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Design - A Tablet and a Notebook
For the last 30 days or so, I have been using both Microsoft's new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 as every day computing devices. The goal was to review these items from not just a handful of days of testing and benchmarking, but with some lengthy time under my belt utilizing both products in a real-world environment. The following is my review with that premise. Enjoy!
A lot has already been said about the design and style of both the updated Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Book. Let’s start with the Surface Pro 4 as it sees the least dramatic changes from previous product.
The Surface Pro 4 uses the same kickstand tablet design that made the Surface brand so memorable as well as functional. Many different OEMs are starting to copy the design style because it has a lot of positive merits to it. For instance, it allows viewing angles from nearly 90 degree to flat. The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet in its purest form, though. It doesn’t have a keyboard or trackpad standard – you’ll have purchase the optional Type Cover. It’s only 8.5mm thick and weighs in at 1.73 lbs, without the added keyboard.
The kickstand works exceptionally, with unlimited positions between the starting and stop point of the hinge, and it allows smooth movement between them. It’s strong enough to stand up when being slid around on the tablet or desk. The biggest concern I have with the kickstand is that using it on your lap (or on an airplane tray table) is difficult to impossible, depending on the exact configuration or your legs / tray. Because the hinged kickstand needs a surface to make contact with, pushing the Surface Pro back on your legs where the hinged portion extends past your knees won’t work.
From a design and style perspective, I still think the Surface products are among the best that exist on the market today. The magnesium body is sleek and the angles are both professional and aggressive. Even when coupled with the magnetic Type Cover, it won’t look like a toy at the office or on the road.
The new Surface Book is a completely different beast – a unique design and a new product. I am sure that there are some people that simply won’t like the way the notebook looks, but I am not one of them. Though it is technically a tablet and a keyboard dock, the Surface Book only ships as a complete unit so calling this a notebook or a 2-in-1 convertible feels more accurate than calling it a tablet. It has a larger and more pronounced 13.5-in screen than the Pro, which makes it larger, heavier and bulkier in your bag as well. The magnesium body shares a lot of design cues with the Pro 4, but it’s the hinge on the Book that really makes it different than any notebook I have used.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
The X99-E WS/USB 3.1 is leading board in ASUS' Workstation line for the Intel X99 chipset with enhanced support for USB 3.1-based devices. The board features full support for all Intel LGA2011-3 based processors paired with DDR4 memory operating in up to a quad channel configuration. Priced at a hefty $539.99, the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board comes with an immense feature set to more than justify its massive price tag.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
Powering the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board is an 8-phase digital power system featuring high efficiency Beat Thermal chokes, Dr. MOS MOSFETs, and 12k rated solid capacitors. Additionally, ASUS integrated their CPU OC Socket into the board's design, ensuring board's overclocking potential. The integrated PLX chip enhances the board's graphics bandwidth, offering full x16 bandwidth with four card populated and x8 bandwidth with all seven PCIe x16 slots populated.
ASUS chose to integrate the following features into the X99-E WS/USB 3.1 board: eight SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; two eSATA ports; Intel I218LM and I210-AT Gigabit NICs; seven PCI-Express x16 slots; 2-digit diagnostic LED display; on-board power, reset, CMOS clear, MemOK!, Q-Code Logger, and BIOS Flashback buttons; TPU, EPU, Dr. Power, and EZ_XMP switches; Crystal Audio 2 audio subsystem; and USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 Type-A port support.
Build Your Own Setup
Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun? I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited. I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430. I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience. After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.
The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.
I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light. The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers. DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel. This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.
The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides. The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees. It is compatible with PC and Xbox One. It does not support the PS3 or PS4. It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface. It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US. It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.
This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.
Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500). These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.
It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts. Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use. This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets. Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices. The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.
Open Source your GPU!
As part of the AMD’s recent RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) Summit in Sonoma, the company released information about a new initiative to help drive development and evolution in the world of gaming called GPUOpen. As the name implies, the idea is to use an open source mentality to drivers, libraries, SDKs and more to improve the relationship between AMD’s hardware and the gaming development ecosystem.
When the current generation of consoles was first announced, AMD was riding a wave of positive PR that it hadn’t felt in many years. Because AMD Radeon hardware was at the root of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, game developers would become much more adept at programming for AMD’s GCN architecture and that would waterfall down to PC gamers. At least, that was the plan. In practice though I think you’d be hard pressed to find any analyst to put their name on a statement claiming that proclamation from AMD actually transpired. It just hasn’t happened – but that does not mean that it still can’t if all the pieces fall into place.
The issue that AMD, NVIDIA, and game developers have to work around is a divided development ecosystem. While on the console side programmers tend to have very close to the metal access on CPU and GPU hardware, that hasn’t been the case with PCs until very recently. AMD was the first to make moves in this area with the Mantle API but now we have DirectX 12, a competing low level API, that will have much wider reach than Mantle or Vulkan (what Mantle has become).
AMD also believes, as do many developers, that a “black box” development environment for tools and effects packages is having a negative effect on the PC gaming ecosystem. The black box mentality means that developers don’t have access to the source code of some packages and thus cannot tweak performance and features to their liking.
Introduction and CPU Performance
We had a chance this week to go hands-on with the Snapdragon 820, the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm, in a hardware session featuring prototype handsets powered by this new silicon. How did it perform? Read on to find out!
As you would expect from an all-new flagship part, the Snapdragon 820 offers improvements in virtually every category compared to their previous products. And with the 820 Qualcomm is emphasizing not only performance, but lower power consumption with claims of anywhere from 20% to 10x better efficiency across the components that make up this new SoC. And part of these power savings will undoubtedly come as the result of Qualcomm’s decision to move to a quad-core design with the 820, rather than the 8-core design of the 810.
So what exactly does comprise a high-end SoC like the Snapdragon 820? Ryan covered the launch in detail back in November (and we introduced aspects of the new SoC in a series of articles leading up to the launch). In brief, the Snapdragon 820 includes a custom quad-core CPU (Kryo), the Andreno 530 GPU, a new DSP (Hexagon 680), new ISP (Spectra), and a new LTE modem (X12). The previous flagship Snapdragon 810 used stock ARM cores (Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53) in a big.LITTLE configuration, but for various reasons Qualcomm has chosen not to introduce another 8-core SoC with this new product.
The four Kryo CPU cores found in the Snapdragon 820 can operate at speeds of up to 2.2 GHz, and since is half the number of the octo-core Snapdragon 810, the IPC (instructions per clock) of this new part will help determine how competitive the SD820's performance will be; but there’s a lot more to the story. This SoC design placed equal emphasis on all components therein, and the strategy with the SD820 seems to be leveraging the capability of the advanced signal processing (Hexagon 680) which should help offload the work to allow the CPU to work with greater efficiency, and at lower power.
Introduction and First Impressions
Antec’s P-series enclosures have been around for quite a while, and have been known as quiet, stylish cases for a premium build. It had been quite a while since the last entry in the series as the previous model, the P280, which received our Gold Award when Ryan reviewed it way back in 2011, and this current version hit the market in January of 2015. Needless to say, Antec’s Performance enclosures have some staying power. So how does this latest entry stack up?
The new P380 carries an MSRP of $229.95, placing it in the higher end of the premium enclosure market. While it can certainly be found for less (around $140 currently on Amazon) the bar is still set pretty high when the price exceeds $100, though the P380 is in a different world than Antec's Signature S10 enclosure, which launched at a mind-boggling $499 (it has since come down considerably). With the highly competitive enclosure market offering a number of spacious and quiet options, the P380 will need to differentiate to succeed.
“When only the best can satisfy your needs, the P380 is the answer. Known for its minimalistic design, the Performance series focuses on delivering the perfect balance between performance and Quiet-Computing. Whether you’re designing your ultimate dream PC or, just creating a monster file server, the P380 should be the choice, without hesitation.”
Antec is obviously confident about this newest P-series enclosure and I’ll be putting it to the test using a new, more stringent enclosure review process. We'll take a look at the case inside and out, and then see how it performs with a gaming build using both a closed-loop liquid CPU cooler, and a conventional air CPU cooler to see how the case airflow affects warm components.
What RTG has planned for 2016
Last week the Radeon Technology Group invited a handful of press and analysts to a secluded location in Sonoma, CA to discuss the future of graphics, GPUs and of course Radeon. For those of you that seem a bit confused, the RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) was spun up inside AMD to encompass all of the graphics products and IP inside the company. Though today’s story is not going to focus on the fundamental changes that RTG brings to the future of AMD, I will note, without commentary, that we saw not a single AMD logo in our presentations or in the signage present throughout the week.
Much of what I learned during the RTG Summit in Sonoma is under NDA and will likely be so for some time. We learned about the future architectures, direction and product theories that will find their way into a range of solutions available in 2016 and 2017.
What I can discuss today is a pair of features that are being updated and improved for current generation graphics cards and for Radeon GPUs coming in 2016: FreeSync and HDR displays. The former is one that readers of PC Perspective should be very familiar with while the latter will offer a new window into content coming in late 2016.
High Dynamic Range Displays: Better Pixels
In just the last couple of years we have seen a spike in resolution for mobile, desktop and notebook displays. We now regularly have 4K monitors on sale for around $500 and very good quality 4K panels going for something in the $1000 range. Couple that with the increase in market share of 21:9 panels with 3440x1440 resolutions and clearly there is a demand from consumers for a better visual experience on their PCs.
But what if the answer isn’t just more pixels, but better pixels? We already have this discussed weekly when comparing render resolutions in games of 4K at lower image quality solutions versus 2560x1440 at maximum IQ settings (for example) but the truth is that panel technology has the ability to make a dramatic change to how we view all content – games, movies, productivity – with the introduction of HDR, high dynamic range.
As the slide above demonstrates there is a wide range of luminance in the real world that our eyes can see. Sunlight crosses the 1.6 billion nits mark while basic fluorescent lighting in our homes and offices exceeds 10,000 nits. Compare to the most modern PC displays that range from 0.1 nits to 250 nits and you can already tell where the discussion is heading. Even the best LCD TVs on the market today have a range of 0.1 to 400 nits.
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of ASUS
The Maximus VIII Gene 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 mATX 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 $230, the Maximus VIII Gene offers a compelling price for a feature-packed product.
Courtesy of ASUS
Courtesy of ASUS
The Maximus VIII Gene features an 8+2 phase digital power system, providing more than enough power to the CPU and integrated GPU for whatever you choose to throw at it. ASUS integrated the following features into the Maximus VIII Gene board: two SATA 3 ports; two SATA-Express ports; one M.2 PCIe x4 capable port; an Intel I219-V Gigabit NIC; two PCI-Express x16 slots; one PCI-Express x4 slot; on-board power, reset, MemOK!, Safe Boot, ReTry, Clear CMOS, and USB BIOS Flashback buttons; ROG SupremeFX 2015 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.
It's that time of year again, where giving thanks has given way to the season of gift-giving. And what could be better than giving (or getting) the latest technology this year? Whatever your budget there's a good chance at least part of your holiday shopping this season will include some sort of tech hardware, and once again the staff here at PC Perspective have put together some of our recommendations. Sure, we might be biased in our belief that PC hardware and other tech gadgets make the best gifts, but we live and breathe this stuff every day (it's hard to turn it off!).
Our guide is once again broken up into categories, beginning with this page dedicated to PC components. Next up we have one for mobile devices like notebooks and tablets, and then one for PC accessories. Then our staff members have the chance to throw in some "wildcard" picks on the remaining pages.
We thank you for your support of PC Perspective through all of 2015. The links included below embed our affiliate code to Amazon.com (when applicable) and if you are doing other shopping for the holidays this year we would appreciate it if you used the button above before perusing Amazon.com. In case you want to know the affiliate code directly, it is: pcper0a4-20.
You can also support PC Perspective through your Amazon gift card purchases, and then purchase whatever you want!
Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $431, Amazon
Last year we picked the Intel Core i7-4790K as our high-end consumer desktop CPU, and with a current retail somewhere near $300 (Amazon) it's a fantastic option, and still the #1 selling CPU on Amazon. Going forward the Z170 platform will be the enthusiast standard as Z97 starts to be phased out, but the poor availability of the 6th-generation Intel Skylake unlocked parts (particularly this i7-6700K) has helped keep the new platform from wider adoption. The $400+ retail for this CPU is steep, but there is no faster option outside of the X99 platform processors.
Intel Core i5-6600K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $254.99, Amazon
For a more affordable option, particularly for gaming where the importance of Hyper-Threading is debatable, the unlocked quad-core i5-6600K is a very attractive option if you want to get into an unlocked Skylake CPU for a lot less money.
Intel Core i3-6100 - $131.49, Amazon
Having been very impressed with the performance of the 4th-gen Core i3-4130 processor, the move to 6th-gen Skylake will only provide more per-thread performance for a dual-core part that still plays the latest quad-core dependent games thanks to Hyper-Threading.
AMD Athlon X4 860K Quad-Core Processor - $69.99, Amazon
The king of the budget quad-core processors, the 860K provides very good performance that might be a little below Intel's Core i3, but for about half the price it's a sensational way to start a build that will still play all the latest games and provide a good productivity experience.
FreeSync and Frame Pacing Get a Boost
Make sure you catch today's live stream we are hosting with AMD to discuss much more about the new Radeon Software Crimson driver. We are giving away four Radeon graphics cards as well!! Find all the information right here.
Earlier this month AMD announced plans to end the life of the Catalyst Control Center application for control of your Radeon GPU, introducing a new brand simply called Radeon Software. The first iteration of this software, Crimson, is being released today and includes some impressive user experience changes that are really worth seeing and, well, experiencing.
Users will no doubt lament the age of the previous Catalyst Control Center; it was slow, clunky and difficult to navigate around. Radeon Software Crimson changes all of this with a new UI, a new backend that allows it to start up almost instantly, as well as a handful of new features that might be a surprise to some of our readers. Here's a quick rundown of what stands out to me:
- Opens in less than a second in my testing
- Completely redesigned and modern user interface
- Faster display initialization
- New clean install utility (separate download)
- Per-game Overdrive (overclocking) settings
- LiquidVR integration
- FreeSync improvements at low frame rates
- FreeSync planned for HDMI (though not implemented yet)
- Frame pacing support in DX9 titles
- New custom resolution support
- Desktop-based Virtual Super Resolution
- Directional scaling for 2K to 4K upscaling (Fiji GPUs only)
- Shader cache (precompiled) to reduce compiling-induced frame time variance
- Non-specific DX12 improvements
- Flip queue size optimizations (frame buffer length) for specific games
- Wider target range for Frame Rate Target Control
That's quite a list of new features, some of which will be more popular than others, but it looks like there should be something for everyone to love about the new Crimson software package from AMD.
For this story today I wanted to focus on two of the above features that have long been a sticking point for me, and see how well AMD has fixed them with the first release of Radeon Software.
FreeSync: Low Frame Rate Compensation
I might be slightly biased, but I don't think anyone has done a more thorough job of explaining and diving into the differences between AMD FreeSync and NVIDIA G-Sync than the team at PC Perspective. Since day one of the G-Sync variable refresh release we have been following the changes and capabilities of these competing features and writing about what really separates them from a technological point of view, not just pricing and perceived experiences.
Introduction and Features
EVGA recently introduced three new Platinum certified power supplies in their popular SuperNOVA line, the 650P2, 750P2 and 850P2. All three power supplies are 80 Plus Platinum certified for high efficiency and feature all modular cables, high-quality Japanese brand capacitors, and a quiet 140mm cooling fan (with the ability to operate in silent, fan-less mode at low to mid power levels). And in addition to delivering excellent performance with quiet operation, these new power supplies are backed by a 10-year warranty!
EVGA was founded in 1999 with headquarters in Brea, California. They continue to specialize in producing NVIDIA based graphics adapters and Intel based motherboards and keep expanding their PC power supply product line, which currently includes thirty-four models ranging from the high-end 1,600W SuperNOVA T2 to the budget minded EVGA 400W power supply.
In this review we will be taking a detailed look at both the EVGA SuperNOVA 650P2 and 750P2 power supplies. It’s nice when we receive two slightly different units in the same product series to look for consistency during testing.
Here is what EVGA has to say about the new SuperNOVA P2 Platinum PSUs: “The unbeatable performance of the EVGA SuperNOVA P2 power supply line is now available in 850, 750 and 650 watt versions. Based on the award winning P2 power supplies, these units feature 80 Plus Platinum rated efficiency, and clean, continuous power to every component. The ECO Control Fan system offers fan modes to provide absolutely zero fan noise during low to medium load operations. Backed by an award winning 10 year warranty, and 100% Japanese capacitor design, the EVGA SuperNOVA 850, 750 and 650 P2 power supplies offer unbeatable performance and value."
EVGA SuperNOVA 650W P2 and 750W P2 PSU Key Features:
• Fully modular cables to reduce clutter and improve airflow
• 80 PLUS Platinum certified, with up to 92% efficiency
• LLC Resonant circuit design for high efficiency
• Tight voltage regulation, stable power with low AC ripple and noise
• Highest quality Japanese brand capacitors ensure long-term reliability
• Quiet 140mm Double ball bearing fan for reliability and quiet operation
• ECO Intelligent Thermal Control allows silent, fan-less operation at low power
• NVIDIA SLI & AMD Crossfire Ready
• Compliance with ErP Lot 6 2013 Requirement
• Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
• Complete Protections: OVP, UVP, OPP, OCP and SCP
• 10-Year warranty and EVGA Customer Support
Skylake Architecture Comes Through
When Intel finally revealed the details surrounding it's latest Skylake architecture design back in August at IDF, we learned for the first time about a new technology called Intel Speed Shift. A feature that moves some of the control of CPU clock speed and ramp up away from the operating system and into hardware gives more control to the processor itself, making it less dependent on Windows (and presumably in the future, other operating systems). This allows the clock speed of a Skylake processor to get higher, faster, allowing for better user responsiveness.
It's pretty clear that Intel is targeting this feature addition for tablets and 2-in-1s where the finger/pen to screen interaction is highly reliant on immediate performance to enable improved user experiences. It has long been known that one of the biggest performance deltas between iOS from Apple and Android from Google centers on the ability for the machine to FEEL faster when doing direct interaction, regardless of how fast the background rendering of an application or web browser actually is. Intel has been on a quest to fix this problem for Android for some time, where it has the ability to influence software development, and now they are bringing that emphasis to Windows 10.
With the most recent Windows 10 update, to build v10586, Intel Speed Shift has finally been enabled for Skylake users. And since you cannot disable the feature once it's installed, this is the one and only time we'll be able to measure performance in our test systems. So let's see if Intel's claims of improved user experiences stand up to our scrutiny.
Introduction and First Impressions
DEEPCOOL's Gabriel is part of their Gamer Storm series of products, and this low-profile design is rated up to 95 W to keep the latest processors cool under load. So how does it perform? We'll take a close look at the performance of this mini-ITX inspired air cooler in today's review.
(Image credit: DEEPCOOL)
There are so many inexpensive options for air cooling on the market that it's almost overwhelming. At the top of the list in popularity are low-cost tower coolers from Cooler Master, with the ubiquitous Hyper 212 Evo at around $30, and the slightly smaller Hyper T4 at $25. But with a height of 159 mm for the 212 Evo and 152.3 mm for the T4 these coolers are not going to fit in every situation - and certainly not in a slim enclosure. There are plenty of low-profile CPU coolers on the market, one of the lowest being the Noctua NH-L9i, a $40-ish cooler which stands just 37 mm tall (with the fan!), but the tan and reddish-brown color scheme isn't for everyone, and the ultra-low profile design (which is also limited to a 92 mm fan) won't be required for many builds.
So when I began looking for a low-profile air cooler for my own use recently one of the options that cought my eye was this Gabriel, part of DEEPCOOL's Gamer Storm line. The Gabriel had the advantage of being just $34.99 on Newegg when I picked it up, making it less expensive (and less tan and brown) than the Noctua. At 60 mm tall with its 120 mm fan installed, the Gabriel should fit in most low-profile enclosures, considering even half-height expansion cards are a bit taller at about 69 mm. The Gabriel also offers an understated look with a grey (well, mostly grey) fan. Of course appearances mean nothing unless it's well made and cools effectively, and for myself the question became, is this going to rival the experience of a Noctua (long my preferred brand) CPU cooler?
Introduction and Technical Specifications
Courtesy of Noctua
Courtesy of Noctua
Noctua is a well respected manufacturer in the highly competitive CPU cooler space, offering products optimized for high efficiency and low-noise. The newest members of their S series coolers, the NH-D15S and NH-C14S, are based on known designs tweaked for maximum compatibility to ensure proper fit on your hot new Haswell, Haswell-E, or Skylake supported motherboard. Both coolers come standard with Noctua's SecuFirm2™ mounting mechanism, ensuring a secure mount between the cooler and CPU.
Courtesy of Noctua
The NH-D15S CPU cooler is a dual tower cooler with a single fan sandwiched between the two radiator towers. The unit can support a maximum of three fans, but may suffer compatibility issues with certain motherboards when used outside of its default single-fan configuration. Noctua designed the cooler with their typical hybrid approach, combining a copper base plate and heat pipes with aluminum finned cooling towers. The base plate and heat pipes are nickel-plated for looks and to prevent corrosion. At an MSRP of $89.99, the Noctua NH-D15S comes with a premium price to match is colossal size.
Courtesy of Noctua
The NH-C14S CPU cooler is single radiator cooler in a horizontal orientation with a single fan. The radiator's horizontal orientation gives the cooler a lower height in comparison to a cooler with the traditional veritical radiators while maintaining equivalent cooling performance. In typical Noctua fashion, the NH-C14S combines a copper base plate and heat pipes with aluminum finned cooling towers for an optimal hybrid cooling solution. The base plate and heat pipes are nickel-plated for looks and to prevent corrosion. The NH-C14S also retails at an MSRP of $89.99.
Cat 12 Modem, Wi-Fi Adaptive Calling
If you have been following PC Perspective over the last several months it would be hard to miss news about the upcoming release of Qualcomm's latest flagship SoC for smartphones and tablets, the Snapdragon 820. Beginning in early August with discussion of the Adreno 5xx GPU architecture, followed by information covering the Hexagon 680 DSP (digital signal processor) and then details on the LTE modem in the SoC (the X12), and ending with information on the Kryo CPU cores, the release of the Snapdragon 820 processor has been drawn out if nothing else.
The emphasis on distribution of data was likely at attempt to rebuild trust with the enthusiast consumer, media and even the OEMs, as the launch of the Snapdragon 810 was troubled by overheating concerns and second revisions. Several high impact flagship smartphone used the SoC,
including the LG G4 (correction: G4 shipped with the Snapdragon 808, while the HTC One M9, OnePlus 2, Sony Xperia Z5 and others use the 810) but with Samsung moving away from Qualcomm parts to its own designs, the processor didn't see nearly the ubiquitous adoption that we had expected and witnessed in previous generations.
Qualcomm invited some media and analysts out to New York this week to take the cover off of the Snapdragon 820 completely, at least as far as features are concerned. We still were not able to get to the meat of the details surrounding the CPU / Kryo implementation or architectural improvements, but we are promised those would be coming closer to product availability in 2016. Instead, Qualcomm wanted to show off the consumer benefits that phones and tablets based on Snapdragon 820 could feature (based on OEM implementation); that means lots of demos, lots of time with product and feature managers.
Introduction and Features
Be Quiet! is a well-respected brand, particularly in Europe, for PC power supplies and they are continuing to expand their product offering to include high-end ATX mid-tower enclosures. Be Quiet! introduced the Silent Base 800 mid-tower case last year and they have released the Silent Base 600 mid-tower case in 2015. As you might expect, the Silent Base Series is designed for very quiet operation while still offering excellent performance and cooling. We will be taking a detailed look at the new Silent Base 600 Window enclosure in this review.
The Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 ATX Mid-Tower enclosure isn’t quite as tall as the Silent Base 800 (2.5” shorter). It comes in three different color schemes (Black/Black, Orange/Black, and Siler/Black) like the 800 and is available with or without a side window. Our review sample is the black-on-black model with a window.
The Silent Base Series is targeted towards users looking to build a quiet high-end gaming or multimedia system. The Silent Base 600 comes with two Be Quiet! Pure Wings 2 fans (140mm intake and 120mm exhaust) pre-installed along with numerous options that support additional fans or liquid cooling if desired.
“The Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 offers the perfect symbiosis of noise prevention and cooling performance, good usability, and an extensive capacity for high-end hardware.”
Be Quiet! Silent Base 600 Mid-Tower Case Key Features:
• Mid-Tower ATX enclosure available in three different color schemes (with or without a side window)
• Supports ATX, Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards
• Innovative construction assures excellent cooling efficiency and air circulation
• Easily removed dust filters on front and bottom panels
• Sound dampening mats used on front panel and both side panels
• Anti-vibration decoupling provided for fans, HDDs and power supply
• Double-glazed side panel window provides superb soundproofing
• Two included Pure Wings 2 fans (140mm intake and 120mm exhaust)
• Three-speed fan control switch
• Removable top panel, with top fan mounts pre-drilled for dual 120mm or 140mm fans
• Excellent cooling and low noise levels with up to six fan mounting locations
• Front: 140mm fan included (upgradable to dual 120mm or 140mm)
• Top: Dual 120mm or 140mm
• Rear: 120mm fan included
• Bottom: 120mm or 140mm
• (2) USB 3.0, (2) USB 2.0 and audio jacks on the front panel
• Three internal 3.5” hard drive bays
• Three internal 2.5” SSD mounting locations
• Three external 5.25” drive bays
• Tool-free mounting for all 3.5”/2.5” internal drives
• Up to 294mm (11.6”) clearance for graphic cards
• Up to 413mm (16.3”) for long graphic cards (with HDD cage removed)
• Up to 170mm (6.7”) of space for CPU coolers
• MSRP: $119.99 USD ($109.99 without side window)
Fully Featured Wheel for $200 US
Gaming wheels are a pretty interesting subset of the hardware world. It seems the vast majority of gamers out there are keyboard and mouse players, or skew towards console controllers which are relatively inexpensive as compared to joysticks or wheels. For those that are serious about their racing games, a wheel is a must. Sure, there are plenty of people that are good with a console controller, but that does not provide the same experience. In fact, racing games do quite a bit of compensation when it comes to steering, acceleration, and braking when it detects a console controller.
Thrustmaster echoes the Playstation blue with their PS3/PS4/PC based T150 wheel.
This makes quite a bit of sense when we consider how many degrees of travel a thumbstick has as compared to a wheel. Or how much travel a button has as compared to a set of pedals. I have talked to a developer about this and they admit to giving a hand to keyboard and console controller users, otherwise cars in these games are nigh uncontrollable. A wheel and pedal set will give much more granular control over a car in a simulation, which is crazy to think about since we use a wheel and pedal set for our daily driving…
The very basic wheels are typically small units that have a bungie or spring system to center the wheel. They also feature a pretty limited rotation, going about 270 degrees at max. These products might reach to the $100 level at max, but they are pretty basic when it comes to the driving experience. There is then a huge jump to the $300 MSRP level where users can purchase the older Logitech G27 or the still current Thrustmaster TX series.
This was not always the case. Microsoft years back had offered their Sidewinder FFB Wheel around the $200 level. Thrustmaster also addressed this market with their now discontinued Ferrari F430 FFB wheel which had an initial MSRP of around $200. This particular wheel was popular with the entry level gamers, but it had a pretty big drawback; the wheel was limited to 270 degrees of rotation. This may be fine for some arcade style racers, but for those looking to expand into more sim territory had to set their sights on higher priced products.
Introduction and First Impressions
When I reviewed the first LIVA mini-PC from ECS one year ago I was impressed by the concept of a full Windows computer in an enclosure about the size of a can of cola, which included everything you needed to get started out of the box. The problem with that first LIVA was that it was a little underpowered for the current generation of operating systems, and with the introduction of the LIVA X the performance improved only slightly; though it was a much more polished product overall. So how does the latest LIVA - the X2 - stack up? We'll find that out here.
The first thing you're bound to notice with the X2 is the markedly different style compared to the first two. Where last year’s LIVA X had a sleek, lower-profile appearance, with the LIVA X2 we have something completely different, which I won’t judge one way or the other as this is a matter of personal taste. I do miss the angular black plastic housing from last year’s version, but the fit and finish of the X2 is very nice regardless of what you think of the rounded body and white and chrome plastic finish. (ECS also offers a LIVA “Core” barebone kit that follows the aesthetic of the LIVA X.)
So what’s new beyond the appearance? After only the most minor tweak to the SoC between the first LIVA and its followup, the LIVA X (moving a single SKU up from an Intel Bay Trail-M Celeron N2807 to the N2808), this new X2 has a completely different Intel solution under the hood with its Braswell SoC - the Intel Celeron N3050 processor, a dual-core part with 2 MB of cache and a 2.16 GHz top speed. Considering that even the <$150 Intel Compute Stick offers a quad-core CPU (the Z3735F, a Bay Trail SoC) I was a little skeptical of the dual-core option here, but we’ll just have to see how it performs.
Three generations of LIVA
Four High Powered Mini ITX Systems
Thanks to Sebastian for helping me out with some of the editorial for this piece and to Ken for doing the installation and testing on the system builds! -Ryan
Update (1/23/16): Now that that AMD Radeon R9 Nano is priced at just $499, it becomes an even better solution for these builds, dropping prices by $150 each.
While some might wonder where the new Radeon R9 Nano fits in a market that offers the AMD Fury X for the same price, the Nano is a product that defines a new category in the PC enthusiast community. It is a full-scale GPU on an impossibly small 6-inch PCB, containing the same core as the larger liquid-cooled Fury X, but requiring 100 watts less power than Fury X and cooled by a single-fan dual-slot air cooler.
The R9 Nano design screams compatibility. It has the ability to fit into virtually any enclosure (including many of the smallest mini-ITX designs), as long as the case supports a dual-slot (full height) GPU. The total board length of 6 inches is shorter than a mini-ITX motherboard, which is 6.7 inches square! Truly, the Nano has the potential to change everything when it comes to selecting a small form-factor (SFF) enclosure.
Typically, a gaming-friendly enclosure would need at minimum a ~270 mm GPU clearance, as a standard 10.5-inch reference GPU translates into 266.7 mm in length. Even very small mini-ITX enclosures have had to position components specifically to allow for these longer cards – if they wanted to be marketed as compatible with a full-size GPU solution, of course. Now with the R9 Nano, smaller and more powerful than any previous ITX-specific graphics card to date, one of the first questions we had was a pretty basic one: what enclosure should we put this R9 Nano into?
With no shortage of enclosures at our disposal to try out a build with this new card, we quickly discovered that many of them shared a design choice: room for a full-length GPU. So, what’s the advantage of the Nano’s incredibly compact size? It must be pointed out that larger (and faster) Fury X has the same MSRP, and at 7.5 inches the Fury X will fit comfortably in cases that have spacing for the necessary radiator.
Finding a Case for Nano
While even some of the tiniest mini-ITX enclosures (EVGA Hadron, NCASE M1, etc.) offer support for a 10.5-in GPU, there are several compact mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-length graphics card due to their small footprint. While by no means a complete list, here are some of the options out there (note: there are many more mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-height or dual-slot expansion card at all, such as slim HTPC enclosures):
|Cooler Master||Elite 110||$47.99, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-O5||$377, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q01||$59.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q03||$74.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q07||$71.98, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q30||$139.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q33||$134.99, Newegg.com|
|Rosewill||Legacy V3 Plus-B||$59.99, Newegg.com|
The list is dominated by Lian Li, who offers a number of cube-like mini-ITX enclosures that would ordinarily be out of the question for a gaming rig, unless one of the few ITX-specific cards were chosen for the build. Many other fine enclosure makers (Antec, BitFenix, Corsair, Fractal Design, SilverStone, etc.) offer mini-ITX enclosures that support full-length GPUs, as this has pretty much become a requirement for an enthusiast PC case.
Introduction and Features
Thermaltake is expanding their Digital Power Supply (DPS) lineup with the introduction of the new Toughpower DPS G Series, which includes six models ranging from 450W up to 1050W. We will be taking a detailed look at the Toughpower DPS G 850W PSU in this review. Note: the new DPS G Series is a new line and is different than the Toughpower DPS 750W/850W/1050W models, which use the basic DPS App software. All DPS G Series power supplies support Thermaltakes new comprehensive suite of Smart Power Management (SPM) software. Thermaltake has also introduced four DPS G power supplies in their Smart Series, the Smart DPS G 600W/650W/700W/750W
Thermaltake’s new DPS G Series power supplies incorporate an embedded digital controller, which enables them to communicate with the Smart Power Management software to monitor and record various functions of the PC and power supply. Some of Thermaltakes competition (notably Corsair) has offered “digital” power supplies for some time. Even though Thermaltake may be coming a little late to the party, they appear to have done their homework and continue to expand the software, which now includes a full suite of digital monitoring, recording and analysis software to support the Toughpower DPS G Series power supplies.
(Courtesy of Thermaltake)
The Toughpower DPS G 850W power supply features fully modular, flat-ribbon style cables, 80 Plus Gold certification for high efficiency, is Haswell and ErP Lot ready, and supports multiple graphic adapters with six PCI-E connectors.
Thermaltake Toughpower DPS G 850W PSU Key Features:
• 850W continuous DC output (up to 50°C)
• Embedded digital controller communicates with Thermaltake’s SPM software
• 80 PLUS Gold certified, at least 90% efficiency under 50% load
• Fully modular cables for easy installation
• Flat ribbon-style, low profile cables for a clean installation
• Single high-current +12V output (70.8A/249.7W)
• Dual ball bearing 140mm fan for reliability and long life
• High-quality Japanese made electrolytic capacitors (105°C)
• ErP Lot and Haswell ready
• NVIDIA SLI ready with six 6+2 pin PCI-E connectors
• Active Power Factor correction (0.99) with Universal AC input
• Safety Protections : OVP, UVP, SCP, and OPP
• 7-Year Warranty
• MSRP for the Toughpower DPS G 850W: $199.99 USD