Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The X99-A II motherboard is among the latest boards from ASUS, updating their existing product line with many new features including RGB LEDs and USB 3.1 support. The board supports all Intel LGA2011-3 based processors, including the new Broadwell-E processor, paired with DDR4 memory in up to a quad channel configuration. The ASUS-A II can be found in retail at an MSRP of $249, a virtual steal for the features and performance offered by this board.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS integrated the following features into the X99-A II board: eight SATA 3 ports; one SATA-Express port; one U.2 32Gbps port; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; an Intel I218-V Gigabit NIC; four PCI-Express x16 slots; two PCI-Express x1 slots; on-board power, reset, MemOK!, and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; Aura RGB LED 4-pin power header; RGB Q-Slot support; 2-digit Q-Code LED diagnostic display; Q-LED support; Crystal Sound 3 8-Channel audio subsystem; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Gen2 Type-A / Type-C port support.

Continue reading our preview of the ASUS Maximus VIII Impact motherboard!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction

Earlier this year we covered the lower two capacities of the Samsung 750 EVO. We had some requests for a review of the 500GB model as soon as it was added to their lineup, and Samsung promptly sent a sample, but I delayed that review in the interest of getting the full 750 EVO lineup tested under our new storage test suite. I've been running batches of SSDs through this new suite, and we now have enough data points to begin cranking out some reviews. The 750 EVO was at the head of the line, so we will be starting with it first. I'm 'reissuing' our review as a full capacity roundup of the 750 EVO lineup as these are fresh results on a completely new test suite.

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Specifications

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These are the 'Rev. 2' specifications from Samsung, which include the 500GB model of the 750 EVO. The changes are not significant, mainly a slight bump to random performance of the top capacity model along with a changeover to lower power DDR3 (of twice the capacity) for the 500GB model's system cache.

Packaging

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Nothing new here. This is the standard Samsung packaging for their SATA products.

Continue reading our full review of the Samsung 750 EVO series of SSDs!!

Subject: Systems, Mobile

Vulkan 1.0, OpenGL 4.5, and OpenGL ES 3.2 on a console

A few days ago, sharp eyes across the internet noticed that Nintendo’s Switch console has been added to lists of compliant hardware at The Khronos Group. Vulkan 1.0 was the eye-catcher, although the other tabs also claims conformance with OpenGL 4.5 and OpenGL ES 3.2. The device is not listed as compatible with OpenCL, although that does not really surprise me for a single-GPU gaming system. The other three APIs have compute shaders designed around the needs of game developers. So the Nintendo Switch conforms to the latest standards of the three most important graphics APIs that a gaming device should use -- awesome.

But what about performance?

In other news, Eurogamer / Digital Foundary and VentureBeat uncovered information about the hardware. It will apparently use a Tegra X1, which is based around second-generation Maxwell, that is under-clocked from what we see on the Shield TV. When docked, the GPU will be able to reach 768 MHz on its 256 CUDA cores. When undocked, this will drop to 307.2 MHz (although the system can utilize this mode while docked, too). This puts the performance at ~315 GFLOPs when in mobile, pushing up to ~785 GFLOPs when docked.

You might compare this to the Xbox One, which runs at ~1310 GFLOPs, and the PlayStation 4, which runs at ~1840 GFLOPs. This puts the Nintendo Switch somewhat behind it, although the difference is even greater than that. The FLOP calculation of Sony and Microsoft is 2 x Shader Count x Frequency, but the calculation of Nintendo’s Switch is 4 x Shader Count x Frequency. FMA is the factor of two, but the extra factor of two in Nintendo’s case... ...

Yup, the Switch’s performance rating is calculated as FP16, not FP32.

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Snippet from an alleged leak of what Nintendo is telling developers.
If true, it's very interesting that FP16 values are being discussed as canonical.

Reducing shader precision down to 16-bit is common for mobile devices. It takes less transistors to store and translate half-precision values, and accumulated error will be muted by the fact that you’re viewing it on a mobile screen. The Switch isn’t always a mobile device, though, so it will be interesting to see how this reduction of lighting and shading precision will affect games on your home TV, especially in titles that don’t follow Nintendo’s art styles. That said, shaders could use 32-bit values, but then you are cutting your performance for those instructions in half, when you are already somewhat behind your competitors.

As for the loss of performance when undocked, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue if Nintendo pressures developers to hit 1080p when docked. If that’s the case, the lower resolution, 720p mobile screen will roughly scale with the difference in clock.

Lastly, there is a bunch of questions surrounding Nintendo’s choice of operating system: basically, all the questions. It’s being developed by Nintendo, but we have no idea what they forked it from. NVIDIA supports the Tegra SoC on both Android and Linux, it would be legal for Nintendo to fork either one, and Nintendo could have just asked for drivers even if NVIDIA didn’t already support the platform in question. Basically, anything is possible from the outside, and I haven’t seen any solid leaks from the inside.

The Nintendo Switch launches in March.

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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The Strider Platinum Series is one of SilverStone’s most complete and popular lines of power supplies with PC enthusiasts. Starting at 550W and going up to 1200W, the Strider Platinum Series includes six different models. The four 550W thru 850W models feature a compact chassis measuring only 140mm deep. The two high output models (1000W and 1200W) forgo the small enclosure and step up to a larger chassis and 140mm fan.

All of the SilverStone Strider Platinum power supplies come with 80 Plus Platinum certification for high efficiency and fully modular cables. Earlier this year, we took a look at two of the compact chassis units (ST55F-PT and ST85F-PT) and found them to be very capable power supplies. In this review, we will be taking a detailed look at the Strider Platinum Series ST1000-PT.

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SilverStone Strider Platinum Series ST1000-PT Key Features:
 
•    1000W DC power output
•    High efficiency with 80 Plus Platinum certification
•    100% Modular cables
•    Intelligent semi-fanless operation
•    Quiet 140mm cooling fan with FF141 dust filter
•    24/7 Continuous power output with 40°C operating temperature
•    Strict ±3% voltage regulation and low AC ripple
•    Dedicated single +12V rail (83A/996W)
•    Universal AC input (90-264V) with Active PFC
•    DC Output protections: UVP, OVP, OPP, SCP, OCP, and OTP
•    Dimensions: 150mm (W) x 86mm (H) x 180mm (L)
•    5-Year warranty
•    MSRP : $189.99 USD

Please continue reading our review of the SilverStone 1000W Platinum PSU !!!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

PC Components

It's that time of year again where the holidays are upon us, it's freezing outside, and balancing work, school, and family events makes us all a bit crazy. If you are still procrastinating on your holiday shopping or are just not sure what to get the techie that seems to have everything already, PC Perspective has you covered! And if you dare not venture outside into the winter wasteland, there is still time to order online and have it arrive in time!

Following the same format as previous years, the first set of pages are picks that the staff has put together collectively and are recommendations for things like PC hardware components like CPUs, graphics cards, and coolers, mobile hardware (phones, tablets, etc.), and finally accessories and audio. Beyond that, the staff members are given a section to suggest picks of their own that may not fit into one of the main categories but are still thoughtful and useful gift ideas!

Good luck out there, and thank you for another wonderful year of your valued readership! May you have safe travels and memorable holidays!

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Image courtesy maf04 via Flickr creative commons.

Processors

Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $344, Amazon

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It's a bit of an interesting time for CPUs with Intel's Kaby Lake (e.g. 7700K) not out yet and AMD's Ryzen Zen-based (e.g. 8 core Summit Ridge) processors slated for release early next year. Last year the i7-6700K was  our top pick, and due to timing of upcoming releases, it is still the pick for this year though it may be wise to look at other gift ideas this year unless they really want that gaming PC ASAP. On the plus side, it is a bit cheaper than last year! You can read our review of the Core i7 6700K here.

AMD Athlon X4 880K Unlocked Quad Core - $92, Amazon

On the AMD side of things, the Athlon X4 880K is a great processor to base a budget gaming build around. The pricing works out a bit cheaper than the old 860K as well as offering slightly faster clockspeeds and a better stock cooler.

Continue reading our holiday gift guide for our picks for graphics cards, storage, and more!

Graphics Cards

NVIDIA GTX 1080 (EVGA FTW Hybrid) - $730, EVGA (Amazon has non FTW Hybrid for $700)

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The NVIDIA GTX 1080 is the current consumer-grade performance king, and there are a number of brands to choose from. Whichever you go with, the Pascal-based graphics card is ready for 1440 and even 4k gaming along with VR (virtual reality) gaming. The EVGA FTW Hybrid is a beast of a card that can easily be overclocked with keeping temperatures in check.

If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, AMD's RX 480 is a great midrange graphics card that can easily do 1080p with the details cranked up. Sapphire has a good factory overclocked card with the RX 480 Nitro+ which can be found for $250. For reference, check out our reviews on the RX 480 (we also have a video of the Sapphire card specifically) and it's competitor the GTX 1060.

Storage

Samsung 960 Evo 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD - $480, Amazon

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Samsung's recently released 960 Evo is not the fastest SSD available, but it's no slouch either. Using Samsung's TLC V-NAND flash, its Polaris controller, and 1GB of DDR3 cache, the drive packs 1TB of speedy storage into the M.2 form factor. The NVMe SSD is rated at 3,200 MB/s sequential reads, 1,900 MB/s sequential writes, 380,000 4k random reads and 360,000 4k random writes (IOPS ratings at QD32). It is rated at 1.5 million hours MTBF and while it does not have the lifetime or write speeds of the pro version (960 Pro), it is quite a bit cheaper! The gamer in your life will appreciate the super fast loading times too!

If you are looking for something a bit more down to earth, SATA SSDs continue to get cheaper and more capacious and there are even some good budget M.2 options these days!

MyDigitalSSD BPX 480GB NVMe M.2 SSD - $200, Amazon

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MyDigitalSSD's BPX solid state drive pairs a Phison PS5007-E7 controller with up to 480GB of 2D MLC NAND. The drive is rated at a respectable 2,600 MB/s sequential reads, 1,300 MB/s sequential writes, and approximately 208,728 4k random read IOPS and 202,713 4k random write IOPS. Despite being from a less well known company, the budget drive puts up very nice numbers for the price and comes with a 5 year warranty, 2 million hours MTBF rating, and 1,400 TB total bytes written rating on the flash. Pricing is much more budget friendly at $200 for the 480GB model, $115 for the 240GB, and $70 for the 120GB drive.

SATA SSD Recommendations

SATA SSDs are still great options for a system build and/or HDD upgrade, and Allyn has a few picks later on in this guide.

The following pages are individual selections / gift ideas from each staff member!

Continue with the rest of our last minute holiday gift guide for nerds!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Das Keyboard

Premium Minimalism

Das Keyboard describes their products as "the ultimate experience for badasses", and the Austin, TX based company has delivered premium designs since their initial (completely blank) keyboard in 2005. The Prime 13 is a traditional 104-key design (with labeled keys), and features Cherry MX Brown switches and simple white LED backlighting. So it is a truly "badass" product? Read on to find out!

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"Das Keyboard Prime 13 is a minimalist mechanical keyboard designed to take productivity to the next level. Free of fancy features, the Prime 13 delivers an awesome typing experience by focusing on premium material and simple design. Featuring an anodized aluminum top panel, Cherry MX switches with white LEDs, USB pass-through and an extra-long braided cable, the Prime 13 is the ideal mechanical keyboard for overachievers who want get the job done."

I don't need to tell prospective mechanical keyboard buyers that the market is very crowded, and it seems to grow every month. Just about PC accessory maker offers at least one option, and many have tried to distinguish themselves with RGB lighting effects and software with game-specific profiles and the like. So is there still room for a simple, non-RGB keyboard with no special software involved? I think so, but it will need to be quite a premium design to justify a $149 price tag, and that's what the Prime 13 will run at retail. First impressions are very good, but I'll try to cover the experience as well as I can in text and photos in this review.

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A close look at the MX Brown switches within the Prime 13

Continue reading our review of the Das Keyboard Prime 13 mechanical keyboard!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD
Tagged: Zen, ryzen, processor, cpu, amd

Ryzen coming in 2017

As much as we might want it to be, today is not the day that AMD launches its new Zen processors to the world. We’ve been teased with it for years now, with trickles of information at event after event…but we are going to have to wait a little bit longer with one more tease at least. Today’s AMD is announcing the official branding of the consumer processors based on Zen, previously code named Summit Ridge, along with a clock speed data point and a preview of five technology that will help it be competitive with the Intel Core lineup.

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The future consumer desktop processor from AMD will now officially be known as Ryzen. That’s pronounced “RISE-IN” not “RIS-IN”, just so we are all on the same page. CEO Lisa Su was on stage during the reveal at a media event last week and claimed that while media, fans and AMD fell in love with the Zen name, it needed a differentiation from the architecture itself. The name is solid – not earth shattering though I foresee a long life of mispronunciation ahead of it.

Now that we have the official branding behind us, let’s get to the rest of the disclosed information we can reveal today.

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We already knew that Summit Ridge would ship with an 8 core, 16 thread version (with lower core counts at lower prices very likely) but now we know a frequency and a cache size. AMD tells us that there will be a processor (the flagship) that will have a base clock of 3.4 GHz with boost clocks above that. How much above that is still a mystery – AMD is likely still tweaking its implementation of boost to get as much performance as possible for launch. This should help put those clock speed rumors to rest for now.

The 20MB of cache matches the Core i7-6900K, though obviously with some dramatic architecture differences between Broadwell and Zen, the effect and utilization of that cache will be interesting measure next year.

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We already knew that Ryzen will be utilizing the AM4 platform, but it’s nice to see it reiterated a modern feature set and expandability. DDR4 memory, PCI Express Gen3, native USB 3.1 and NVMe support – there are all necessary building blocks for a modern consumer and enthusiast PC. We still should see how many of these ports the chipset offers and how aggressive motherboard companies like ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte are in their designs. I am hoping there are as many options as would see for an X99/Z170 platform, including budget boards in the $100 space as well as “anything and everything” options for those types of buyers that want to adopt AMD’s new CPU.

Continue reading our latest preview of AMD Zen, now known as Ryzen!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Enters Machine Learning Game with Radeon Instinct Products

NVIDIA has been diving in to the world of machine learning for quite a while, positioning themselves and their GPUs at the forefront on artificial intelligence and neural net development. Though the strategies are still filling out, I have seen products like the DIGITS DevBox place a stake in the ground of neural net training and platforms like Drive PX to perform inference tasks on those neural nets in self-driving cars. Until today AMD has remained mostly quiet on its plans to enter and address this growing and complex market, instead depending on the compute prowess of its latest Polaris and Fiji GPUs to make a general statement on their own.

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The new Radeon Instinct brand of accelerators based on current and upcoming GPU architectures will combine with an open-source approach to software and present researchers and implementers with another option for machine learning tasks.

The statistics and requirements that come along with the machine learning evolution in the compute space are mind boggling. More than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated daily and stored on phones, PCs and servers, both on-site and through a cloud infrastructure. That includes 500 million tweets, 4 million hours of YouTube video, 6 billion google searches and 205 billion emails.

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Machine intelligence is going to allow software developers to address some of the most important areas of computing for the next decade. Automated cars depend on deep learning to train, medical fields can utilize this compute capability to more accurately and expeditiously diagnose and find cures to cancer, security systems can use neural nets to locate potential and current risk areas before they affect consumers; there are more uses for this kind of network and capability than we can imagine.

Continue reading our preview of the AMD Radeon Instinct machine learning processors!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Third annual release

For the past two years, AMD has made a point of releasing one major software update to Radeon users and gamers annually. In 2014 this started with Catalyst Omega, a dramatic jump in performance, compatibility testing and new features were the story. We were told that for the first time in a very long while, and admitting this was the most important aspect to me, AMD was going to focus on building great software with regular and repeated updates. In 2015 we got a rebrand along with the release: Radeon Software Crimson Edition.  AMD totally revamped the visual and user experience of the driver software, bringing into the modern world of style and function. New features and added performance were also the hallmarks of this release, with a stronger promise to produce more frequent drivers to address any performance gaps, stability concerns and to include new features.

For December 2016 and into the new year, AMD is launching the Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition driver. While the name might seem silly, it will make sense as we dive into the new features.

While you may have seen the slides leak out through some other sites over the past 48 hours, I thought it was worth offering my input on the release.

Not a performance focused story

The first thing that should be noted with the ReLive Edition is that AMD isn’t making any claims of substantially improved performance. Instead, the Radeon Technologies Group software team is dedicated to continued and frequent iterations that improve performance gradually over time.

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As you can see in the slide above, AMD is showing modest 4-8% performance gains on the Radeon RX 480 with the Crimson ReLive driver, and even then, its being compared to the launch driver of 16.6.2.  That is significantly lower than the claims made in previous major driver releases. Talking with AMD about this concern, it told us that they don’t foresee any dramatic, single large step increases in performance going forward. The major design changes that were delivered over the last several years, starting with a reconstruction of the CrossFire system thanks to our testing, have been settled. All we should expect going forward is a steady trickle of moderate improvements.

(Obviously, an exception may occur here or there, like with a new game release.)

Radeon ReLive Capture and Streaming Feature

So, what is new? The namesake feature for this driver is the Radeon ReLive application that is built in. ReLive is a capture and streaming tool that will draw obvious comparisons to what NVIDIA has done with GeForce Experience. The ReLive integration is clean and efficient, well designed and seems easy to use in my quick time with it. There are several key capabilities it offers.

First, you can record your gameplay with the press of a hotkey; this includes the ability to record and capture the desktop as well. AMD has included a bevy of settings for your captures to adjust quality, resolution, bitrate, FPS and more.

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ReLive supports resolutions up to 4K30 with the Radeon R9 series of GPUs and up to 1440p30 with the RX 480/470/460. That includes both AVC H.264 and HEVC H.265.

Along with recording is support for background capture, called Instant Replay. This allows the gamer to always record in the background, up to 20 minutes, so you can be sure you capture amazing moments that happen during your latest gaming session. Hitting a hotkey will save the clip permanently to the system.

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Continue reading our overview of the new AMD Radeon Crimson ReLive driver!

Author:
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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2016 has been another busy year for EVGA as they continue to expand their product offerings. EVGA recently introduced five power supplies in the new Supernova G3 Series. Compared to the original G2 Series, these new power supplies offer improved performance, a smaller chassis, and incorporate a hydraulic dynamic bearing fan. We will be taking a detailed look at the entry level 550 G3 in this review.

•    EVGA SuperNOVA 550W G3 ($89.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 650W G3 ($109.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 750W G3 ($129.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 850W G3 ($139.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 1000W G3 ($159.99 USD)

The Supernova G3 Series is based on EVGA’s popular G2 series but now comes in a smaller chassis measuring only 150mm (5.9”) deep. The G3 Series also uses a 130mm cooling fan with a hydraulic dynamic bearing for quiet operation and extended life.

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The Supernova G3 series power supplies are 80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency and feature all modular cables, high-quality Japanese brand capacitors, and EVGA’s ECO Intelligent Thermal Control System which enables fan-less operation at low to mid power. All G3 series power supplies are NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire Ready and are backed by either a 7-year (550W and 650W) or 10-year (750W, 850W and 1000W) EVGA warranty.

EVGA SuperNOVA 550W G3 PSU Key Features:

•    80 PLUS Gold certified, with up to 90%/92% efficiency (115VAC/240VAC)
•    Highest quality Japanese brand capacitors ensure long-term reliability
•    Fully modular cables to reduce clutter and improve airflow
•    Quiet 130mm hydraulic dynamic bearing fan for long life
•    ECO Intelligent Thermal Control allows silent, fan-less operation at low power
•    NVIDIA SLI & AMD Crossfire Ready
•    Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
•    Heavy-duty protections: OVP, UVP, OCP, OPP, SCP, and OTP
•    7-Year warranty with unparalleled EVGA Customer Support

Please continue reading our review of the EVGA 550W G3 PSU!!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

Maybe Good that Valve Called their API OpenVR?

Update, December 6th, 2016 @ 2:46pm EST: Khronos has updated the images on their website, and those changes are now implemented on our post. The flow-chart image changed dramatically, but the members image has also added LunarG.

Original Post Below

The Khronos Group has just announced their VR initiative, which is in the early, call for participation stage. The goal is to produce an API that can be targeted by drivers from each vendor, so that applications can write once and target all compatible devices. The current list of participants are: Epic Games, Google, Oculus VR, Razer, Valve, AMD, ARM, Intel, NVIDIA, VeriSilicon, Sensics, and Tobii. The point of this announcement is to get even more companies involved, before it matures.

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group

Valve, in particular, has donated their OpenVR API to Khronos Group. I assume that this will provide the starting point for the initiative, similar to how AMD donated Mantle to found Vulkan, which overcomes the decision paralysis of a blank canvas. Also, especially for VR, I doubt these decisions would significantly affect individual implementations. If it does, though, now would be the time for them to propose edits.

In terms of time-frame, it’s early enough that the project scope hasn’t even been defined, so schedules can vary. They do claim that, based on past experiences, about 18 months is “often typical”.

That’s about it for the announcement; on to my analysis.

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group, modified

First, it’s good that The Khronos Group are the ones taking this on. Not only do they have the weight to influence the industry, especially with most of these companies having already collaborated on other projects, like OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan, but their standards tend to embrace extensions. This allows Oculus, Valve, and others to add special functionality that can be picked up by applications, but still be compatible at a base level with the rest of the ecosystem. To be clear, the announcement said nothing about extensions, but it would definitely make sense for VR, which can vary with interface methods, eye-tracking, player tracking, and so forth.

If extensions end up being a thing, this controlled competition allows the standard as a whole to evolve. If an extension ends up being popular, that guides development of multi-vendor extensions, which eventually may be absorbed into the core specification. On the other hand, The Khronos Group might decide that, for VR specifically, the core functionality is small and stable enough that extensions would be unnecessary. Who knows at this point.

Second, The Khronos Group stated that Razer joined for this initiative specifically. A few days ago, we posted news and assumed that they wanted to have input into an existing initiative, like Vulkan. While they still might, their main intentions are to contribute to this VR platform.

Third, there are a few interesting omissions from the list of companies.

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Microsoft, who recently announced a VR ecosystem for Windows 10 (along with the possibly-applicable HoloLens of course), and is a member of the Khronos Group, isn’t part of the initiative, at least not yet. This makes sense from a historical standpoint, as Microsoft tends to assert control over APIs from the ground up. They are, or I should say were, fairly reluctant to collaborate, unless absolutely necessary. This has changed recently, starting with their participation with the W3C, because good God I hope web browsers conform to a standard, but also their recent membership with the Khronos Group, hiring ex-Mozilla employees, and so forth. Microsoft has been lauding how they embrace openness lately, but not in this way yet.

Speaking of Mozilla, that non-profit organization has been partnered with Google on WebVR for a few years now. While Google is a member of this announcement, it seems to be mostly based around their Daydream initiative. The lack of WebVR involvement with whatever API comes out of this initiative is a bit disappointing, but, again, it’s early days. I hope to see Mozilla and the web browser side of Google jump in and participate, especially if video game engines continue to experiment with cross-compiling to Web standards.

It's also surprising to not see Qualcomm's name on this list. The dominant mobile SoC vendor is a part of many Khronos-based groups including Vulkan, OpenCL, and others, so it's odd to have this omission here. It is early, so there isn't any reason to have concern over a split, but Qualcomm's strides into VR with development kits, platform advancements and other initiatives have picked up in recent months and I imagine it will have input on what this standard becomes.

And that’s all that I can think of at the moment. If you have any interests or concerns, be sure to drop a line in the comments. Registration is not required.

Manufacturer: DEEPCOOL

Introduction and First Impressions

The GENOME is the world’s first computer case with an integrated liquid-cooling system, and this unique design allows users to simply drop in the main system components and have a complete system with liquid cooling loop (and with very little effort).

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“One of the first things many of us look at when considering the purchase of a new case is whether it will accommodate the cooling subsystem that we’d like to install in our next build. Can you install big enough radiators? Is there room in the main interior space for the reservoir and pump that you have your eye on? How will it look when everything is put together? To improve PC user experience is why DEEPCOOL comes up with GENOME, which is a PC hardware component, consists of an ATX PC case and an extreme liquid cooling system.”

When I first heard about the GENOME I was nonplussed - wondering how I would even go about reviewing at since it defies conventional classification. It’s as much a CPU cooler as a case, and DEEPCOOL calls this simply a “cooling system”. But however you label it there is no doubt that this novel concept has the potential to produce a polished build with a minimal effort (if it is well-designed, of course).

If you have switched cases as often as I do (no one should - I do it once every week or two), you might appreciate any sort of labor-saving design in a case. As a reviewer moving a test system from one enclosure to the next, I just want an easy build with adequate clearance and good cable management (these requirements are true for most normal people as well). Some cases are much easier to build in that others, and I was very curious to see how something which sounds quite complex would actually come together.

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Continue reading our review of the Deepcool GamerStorm GENOME liquid-cooled case!!

Move Over T150...

The Thrustmaster TMX was released this past summer to address the Xbox One ecosystem with an affordable, entry level force-feedback wheel.  This is essentially the Xbox version of the previously reviewed Thrustmaster T150 for the PS3/PS4.  There are many things that these two wheels have in common, but there are a few significant differences as well.  The TMX is also PC compatible, which is what I tested it upon.

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A no-nonsense box design that lets the buyer know exactly what systems this product is for.

The Basics

The TMX is priced at an MSRP of $199.  Along with the T150 this is truly an entry level FFB wheel with all of the features that racers desire.  The wheel itself is 11” wide and the base is compact, with a solid feel.  Unlike the T150, the TMX is entirely decked out in multiple shades of black.  The majority of the unit is a dark, slick black while the rubber grips have a matte finish.  The buttons on the wheel are colored appropriately according to the Xbox controller standards (yellow, blue, green, and red).  The other buttons are black with a couple of them having some white stenciling on them.

The motor in this part is not nearly as powerful as what we find in the TX and T300rs base units.  Those are full pulley based parts with relatively strong motors while the TMX is a combination gear and pulley system.  This provides a less expensive setup than the full pulley systems of the higher priced parts, but it still is able to retain pretty strong FFB.  Some of the more subtle effects may be lost due to the setup, but it is far and away a better solution than units that feature bungee cords and basic rumble functionality.

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The back shows a basic diagram of the mixed pulley and geared subsystem for force-feedback.

The wheel features a 12 bit optical pickup sensor for motion on the wheel.  This translates into 4096 values through 360 degrees of rotation.  This is well below the 16 bit units of the TX and T300rs bases, but in my racing I did not find it to be holding me back.  Yes, the more expensive units are more accurate and utilize the Hall Effect rather than an optical pickup, but the TMX provides more than enough precision for the vast majority of titles out there.  The pedals look to feature the same 10 bit resolution that most other Thrustmaster pedals offer, or about 1024 values for several inches of travel.

Click to read the entire wheel review!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: AUKEY

Introduction and First Impressions

Aukey, a prominent seller of mobile accessories on Amazon, has an interesting product for PC enthusiasts: an RGB mechanical gaming keyboard for $59.99. The price is definitely right, but is it any good? We’ll take a look!

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“The AUKEY KM-G3 mechanical keyboard takes the gaming experience to a new level. Tactile, responsive mechanical keys put you in control for an outstanding typing or gaming experience. The KM-G3 offers preloaded multi-color RGB backlit lighting effects and patterns. Ideal for FPS, CF, COD, LOL and Racing games - Just use the Function key to easily switch between gaming presets.”

The KM-G3 keyboard is a standard 104-key design, using blue switches (presumably a generic switch as no brand is listed), and there is RGB lighting which can be cycled between various colors and patterns, or switched off if desired. Aukey is also offering a 2-year warranty on the keyboard, which should help allay any fear about a purchase.

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Continue reading our review of the AUKEY KM-G3 RGB mechanical gaming keyboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: XFX

Introduction and Features

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Introduction

Today we are taking a detailed look at the XFX TS Series 750W Gold Full Wired power supply. The TS Series Gold Full Wired sits square in the middle of XFX’s power supply lineup and comes in three different sizes: 550W, 650W, and 750W. As you might guess from the name, all three power supplies are certified to meet the 80 Plus Gold efficiency requirements and come with fixed cables.

The TS Series Gold Full Wired power supplies are based on Seasonic’s very successful S12G platform, which delivers great performance using high quality components without a lot of frills. All the TS Series power supplies feature a single +12V rail (XFX EasyRail Plus Technology), Japanese made 105°C capacitors, quiet 120mm ball bearing fan, and they come backed by XFX’s 5-year warranty. The power supplies feature a compact chassis that measures only 140mm (5.5”) deep and carry over a few of XFX’s premium brand designs like their iconic fan grill and bold labelling.

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The TS Series Gold Full Wired power supplies are targeted towards gamers and PC enthusiasts who want solid performance at a user friendly price. To accomplish this XFX has forgone a few features like modular cables, Platinum level efficiency and fanless operation for price conscious consumers. The MSRP for the TS Series Gold 750W power supply is $89.99 USD.

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XFX TS Series Gold Full Wired Power Supply Key Features:

•    550W, 650W or 750W continuous DC output
•    80 Plus Gold certification for high efficiency
•    Ultra-quiet 120mm fan design
•    Tight voltage regulation
•    Haswell ready
•    Japanese made 105°C capacitors
•    EasyRail Plus Technology (single +12V rail)
•    Multiple PCI-E 6+2 pin connectors
•    AMD CrossFire and NVIDIA SLI Ready
•    Protections: OPP,OVP,UVP,SCP,OCP and OTP
•    Compact chassis measuring only 140mm (5.5 in) deep
•    5-Year Manufacturer’s warranty
•    MSRP for the TS750 is $89.99 USD

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Here is what XFX has to say about the TS Series Gold Full Wired power supply line:

Professional gaming products for hardcore gamers. The XFX TS Series 750W Full Wired PSU is an 80 Plus Gold certified PSU that combines great performance, innovative design, and the high quality required by hardcore gamers and DIY enthusiasts. Advanced EasyRail technology allows you to run power-hungry components, such as a CPU and GPU, without worrying about individual rail limits. Enjoy first-class reliability and stability with 105°C Japanese capacitors.

Please continue reading our review of the XFX TS750 power supply!

Introduction and Case Exterior

The Define Mini C is the micro-ATX variant in Fractal Design's excellent Define series, and this compact chassis is nearly as small as some of the mini-ITX cases we've looked at in recent months. The advantages of micro-ATX for a small form-factor build are undeniable, including added expansion slots (and multi-GPU support), and more robust power delivery for greater CPU flexibility including AMD socket AM3/AM3+ support.

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I freely admit to being a small form-factor enthusiast myself, and as much as I like mini-ITX, there are times when micro-ATX just makes sense. I mentioned AMD compatibility above, but even if you're building with Intel there are reasons to consider mATX. One of these is Intel's enthusiast platform, as X99 requires at least a micro-ATX board for quad-channel memory and greater PCIe flexibility. (Naturally, at least one mITX X99 board is available, but this is limited to a pair of memory slots and - of course - has just one PCIe slot.)

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As soon as I unpacked the Define Mini C, I knew it would make a perfect home for the EVGA X99 Micro2 motherboard I had on hand. This micro-ATX board makes a compelling argument for the smaller form-factor, as very little is lost vs. full ATX. The Mini C (which sounds like the name of a mini-ITX product, but Fractal's mITX variant is the called Nano S - which I reviewed a few months back) should make a great home for a powerful compact system. Let's get started!

Continue reading our review of the Fractal Design Define Mini C case!!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A Holiday Project

A couple of years ago, I performed an experiment around the GeForce GTX 750 Ti graphics card to see if we could upgrade basic OEM, off-the-shelf computers to become competent gaming PCs. The key to this potential upgrade was that the GTX 750 Ti offered a great amount of GPU horsepower (at the time) without the need for an external power connector. Lower power requirements on the GPU meant that even the most basic of OEM power supplies should be able to do the job.

That story was a success, both in terms of the result in gaming performance and the positive feedback it received. Today, I am attempting to do that same thing but with a new class of GPU and a new class of PC games.

The goal for today’s experiment remains pretty much the same: can a low-cost, low-power GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card that also does not require any external power connector offer enough gaming horsepower to upgrade current shipping OEM PCs to "gaming PC" status?

Our target PCs for today come from Dell and ASUS. I went into my local Best Buy just before the Thanksgiving holiday and looked for two machines that varied in price and relative performance.

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  Dell Inspiron 3650 ASUS M32CD-B09
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 Intel Core i7-6700
Motherboard Custom Custom
Memory 8GB DDR4 12GB DDR4
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics 530 Intel HD Graphics 530
Storage 1TB HDD 1TB Hybrid HDD
Case Custom Custom
Power Supply 240 watt 350 watt
OS Windows 10 64-bit Windows 10 64-bit
Total Price $429 (Best Buy) $749 (Best Buy)

The specifications of these two machines are relatively modern for OEM computers. The Dell Inspiron 3650 uses a modest dual-core Core i3-6100 processor with a fixed clock speed of 3.7 GHz. It has a 1TB standard hard drive and a 240 watt power supply. The ASUS M32CD-B09 PC has a quad-core HyperThreaded processor with a 4.0 GHz maximum Turbo clock, a 1TB hybrid hard drive and a 350 watt power supply. Both of the CPUs share the same Intel brand of integrated graphics, the HD Graphics 520. You’ll see in our testing that not only is this integrated GPU unqualified for modern PC gaming, but it also performs quite differently based on the CPU it is paired with.

Continue reading our look at upgrading an OEM machine with the GTX 1050 Ti!!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction

In August at the company’s annual developer forum, Intel officially took the lid off its 7th generation of Core processor series, codenamed Kaby Lake. The build up to this release has been an interesting one as we saw the retirement of the “tick tock” cadence of processor releases and instead are moving into a market where Intel can spend more development time on a single architecture design to refine and tweak it as the engineers see fit. With that knowledge in tow, I believed, as I think many still do today, that Kaby Lake would be something along the lines of a simple rebrand of current shipping product. After all, since we know of no major architectural changes from Skylake other than improvements in the video and media side of the GPU, what is left for us to look forward to?

As it turns out, the advantages of the 7th Generation Core processor family and Kaby Lake are more substantial than I expected. I was able to get a hold of two different notebooks from the HP Spectre lineup, as near to identical as I could manage, with the primary difference being the move from the 6th Generation Skylake design to the 7th Generation Kaby Lake. After running both machines through a gamut of tests ranging from productivity to content creation and of course battery life, I can say with authority that Intel’s 7th Gen product deserves more accolades than it is getting.

Architectural Refresher

Before we get into the systems and to our results, I think it’s worth taking some time to quickly go over some of what we know about Kaby Lake from the processor perspective. Most of this content was published back in August just after the Intel Developer Forum, so if you are sure you are caught up, you can jump right along to a pictorial look at the two notebooks being tested today.

At its core, the microarchitecture of Kaby Lake is identical to that of Skylake. Instructions per clock (IPC) remain the same with the exception of dedicated hardware changes in the media engine, so you should not expect any performance differences with Kaby Lake except with improved clock speeds.

Also worth noting is that Intel is still building Kaby Lake on 14nm process technology, the same used on Skylake. The term “same” will be debated as well as Intel claims that improvements made in the process technology over the last 24 months have allowed them to expand clock speeds and improve on efficiency.

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Dubbing this new revision of the process as “14nm+”, Intel tells me that they have improved the fin profile for the 3D transistors as well as channel strain while more tightly integrating the design process with manufacturing. The result is a 12% increase in process performance; that is a sizeable gain in a fairly tight time frame even for Intel.

That process improvement directly results in higher clock speeds for Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake when running at the same target TDPs. In general, we are looking at 300-400 MHz higher peak clock speeds in Turbo Boost situations when compared to similar TDP products in the 6th generation. Sustained clocks will very likely remain voltage / thermally limited but the ability spike up to higher clocks for even short bursts can improve performance and responsiveness of Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake.

Along with higher fixed clock speeds for Kaby Lake processors, tweaks to Speed Shift will allow these processors to get to peak clock speeds more quickly than previous designs. I extensively tested Speed Shift when the feature was first enabled in Windows 10 and found that the improvement in user experience was striking. Though the move from Skylake to Kaby Lake won’t be as big of a change, Intel was able to improve the behavior.

The graphics architecture and EU (execution unit) layout remains the same from Skylake, but Intel was able to integrate a new video decode unit to improve power efficiency. That new engine can work in parallel with the EUs to improve performance throughput as well, but obviously at the expensive of some power efficiency.

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Specific additions to the codec lineup include decode support for 10-bit HEVC and 8/10-bit VP9 as well as encode support for 10-bit HEVC and 9-bit VP9. The video engine adds HDR support with tone mapping though it does require EU utilization. Wide Color Gamut (Rec. 2020) is prepped and ready to go according to Intel for when that standard starts rolling out to displays.

Performance levels for these new HEVC encode/decode blocks is set to allow for 4K 120mbps real-time on both the Y-series (4.5 watt) and U-series (15 watt) processors.

It’s obvious that the changes to Kaby Lake from Skylake are subtle and even I found myself overlooking the benefits that it might offer. While the capabilities it has will be tested on the desktop side at a later date in 2017, for thin and light notebooks, convertibles and even some tablets, the 7th Generation Core processors do in fact take advantage of the process improvements and higher clock speeds to offer an improved user experience.

Continue reading our look at Kaby Lake mobile performance!

Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and Exterior

Corsair has just dropped a trio of new cases into the market, and I happen to have all of them in my secret enclosure testing bunker. While reviews for the other two are in the pipeline, the first of these to be completed is this impressive new Crystal Series 570X. Not only does this case have tempered glass galore (and an ultra-premium look and feel), but it also features customizable RGB lighting effects.

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Glass has clearly (pun intended) been trending in the case world of late, and there are more tempered glass options at affordable price points than ever. There is still room for a premium option or two, and Corsair joins the ranks of In Win for a high-style enclosure with this Crystal 570X. At first glance the case looks like it's mostly tempered glass, and for the most part the exterior is just that. Glass panels comprise front and back sides, as well as the front and top of the case. In fact, only the back and bottom panels of the Crystal 570X are steel.

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Here are some key points for the Crystal 570X from Corsair:

  • Four tempered glass panels on the sides of the case: Possibly the most beautiful case CORSAIR has ever made. With tempered glass enclosing the entire chassis, every component of your build is on display.
  • Customizable lighting: Light up your build with brilliant LED effects. Three included SP120 RGB LED fans and included LED controller keeps your components running cool. Each fan is equipped with vivid, configurable LED lights, enabling you to personalize your build.
  • Room for virtually anything: Mounting points for 6 case fans and fully compatible with 360mm, 280mm, and 120mm radiators. Removable fan trays in the front and top of the chassis allows for additional space or mounting cooling outside of the chassis.
  • Cable management made simple: Cable routing channels with included velcro cable straps for clean cable management.
  • Easy to clean: Easily access dust filters on front, top, and bottom mean you’ll never spend more than a minute getting dust out of your system.

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Continue reading our review of the Corsair Crystal Series 570X case!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

The Z170X-Ultra Gaming motherboard is among the latest offerings from GIGABYTE in their G1 Gaming product line, introducing Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, and LED enhancements to thier Z170 boards. The board features a base black aesthetic with integrated red LEDs spread throughout its surface for a sleek look. The board's integrated Intel Z170 chipset gives the board support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Skylake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR4 memory. The Z170X-Ultra Gaming has a base sellng price of $160, a more than reasonable price for the integrated features and the board's performance.

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

GIGABYTE integrated the following features into the Z170X-Ultra Gaming mortherboard: two SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; one U.2 32Gbps port; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; 2x2 802.11ac WiFI adapter; three PCI-Express x16 slots; two PCI-Express x1 slots; Realtek 8-Channel audio subsystem; integrated mini-DisplayPort and HDMI video ports; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

Continue reading our preview of the GIGABYTE Z170X-Ultra Gaming motherboard!