Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Qualcomm

Introduction

Introduction

In conjunction with Ericsson, Netgear, and Telstra, Qualcomm officially unveiled the first Gigabit LTE ready network. Sydney, Australia is the first city to have this new cellular spec deployed through Telstra. Gigabit LTE, dubbed 4GX by Telstra, offers up to 1Gbps download speeds and 150 Mbps upload speeds with a supported device. Gigabit LTE implementation took partnership between all four companies to become a reality with Ericsson providing the backend hardware and software infrastructure and upgrades, Qualcomm designing its next-gen Snapdragon 835 SoC and Snapdragon X16 modem for Gigabit LTE support, Netgear developing the Nighthawk M1 Mobile router which leverages the Snapdragon 835, and Telstra bringing it all together on its Australian-based cellular network. Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Telstra all see the 4GX implementation as a solid step forward in the path to 5G with 4GX acting as the foundation layer for next-gen 5G networks and providing a fallback, much the same as 3G acted as a fallback for the current 4G LTE cellular networks.

Gigabit LTE Explained

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Courtesy of Telstra

What exactly is meant by Gigabit LTE (or 4GX as Telstra has dubbed the new cellular technology)? Gigabit LTE increases both the download and upload speeds of current generation 4G LTE to 1Gbps download and 150 Mbps upload speeds by leveraging several technologies for optimizing the signal transmission between the consumer device and the cellular network itself. Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon X16 modem to operate on dual 60MHz signals with 4x4 MIMO support or dual 80MHz signals without 4x4 MIMO. Further, they increased the modem's QAM support to 256 (8-bit) instead of the current 64 QAM support (6-bit), enabling 33% more data per stream - an increase of 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps per stream. The X16 modem leverages a total of 10 communication streams for delivery of up to 1 Gbps performance and also offers access to previously inaccessible frequency bands using LAA (License Assisted Access) to leverage increased power and speed needs for Gigabit LTE support.

Continue reading our coverage of the Gigabit LTE technology!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Micron

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

Micron paper launched their 5100 Series Enterprise SATA SSD lineup early last month. The new line promised many sought after features for such a part, namely high performance, high-performance consistency, high capacities, and relatively low cost/GB (thanks to IMFT 3D NAND which is now well into volume production since launching nearly two years ago). The highs and lows I just rattled off are not only good for enterprise, they are good for general consumers as well. Enterprises deal in large SSD orders, which translates to increased production and ultimately a reduction in the production cost of the raw NAND that also goes into client SSDs and other storage devices.

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The 5100 Series comes in three tiers and multiple capacities per tier (with even more launching over the next few months). Micron sampled us a 2TB 'ECO' model and a 1TB 'MAX'. The former is optimized more for read intensive workloads, while the latter is designed to take a continuous random write beating.

I'll be trying out some new QoS tests in this review, with plans to expand out with comparisons in future pieces. This review will stand as a detailed performance verification of these two parts - something we are uniquely equipped to accomplish.

Read on for our full review of the Micron 5100 MAX 960GB and 5100 ECO 1920GB Enterprise SATA SSDs!

Author:
Manufacturer: FSP Technology Inc.

Introduction and Features

Introduction
                    
In this review we are going to take a detailed look at FSP Technology Inc.’s new Twins 500W redundant power supply. It’s been quite a while since we reviewed a redundant power supply in the ATX form factor. This should be interesting! (Actually, it turned out to be very interesting, along with a few surprises we didn’t expect).

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The FSP Twins 500W redundant power supply is targeted towards use in home and small businesses for mail or web server systems that require maximum up time. The Twins 500W PSU incorporates two 520W modular power supplies inside one standard ATX housing. Under normal operation the two power supplies operate in parallel, sharing the load. If one of the power supply modules should fail, the other one automatically takes over with no down time. And since the power supply modules are hot-swappable, a faulty unit can be replaced without having to turn off the system.

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FSP claims the Twins 500W is a server-grade power supply designed to deliver stable power and is certified 80 Plus Gold for high efficiency. The ATX chassis measures 190mm (7.4”) deep and is fitted with fixed, ribbon-style cables. Each modular power supply uses a 40mm fan for cooling and the Twins 500W comes backed by a 5-year warranty. Users can also download and install FSP’s Guardian software to monitor power input, power output, and efficiency, along with other parameters in real time if desired.

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FSP Twins 500W Redundant PSU Key Features:

•    ATX PS2 redundant size ideal for mail, web and home server
•    Server-grade design provides stable power
•    Hot-swappable modules design
•    80 Plus 230V Internal Gold certification
•    Digital-controlled power supply supports FSP Guardian monitoring software
•    Smart power supply supports Alarm Guard and status LED indicators
•    Flat ribbon-style cables with two 4+4 pin CPU connectors
•    Complies with ATX 12V and EPS 12V standards
•    Protections: OCP, OVP, SCP, FFP (Fan Failure Protection)
•    5-Year Manufacturer’s warranty
•    MSRP: $399.00 USD

Please continue reading our review of the FSP Twins 500W PSU!!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Qualcomm aptX

Introduction

Bluetooth has come a long way since the technology was introduced in 1998. The addition of the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) in 2003 brought support for high-quality audio streaming, but Bluetooth still didn’t offer anywhere near the quality of a wired connection. This unfortunate fact is often overlooked in favor of the technology's convenience factor, but what if we could have the best of both worlds? This is where Qualcomm's aptX comes in, and it is a departure from the methods in place since the introduction of Bluetooth audio.

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What is aptX audio? It's actually a codec that compresses audio in a very different manner than that of the standard Bluetooth codec, and the result is as close to uncompressed audio as the bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth technology can possibly allow. Qualcomm describes aptX audio as "a bit-rate efficiency technology that ensures you receive the highest possible sound quality from your Bluetooth audio device," and there is actual science to back up this claim. After doing quite a bit of reading on the subject as I prepared for this review, I found that the technology behind aptX audio, and its history, is very interesting.

A Brief History of aptX Audio

The aptX codec has actually been around since long before Bluetooth, with its invention in the 1980s and first commercial applications beginning in the 1990s. The version now found in compatible Bluetooth devices is 4th-generation aptX, and in the very beginning it was actually a hardware product (the APTX100ED chip). The technology has had a continued presence in pro audio for three decades now, with a wider reach than I had ever imagined when I started researching the topic. For example, aptX is used for ISDN line connections for remote voice work (voice over, ADR, foreign language dubs, etc.) in movie production, and even for mix approvals on film soundtracks. In fact, aptX was also the compression technology behind DTS theater sound, which had its introduction in 1993 with Jurassic Park. It is in use in over 30,000 radio stations around the world, where it has long been used for digital music playback.

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So, while it is clear that aptX is a respected technology with a long history in the audio industry, how exactly does this translate into improvements for someone who just wants to listen to music over a bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth connection? The nature of the codec and its differences/advantages vs. A2DP is a complex topic, but I will attempt to explain in plain language how it actually can make Bluetooth audio sound better. Having science behind the claim of better sound goes a long way in legitimizing perceptual improvements in audio quality, particularly as the high-end audio industry is full of dubious - and often ridiculous - claims. There is no snake-oil to be sold here, as we are simply talking about a different way to compress and uncompress an audio signal - which is the purpose of a codec (code, decode) to begin with.

Continue reading our review of Qualcomm aptX audio technology!

Author:
Subject:
Manufacturer: EVGA
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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EVGA offers one of the most complete lines of PC power supplies on the market today and they are continually striving to improve their product offerings. The new Supernova G3 Series power supplies are based on EVGA’s popular G2 series but now come 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 EVGA claims the new G3 units offer even better performance than the G2 models. The Supernova G3 Series is now available in five different models ranging from 550W up to 1000W. We will be taking a detailed look at the Supernova 850W G3 power supply in this review.

•    EVGA SuperNOVA 550W G3 ($99.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 650W G3 ($109.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 750W G3 ($129.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 850W G3 ($149.99 USD)
•    EVGA SuperNOVA 1000W G3 ($169.99 USD)

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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.

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EVGA SuperNOVA 850W G3 PSU Key Features:

•    850W Continuous DC output at up to 50°C
•    10-Year warranty with unparalleled EVGA Customer Support
•    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

Please continue reading our review of the EVGA 850W G3 PSU!!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Nintendo

Price and Other Official Information

Since our last Nintendo Switch post, the company had their full reveal event, which confirmed the two most critical values: it will launch on March 3rd for $299.99 USD ($399.99 CDN). This is basically what the rumors have pointed to for a little while, and it makes sense. That was last week, but this week gave rise to a lot more information, mostly from either an interview with Nintendo of America’s President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, or from footage that was recorded and analyzed by third parties, like Digital Foundry.

From the GameSpot interview, above, Reggie was asked about the launch bundle, and why it didn’t include any game, like 1 - 2 - Switch. His response was blunt and honest: they wanted to hit $299 USD and the game found itself below the cut-off point. While I can respect that, I cannot see enough people bothering with the title at full price for it to have been green-lit in the first place. If Nintendo wasn’t interested in just eating the cost of that game’s development to affect public (and developer) perceptions, although they might end up taking the loss if the game doesn’t sell anyway, then at least it wasn’t factored into the system.

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Speaking of price, we are also seeing what the accessories sell at.

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From the controller side of things, the more conventional one, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, has an MSRP of $69.99 USD. If you look at its competitors, the DualShock 4 for the PlayStation 4 at $49 and the Xbox Wireless Controller for the Xbox One at the same price, this is notably higher. While it has a bunch of interesting features, like “HD rumble”, motion sensing, and some support for amiibos, its competitors are similar, but $20 cheaper.

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The Switch-specific controllers, called “Joy-Con”, are $10 more expensive than the Pro Controller, at $79.99 USD for the pair, or just $49.99 USD for the left or right halves. (Some multiplayer titles only require a half, so Nintendo doesn’t force you to buy the whole pair at the expense of extra SKUs, which is also probably helpful if you lose one.) This seems high, and could be a significant problem going forward.

As for its availability? Nintendo has disclosed that they are pushing 2 million units into the channel, so they are not expecting shortages like the NES Classic had. They do state that demand is up-in-the-air a bit, though.

Read on to find out about their online component and new performance info!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

With the latest revision of the TUF line, ASUS made the decision to drop the well-known "Sabertooth" moniker from the board name, naming the board's with the TUF branding only. The TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard is the flagship board in ASUS' TUF (The Ultimate Force) product line designed with the Intel Z270 chipset. The board offers support for the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR 4 memory because of its integrated Intel Z270 chipset. While the MSRP for the board may be a bit higher than expected, its $239 price is more than justified by the board's build quality and "armored" offerings.

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Courtesy of ASUS

The TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard is built with the same quality and attention to detail that you've come to expect from TUF-branded motherboards. Its appearance follows the standard tan plastic armor overlay on the top with a 10-phase digital power system. The board contains the following integrated features: six SATA 3 ports; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports; dual GigE controllers - an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC and an Intel I211 Gigabit NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; three PCI-Express x1 slots; an 8-channel audio subsystem; MEM OK! and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS also chose to include the armored backplate with the TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard, dubbed the "TUF Fortifier".

Continue reading our preview of the ASUS TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Performance and Impressions

This content was sponsored by AMD.

Last week in part 1 of our look at the Radeon RX 460 as a budget gaming GPU, I detailed our progress through component selection. Centered around an XFX 2GB version of the Radeon RX 460, we built a machine using an Intel Core i3-6100, ASUS H110M motherboard, 8GB of DDR4 memory, both an SSD and a HDD, as well as an EVGA power supply and Corsair chassis. Part 1 discussed the reasons for our hardware selections as well as an unboxing and preview of the giveaway to come.

In today's short write up and video, I will discuss my impressions of the system overall as well as touch on the performance in a handful of games. Despite the low the price, and despite the budget moniker attributed to this build, a budding PC gamer or converted console gamer will find plenty of capability in this system.

Check out prices of Radeon RX 460 graphics cards on Amazon!!

Let's quickly recap the components making up our RX 460 budget build.

Our Radeon RX 460 Build

  Budget Radeon RX 460 Build
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 - $109
Cooler CRYORIG M9i - $19
Motherboard ASUS H110M-A/M.2 - $54
Memory 2 x 4GB Crucial Ballistix DDR4-2400 - $51
Graphics Card XFX Radeon RX 460 2GB - $98
Storage 240GB Sandisk SSD Plus - $68
1TB Western Digital Blue - $49
Case Corsair Carbide Series 88R - $49
Power Supply EVGA 500 Watt - $42
Monitor Nixues VUE24A 1080p 144Hz FreeSync - $251
Total Price $549 on Amazon; $799 with monitor on Amazon

For just $549 I was able to create shopping list of hardware that provides very impressive performance for the investment.

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The completed system is damn nice looking, if I do say so myself. The Corsair Carbide 88R case sports a matte black finish with a large window to peer in at the hardware contained within. Coupled with the Nixeus FreeSync display and some Logitech G mouse and keyboard hardware we love, this is a configuration that any PC gamer would be proud to display.

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Continue reading our performance thoughts on the RX 460 budget PC build!

Author:
Manufacturer: Seasonic

Introduction and Features

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We are going to kick-off the New Year on a high-note by taking another look at Seasonic’s PRIME Titanium series power supplies. When we first tested the new PRIME 750W Titanium PSU last summer, we concluded it was the best overall PC power supply we had reviewed to date. So was that just a fluke? Did we get a hand-picked power supply? Or did our review sample truly represent the outstanding performance that a regular user would experience after buying one of the Seasonic PRIME Titanium series power supplies through normal retail channels? Today, we are going to test two more PRIME Titanium PSUs and compare our findings with the original PRIME 750W Titanium power supply test results. This will provide a unique opportunity to compare three different power supplies from the same series to see how consistent their performance really is, which can be a good indicator of quality.

Sea Sonic Electronics Co., Ltd has been designing and building PC power supplies since 1981 and they are one of the most highly respected manufacturers in the world. Not only do they market power supplies under their own Seasonic name but they are the OEM for numerous big name brands.

Seasonic’s new PRIME lineup was introduced earlier this year with the Titanium Series, which currently includes three models: 850W, 750W, and 650W (with more to follow). Additional PRIME models with both Platinum and Gold efficiency certifications are also making their way into retail channels with models ranging from 850W up to 1200W.

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The two new power supplies we have in for review are the PRIME 650W and 850W Titanium models. These units also come with all modular cables and are certified to comply with the 80 Plus Titanium efficiency criteria; the highest available. The power supplies are designed to deliver extremely tight voltage regulation on the three primary rails (+3.3V, +5V and +12V) and they provide superior AC ripple and noise suppression with an extended hold-up time. Add in a super-quiet 135mm cooling fan with a Fluid Dynamic Bearing and a 10-year warranty, and you have the makings for an outstanding power supply.

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Seasonic PRIME 850W Titanium PSU

Seasonic PRIME Titanium Series PSU Key Features:

•    850W, 750W or 650W continuous DC output
•    Ultra-high efficiency, 80 PLUS Titanium certified
•    Micro-Tolerance Load Regulation (MTLR)
•    Top-quality 135mm Fluid Dynamic Bearing fan
•    Premium Hybrid Fan Control (allows fanless operation at low power)
•    Superior AC ripple and noise suppression (under 20 mV)
•    Extended Hold-up time (above 30 ms)
•    Fully modular cabling design
•    Multi-GPU technologies supported
•    Gold-plated high-current terminals
•    Protections: OPP,OVP,UVP,SCP,OCP and OTP
•    10-Year Manufacturer’s warranty

Please continue reading our review of the Seasonic PRIME Titanium Series PSUs!!!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Our Radeon RX 460 Build

This content was sponsored by AMD.

Be sure you check out part 2 of our story where we detail the performance our RX 460 build provides as well as our contest page where you can win this PC from AMD and PC Perspective!

Just before CES this month, AMD came to me asking about our views and opinions on its Radeon RX 460 line of graphics cards, how the GPU is perceived in the market, and how I felt they could better position it to the target audience. It was at that point that I had to openly admit to never actually having installed and used an RX 460 GPU before. I know, shame on me.

I like to pride myself and PC Perspective on being one of the top sources of technical information in the world of PCs, gaming or otherwise, and in particular on GPUs. But a pitfall that I fall into, and I imagine many other reviewers and media do as well, is that I overly emphasize the high end of the market. And that I tend to shift what is considered a “budget” product up the scale more than I should. Is a $250 graphics card really a budget product that the mass market is going to purchase? No, and the numbers clearly point to that as fact. More buyers purchase cards in the sub-$150 segment than in any other, upgrading OEMs PCs and building low cost boxes for themselves and for the family/friends.

So, AMD came to me with a proposal to address this deficiency in my mental database. If we were willing to build a PC based on the RX 460, testing it and evaluating it honestly, and then give that built system back to the community, they would pay for the hardware and promotion of such an event. So here we are.

To build out the RX 460-based PC, I went to the experts in the world of budget PC builds, the /r/buildapc subreddit. The community here is known for being the best at penny-pinching and maximizing the performance-per-dollar implementations on builds. While not the only types of hardware they debate and discuss in that group, it definitely is the most requested. I started a thread there to ask for input and advice on building a system with the only requirements being inclusion of the Radeon RX 460 and perhaps an AMD FreeSync monitor.

Check out prices of Radeon RX 460 graphics cards on Amazon!!

The results were impressive; a solid collection of readers and contributors gave me suggestions for complete builds based around the RX 460. Processors varied, memory configurations varied, storage options varied, but in the end I had at least a dozen solid options that ranged in price from $400-800. With the advice of the community at hand, I set out to pick the components for our own build, which are highlighted below:

Our Radeon RX 460 Build

  Budget Radeon RX 460 Build
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 - $109
Cooler CRYORIG M9i - $19
Motherboard ASUS H110M-A/M.2 - $54
Memory 2 x 4GB Crucial Ballistix DDR4-2400 - $51
Graphics Card XFX Radeon RX 460 2GB - $98
Storage 240GB Sandisk SSD Plus - $68
1TB Western Digital Blue - $49
Case Corsair Carbide Series 88R - $49
Power Supply EVGA 500 Watt - $42
Monitor Nixues VUE24A 1080p 144Hz FreeSync - $251
Total Price $549 on Amazon; $799 with monitor on Amazon

I’ll go in order of presentation for simplicity sake. First up is the selection of the Intel Core i3-6100 processor. This CPU was the most popular offering in the /r/buildapc group and has been the darling of budget gaming builds for a while. It is frequently used because of it $109 price tag, along with dual-core, HyperThreaded performance at 3.7 GHz; giving you plenty of headroom for single threaded applications. Since most games aren’t going to utilize more than four threads, the PC gaming performance will be excellent as well. One frequent suggestion in our thread was the Intel Pentium G4560, a Kaby Lake based part that will sell for ~$70. That would have been my choice but it’s not shipping yet, and I don’t know when it will be.

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Continue reading our budget build based on the Radeon RX 460!

Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Introduction

Cooler Master's MasterLiquid Maker 92 is a unique liquid CPU cooler that fits all of its parts into one cluster atop the processor, and does it with a clever, hinged construction that allows it to be switched from an upright to a horizontal position at will. While the Maker 92 only occupies about as much space as a large tower air cooler in its upright position, the ability to fold it down provides both enhanced clearance and the option of directing airflow down to help cool motherboard components. But the big question for this cooler is just how effective can a closed-loop system be when it’s this compact? We’re about to find out!

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Let's get part out if the way right off the bat: specialty small form-factor products generally don't offer competitive price/performance numbers, and critics are quick to point to this aspect of SFF computing. The small form-factor side of enthusiast PC building is a pretty small niche, and a product like the Maker 92 might not be for you; but what is important to consider when looking at a specialty product like this is the performance for its size, as designs of the most compact cooling components typically sacrifice something in this regard given their reduced surface area, smaller fan diameter, etc.

Most SFF solutions for processor cooling are of the air variety, with liquid being an option if a given enclosure supports your AiO (or custom loop) cooling of choice. Ultra low-profile CPU air coolers are popular for slim builds, and a product like the Maker 92 isn’t going to replace one of these if your enclosure of choice has a very low profile. Any system using a standard height PCI Express graphics card will work, though that top fan may have to come off depending on the case - which of course will affect cooling performance (in theory, anyway). But enough speculation! Let’s take a close look at this cooler and test out the fit and cooling prowess in both orientations.

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Continue reading our review of the Cooler Master MasterLiquid Maker 92 CPU cooler!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Prime Z270-A motherboard is one of ASUS' initial offering integrating the Intel Z270 chipset. The board features ASUS' Channel line aesthetics with a black PCB and white plastic accents. 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. Offered at a price-competitive MSRP of $164, the Prime Z270-A offers a compelling price point with respect to its integrated features and performance potential.

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS does not cut corners on any of their boards with the Prime Z270 sharing similar power component circuitry as its higher tiered siblings, featuring a 10-phase digital power delivery system. ASUS integrated the following features into the Prime Z270-A board: six SATA 3 ports; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; three PCI-Express x16 slots; four PCI-Express x1 slots; on-board power and MemOK! buttons; an EZ XMP switch; Crystal Sound 3 audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI video ports; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

Continue reading our preview of the ASUS Prime Z270-A motherboard!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: AMD

AM4 Edging Closer to Retail

Many of us were thinking that one of the bigger stories around CES would be the unveiling of a goodly chunk of AM4 motherboards.  AM4 has been around for about half a year now, but only in system integrator builds (such as HP).  These have all been based around Bristol Ridge APU (essentially an updated Carrizo APU).  These SOCs are not exactly barn burners, but they provide a solid foundation for a low-cost build.  The APUs features 2 modules/4 cores, a GCN based GPU, and limited southbridge I/O functionality.

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During all this time the motherboards available from these OEMs are very basic units not fit for retail.  Users simply could not go out and buy a Bristol Ridge APU and motherboard for themselves off of Newegg, Amazon, and elsewhere.  Now after much speculation we finally got to see the first AM4 retail style boards unveiled at this year’s CES.  AMD showed off around 16 boards based on previously unseen B350 and X370 chipsets.

AMD has had a pretty limited number of chipsets that they have introduced over the years.  Their FM2+ offerings spanned the A series of chipsets, but they added very little in terms of functionality as compared to the 900 series that populate the AM3+ world.  The latest offering from AMD was the A88x which was released in September 2013.  At one time there was supposed to be a 1000 series of chipsets for AM3+, but those were cancelled and we have had the 900 series (which are identical to the previous 800 series) since 2011.  This has been a pretty stagnant area for AMD and their partners.  3rd party chips have helped shore up the feature divide between AMD and Intel’s regular release of new chipsets and technologies attached to them.

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There are three primary chipsets being released as well as two physical layer chips that allow the use of the onboard southbridge on Ryzen and Bristol Ridge.  The X370 for the enthusiast market, the B350 for the mainstream, and then the budget A320.  The two chipset options for utilizing the SOC’s southbridge functionality are the X300 and A/B300.

Before we jump into the chipsets we should take a look at what kind of functionality Ryzen and Bristol Ridge have that can be leveraged by motherboard manufacturers.  Bristol Ridge is a true SOC in that it contains the GPU, CPU, and southbridge functionality to stand alone.  Ryzen is different in that it does not have the GPU portion so it still requires a standalone graphics card to work.  Bristol Ridge is based off of the older Carrizo design and does not feature the flexibility in its I/O connections that Ryzen does.

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Bristol Ridge features up to 8 lanes of PCI-E 3.0.  The I/O on it includes 2 native SATA6G ports as well as the ability to either utilize two more PCI-e lanes or have them as x2 NVME.  That is about as flexible as it gets.  It also natively supports four USB 3.1 gen 1 ports.  For a chip that was designed to be a mobile focused SoC it makes sense that it will not max out PCI-E lanes or SATA ports.  It still is enough to satisfy most mobile and SFF builds.

Click here to read more about AMD's AM4 platform!

High Bandwidth Cache

Apart from AMD’s other new architecture due out in 2017, its Zen CPU design, there is no other product that has had as much build up and excitement surrounding it than its Vega GPU architecture. After the world learned that Polaris would be a mainstream-only design that was released as the Radeon RX 480, the focus for enthusiasts came straight to Vega. It’s been on the public facing roadmaps for years and signifies the company’s return to the world of high end GPUs, something they have been missing since the release of the Fury X in mid-2015.

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Let’s be clear: today does not mark the release of the Vega GPU or products based on Vega. In reality, we don’t even know enough to make highly educated guesses about the performance without more details on the specific implementations. That being said, the information released by AMD today is interesting and shows that Vega will be much more than simply an increase in shader count over Polaris. It reminds me a lot of the build to the Fiji GPU release, when the information and speculation about how HBM would affect power consumption, form factor and performance flourished. What we can hope for, and what AMD’s goal needs to be, is a cleaner and more consistent product release than how the Fury X turned out.

The Design Goals

AMD began its discussion about Vega last month by talking about the changes in the world of GPUs and how the data sets and workloads have evolved over the last decade. No longer are GPUs only worried about games, but instead they must address profession workloads, enterprise workloads, scientific workloads. Even more interestingly, as we have discussed the gap in CPU performance vs CPU memory bandwidth and the growing gap between them, AMD posits that the gap between memory capacity and GPU performance is a significant hurdle and limiter to performance and expansion. Game installs, professional graphics sets, and compute data sets continue to skyrocket. Game installs now are regularly over 50GB but compute workloads can exceed petabytes. Even as we saw GPU memory capacities increase from Megabytes to Gigabytes, reaching as high as 12GB in high end consumer products, AMD thinks there should be more.

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Coming from a company that chose to release a high-end product limited to 4GB of memory in 2015, it’s a noteworthy statement.

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The High Bandwidth Cache

Bold enough to claim a direct nomenclature change, Vega 10 will feature a HBM2 based high bandwidth cache (HBC) along with a new memory hierarchy to call it into play. This HBC will be a collection of memory on the GPU package just like we saw on Fiji with the first HBM implementation and will be measured in gigabytes. Why the move to calling it a cache will be covered below. (But can’t we call get behind the removal of the term “frame buffer”?) Interestingly, this HBC doesn’t have to be HBM2 and in fact I was told that you could expect to see other memory systems on lower cost products going forward; cards that integrate this new memory topology with GDDR5X or some equivalent seem assured.

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Continue reading our preview of the AMD Vega GPU Architecture!

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Qualcomm

Semi-custom CPU

With the near comes a new push for performance, efficiency and feature leadership from Qualcomm and its Snapdragon line of mobile SoCs. The Snapdragon 835 was officially announced in November of last year when the partnership with Samsung on 10nm process technology was announced, but we now have the freedom to share more of the details on this new part and how it changes Qualcomm’s position in the ultra-device market. Though devices with the new 835 part won’t be on the market for several more months, with announcements likely coming at CES this year.

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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), 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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The company touts usage claims of 1+ day of talk time, 5+ days of music playback, 11 hours of 4K video playback, 3 hours of 4K video capture and 2+ hours of sustained VR gaming. These sound impressive, but as we must always do in this market, you must wait for consumer devices from Qualcomm partners to really measure how well this platform will do. Going through a typical power user comparison of a device built on the Snapdragon 835 to one use the 820, Qualcomm thinks it could result in 2 or more hours of additional battery life at the end of the day.

We have already discussed the new Quick Charge 4 technology, that can offer 5 hours of use with just 5 minutes of charge time.

Continue reading our preview of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction

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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Courtesy of ASUS

The new Strix board does not disappoint with its sleek black appearance and 10-phase digital power delivery system. ASUS integrated the following features into the Prime Z270-A board: six SATA 3 ports; two M.2 PCIe x4 capable ports; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; 2x2 802.11ac WiFI adapter; three PCI-Express x16 slots; four PCI-Express x1 slots; two RGB 12V headers; Supreme FX 8-channel audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI video ports; and USB 3.0 and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

Continue reading our preview of the ASUS Strix Z270E Gaming motherboard!

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Architectural Background

It probably doesn't surprise any of our readers that there has been a tepid response to the leaks and reviews that have come out about the new Core i7-7700K CPU ahead of the scheduled launch of Kaby Lake-S from Intel. Replacing the Skylake-based 6700K part as the new "flagship" consumer enthusiast CPU, the 7700K has quite a bit stacked against it. We know that Kaby Lake is the first in the new sequence of tick-tock-optimize, and thus there are few architectural changes to any portion of the chip. However, that does not mean that the 7700K and Kaby Lake in general don't offer new capabilities (HEVC) or performance (clock speed). 

The Core i7-7700K is in an interesting spot as well with regard to motherboards and platforms. Nearly all motherboards that run the Z170 chipset will be able to run the new Kaby Lake parts without requiring an upgrade to the newly released Z270 chipset. However, the likelihood that any user on a Z170 platform today using a Skylake processor will feel the NEED to upgrade to Kaby Lake is minimal, to say the least. The Z270 chipset only offers a couple of new features compared to last generation, so the upgrade path is again somewhat limited in excitement.

Let's start by taking a look at the Core i7-7700K and how it compares to the previous top-end parts from the consumer processor line and then touch on the changes that Kaby Lake brings to the table.

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With the beginning of CES just days away (as I write this), Intel is taking the wrapping paper off of its first gift of 2017 to the industry. As you can see from the slide above, more than just the Kaby Lake-S consumer socketed processors are launching today, but other components including Iris Plus graphics implementations and quad-core notebook implementations will need to wait for another day.

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For DIY builders and OEMs, Kaby Lake-S, now known as the 7th Generation Core Processor family, offer some changes and additions. First, we will get a dual-core HyperThreaded processor with an unlocked designation in the Core i3-7350K. Other than the aforementioned Z270 chipset, Kaby Lake will be the first platform compatible with Intel Optane memory. (To be extra clear, I was told that previous processors will NOT be able to utilize Optane in its M.2 form factor.)

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Though we have already witnessed Lenovo announcing products using Optane, this is the first official Intel discussion about it. Optane memory will be available in M.2 modules that can be installed on Z270 motherboards, improving snappiness and responsiveness. It seems this will be launched later in the quarter as we don't have any performance numbers or benchmarks to point to demonstrating the advantages that Intel touts. I know both Allyn and I are very excited to see how this differs from previous Intel caching technologies.

  Core i7-7700K Core i7-6700K Core i7-5775C Core i7-4790K Core i7-4770K Core i7-3770K
Architecture Kaby Lake Skylake Broadwell Haswell Haswell Ivy Bridge
Process Tech 14nm+ 14nm 14nm 22nm 22nm 22nm
Socket LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1150 LGA 1150 LGA 1150 LGA 1155
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8
Base Clock 4.2 GHz 4.0 GHz 3.3 GHz 4.0 GHz 3.5 GHz 3.5 GHz
Max Turbo Clock 4.5 GHz 4.2 GHz 3.7 GHz 4.4 GHz 3.9 GHz 3.9 GHz
Memory Tech DDR4 DDR4 DDR3 DDR3 DDR3 DDR3
Memory Speeds Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2133 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz
Cache (L4 Cache) 8MB 8MB 6MB (128MB) 8MB 8MB 8MB
System Bus DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI2 - 6.4 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s
Graphics HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 530 Iris Pro 6200 HD Graphics  4600 HD Graphics 4600 HD Graphics  4000
Max Graphics Clock 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.25 GHz 1.25 GHz 1.15 GHz
TDP 91W 91W 65W 88W 84W 77W
MSRP $339 $339 $366 $339 $339 $332

Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake processor!!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Motherboard Layout

Introduction and Motherboard Layout

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With the release of Intel Z270 chipset, GIGABYTE is unveiling its AORUS line of products. The AORUS branding will be used to differentiate enthusiast and gamer friendly products from their other product lines, similar to how ASUS uses the ROG branding to differentiate their high performance product line. The Z270X-Gaming 5 is among the first to be released as part of GIGABYTE's AORUS line. 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. The Z270X-Gaming 5 will be available at an MRSP of $189.99.

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GIGABYTE designed the Z270X-Gaming 5 with a total of 11 digital power phases, more than enough to handle any load thrown at the system. The CPU VRMs are cooled by large coolers above and to the right of the socket.

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The board supports a total of two PCIe x4 M.2 slots, one to the left of the CPU socket and below the primary PCIe x1 slot, and the other underneath the third PCIe x1 slot. The M.2 slot by the CPU supports M.2 cards up to 110mm in length, while the other supports cards up to 80mm in length.

Continue reading our overview of the GIGABYTE Z270X-Gaming 5 motherboard!

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Maximus VIII Impact is one of the Intel Z170 chipset offerings in the ROG (Republic of Gamer) board line. The board features the standard black and red ROG aesthetics in an mini-ITX form factor to accommodate space constrained system builds. ASUS chose to integrate black-chrome heat sinks into the board's build, giving it a sleek and modern appearance. The board's integrated Intel Z170 chipset integrates support for the latest Intel LGA1151 Skylake processor line as well as Dual Channel DDR4 memory. With an MSRP of $250, the Maximus VIII Impact comes a price premium for a high-quality and feature packed product.

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Courtesy of ASUS

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Courtesy of ASUS

ASUS integrated the following features into the Maximus VIII Impact board: four SATA 3 ports; one U.2 32Gbps port; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; 2x2 802.11ac WiFI adapter; one PCI-Express x16 slot; on-board power, reset, Clear CMOS, and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; 2-digit Q-Code LED diagnostic display; ROG SupremeFX Impact III 8-Channel audio subsystem; integrated DisplayPort and HDMI video ports; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A and Type-C port support.

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Courtesy of ASUS

The Maximus VIII Impact features an eight phase digital power system, providing more than enough power to the CPU for any task you throw its way. The power delivery system itself consists of International Rectifier PowIRStage MOSFETs, MicroFine alloy chokes, and 10k-rated Japanese-sourced black-metallic capacitors.

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

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!