of the iOS system as it exists today for my purposes.
The next step was for me to acquire an equivalent Windows 10-based tablet and try making THAT my everyday computer and see how my experiences changed. I picked up the new Surface Pro (2017) model that was priced nearly identical to the iPad Pro 12.9-in device. That did mean sacrificing some specifications that I would usually not do, including moving down to 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. This brought the total of the iPad Pro + Pencil + keyboard within $90 of the Surface Pro and matching accessories.
I should mention at the outset that with the pending release of iOS 11 due in the fall, the Apple iPad Pro line could undergo enough of a platform upgrade to change some of the points in this story. At that time, we can reevaluate our stance and conclusions.
Let’s start our editorial with a comparison of the hardware being tested in the specification department. Knowing that we are looking two ARM-based devices and an x86 system, we should realize core counts, clocks, and the like are even less comparable and relatable than in the Intel/AMD debates. However, it does give us a good bearing on how the hardware landscape looks when we get into the benchmarking section of this story.
|Surface Pro (2017) vs. iPad Pro (2017) Comparison|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-7300U (Kaby Lake)
(3x high performance Hurrican, 3x high efficiency Zephyr cores)
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 620||12-core Custom PowerVR|
|Screen||12.3-in 2736x1824 IPS||12.9-in 2732x2048 IPS 120 Hz
10.5-in 2224x1668 IPS 120 Hz
12MP Rear + OIS
|Battery||45 Wh||12.9-in: 41 Wh
10.5-in: 30.4 Wh
|Dimensions||11.50-in x 7.93-in x 0.33-in||12.9-in: 12.04-in x 8.69-in x 0.27-in
10.5-in: 9.87-in x 6.85-in x 0.24-in
|OS||Windows 10||iOS 10|
|Price||$999 - Amazon.com||12.9-in: $899
10.5-in: $749 - Amazon.com