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UltraWide G-Sync Arrives
When NVIDIA first launched G-Sync monitors, they had the advantage of being first to literally everything. They had the first variable refresh rate technology, the first displays of any kind that supported it and the first ecosystem to enable it. AMD talked about FreeSync just a few months later, but it wasn't until March of 2015 that we got our hands on the first FreeSync enabled display, and it was very much behind the experience provided by G-Sync displays. That said, what we saw with that launch, and continue to see as time goes on, is that there are a much higher quantity of FreeSync options, with varying specifications and options, compared to what NVIDIA has built out.
This is important to note only because, as we look at the Acer Predator X34 monitor today, the first 34-in curved panel to support G-Sync, it comes 3 months after the release of the similarly matched monitor from Acer that worked with AMD FreeSync. The not-as-sexyily-named Acer XR341CK offers a 3440x1440 resolution, 34-in curved IPS panel and a 75Hz refresh rate.
But, as NVIDIA tends to do, they found a way to differentiate its own products, with the help of Acer. The Predator X34 monitor has a unique look and style to it, and it improves the maximum refresh rate to 100Hz (although that is considered overclocking). The price is a bit higher too, coming in at $1300 or so on Amazon.com; the FreeSync-enabled XR341CK monitor sells for just $941.
Thank you for all you do!
Much of what I am going to say here is repeated from the description on our brand new Patreon support page, but I think a direct line to our readers is in order.
First, I think you may need a little back story. Ask anyone that has been doing online media in this field for any length of time and they will tell you that getting advertisers to sign on and support the production of "free" content has been getting more and more difficult. You'll see this proven out in the transition of several key personalities of our industry away from media into the companies they used to cover. And you'll see it in the absorption of some of our favorite media outlets, being purchased by larger entities with the promise of being able to continue doing what they have been doing. Or maybe you've seen it show as more interstitial ads, road blocks, sponsored site sections, etc.
At PC Perspective we've seen the struggle first hand but I have done my best to keep as much of that influence away from my team. We are not immune - several years ago we started doing site skins, something we didn't plan for initially. I do think I have done a better than average job keeping the lights on here though, so to speak. We have good sell through on our ad inventory and some of the best companies in our industry support the work we do.
Some of the PC Perspective team at CES 2016
Let me be clear though - we aren't on the verge of going out of business. I am not asking for Patreon supporters to keep from firing anyone. We just wanted to maintain and grow our content library and capability and it seemed like the audience that benefits and enjoys that content might be the best place to start.
Some of you are likely asking yourself if supporting PC Perspective is really necessary? After all, you can chug out a 400 word blog in no time! The truth is that high quality, technical content takes a lot of man hours and those hours are expensive. Our problem is that to advertisers, a page view is a page view, they don't really care how much time and effort went into creating the content on that page. If we spend 20 hours developing a way to evaluate variable refresh rate monitors with an oscilloscope, but put the results on a single page at pcper.com, we get the same amount of traffic as someone that just posts an hour's worth of gameplay experiences. Both are valuable to the community, but one costs a lot more to produce.
Frame Rating testing methodology helped move the industry forward
The easy way out is to create click bait style content (have you seen the new Marvel trailer??!?) and hope for enough extra page views to make up for the difference. But many people find the allure of the cheap/easy posts too easy and quickly devolve into press releases and marketing vomit. No one at PC Perspective wants to see that happen here.
Not only do we want to avoid a slide into that fate but we want to improve on what we are doing, going further down the path of technical analysis with high quality writing and video content. Very few people are working on this kind of writing and analysis yet it is vitally important to those of you that want the information to make critical purchasing decisions. And then you, in turn, pass those decisions on to others with less technical interest (brothers, mothers, friends).
We have ideas for new regular shows including a PC Perspective Mailbag, a gaming / Virtual LAN Party show and even an old hardware post-mortem production. All of these take extra time beyond what each person has dedicated today and the additional funding provided by a successful Patreon campaign will help us towards those goals.
I don't want anyone to feel that they are somehow less of a fan of PC Perspective if you can't help - that's not what we are about and not what I stand for. Just being here, reading and commenting on our work means a lot to us. You can still help by spreading the word about stories you find interesting or even doing your regular Amazon.com shopping through our link on the right side bar.
But for those of you that can afford a monthly contribution, consider a "value for value" amount. How much do you think the content we have produced and will produce is worth to you? If that's $3/month, thank you! If that's $20/month, thank you as well!
Support PC Perspective through Patreon
The team and I spent a lot of our time in the last several weeks talking through this Patreon campaign and we are proud to offer ourselves up to our community. PC Perspective is going to be here for a long time, and support from readers like you will help us be sure we can continue to improve and innovate on the information and content we provide.
Again, thank you so much for support over the last 16 years!
Laptops and Monitors
Dell kicked off their CES presence with a presentation that featured actor Josh Brener of “Silicon Valley” fame. His monologues were entertaining, but unfortunately he was performing in front of a pretty tough crowd. It was 10:30 in the morning and people were still scarfing down coffee and breakfast goods that were provided by Dell. Not exactly a group receptive of humorous monologues at that time in the morning. Oddly enough I was seated next to Josh's wife, Meghan Falcone, who helped provide the laugh track for his presentation. She was kind enough to place my dirty, germ-ridden coffee cup right next to the AV equipment table when I was finished with it. Probably a poor move on her part.
The presentation was actually about some pretty interesting products coming to Dell this year. The presentation was held in a restaurant in The Venetian and space was rather limited. Dell did what they could in the space provided, and entertained some 60+ reporters and editors with the latest and greatest technology coming from Dell.
Dell had a runaway success last year with their latest XPS laptops with the InfinityEdge Displays. The 13” model was a huge success with even Ryan buying one. These products featured quick processors and graphics, outstanding screen quality, and excellent battery life considering weight and performance. Dell decided to apply this design to their business class Latitude laptops. The big mover is expected to be the new Dell Latitude 13” 7000 series Ultrabook. This will come with a variety of configurations, but it will all be based on the same chasis that features the 13” InfinityEdge Display as well as a carbon fiber top lid. This will host all of the business class security features that those customers expect. It also features USB Type-C connectors as well as Thunderbolt 3.
The Latitude 12 7000 series is a business oriented 2-in-1 device with a 12.5” screen. This easily converts from a laptop to a tablet and is along the same design lines as the latest Surface 4. It features a 4K touch display that is covered by a large piece of Gorilla Glass. The magnesium unibody build provides a great amount of rigidity while keeping weight low. The attachable base/keyboard is a backlit unit that is extremely thin.
Finally we have the smaller Latitude 11 5000 series 2-in1 that features a 10.8 inch touch display, hardened glass, and the magnesium frame. It is only 1.56 pounds and provides all the business and security features demanded by that market.
Introduction and Features
As you might expect, be quiet! is focused on virtually silent power supplies and they continue to be one of the top selling brands in Europe. The Dark Power Pro 11 Series occupies the top tier in be quiets!’s PC power supply lineup. All of the Dark Power Pro 11 models are certified for high efficiency (80 Plus Platinum) and come with modular cables. In this review we will be taking a detailed look at the be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 1,000W power supply with Cable Management. There are six power supplies in the Dark Power Pro 11 CM Series, which include 550W, 650W, 750W, 850W, 1000W and 1200W models.
be quiet! designed the Dark Power Pro 11 CM Series to provide high efficiency with minimal noise for systems that demand whisper-quiet operation without compromising on power quality. In addition to the Dark Power Pro 11 Series, be quiet! offers a full range of power supplies in ATX, SFX, and TFX form factors.
(Courtesy of be quiet!)
All of the Dark Power Pro 11 Cable Management Series power supplies are semi-modular (all cables are modular except for the fixed 24-pin ATX cable). Along with 80 Plus Platinum certified high efficiency and quiet operation, the Dark Power Pro 11 1,000W modular power supply features an overclocking key to select between multi-rail and single rail +12V outputs. The power supply uses be quiet!’s latest SilentWings3 135mm fan for virtually silent operation. The fan speed starts out very slow and remains slow and quiet through mid power levels. And the Dark Power Pro 11 power supplies allow connecting up to four case fans, whose speed will be controlled by the PSU.
be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 1,000W CM PSU Key Features:
• 1,000W continuous DC output (ATX12V v2.4, EPS 2.92 compliant)
• Virtually inaudible SilentWings3 135mm cooling fan
• 80 PLUS Platinum certified efficiency (up to 94%)
• Premium 105°C rated parts enhance stability and reliability
• Powerful GPU support with nine PCI-E connectors
• User-friendly cable management reduces clutter and improves airflow
• NVIDIA SLI Ready and AMD CrossFire X certified
• ErP 2014 ready and meets Energy Star 6.0 guidelines
• Zero load design supports Intel’s Deep Power Down C6 & C7 modes
• Fully Intel Haswell compatible
• Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
• German product conception, design and quality control
• Safety Protections : OCP, OVP, UVP, SCP, OTP, and OPP
• 5-Year warranty
• MSRP for the Dark Power Pro 11 1,000W CM PSU: $239.00 USD
Are Computers Still Getting Faster?
It looks like CES is starting to wind down, which makes sense because it ended three days ago. Now that we're mostly caught up, I found a new video from The 8-Bit Guy. He doesn't really explain any old technologies in this one. Instead, he poses an open question about computer speed. He was able to have a functional computing experience on a ten-year-old Apple laptop, which made him wonder if the rate of computer advancement is slowing down.
I believe that he (and his guest hosts) made great points, but also missed a few important ones.
One of his main arguments is that software seems to have slowed down relative to hardware. I don't believe that is true, but I believe it's looking in the right area. PCs these days are more than capable of doing just about anything in terms of 2D user interface that we would want to, and do so with a lot of overhead for inefficient platforms and sub-optimal programming (relative to the 80's and 90's at the very least). The areas that require extra horsepower are usually doing large batches of many related tasks. GPUs are key in this area, and they are keeping up as fast as they can, despite some stagnation with fabrication processes and a difficulty (at least before HBM takes hold) in keeping up with memory bandwidth.
For the last five years to ten years or so, CPUs have been evolving toward efficiency as GPUs are being adopted for the tasks that need to scale up. I'm guessing that AMD, when they designed the Bulldozer architecture, hoped that GPUs would have been adopted much more aggressively, but even as graphics devices, they now have a huge effect on Web, UI, and media applications.
These are also tasks that can scale well between devices by lowering resolution (and so forth). The primary thing that a main CPU thread needs to do is figure out the system's state and keep the graphics card fed before the frame-train leaves the station. In my experience, that doesn't scale well (although you can sometimes reduce the amount of tracked objects for games and so forth). Moreover, it is easier to add GPU performance, compared to single-threaded CPU, because increasing frequency and single-threaded IPC should be more complicated than planning out more, duplicated blocks of shaders. These factors combine to give lower-end hardware a similar experience in the most noticeable areas.
So, up to this point, we discussed:
- Software is often scaling in ways that are GPU (and RAM) limited.
- CPUs are scaling down in power more than up in performance.
- GPU-limited tasks can often be approximated with smaller workloads.
- Software gets heavier, but it doesn't need to be "all the way up" (ex: resolution).
- Some latencies are hard to notice anyway.
Back to the Original Question
This is where “Are computers still getting faster?” can be open to interpretation.
Tasks are diverging from one class of processor into two, and both have separate industries, each with their own, multiple goals. As stated, CPUs are mostly progressing in power efficiency, which extends (an assumed to be) sufficient amount of performance downward to multiple types of devices. GPUs are definitely getting faster, but they can't do everything. At the same time, RAM is plentiful but its contribution to performance can be approximated with paging unused chunks to the hard disk or, more recently on Windows, compressing them in-place. Newer computers with extra RAM won't help as long as any single task only uses a manageable amount of it -- unless it's seen from a viewpoint that cares about multi-tasking.
In short, computers are still progressing, but the paths are now forked and winding.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
SUPERMICRO's latest venture into the consumer realm is the C7Z170-SQ motherboard, featuring an appealing black and red enthusiast-friendly aesthetic and a gamer-friendly feature set. Centered on the Intel Z170 chipset, the board offers fully support for the Intel Skylake-S processor line as well as DDR4 memory in Dual Channel mode. At a competitive $219.99 MSRP, the SUPERMICRO C7Z170-SQ motherboard is competitively-priced considering its features and performance potential.
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
The C7Z170-SQ was designed with an 8+1 phase digital power delivery system to power the CPU and integrated graphics. SUPERMICRO integrated the following featured into the board: six SATA 3 ports; a PCIe X4 M.2 slot; an Intel i219-V Gigabit NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x4 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, CMOS clear, and BIOS restore buttons; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and USB 3.1 Type-C port support.
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
Looking Towards 2016
ARM invited us to a short conversation with them on the prospects of 2016. The initial answer as to how they feel the upcoming year will pan out is, “Interesting”. We covered a variety of topics ranging from VR to process technology. ARM is not announcing any new products at this time, but throughout this year they will continue to push their latest Mali graphics products as well as the Cortex A72.
Trends to Watch in 2016
The one overriding trend that we will see is that of “good phones at every price point”. ARM’s IP scales from very low to very high end mobile SOCs and their partners are taking advantage of the length and breadth of these technologies. High end phones based on custom cores (Apple, Qualcomm) will compete against those licensing the Cortex A72 and A57 parts for their phones. Lower end options that are less expensive and pull less power (which then requires less battery) will flesh out the midrange and budget parts. Unlike several years ago, the products from top to bottom are eminently usable and relatively powerful products.
Camera improvements will also take center stage for many products and continue to be a selling point and an area of differentiation for competitors. Improved sensors and software will obviously be the areas where the ARM partners will focus on, but ARM is putting some work into this area as well. Post processing requires quite a bit of power to do quickly and effectively. ARM is helping here to leverage the Neon SIMD engine and leveraging the power of the Mali GPU.
4K video is becoming more and more common as well with handhelds, and ARM is hoping to leverage that capability in shooting static pictures. A single 4K frame is around 8 megapixels in size. So instead of capturing video, the handheld can achieve a “best shot” type functionality. So the phone captures the 4K video and then users can choose the best shot available to them in that period of time. This is a simple idea that will be a nice feature for those with a product that can capture 4K video.
AMD Polaris Architecture Coming Mid-2016
In early December, I was able to spend some time with members of the newly formed Radeon Technologies Group (RTG), which is a revitalized and compartmentalized section of AMD that is taking over all graphics work. During those meetings, I was able to learn quite a bit about the plans for RTG going forward, including changes for AMD FreeSync and implementation of HDR display technology, and their plans for the GPUOpen open-sourced game development platform. Perhaps most intriguing of all: we received some information about the next-generation GPU architecture, targeted for 2016.
Codenamed Polaris, this new architecture will be the 4th generation of GCN (Graphics Core Next), and it will be the first AMD GPU that is built on FinFET process technology. These two changes combined promise to offer the biggest improvement in performance per watt, generation to generation, in AMD’s history.
Though the amount of information provided about the Polaris architecture is light, RTG does promise some changes to the 4th iteration of its GCN design. Those include primitive discard acceleration, an improved hardware scheduler, better pre-fetch, increased shader efficiency, and stronger memory compression. We have already discussed in a previous story that the new GPUs will include HDMI 2.0a and DisplayPort 1.3 display interfaces, which offer some impressive new features and bandwidth. From a multimedia perspective, Polaris will be the first GPU to include support for h.265 4K decode and encode acceleration.
This slide shows us quite a few changes, most of which were never discussed specifically that we can report, coming to Polaris. Geometry processing and the memory controller stand out as potentially interesting to me – AMD’s Fiji design continues to lag behind NVIDIA’s Maxwell in terms of tessellation performance and we would love to see that shift. I am also very curious to see how the memory controller is configured on the entire Polaris lineup of GPUs – we saw the introduction of HBM (high bandwidth memory) with the Fury line of cards.
Design and Compute Performance
I'm going to be honest with you right off the bat: there isn't much more I can say about the MSI GT72S notebook that hasn't already been said either on this website or on the PC Perspective Podcast. Though there are many iterations of this machine, the version we are looking at today is known as the "GT72S Dominator Pro G Dragon-004" and it includes some impressive hardware and design choices. Perhaps you've heard of this processor called "Skylake" and a GPU known as the "GTX 980"?
The GT72S is a gaming notebook in the truest sense of the term. It is big, heavy and bulky, not meant for daily travel or walking around campus for very long distances. It has a 17-in screen, more USB 3.0 ports than most desktop computers and also more gaming horsepower than we've ever seen crammed into that kind of space. That doesn't make it perfect for everyone of course: battery life is poor and you may have to sell one of your kids to be able to afford it. But then, you might be able to afford A LOT if you sold the kids, amiright?
Let's dive into what makes the new MSI GT72S so impressive and why every PC gamer that has a hankering for moving their rig will be drooling.
Another TN Option for FreeSync Fans
If you had asked me a year ago how many monitors we would be able to store in the PC Perspective offices, I would have vastly underestimated the true answer. It seems that not only is the demand from readers for information about the latest and greatest display technology at a demand that we have never seen, but vendors that sell high quality monitors for enthusiasts and gamers are pumping out more models than I can keep track of.
But this is good, right? The more options we have, the more likely we are to find the best choice for each user, for each budget and for each required feature set. But more choices can also lead to confusion - that's where we continue to chime in. Today we are taking a look at the ASUS MG278Q monitor, a 27-in 2560x1440 display with support for AMD FreeSync technology and sporting a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz. With a TN panel rather than IPS, the MG278Q has a current selling price of just $399, well under the equivalent G-Sync monitors.
Even better, since we started our evaluation on the display, AMD released the Radeon Crimson driver, introducing a new feature called Low Frame Rate Compensation. This essentially allows most of the FreeSync displays on the market to match NVIDIA G-Sync's ability to handle lower frame rates without resorting to V-Sync tearing, etc. If you haven't read about it, do so in the link above.
Introduction and Features
SilverStone recently introduced a new line of Platinum certified PC power supplies, which they claim are the world’s smallest 80 Plus Platinum, full-modular ATX power supplies. The new Strider Platinum Series currently includes three models, the ST55F-PT (550W), ST65F-PT (650W) and ST75F-PT (750W). All of the Strider Platinum Series PSUs are designed to provide quiet, reliable operation in a small package. The cooling fan incorporates Fluid Dynamic Bearings (FDB) for quiet-reliable operation and an intelligent fan control permits fanless operation at low power. While the typical 750W power supply enclosure measures 160mm (6.3”) deep, the Strider Platinum Series are housed in a 140mm chassis (5.5”).
(Courtesy of SilverStone)
The main focus of this review will be on the 750W ST75F-PT model, but the good folks at SilverStone also sent along one of the 550W (ST55F-PT) models so we will include test results for both units for comparison. It’s always nice to receive two different units in the same series to help confirm operation and performance parameters.
SilverStone Strider Platinum Series Key Features:
• 550W, 650W, and 750W DC power output
• Compact design with a depth of only 140mm for easy integration
• High efficiency with 80 Plus Platinum certification
• 100% Modular cables
• Intelligent semi-fanless operation
• Quiet 120mm cooling fan with Fluid Dynamic Bearing
• 24/7 Continuous power output with 40°C operating temperature
• Strict ±3% voltage regulation and low AC ripple & noise
• Dedicated single +12V rail
• Conforms to ATX12V and EPS standards
• Universal AC input (90-264V) with Active PFC
• Dimensions: 150mm (W) x 86mm (H) x 140mm (L)
Here is what SilverStone has to say about the new Strider Platinum Series PSUs: "As desktop computers continue to advance toward ever more efficient and smaller designs, SilverStone is helping to drive the efficiency movement by releasing the Strider Platinum Series of power supplies. Created to be the smallest fully modular ATX power supplies with 80 Plus Platinum efficiency, they are also incredibly quiet with the ability to run in fanless mode. If the loading condition is below 20%, the fan in the power supply can remain off for silent operation during idle or low powered computing activities. Other great features inherited from previous Strider series includes ±3% regulation, powerful single +12V rail, 24/7 continuous power output, and multiple PCI-E cables. For those looking to build highly efficient systems in small footprints, the Strider Platinum is definitely the best choice.”
Introduction and First Impressions
EKWB now has a pair of all-in-one liquid CPU coolers on the market, and today we have the 240 mm variant on the test bench. Long known as a supplier of water blocks (the WB in EKWB stands for water blocks, after all) and other parts for custom liquid cooling, how will EKWB's foray into self-contained liquid CPU coolers fare?
The Predator 240 take a very different approach to self-contained CPU cooling, being a pre-assembled unit comprised of separate, and removable, parts. Though pre-filled and ready to use as a CPU cooler out of the box, the Predator 240 (and to a greater degree the larger Predator 360) can be expanded to cool additional components, and customized as the user desires.
This versitility doesn't come cheap, but the Predator is actually a pretty good value when you price out the components that make up the whole. Looking through EKWB's site the water block is available separately for $54.99, the radiator is $61.99, the two fans are $17.99 each, and then there's the pump, hoses, fittings, and coolant to buy.
Still, at $199.95 the Predator 240 is at the top of the heap for price in this category (among 240 mm options), regardless of the apparent quality of the components. And while this may have more in common with a custom loop than your typical all-in-one CPU cooler, the only thing that really matters is performance. To test this I put it to work on the cooling test bench against some of the other coolers I have on hand. We'll see what it can do.
May the Radeon be with You
In celebration of the release of The Force Awakens as well as the new Star Wars Battlefront game from DICE and EA, AMD sent over some hardware for us to use in a system build, targeted at getting users up and running in Battlefront with impressive quality and performance, but still on a reasonable budget. Pairing up an AMD processor, MSI motherboard, Sapphire GPU with a low cost chassis, SSD and more, the combined system includes a FreeSync monitor for around $1,200.
Holiday breaks are MADE for Star Wars Battlefront
Though the holiday is already here and you'd be hard pressed to build this system in time for it, I have a feeling that quite a few of our readers and viewers will find themselves with some cash and gift certificates in hand, just ITCHING for a place to invest in a new gaming PC.
The video above includes a list of components, the build process (in brief) and shows us getting our gaming on with Star Wars Battlefront. Interested in building a system similar the one above on your own? Here's the hardware breakdown.
|AMD Powered Star Wars Battlefront System|
|Processor||AMD FX-8370 - $197
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO - $29
|Motherboard||MSI 990FXA Gaming - $137|
|Memory||AMD Radeon Memory DDR3-2400 - $79|
|Graphics Card||Sapphire NITRO Radeon R9 380X - $266|
|Storage||SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD - $79|
|Case||Corsair Carbide 300R - $68|
|Power Supply||Seasonic 600 watt 80 Plus - $69|
|Monitor||AOC G2460PF 1920x1080 144Hz FreeSync - $259|
|Total Price||Full System (without monitor) - Amazon.com - $924|
For under $1,000, plus another $250 or so for the AOC FreeSync capable 1080p monitor, you can have a complete gaming rig for your winter break. Let's detail some of the specific components.
AMD sent over the FX-8370 processor for our build, a 4-module / 8-core CPU that runs at 4.0 GHz, more than capable of handling any gaming work load you can toss at it. And if you need to do some transcoding, video work or, heaven forbid, school or productivity work, the FX-8370 has you covered there too.
For the motherboard AMD sent over the MSI 990FXA Gaming board, one of the newer AMD platforms that includes support for USB 3.1 so you'll have a good length of usability for future expansion. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO cooler was our selection to keep the FX-8370 running smoothly and 8GB of AMD Radeon DDR3-2133 memory is enough for the system to keep applications and the Windows 10 operating system happy.
Design - A Tablet and a Notebook
For the last 30 days or so, I have been using both Microsoft's new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 as every day computing devices. The goal was to review these items from not just a handful of days of testing and benchmarking, but with some lengthy time under my belt utilizing both products in a real-world environment. The following is my review with that premise. Enjoy!
A lot has already been said about the design and style of both the updated Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Book. Let’s start with the Surface Pro 4 as it sees the least dramatic changes from previous product.
The Surface Pro 4 uses the same kickstand tablet design that made the Surface brand so memorable as well as functional. Many different OEMs are starting to copy the design style because it has a lot of positive merits to it. For instance, it allows viewing angles from nearly 90 degree to flat. The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet in its purest form, though. It doesn’t have a keyboard or trackpad standard – you’ll have purchase the optional Type Cover. It’s only 8.5mm thick and weighs in at 1.73 lbs, without the added keyboard.
The kickstand works exceptionally, with unlimited positions between the starting and stop point of the hinge, and it allows smooth movement between them. It’s strong enough to stand up when being slid around on the tablet or desk. The biggest concern I have with the kickstand is that using it on your lap (or on an airplane tray table) is difficult to impossible, depending on the exact configuration or your legs / tray. Because the hinged kickstand needs a surface to make contact with, pushing the Surface Pro back on your legs where the hinged portion extends past your knees won’t work.
From a design and style perspective, I still think the Surface products are among the best that exist on the market today. The magnesium body is sleek and the angles are both professional and aggressive. Even when coupled with the magnetic Type Cover, it won’t look like a toy at the office or on the road.
The new Surface Book is a completely different beast – a unique design and a new product. I am sure that there are some people that simply won’t like the way the notebook looks, but I am not one of them. Though it is technically a tablet and a keyboard dock, the Surface Book only ships as a complete unit so calling this a notebook or a 2-in-1 convertible feels more accurate than calling it a tablet. It has a larger and more pronounced 13.5-in screen than the Pro, which makes it larger, heavier and bulkier in your bag as well. The magnesium body shares a lot of design cues with the Pro 4, but it’s the hinge on the Book that really makes it different than any notebook I have used.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
The X99-E WS/USB 3.1 is leading board in ASUS' Workstation line for the Intel X99 chipset with enhanced support for USB 3.1-based devices. The board features full support for all Intel LGA2011-3 based processors paired with DDR4 memory operating in up to a quad channel configuration. Priced at a hefty $539.99, the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board comes with an immense feature set to more than justify its massive price tag.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
Powering the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board is an 8-phase digital power system featuring high efficiency Beat Thermal chokes, Dr. MOS MOSFETs, and 12k rated solid capacitors. Additionally, ASUS integrated their CPU OC Socket into the board's design, ensuring board's overclocking potential. The integrated PLX chip enhances the board's graphics bandwidth, offering full x16 bandwidth with four card populated and x8 bandwidth with all seven PCIe x16 slots populated.
ASUS chose to integrate the following features into the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board: eight SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; two eSATA ports; Intel I218LM and I210-AT Gigabit NICs; seven PCI-Express x16 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, MemOK!, Q-Code Logger, and BIOS Flashback buttons; TPU, EPU, Dr. Power, and EZ_XMP switches; Crystal Audio 2 audio subsystem; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A port support.
Build Your Own Setup
Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun? I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited. I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430. I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience. After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.
The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.
I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light. The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers. DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel. This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.
The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides. The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees. It is compatible with PC and Xbox One. It does not support the PS3 or PS4. It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface. It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US. It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.
This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.
Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500). These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.
It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts. Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use. This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets. Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices. The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.
Open Source your GPU!
As part of the AMD’s recent RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) Summit in Sonoma, the company released information about a new initiative to help drive development and evolution in the world of gaming called GPUOpen. As the name implies, the idea is to use an open source mentality to drivers, libraries, SDKs and more to improve the relationship between AMD’s hardware and the gaming development ecosystem.
When the current generation of consoles was first announced, AMD was riding a wave of positive PR that it hadn’t felt in many years. Because AMD Radeon hardware was at the root of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, game developers would become much more adept at programming for AMD’s GCN architecture and that would waterfall down to PC gamers. At least, that was the plan. In practice though I think you’d be hard pressed to find any analyst to put their name on a statement claiming that proclamation from AMD actually transpired. It just hasn’t happened – but that does not mean that it still can’t if all the pieces fall into place.
The issue that AMD, NVIDIA, and game developers have to work around is a divided development ecosystem. While on the console side programmers tend to have very close to the metal access on CPU and GPU hardware, that hasn’t been the case with PCs until very recently. AMD was the first to make moves in this area with the Mantle API but now we have DirectX 12, a competing low level API, that will have much wider reach than Mantle or Vulkan (what Mantle has become).
AMD also believes, as do many developers, that a “black box” development environment for tools and effects packages is having a negative effect on the PC gaming ecosystem. The black box mentality means that developers don’t have access to the source code of some packages and thus cannot tweak performance and features to their liking.
Introduction and CPU Performance
We had a chance this week to go hands-on with the Snapdragon 820, the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm, in a hardware session featuring prototype handsets powered by this new silicon. How did it perform? Read on to find out!
As you would expect from an all-new flagship part, the Snapdragon 820 offers improvements in virtually every category compared to their previous products. And with the 820 Qualcomm is emphasizing not only performance, but lower power consumption with claims of anywhere from 20% to 10x better efficiency across the components that make up this new SoC. And part of these power savings will undoubtedly come as the result of Qualcomm’s decision to move to a quad-core design with the 820, rather than the 8-core design of the 810.
So what exactly does comprise a high-end SoC like the Snapdragon 820? Ryan covered the launch in detail back in November (and we introduced aspects of the new SoC in a series of articles leading up to the launch). In brief, the Snapdragon 820 includes a custom quad-core CPU (Kryo), the Andreno 530 GPU, a new DSP (Hexagon 680), new ISP (Spectra), and a new LTE modem (X12). The previous flagship Snapdragon 810 used stock ARM cores (Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53) in a big.LITTLE configuration, but for various reasons Qualcomm has chosen not to introduce another 8-core SoC with this new product.
The four Kryo CPU cores found in the Snapdragon 820 can operate at speeds of up to 2.2 GHz, and since is half the number of the octo-core Snapdragon 810, the IPC (instructions per clock) of this new part will help determine how competitive the SD820's performance will be; but there’s a lot more to the story. This SoC design placed equal emphasis on all components therein, and the strategy with the SD820 seems to be leveraging the capability of the advanced signal processing (Hexagon 680) which should help offload the work to allow the CPU to work with greater efficiency, and at lower power.
Introduction and First Impressions
Antec’s P-series enclosures have been around for quite a while, and have been known as quiet, stylish cases for a premium build. It had been quite a while since the last entry in the series as the previous model, the P280, which received our Gold Award when Ryan reviewed it way back in 2011, and this current version hit the market in January of 2015. Needless to say, Antec’s Performance enclosures have some staying power. So how does this latest entry stack up?
The new P380 carries an MSRP of $229.95, placing it in the higher end of the premium enclosure market. While it can certainly be found for less (around $140 currently on Amazon) the bar is still set pretty high when the price exceeds $100, though the P380 is in a different world than Antec's Signature S10 enclosure, which launched at a mind-boggling $499 (it has since come down considerably). With the highly competitive enclosure market offering a number of spacious and quiet options, the P380 will need to differentiate to succeed.
“When only the best can satisfy your needs, the P380 is the answer. Known for its minimalistic design, the Performance series focuses on delivering the perfect balance between performance and Quiet-Computing. Whether you’re designing your ultimate dream PC or, just creating a monster file server, the P380 should be the choice, without hesitation.”
Antec is obviously confident about this newest P-series enclosure and I’ll be putting it to the test using a new, more stringent enclosure review process. We'll take a look at the case inside and out, and then see how it performs with a gaming build using both a closed-loop liquid CPU cooler, and a conventional air CPU cooler to see how the case airflow affects warm components.
What RTG has planned for 2016
Last week the Radeon Technology Group invited a handful of press and analysts to a secluded location in Sonoma, CA to discuss the future of graphics, GPUs and of course Radeon. For those of you that seem a bit confused, the RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) was spun up inside AMD to encompass all of the graphics products and IP inside the company. Though today’s story is not going to focus on the fundamental changes that RTG brings to the future of AMD, I will note, without commentary, that we saw not a single AMD logo in our presentations or in the signage present throughout the week.
Much of what I learned during the RTG Summit in Sonoma is under NDA and will likely be so for some time. We learned about the future architectures, direction and product theories that will find their way into a range of solutions available in 2016 and 2017.
What I can discuss today is a pair of features that are being updated and improved for current generation graphics cards and for Radeon GPUs coming in 2016: FreeSync and HDR displays. The former is one that readers of PC Perspective should be very familiar with while the latter will offer a new window into content coming in late 2016.
High Dynamic Range Displays: Better Pixels
In just the last couple of years we have seen a spike in resolution for mobile, desktop and notebook displays. We now regularly have 4K monitors on sale for around $500 and very good quality 4K panels going for something in the $1000 range. Couple that with the increase in market share of 21:9 panels with 3440x1440 resolutions and clearly there is a demand from consumers for a better visual experience on their PCs.
But what if the answer isn’t just more pixels, but better pixels? We already have this discussed weekly when comparing render resolutions in games of 4K at lower image quality solutions versus 2560x1440 at maximum IQ settings (for example) but the truth is that panel technology has the ability to make a dramatic change to how we view all content – games, movies, productivity – with the introduction of HDR, high dynamic range.
As the slide above demonstrates there is a wide range of luminance in the real world that our eyes can see. Sunlight crosses the 1.6 billion nits mark while basic fluorescent lighting in our homes and offices exceeds 10,000 nits. Compare to the most modern PC displays that range from 0.1 nits to 250 nits and you can already tell where the discussion is heading. Even the best LCD TVs on the market today have a range of 0.1 to 400 nits.