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If you have been visiting PC Perspective at all over the last week there is no doubt you have seen a lot of discussion about the currently running Battlefield 3 beta. We posted an article looking at performance of several different GPUs in the game and then followed it up with a look at older cards like the GeForce 9800 GT. We did a live stream of some PC Perspective staff playing BF3 with readers and fans, showed off and tested the locked Caspian Border map and even looked at multi-GPU scaling performance. It was a lot of testing and a lot of time, but now that we have completed it, we are ready to summarize our findings in a piece that many have been clamoring for - a Battlefield 3 system build guide.
The purpose of this article is simple: gather our many hours or testing and research and present the results in a way that simply says "here is the hardware we recommend." It is a the exact same philosophy that makes our PC Perspective Hardware Leaderboard so successful as it gives the reader all the information they need, all in one place.
Introduction and Design
When the Apple MacBook Air originally debuted, geeks took note, and Windows laptop manufacturers ramped up efforts to meet that super-thin laptop on its own turf. Surprisingly, one of the first to respond was MSI, a company that is still struggling to define itself among a mainstream American market dominated by the likes of HP, Toshiba, Dell, and others.
MSI managed to significantly undercut the Air with its X340, but the build quality was also nowhere near what Cupertino’s engineers had managed. Yet MSI is not one to give up, and they’ve made moves to refine the X series over the years. As the price has dropped further, and the processor selection changed, comparisons to the Air have become less obvious.
That’s particularly true with this latest MSI X370, which now makes use of the AMD E-350 Fusion APU. This processor is nothing new, and we’ve tested it before at PC Perspective. Yet this laptop is different from any previously we’ve reviewed product with this processor because of its size.
The Battlefield 3 Beta
Update 2 (9/30/11): We have some quick results from our time on the Caspian Border map as well if you are interested - check them out!
It was an exciting day at PC Perspective yesterday with much our time dedicated to finding, installing and playing the new Battlefield 3 public beta. Released on the morning of the 26th to those of you who had pre-ordered BF3 on Origin or those of you who had purchased Medal of Honor prior to July 26th, getting the beta a couple of days early should give those of you with more FPS talent than me a leg up once the open beta starts on Thursday the 29th.
My purpose in playing Battlefield 3 yesterday was purely scientific, of course. We wanted to test a handful of cards from both AMD and NVIDIA to see how the beta performed. With all of the talk about needing to upgrade your system and the relatively high recommended system requirements, there is a lot of worry that just about anyone without a current generation GPU is going to need to shell out some cash.
Is that a justified claim? While we didn't have time yet to test EVERY card we have at the office we did put some of the more recent high end, mid-range and lower cost GPUs to the test.
Back in June of last year, OCZ released the RevoDrive, followed up rather quickly by the RevoDrive x2. A further jump was made with the introduction of VCA 2.0 architecture with the RevoDrive 3 and 3 x2. Each iteration pushed the envelope further as better implementations of VCA were introduced, using faster and greater numbers of PCIe channels, linked to faster and greater numbers of SandForce controllers.
While the line of RevoDrives was tailored more towards power users and mild server use, OCZ has taken their VCA 2.0 solution to the next level entirely, putting their sights on full blown enterprise purposing. With that, we introduce the OCZ Z-Drive R4:
Kal-El Tegra SoC to use 5 cores
Recent news from NVIDIA has unveiled some interesting new technical details about the upcoming Kal-El ARM-based Tegra SoC. While we have known for some time that this chip would include a quad-core processor and would likely be the first ARM-based quad-core part on the market, NVIDIA's Matt Wuebbling spilled the beans on a new technology called "Variable SMP" (vSMP) and a fifth core on the die.
An updated diagram shows the fifth "companion" core - Courtesy NVIDIA
This patented technology allows the upcoming Tegra processor to address a couple of key issues that affect smartphones and tablets: standby power consumption and manufacturing process deviations. Even though all five of the cores on Kal-El are going to be based on the ARM Cortex A9 design they will have very different power characteristics due to variations in the TSMC 40nm process technology that builds them. Typical of most foundries and process technologies, TSMC has both a "high performance" and a "low power" derivative of the 40nm technology usually aimed at different projects. The higher performing variation will run at faster clock speeds but will also have more transistor leakages thus increasing overall power consumption. The low power option does just the opposite: lowers the frequency ceiling while using less power at idle and usage states.
CPU power and performance curves - Courtesy NVIDIA
NVIDIA's answer to this dilemma is to have both - a single A9 core built on the low power transistors and quad A9s built on the higher performing transistors. The result is the diagram you saw at the top of this story with a quad-core SoC with a single ARM-based "companion." NVIDIA is calling this strategy Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing and using some integrated hardware tricks it is able to switch between operating on the lower power core OR one to four of the higher power cores. The low power process will support operating frequencies up to only 500 MHz while the high speed process transistors will be able to hit well above 1-1.2 GHz.
Introduction and Specifications
Courtesy of ECS
ECS developed the HDC-I motherboard to take advantage of AMD's new Brazos platform that's based on the Hudson M1 chipset and their latest E-350 dual-core processor and integrated DDR3 800/1066 memory controller. The dual-core E-350 APU, which combines the CPU and GPU, brings a host of features to mini ITX enthusiasts like USB 3.0 compability, SATA 6Gb/s support, bluetooth and Radeon HD 6310 graphics and UVD 3 to play 3D Blu-ray and HD-1080P movies.
Courtesy of ECS
Another huge advantage of going with a mini ITX motherboard for your next home theater PC is the balance of computing power and power consumption that the AMD Brazos platform adds to the ECS HDC-I. The HDC-I is an energy-efficient motherboard that has integrated computing power and graphics firepower for users looking for an "all-in-one" solution for their next small form factor build.
The Mechanics of a Keyboard
During the duration of this review Razer announced two new mechanical keyboards, the BlackWidow Stealth and the BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth. This review is not for those products. Razer ninja’d me with stealth.
Keyboards are often overlooked during the purchase of a new computer; for many there does not appear to be any real difference between any two keyboards outside of wireless technology, backlighting, or extra keys. Those who game heavily or those who are typing enthusiasts for work or hobby might be in the market for a more personalized experience. There are whole categories of keyboard styles which allow a tailored solution to your personal style of use right down to the type of switch used to register a keystroke. Razer is no stranger to the production of input devices but they are stepping slightly out of their element with their recent products: The BlackWidow and the BlackWidow Ultimate, the first two from Razer which are based on mechanical switches.
Popping Razer’s CherryMX?
Membrane keyboards comprise the majority of the cheapest keyboards in the market with scissor-switch taking up the laptop and thin-profile keyboard market. Despite being cheap, these keyboards also have the advantage of being quite silent. A mechanical keyboard on the other hand uses an actual mechanical switch for each and every key. While such as system costs substantially more than a membrane keyboard the cost may be offset by the precision, the response, or the ability to type without “bottoming-out” each keystroke.
If the concept of a mechanical keyboard interests you then you will likely be dealing indirectly with Cherry Corp in the near future most likely with their MX line of switches. I say indirectly as Cherry avoids selling their keyboards except to business, industrial, governmental, and medical suppliers. For the rest of us there exist several companies who purchase large quantities of mechanical switches and manufactures keyboards with them for retail end-users. Some common mechanical keyboard brands include Filco, SteelSeries, XArmor, Optimus, Das Keyboard, and Ducky. Keep in mind that while there are many brands, almost all of their keyboards are produced by iOne, Datacomp, or Costar with a few exceptions. In our situation, Razer’s BlackWidow and BlackWidow Ultimate are produced by iOne who also produces the XArmor line of mechanical keyboards.
Read on for the rest of the review including benchmarks… yes that is possible!
Bulldozer Ships for Revenue
Some months back we covered the news that AMD had released its first revenue shipments of Llano. This was a big deal back then, as it was the first 32 nm based product from AMD, and one which could help AMD achieve power and performance parity with Intel in a number of platforms. Llano has gone on to be a decent seller for AMD, and it has had a positive effect on AMD’s marketshare in laptops. Where once AMD was a distant second in overall terms of power and performance in the mobile environment, Llano now allows them to get close to the CPU performance of the Intel processors, achieve much greater performance in graphics workloads, and has matched Intel in overall power consumption.
KY Wong and Marshall Kwait hand off the first box of Bulldozer based Interlagos processors to Cray's Joe Fitzgerald. Photo courtesy of AMD.
Some five months later we are now making the same type of announcement for AMD and their first revenue shipment of the Bulldozer core. The first chips off the line are actually “Interlagos” chips; basically server processors that feature upwards of 16 cores (8 modules, each module containing two integer units and then the shared 256 bit FPU/SSE SIMD unit). The first customer is Cray, purveyor of fine supercomputers everywhere. They will be integrating these new chips into their Cray XE6 supercomputers, which have been purchased by a handful of governmental and education entities around the world.
Introduction and Design
Tablets may be the darling of the tech industry, but they’ve also received their fair share of criticism as well. One of the most consistent barbs throw towards them is the tablet’s inability to serve as a competent platform for content creature. While it’s technically possible to write a document or edit an image on a tablet, it’s certainly not enjoyable.
Part of the problem is the lack of a keyboard and mouse. Touchscreens are beautiful and intuitive, but they’re not precise. While third-party cases and docks have tried to solve this issue, they’re often both clunky and expensive.
It’s little surprise that a tablet designed specifically to work in conjunction with a keyboard dock has hit the market, but it is surprising that the first such device comes from ASUS, a company with relatively little experience building mobile products. The Eee Pad Transformer is already the second-best selling tablet on the market (after the iPad, of course) and reports indicate sales are constrained by supply rather than demand. What is it that has made the Transformer a quick success?
Antec SOLO II Chassis Review
Antec is one of the most storied brands when it comes to enthusiast class components like cases and power supplies. Unfortunately, the whims of the gamer change on a breeze as most will swap between company allegiances whenever the performance or features dictate. Antec has fallen into this trap over the last few years as many in the community moved on from the likes of the ever-present P180 to newer and more innovative designs from other companies. Having realized this internally and making moves to take care of that slide, Antec is going to start producing some modern cases with improved specifications.
First up on the list is the SOLO II, part of the Antec Sonata line of "Quiet Computing" products. The original SOLO was released in early 2006 and since then much has changed in the world of chassis for gamers and those more interested in noise reduction. Antec is hoping that the SOLO II will actually address a large portion of BOTH crowds with its small footprint, many noise-deleting features and several enthusiast-class nods included.
Check out our video review of the SOLO II and keep reading for some images of the newest Antec chassis!
Introduction and Features
Kingwin just released their first fanless power supply, the Stryker Fanless 500W, which is rated for 500W and can be easily overclocked to 600W output with only a slight drop in efficiency. That makes the Stryker STR-500 one of the highest output fanless power supplies on the market today. And the Kingwin Stryker 500W Fanless power supply is certified 80 Plus Platinum with up to 92% efficiency. High efficiency is always good but it is critical for a fanless power supply to help minimize waste heat. Combine that with a good combination of fixed and modular cables and a 5-year warranty and we have a very interesting new product to review!
Kingwin has impressed us recently with several of their new power supplies, most notably the LZP-550W that we reviewed earlier this year, which won an Editor's Choice award. In addition to the new Stryker fanless PSU, Kingwin offers a complete lineup of PC power supplies ranging across seven categories along with PC chassis, external enclosures, docking stations, cooling systems, and accessories.
True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset
Cooler Master is a household name in the PC case world, and an established player in the cooling industry. Not content with those two areas, Cooler Master has expanded into power supplies, keyboards, mousepads, and a plethora of other accessories where they apparently make a tidy bundle. Coolermaster is now moving into a new area; gaming audio. Under the “CM Storm” brand, Coolermaster is releasing its own set of cans.
We were sent a production quality sample, but it did not come in the retail box that is availble now.
Cooler Master is hoping to deliver a profound audio experience to users with their CM Storm Sirus (not Sirius mind) True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headphones. The design and packaging certainly look impressive, but what counts in the end is the sound emanating from these products.
Is a GTX 590 just not enough for you?
A Legacy of Unique Engineering
ASUS has often been one of only a handful of companies that really pushes the limits of technology on their custom designed products including graphics cards, sound cards, notebooks, motherboards and more. Just a little over a year ago I wrote a review of the ASUS ARES Dual Radeon HD 5870 graphics card - the first of its kind and it was labeled the "Ultimate Graphics Card" at the time. Life on the top of mountain doesn't last that long in the world of the GPU though and time (and the GTX 590 and HD 6990) left the Greek god of war in the rearview mirror.
This time around we have a successor to the MARS - the NVIDIA version that combines two top-level GPUs on a single PCB. The new ASUS MARS II we are reviewing today is a pair of binned GTX 580 GPUs paired together for full-time SLI and built with a limited edition run of 999 units. In many ways the MARS II and the ARES share a lot of traits: custom designed cooling and PCB, a unique aesthetic design, limited edition status and significant physical weight as well. Of course, the price tag is also pretty high and if you aren't comfortable reading about a $1300 graphics card you might as well turn around now... For those that dare though, you can be sure that the MARS II will have you dreaming about PC gaming power for years to come!
Republic of Gamers Means Business
I have got to be honest with you - most of the time getting me excited for graphics cards any more is a chore. Unless we are talking about a new architecture from NVIDIA or AMD, card vendors are hard pressed to the same attention from me they used to a couple of years ago when every card release was something to pay attention to. Over the next week or so though it turns out that ASUS and Gigabyte have a few noteworthy items definitely worth some grade-A analysis and reviewing starting with today's: the ASUS ROG Matrix GTX 580 beast.
The Republic of Gamers brand is reserved for the highest-end parts from the company that are obviously targeted at three main segments. First, the serious gamers and enthusiasts that demand the top level performance either because they can't stand to lose at gaming or just want nothing but the best for their own experiences. Secondly are the professional overclockers that live on features and capabilities that most of us could only dream of pushing and that need LN2 to get the job done. Finally, the case modding groups that demand not only great performance, but sexy designs that add to the aesthetics of the design as whole and aren't boring. The ROG brand does a very commendable job of hitting all three of these groups in general and specifically with the new Matrix-series GTX 580.
In the following pages we will document what makes this card different, how it performs, how it overclocks and why it might be the best GTX 580 card on the market today.
MIA or Simply Retired?
It is awfully hard to deny the value proposition of the AMD HD 6970 graphics card. The card overall matches (and sometimes exceeds) the NVIDIA GTX 570 at a slightly lower price, it has 2 GB of frame buffer, and AMD is consistently improving not just gaming performance for the new VLIW 4 architecture, but also adding to its GPGPU support. Throw in the extra happiness of a more manageable power draw, pretty low heat production for a top end card, and it is also the fastest single GPU card when it comes to bitcoin mining. With all of these positives, why hasn’t everyone gone out to buy one? Simple, they simply are hard to come by anymore.
¿Dónde están las tarjetas gráficas?
Throughout Winter and Spring of this year, the HD 6970 was an easy card to acquire. Prices were very reasonable, supply seemed ample, and most every manufacturer had one in a configuration that would appeal to a lot of people. The HD 6950 was also in great supply, and it was also in a few unique configurations that adds more for the money than just the reference design. This Summer saw the pool of HD 6970 cards dry up, not to mention the complete lack of HD 6990 cards in retail altogether.
Introduction and Features
Courtesy of NZXT
NZXT added two mid-tower case offerings to its Tempest series today that feature custom solutions for dual-radiator watercooling systems and dual "touch-powered" 120mm front fans with removable filters. The Tempest 410 and Tempest 410 Elite are available for $79.99 and $89.99. Today, we are kicking the tires on the Tempest 410 Elite to ensure enthusiasts and overclockers get the most bang for their buck for their next mid-tower case upgrade.
Courtesy of NZXT
Both Tempest 410 and Tempest 410 Elite cases incorporate a honeycomb mesh design to the front, top, and back panels and advanced cable management systems for concealing loose wires and power cords. The Tempest 410 Elite ups the ante with an acrylic side panel to see all the hardware inside the chassis.
Introduction and Design
We have our heads in the clouds. Once a dream, cloud computing is now common and used to support everything from file sharing to email. Here at PC Perspective, for example, we often make use of Dropbox. Storing certain files “in the cloud” is much easier than directly emailing them to and fro.
Google is one of the cloud’s most ardent supporters. The Internet seems to be Google’s answer to everything from emails to file sharing to document editing. All these tasks can be accomplished online through a browser with a Google utility.
When Google announced that it was going to develop an entire OS based off its Chrome web browser there was much shock, speculation and excitement. In hindsight, however, this development was probably inevitable given the company’s love of everything online. Now, Google Chrome OS is a retail product. Let’s find out if a cloud OS can compete with more traditional options.
Last week we were in Dallas, Texas covering Quakecon 2011 as well as hosting our very own PC Perspective Hardware Workshop. While we had over 1100 attendees at the event and had a blast judging the case mod contest, one of the highlights of the event is always getting to sit down with John Carmack and pick his brain about topics of interest. We got about 30 minutes of John's time over the weekend and pestered him with questions about the GPU hardware race, how Intel's intergrated graphics (and AMD Fusion) fit in the future of PCs, the continuing debate about ray tracing, rasterization, voxels and infinite detail engines, key technologies for PC gamers like multi-display engines and a lot more!
One of our most read articles of all time was our previous interview with Carmack that focused a lot more on the ray tracing and rasterization debate. If you never read that, much of it is still very relevant today and is worth reading over.
This year though John has come full circle on several things including ray tracing, GPGPU workloads and even the advantages that console hardware has over PC gaming hardware.
Boring but Profitable
NVIDIA posted their latest results following the quarter ending on July 31, 2011. Unlike 2010 at this time, NVIDIA posted a strong quarter. Technically this is Q2 FY 2012 for NVIDIA. Last year’s results were pretty dismal with $811 million in gross revenue and a net loss of $140 million. This quarter was much stronger with $1.016 billion in gross revenue, and a healthy $150 million in net income.
This quarter was also up sequentially from last quarter’s $962 million gross revenue and $135 million net income. The only truly interesting thing about the increase is that there really was not very much interesting about it at all. All of the product groups showed either flat performance, or a marginal increase. The largest increases came from the mobile sector, which saw discrete mobile GPUs in laptop sales take a significant gain. Consumer desktop stayed pretty even, though NVIDIA has a much stronger mix of cards stretching from the $100 US mark to above $750 with the GeForce GTX 500 series.
Read the rest of the article after the break.
Introduction, Design and Ergonomics
Courtesy of Samsung
Samsung's first product to make a splash into the Android tablet market was the original 7" Tab, and while its performance numbers were on par with other similar tablets produced in 2010, it left many consumers wanting more multimedia, gaming, and productivity features like what was available with Apple's iPad and iPad2. Many vendors, including Samsung, were dealing the same issues and challenges associated with the lack of tablet support in Android-based games and applications because Android's SDK only comes in one flavor for general mobile devices, not tablets with larger displays.
Courtesy of Samsung
After hearing feedback from consumers and hardware reviewers, Samsung completely redesigned the Tab 10.1 to accommodate users eager for enhanced video and gaming capabilities that take advantage of modern technologies like Android's latest Honeycomb OS and NVIDIA's Tegra 2 processor that support higher resolution displays beyond 1024x768 (the Tab 10.1's display runs at 1280x800). They also gave the Tab 10.1 a slimmer profile that is comparable to the iPad2. The Tab 10.1 can be purchased for around $499 for the 16GB version and $599 for the 32GB version, which is also on par with its Apple counterparts. We are reviewing the 16GB version to check out all the new features in Honeycomb and see what surprises Samsung included with the Tab 10.1 that justify the $500 price tag.