Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

What is old is new again

Trust me on this one – AMD is aware that launching the RX 500-series of graphics cards, including the RX 580 we are reviewing today, is an uphill battle. Besides battling the sounds on the hills that whisper “reeebbrraannndd” AMD needs to work with its own board partners to offer up total solutions that compete well with NVIDIA’s stronghold on the majority of the market. Just putting out the Radeon RX 580 and RX 570 cards with same coolers and specs as the RX 400-series would be a recipe for ridicule. AMD is aware and is being surprisingly proactive in its story telling the consumer and the media.

  • If you already own a Radeon RX 400-series card, the RX 500-series is not expected to be an upgrade path for you.
     
  • The Radeon RX 500-series is NOT based on Vega. Polaris here everyone.
     
  • Target users are those with Radeon R9 380 class cards and older – Polaris is still meant as an upgrade for that very large user base.

The story that is being told is compelling; more than you might expect. With more than 500 million gamers using graphics cards two years or older, based on Steam survey data, there is a HUGE audience that would benefit from an RX 580 graphics card upgrade. Older cards may lack support for FreeSync, HDR, higher refresh rate HDMI output and hardware encode/decode support for 4K resolution content. And while the GeForce GTX 1060 family would also meet that criteria, AMD wants to make the case that the Radeon family is the way to go.

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The Radeon RX 500-series is based on the same Polaris architecture as the RX 400-series, though AMD would tell us that the technology has been refined since initial launch. More time with the 14nm FinFET process technology has given the fab facility, and AMD, some opportunities to refine. This gives the new GPUs the ability to scale to higher clocks than they could before (though not without the cost of additional power draw). AMD has tweaked multi-monitor efficiency modes, allowing idle power consumption to drop a handful of watts thanks to a tweaked pixel clock.

Maybe the most substantial change with this RX 580 release is the unleashing of any kind of power consumption constraints for the board partners. The Radeon RX 480 launch was marred with issues surrounding the amount of power AMD claimed the boards would use compared to how much they DID use. This time around, all RX 580 graphics cards will ship with AT LEAST an 8-pin power connector, opening overclocked models to use as much as 225 watts. Some cards will have an 8+6-pin configuration to go even higher. Considering the RX 480 launched with a supposed 150 watt TDP (that it never lived up to), that’s quite an increase.

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AMD is hoping to convince gamers that Radeon Chill is a good solution to help some specific instances of excessive power draw. Recent drivers have added support for games like League of Legends and DOTA 2, adding to The Witcher 3, Dues Ex: Mankind Divided and more. I will freely admit that while the technology behind Chill sounds impressive, I don’t have the experience with it yet to claim or counterclaim its supposed advantages…without sacrificing user experience.

Continue reading our review of the Radeon RX 580 graphics card!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

With the release of Intel Z270 chipset, GIGABYTE unveiled its AORUS line of products. The AORUS branding differentiates the enthusiast and gamer friendly products from other GIGABYTe product lines, similar to how ASUS uses the ROG branding to differentiate their high performance product line. The Z270X-Gaming 8 is one of two "enhanced" boards in the AORUS product line, factory-customized with a Bitspower designed VRM hybrid water block. The board features the black and white branding common to the AORUS product line with the rear panel cover and chipset featuring the brand logos. The board is designed around the Intel Z270 chipset with in-built support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Kaby Lake processor line (as well as support for Skylake processors) and Dual Channel DDR4 memory running at a 2400MHz speed. The Z270X-Gaming 8 can be found in retail with an MRSP of $399.99.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE integrated the following features into the Z270X-Gaming 8 motherboard: four SATA III 6Gbps ports; two SATA-Express 10Gbps ports; two U.2 PCIe Gen3 x4 32Gbps ports; two M.2 PCIe Gen3 x4 32Gbps capable ports with Intel Optane support built-in; two RJ-45 GigE ports - an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC and a Rivet Networks Killer E2500 NIC; a Rivet Networks Killer 802.11ac 2x2 Wireless adapter; four PCI-Express x16 slots; two PCI-Express x1 slots; Creative® Sound Core 3D 8-Channel audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI video ports; Intel Thunderbolt 40Gbps support; G-Chill hybrid VRM water block (designed by Bitspower); and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE partnered with Bitspower in designing the integrated cooling solution for the Z270X-Gaming 8 motherboard. The integrated VRM hybrid block, dubbed G-Chill by GIGABYTE, can operate with or without coolant. The block itself consists of a nickel-plated copper base plate, an acrylic top plate, a metal overplate, and a plastic cover to give it a unified appearance with the rest of the board components. The inlet and outlet ports are sealed with port covers by default, and are G1/4" threaded for use with any after-market water fittings currently available.

Continue reading our preview of the GIGABYTE Z270X-Gaming 8 motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: Open Benchtable

Overview

Open-air chassis have always been an odd segment of the PC hardware market. While the ability to quickly swap out components is a major benefit to hardware reviewers like us, overclockers, and other people who are working to quickly validate lots of components, they are the antithesis of what most users are looking for from their computers. 

While we've seen some attempts at bringing the open test bed concepts to a more general audience including the Antec Skeleton and the Thermaltake Core P5 and P3, test bench products are often very low volume and are targeting a specific niche market. Due to the low volume nature, test benches are usually pretty low build quality, expensive, and don't seem to be fully formed concepts.

Today, we are taking a look at a product which aims to change all of this, the Open Benchtable.

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From first glance, you might be hard-pressed to tell that the BC1 is meant to be used with computer hardware. One of the unique design aspects of the BC1 is the ability for it to pack completely flat, in a way that may be familiar to you if you've ever had an experience assembling furniture from Ikea. 

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Everything has a place and there's a place for everything on the BC1. Included hardware such as thumbscrews, brackets, standoffs, and even the feet for the actual testbench slot into the single piece of aluminum and store securely into an 8mm thick package. This, along with the completely toolless design mean that the BC1 can quickly be assembled, used, and torn down.

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Once you start to assemble the BC1, one of the most striking features is the build quality. Where we normally see test benches made from lower quality materials like acrylic or bent sheet metal, the BC1 is made of a single slab of anodized heavy-duty AL5052 aluminum. It's difficult for me to imagine a user managing to break this test bench in any way, aside from potentially chipping anodization, without actively trying to do so.

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The first step to assembling the BC1 is to remove the feet from the middle section of the test bench. Simply remove 4 thumbscrews, and you can remove the feet from the main assembly.

Continue reading our review of the OBT Open Benchtable!

Author:
Manufacturer: VIVO

Introduction and Features

Introduction

VIVO is one of the latest entries into the burgeoning PC power supply market. VIVO is best known as a supplier of monitor and projector mounts, stands, carts, and PC enclosures. Their introductory power supply is the VIVO 24K 650W unit, which is designed to deliver 80 Plus Gold level efficiency at an affordable price.

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In addition to 80 Plus Gold certification, the VIVO 24K 650W PSU features all modular flat ribbon-style cables, a single +12V output, and uses a quiet 120mm fan for cooling.

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VIVO 24K 650W PSU Key Features:

•    650W Continuous DC output at up to 40°C
•    80 PLUS Gold certified for high efficiency
•    Fully-modular cables
•    DC-to-DC Voltage converters
•    Single +12V output
•    NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire ready
•    Meets EPS12V 2.93 standards and is backwards compatible with ATX12V
•    Quiet 120mm cooling fan
•    Haswell support
•    Active Power Factor correction with Universal AC input (100 to 240 VAC)
•    Safety protections: OVP, UVP, OPP, OTP and SCP
•    3-Year warranty
•    MSRP: $59.99 USD

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Here is what VIVO has to say about their company and the new 24K 650W PSU:

VIVO is a U.S. based company that designs, manufactures, and supplies a diverse selection of products across multiple unique product markets. We have a genuine desire to create functional solutions that fit unsolved needs and better the experience of every customer we serve.

The new 24K 650W 80 Plus Gold rated power supply (PSU-650G) from VIVO is designed for lasting performance and reliability. This power supply is made with top quality components to ensure continuous clean power delivery and long life. The 650 watt real power output is enough to easily power a high end gaming computer with dual graphics cards, and the simple to use fully modular flat cables reduce clutter while improving airflow in your system. In addition, the 80 Plus Gold rated efficiency combined with a large 120mm fan will provide quiet operation and help to reduce your power bill. Our "U-style" chassis design is both durable and eye-catching, with an appearance that will look great in any windowed PC case.

Please continue reading our review of the VIVO 24K 650W PSU!!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

The real battle begins

When AMD launched the Ryzen 7 processors last month to a substantial amount of fanfare and pent up excitement, we already knew that the Ryzen 5 launch would be following close behind. While the Ryzen 7 lineup was meant to compete with the Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake and Broadwell-E products, with varying levels of success, the Ryzen 5 parts are priced to go head to head with Intel's Core i5 product line. 

AMD already told us the details of the new product line including clock speeds, core counts and pricing, so there is little more to talk about other than the performance and capabilities we found from our testing of the new Ryzen 5 parts. Starting with the Ryzen 5 1600X, with 6 cores, 12 threads and a $249 price point, and going down to the Ryzen 5 1400 with 4 cores, 8 threads and a $169 price point, this is easily AMD's most aggressive move to date. The Ryzen 7 1800X at $499 was meant to choke off purchases of Intel's $1000+ parts; Ryzen 5 is attempting to offer significant value and advantage for users on a budget.

Today we have the Ryzen 5 1600X and Ryzen 5 1500X in our hands. The 1600X is a 6C/12T processor that will have a 50% core count advantage over the Core i5-7600K it is priced against but a 3x advantage in thread count because of Intel's disabling of HyperThreading on Core i5 desktop processors. The Ryzen 5 1500X has the same number of cores as the Core i5-7500 it will be pitted against, but 2x the thread count. 

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How does this fare for AMD? Will budget consumers finally find a solution from the company that has no caveats?

Continue reading our review of the AMD Ryzen 5 1600X and 1500X processors!!

Introduction and Specifications

The PC-Q17 WX is a compact, all-aluminum mini-ITX enclosure designed to appeal to gamers, and it features certification from ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers). As with so many mini-ITX cases on the market there is room for a full-length graphics card, allowing the case to house a powerful gaming build.

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The PC-Q17 WX is smaller than the mini-ITX cases I have looked at recently, with the trend for larger, micro-ATX sized designs prevalent in the last year or two. It is still quite a bit larger compared to the smallest designs on the market, with the NCASE M1 the smallest I have reviewed thus far. There is always an advantage in component support from a slightly larger case, and this case boasts full-length GPU and ATX power supply compatibity - though you will need a compact PSU to fit both of those concurrently (more on this later in the review).

As expected from Lian Li, this small chassis doesn’t just feature aluminum, it is all aluminum, making it ultra light with a premium feel. Getting to your components is easy thanks to side and top panels that simply snap in place with the company’s push pin style connectors, and there is a large acrylic window to show off your mini-ITX build. If you like its looks the only thing left is too see what fits inside and find out how it performs!

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Continue reading our review of the Lian Li PC-Q17 WX enclosure!

Build and Upgrade Components

Spring is in the air! And while many traditionally use this season for cleaning out their homes, what could be the point of reclaiming all of that space besides filling it up again with new PC hardware and accessories? If you answered, "there is no point, other than what you just said," then you're absolutely right. Spring a great time to procrastinate about housework and build up a sweet new gaming PC (what else would you really want to use that tax return for?), so our staff has listed their favorite PC hardware right now, from build components to accessories, to make your life easier. (Let's make this season far more exciting than taking out the trash and filing taxes!)

While our venerable Hardware Leaderboard has been serving the PC community for many years, it's still worth listing some of our favorite PC hardware for builds at different price points here.

Processors - the heart of the system.

No doubt about it, AMD's Ryzen CPU launch has been the biggest news of the year so far for PC enthusiasts, and while the 6 and 4-core variants are right around the corner the 8-core R7 processors are still a great choice if you have the budget for a $300+ CPU. To that end, we really like the value proposition of the Ryzen R7 1700, which offers much of the performance of its more expensive siblings for a really compelling price, and can potentially be overclocked to match the higher-clocked members of the Ryzen lineup, though moving up to either the R7 1700X or R7 1800X will net you higher clocks (without increasing voltage and power draw) out of the box.

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Really, any of these processors are going to provide a great overall PC experience with incredible multi-threaded performance for your dollar in many applications, and they can of course handle any game you throw at them - with optimizations already appearing to make them even better for gaming.

Don't forget about Intel, which has some really compelling options starting even at the very low end (Pentium G4560, when you can find one in stock near its ~$60 MSRP), thanks to their newest Kaby Lake CPUs. The high-end option from Intel's 7th-gen Core lineup is the Core i7-7700K (currently $345 on Amazon), which provides very fast gaming performance and plenty of power if you don't need as many cores as the R7 1700 (or Intel's high-end LGA-2011 parts). Core i5 processors provide a much more cost-effective way to power a gaming system, and an i5-7500 is nearly $150 less than the Core i7 while providing excellent performance if you don't need an unlocked multiplier or those additional threads.

Continue reading our Spring Buyer's Guide for selections of graphics cards, motherboards, memory and more!

Manufacturer: Alphacool

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of Alphacool

Earlier this year, Alphacool launched their "Eis" series of products, a collection of high performance liquid cooling products improving upon their existing products. The Eisblock XPX CPU water block introduces a new internal design compared with their previous NexXxOS block series, updating the internal design with an optimized jet impingement-fed micro-channel system. The block consists of a nickel-plated copper square base plate and an acetal top with an aluminum cover plate and an illuminated logo. The block offers compatibility with all current CPU socket types, including the Intel LGA2011 and LGA1150 and the AMD AM4 sockets.

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Courtesy of Alphacool

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Courtesy of Alphacool

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Courtesy of Alphacool

The block is held together with screws going through the nickel-plated base plate with a snap-on top cover. Use of a snap-on aluminum top cover gives the block a sleek appearance. Further, it allows for easy customization of the embedded LED color not to mention the top cover color by switching out the top cover plate without interfering with the block internals. Alphacool offers a variety of top cover plates and customization kits for the Eisblock XPX water block to match virtually any system theme setup. With an approximate MSRP of $73 US, the Eisblock XPX is at price parity with other high-end water block offerings.

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Courtesy of Alphacool

The Eisblock XPX waterblock comes standard with hardware supporting all current generation Intel and AMD processors, including the AMD Ryzen AM4 socket. The block's support brackets snap in place in channels along the lower sides of the block, making for easy customization of the block for different processor and socket types if necessary.

Technical Specifications (taken from the manufacturer websites)

Water Block Specifications
Manufacturer Alphacool
Dimensions (LxWxH) 65 x 65 x 30mm
Threads 2 x G1/4"
Tested Pressure 2 Bar
Material cooling plate Copper
Material top cover Aluminum / Acetal
Socket Compatibility Intel
775 / 1156 / 1155 / 1150 / 1151 / 2011 / 2011-3

AMD
AM2 /AM2+ /AM3 /AM3+ / FM1 / FM2 / FM2+ / AM4

Continue reading our review of the Alphacool Eisblock XPX CPU waterblock!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Overview

Since the launch of NVIDIA's Pascal architecture with the GTX 1070 and 1080 last May, we've taken a look at a lot of Pascal-based products, including the recent launch of the GTX 1080 Ti. By now, it is clear that Pascal has proven itself in a gaming context.

One frequent request we get about GPU coverage is to look at professional uses cases for these sort of devices. While gaming is still far and away the most common use for GPUs, things like high-quality rendering in industries like architecture, and new industries like deep learning can see vast benefits from acceleration by GPUs.

Today, we are taking a look at some of the latest NVIDIA Quadro GPUs on the market, the Quadro P2000, P4000, and P5000. 

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Diving deep into the technical specs of these Pascal-based Quadro products and the AMD competitor we will be testing,  we find a wide range of compute capability, power consumption, and price.

  Quadro P2000 Quadro P4000 Quadro P5000 Radeon Pro Duo
Process 16nm 16nm 16nm 28nm
Code Name GP106 GP104 GP104 Fiji XT x 2
Shaders 1024 1792 2560 8192
Rated Clock Speed 1470 MHz (Boost) 1480 MHz (Boost) 1730 MHz (Boost) up to 1000 MHz
Memory Width 160-bit 256-bit 256-bit 4096-bit (HBM) x 2
Compute Perf (FP32) 3.0 TFLOPS 5.3 TFLOPS 8.9 TFLOPS 16.38 TFLOPS
Compute Perf (FP64) 1/32 FP32 1/32 FP32 1/32 FP 32 1/16 FP32
Frame Buffer 5GB 8GB 16GB 8GB (4GB x 2)
TDP 75W 105W 180W 350W
Street Price $599 $900 $2000 $800

The astute readers will notice similarities to the NVIDIA GeForce line of products as they take a look at these specifications.

Continue to read our roundup of 3 Pascal Quadro Graphics Cards

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Strix Z270E Gaming motherboard is among the Z270-based offerings in ASUS ROG Strix product line. The board's integrated Intel Z270 chipset integrates support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Kaby Lake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR4 memory. With an MSRP of $199, the Strix Z270E Gaming board comes at a premium, more than justified by its feature set.

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Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Tweaks for days

It seems like it’s been months since AMD launched Ryzen, its first new processor architecture in about a decade, when in fact we are only four weeks removed. One of the few concerns about the Ryzen processors centered on its performance in some gaming performance results, particularly in common resolutions like 1080p. While I was far from the only person to notice these concerns, our gaming tests clearly showed a gap between the Ryzen 7 1800X and the Intel Core i7-7700K and 6900K processors in Civilization 6, Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

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A graph from our Ryzen launch coverage...

We had been working with AMD for a couple of weeks on the Ryzen launch and fed back our results with questions in the week before launch. On March 2nd, AMD’s CVP of Marketing John Taylor gave us a prepared statement that acknowledged the issue but promised changes come in form for game engine updates. These software updates would need to be implemented by the game developers themselves in order to take advantage of the unique and more complex core designs of the Zen architecture. We had quotes from the developers of Ashes of the Singularity as well as the Total War series to back it up.

And while statements promising change are nice, it really takes some proof to get the often skeptical tech media and tech enthusiasts to believe that change can actually happen. Today AMD is showing its first result.

The result of 400 developer hours of work, the Nitrous Engine powering Ashes of the Singularity received an update today to version 26118 that integrates updates to threading to better balance the performance across Ryzen 7’s 8 cores and 16 threads. I was able to do some early testing on the new revision, as well as with the previous retail shipping version (25624) to see what kind of improvements the patch brings with it.

Stardock / Oxide CEO Brad Wardell had this to say in a press release:

“I’ve always been vocal about taking advantage of every ounce of performance the PC has to offer. That’s why I’m a strong proponent of DirectX 12 and Vulkan® because of the way these APIs allow us to access multiple CPU cores, and that’s why the AMD Ryzen processor has so much potential,” said Stardock and Oxide CEO Brad Wardell. “As good as AMD Ryzen is right now – and it’s remarkably fast – we’ve already seen that we can tweak games like Ashes of the Singularity to take even more advantage of its impressive core count and processing power. AMD Ryzen brings resources to the table that will change what people will come to expect from a PC gaming experience.”

Our testing setup is in line with our previous CPU performance stories.

Test System Setup
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
Intel Core i7-6900K
Motherboard ASUS Crosshair VI Hero (Ryzen)
ASUS X99-Deluxe II (Broadwell-E)
Memory 16GB DDR4-2400
Storage Corsair Force GS 240 SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Graphics Drivers NVIDIA 378.49
Power Supply Corsair HX1000
Operating System Windows 10 Pro x64

I was using the latest BIOS for our ASUS Crosshair VI Hero motherboard (1002) and upgraded to some Geil RGB (!!) memory capable of running at 3200 MHz on this board with a single BIOS setting adjustment. All of my tests were done at 1080p in order to return to the pain point that AMD was dealing with on launch day.

Let’s see the results.

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These are substantial performance improvements with the new engine code! At both 2400 MHz and 3200 MHz memory speeds, and at both High and Extreme presets in the game (all running in DX12 for what that’s worth), the gaming performance on the GPU-centric is improved. At the High preset (which is the setting that AMD used in its performance data for the press release), we see a 31% jump in performance when running at the higher memory speed and a 22% improvement with the lower speed memory. Even when running at the more GPU-bottlenecked state of the Extreme preset, that performance improvement for the Ryzen processors with the latest Ashes patch is 17-20%!

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It’s also important to note that Intel performance is unaffected – either for the better or worse. Whatever work Oxide did to improve the engine for AMD’s Ryzen processors had NO impact on the Core processors, which is interesting to say the least. The cynic in me would believe there is little chance that any agnostic changes to code would raise Intel’s multi-core performance at least a little bit.

So what exactly is happening to the engine with v26118? I haven’t had a chance to have an in-depth conversation with anyone at AMD or Oxide yet on the subject, but at a high level, I was told that this is what happens when instructions and sequences are analyzed for an architecture specifically. “For basically 5 years”, I was told, Oxide and other developers have dedicated their time to “instruction traces and analysis to maximize Intel performance” which helps to eliminate poor instruction setup. After spending some time with Ryzen and the necessary debug tools (and some AMD engineers), they were able to improve performance on Ryzen without adversely affecting Intel parts.

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Core to core latency testing on Ryzen 7 1800X

I am hoping to get more specific detail in the coming days, but it would seem very likely that Oxide was able to properly handle the more complex core to core communication systems on Ryzen and its CCX implementation. We demonstrated early this month how thread to thread communication across core complexes causes substantially latency penalties, and that a developer that intelligently manages threads that have dependencies on the core complex can improve overall performance. I would expect this is at least part of the solution Oxide was able to integrate (and would also explain why Intel parts are unaffected).

What is important now is that AMD takes this momentum with Ashes of the Singularity and actually does something with it. Many of you will recognize Ashes as the flagship title for Mantle when AMD made that move to change the programming habits and models for developers, and though Mantle would eventually become Vulkan and drive DX12 development, it did not foretell an overall shift as it hoped to. Can AMD and its developer relations team continue to make the case that spending time and money (which is what 400 developer hours equates to) to make specific performance enhancements for Ryzen processors is in the best interest of everyone? We’ll soon find out.

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Drobo

Introduction and Packaging

Data Robotics shipped their first product 10 years ago. Dubbed the Drobo (short for Data Robot), it was a 4-bay hot-swappable USB 2.0 connected external storage device. At a time where RAID was still a term mostly unknown to typical PC users, the Drobo was already pushing the concept of data redundancy past what those familiar with RAID were used to. BeyondRAID offered a form of redundant data storage that decoupled rigid RAID structures from fixed capacity disk packs. While most RAID volumes were 'dumb', BeyondRAID was aware of what was stored within its partitions, distributing that data in block format across the available disks. This not only significantly speed up rebuilding (only used portions of the disks need be recopied), it allowed for other cool tricks like the ability to mix drive capacities within the same array. Switching between parity levels could also be done on-the-fly and with significantly less effort than traditional RAID migrations.

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While all of the above was great, the original Drobo saw performance hits from its block level management, which was limited by the processing overhead combined with the available processing power for such a device at the time. The first Drobo model was lucky to break 15 MB/s, which could not even fully saturate a USB 2.0 link. After the launch, requests for network attached capability led to the launch of the DroboShare, which could act as a USB to ethernet bridge. It worked but was still limited by the link speed of the connected Drobo. A Drobo FS launched a few years later, but it was not much quicker. Three years after that we got the 5N, which was finally a worthy contender in the space.

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10 years and nearly a dozen models later, we now have the Drobo 5N2, which will replace the aging 5N. The newer model retains the same 5-bay form factor and mSATA bay for optional SSD cache but adds a second bondable Gigabit Ethernet port and upgrades most of the internals. Faster hardware specs and newer more capable firmware enables increased throughput and volume sizes up to 64TB. Since BeyondRAID is thin provisioned, you always make the volume as large as it can be and simply add disk capacity as the amount of stored content grows over time.

Read on for our review of the Drobo 5N2!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Today Samsung released an update to their EVO+ microSD card line. The new model is the 'EVO Plus'. Yes, I know, it's confusing to me as well, especially when trying to research the new vs. old iterations for this mini-review. Here's a few quick visual comparisons between both models:

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On the left, we have the 'older' version of the Plus (I mean the '+'), while on the right we have the new plus, designated as a '2017 model' on the Samsung site. Note the rating differences between the two. The '+' on the left is rated at UHS-I U1 (10 MB/s minimum write speed), while the newer 'Plus' version is rated at UHS-I U3 (30 MB/s minimum write speed). I also ran across what looked like the older version packaging.

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The packaging on the right is what we had in hand for this review. The image on the left was found at the Samsung website, and confuses things even further, as the 'Plus' on the package does not match the markings on the card itself ('+'). It looks as if Samsung may have silently updated the specs of the 256GB '+' model at some point in the recent past, as that model claims significantly faster write speeds (90 MB/s) than the older/other '+' models previously claimed (~20 MB/s). With that confusion out of the way, let's dig into the specs of this newest EVO Plus:

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For clarification on the Speed Class and Grade, I direct you to our previous article covering those aspects in detail. For here I'll briefly state that the interface can handle 104 MB/s while the media itself is required to sustain a minimum of 30 MB/s of typical streaming recorded content. The specs go on to claim 100MB/s reads and 90 MB/s writes (60 MB/s for the 64GB model). Doing some quick checks, here's what I saw with some simple file copies to and from a 128GB EVO Plus:

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Our figures didn't exceed the specified performance, but they came close, which more than satisfies their 'up to' claim, with over 80 MB/s writes and 93 MB/s reads. I was able to separately confirm 85-89 MB/s writes and 99 MB/s reads with Iometer accessing with 128KB sequential transfers.

Pricing (MSRP)

Pricing seems to be running a bit high on these, with pricing running close to double of the previous version of this very same part (the EVO+ 128GB can be found for $50 at the time of this writing). Sure you are getting a U3 rated card with over four times the achievable write speed, but the reads are very similar, and if your camera only requires U1 speeds, the price premium does not seem to be worthwhile. It is also worth noting that even faster UHS-II spec cards that transfer at 150 MB/s can be had and even come with a reader at a lower cost.

In summary, the Samsung EVO Plus microSD cards look to be decent performers, but the pricing needs to come down some to be truly competitive in this space. I'd also like to see the product labeling and marketing a bit more clear between the '+' and the 'Plus' models, as they can easily confuse those not so familiar with SD card classes and grades. It also makes searching for them rather difficult, as most search engines parse 'Plus' interchangeably with '+', adding to the potential confusion.

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Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Lexar

The Need for Speed

Around here storage is Allyn’s territory, but I decided to share my experience with a new $20 flash drive I picked up that promised some impressive speeds via USB 3.0. The drive is the Lexar JumpDrive P20, and I bought the 32GB version, which is the lowest capacity of the three drives in the series. 64GB and 128GB versions of the JumpDrive P20 are available, with advertised speeds of up to 400 MB/s from all three, and reads and up to 270 MB/s writes - if you buy the largest capacity.

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My humble 32GB model still boasts up to 140 MB/s writes, which would be faster than any USB drive I’ve ever owned (my SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 16GB drive is limited to 60 MB/s writes, and can hit about 190 MB/s reads), and the speeds of the P20 even approach that of some lower capacity SATA 3 SSDs - if it lives up to the claims. The price was right, so I took the plunge. (My hard-earned $20 at stake!)

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Size comparison with other USB flash drives on hand (P20 on far right)

First we'll look at the features from Lexar:


  • Among the fastest USB flash drives available, with speeds up to 400MB/s read and 270MB/s write
  • Sleek design with metal alloy base and high-gloss mirror finish top
  • Securely protects files using EncryptStick Lite software, an advanced security solution with 256-bit AES encryption
  • Reliably stores and transfers files, photos, videos, and more
  • High-capacity options to store more files on the go
  • Compatible with PC and Mac systems
  • Backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Continue reading our review of the Lexar JumpDrive P20 USB drive!!

Author:

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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SilverStone continues to push the envelope of power density with the release of their new SX800-LTI small form factor power supply. Following close on the heels of the SX700-LPT, the new unit now packs 800 watts into a small chassis. SFX form factor cases and power supplies continue grow in popularity and in market share and as one of the original manufacturers of SFX power supplies, Silverstone Technology Co. is striving to meet customer demand.

SX800-LTI

(SX=SFX Form Factor, 800=800W, L=Lengthened, TI=Titanium certified)

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 added the new SX800-LTI to their SFX form factor series. There are now eight power supplies in the SFX Series, ranging in output capacity from 300W to 800W. The SX800-LTI is the third SilverStone unit to feature a lengthened SFX chassis. The SX800-LTI enclosure is 30mm (1.2”) longer than a standard SFX power supply case, which allows using a quieter 120mm cooling fan rather than the typical 80mm fan used in most SFX power supplies.

In addition to its small size, the SX800-LTI features very high efficiency (80 Plus Titanium certified), all modular flat ribbon-style cables, and provides up to 800W of continuous DC output (850W peak). The SX800-LTI also operates in semi-fanless mode and incorporates a very quiet 120mm cooling fan.

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SilverStone SX800-LTI PSU Key Features:

•    Small Form Factor (SFX-L) design
•    800W continuous power output rated for 24/7 operation
•    80 Plus Titanium certified for very high efficiency
•    Quiet operation with semi-fanless operation
•    120mm cooling fan optimized for low noise
•    Powerful single +12V rail with 66A capacity
•    All-modular, flat ribbon-style cables
•    High quality construction with all Japanese capacitors
•    Strict ±3% voltage regulation and low AC ripple and noise
•    Support for high-end GPUs with four PCI-E 8/6-pin connectors
•    Safety Protections: OCP, OPP, OVP, UVP, SCP, and OTP

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Here is what SilverStone has to say about their new SX800-LTI power supply:

Since its launch in 2015, the SFX-L form factor has garnered popular recognition and support among enthusiasts with its larger 120mm fan able to achieve better balance of power and quietness in small form factor PCs than what was possible with standard SFX. And as a leader in power supply miniaturization, SilverStone has continued its efforts in advancing the SFX-L forward to reach ever higher limit.

The SX800-LTI not only has unprecedented 800 watts of power output but also has the highest level of 80 PLUS efficiency with a Titanium rating. It includes all features available from top of the line SilverStone PSUs such as flexible flat cables, all Japanese capacitors and advanced semi-fanless capability. For those looking to build the most efficient small form factor systems possible with great quality and power, the SX800-LTI is definitely the top choice.

Please continue reading our review of the SilverStone SX800-LTI PSU!!!

Manufacturer: Phononic

Introduction: A Hybrid Approach

The Hex 2.0 from Phononic is not your typical CPU cooler. It functions as both a thermoelectric cooler (TEC) - which you may also know as a Peltier cooler - and as a standard heatsink/fan, depending on CPU load. It offers a small footprint for placement in all but the lowest-profile systems, yet it boasts cooling potential beyond other coolers of its size. Yes, it is expensive, but this is a far more complex device than a standard air or even all-in-one liquid cooler - and obviously much smaller than even the most compact AiO liquid coolers.

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“The HEX 2.0 combines a proprietary state-of-the-art high performance thermoelectric module with an innovative heat exchanger. The small form factor CPU cooler pioneers a new category of cooling technology. The compact design comfortably fits in small chassis, including mini-ITX cases, while delivering cooling capacity beyond that of much larger coolers.”

Even though it does not always need to function as such, the Hex 2.0 is a thermoelectric cooling device, and that alone makes it interesting from a PC hardware enthusiast point of view (at least mine, anyway). The 'active-passive' approach taken by Phononic with the Hex 2.0 allows for greater performance potential that would otherwise be possible from a smaller TEC device, though our testing will of course reveal how effective it is in actual use.

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HEX 2.0 features an Active-Passive design (Credit: Phononic)

The goal for the HEX 2.0 CPU cooler was to provide similar cooling performance to all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or the very largest fan-heat sinks in a package that could fit into the smallest PC form factors (like miniITX). The active-passive design is what makes this possible. By splitting the CPU heat into two paths, as shown in Figure 1 (Ed. the above image), the thermoelectric device can be sized at an optimal point where it can provide the most benefit for lowering CPU temperature without having to be large enough to pump the entire CPU thermal load. We also designed electronic controls to turn off the thermoelectric heat pump at times of low CPU load, making for an energy efficient cooler that provides adequate cooling with zero power draw at low CPU loads. However, when the CPU is stressed and the CPU heat load increases, the electronic controls energize the thermoelectric heat pump, lowering the temperature of the passive base plate and the CPU itself. The active-passive design has one further benefit – when used in conjunction with the electronic controls, this design virtually eliminates the risk of condensation for the HEX 2.0.

Continue reading our review of the Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric CPU Cooler!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Qualcomm

A new start

Qualcomm is finally ready to show the world how the Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform performs. After months of teases and previews, including a the reveal that it was the first processor built on Samsung’s 10nm process technology and a mostly in-depth look at the architectural changes to the CPU and GPU portions of the SoC, the company let a handful of media get some hands-on time with development reference platform and run some numbers.

To frame the discussion as best I can, I am going to include some sections from my technology overview. This should give some idea of what to expect from Snapdragon 835 and what areas Qualcomm sees providing the widest variation from previous SD 820/821 product.

Qualcomm frames the story around the Snapdragon 835 processor with what they call the “five pillars” – five different aspects of mobile processor design that they have addressed with updates and technologies. Qualcomm lists them as battery life (efficiency), immersion (performance), capture, connectivity, and security.

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Starting where they start, on battery life and efficiency, the SD 835 has a unique focus that might surprise many. Rather than talking up the improvements in performance of the new processor cores, or the power of the new Adreno GPU, Qualcomm is firmly planted on looking at Snapdragon through the lens of battery life. Snapdragon 835 uses half of the power of Snapdragon 801.

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Since we already knew that the Snapdragon 835 was going to be built on the 10nm process from Samsung, the first such high performance part to do so, I was surprised to learn that Qualcomm doesn’t attribute much of the power efficiency improvements to the move from 14nm to 10nm. It makes sense – most in the industry see this transition as modest in comparison to what we’ll see at 7nm. Unlike the move from 28nm to 14/16nm for discrete GPUs, where the process technology was a huge reason for the dramatic power drop we saw, the Snapdragon 835 changes come from a combination of advancements in the power management system and offloading of work from the primary CPU cores to other processors like the GPU and DSP. The more a workload takes advantage of heterogeneous computing systems, the more it benefits from Qualcomm technology as opposed to process technology.

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Continue reading our preview of Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 performance!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Overview

If you look at the current 2-in-1 notebook market, it is clear that the single greatest influence is the Lenovo Yoga. Despite initial efforts to differentiate convertible Notebook-tablet designs, newly released machines such as the HP Spectre x360 series and the Dell XPS 13" 2-in-1 make it clear that the 360-degree "Yoga-style" hinge is the preferred method.

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Today, we are looking at a unique application on the 360-degree hinge, the Lenovo Yoga Book. Will this new take on the 2-in-1 concept be so influential?

The Lenovo Yoga Book is 10.1" tablet that aims to find a unique way to implement a stylus on a modern touch device. The device itself is a super thin clamshell-style design, featuring an LCD on one side of the device, and a large touch-sensitive area on the opposing side.

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This large touch area serves two purposes. Primarily, it acts as a surface for the included stylus that Lenovo is calling the Real Pen. Using the Real Pen, users can do thing such as sketch in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator or takes notes in an application such as Microsoft OneNote.

The Real Pen has more tricks up its sleeve than just a normal stylus. It can be converted from a pen with a Stylus tip on it to a full ballpoint pen. When paired with the "Create Pad" included with the Yoga Book, you can write on top of a piece of actual paper using the ballpoint pen, and still have the device pick up on what you are drawing.

Click here to continue reading our review of the Lenovo Yoga Book.

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: ARM

New "Fabric" for ARM

It is not much of a stretch to say that ARM has had a pretty impressive run for the past 10 years since we started paying attention to the company from a consumer point of view.  It took 22 years for ARM to power 50 billion chips that had been shipped.  It took another 4 years to hit the next 50 billion.  Now ARM expects to ship around 100 billion chips in the next four years.
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Last year we saw the introduction of multiple technologies from ARM in the shape of the latest Cortex-A CPUs and a new generation of Mali GPUs.  ARM has been near the forefront of applying their designs to the latest, cutting edge process technologies offered by Samsung and TSMC.  This change of pace has been refreshing considering that a few years ago they would announce a new architecture and expect to see it in new phones and devices about 3 years from that point.  Intel attempted a concerted push into mobile and ARM responded by tightening up their portfolio and aggressively pushing release dates.
 
This year appears no different for ARM as we expect new technologies to be announced again later this year that will update their offerings as well as process technology partnerships with the major pure-play foundries.  The first glimpse of what we can expect is ARM's announcement today of their DynamIQ technology.
 
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DynamIQ can be viewed as a portfolio of technologies that will power the next generation of ARM CPUs, GPUs, and potentially accelerators.  This encompasses power delivery, power control, connectivity, and topologies.
 
 
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Topre

Ultimate Topre

There are cars that get you from point A to point B, and then there are luxurious grand touring cars which will get you there with power, comfort, and style - for a price. Based on the cost alone ($269.99 MSRP!) it seems like a safe bet to say that the REALFORCE RGB keyboard will be a similarly premium experience. Let’s take a look!

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There is as much personal taste at issue when considering a keyboard (or dream car!) as almost any other factor, and regardless of build quality or performance a keyboard is probably not going to work out for you if it doesn’t feel right. Mechanical keyboards are obviously quite popular, and more companies than ever offer their own models, many using Cherry MX key switches (or generic ‘equivalents’ - which vary in quality). Topre keys are different, as they are a capacitive key with a rubber dome and metal spring, and have a very smooth, fast feel to them - not clicky at all.

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“Topre capacitive key switches are a patented hybrid between a mechanical spring based switch, a rubber dome switch, and a capacitive sensor which, combined, provide tactility, comfort, and excellent durability. The unique electrostatic design of Topre switches requires no physical mechanical coupling and therefore key switch bounce/chatter is eliminated.”

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Continue reading our review of the Topre REALFORCE RGB Keyboard!