Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Third annual release

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

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

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

Not a performance focused story

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

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

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

Radeon ReLive Capture and Streaming Feature

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

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

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

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

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

Author:
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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

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

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

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

EVGA SuperNOVA 550W G3 PSU Key Features:

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

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

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: The Khronos Group

Maybe Good that Valve Called their API OpenVR?

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

Original Post Below

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

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group

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

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

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

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Image Credit: The Khronos Group, modified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manufacturer: DEEPCOOL

Introduction and First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

Move Over T150...

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

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

The Basics

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

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

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

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

Click to read the entire wheel review!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: AUKEY

Introduction and First Impressions

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

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

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

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

Author:
Manufacturer: XFX

Introduction and Features

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Introduction

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

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

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

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XFX TS Series Gold Full Wired Power Supply Key Features:

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

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

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

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

Introduction and Case Exterior

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

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

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

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

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

A Holiday Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction

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

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

Architectural Refresher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading our look at Kaby Lake mobile performance!

Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and Exterior

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

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

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

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

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

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction and Technical Specifications

Introduction

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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Courtesy of GIGABYTE

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

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

Author:

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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SilverStone has been busy this year expanding their power supply lineup. With a continued focus on smaller physical size and support for enthusiasts in the small form factor arena, SilverStone now offers seven power supplies in the SFX Series, ranging in output capacity from 300W to 700W. Earlier this year we looked at the SX700-LPT, which sits at high end of the SFX Series. In this review we are going to look at the two entry level models, the new ST30SF (V2.0) and the ST45SF (V3.0).

Both of the SilverStone SFX power supplies were designed for mainstream use in small form factor cases but they can also be used in place of a standard ATX power supply (in small enclosures) with the included adapter bracket. As entry level units they forgo some features like modular cables, Platinum or Gold efficiency certification, and fan-less operation. However, in addition to their compact size, the ST30SF and ST45SF incorporate a quiet 92mm fan (instead of the 80mm fans used in previous models), fixed cables, and come with 80 Plus Bronze efficiency certification.

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SilverStone ST30SF & ST45SF PSU Key Features:

•    Small Form Factor (SFX) design (63x125x100mm HxWxD)
•    300W or 450W continuous power output rated for 24/7 operation
•    Very quiet with 92mm cooling fan
•    80 Plus Bronze certified for high efficiency
•    Powerful single +12V rail operation
•    Fixed cables
•    Active power factor correction
•    MSRP: ST30SF - $$49.99 USD
•    MSRP: ST45SF - $69.99 USD
•    3-Year warranty

Please continue reading our review of the SilverStone SFX PSUs!!!

Manufacturer: NZXT

Introduction and First Impressions

The Source S340 from NZXT has been one of my favorite enclosures since I reviewed it early in 2015, offering a fantastic price/performance proposition with a street price between $69 and $79. Fortunately, this outstanding compact ATX design isn't going anywhere, and since my original review NZXT has introduced a premium Designed by Razer version, and this new S340 Elite was released just last month.

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What makes the Elite so, well, elite? There are some key changes with this new version, including a tempered glass side panel, VR support from an external HDMI port and an included puck for storing a VR headset and cables, as well as new plastic cable management clamps behind the motherboard tray, an extra SSD mount up front, and a pair of USB 2.0 ports along with the previous USB 3.0 ports up top. While the VR support won't be required for everyone, the tempered glass panel alone makes this an attractive option at its $99.99 retail price, which is a very modest $20 premium over the standard version's $79.99 MSRP.

This review will be a little less in-depth compared to the usual review, as the S340 chassis is unchanged internally from our full review last April. Still, there is enough new here to take a fresh look at the S340 Elite, and it will be good to test it again with the current testbench components and see how it has held up.

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The tempered glass side panel is the star of the 340 Elite

Continue reading our review of the NZXT Source S340 Elite case!!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

Since Samsung’s announcement of the 960 Series SSDs, I have been patiently waiting not for the 960 PRO (reviewed a few weeks back), but for the 960 EVO. It is the EVO, in my opinion, that is the big release here. Sure, it doesn’t have the quad Hexadecimal Die Packages, Package-on-Package DRAM and ultimate higher capacity of the PRO, but what it *does* potentially have is class leading performance / price in the M.2 form factor. Just as we all wanted lower cost SSDs in the 2.5” SATA form factor, M.2 is seeing greater adoption across laptops and desktop motherboards, and it’s high time we started seeing M.2 SSDs come down in price.

I know, don’t tell me, the Intel 600p carries a SATA-level cost/GB in an M.2 form factor. Sure that’s great, and while I do recommend that SSD for those on a budget, its caching scheme comes with some particularly nasty inconsistencies in sustained writes that may scare off some power users. Samsung 840/850 EVO SSDs have historically handled the transitions between SLC cache and TLC bulk writes far better than any competing units, and I’ve eagerly anticipated the chance to see how well their implementation carries over to an NVMe SSD. Fortunately for us, that day is today:

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Specifications:

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An important point to note in the performance specs - the lowest capacity model is the only one to see its performance significantly taper in stated specifications. That is because even with its 48-layer VNAND operating in SLC mode, there are only two packages on all 960 EVOs and the 250GB capacity comes equipped with the fewest dies to spread the work across. Less parallelism leads to lower ultimate performance. Still, it is impressive to see only 250GB of flash reaching near saturation of PCIe 3.0 x4 in reads.

I've appended the 'sustained' (TLC) performance specs at the bottom of the above chart. These 'after TurboWrite' figures are the expected performance after the SLC cache has been depleted. This is nearly impossible in actual usage scenarios, as it is extremely difficult for any typical (or even power user) desktop workloads to write fast and long enough to deplete such a cache, especially considering how much larger these caches are compared to prior models.

Packaging:

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Samsung has carried forward their simple packaging introduced with the 960 PRO. The felt pad on the bottom of the installation guide is both functional and elegant, keeping the 960 Pro safely in place during shipment.

Read on for the full review of the 250GB and 1TB Samsung 960 EVO!

Author:
Manufacturer: MSI

We have a lot of gaming notebooks

Back in April I did a video with MSI that looked at all of the gaming notebook lines it built around the GTX 900-series of GPUs. Today we have stepped it up a notch, and again are giving you an overview of MSI's gaming notebook lines that now feature the ultra-powerful GTX 10-series using NVIDIA's Pascal architecture. That includes the GTX 1060, GTX 1070 and GTX 1080.

What differentiates the various series of notebooks from MSI? The GE series is for entry level notebook gaming, the GS series offers slim options while the GT series is the ultimate PC gaming mobile platforms. 

  GE series GS series GT62/72 series GT 73/83 series
MSRP $1549-1749 $1499-2099 $1499-2599 $2199-4999
Screen 15.6" and 17.3"
1080p
14", 15.6" and 17.3"
1080p and 4K
15.6" and 17.3"
1080p, G-Sync
17.3" and 18"
1080p, 4K
G-Sync (varies)
CPU Core i7-6700HQ Core i7-6700HQ Core i7-6700HQ Core i7-6820HK
Core i7-6920HQ
GPU GTX 1060 6GB GTX 1060 6GB GTX 1060 6GB
GTX 1070 8GB
GTX 1070 8GB (SLI option)
GTX 1080 8GB (SLI option)
RAM 12-16GB 16-32GB 12-32GB 16-64GB
Storage 128-512GB M.2 SATA
1TB HDD
128-512GB M.2 SATA
1TB HDD
128-512GB PCIe and SATA
1TB HDD
Up to 1TB SSD (SATA, NVMe)
1TB HDD
Optical DVD Super-multi None Yes (GT72 only) Blu-ray burner (GT83 only)
Features Killer E2400 LAN
USB 3.1 Type-C
Steel Series RGB Keyboard
Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
Thunderbolt 3
Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
USB 3.1 Type-C
3x USB 3.0 (GT62)
3x USB 3.0 (GT72)
Killer E2400 LAN
Killer 1535 WiFi
Thunderbolt 3
5x USB 3.0
Steel Series RGB (GT73)
Mechanical Keyboard (GT83)
Weight 5.29-5.35 lbs 3.75-5.35 lbs 6.48-8.33 lbs 8.59-11.59 lbs

Our video below will break down the differences and help point you toward the right notebook for you based on the three key pillars of performance, price and form factor.

Thanks goes out to CUK, Computer Upgrade King, for supplying the 9 different MSI notebooks for our testing and evaluation!

Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction and First Impressions

Corsair’s Carbide Series Air 740 is a high-airflow cube-like ATX case, and it has a different look and some different options compared to the previous Air 540. Both Air cases are dual-chamber designs, with tons of room behind the motherboard tray for storage and hiding cables (and watercooling components). The cube style might not be to everyone’s liking, but if you do like the aesthetics there is a lot of case to cover here. Let’s get started!

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The original Carbide Air enclosure has been around for a few years, and Ryan reviewed Air 540 back in 2013. The new Air 740 is more a refinement than a new enclosure, and internally the two cases are very similar. Corsair has dropped the 5.25-inch external drive bays with the 740, and the door has a very nice hinged/latching design now. Style is a little more aggressive, but the fundamentals are the same: a cube design offering two large chambers, and generous venting to promote high airflow.

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The Air 740 has a hinged, latching door

Continue reading our review of the Corsair Carbide Air 740 case!!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Logitech

Introduction and Specifications

The Prodigy G231 is the budget-minded gaming headset in the Prodigy line, and with a standard analog connection Logitech has emphasized stereo sound quality in lieu of the simulated surround effects found on their pricier G633/G933 models. I tested these headphones with a variety of material to find out how well the G231 works at providing entertaining audio, and how comfortable they are in the process.

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Plain old 2-channel stereo can still offer a fantastic listening experience for music, gaming, and movies - when it’s done right. Things like the perceived “width” of the stereo sound, clarity of audio across the frequency spectrum, and dynamic shifts in volume can go far in providing an immersive experience - even without surround effects. Logitech’s existing gaming headsets (G633, G933) performed very well as stereo cans when connected with a 3.5 mm cable, and if this G231 comes close it presents a good value proposition.

Still, 7.1 channel sound, even if it is being simulated with single-driver designs like Logitech’s, obviously has a lot of fans, and for good reason. Willingness to accept 2-channel headphones for gaming will be up to the individual, and just as there are enthusiasts who would no sooner accept simulated surround as use a sound bar in their home theater, there are listeners who believe that dedicated drivers are essential to proper directional surround in a gaming headset. Multi-driver presents its own issues for a cohesive experience from a variety of content, and stereo music in particular just sounds better from a pair of high quality drivers.

Continue reading our review of the Logitech Prodigy G231 gaming headset!!

Author:
Manufacturer: EVGA

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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EVGA recently introduced two power supplies in the new Supernova G2L Series, the 750W G2L and the 850W G2L. We will be taking a detailed look at the 750 G2L in this review. The Supernova G2L Series is based on EVGA’s popular G2 series but now adds white LED lighting into the modular connectors on the front side of the power supply.

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The Supernova G2L series power supplies are 80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency and feature all modular cables, high-quality Japanese brand capacitors, a quiet 135mm cooling fan, and ECO Thermal control which enables fan-less operation at low to mid power. All G2L series power supplies are NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire Ready and are backed by a 10-year EVGA warranty!

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EVGA SuperNOVA 750W G2L PSU Key Features:

•    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 135mm ball bearing fan for exceptional reliability and quiet operation
•    ECO 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
•    White LEDs built into modular connectors

Please continue reading our review of the EVGA 750W G2L PSU!!!

Author:
Subject: Displays
Manufacturer: Acer

Introduction and Specifications

Acer's Predator Z850 takes the gaming monitor concept to the next level, projecting screen sizes up to 120" from less than two feet from a wall. It offers an ultra-wide 24:9 aspect ratio (at 1920x720), very high 3000 lumen brightness for gaming with ambient light (something projectors didn't used to be able to cope with), and a laser diode illumination system that lasts up to 30,000 hours. It's big, it's red, and you'd better believe it's expensive!

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The first thing you need to know about the Predator Z850 is that it's an ultra short-thow projector. This means that unlike standard projectors that need the length of the room, or short-throw projectors that still need a few feet, the Predator Z850 can project a huge image from just inches from a wall. This is a relatively new thing for consumer projectors (unless you count the old rear projection TVs, which used the technology), and there are only a few models with ultra short throw (UST) ranging from the mainstram LG PF1000U, to the $50,000 4K Sony LSPX-W1S.

It's remarkable how UST changes how we think about projection, as the same depth taken up by the average TV table could provide an image larger than nearly any LCD television available, while being easily portable in the process. The Predator Z850 is all about flexibility, combining the inherent UST ability to project massive 120-inch images from less than two feet away, to built-in correction for various colors of wall paint (this could be used with a projection screen, too, of course). The only problem I can forsee as we continue is the price tag, which is $4999.

So how can we justify the price of the Z850? No matter how you slice it $5,000 is a lot of money, and the same investment could build an amazing multi-monitor setup as an alternative. But there really is something about turning an entire wall of your house into a display, and I had a lot of fun playing around with this projector (my wife was sorry it had to go back, as she enjoyed her 100-inch football games on the wall).

Continue reading our review of the Acer Predator Z850 UltraWide Gaming Projector!!