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Living Long and Prospering
The open fork of AMD’s Mantle, the Vulkan API, was released exactly a year ago with, as we reported, a hard launch. This meant public, but not main-branch drivers for developers, a few public SDKs, a proof-of-concept patch for The Talos Principle, and, of course, the ratified specification. This sets up the API to find success right out of the gate, and we can now look back over the year since.
Thor's hammer, or a tempest in a teapot?
The elephant in the room is DOOM. This game has successfully integrated the API and it uses many of its more interesting features, like asynchronous compute. Because the API is designed in a sort-of “make a command, drop it on a list” paradigm, the driver is able to select commands based on priority and available resources. AMD’s products got a significant performance boost, relative to OpenGL, catapulting their Fury X GPU up to the enthusiast level that its theoretical performance suggested.
Mobile developers have been picking up the API, too. Google, who is known for banishing OpenCL from their Nexus line and challenging OpenGL ES with their Android Extension Pack (later integrated into OpenGL ES with version 3.2), has strongly backed Vulkan. The API was integrated as a core feature of Android 7.0.
On the engine and middleware side of things, Vulkan is currently “ready for shipping games” as of Unreal Engine 4.14. It is also included in Unity 5.6 Beta, which is expected for full release in March. Frameworks for emulators are also integrating Vulkan, often just to say they did, but sometimes to emulate the quirks of these system’s offbeat graphics co-processors. Many other engines, from Source 2 to Torque 3D, have also announced or added Vulkan support.
Finally, for the API itself, The Khronos Group announced (pg 22 from SIGGRAPH 2016) areas that they are actively working on. The top feature is “better” multi-GPU support. While Vulkan, like OpenCL, allows developers to enumerate all graphics devices and target them, individually, with work, it doesn’t have certain mechanisms, like being able to directly ingest output from one GPU into another. They haven’t announced a timeline for this.
Introduction and Specifications
The Mate 9 is the current version of Huawei’s signature 6-inch smartphone, building on last year’s iteration with the company’s new Kirin 960 SoC (featuring ARM's next-generation Bifrost GPU architecture), improved industrial design, and exclusive Leica-branded dual camera system.
In the ultra-competitive smartphone world there is little room at the top, and most companies are simply looking for a share of the market. Apple and Samsung have occupied the top two spots for some time, with HTC, LG, Motorola, and others, far behind. But the new #3 emerged not from the usual suspects, but from a name many of us in the USA had not heard of until recently; and it is the manufacturer of the Mate 9. And comparing this new handset to the preceding Mate 8 (which we looked at this past August), it is a significant improvement in most respects.
With this phone Huawei has really come into their own with their signature phone design, and 2016 was a very good product year with the company’s smartphone offerings. The P9 handset launched early in 2016, offering not only solid specs and impressive industrial design, but a unique camera that was far more than a gimmick. Huawei’s partnership with Leica has resulted in a dual-camera system that operates differently than systems found on phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus, and the results are very impressive. The Mate 9 is an extension of that P9 design, adapted for their larger Mate smartphone series.
Intro, Exterior and Internal Features
Lenovo sent over an OLED-equipped ThinkPad X1 Yoga a while back. I was mid-development on our client SSD test suite and had some upcoming travel. Given that the new suite’s result number crunching spreadsheet ends extends out to column FHY (4289 for those counting), I really needed a higher res screen and improved computer horsepower in a mobile package. I commandeered the X1 Yoga OLED for the trip and to say it grew on me quickly is an understatement. While I do tend to reserve my heavier duty computing tasks and crazy spreadsheets for desktop machines and 40” 4K displays, the compute power of the X1 Yoga proved itself quite reasonable for a mobile platform. Sure there is a built in pen that comes in handy when employing the Yoga’s flip over convertibility into tablet mode, but the real beauty of this particular laptop comes with its optional 2560x1440 14” OLED display.
OLED is just one of those things you need to see in person to truly appreciate. Photos of these screens just can’t capture the perfect blacks and vivid colors. In productivity use, something about either the pixel pattern or the amazing contrast made me feel like the effective resolution of the panel was higher than its rating. It really is a shame that you are likely reading this article on an LCD, because the OLED panel on this particular model of Lenovo laptop really is the superstar. I’ll dive more into the display later on, but for now let’s cover the basics:
In conjunction with Ericsson, Netgear, and Telstra, Qualcomm officially unveiled the first Gigabit LTE ready network. Sydney, Australia is the first city to have this new cellular spec deployed through Telstra. Gigabit LTE, dubbed 4GX by Telstra, offers up to 1Gbps download speeds and 150 Mbps upload speeds with a supported device. Gigabit LTE implementation took partnership between all four companies to become a reality with Ericsson providing the backend hardware and software infrastructure and upgrades, Qualcomm designing its next-gen Snapdragon 835 SoC and Snapdragon X16 modem for Gigabit LTE support, Netgear developing the Nighthawk M1 Mobile router which leverages the Snapdragon 835, and Telstra bringing it all together on its Australian-based cellular network. Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Telstra all see the 4GX implementation as a solid step forward in the path to 5G with 4GX acting as the foundation layer for next-gen 5G networks and providing a fallback, much the same as 3G acted as a fallback for the current 4G LTE cellular networks.
Gigabit LTE Explained
Courtesy of Telstra
What exactly is meant by Gigabit LTE (or 4GX as Telstra has dubbed the new cellular technology)? Gigabit LTE increases both the download and upload speeds of current generation 4G LTE to 1Gbps download and 150 Mbps upload speeds by leveraging several technologies for optimizing the signal transmission between the consumer device and the cellular network itself. Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon X16 modem to operate on dual 60MHz signals with 4x4 MIMO support or dual 80MHz signals without 4x4 MIMO. Further, they increased the modem's QAM support to 256 (8-bit) instead of the current 64 QAM support (6-bit), enabling 33% more data per stream - an increase of 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps per stream. The X16 modem leverages a total of 10 communication streams for delivery of up to 1 Gbps performance and also offers access to previously inaccessible frequency bands using LAA (License Assisted Access) to leverage increased power and speed needs for Gigabit LTE support.
With the near comes a new push for performance, efficiency and feature leadership from Qualcomm and its Snapdragon line of mobile SoCs. The Snapdragon 835 was officially announced in November of last year when the partnership with Samsung on 10nm process technology was announced, but we now have the freedom to share more of the details on this new part and how it changes Qualcomm’s position in the ultra-device market. Though devices with the new 835 part won’t be on the market for several more months, with announcements likely coming at CES this year.
Qualcomm frames the story around the Snapdragon 835 processor with what they call the “five pillars” – five different aspects of mobile processor design that they have addressed with updates and technologies. Qualcomm lists them as battery life (efficiency), immersion (performance), connectivity, and security.
Starting where they start, on battery life and efficiency, the SD 835 has a unique focus that might surprise many. Rather than talking up the improvements in performance of the new processor cores, or the power of the new Adreno GPU, Qualcomm is firmly planted on looking at Snapdragon through the lens of battery life. Snapdragon 835 uses half of the power of Snapdragon 801.
The company touts usage claims of 1+ day of talk time, 5+ days of music playback, 11 hours of 4K video playback, 3 hours of 4K video capture and 2+ hours of sustained VR gaming. These sound impressive, but as we must always do in this market, you must wait for consumer devices from Qualcomm partners to really measure how well this platform will do. Going through a typical power user comparison of a device built on the Snapdragon 835 to one use the 820, Qualcomm thinks it could result in 2 or more hours of additional battery life at the end of the day.
We have already discussed the new Quick Charge 4 technology, that can offer 5 hours of use with just 5 minutes of charge time.
Vulkan 1.0, OpenGL 4.5, and OpenGL ES 3.2 on a console
A few days ago, sharp eyes across the internet noticed that Nintendo’s Switch console has been added to lists of compliant hardware at The Khronos Group. Vulkan 1.0 was the eye-catcher, although the other tabs also claims conformance with OpenGL 4.5 and OpenGL ES 3.2. The device is not listed as compatible with OpenCL, although that does not really surprise me for a single-GPU gaming system. The other three APIs have compute shaders designed around the needs of game developers. So the Nintendo Switch conforms to the latest standards of the three most important graphics APIs that a gaming device should use -- awesome.
But what about performance?
In other news, Eurogamer / Digital Foundary and VentureBeat uncovered information about the hardware. It will apparently use a Tegra X1, which is based around second-generation Maxwell, that is under-clocked from what we see on the Shield TV. When docked, the GPU will be able to reach 768 MHz on its 256 CUDA cores. When undocked, this will drop to 307.2 MHz (although the system can utilize this mode while docked, too). This puts the performance at ~315 GFLOPs when in mobile, pushing up to ~785 GFLOPs when docked.
You might compare this to the Xbox One, which runs at ~1310 GFLOPs, and the PlayStation 4, which runs at ~1840 GFLOPs. This puts the Nintendo Switch somewhat behind it, although the difference is even greater than that. The FLOP calculation of Sony and Microsoft is 2 x Shader Count x Frequency, but the calculation of Nintendo’s Switch is 4 x Shader Count x Frequency. FMA is the factor of two, but the extra factor of two in Nintendo’s case... ...
Yup, the Switch’s performance rating is calculated as FP16, not FP32.
Snippet from an alleged leak of what Nintendo is telling developers.
If true, it's very interesting that FP16 values are being discussed as canonical.
Reducing shader precision down to 16-bit is common for mobile devices. It takes less transistors to store and translate half-precision values, and accumulated error will be muted by the fact that you’re viewing it on a mobile screen. The Switch isn’t always a mobile device, though, so it will be interesting to see how this reduction of lighting and shading precision will affect games on your home TV, especially in titles that don’t follow Nintendo’s art styles. That said, shaders could use 32-bit values, but then you are cutting your performance for those instructions in half, when you are already somewhat behind your competitors.
As for the loss of performance when undocked, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue if Nintendo pressures developers to hit 1080p when docked. If that’s the case, the lower resolution, 720p mobile screen will roughly scale with the difference in clock.
Lastly, there is a bunch of questions surrounding Nintendo’s choice of operating system: basically, all the questions. It’s being developed by Nintendo, but we have no idea what they forked it from. NVIDIA supports the Tegra SoC on both Android and Linux, it would be legal for Nintendo to fork either one, and Nintendo could have just asked for drivers even if NVIDIA didn’t already support the platform in question. Basically, anything is possible from the outside, and I haven’t seen any solid leaks from the inside.
The Nintendo Switch launches in March.
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!
Image courtesy maf04 via Flickr creative commons.
Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $344, Amazon
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!
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.
Samsung 960 Evo 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD - $480, Amazon
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
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!
We have a lot of gaming notebooks
Back in April I did a video with MSI that looked at all of the gaming notebook lines it built around the GTX 900-series of GPUs. Today we have stepped it up a notch, and again are giving you an overview of MSI's gaming notebook lines that now feature the ultra-powerful GTX 10-series using NVIDIA's Pascal architecture. That includes the GTX 1060, GTX 1070 and GTX 1080.
What differentiates the various series of notebooks from MSI? The GE series is for entry level notebook gaming, the GS series offers slim options while the GT series is the ultimate PC gaming mobile platforms.
|GE series||GS series||GT62/72 series||GT 73/83 series|
|Screen||15.6" and 17.3"
|14", 15.6" and 17.3"
1080p and 4K
|15.6" and 17.3"
|17.3" and 18"
|CPU||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6820HK
|GPU||GTX 1060 6GB||GTX 1060 6GB||GTX 1060 6GB
GTX 1070 8GB
|GTX 1070 8GB (SLI option)
GTX 1080 8GB (SLI option)
|Storage||128-512GB M.2 SATA
|128-512GB M.2 SATA
|128-512GB PCIe and SATA
|Up to 1TB SSD (SATA, NVMe)
|Optical||DVD Super-multi||None||Yes (GT72 only)||Blu-ray burner (GT83 only)|
|Features||Killer E2400 LAN
USB 3.1 Type-C
Steel Series RGB Keyboard
|Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
|Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
USB 3.1 Type-C
3x USB 3.0 (GT62)
3x USB 3.0 (GT72)
|Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
5x USB 3.0
Steel Series RGB (GT73)
Mechanical Keyboard (GT83)
|Weight||5.29-5.35 lbs||3.75-5.35 lbs||6.48-8.33 lbs||8.59-11.59 lbs|
Our video below will break down the differences and help point you toward the right notebook for you based on the three key pillars of performance, price and form factor.
Thanks goes out to CUK, Computer Upgrade King, for supplying the 9 different MSI notebooks for our testing and evaluation!
Introduction and Specifications
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are here, and while outwardly they look very similar to last year’s 6s models, there have been some significant upgrades (and a highly controversial change) to the new phones. Is there enough in this iterative update to justify an upgrade? After spending a couple of weeks using one as my primary device, I will attempt to answer this question.
While there had been rumors swirling of an all-new design featuring an OLED display, Apple appears to be holding back until next year - which just happens to be the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Considering this fact, it may just be that the iPhone 7 is something of a stop-gap for 2017. Some of the rumored elements are here, however; with the elimination of the physical home button (it's a solid-state version now) and 3.5 mm headphone jack (the latter causing much consternation). The camera on both phones is completely new as well, with a special dual-lens version exclusive to the 7 Plus.
First we'll go over the specs of these phones. As you can see, there are still some areas that are not fully known, such as the exact speed of the low-power cores in the new quad-core SoC, and the specifics about this year's GPU.
|Apple iPhone 7||Apple iPhone 7 Plus|
|Processor||Apple A10 Fusion SoC
2.34 GHz dual-core + 2x low-power cores (? MHz)
|Graphics||6-core (unknown GPU)|
|Screen||4.7-inch IPS, DCI-P3 capable||5.5-inch IPS, DCI-P3 capable|
|Cameras||Back: 12MP, ƒ/1.8, OIS
Front: 7MP, ƒ/2.2
|Back: 12MP, f /1.8, OIS
Dual-camera with 2x telephoto lens
Front: 7MP, ƒ/2.2
|Video||Video: 4K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60/30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps||Video: 4K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60/30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps|
|Wireless||802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
|FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30)
TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41)
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
|Battery||1960 mAh||2900 mAh|
|Dimensions||138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm
(5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches)
138 g (4.87 oz)
|158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
(6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches)
188 g (6.63 oz)
|Price||$649 - $849||$769 - $969|
Nearly a Decade of iPhone
The iPhone was introduced in 2007 (Image credit: Apple, via archive.org)
It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since the original iPhone launched. Announced in January of 2007 by Steve Jobs during his keynote speech at CES, it set a standard that the rest of the industry would take some time to meet (remember, the first Android phone was over a year away at this point.) But nine years is an age in technology years, and that first version seems like an antique now. (The original iPhone specs: 3.5-inch display with 320x480 resolution, single-core ARM processor running at 412 MHz, 128 MB of system memory, 4GB/8GB storage.)
Introduction and Specifications
Immediately reminiscent of other phablet devices, the Mate 8 from HUAWEI is a characteristically large, thin slab of a smartphone. But under the hood there's quite a departure from the norm, as the SoC powering the device is new to the high-end phone market - no Qualcomm, Samsung, or even MediaTek here.
"The Mate 8 takes the look and feel of the Mate series to a whole new level. Boasting a vivid 6" FHD display, an ultra slim design, a re-designed fingerprint sensor that's faster and more reliable, and a sleek aluminum unibody design, the Mate 8 is sure to impress."
The HiSilicon Kirin 950 powers the Mate 8; an 8-core design comprised of 4x ARM Cortex-A72 cores clocked at up to 2.3 GHz, and 4x ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at up to 1.80 GHz. Memory is 3GB for our sample, with 32GB storage; with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage is also available.
The Mate 8 looks every bit a premium device, and the metal and glass construction of the handset feels solid. It also feels rather light (185g) given its size. But how does it perform? This is an especially interesting question given the unusual silicon in the Mate 8, but the Kirin 950's Cortex-A72 is the most powerful ARM design (at least until the Cortex-A73, announced this summer, finds its way into devices).
In this review we'll explore the overall quality of the HUAWEI Mate 8, and go over usage impressions. And, of course, we'll look at some performance benchmarks to see how this Kirin 950 SoC stacks up against recent Snapdragon and Apple SoCs.
Take your Pascal on the go
Easily the strongest growth segment in PC hardware today is in the adoption of gaming notebooks. Ask companies like MSI and ASUS, even Gigabyte, as they now make more models and sell more units of notebooks with a dedicated GPU than ever before. Both AMD and NVIDIA agree on this point and it’s something that AMD was adamant in discussing during the launch of the Polaris architecture.
Both AMD and NVIDIA predict massive annual growth in this market – somewhere on the order of 25-30%. For an overall culture that continues to believe the PC is dying, seeing projected growth this strong in any segment is not only amazing, but welcome to those of us that depend on it. AMD and NVIDIA have different goals here: GeForce products already have 90-95% market share in discrete gaming notebooks. In order for NVIDIA to see growth in sales, the total market needs to grow. For AMD, simply taking back a portion of those users and design wins would help its bottom line.
But despite AMD’s early talk about getting Polaris 10 and 11 in mobile platforms, it’s NVIDIA again striking first. Gaming notebooks with Pascal GPUs in them will be available today, from nearly every system vendor you would consider buying from: ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Alienware, Razer, etc. NVIDIA claims to have quicker adoption of this product family in notebooks than in any previous generation. That’s great news for NVIDIA, but might leave AMD looking in from the outside yet again.
Technologically speaking though, this makes sense. Despite the improvement that Polaris made on the GCN architecture, Pascal is still more powerful and more power efficient than anything AMD has been able to product. Looking solely at performance per watt, which is really the defining trait of mobile designs, Pascal is as dominant over Polaris as Maxwell was to Fiji. And this time around NVIDIA isn’t messing with cut back parts that have brand changes – GeForce is diving directly into gaming notebooks in a way we have only seen with one release.
The ASUS G752VS OC Edition with GTX 1070
Do you remember our initial look at the mobile variant of the GeForce GTX 980? Not the GTX 980M mind you, the full GM204 operating in notebooks. That was basically a dry run for what we see today: NVIDIA will be releasing the GeForce GTX 1080, GTX 1070 and GTX 1060 to notebooks.
Introduction and Specifications
Dell's premium XPS notebook family includes both 15 inch and 13 inch variants, and ship with the latest 6th-generation Intel Skylake processors and all of the latest hardware. But the screens are what will grab your immediate attention; bright, rich, and with the narrowest bezels on any notebook courtesy of Dell's InfinityEdge displays.
Since Ryan’s review of the XPS 13, which is now his daily driver, Dell has added the XPS 15, which is the smallest 15-inch notebook design you will find anywhere. The XPS 13 is already "the smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet", according to Dell, giving their XPS series a significant advantage in the ultrabook market. The secret is in the bezel, or lack thereof, which allows Dell to squeeze these notebooks into much smaller physical dimensions than you might expect given their display sizes.
But you get more than just a compact size with these XPS notebooks, as the overall quality of the machines rivals that of anything else you will find; and may just be the best Windows notebooks you can buy right now. Is this simply bluster? Notebooks, like smartphones, are a personal thing. They need to conform to the user to provide a great experience, and there are obviously many different kinds of users to satisfy. Ultimately, however, Dell has produced what could easily be described as class leaders with these machines.
Introduction and Specifications
Lenovo made quite a splash with the introduction of the original X1 Carbon notebook in 2012; with its ultra-thin, ultra-light, and carbon fiber-infused construction, it became the flagship ThinkPad notebook. Fast-forward to late 2013, and the introduction of the ThinkPad Yoga; the business version of the previous year's consumer Yoga 2-in-1. The 360-degree hinge was novel for a business machine at the time, and the ThinkPad Yoga had a lot of promise, though it was far from perfect.
Now we fast-forward again, to the present day. It's 2016, and Lenovo has merged their ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad Yoga together to create the X1 Yoga. This new notebook integrates the company's Yoga design (in appearance this is akin to the recent ThinkPad Yoga 260/460 revision) into the flagship ThinkPad X lineup, and provides what Lenovo is calling "the world's lightest 14-inch business 2-in-1".
Yoga and Carbon Merge
When Lenovo announced the marriage of the X1 Carbon notebook with the ThinkPad Yoga, I took notice. A buyer of the original ThinkPad Yoga S1 (with which I had a love/hate relationship) I wondered if the new X1 version of the business-oriented Yoga convertible would win me over. On paper it checks all the right boxes, and the slim new design looks great. I couldn't wait to get my hands on one for some real-world testing, and to see if my complaints about the original TP Yoga design were still valid.
As one would expect from a notebook carrying Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 branding, this new Yoga is quite slim, and made from lightweight materials. Comparing this new Yoga to the X1 Carbon directly, the most obvious difference is that 360° hinge, which is the hallmark of the Yoga series, and exclusive to those Lenovo designs. This hinge allows the X1 Yoga to be used as a notebook, tablet, or any other imaginable position in between.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (base configuration, as reviewed)|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-6200U (Skylake)|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 520|
|Screen||14-in 1920x1080 IPS Touch (with digitizer, active pen)|
|Storage||256GB M.2 SSD|
|Camera||720p / Digital Array Microphone|
|Wireless||Intel 8260 802.11ac + BT 4.1 (Dual Band, 2x2)|
3x USB 3.0
Audio combo jack
|Dimensions||333mm x 229 mm x 16.8mm (13.11" x 9.01" x 0.66")
2.8 lbs. (1270 g)
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
|Price||$1349 - Amazon.com|
A new competitor has entered the arena!
When we first saw the announcement of the MateBook in Spain back in March, pricing was immediately impressive. The base model of the tablet starts at just $699; $200 less than the lowest-priced Surface Pro 4, with features and performance that pretty closely match one another.
The MateBook only ships with Core m processors, a necessity of the incredibly thin and fanless design that Huawei is using. That obviously will put the MateBook behind other tablets and notebooks that use the Core i3/i5/i7 processors, but with a power consumption advantage along the way. Honestly, the performance differences between the Core m3 and m5 and m7 parts is pretty small – all share the same 4.5 watt TDP and all have fairly low base clock speeds and high boost clocks. The Core m5-6Y54 that rests in our test sample has a base clock of 1.1 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost clock of 2.7 GHz. The top end Core m7-6Y75 has a base of 1.2 GHz and Boost of 3.1 GHz. The secret of course is that these processors run at Turbo clocks very infrequently; only during touch interactions and when applications demand performance.
If you work-load regularly requires you to do intensive transcoding, video editing or even high-resolution photo manipulation, the Core m parts are going to be slower than the Core i-series options available in other solutions. If you just occasionally need to use an application like Photoshop, the MateBook has no problems doing so.
|Huawei MateBook Tablet PC|
|Screen||12-in 2160x1440 IPS|
|CPU||Core m3||Core m3||Core m5||Core m5||Core m7||Core m7|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 515|
|Network||802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Gigabite Ethernet (MateDock)
|Display Output||HDMI / VGA (through MateDock)|
|Connectivity||USB 3.0 Type-C
USB 3.0 x 2 (MateDock)
|Audio||Dual Digital Mic
|Weight||640g (1.41 lbs)|
|Dimensions||278.8mm x 194.1mm x 6.9mm
(10.9-in x 7.6-in x 0.27-in)
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home / Pro|
Update: The Huawei Matebook is now available on Amazon.com!
At the base level, both the Surface Pro 4 and the MateBook have identical specs, but the Huawei unit is priced $200 lower. After that, things get more complicated as the Surface Pro 4 moves to Core i5 and Core i7 processors while the MateBook sticks with m5 and m7 parts. Storage capacities and memory size scale though. The lowest entry point for the MateBook to get 256GB of storage and 8GB of memory is $999 and comes with a Core m5 processor; a comparable Surface Pro 4 uses a Core i5 CPU instead but will run you $1199. If you want to move from 256GB to 512GB of storage, Microsoft wants $400 more for your SP4, while Huawei’s price only goes up $200.
27 notebooks can't be wrong
A month or so back, I had a friend come to me asking for advice on which gaming notebook he should purchase. He had specific needs that were tailored to a portable gaming machine: he wanted to have a single machine for home and mobile use, he wanted to be able to game while traveling and he had a pretty reasonable budget. As the "guy that runs the gaming hardware website" I was expected to have an answer...immediately. But I didn't. As it turns out, dissecting and digesting the gaming notebook field is pretty complex.
I sent a note to MSI, offering to build a video and a short story around its products if they sent me one of each of line of gaming notebooks they sold. Honestly, I didn't expect them to be able to pull it together, but just a couple of weeks later, a handful of large boxes arrived and we were staring at a set of six powerful gaming notebooks to analyze.
|GE62 Apache Pro-014||GS40 Phantom-001||GS60 Ghost Pro-002||GS72 Stealth Pro 4K-202||GT72S Dominator Pro G-220||GT80S Titan SLI-002|
|Screen||15.6-in 1080p||14-in 1080p||15.6-in 1080p||17.3-in 4K||17.3-in 1080p G-Sync||18.4-in 1080p|
|CPU||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6700HQ||Core i7-6820HK||Core i7-6820HK|
|GPU||GTX 960M 2GB||GTX 970M 3GB||GTX 970M 6GB||GTX 970M 3GB||GTX 980M 8GB||GTX 980M 8GB SLI|
|Storage||128GB M.2 SATA
|128GB PCIE SSD
|128GB PCIE SSD
|256GB PCIE SSD
|256GB PCIE RAID SSD
|256GB PCIE RAID SSD
|Optical||DVD Super-multi||None||None||None||Blu-ray Burner||Blu-ray Burner|
|Display Output||HDMI 1.4
|Connectivity||USB 3.1 Type-C
USB 3.0 x 2
USB 2.0 x 1
USB 3.0 x 2
USB 3.0 x 2
|USB 3.1 x 2
USB 3.0 x 2
USB 3.0 x 6
USB 3.0 x 5
|Dimensions||15.07-in x 10.23-in x 1.06-in||13.58-in x 9.65-in x 0.87-in||15.35-in x 10.47-in x 0.78-in||16.47-in x 11.39-in x 0.78-in||16.85-in x 11.57-in x 1.89-in||17.95-in x 13.02-in x 1.93-in|
|Weight||5.29 pounds||3.75 pounds||4.2 pounds||5.7 pounds||8.4 pounds||9.9 pounds|
MSI sent this collection along as it appears to match closely with entire range of available options in its own gaming notebook line, without actually sending us ALL 27 OF THE AVAILABLE SKUs! Yes, twenty-seven.
MSI GS40 Phantom
In the video below, I'll walk through the discussion of each of the series of notebooks that MSI offers for gamers, what the prevailing characteristics are for each and what kind of consumer should be most interested in it. I also discuss the specifics of each of the models we received for the project as well as getting into the performance deltas between them.
MSI GS72 Stealth Pro 4K
- MSI GE Series
- The entry level of gaming notebooks, available in both 15.6 and 17.3-in 1080p screens, limited to GTX 970M or GTX 960M GPUs. You still get 16GB of memory, SSDs in MOST systems, Killer Networking hardware, Steel Series keyboards and weights range from 5.29 to 5.95 pounds.
- MSI GS Series
- Varies in screen size from 14-in to 17.3-in but the focus here is on slimmer designs. Both 1080p and 4K screens are available, though you are still maxing out at a GTX 970M graphics solution. 16GB of RAM, NVMe PCIe SSDs are standard, with available models as thin as 0.78-inches and as light as 3.75 pounds.
- MSI GT72 Series
- These focus on performance per dollar, getting maximum single GPU performance in the chassis. They all have 17-in screens with available G-Sync integration, and GPUs from the GTX 970M to the GTX 980 (full). 16-32GB of memory, all using SSDs, optical drives, Thunderbolt, six USB 3.0 ports but GT72 systems are bigger and heavier to compensate for all this.
- MSI GT80 Series
- These are for the crazy enthusiasts only, all of which include SLI configurations or GTX 970M, 980M or 980. An 18.3-in 1080p screen is the only option for your display, but you get 16-64GB of memory, RAID enabled SSD configurations, Blu-ray burners, Thunderbolt, five USB 3.0 ports and a friggin Cherry Brown mechanical keyboard!
After going through this project, here are a few recommendations I would have for users looking to pick up an MSI gaming notebook.
- Best Gaming Value
- GT72 Dominator G-831 - This combines the larger form factor with a GTX 970M GPU, 17.3-in 1080p screen, 16GB of memory, 128GB SSD and priced at $1599. I think this is a good balance of cost and GPU horsepower.
- Looking for a Slimmer Design
- GS70 Stealth Pro-006 - For $1699 you lose the optical drive from the above GT72, but get a lighter and thinner design. You have the same technical horsepower, GTX 970M, Core i7 processor, etc., but the integrated fans will likely be noticeably louder to expel the heat from the more narrow chassis.
- If you need more performance
- GT72 Dominator Pro G-034 - With a jump from the $1599 GT72 above to $2099, this model gets you a GTX 980M and a 256GB SSD. Based on the performance metrics I ran, that should net you another 40-50% of GPU horsepower.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments about these machines and I'll do my best to answer them!
Seeing Ryan transition from being a long-time Android user over to iOS late last year has had me thinking. While I've had hands on with flagship phones from many manufacturers since then, I haven't actually carried an Android device with me since the Nexus S (eventually, with the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade). Maybe it was time to go back in order to gain a more informed perspective of the mobile device market as it stands today.
So that's exactly what I did. When we received our Samsung Galaxy S7 review unit (full review coming soon, I promise!), I decided to go ahead and put a real effort forth into using Android for an extended period of time.
Full disclosure, I am still carrying my iPhone with me since we received a T-Mobile locked unit, and my personal number is on Verizon. However, I have been using the S7 for everything but phone calls, and the occasional text message to people who only has my iPhone number.
Now one of the questions you might be asking yourself right now is why did I choose the Galaxy S7 of all devices to make this transition with. Most Android aficionados would probably insist that I chose a Nexus device to get the best experience and one that Google intends to provide when developing Android. While these people aren't wrong, I decided that I wanted to go with a more popular device as opposed to the more niche Nexus line.
Whether you Samsung's approach or not, the fact is that they sell more Android devices than anyone else and the Galaxy S7 will be their flagship offering for the next year or so.
A new fighter has entered the ring
When EVGA showed me that it was entering the world of gaming notebooks at CES in January, I must admit, I questioned the move. A company that, at one point, only built and distributed graphics cards based on NVIDIA GeForce GPUs had moved to mice, power supplies, tablets (remember that?) and even cases, was going to get into the cutthroat world of notebooks. But I was promised that EVGA had an angle; it would not be cutting any corners in order to bring a truly competitive and aggressive product to the market.
Just a couple of short months later (seriously, is it the end of March already?) EVGA presented us with a shiny new SC17 Gaming Notebook to review. It’s thinner than you might expect, heavier than I would prefer and packs some impressive compute power, along with unique features and overclocking capability, that will put it on your short list of portable gaming rigs for 2016.
Let’s start with a dive into the spec table and then go from there.
|EVGA SC17 Specifications|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6820HK|
|Memory||32GB G.Skill DDR4-2666|
|Graphics Card||GeForce GTX 980M 8GB|
|Storage||256GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD
1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6G HDD
|Display||Sharp 17.3 inch UDH 4K with matte finish|
|Connectivity||Intel 219-V Gigabit Ethernet
Intel AC-8260 802.11ac
2x USB 3.0 Type-A
1x USB 3.1 Type-C
|Audio||Realtek ALC 255
|Video||1x HDMI 1.4
2x mini DisplayPort (1x G-Sync support)
|Dimensions||16-in x 11.6-in x 1.05-in|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
With a price tag of $2,699, EVGA owes you a lot – and it delivers! The processor of choice is the Intel Core i7-6820HK, an unlocked, quad-core, HyperThreaded processor that brings desktop class computing capability to a notebook. The base clock speed is 2.7 GHz but the Turbo clock reaches as high as 3.6 GHz out of the box, supplying games, rendering programs and video editors plenty of horsepower for production on the go. And don’t forget that this is one of the first unlocked processors from Intel for mobile computing – multipliers and voltages can all be tweaked in the UEFI or through Precision X Mobile software to push it even further.
Based on EVGA’s relationship with NVIDIA, it should surprise exactly zero people that a mobile GeForce GPU is found inside the SC17. The GTX 980M is based on the Maxwell 2.0 design and falls slightly under the desktop consumer class GeForce GTX 970 card in CUDA core count and clock speed. With 1536 CUDA cores and a 1038 MHz base clock, with boost capability, the discrete graphics will have enough juice for most games at very high image quality settings. EVGA has configured the GPU with 8GB of GDDR5 memory, more than any desktop GTX 970… so there’s that. Obviously, it would have been great to see the full powered GTX 980 in the SC17, but that would have required changes to the thermal design, chassis and power delivery.
It's Easier to Be Convincing than Correct
This is a difficult topic to discuss. Some perspectives assume that law enforcement have terrible, Orwellian intentions. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials, with genuinely good intentions, don't understand that the road to Hell is paved with those. Bad things are much more likely to happen when human flaws are justified away, which is easy to do when your job is preventing mass death and destruction. Human beings like to use large pools of evidence to validate assumptions, without realizing it, rather than discovering truth.
Ever notice how essays can always find sources, regardless of thesis? With increasing amounts of data, you are progressively more likely to make a convincing argument, but not necessarily a more true one. Mix in good intentions, which promotes complacency, and mistakes can happen.
But this is about Apple. Recently, the FBI demanded that Apple creates a version of iOS that can be broken into by law enforcement. They frequently use the term “back door,” while the government prefers other terminology. Really, words are words and the only thing that matters is what it describes -- and it describes a mechanism to compromise the device's security in some way.
This introduces several problems.
The common line that I hear is, “I don't care, because I have nothing to hide.” Well... that's wrong in a few ways. First, having nothing to hide is irrelevant if the person who wants access to your data assumes that you have something you want to hide, and is looking for evidence that convinces themselves that they're right. Second, you need to consider all the people who want access to this data. The FBI will not be the only one demanding a back door, or even the United States as a whole. There are a whole lot of nations that trusts individuals, including their own respective citizens, less than the United States. You can expect that each of them would request a backdoor.
You can also expect each of them, and organized criminals, wanting to break into each others'.
Lastly, we've been here before, and what it comes down to is criminalizing math. Encryption is just a mathematical process that is easy to perform, but hard to invert. It all started because it is easy to multiply two numbers together, but hard to factor them. The only method we know is dividing by every possible number that's smaller than the square root of said number. If the two numbers are prime, then you are stuck finding one number out of all those possibilities (the other prime number will be greater than the square root). In the 90s, numbers over a certain size were legally classified as weapons. That may sound ridiculous, and there would be good reason for that feeling. Either way, it changed; as a result, online banks and retailers thrived.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.
Good intentions lead to complacency, which is where the road to (metaphorical) Hell starts.
Caught Up to DirectX 12 in a Single Day
I'm not just talking about the specification. Members of the Khronos Group have also released compatible drivers, SDKs and tools to support them, conformance tests, and a proof-of-concept patch for Croteam's The Talos Principle. To reiterate, this is not a soft launch. The API, and its entire ecosystem, is out and ready for the public on Windows (at least 7+ at launch but a surprise Vista or XP announcement is technically possible) and several distributions of Linux. Google will provide an Android SDK in the near future.
I'm going to editorialize for the next two paragraphs. There was a concern that Vulkan would be too late. The thing is, as of today, Vulkan is now just as mature as DirectX 12. Of course, that could change at a moment's notice; we still don't know how the two APIs are being adopted behind the scenes. A few DirectX 12 titles are planned to launch in a few months, but no full, non-experimental, non-early access game currently exists. Each time I say this, someone links the Wikipedia list of DirectX 12 games. If you look at each entry, though, you'll see that all of them are either: early access, awaiting an unreleased DirectX 12 patch, or using a third-party engine (like Unreal Engine 4) that only list DirectX 12 as an experimental preview. No full, released, non-experimental DirectX 12 game exists today. Besides, if the latter counts, then you'll need to accept The Talos Principle's proof-of-concept patch, too.
But again, that could change. While today's launch speaks well to the Khronos Group and the API itself, it still needs to be adopted by third party engines, middleware, and software. These partners could, like the Khronos Group before today, be privately supporting Vulkan with the intent to flood out announcements; we won't know until they do... or don't. With the support of popular engines and frameworks, dependent software really just needs to enable it. This has not happened for DirectX 12 yet, and, now, there doesn't seem to be anything keeping it from happening for Vulkan at any moment. With the Game Developers Conference just a month away, we should soon find out.
But back to the announcement.
Vulkan-compatible drivers are launching today across multiple vendors and platforms, but I do not have a complete list. On Windows, I was told to expect drivers from NVIDIA for Windows 7, 8.x, 10 on Kepler and Maxwell GPUs. The standard is compatible with Fermi GPUs, but NVIDIA does not plan on supporting the API for those users due to its low market share. That said, they are paying attention to user feedback and they are not ruling it out, which probably means that they are keeping an open mind in case some piece of software gets popular and depends upon Vulkan. I have not heard from AMD or Intel about Vulkan drivers as of this writing, one way or the other. They could even arrive day one.
On Linux, NVIDIA, Intel, and Imagination Technologies have submitted conformant drivers.
Drivers alone do not make a hard launch, though. SDKs and tools have also arrived, including the LunarG SDK for Windows and Linux. LunarG is a company co-founded by Lens Owen, who had a previous graphics software company that was purchased by VMware. LunarG is backed by Valve, who also backed Vulkan in several other ways. The LunarG SDK helps developers validate their code, inspect what the API is doing, and otherwise debug. Even better, it is also open source, which means that the community can rapidly enhance it, even though it's in a releasable state as it is. RenderDoc,
the open-source graphics debugger by Crytek, will also add Vulkan support. ((Update (Feb 16 @ 12:39pm EST): Baldur Karlsson has just emailed me to let me know that it was a personal project at Crytek, not a Crytek project in general, and their GitHub page is much more up-to-date than the linked site.))
The major downside is that Vulkan (like Mantle and DX12) isn't simple.
These APIs are verbose and very different from previous ones, which requires more effort.
Image Credit: NVIDIA
There really isn't much to say about the Vulkan launch beyond this. What graphics APIs really try to accomplish is standardizing signals that enter and leave video cards, such that the GPUs know what to do with them. For the last two decades, we've settled on an arbitrary, single, global object that you attach buffers of data to, in specific formats, and call one of a half-dozen functions to send it.
Compute APIs, like CUDA and OpenCL, decided it was more efficient to handle queues, allowing the application to write commands and send them wherever they need to go. Multiple threads can write commands, and multiple accelerators (GPUs in our case) can be targeted individually. Vulkan, like Mantle and DirectX 12, takes this metaphor and adds graphics-specific instructions to it. Moreover, GPUs can schedule memory, compute, and graphics instructions at the same time, as long as the graphics task has leftover compute and memory resources, and / or the compute task has leftover memory resources.
This is not necessarily a “better” way to do graphics programming... it's different. That said, it has the potential to be much more efficient when dealing with lots of simple tasks that are sent from multiple CPU threads, especially to multiple GPUs (which currently require the driver to figure out how to convert draw calls into separate workloads -- leading to simplifications like mirrored memory and splitting workload by neighboring frames). Lots of tasks aligns well with video games, especially ones with lots of simple objects, like strategy games, shooters with lots of debris, or any game with large crowds of people. As it becomes ubiquitous, we'll see this bottleneck disappear and games will not need to be designed around these limitations. It might even be used for drawing with cross-platform 2D APIs, like Qt or even webpages, although those two examples (especially the Web) each have other, higher-priority bottlenecks. There are also other benefits to Vulkan.
The WebGL comparison is probably not as common knowledge as Khronos Group believes.
Still, Khronos Group was criticized when WebGL launched as "it was too tough for Web developers".
It didn't need to be easy. Frameworks arrived and simplified everything. It's now ubiquitous.
In fact, Adobe Animate CC (the successor to Flash Pro) is now a WebGL editor (experimentally).
Open platforms are required for this to become commonplace. Engines will probably target several APIs from their internal management APIs, but you can't target users who don't fit in any bucket. Vulkan brings this capability to basically any platform, as long as it has a compute-capable GPU and a driver developer who cares.
Thankfully, it arrived before any competitor established market share.
Dell has never exactly been a brand that gamers gravitate towards. While we have seen some very high quality products out of Dell in the past few years, including the new XPS 13, and people have loved their Ultrasharp monitor line, neither of these target gamers directly. Dell acquired Alienware in 2006 in order to enter the gaming market and continues to make some great products, but they retain the Alienware branding. It seems to me a gaming-centric notebook with just the Dell brand could be a hard sell.
However, that's exactly what we have today with the Dell Inspiron 15 7000. Equipped with an Intel Core i5-6300HQ and NVIDIA GTX 960M for $799, has Dell created a contender in the entry-level gaming notebook race?
For years, the Inspiron line has been Dell's entry level option for notebooks and subsequently has a questionable reputation as far as quality and lifespan. With the Inspiron 15 7000 being the most expensive product offering in the Inspiron line though, I was excited to see if it could sway my opinion of the brand.