All | Editorial | General Tech | Graphics Cards | Networking | Motherboards | Cases and Cooling | Processors | Chipsets | Memory | Displays | Systems | Storage | Mobile | Shows and Expos
Skylake Architecture Comes Through
When Intel finally revealed the details surrounding it's latest Skylake architecture design back in August at IDF, we learned for the first time about a new technology called Intel Speed Shift. A feature that moves some of the control of CPU clock speed and ramp up away from the operating system and into hardware gives more control to the processor itself, making it less dependent on Windows (and presumably in the future, other operating systems). This allows the clock speed of a Skylake processor to get higher, faster, allowing for better user responsiveness.
It's pretty clear that Intel is targeting this feature addition for tablets and 2-in-1s where the finger/pen to screen interaction is highly reliant on immediate performance to enable improved user experiences. It has long been known that one of the biggest performance deltas between iOS from Apple and Android from Google centers on the ability for the machine to FEEL faster when doing direct interaction, regardless of how fast the background rendering of an application or web browser actually is. Intel has been on a quest to fix this problem for Android for some time, where it has the ability to influence software development, and now they are bringing that emphasis to Windows 10.
With the most recent Windows 10 update, to build v10586, Intel Speed Shift has finally been enabled for Skylake users. And since you cannot disable the feature once it's installed, this is the one and only time we'll be able to measure performance in our test systems. So let's see if Intel's claims of improved user experiences stand up to our scrutiny.
Introduction and First Impressions
DEEPCOOL's Gabriel is part of their Gamer Storm series of products, and this low-profile design is rated up to 95 W to keep the latest processors cool under load. So how does it perform? We'll take a close look at the performance of this mini-ITX inspired air cooler in today's review.
(Image credit: DEEPCOOL)
There are so many inexpensive options for air cooling on the market that it's almost overwhelming. At the top of the list in popularity are low-cost tower coolers from Cooler Master, with the ubiquitous Hyper 212 Evo at around $30, and the slightly smaller Hyper T4 at $25. But with a height of 159 mm for the 212 Evo and 152.3 mm for the T4 these coolers are not going to fit in every situation - and certainly not in a slim enclosure. There are plenty of low-profile CPU coolers on the market, one of the lowest being the Noctua NH-L9i, a $40-ish cooler which stands just 37 mm tall (with the fan!), but the tan and reddish-brown color scheme isn't for everyone, and the ultra-low profile design (which is also limited to a 92 mm fan) won't be required for many builds.
So when I began looking for a low-profile air cooler for my own use recently one of the options that cought my eye was this Gabriel, part of DEEPCOOL's Gamer Storm line. The Gabriel had the advantage of being just $34.99 on Newegg when I picked it up, making it less expensive (and less tan and brown) than the Noctua. At 60 mm tall with its 120 mm fan installed, the Gabriel should fit in most low-profile enclosures, considering even half-height expansion cards are a bit taller at about 69 mm. The Gabriel also offers an understated look with a grey (well, mostly grey) fan. Of course appearances mean nothing unless it's well made and cools effectively, and for myself the question became, is this going to rival the experience of a Noctua (long my preferred brand) CPU cooler?
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Noctua
Courtesy of Noctua
Noctua is a well respected manufacturer in the highly competitive CPU cooler space, offering products optimized for high efficiency and low-noise. The newest members of their S series coolers, the NH-D15S and NH-C14S, are based on known designs tweaked for maximum compatibility to ensure proper fit on your hot new Haswell, Haswell-E, or Skylake supported motherboard. Both coolers come standard with Noctua's SecuFirm2™ mounting mechanism, ensuring a secure mount between the cooler and CPU.
Courtesy of Noctua
The NH-D15S CPU cooler is a dual tower cooler with a single fan sandwiched between the two radiator towers. The unit can support a maximum of three fans, but may suffer compatibility issues with certain motherboards when used outside of its default single-fan configuration. Noctua designed the cooler with their typical hybrid approach, combining a copper base plate and heat pipes with aluminum finned cooling towers. The base plate and heat pipes are nickel-plated for looks and to prevent corrosion. At an MSRP of $89.99, the Noctua NH-D15S comes with a premium price to match is colossal size.
Courtesy of Noctua
The NH-C14S CPU cooler is single radiator cooler in a horizontal orientation with a single fan. The radiator's horizontal orientation gives the cooler a lower height in comparison to a cooler with the traditional veritical radiators while maintaining equivalent cooling performance. In typical Noctua fashion, the NH-C14S combines a copper base plate and heat pipes with aluminum finned cooling towers for an optimal hybrid cooling solution. The base plate and heat pipes are nickel-plated for looks and to prevent corrosion. The NH-C14S also retails at an MSRP of $89.99.
Cat 12 Modem, Wi-Fi Adaptive Calling
If you have been following PC Perspective over the last several months it would be hard to miss news about the upcoming release of Qualcomm's latest flagship SoC for smartphones and tablets, the Snapdragon 820. Beginning in early August with discussion of the Adreno 5xx GPU architecture, followed by information covering the Hexagon 680 DSP (digital signal processor) and then details on the LTE modem in the SoC (the X12), and ending with information on the Kryo CPU cores, the release of the Snapdragon 820 processor has been drawn out if nothing else.
The emphasis on distribution of data was likely at attempt to rebuild trust with the enthusiast consumer, media and even the OEMs, as the launch of the Snapdragon 810 was troubled by overheating concerns and second revisions. Several high impact flagship smartphone used the SoC,
including the LG G4 (correction: G4 shipped with the Snapdragon 808, while the HTC One M9, OnePlus 2, Sony Xperia Z5 and others use the 810) but with Samsung moving away from Qualcomm parts to its own designs, the processor didn't see nearly the ubiquitous adoption that we had expected and witnessed in previous generations.
Qualcomm invited some media and analysts out to New York this week to take the cover off of the Snapdragon 820 completely, at least as far as features are concerned. We still were not able to get to the meat of the details surrounding the CPU / Kryo implementation or architectural improvements, but we are promised those would be coming closer to product availability in 2016. Instead, Qualcomm wanted to show off the consumer benefits that phones and tablets based on Snapdragon 820 could feature (based on OEM implementation); that means lots of demos, lots of time with product and feature managers.
Introduction and Features
Be Quiet! is a well-respected brand, particularly in Europe, for PC power supplies and they are continuing to expand their product offering to include high-end ATX mid-tower enclosures. Be Quiet! introduced the Silent Base 800 mid-tower case last year and they have released the Silent Base 600 mid-tower case in 2015. As you might expect, the Silent Base Series is designed for very quiet operation while still offering excellent performance and cooling. We will be taking a detailed look at the new Silent Base 600 Window enclosure in this review.
The Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 ATX Mid-Tower enclosure isn’t quite as tall as the Silent Base 800 (2.5” shorter). It comes in three different color schemes (Black/Black, Orange/Black, and Siler/Black) like the 800 and is available with or without a side window. Our review sample is the black-on-black model with a window.
The Silent Base Series is targeted towards users looking to build a quiet high-end gaming or multimedia system. The Silent Base 600 comes with two Be Quiet! Pure Wings 2 fans (140mm intake and 120mm exhaust) pre-installed along with numerous options that support additional fans or liquid cooling if desired.
“The Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 offers the perfect symbiosis of noise prevention and cooling performance, good usability, and an extensive capacity for high-end hardware.”
Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 Mid-Tower Case Key Features:
• Mid-Tower ATX enclosure available in three different color schemes (with or without a side window)
• Supports ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards
• Innovative construction assures excellent cooling efficiency and air circulation
• Easily removed dust filters on front and bottom panels
• Sound dampening mats used on front panel and both side panels
• Anti-vibration decoupling provided for fans, HDDs and power supply
• Double-glazed side panel window provides superb soundproofing
• Two included Pure Wings 2 fans (140mm intake and 120mm exhaust)
• Three-speed fan control switch
• Removable top panel, with top fan mounts pre-drilled for dual 120mm or 140mm fans
• Excellent cooling and low noise levels with up to six fan mounting locations
• Front: 140mm fan included (upgradable to dual 120mm or 140mm)
• Top: Dual 120mm or 140mm
• Rear: 120mm fan included
• Bottom: 120mm or 140mm
• (2) USB 3.0, (2) USB 2.0 and audio jacks on the front panel
• Three internal 3.5” hard drive bays
• Three internal 2.5” SSD mounting locations
• Three external 5.25” drive bays
• Tool-free mounting for all 3.5”/2.5” internal drives
• Up to 294mm (11.6”) clearance for graphic cards
• Up to 413mm (16.3”) for long graphic cards (with HDD cage removed)
• Up to 170mm (6.7”) of space for CPU coolers
• MSRP: $119.99 USD ($109.99 without side window)
Fully Featured Wheel for $200 US
Gaming wheels are a pretty interesting subset of the hardware world. It seems the vast majority of gamers out there are keyboard and mouse players, or skew towards console controllers which are relatively inexpensive as compared to joysticks or wheels. For those that are serious about their racing games, a wheel is a must. Sure, there are plenty of people that are good with a console controller, but that does not provide the same experience. In fact, racing games do quite a bit of compensation when it comes to steering, acceleration, and braking when it detects a console controller.
Thrustmaster echoes the Playstation blue with their PS3/PS4/PC based T150 wheel.
This makes quite a bit of sense when we consider how many degrees of travel a thumbstick has as compared to a wheel. Or how much travel a button has as compared to a set of pedals. I have talked to a developer about this and they admit to giving a hand to keyboard and console controller users, otherwise cars in these games are nigh uncontrollable. A wheel and pedal set will give much more granular control over a car in a simulation, which is crazy to think about since we use a wheel and pedal set for our daily driving…
The very basic wheels are typically small units that have a bungie or spring system to center the wheel. They also feature a pretty limited rotation, going about 270 degrees at max. These products might reach to the $100 level at max, but they are pretty basic when it comes to the driving experience. There is then a huge jump to the $300 MSRP level where users can purchase the older Logitech G27 or the still current Thrustmaster TX series.
This was not always the case. Microsoft years back had offered their Sidewinder FFB Wheel around the $200 level. Thrustmaster also addressed this market with their now discontinued Ferrari F430 FFB wheel which had an initial MSRP of around $200. This particular wheel was popular with the entry level gamers, but it had a pretty big drawback; the wheel was limited to 270 degrees of rotation. This may be fine for some arcade style racers, but for those looking to expand into more sim territory had to set their sights on higher priced products.
Introduction and First Impressions
When I reviewed the first LIVA mini-PC from ECS one year ago I was impressed by the concept of a full Windows computer in an enclosure about the size of a can of cola, which included everything you needed to get started out of the box. The problem with that first LIVA was that it was a little underpowered for the current generation of operating systems, and with the introduction of the LIVA X the performance improved only slightly; though it was a much more polished product overall. So how does the latest LIVA - the X2 - stack up? We'll find that out here.
The first thing you're bound to notice with the X2 is the markedly different style compared to the first two. Where last year’s LIVA X had a sleek, lower-profile appearance, with the LIVA X2 we have something completely different, which I won’t judge one way or the other as this is a matter of personal taste. I do miss the angular black plastic housing from last year’s version, but the fit and finish of the X2 is very nice regardless of what you think of the rounded body and white and chrome plastic finish. (ECS also offers a LIVA “Core” barebone kit that follows the aesthetic of the LIVA X.)
So what’s new beyond the appearance? After only the most minor tweak to the SoC between the first LIVA and its followup, the LIVA X (moving a single SKU up from an Intel Bay Trail-M Celeron N2807 to the N2808), this new X2 has a completely different Intel solution under the hood with its Braswell SoC - the Intel Celeron N3050 processor, a dual-core part with 2 MB of cache and a 2.16 GHz top speed. Considering that even the <$150 Intel Compute Stick offers a quad-core CPU (the Z3735F, a Bay Trail SoC) I was a little skeptical of the dual-core option here, but we’ll just have to see how it performs.
Three generations of LIVA
Four High Powered Mini ITX Systems
Thanks to Sebastian for helping me out with some of the editorial for this piece and to Ken for doing the installation and testing on the system builds! -Ryan
Update (1/23/16): Now that that AMD Radeon R9 Nano is priced at just $499, it becomes an even better solution for these builds, dropping prices by $150 each.
While some might wonder where the new Radeon R9 Nano fits in a market that offers the AMD Fury X for the same price, the Nano is a product that defines a new category in the PC enthusiast community. It is a full-scale GPU on an impossibly small 6-inch PCB, containing the same core as the larger liquid-cooled Fury X, but requiring 100 watts less power than Fury X and cooled by a single-fan dual-slot air cooler.
The R9 Nano design screams compatibility. It has the ability to fit into virtually any enclosure (including many of the smallest mini-ITX designs), as long as the case supports a dual-slot (full height) GPU. The total board length of 6 inches is shorter than a mini-ITX motherboard, which is 6.7 inches square! Truly, the Nano has the potential to change everything when it comes to selecting a small form-factor (SFF) enclosure.
Typically, a gaming-friendly enclosure would need at minimum a ~270 mm GPU clearance, as a standard 10.5-inch reference GPU translates into 266.7 mm in length. Even very small mini-ITX enclosures have had to position components specifically to allow for these longer cards – if they wanted to be marketed as compatible with a full-size GPU solution, of course. Now with the R9 Nano, smaller and more powerful than any previous ITX-specific graphics card to date, one of the first questions we had was a pretty basic one: what enclosure should we put this R9 Nano into?
With no shortage of enclosures at our disposal to try out a build with this new card, we quickly discovered that many of them shared a design choice: room for a full-length GPU. So, what’s the advantage of the Nano’s incredibly compact size? It must be pointed out that larger (and faster) Fury X has the same MSRP, and at 7.5 inches the Fury X will fit comfortably in cases that have spacing for the necessary radiator.
Finding a Case for Nano
While even some of the tiniest mini-ITX enclosures (EVGA Hadron, NCASE M1, etc.) offer support for a 10.5-in GPU, there are several compact mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-length graphics card due to their small footprint. While by no means a complete list, here are some of the options out there (note: there are many more mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-height or dual-slot expansion card at all, such as slim HTPC enclosures):
|Cooler Master||Elite 110||$47.99, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-O5||$377, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q01||$59.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q03||$74.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q07||$71.98, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q30||$139.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q33||$134.99, Newegg.com|
|Rosewill||Legacy V3 Plus-B||$59.99, Newegg.com|
The list is dominated by Lian Li, who offers a number of cube-like mini-ITX enclosures that would ordinarily be out of the question for a gaming rig, unless one of the few ITX-specific cards were chosen for the build. Many other fine enclosure makers (Antec, BitFenix, Corsair, Fractal Design, SilverStone, etc.) offer mini-ITX enclosures that support full-length GPUs, as this has pretty much become a requirement for an enthusiast PC case.
Introduction and Features
Thermaltake is expanding their Digital Power Supply (DPS) lineup with the introduction of the new Toughpower DPS G Series, which includes six models ranging from 450W up to 1050W. We will be taking a detailed look at the Toughpower DPS G 850W PSU in this review. Note: the new DPS G Series is a new line and is different than the Toughpower DPS 750W/850W/1050W models, which use the basic DPS App software. All DPS G Series power supplies support Thermaltakes new comprehensive suite of Smart Power Management (SPM) software. Thermaltake has also introduced four DPS G power supplies in their Smart Series, the Smart DPS G 600W/650W/700W/750W
Thermaltake’s new DPS G Series power supplies incorporate an embedded digital controller, which enables them to communicate with the Smart Power Management software to monitor and record various functions of the PC and power supply. Some of Thermaltakes competition (notably Corsair) has offered “digital” power supplies for some time. Even though Thermaltake may be coming a little late to the party, they appear to have done their homework and continue to expand the software, which now includes a full suite of digital monitoring, recording and analysis software to support the Toughpower DPS G Series power supplies.
(Courtesy of Thermaltake)
The Toughpower DPS G 850W power supply features fully modular, flat-ribbon style cables, 80 Plus Gold certification for high efficiency, is Haswell and ErP Lot ready, and supports multiple graphic adapters with six PCI-E connectors.
Thermaltake Toughpower DPS G 850W PSU Key Features:
• 850W continuous DC output (up to 50°C)
• Embedded digital controller communicates with Thermaltake’s SPM software
• 80 PLUS Gold certified, at least 90% efficiency under 50% load
• Fully modular cables for easy installation
• Flat ribbon-style, low profile cables for a clean installation
• Single high-current +12V output (70.8A/249.7W)
• Dual ball bearing 140mm fan for reliability and long life
• High-quality Japanese made electrolytic capacitors (105°C)
• ErP Lot and Haswell ready
• NVIDIA SLI ready with six 6+2 pin PCI-E connectors
• Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
• Safety Protections : OVP, UVP, SCP, and OPP
• 7-Year Warranty
• MSRP for the Toughpower DPS G 850W: $199.99 USD
It's hard to believe that it has only been 14 months since the release of the first ASUS ROG Swift, the PG278Q, back in August of 2014. It seems like lifetimes have passed, with drama circling around other G-Sync panels, the first release of FreeSync screens, the second geneation of FreeSync panels that greatly improve overdrive. Now, we sit in the middle of the second full wave of G-Sync screens. A lot can happen in this field if you blink.
The PG278Q was easily the best G-Sync monitor on the market for quite a long time. It offered performance, features and quality that very few other monitors could match, and it did it all while including support for NVIDIA's G-Sync variable refresh rate technology. If you are new to VRR tech, and want to learn about G-Sync you can check out our original editorial or an in-depth interview with NVIDIA's Tom Petersen. In short: being able to have a variable refresh rate on a panel match the frame rate of the game prevents Vsync quirks like screen tearing and judder.
But a lot has changed since ASUS released the PG278Q including the release of other higher quality monitors from the likes of Acer, BenQ and others. ASUS showed off some new G-Sync ready displays at CES but that was way back in January of 2015 - more than 10 months ago! The PG279Q was the most interesting to us then and remains that way today. There are some impressive specifications on the table including a 27-in 2560x1440 screen built on IPS technology, to improve color reproduction and view angles, a 165Hz maximum refresh rate and the best build quality we have seen on a gaming monitor to date.
This time ASUS has a lot more competition to deal with but can the ROG Swift PG279Q real ignite ASUS as the best G-Sync monitor provider? What kind of experience do you get for a $799 monitor today?
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
This is it. This is the day we have been waiting for. Ever since we feasted our eyes on the NVMe version of the Samsung SM951, we’ve been begging Samsung to release this as a consumer product. Bonus points if it was powered by their 3D VNAND technology. It took them a while, but they came through, officially announcing the 950 PRO exactly one month ago, and launching them today! Not only will we dive into the performance of this new model, we will also include its results in our new Latency Distribution and Percentile testing.
Nothing has changed since the announcement. All specs remain the same very impressive 2.2-2.5 GB/s reads, 0.9-1.5 GB/s writes, and upwards of 300k IOPS, all from an M.2 2280 SSD consuming only 7 Watts!
While the 950 PROs will work with the built-in Microsoft NVMe driver (present in Windows 8 and up), Samsung has also provided their own driver, which will increase performance. The same was true for the Intel SSD 750 Series.
There’s really not much to this packaging, but it’s the most ‘retail’ we’ve seen for packaging of a simple M.2 SSD.
Specs, Physical Design
Over the past 2 years or so we have noticed a trend in PC gaming: more and more gamers are realizing the importance of the display in the total gaming experience. Having been in the reviews game for nearly 16 years, I am just as guilty as most of you reading this of falling into the trap of "good enough" monitors. Steam surveys and our own data from readers shows that most of you have found some form of 1920x1080 screen and have stuck with it. But the truth is changing your monitor can and will dramatically impact how you game, how you work and just how impressed you feel each and every time you sit down in front of your PC.
Today we are looking at one of the monitors that promises to change how you view productivity and gaming. The Acer XR341CK continues the momentum of a new aspect ratio of monitors, 21:9. Otherwise known as UltraWide displays, they are available in both 2560x1080 and 3440x1440 resolutions, though our testing model today uses the latter, larger option. This Acer has a slight curve to it as well, just enough to be enjoyable without changing viewing angles for the primary user. With a 34 inch diagonal measurement, IPS panel technology and AMD FreeSync variable refresh rate support, the Acer XR341CK is likely to be our new favorite monitor for AMD Radeon users.
This doesn't come without a cost though: the XR341CK retails for just over $1,000 on Amazon. For many of you that will be a breath-taking price, and not in a good way. But consider the length of time that users tend keep monitors, I think we can make the case that type of investment is actually worthwhile.
A new controller for PC gamers
Last Friday, the early buyers of the Steam Controller and the Steam Link device, built by Valve directly, began to receive their hardware. I was one of the lucky early users to get my hands on both of the units. The Steam Controller has evolved drastically since I first got hands on with it and its implementation of unique haptic feedback and a thumb-specific touch pad on the right, rather than a second analog stick, make it quite different than the Xbox or PlayStation controllers popular today. The Steam Link is Valve's answer to GeForce GameStream and allows you to share your Steam library on your local network to another display or TV in your home.
The video below walks through a quick unboxing of the two new hardware options from Valve and demonstrates the use of the controller in a couple of games as well.
We'll definitely have more on the Steam Controller and Steam Link very soon, but I think this video should be able to help you decide if this is something you want to add to your gaming arsenal.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of MSI
Unique is a word I don't throw around much with motherboard reviews, but the latest revision of MSI' XPower series is nothing if not unique. The Z170A-XPower Gaming Titanium Edition features a stunning silver and black aesthetic for a look unlike any of its competition in the LGA1151 realm, featuring a silver colored PCB and black and red accents in some key areas of the board for some additional eye-catching value. The board features branding on its VRM and chipset heat sinks as well. By integrating the Intel Z170 chipset, the motherboard supports the latest Intel LGA1151 Skylake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR4 memory. With an MSRP of $299, the Z170A-XPower Gaming Titanium Edition sits at a competitive price point for the features it offers.
Courtesy of MSI
Courtesy of MSI
Courtesy of MSI
To give the board some teeth, MSI paired up the Z170A-XPower Gaming Titanium (Ti) Edition motherboard with its Military Class 5 component architecture. This latest iteration includes a 16-phase digital power delivery system with DrMOS 3-in-1 chip MOSFETS, Titanium chokes, and a mix of Hi-c and DARK capacitors to ensure stable operation under the most extreme circumstances as well as the greatest degree of power efficiency possible. MSI also integrated a high quality audio subsystem, centered around their Nahimic sound technology with Chemi-Con sourced audio capacitors and headphone amplifiers on an isolated PCB. MSI chose to integrate the following features into the Z170A-XPower Gaming Titanium Edition board: four SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports; an Intel I219-V GigE controller; four PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x1 slots; a 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, BIOS Flashback, and Game Boost buttons; Multi-BIOS, Hotkey, and PCI CeaseFire switches; OC Dashboard device support; BIOS Flashback+ BIOS updater; integrated V-Check voltage measurement points;dual HDMI video ports; a DisplayPort video port; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.
Meet EMTECs powerful portable peripherals
You may not think you have heard of EMTEC before but if you are old enough to remember audio and video tape then their original name will ring a bell; they were once known as BASF Magnetics. BASF officially launched their new division in 2000, focused on modern magnetic storage such as hard drives and flash.
If you have seen an oddly shaped flash drive or ones made in the shapes of Looney Tunes or Angry Birds then you have run into EMTEC products. As you can see above their product line is quite varied and includes the Power Connect for Mobile devices and the Wi-Fi Hard Drive P600, both of which they have sent for us to review.
The packaging is reminiscent of a gaming mouse with Velcro so you can open the box to see the device inside. Even better is the lack of clamshell packaging, you won't have to risk a finger trying to open them.
The WiFi Drive P600 is designed for portability, it is slightly larger than a deck of cards and is available in 1TB as well as 500GB models, the latter of which is the version that we received. You can sync the hard drive wirelessly, over the LAN connection present on the bottom of the device or through the USB 3.0 port which is also the drives recharging port. You can connect your devices to this drive in numerous ways, including setting it up as a SAMBA server or through DNLA if your devices are compatible.
The Power Connect U600 is perhaps the more interesting of the two devices for people on the go. With a large enough MicroSD card installed it can fulfill the same role as the WiFi HDD as it offers the same connectivity choices, including a LAN port, with the exception of DNLA functionality which is replaced with UPNP. In addition to offering portable storage it can function as a WiFi hot spot and with the internal 5200 mAh battery it will be able to charge your phone when you are away from power.
It's like Legos for the working man
Way back in January of 2015 at CES we were shown a new line of accessories from Lenovo called ThinkPad Stack. The company is targeting the professional user on the go with a collection of four devices that can be used together in a stackable form that offers up some impressive capability and function in a small package, though it does come with a business-user markup.
Last week Lenovo sent us a full set of the ThinkPad Stack devices including a portable router, external USB 3.0 hard drive, Bluetooth speaker and external battery. With a price tag totaling nearly $400 for the entire set, there is a pretty high expectation for functionality, build quality and usability that Lenovo needs to hit, and they do a better job than I expected (honestly) to hit it. You don't have to buy all of the available Stack accessories, and that is part of the charm of the new product line - you can customize them to your own needs.
Though it's not for everyone, I do find myself enjoying the idea of Lenovo's ThinkPad Stack products and how it enables the mobile professional. Let's take a look at what it is, how it works and if it's something you need.
Last month NVIDIA introduced the world to the GTX 980 in a new form factor for gaming notebook. Using the same Maxwell GPU, the same performance levels but with slightly tweaked power delivery and TDPs, notebooks powered by the GTX 980 promise to be a noticeable step faster than anything before it.
Late last week I got my hands on the updated MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G, the first retail ready gaming notebook to not only integrate the new GTX 980 GPU but also an unlocked Skylake mobile processor.
This machine is something to behold - though it looks very similar to previous GT72 versions, this machine hides hardware unlike anything we have been able to carry in a backpack before. And the sexy red exterior with MSI Dragon Army logo blazoned across the back definitely help it to stand out in a crowd. If you happen to be in a crowd of notebooks.
A quick spin around the GT72S reveals a sizeable collection of hardware and connections. On the left you'll find a set of four USB 3.0 ports as well as four audio inputs and ouputs and an SD card reader.
On the opposite side there are two more USB 3.0 ports (totalling six) and the optical / Blu-ray burner. With that many USB 3.0 ports you should never struggle with accessories availability - headset, mouse, keyboard, hard drive and portable fan? Check.
What you never knew you didn't know
While researching a few upcoming SD / microSD product reviews here at PC Perspective, I quickly found myself swimming in a sea of ratings and specifications. This write up was initially meant to explain and clarify these items, but it quickly grew into a reference too large to include in every SD card article, so I have spun it off here as a standalone reference. We hope it is as useful to you as it will be to our upcoming SD card reviews.
SD card speed ratings are a bit of a mess, so I'm going to do my best to clear things up here. I'll start with classes and grades. These are specs that define the *minimum* speed a given SD card should meet when reading or writing (both directions are used for the test). As with all flash devices, the write speed tends to be the more limiting factor. Without getting into gory detail, the tests used assume mostly sequential large writes and random reads occurring at no smaller than the minimum memory unit of the card (typically 512KB). The tests match the typical use case of an SD card, which is typically writing larger files (or sequential video streams), with minimal small writes (file table updates, etc).
In the above chart, we see speed 'Class' 2, 4, 6, and 10. The SD card spec calls out very specific requirements for these specs, but the gist of it is that an unfragmented SD card will be able to write at a minimum MB/s corresponding to its rated class (e.g. Class 6 = 6 MB/s minimum transfer speed). The workload specified is meant to represent a typical media device writing to an SD card, with buffering to account for slower FAT table updates (small writes). With higher bus speed modes (more on that later), we also get higher classes. Older cards that are not rated under this spec are referred to as 'Class 0'.
As we move higher than Class 10, we get to U1 and U3, which are referred to as UHS Speed Grades (contrary to the above table which states 'Class') in the SD card specification. The changeover from Class to Grade has something to do with speed modes, which also relates with the standard capacity of the card being used:
U1 and U3 correspond to 10 and 30 MB/s minimums, but the test conditions are slightly different for these specs (so Class 10 is not *exactly* the same as a U1 rating, even though they both equate to 10 MB/sec). Cards not performing to U1 are classified as 'Speed Grade 0'. One final note here is that a U rating also implies a UHS speed mode (see the next section).
New Components, New Approach
After 20 or so enclosure reviews over the past year and a half and some pretty inconsistent test hardware along the way, I decided to adopt a standardized test bench for all reviews going forward. Makes sense, right? Turns out choosing the best components for a cases and cooling test system was a lot more difficult than I expected going in, as special consideration had to be made for everything from form-factor to noise and heat levels.
Along with the new components I will also be changing the approach to future reviews by expanding the scope of CPU cooler testing. After some debate as to the type of CPU cooler to employ I decided that a better test of an enclosure would be to use both closed-loop liquid and air cooling for every review, and provide thermal and noise results for each. For CPU cooler reviews themselves I'll be adding a "real-world" load result to the charts to offer a more realistic scenario, running a standard desktop application (in this case a video encoder) in addition to the torture-test result using Prime95.
But what about this new build? It isn't completely done but here's a quick look at the components I ended up with so far along with the rationale for each selection.
CPU – Intel Core i5-6600K ($249, Amazon.com)
The introduction of Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors provided the
excuse opportunity for an upgrade after using an AMD FX-6300 system for the last couple of enclosure reviews, and after toying with the idea of the new i7-6700K, and immediately realizing this was likely overkill and (more importantly) completely unavailable for purchase at the time, I went with the more "reasonable" option with the i5. There has long been a debate as to the need for hyper-threading for gaming (though this may be changing with the introduction of DX12) but in any case this is still a very powerful processor and when stressed should produce a challenging enough thermal load to adequately test both CPU coolers and enclosures going forward.
GPU – XFX Double Dissipation Radeon R9 290X ($347, Amazon.com)
This was by far the most difficult selection. I don’t think of my own use when choosing a card for a test system like this, as it must meet a set of criteria to be a good fit for enclosure benchmarks. If I choose a card that runs very cool and with minimal noise, GPU benchmarks will be far less significant as the card won’t adequately challenge the design and thermal characteristics of the enclosure. There are certainly options that run at greater temperatures and higher noise (a reference R9 290X for example), but I didn’t want a blower-style cooler with the GPU. Why? More and more GPUs are released with some sort of large multi-fan design rather than a blower, and for enclosure testing I want to know how the case handles the extra warm air.
Noise was an important consideration, as levels from an enclosure of course vary based on the installed components. With noise measurements a GPU cooler that has very low output at idle (or zero, as some recent cooler designs permit) will allow system idle levels to fall more on case fans and airflow than a GPU that might drown them out. (This would also allow a better benchmark of CPU cooler noise - particularly with self-contained liquid coolers and audible pump noise.) And while I wanted very quiet performance at idle, at load there must be sufficient noise to measure the performance of the enclosure in this regard, though of course nothing will truly tax a design quite like a loud blower. I hope I've found a good balance here.
GPU Enthusiasts Are Throwing a FET
NVIDIA is rumored to launch Pascal in early (~April-ish) 2016, although some are skeptical that it will even appear before the summer. The design was finalized months ago, and unconfirmed shipping information claims that chips are being stockpiled, which is typical when preparing to launch a product. It is expected to compete against AMD's rumored Arctic Islands architecture, which will, according to its also rumored numbers, be very similar to Pascal.
This architecture is a big one for several reasons.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
First, it will jump two full process nodes. Current desktop GPUs are manufactured at 28nm, which was first introduced with the GeForce GTX 680 all the way back in early 2012, but Pascal will be manufactured on TSMC's 16nm FinFET+ technology. Smaller features have several advantages, but a huge one for GPUs is the ability to fit more complex circuitry in the same die area. This means that you can include more copies of elements, such as shader cores, and do more in fixed-function hardware, like video encode and decode.
That said, we got a lot more life out of 28nm than we really should have. Chips like GM200 and Fiji are huge, relatively power-hungry, and complex, which is a terrible idea to produce when yields are low. I asked Josh Walrath, who is our go-to for analysis of fab processes, and he believes that FinFET+ is probably even more complicated today than 28nm was in the 2012 timeframe, which was when it launched for GPUs.
It's two full steps forward from where we started, but we've been tiptoeing since then.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
Second, Pascal will introduce HBM 2.0 to NVIDIA hardware. HBM 1.0 was introduced with AMD's Radeon Fury X, and it helped in numerous ways -- from smaller card size to a triple-digit percentage increase in memory bandwidth. The 980 Ti can talk to its memory at about 300GB/s, while Pascal is rumored to push that to 1TB/s. Capacity won't be sacrificed, either. The top-end card is expected to contain 16GB of global memory, which is twice what any console has. This means less streaming, higher resolution textures, and probably even left-over scratch space for the GPU to generate content in with compute shaders. Also, according to AMD, HBM is an easier architecture to communicate with than GDDR, which should mean a savings in die space that could be used for other things.
Third, the architecture includes native support for three levels of floating point precision. Maxwell, due to how limited 28nm was, saved on complexity by reducing 64-bit IEEE 754 decimal number performance to 1/32nd of 32-bit numbers, because FP64 values are rarely used in video games. This saved transistors, but was a huge, order-of-magnitude step back from the 1/3rd ratio found on the Kepler-based GK110. While it probably won't be back to the 1/2 ratio that was found in Fermi, Pascal should be much better suited for GPU compute.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
Mixed precision could help video games too, though. Remember how I said it supports three levels? The third one is 16-bit, which is half of the format that is commonly used in video games. Sometimes, that is sufficient. If so, Pascal is said to do these calculations at twice the rate of 32-bit. We'll need to see whether enough games (and other applications) are willing to drop down in precision to justify the die space that these dedicated circuits require, but it should double the performance of anything that does.
So basically, this generation should provide a massive jump in performance that enthusiasts have been waiting for. Increases in GPU memory bandwidth and the amount of features that can be printed into the die are two major bottlenecks for most modern games and GPU-accelerated software. We'll need to wait for benchmarks to see how the theoretical maps to practical, but it's a good sign.