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Introduction and First Impressions
The Define S from Fractal Design is a mid-tower enclosure based on the company’s excellent Define R5, and this version has a new interior for enhanced cooling support with an innovative approach to storage.
I've mentioned before that the PC enclosure market is crowded with options at every price point, but this can actually be a good thing because of the high level of individual preference this permits. Selecting a case is a multi-faceted thing, and while they all (well, mostly) keep components safely housed, once that need has been met there's a lot more to consider. Let's face it, aesthetics are important since the enclosure is the outward-facing representation of your build (and personal style). Support for your preferred type of cooling, storage, and future expandability are high on the list when selecting a finalist as well, and then there's the thermal/noise performance element to consider. It was Fractal Design's own Define R5 (review here) which offered a balanced approach to these needs, and while not looking especially flashy with understated style and a standard ATX layout, the R5 was an exceptionally well-done effort overall. Now, months later, enter the Define S.
With the Define R5 offering a solid combination of silence, expandability, and build quality, why would Fractal Design create another very similar case right on its heels? It’s all about giving people choice, and that’s something I can certainly stand behind - even when it means further segmenting a market that seems almost impossibly crowded now. And when we dive deeper into the Define S we see what is essentially a companion to the Define R5, and not a replacement. At first glance this might appear to be an identical case, but the interior layout clearly separates the two. In summary, the Define S loses 5.25” storage support found in the R5, and while that previous model had no less than 8 hard drive trays the S employs a novel approach to HDD support, but cuts the drive support from 8 standard 3.5" drives to just 3 in the process.
Some familiar scenery
If you thought that Intel was going to slow down on its iteration in the SFF (small form factor) system design, you were sadly mistaken. It was February when Intel first sent us a NUC based on Broadwell, an iterative upgrade over a couple of generations for this very small platform, 4" x 4", that showed proved to be interesting from a technology stand point but didn't shift expectations of the puck-sized PC business.
Today we are looking at yet another NUC, also using a Broadwell processor, though this time the CPU is running quite a bit faster, with Intel Iris 6100 graphics and a noticeably higher TDP. The Core i7-5557U is still a dual-core / HyperThreaded processor but it increases base and Turbo clocks by wide margins, offering as much as 35% better CPU performance and mainstream gaming performance boosts in the same range. This doesn't mean the NUC 5i7RYH will overtake your custom built desktop but it does make it a lot more palatable for everyday PC users.
Oh, and we have an NVMe PCI Express SSD inside this beast as well. (Waaaaaa??)
Introduction and First Impressions
Corsair's venerable single and double-width liquid CPU coolers based on 120mm fans have been refreshed with added style and a new underlying design. How do they perform? We're about to find out!
There isn't much left to say about all-in-one (AIO) liquid CPU coolers these days, other than they are often better performing and more expensive than traditional air coolers. A good design gives an AIO liquid cooler a distinct advantage with overclocking headroom, and often in noise output as well (at higher levels of performance). This is not to dismiss air cooling as massive dual-tower coolers from Noctua and others certainly have the potential to out-perform all but the very best AIO liquid coolers, though not every enclosure will have the room for such a cooler. Thus, a good AIO liquid CPU cooler can offer not only space savings but potentially outstanding cooling performance as well. But this is a road we have traveled many times, with cost often the deciding factor even in the face of compelling evidence in favor of what are often very expensive solutions. Has that changed in 2015?
Corsair has done as much as any manufacturer to make AIO liquid CPU cooling mainstream, and their original H100 cemented the AIO's place as an enthusiast-level cooler and not simply a shortcut to traditional water cooling. The 240mm H100 and corresponding 120mm H80 have been refined a couple of times since their introduction, and though other variants such as the H105 and H75 (at the same 240/120mm sizes) have been released and crowded the market further, the H100/H80 series still occupy an important position.
No Longer the Media Center of Attention
Gabe Aul, of Microsoft's Windows Insiders program, has confirmed on Twitter that Windows 10 will drop support for Windows Media Center due to a decline in usage. This is not surprising news as Microsoft has been deprecating the Media Center application for a while now. In Windows 8.x, the application required both the “Pro” SKU of the operating system, and then users needed to install an optional add-on above and beyond that. The Media Center Pack cost $10 over the price of Windows 8.x Pro unless you claimed a free license in the promotional period surrounding Windows 8's launch.
While Media Center has been officially abandoned, its influence on the industry (and vice versa) is an interesting story. For a time, it looked like Microsoft had bigger plans that were killed by outside factors and other companies seem to be eying the money that Microsoft left on the table.
There will be some speculation here.
We could go back to the days of WebTV, but we won't. All you need to know is that Microsoft lusted over the living room for years. Windows owned the office and PC gaming was taking off with strong titles (and technologies) from Blizzard, Epic, iD, Valve, and others. DirectX was beloved by developers, which led to the original Xbox. Their console did not get a lot of traction, but they respected it as a first-generation product that was trying to acquire a foothold late in a console generation. Financially, the first Xbox would cost Microsoft almost four billion dollars more than it made.
At the same time, Microsoft was preparing Windows to enter the living room. This was the company's power house and it acquired significant marketshare wherever it went, due to its ease of development and its never-ending supply of OEMs, even if the interface itself was subpar. Their first attempt at bringing Windows to the living room was Windows XP Media Center Edition. This spin-off of Windows XP could only be acquired by OEMs to integrate into home theater PCs (HTPCs). The vision was interesting, using OEM competition to rapidly prototype what users actually want in a PC attached to a TV.
This leads us to Windows Vista, which is where Media Center came together while the OS fell apart.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
SUPERMICRO is a vendor you really don't hear much about anymore, unless you are dealing with datacenter and server builds. However, they are looking to make a comeback into the enthusiast crowd with their Intel X99 chipset-based offering, the C7X99-OCE motherboard. The board features a blue and black aesthetic with stylish heat sinks covering all the important areas with support for all Intel LGA2011-3 based processors paired with DDR4 memory in up to a quad channel configuration. Offered at a $329.99 MSRP, the SUPERMICRO C7X99-OCE remains reasonably priced in comparison to Intel X99 offerings from other manufacturers.
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
SUPERMICRO built the C7X99-OCE to appeal to the enthusiast crowd, powered by a more than adequate 8+4 phase digital power delivery system. The following features were integrated into the board: 10 SATA 3 ports; dual RJ-45 Intel i210-AT Gigabit NICs; four PCI-Express x16 slots; two PCI-Express x4 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, and overclocking buttons; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.
Courtesy of SUPERMICRO
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
Back in November of last year, we tested the Corsair Neutron XT, which was the first product to feature the Phison PS3110-S10 controller. First spotted at Flash Memory Summit, the S10 sports the following features:
- Quad-core controller - Quad-core CPU dedicates three cores just to managing flash and maintaining performance
- Maximum throughput and I/O - Offers speeds of up to 560 MB/s read and 540 MB/s write and 100K IOPs on read and 90 IOPs on write, saturating the SATA 6Gbps bus
- End-to-end Data Path Protection - Enterprise level CRC/ECC corrects internal soft errors as well as detecting and correcting any errors that may arise between the DRAM, controller, and flash
- SmartECC™ - Reconstructs defective/faulty pages when regular ECC fails
- SmartRefresh™ - Monitors block ECC health status and refreshes blocks periodically to improve data retention
- SmartFlush™ - Minimizes time data spends in cache to ensure data retention in the event of power loss
- Advanced wear-leveling and garbage collection
Corsair was Phison's launch partner, but as that was a while ago, we now have two additional SSD models launching with the S10 at their core:
To the left is the Kingston HyperX Savage. To the right is the Patriot Ignite. They differ in flash memory types used, available capacities, and the stated performance specs vary slightly among them. Today we'll compare them against the Neutron XT as well as a selecton of other SATA SSDs.
DirectX 12 Has No More Secrets
The DirectX 12 API is finalized and the last of its features are known. Before the BUILD conference, the list consisted of Conservative Rasterization, Rasterizer Ordered Viewed, Typed UAV Load, Volume Tiled Resources, and a new Tiled Resources revision for non-volumetric content. When the GeForce GTX 980 launched, NVIDIA claimed it would be compatible with DirectX 12 features. Enthusiasts were skeptical, because Microsoft did not officially finalize the spec at the time.
Last week, Microsoft announced the last feature of the graphics API: Multiadapter.
We already knew that Multiadapter existed, at least to some extent. It is the part of the specification that allows developers to address multiple graphics adapters to split tasks between them. In DirectX 11 and earlier, secondary GPUs would remain idle unless the graphics driver sprinkled some magic fair dust on it with SLI, CrossFire, or Hybrid CrossFire. The only other way to access this dormant hardware was by spinning up an OpenCL (or similar compute API) context on the side.
Don't be afraid of PCIe or NVMe
In very early April, Intel put a shot across the bow of the storage world with the release of the SSD 750 Series of storage devices. Using the PCI Express bus but taking advantage of the new NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) protocol, it drastically upgrades the capabilities of storage within modern PC platforms. In Allyn's review, for example, we saw read data transfer rates cross into the 2.6 GB/s range in sequential workloads and write rates over 1.2 GB/s sequentially. Even more impressive is the random I/O performance where the SSD 750 is literally 2x the speed of previous PCIe SSD options.
A couple of weeks later we posted a story looking into the compatibility of the SSD 750 with different motherboards and chipsets. We found that booting from the SSD 750 Series products is indeed going to require specific motherboards and platforms simply due to the "new-ness" of the NVMe protocol. Officially, Intel is only going to support Z97 and X99 chipsets today but obviously you can expect all future chipsets to have proper NVMe integration. We did find a couple of outliers that allowed for bootability with the SSD 750, but I wouldn't count on it.
Assuming you have a Z97/X99 motherboard that properly supports NVMe drives, of which ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte seem to be on top of, what are the steps and processes necessary to get your system up and running on the Intel SSD 750? As it turns out, it's incredibly simple.
Make sure you have enabled NVMe in the latest BIOS/UEFI. The screenshot below shows our ASUS X99-Deluxe motherboard used during testing and that it is properly recognizing the device. There was no specific option to ENABLED NVMe here though we have seen instances where that is required.
Some Fresh Hope for 2016
EDIT 2015-05-07: A day after the AMD analyst meeting we now know that the roadmaps delivered here are not legitimate. While some of the information is likely correct on the roadmaps, they were not leaked by AMD. There is no FM3 socket, rather AMD is going with AM4. AMD will be providing more information throughout this quarter about their roadmaps, but for now take all of this information as "not legit".
SH SOTN has some eagle eyes and spotted the latest leaked roadmap for AMD. These roadmaps cover both mobile and desktop, from 2015 through 2016. There are obviously quite a few interesting tidbits of information here.
On the mobility roadmap we see the upcoming release of Carrizo, which we have been talking about since before CES. This will be the very first HSA 1.0 compliant part to hit the market, and AMD has done some really interesting things with the design in terms of performance, power efficiency, and die size optimizations. Carrizo will span the market from 15 watts to 35 watts TDP. This is a mobile only part, but indications point to it being pretty competent overall. This is a true SOC that will support all traditional I/O functions of older standalone southbridges. Most believe that this part will be manufactured by GLOBALFOUNDIRES on their 28 nm HKMG process that is more tuned to AMD's APU needs.
Carrizo-L will be based on the Puma+ architecture and will go from 10 watts to 15 watts TDP. This will use the same FP4 BGA connection as the big Carrizo APU. This should make these parts more palatable for OEMs as they do not have to differentiate the motherboard infrastructure. Making things easier for OEMs will give more reasons for these folks to offer products based on Carrizo and Carrizo-L APUs. The other big reason will be the GCN graphics compute units. Puma+ is a very solid processor architecture for low power products, but these parts are still limited to the older 28 nm HKMG process from TSMC.
One interesting addition here is that AMD will be introducing their "Amur" APU for the low power and ultra-low power markets. These will be comprised of four Cortex-A57 CPUs combined with AMD's GCN graphics units. This will be the first time we see this combination, and the first time AMD has integrated with ARM since ATI spun off their mobile graphics to Qualcomm under the "Adreno" branding (anagram for "Radeon"). What is most interesting here is that this APU will be a 20 nm part most likely fabricated by TSMC. This is not to say that Samsung or GLOBALFOUNDRIES might be producing it, but those companies are expending their energy on the 14 nm FinFET process that will be their bread and butter for years to come. This will be a welcome addition to the mobile market (tablets and handhelds) and could be a nice profit center for AMD if they are able to release this in a timely manner.
2016 is when things get very interesting. The Zen x86 design will dominate the upper 2/3 of the roadmap. I had talked about Zen when we had some new diagram leaks yesterday, but now we get to see the first potential products based off of this architecture. In mobile it will span from 5 watts to 35 watts TDP. The performance and mainstream offerings will be the "Bristol Ridge" APU which will feature 4 Zen cores (or one Zen module) combined with the next gen GCN architecture. This will be a 14nm part, and the assumption is that it will be GLOBALFOUNDRIES using 14nm FinFET LPP (Low Power Plus) that will be more tuned for larger APUs. This will also be a full SOC.
The next APU will be codenamed "Basilisk" that will span the 5 watt to 15 watt range. It will be comprised of 2 Zen cores (1/2 of a Zen module) and likely feature 2 to 4 MB of L3 cache, depending on power requirements. This looks to be the first Skybridge set of APUs that will share the same infrastructure as the ARM based Amur SOC. FT4 BGA is the basis for both the 2015 Amur and 2016 Basilisk SOCs.
Finally we have the first iteration of AMD's first ground up implementation of ARM's ARMv8-A ISA. The "Styx" APU features the new K12 CPU cores that AMD has designed from scratch. It too will feature the next generation GCN units as well as share the same FT4 BGA connection. Many are anxiously watching this space to see if AMD can build a better mousetrap when it comes to licensing the ARM ISA (as have Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and others).
2015 shows no difference in the performance desktop space, as it is still serviced by the now venerable Piledriver based FX parts on AM3+. The only change we expect to see here is that there will be a handful of new motherboard offerings from the usual suspects that will include the new USB 3.1 functionality derived from a 3rd party controller.
Mainstream and Performance will utilize the upcoming Godavari APUs. These are power and speed optimized APUs that are still based on the current Kaveri design. These look to be a simple refresh/rebadge with a slight performance tweak. Not exciting, but needs to happen for OEMs.
Low power will continue to be addressed by Beema based APUs. These are regular Puma based cores (not Puma+). AMD likely does not have the numbers to justify a new product in this rather small market.
2016 is when things get interesting again. We see the release of the FM3 socket (final proof that AM3+ is dead) that will house the latest Zen based APUs. At the top end we see "Summit Ridge" which will be composed of 8 Zen cores (or 2 Zen modules). This will have 4 MB of L2 cache and 16 MB of L3 cache if our other leaks are correct. These will be manufactured on 14nm FinFET LPE (the more appropriate process product for larger, more performance oriented parts). These will not be SOCs. We can expect these to be the basis of new Opterons as well, but there is obviously no confirmation of that on these particular slides. This will be the first new product in some years from AMD that has the chance to compete with higher end desktop SKUs from Intel.
From there we have the lower power Bristol Ridge and Basilisk APUs that we already covered in the mobile discussion. These look to be significant upgrades from the current Kaveri (and upcoming Godavari) APUs. New graphics cores, new CPU cores, and new SOC implementations where necessary.
AMD will really be shaking up the game in 2016. At the very least they will have proven that they can still change up their game and release higher end (and hopefully competitive) products. AMD has enough revenue and cash on hand to survive through 2016 and 2017 at the rate they are going now. We can only hope that this widescale change will allow AMD to make some significant inroads with OEMs on all levels. Otherwise Intel is free to do what they want and what price they want across multiple markets.
ARM Releases Cortex-A72 for Licensing
On February 3rd, ARM announced a slew of new designs, including the Cortex A72. Few details were shared with us, but what we learned was that it could potentially redefine power and performance in the ARM ecosystem. Ryan was invited to London to participate in a deep dive of what ARM has done to improve its position against market behemoth Intel in the very competitive mobile space. Intel has a leg up on process technology with their 14nm Tri-Gate process, but they are continuing to work hard in making their x86 based processors more power efficient, while still maintaining good performance. There are certain drawbacks to using an ISA that is focused on high performance computing rather than being designed from scratch to provide good performance with excellent energy efficiency.
ARM has been on a pretty good roll with their Cortex A9, A7, A15, A17, A53, and A57 parts over the past several years. These designs have been utilized in a multitude of products and scenarios, with configurations that have scaled up to 16 cores. While each iteration has improved upon the previous, ARM is facing the specter of Intel’s latest generation, highly efficient x86 SOCs based on the 2nd gen 14nm Tri-Gate process. Several things have fallen into place for ARM to help them stay competitive, but we also cannot ignore the experience and design hours that have led to this product.
(Editor's Note: During my time with ARM last week it became very apparent that it is not standing still, not satisfied with its current status. With competition from Intel, Qualcomm and others ramping up over the next 12 months in both mobile and server markets, ARM will more than ever be depedent on the evolution of core design and GPU design to maintain advantages in performance and efficiency. As Josh will go into more detail here, the Cortex-A72 appears to be an incredibly impressive design and all indications and conversations I have had with others, outside of ARM, believe that it will be an incredibly successful product.)
Cortex A72: Highest Performance ARM Cortex
ARM has been ubiquitous for mobile applications since it first started selling licenses for their products in the 90s. They were found everywhere it seemed, but most people wouldn’t recognize the name ARM because these chips were fabricated and sold by licensees under their own names. Guys like Ti, Qualcomm, Apple, DEC and others all licensed and adopted ARM technology in one form or the other.
ARM’s importance grew dramatically with the introduction of increased complexity cellphones and smartphones. They also gained attention through multimedia devices such as the Microsoft Zune. What was once a fairly niche company with low performance, low power offerings became the 800 pound gorilla in the mobile market. Billions of chips are sold yearly based on ARM technology. To stay in that position ARM has worked aggressively on continually providing excellent power characteristics for their parts, but now they are really focusing on overall performance and capabilities to address, not only the smartphone market, but also the higher performance computing and server spaces that they want a significant presence in.
Introduction and Features
SilverStone has a long-standing reputation for providing a full line of high quality enclosures, power supplies, cooling components, and accessories for PC enthusiasts. With a continued focus on smaller physical size and support for small form-factor enthusiasts, SilverStone recently introduced the new SX500-LG. There are currently five power supplies in the SFX Series, ranging in output capacity from 300W to 600W. The SX500-LG is the first one to feature an extended chassis. The SX500-LG enclosure is 30mm (1.2”) longer than a standard SFX chassis, which allows using a quieter 120mm cooling fan rather than the typical 80mm fan used in most SFX power supplies.
150mm 130mm 100mm
The new SX500-LG SFX-L Series power supply was designed for small form factor cases but comes with an ATX adapter plate so it can be used in a standard ATX enclosure as well. In addition to its small size, the SX500-LG features high efficiency (80 Plus Gold certified), all modular flat ribbon-style cables, and provides up to 500W of continuous DC output. The SX500-LG PSU also operates in semi-fanless mode (cooling fan turns off at low power).
Note: We have seen rumors on the web about the new SX500-LG power supply being a re-packaged version of the SX600-G that SilverStone recalled awhile back. Rest assured it is not. The SX600-G is a completely different PSU made by Enhance and the new SX500-LG is made by High Power. And yes, the SX500-LG is officially listed as an 80 Plus Gold certified PSU (10-22-2014).
Here is what SilverStone has to say about the new SX500-LG PSU: “For small form factor enthusiasts, the standard SFX power supply form factor has an excellent combination of size, power, and affordability. At 100mm deep, however, the standard SFX PSU is also limited in fan size to 80mm. While advances in engineering and components have modern high-end SFX PSUs quieter than ever, there is still inherent limitation with 80mm fan’s ability to dissipate heat at maximum loading conditions while maintaining satisfactory noise profile for users sensitive to higher-pitch sounds. With this in mind, SilverStone has released a “lengthened” variation of the SFX form factor called, SFX-L. With 30mm of added depth, a SFX-L power supply has enough room to fit a 120mm fan, thus its maximum load noise can be not only lower in intensity (via slower fan speed), but also lower in pitch (due to larger fan size). The first model to debut in the SFX-L will be the SX500-LG, a 500W model that includes all features available from top of the line SFX SilverStone PSUs such as 80 Plus Gold efficiency, modular flexible flat cables, and semi-fanless capability. An ATX adapter bracket is included as well to enable users to install this PSU into any small or even larger cases that do not have SFX mounting holes. ”
SilverStone SX500-LG V1.1 SFX-L Series Power Supply Key Features:
• New SFX-L form factor (and ATX via included adapter)
• Silent running 120mm fan with intelligent semi-fanless operation
• 500W Continuous DC output (up to 40°C)
• High efficiency with 80 Plus Gold certification
• 100% Modular cables, flat ribbon-style
• Strict ±3% voltage regulation with low AC ripple and noise
• All Japanese made capacitors for reliable operation
• Powerful single +12V rail with 40A (480W)
• Two PCI-E 6+2 pin connectors
• Protections: UVP, OVP, OPP, and SCP
• Universal AC input and Active PFC
• MSRP $99.99 USD
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ECS
The ECS Z97-PK motherboard is the company's mATX solution for their Intel Z97 Express chipset-based product line. Similar to other boards in their Z97 series, the Z97-PK is simplified to include what you need for a working mATX system without compromising on component or build quality. With an MSRP of $79.99, the Z97-PK is a very approachable solution for any use, including those budget-constrained HTPC builds.
Courtesy of ECS
The ECS Z97-PK motherboard was designed to be an affordable solution packed with lots of performance potential. ECS constructed the board with around a 4-phase digital power deliver system and high quality solid capacitors to keep the board running stable. The Z97-PK board offers the following in-built features: six SATA 3 ports; a Realtek GigE NIC; one PCI-Express Gen3 x16 slot; one PCI-Express Gen2 x16 slot (x4 maximum bandwidth); Realtek audio solution; integrated VGA, DVI, and HDMI video port support; and USB 2.0 and 3.0 port support.
When I first was handed the Intel Compute Stick product at CES back in January, my mind began to race with a lot of questions. The first set were centered around the capabilities of the device itself: where could it be used, how much performance could Intel pack into it and just how many users would be interested in a product like this? Another set of questions was much more philosophical in nature: why was Intel going in this direction, does this mean an end for the emphasis on high performance componentry from Intel and who comes up with these darned part numbers?
I have since settled my mind on the issues surrounding Intel’s purpose with the Compute Stick and began to dive into the product itself. On the surface the Intel Compute Stick is a product entering late into a potentially crowded market. We already have devices like the Roku, Google Chromecast, the Apple TV, and even the Amazon Fire TV Stick. All of those devices share some of the targets and goals of the Compute Stick, but the one area where Intel’s product really stands out is flexibility. The Roku has the most pre-built applications and “channels” for a streaming media box. The Chromecast is dirt cheap at just $30 or so. Even Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is clearly the best choice for streaming Amazon’s own multimedia services. But the Intel Compute Stick can do all of those things – in addition to operating as a standalone PC with Windows or Linux. Anything you can do I can do better…
But it’s not a product without a few flaws, most of which revolve around the status of the current operating system designs for TVs and larger displays. Performance obviously isn’t peeling the paint off any walls, as you would expect. But I still think at for $150 with a full copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing, the Intel Compute Stick is going to find more fans that you might have first expected.
Battle of the Sixes, they call it
GameBench is a low-level application released in 2014 that attempts to bring the technical analysis and benchmarking capability of the PC to the mobile device. You might remember that I showed you some early results and discussed our use of the GameBench testing capability in my Dell Venue 8 7000 review a few months back; my understanding and practice of using the software was just beginning at that time and continues to grow as I spend time with the software.
The idea is simple yet powerful: GameBench allows Android users, and soon iOS users, the ability to monitor frame rates of nearly any game or 3D application that you can run on your phone or tablet to accurately measure real-world performance. This is similar to what we have done for years on the PC with FRAPS and allows us to gather average frames per second data over time. This is something that was previously unavailable to consumers or press for that matter and could be a very powerful tool for device to device comparisons going forward. The ability to utilize actual games and applications and gather benchmark data that is accurate to consumer experiences, rather than simply synthetic graphics tests that we have been forced to use in the past, will fundamentally change how we test and compare mobile hardware.
Image source: GameBench.net
Today, GameBench itself released a small report meant to showcase some of the kinds of data the software can gather while also revealing early support for Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Primary competitors for the comparison include the Apple iPhone 6, the Samsung Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 and Motorola Nexus 6. I was able to get an early look at the report and offer some feedback, while sharing with our readers my views on the results.
GameBench tested those four devices in a total of 10 games:
- Asphalt 8: Airborne
- Real Racing 3
- Dead Trigger 2
- Kill Shot
- Modern Combat 5: Blackout
- Boom Beach
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown
- GTA: San Andreas
- Marvel: Contest of Champions
- Monument Valley
These games all vary in price and in play style, but they all are in the top 50 games lists for each platform and are known for their graphically intense settings and look.
Introduction and First Impressions
The ASUS X205 offers the full Windows 8.1 notebook experience for the cost of a Chromebook, and the design offers a surprising amount of polish for the price. Is this $199 Atom-powered notebook a viable solution as a daily driver? We're about to find out.
What do you use a laptop for? A thoughtful answer to this question can be the most important part of the process when selecting your next notebook PC, and if your needs are modest there are a growing number of very low-cost options on the market. For example, I personally do not play games on a laptop, typically alternating between web, email, and Microsoft Office. Thus for myself the most important aspects of a notebook PC become screen quality, keyboard, trackpad, and battery life. High performance is not of utmost importance, and I assure myself of at least speedy load times by always choosing (or installing) a solid-state hard drive. For those reasons when I first read the description and specifications of the ASUS X205 notebook, I took notice.
The X205 is a small notebook with an 11.6” display and 1366x768 resolution, essentially matching the form-factor of Apple's 11.6" MacBook Air. It is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor with 2GB of RAM, and onboard storage is solid-state - though limited to 32GB and of the slower eMMC variety (which is in keeping with many Chromebooks). There is adequate connectivity as well, with the expected wireless card and two USB 2.0 ports. One aspect of this design that intrigued me was the trackpad, which ASUS claims is using "smartphone technology", indicating a touchscreen digitizer implementation. Smoothness and accuracy are the biggest problems I find with most inexpensive notebook trackpads, and if this turns out to be a strong performer it would be a major boon to the X205's overall usability. I opted for the Microsoft Signature Edition of the X205TA, which carries the same $199 retail price but does not come preloaded with any trialware or other junk software.
At the outset this feels like a compelling product simply because it retails for the same price as an average Chromebook, but offers the flexibility of a full Windows 8.1 installation. Granted this is the “Windows 8.1 with Bing” version found on low-cost, low-power devices like this, but it offers the functionality of the standard version. While Chrome OS and Google's productivity apps are great for many people, the ability to install and run Windows applications made this highly preferable to a Chromebook for me. Of course beyond the operating system the overall experience of using the laptop will ultimately decide the viability of this inexpensive product, so without further preamble let's dive right into the X205TA notebook!
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
There's been a lot of recent talk about the Samsung SM951 M.2 PCIe SSD. It was supposed to launch as an NVMe product, but ended up coming out in AHCI form. We can only assume that Samsung chose to hold back on their NVMe-capable iteration because many devices are unable to boot fron an NVMe SSD. Sitting back for a few months was a wise choice in this case, as an NVMe-only version would limit the OEM products that could equip it. That new variant did finally end up launching, and we have rounded it and the other Samsung M.2 PCIe SSDs up for some much awaited testing:
I'll be comparing the three above units against some other PCIe SSDs, including the Intel SSD 750, Kingston HyperX Predator, G.Skill Phoenix Blade, Plextor M6e Black, and more!
Motorola has released an updated version of their low-cost Moto E smartphone for 2015, adding faster hardware and LTE support to an unlocked device with an unsubsidized retail of just $149. In this review we'll examine this new phone to find out if there are any significant limitations given its bargain price.
There has been a trend toward affordability with smartphone pricing that accelerated in 2014 and has continued its pace to start this year. Of course expensive flagships still exist at their $500+ unsubsidized retail prices, but is the advantage of such a device worth the price premium? In most cases a customer in a retail space would be naturally drawn to the more expensive phones on display with their large, sharp screens and thin designs that just look better by comparison. To get the latest and greatest the longstanding $500 - $700 unsubsidized cost of popular smartphones have made 2-year contract pricing a part of life for many, with contract offers and programs allowing users to lease or finance phones positioned as attractive alternatives to the high initial price. And while these high-end options can certainly reward the additional cost, there are rapidly diminishing returns on investment once we venture past the $200 mark with a mobile device. So it’s this bottom $200 of the full-price phone market which is so interesting not just to myself, but to the future of smartphones as they become the commodity devices that the so-called “feature phones” once were.
One of the companies at the forefront of a lower-cost approach to smartphones is Motorola, now independent from Google after Motorola Mobility was sold to Lenovo in October of 2014. A year before the sale Motorola had released a low-cost smartphone called the Moto G, an interesting product which ran stock Android for a fraction of the cost of a Google Play edition or even Nexus device; though it was underpowered with decidedly low-end specs. After a redesign in 2014, however, the 2nd edition Moto G became a much more compelling option, offering a unique combination of low price, respectable hardware, a stock Android experience, and Motorola’s now trademark design language, to a market drowning in bloated MSRPs. There was just one problem: while the 2014 Moto G had solid performance and had (quite importantly) moved larger 5-inch screen with a higher 720x1280 resolution IPS panel, there was still no LTE support. Selling without a contract for just $179 unlocked made the lack of LTE at least understandable, but as carrier technology has matured the prevalence of LTE has made it an essential part of future devices - especially in 2015. Admittedly 3G data speeds are fast enough for many people, but the structure of the modern mobile data plan often leaves that extra speed on the table if one’s device doesn’t support LTE.
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
The other day we took a look at the ICY DOCK ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB and ICYBento MB559U3S-1S. Today we'll move onto a couple of larger products in their lineup:
The tale of the Samsung 840 EVO is a long and winding one, with many hitches along the way. Launched at the Samsung 2013 Global SSD Sumit, the 840 EVO was a unique entry into the SSD market. Using 19nm planar TLC flash, the EVO would have had only mediocre write performance if not for the addition of a TurboWrite cache, which added 3-12GB (depending on drive capacity) of SLC write-back cache. This gave the EVO great all around performance in most consumer usage scenarios. It tested very well, was priced aggressively, and remained our top recommended consumer SSD for quite some time. Other editors here at PCPer purchased them for their own systems. I even put one in the very laptop on which I'm writing this article.
An 840 EVO read speed test, showing areas where old data had slowed.
About a year after release, some 840 EVO users started noticing something weird with their systems. The short version is that data that sat unmodified for a period of months was no longer able to be read at full speed. Within a month of our reporting on this issue, Samsung issued a Performance Restoration Tool, which was a combination of a firmware and a software tool that initiated a 'refresh', where all stale data was rewritten, restoring read performance back to optimal speeds. When the tool came out, many were skeptical that the drives would not just slow down again in the future. We kept an eye on things, and after a few more months of waiting, we noted that our test samples were in fact slowing down again. We did note it was taking longer for the slow down to manifest this time around, and the EVOs didn't seem to be slowing down to the same degree, but the fact remained that the first attempt at a fix was not a complete solution. Samsung kept up their end of the bargain, promising another fix, but their initial statement was a bit disappointing, as it suggested they would only be able to correct this issue with a new version of their Samsung Magician software that periodically refreshed the old data. This came across as a band-aid solution, but it was better than nothing.
Introduction and First Impressions
SilverStone has another contender for a budget ATX build with the Kublai KL05 enclosure, and today we’ll take a look at the windowed variant of this mid-tower design.
What would life be like without computer cases? Various components strewn about on desks, tables, and floors, creating headaches and tripping hazards everywhere. Fortunately, they exist, and I'm thankful for this every day. However there are now so many that scrolling down the list on any site in any price range is like shopping for RAM or power supplies these days: endless selection of similar things. But it's not enough to make sure the specs match your build as enclosures can vary a great deal even with the same component support. So, when looking for a good case for a build or upgrade you just end up reading a review like this. I hope I don't disappoint you, and we have a pretty interesting offering from SilverStone here to consider.
I've been enamored of late with lower-priced components. Sure, I've reviewed $300 cases but as cool as the high end can be it's not realistic for a lot of people (myself included). Finding great value has always been kind of fun, and to me a great value for a PC enclosure is something well under the $100 mark. I had the pleasure of reviewing NZXT's excellent S340 enclosure recently, and the SilverStone Kublai we're about to take a look at carries the same $69.99 MSRP. A larger case than the NZXT, the Kublai retains support for 5.25" optical drives and makes use of this added space up front for plenty of hard drives. The case looks and it sounds like a good value, but there's only one way to find out (and it involved actually reviewing it).