Maximum PC - Reviews http://www.maximumpc.com/articles/40/feed en Broken Age Review http://www.maximumpc.com/broken_age_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Two stories, tons of creativity, yummy ice cream, no grog</h3> <p>That’s fair advice for the half of you who will start out Broken Age in a miserable funk instead of a monster-filled fairy tale. At least, that’s how we felt when we initially began our trip through Tim Schafer’s imaginative title—the first half of a two-part, point-and-click adventure from the industry veteran whose previous credits stand well on their own within the genre: Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, et cetera.</p> <p>The game splits the two protagonists’ (seemingly) separate story lines right from the start. We started our journey with the boy, Shay, but found the initial ramp-up to his adventure a bit too convincing.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_26.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_25.jpg" alt="It’s no Mystery Science Theater movie warning, that’s for sure." title="Broken Age" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It’s no Mystery Science Theater movie warning, that’s for sure.</strong></p> <p>Without spoiling too much of the plot, Shay is trapped on a spaceship that goes above and beyond to protect him from the harshness of growing up. Shay could not be any more apathetic to the idea of daily life with his “mother,” a benevolent, computerized AI of sorts, who washes him, feeds him his daily cereal, and sends him on “adventures” that end in hugs, piles of ice cream, and, most likely, a bout of depression.</p> <p>The other protagonist of this half-game, Vella, presents a more compelling story line. In this case, you’re playing the classic damsel in distress. Rather than being eaten by a giant monster as part of her town’s sacrificial ritual to avoid destruction, she decides to go on a one-woman crusade to slay said monster herself.</p> <p>While Vella’s story line is a bit more action-packed—or at least, feels more so as a result of its classic slay-the-dragon-like premise—we actually found ourselves more proud of our experience in Shay’s adventure. Our favorite moment involved trying to find a way to “kill” our character, for lack of a better way to say it, in order to see if his daily monotony could be averted somehow. Spoiler: It can.</p> <p>That’s the most challenging example of the game’s puzzles that we could come up with, as Broken Age feels perfectly balanced between “breeze on by” and “consult game FAQs” for its overall difficulty. You get just enough quirky items to keep you thinking about what goes where without feeling overwhelmed with options—this isn’t a 20-item-inventory, combine-every-gizmo kind of adventure title.</p> <p>While Broken Age features no hint system, which might frustrate those looking for an extra boost or two in some head-scratching moments, you do have the option to switch between the two separate”story lines at a moment’s notice. Think Day of the Tentacle, only, your actions in the two stories don’t affect each other—a somewhat curious oversight that we hope developer Double Fine Productions changes up in the game’s second half.</p> <p>There’s no real point to spending much time talking about the game’s graphics, as you’ll fall in love with the beautiful visuals the moment you start adventuring. Kudos to Broken Age’s original orchestration as well—it’s the bread keeping the delicious presentation together. Sharp writing, endless wit, and excellent characterization (with similarly awesome voice talent) all work in tandem to deliver a welcome arrival to a genre whose blockbuster titles are not always at the forefront of gamers’ minds.</p> <p>You won’t forget Broken Age; in fact, we think you’ll be clamoring for quite a while to see how chapter one’s big cliffhanger ends up. More, Tim Schafer! More!</p> <p><strong>$25,</strong> <a href="http://www.brokenagegame.com/">www.brokenagegame.com</a><strong><a href="http://www.brokenagegame.com/">,</a> ESRB: n/a</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/broken_age_review_2014#comments Broken Age maximum pc May issues 2014 Software Software Reviews Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:57:20 +0000 David Murphy 28383 at http://www.maximumpc.com OCZ Vertex 460 240GB Review http://www.maximumpc.com/ocz_vertex_460_240gb_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated</h3> <p>That last time we heard from OCZ was back before the end of 2013, when the company was in the grips of bankruptcy and nobody was sure what its future held. Fast forward to March 2014, and things are looking rather good for the formerly beleaguered company, much to everyone’s surprise. Rather than simply dissolve and fade away like we had feared, the company has been acquired by storage behemoth Toshiba, and is now operating as an independent subsidiary.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/vertex460_lrg_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/vertex460_lrg_small.jpg" alt="OCZ’s new drive has a more subdued, corporate look to it, thanks to a takeover by “the man.”" title="OCZ Vertex 460 240GB" width="620" height="449" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>OCZ’s new drive has a more subdued, corporate look to it, thanks to a takeover by “the man.”</strong></p> <p>The best news is OCZ’s NAND-acquisition troubles are seemingly a thing of the past, as Toshiba is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of NAND. So, it is no surprise that the first drive we’re seeing from the new venture is essentially a reborn Vector drive, only with Toshiba NAND flash. Dubbed the Vertex 460, this “new” drive blends the company’s proprietary Barefoot 3 controller found on its high-end Vector drives with Toshiba’s 19nm MLC NAND flash, so it’s ditching the Micron NAND it used previously. The result is basically a slight watering-down of its Vector 150 drive in order to make it more affordable and consumer-friendly. It also needed to bring its Barefoot 3 controller over to its mainstream line of Vertex-branded drives, so this drive accomplishes that feat, as well.</p> <p>In many ways, the Vertex 460 is very similar to the company’s recent Vector 150 drive, the only difference being the Vector has a five-year warranty and has a higher overall endurance rating to reflect its use of binned NAND flash. The Vertex 460 is no slouch, though, and is rated to handle up to 20GB of NAND writes per day for three years. The drive also utilizes over-provisioning, so 12 percent of the drive is reserved for NAND management by the Barefoot 3 controller. Though you lose some capacity, you gain longer endurance and better performance, so it’s a worthwhile trade-off. The Vertex 460 also offers hardware encryption support, which is very uncommon for a mainstream drive, and though we’d never use it, it’s nice to have options. Otherwise, its specs are par for the course in that it’s a 7mm drive and is available in 120GB, 240GB, and 480GB flavors. It’s also bundled with a 3.5-inch bay adapter as well as a copy of Acronis True Image, which is appreciated.</p> <p>When we strapped the Vertex to our test bench, we saw results that were consistently impressive. In every test, the Vertex 460 was very close to the fastest drives in its class, and in all scenarios it’s very close to saturating the SATA bus, so it’s not really possible for it to be any faster. It had no problem handling small queue depths of four commands in ATTO, and held its own with a 32 queue depth in Iometer, too. It was a minute slower than the Samsung 840 EVO in our Sony Vegas test, which writes a 20GB uncompressed AVI file to the drive, but also much faster than the Crucial M500 in the same test. Overall, there were no weak points whatsoever in its performance, but it is not faster than the Samsung 840 EVO, and its OCZ Toolbox software utility is extremely rudimentary compared to the Samsung app. Though the Vertex 460 is an overall very solid drive, it doesn’t exceed our expectations in any particular category. In other words, it’s a great SSD, but not quite Kick Ass.</p> <p><strong>$190,</strong> <a href="http://ocz.com/">www.ocz.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/ocz_vertex_460_240gb_review#comments Hard Drive Hardware HDD May issues 2014 OCZ Vertex 460 240GB Review solid state drive ssd Reviews Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:16:12 +0000 Josh Norem 28382 at http://www.maximumpc.com Nvidia Shield Tablet Review http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_tablet_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Updated: Now with video review!&nbsp;</h3> <p>Despite its problems, we actually liked <a title="Nvidia Shield review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_review_2013" target="_blank">Nvidia’s original Shield Android gaming handheld</a>. Our biggest issue with it was that it was bulky and heavy. With rumors swirling around about a Shield 2, we were hoping to see a slimmer, lighter design. So consider us initially disappointed when we learned that the next iteration of Shield would just be yet another Android tablet. Yawn, right? The fact of the matter is that the Shield Tablet may be playing in an oversaturated market, but it’s still great at what it sets out to be.</p> <p><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/dGigsxi9-K4" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We've updated our review to include the video review above.</strong></p> <p>At eight inches, the Shield Tablet features a gorgeous 1900x1200 display, which shares the same resolution as Google’s flagship <a title="nexus 7 review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/google_nexus_7_review_2013" target="_blank">Nexus 7</a> tablet. At 13.1 ounces, the Shield Tablet is about three ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 but still a lot lighter than the original’s 1 lb. 4.7 ounces.&nbsp;</p> <p>Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you’re getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat. It’s a little heavier than we like, but isn’t likely to cause any wrist problems. On the back of the Shield is an anti-slip surface and a 5MP camera, and on the front of the tablet is a front-facing 5MP camera and two front-facing speakers. While the speakers are not going to blow away dedicated Bluetooth speakers, they sound excellent for a tablet. In addition to the speakers, the Shield Tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top. Other ports include Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, and a MicroSD card slot capable of taking up to 128GB cards. Buttons on the Shield include a volume rocker and a power button, which we found to be a little small and shallow for our liking.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_exploded_view_black_bckgr.jpg" alt="Nvidia Shield Tablet guts" title="Nvidia Shield Tablet guts" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The guts of the Nvidia Shield Tablet.</strong></p> <p>All of this is running on the latest version of Android KitKat (4.4). Nvidia says that it will update the tablet to Android L within a few weeks of Google’s official release. If Nvidia’s original Shield is any indication of how well the company keeps up with OS updates, you should be able to expect to get the latest version of Android after a couple of weeks, if not a months, after release. Regardless, the Shield Tablet is running a pretty stock version of Android to begin with, the main difference being that Nvidia has pre-loaded the tablet with its Shield Hub, which is a 10-foot UI used to purchase, download, and launch games.</p> <p>Arguably, the real star of the tablet is Nvidia’s new Tegra K1 mobile superchip. The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC features Nvidia’s Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores along with 2GB of low-power DDR3. K1 supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics cards, including tesselation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.</p> <p>In our performance benchmarks, the K1 killed it. Up until now, the original Shield’s actively cooled Tegra 4 is arguably one of the most, if not <em>the</em> most, powerful Android SOC on the market, but the K1 slaughters it across the board. In Antutu and GeekBench benchmark, we saw modest gains of 12 percent to 23 percent in Shield vs. Shield Tablet action. But in Passmark and GFX Bench’s Trex test, we saw nearly a 50 percent spread, and in 3DMark’s mobile Icestorm Unlimited test, we saw an astounding 90 percent advantage for the Shield Tablet. This is incredible when you consider that the tablet has no fans and a two-watt TDP. Compared to the second-gen Nexus 7, the Shield Tablet benchmarks anywhere from 77 percent to 250 percent faster. This SOC is smoking fast.</p> <p>In terms of battery life, Nvidia claims you’ll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. This is up 3.75 Wh up from Google’s Nexus 7 equivalent, and from our experiential tests, we found those figures to be fairly accurate if not a best-case scenario. It will pretty much last you all day, but you'll still want to let it sip juice every night.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_shield_controller_war_thunder.jpg" alt="Shield Tablet review" title="Shield Tablet review" width="620" height="343" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The new wireless controller uses Wi-Fi Direct instead of Bluetooth for lower latency.</strong></p> <p>Of course, if you’re going to game with it, you’re going to need Nvidia’s new wireless Shield Controller. Sold separately for $60, the 11.2-ounce Shield Controller maintains the same button layout as the original Shield controller, but feels a lot lighter and is more comfortable to hold. While most Android game controllers operate over Bluetooth, Nvidia opted to go with Wi-Fi Direct, stating that it offers 2x faster response time and more bandwidth. The extra bandwidth allows you to plug a 3.5mm headphone into the controller and also allows you to link up to four controllers to the device, which is an appreciated feature when you hook up the tablet to your HDTV via the Shield Tablet’s <a title="shield console mode" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_sweetens_shield_console_android_442_kitkat_price_drop_199_through_april" target="_blank">Console Mode</a>. Other unique features of the controller include capacitive-touch buttons for Android’s home, back, and play buttons. There’s also a big green Nvidia button that launches Shield Hub. The controller also has a small, triangle-shaped clickable touch pad which allows you to navigate your tablet from afar. One quibble with it is that we wish the trackpad was more square, to at least mimic the dimensions of the tablet; the triangle shape was a little awkward to interface with. Another problem that we initially had with the controller was that the + volume button stopped working after a while. We contacted Nvidia about this and the company sent us a new unit, which remedied the issue. One noticeable feature missing from the controller is rumble support. Nvidia said this was omitted on the original Shield to keep the weight down; its omission is a little more glaring this time around, however, since there's no screen attached to the device.</p> <p>The controller isn’t the only accessory that you’ll need to purchase separately if you want to tap into the full Shield Tablet experience. To effectively game with the tablet, you’ll need the Shield Tablet cover, which also acts as a stand. Like most tablets, a magnet in the cover shuts off the Shield Tablet when closed, but otherwise setting up the cover and getting it to act as a stand is initially pretty confusing. The cover currently only comes in black, and while we’re generally not big on marketing aesthetics, it would be nice to have an Nvidia green option to give the whole look a little more pop. We actually think the cover should just be thrown in gratis, especially considering that the cheapest 16GB model costs $300. On the upside though, you do get Nvidia’s new passive DirectStylus 2 that stows away nicely in the body of the Shield Tablet. Nvidia has pre-installed note-writing software and its own Nvidia Dabbler painting program. The nice thing about Dabbler is that it leverages the K1’s GPU acceleration so that you can virtually paint and blend colors in real time. There’s also a realistic mode where the “paint” slowly drips down the virtual canvas like it would in real life.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_shield_controller_trine2_0.jpg" alt="Shield tablet review" title="Shield tablet review" width="620" height="404" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Shield Controller is a lot lighter and less blocky than the original Shield Portable.</strong></p> <p>But that’s probably not why you’re interested in the Shield Tablet. This device is first and foremost a gaming tablet and even comes with a free Android copy of Trine 2. Trine 2 was originally a PC game and it’s made a great transition to the Shield Tablet. While the game was never known to be a polygon pusher, it looks just as good as it ever did on its x86 debut.&nbsp;</p> <p>With gaming as the primary driver for Shield Tablet, you may wonder why Nvidia didn’t bundle its new controller. The company likely learned from Microsoft’s mistake with Kinect and the Xbox One: Gamers don’t like to spend money and getting the price as low as possible was likely on Nvidia’s mind. Of course, not everyone may even want a controller, with the general lack of support for them in games. Nvidia says there are now around 400 Android titles that support its controller, but that’s only a small percentage of Android games and the straight truth is that the overwhelming majority of these games are garbage.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nvidia is making a push for Android gaming, however. The company worked with Valve to port over Half Life 2 and Portal to the Shield and they look surprisingly fantastic and are easily the two prettiest games on Android at the moment. Whether Android will ever become a legitimate platform for hardcore gaming is anyone’s guess, but at least the Shield Tablet will net you a great front seat if the time ever arises.</p> <p>Luckily, you won’t have to rely solely on the Google Play store to get your gaming fix. Emulators run just as well here as they did on the original Shield and this iteration of Shield is also compatible with Gamestream, which is Nvidia’s streaming technology that allows you to stream games from your PC to your Shield. Gamestream, in theory, lets you play your controller-enabled PC games on a Shield.</p> <p>At this point, Nvidia says Gamestream supports more than 100 games such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Titanfall from EA’s Origin and Valve’s Steam service. The problem, though, is that there are hundreds more games on Steam and Origin that support controllers—but not the Shield Tablet’s controller. For example, Final Fantasy VII, a game that we couldn’t get to work with the original Shield, still isn't supported even though it works with an Xbox controller on the PC. When Gamestream does work, however, it’s relatively lag-free and kind of wonderful. The one caveat here is that you’ll have to get a 5GHz dual-band router to effectively get it working.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/rh7fWdQT2eE" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Nvidia Shield Video demo.</strong></p> <p>Would we buy the Shield Tablet if we owned the original Shield (now renamed the Shield Portable)? Probably not. If we were looking for a new tablet and top-notch gaming performance was on the checklist, the Shield Tablet is easily the top contender today. We’d take it over the second-gen Nexus 7 in a heartbeat. While we understand why Nvidia decided to separate the cover and controller to keep the prices down and avoid the Kinect factor, we think a bundled package with a small price break as an alternative would have been nice. All things considered though, consider us surprised. The Shield Tablet is pretty dang cool.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>$300</strong></p> <p><em><strong>Update:</strong> The original article incorrectly labled the Shield Portable benchmarks with the Nexus 7 figures. The issue has been resolved and both benchmark charts are listed below.&nbsp;</em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_tablet_review_2014#comments android Google Hardware KitKat maximum pc nvidia portable Review shield tablet wireless controller News Reviews Tablets Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:36:57 +0000 Jimmy Thang 28263 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best Cheap Graphics Card http://www.maximumpc.com/best_cheap_graphics_card_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Six entry-level cards battle for budget-board bragging rights</h3> <p>The video-card game is a lot like Hollywood. Movies like My Left Foot and The Artist take home the Oscars every year, but movies like Grown Ups 2 and Transformers 3 pull in all the cash. It's the same with GPUs, in that everyone loves to talk about $1,000 cards, but the actual bread-and-butter of the market is made up of models that cost between $100 and $150. These are not GPUs for 4K gaming, obviously, but they can provide a surprisingly pleasant 1080p gaming experience, and run cool and quiet, too.</p> <p>This arena has been so hot that AMD and Nvidia have recently released no fewer than six cards aimed at budget buyers. Four of these cards are from AMD, and Nvidia launched two models care of its all-new Maxwell architecture, so we decided to pit them against one another in an old-fashioned GPU roundup. All of these cards use either a single six-pin PCIe connector or none at all, so you don't even need a burly power supply to run them, just a little bit of scratch and the desire to get your game on. Let's dive in and see who rules the roost!</p> <h3>Nvidia's Maxwell changes the game</h3> <p>Budget GPUs have always been low-power components, and usually need just a single six-pin PCIe power connector to run them. After all, a budget GPU goes into a budget build, and those PCs typically don't come with the 600W-or-higher power supplies that provide dual six- or eight-pin PCIe connectors. Since many budget PSUs done have PCIe connectors, most of these cards come with Molex adapters in case you don't have one. The typical thermal design power (TDP) of these cards is around 110 watts or so, but that number fluctuates up and down according to spec. For comparison, the Radeon R9 290X has a TDP of roughly 300 watts, and Nvidia's flagship card, the GTX 780 Ti, has a TDP of 250W, so these budget cards don't have a lot of juice to work with. Therefore, efficiency is key, as the GPUs need to make the most out of the teeny, tiny bit of wattage they are allotted. During 2013, we saw AMD and Nvidia release GPUs based on all-new 28nm architectures named GCN and Kepler, respectively, and though Nvidia held a decisive advantage in the efficiency battle, it's taken things to the next level with its new ultra-low-power Maxwell GPUs that were released in February 2014.</p> <p>Beginning with the GTX 750 Ti and the GTX 750, Nvidia is embarking on a whole new course for its GPUs, centered around maximum power efficiency. The goal with its former Kepler architecture was to have better performance per watt compared to the previous architecture named Fermi, and it succeeded, but it's taken that same philosophy even further with Maxwell, which had as its goal to be twice as efficient as Kepler while providing 25 percent more performance.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/maxwell_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/maxwell_small.jpg" alt="Maxwell offers far greater power savings by using more granular clock gating, which allows it to shut down unused graphics units. " width="620" height="279" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Maxwell offers far greater power savings by using more granular clock gating, which allows it to shut down unused graphics units. </strong></p> <p>Achieving more performance for the same model or SKU from one generation to the next is a tough enough challenge, but to do so by cutting power consumption in half is an even trickier gambit, especially considering the Maxwell GPUs are being fabricated on the same 28nm process it used for Kepler. We always expect more performance for less power when moving from one process to the next, such as 32nm to 28nm or 22nm to 14nm, but to do so on the same process is an amazing achievement indeed. Though Nvidia used many technological advances to reduce power consumption, the main structural change was to how the individual CUDA cores inside the Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs) are organized and controlled. In Kepler, each GPC contained individual processing units, named SMX units, and each unit featured a piece of control logic that handled scheduling for 192 CUDA cores, which was a major increase from the 32 cores in each block found in Fermi. In Maxwell, Nvidia has gone back to 32 CUDA cores per block, but is putting four blocks into each unit, which are now called SM units. If you're confused, the simple version is this—rather than one piece of logic controlling 192 cores, Maxwell has a piece of logic for each cluster of 32 cores, and there are four clusters per unit, for a total of 128 cores per block. Therefore, it's reduced the number of cores per block by 64, from 192 to 128, which helps save energy. Also, since each piece of control logic only has to pay attention to 32 cores instead of 192, it can run them more efficiently, which also saves energy.</p> <p>The benefit to all this energy-saving is the GTX 750 cards don't need external power, so they can be dropped into pretty much any PC on the market without upgrading the power supply. That makes it a great upgrade for any pre-built POS you have lying around the house.</p> <h4>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce</h4> <p>Nvidia's new Maxwell cards run surprisingly cool and quiet in stock trim, and that's with a fan no larger than an oversized Ritz cracker, so you can guess what happens when you throw a mid-sized WindForce cooler onto one of them. Yep, it's so quiet and cool you have to check with your fingers to see if it's even running. This bad boy ran at 45 C under load, making it the coolest-running card we've ever tested, so kudos to Nvidia and Gigabyte on holding it down (the temps, that is). This board comes off the factory line with a very mild overclock of just 13MHz (why even bother, seriously), and its boost clock has been massaged up to 1,111MHz from 1,085MHz, but as always, this is just a starting point for your overclocking adventures. The memory is kept at reference speeds however, running at 5,400MHz. The board sports 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and uses a custom design for its blue-colored PCB. It features two 80mm fans and an 8mm copper heat pipe. Most interesting is the board requires a six-pin PCIe connector, unlike the reference design, which does not.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/9755_big_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/9755_big_small.jpg" alt="The WindForce cooler is overkill, but we like it that way. " title="Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce" width="620" height="500" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The WindForce cooler is overkill, but we like it that way. </strong></p> <p>In testing, the GTX 750 Ti WindForce was neck-and-neck with the Nvidia reference design, proving that Nvidia did a pretty good job with this card, and that its cooling requirements don't really warrant such an outlandish cooler. Still, we'll take it, and we loved that it was totally silent at all times. Overclocking potential is higher, of course, but since the reference design overclocked to 1,270MHz or so, we don’t think you should expect moon-shot overclocking records. Still, this card was rock solid, whisper quiet, and extremely cool.</p> <p><strong>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$160(Street), <a href="http://www.gigabyte.us/ " target="_blank">www.gigabyte.us</a></strong></p> <h4>MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming</h4> <p>Much like Gigabyte's GTX 750 Ti WindForce card, the MSI GTX 750 Gaming is a low-power board with a massive Twin Frozr cooler attached to it for truly exceptional cooling performance. The only downside is the formerly waifish GPU has been transformed into a full-size card, measuring more than nine inches long. Unlike the Gigabyte card though, this GPU eschews the six-pin PCIe connector, as it's just a 55W board, and since the PCIe slot delivers up to 75W, it doesn't even need the juice. Despite this card's entry-level billing, MSI has fitted it with “military-class” components for better overclocking and improved stability. It uses twin heat pipes to dual 100mm fans to keep it cool, as well. It also includes a switch that lets you toggle between booting from an older BIOS in case you run into overclocking issues.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/msigtx750_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/msigtx750_small.jpg" alt="MSI’s Twin Frozr cooling apparatus transforms this svelte GPU into a full-sized card." title="MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming" width="620" height="364" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>MSI’s Twin Frozr cooling apparatus transforms this svelte GPU into a full-sized card.</strong></p> <p>Speaking of which, this board lives up to its name and has a beefy overclock right out of the box, running at 1,085MHz base clock and 1,163MHz boost clock. It features 1GB of GDDR5 RAM on a 128-bit interface.</p> <p>The Twin Frozr cooler handles the miniscule amount of heat coming out of this board with aplomb—we were able to press our finger forcibly on the heatsink under load and felt almost no warmth, sort of like when we give Gordon a hug when he arrives at the office. As the only GTX 750 in this test, it showed it could run our entire test suite at decent frame rates, but it traded barbs with the slightly less expensive Radeon R7 260X. On paper, both the GTX 750 and the R7 260X are about $119, but rising prices from either increased demand or low supply have placed both cards in the $150 range, making it a dead heat. Still, it's a very good option for those who want an Nvidia GPU and its ecosystem but can't afford the Ti model.</p> <p><strong>MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$140, <a href="http://www.msi.com/ " target="_blank">www.msi.com</a></strong></p> <h4>Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X</h4> <p>The Sapphire Radeon R7 265 is the odds-on favorite in this roundup, due to its impressive specs and the fact that it consumes more than twice the power of the Nvidia cards. Sure, it's an unfair advantage, but hate the game, not the player. This board is essentially a rebadged Radeon HD 7850, which is a Pitcairn part, and it slides right in between the $120 R7 260X and the $180ish R7 270. This card actually has the same clock speeds as the R7 270, but features fewer streaming processors for reduced shader performance. It has the same 2GB of memory, same 925MHz boost clock, same 256-bit memory bus, and so on. At 150W, its TDP is very high—or at least it seems high, given that the GTX 750 Ti costs the exact same $150 and is sitting at just 60W. Unlike the lower-priced R7 260X Bonaire part, though, the R7 265 is older silicon and thus does not support TrueAudio and XDMA CrossFire (bridgeless CrossFire, basically). However, it will support the Mantle API, someday.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/sapphire_radeon_r7_265_dualx_2gb_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/sapphire_radeon_r7_265_dualx_2gb_small.jpg" alt="Sapphire's R7 265 is the third card in this roundup to use a two-fan cooling apparatus. " title="Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X" width="620" height="473" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Sapphire's R7 265 is the third card in this roundup to use a two-fan cooling apparatus. </strong></p> <p>The Sapphire card delivered the goods in testing, boasting top scores in many benchmarks and coming in as the only GPU in this roundup to hit the magical 60fps in any test, which was a blistering turn in Call of Duty: Ghosts where it hit 67fps at 1080p on Ultra settings. That's damned impressive, as was its ability to run at 49fps in Battlefield 4, though the GTX 750 Ti was just a few frames behind it. Overall, though, this card cleaned up, taking first place in seven out of nine benchmarks. If that isn't a Kick Ass performance, we don't know what is. The Dual-X cooler also kept temps and noise in check, too, making this the go-to GPU for those with small boxes or small monitors.</p> <p><strong> Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9ka.jpg" alt="score:9ka" title="score:9ka" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$150 (MSRP), <a href="http://www.sapphiretech.com/ " target="_blank">www.sapphiretech.com</a></strong></p> <h4>AMD Radeon R7 260X</h4> <p>The Radeon R7 260X was originally AMD's go-to card for 1080p gaming on a budget. It’s the only card in the company’s sub-$200 lineup that supports all the next-gen features that appeared in its Hawaii-based flagship boards, including support for TrueAudio, XDMA Crossfire, Mantle (as in, it worked at launch), and it has the ability to drive up to three displays —all from this tiny $120 GPU. Not bad. In its previous life, this GPU was known as the Radeon HD 7790, aka Bonaire, and it was our favorite "budget" GPU when pitted against the Nvidia GTX 650 Ti Boost due to its decent performance and amazing at-the-time game bundles. It features a 128-bit memory bus, 896 Stream Processors, 2GB of RAM (up from 1GB on the previous card), and a healthy boost clock of 1,100MHz. TDP is just 115W, so it slots right in between the Nvidia cards and the higher-end R7 265 board. Essentially, this is an HD 7790 card with 1GB more RAM, and support for TrueAudio, which we have yet to experience.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u152332/amdrad_r7_260x_1_small_0.jpg"><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u152332/amdrad_r7_260x_1_small.jpg" alt="This $120 card supports Mantle, TrueAudio, and CrossFire. " title="AMD Radeon R7 260X" width="620" height="667" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>This $120 card supports Mantle, TrueAudio, and CrossFire. </strong></p> <p>In testing, the R7 260X delivered passable performance, staking out the middle ground between the faster R7 265 and the much slower R7 250 cards. It ran at about 30fps in tests like Crysis 3 and Tomb Raider, but hit 51fps on CoD: Ghosts and 40fps on Battlefield 4, so it's certainly got enough horsepower to run the latest games on max settings. The fact that it supports all the latest technology from AMD is what bolsters this card's credentials, though. And the fact that it can run Mantle with no problems is a big plus for Battlefield 4 players. We like this card a lot, just like we enjoyed the HD 7790. While it’s not the fastest card in the bunch, it’s certainly far from the slowest.</p> <p><strong>AMD Radeon R7 260X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$120 <a href="http://www.amd.com/ " target="_blank">www.amd.com</a></strong></p> <h4> <hr />MSI Radeon R7 250 OC</h4> <p>In every competition, there must be one card that represents the lower end of the spectrum, and in this particular roundup, it’s this little guy from MSI. Sure, it's been overclocked a smidge and has a big-boy 2GB of memory, but this GPU is otherwise outgunned, plain and simple. For starters, it has just 384 Stream Processors, which is the lowest number we've ever seen on a modern GPU, so it's already severely handicapped right out of the gate. Board power is a decent 65W, but when looking at the specs of the Nvidia GTX 750, it is clearly outmatched. One other major problem, at least for those of us with big monitors, is we couldn't get it to run our desktop at 2560x1600 out of the box, as it only has one single-link DVI connector instead of dual-link. On the plus side, it doesn't require an auxiliary power connector and is just $100, so it's a very inexpensive board and would make a great upgrade from integrated graphics for someone on a strict budget.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/msi_radeon_r7_250_oc_2gb_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/msi_radeon_r7_250_oc_2gb_small.jpg" alt="Some R7 250 cards include 1GB of RAM, but this MSI board sports 2GB." title="MSI Radeon R7 250 OC" width="620" height="498" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Some R7 250 cards include 1GB of RAM, but this MSI board sports 2GB.</strong></p> <p>That said, we actually felt bad for this card during testing. The sight of it limping along at 9 frames per second in Heaven 4.0 was tough to watch, and it didn't do much better on our other tests, either. Its best score was in Call of Duty: Ghosts, where it hit a barely playable 22fps. In all of our other tests, it was somewhere between 10 and 20 frames per second on high settings, which is simply not playable. We'd love to say something positive about the card though, so we'll note that it probably runs fine at medium settings and has a lot of great reviews on Newegg from people running at 1280x720 or 1680x1050 resolution.</p> <p><strong>MSI Radeon R7 250 OC 1TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_6.jpg" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90 <a href=" http://us.msi.com/ " target="_blank">http://us.msi.com</a></strong></p> <h4>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</h4> <p>The PowerColor Radeon R7 250X represents a mild bump in specs from the R7 250, as you would expect given its naming convention. It is outfitted with 1GB of RAM however, and a decent 1,000MHz boost clock. It packs 640 Stream Processors, placing it above the regular R7 250 but about mid-pack in this group. Its 1GB of memory runs on the same 128-bit memory bus as other cards in this roundup, so it's a bit constrained in its memory bandwidth, and we saw the effects of it in our testing. It supports DirectX 11.2, though, and has a dual-link DVI connector. It even supports CrossFire with an APU, but not with another PCIe GPU&shy;—or at least that's our understanding of it, since it says it supports CrossFire but doesn't have a connector on top of the card.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/r7-250x-angle_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/r7-250x-angle_small.jpg" alt="The R7 250X is a rebadged HD 7770, made for cash-strapped gamers. " title="PowerColor Radeon R7 250X " width="620" height="369" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The R7 250X is a rebadged HD 7770, made for cash-strapped gamers. </strong></p> <p>When we put the X-card to the test, it ended up faring a smidgen better than the non-X version, but just barely. It was able to hit 27 and 28 frames per second in Battlefield 4 and CoD: Ghosts, and 34 fps in Batman: Arkham Origins, but in the rest of the games in our test suite, its performance was simply not what we would call playable. Much like the R7 250 from MSI, this card can't handle 1080p with all settings maxed out, so this GPU is bringing up the rear in this crowd. Since it's priced "under $100" we won't be too harsh on it, as it seems like a fairly solid option for those on a very tight budget, and we'd definitely take it over the vanilla R7 250. We weren't able to see "street" pricing for this card, as it had not been released at press time, but our guess is even though it's one of the slowest in this bunch, it will likely be the go-to card under $100.</p> <p><strong>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100, <a href="http://www.powercolor.com/ " target="_blank">www.powercolor.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Should you take the red pill or the green pill?</h3> <p><strong>Both companies offer proprietary technologies to lure you into their "ecosystems," so let’s take a look at what each has to offer</strong></p> <h4>Nvidia's Offerings</h4> <p><strong>G-Sync</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's G-Sync technology is arguably one of the strongest cards in Nvidia's hand, as it eliminates tearing in video games caused by the display's refresh rate being out of sync with the frame rate of the GPU. The silicon syncs the refresh rate with the cycle of frames rendered by the GPU, so movement onscreen looks buttery smooth at all times, even below 30fps. The only downside is you must have a G-Sync monitor, so that limits your selection quite a bit.</p> <p><strong>Regular driver releases</strong></p> <p>People love to say Nvidia has "better drivers" than AMD, and though the notion of "better" is debatable, it certainly releases them much more frequently than AMD. That's not to say AMD is a slouch—especially now that it releases a new "beta" build each month—but Nvidia seems to be paying more attention to driver support than AMD.</p> <p><strong>GeForce Experience and ShadowPlay</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's GeForce Experience software will automatically optimize any supported games you have installed, and also lets you stream to Twitch as well as capture in-game footage via ShadowPlay. It's a really slick piece of software, and though we don't need a software program to tell us "hey, max out all settings," we do love ShadowPlay.</p> <p><strong>PhysX</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's proprietary PhysX software allows game developers to include billowing smoke, exploding particles, cloth simulation, flowing liquids, and more, but there's just one problem—very few games utilize it. Even worse, the ones that do utilize it, do so in a way that is simply not that impressive, with one exception: Borderlands 2.</p> <h4>AMD's Offerings</h4> <p><strong>Mantle and TrueAudio</strong></p> <p>AMD is hoping that Mantle and TrueAudio become the must-have "killer technology" it offers over Nvidia, but at this early stage, it's difficult to say with certainty if that will ever happen. Mantle is a lower-level API that allows developers to optimize a game specifically targeted at AMD hardware, allowing for improved performance.</p> <p><strong>TressFX</strong></p> <p>This is proprietary physics technology similar to Nvidia's PhysX in that it only appears in certain games, and does very specific things. Thus far, we've only seen it used once—for Lara Croft's hair in Tomb Raider. Instead of a blocky ponytail, her mane is flowing and gets blown around by the wind. It looks cool but is by no means a must-have item on your shopping list, just like Nvidia's PhysX. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Gaming Evolved by Raptr<br /></strong></p> <p>This software package is for Radeon users only, and does several things. First, it will automatically optimize supported games you have installed, and it also connects you to a huge community of gamers across all platforms, including PC and console. You can see who is playing what, track achievements, chat with friends, and also broadcast to Twitch.tv, too. AMD also has a "rewards" program that doles out points for using the software, and you can exchange those points for gear, games, swag, and more.</p> <p><strong>Currency mining</strong></p> <p>AMD cards are better for currency mining than Nvidia cards for several reasons, but their dominance is not in question. The most basic reason is the algorithms used in currency mining favor the GCN architecture, so much so that AMD cards are usually up to five times faster in performing these operations than their Nvidia equivalent. In fact, the mining craze has pushed the demand for these cards is so high that there's now a supply shortage.</p> <h3>All the cards, side by side</h3> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>MSI Geforce GTX 750 Gaming</td> <td>GigaByte GeForce GTX 750 Ti </td> <td>GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost *</td> <td>GeForce GTX 660 *</td> <td>MSI Radeon R7 250</td> <td>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</td> <td>AMD Radeon R7 260X</td> <td>Sapphire Radeon R7 265</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Price</td> <td class="item-dark">$120 </td> <td>$150</td> <td>$160</td> <td>$210</td> <td>$90</td> <td>$100</td> <td>$120</td> <td>$150</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Code-name</td> <td>Maxwell</td> <td>Maxwell</td> <td>Kepler</td> <td>Kepler</td> <td>Oland</td> <td>Cape Verde</td> <td>Bonaire</td> <td>Curaco</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Processing cores</td> <td class="item-dark">512</td> <td>640</td> <td>768</td> <td>960</td> <td>384</td> <td>640</td> <td>896</td> <td>1,024</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ROP units</td> <td>16</td> <td>16</td> <td>24</td> <td>24</td> <td>8</td> <td>16</td> <td>16</td> <td>32</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Texture units</td> <td>32</td> <td>40<strong><br /></strong></td> <td>64</td> <td>80</td> <td>24</td> <td>40</td> <td>56</td> <td>64</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>1GB</td> <td>1GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory speed</td> <td>1,350MHz</td> <td>1,350MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,125MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,400MHz</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory bus</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>192-bit</td> <td>192-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>256-bit</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Base clock</td> <td>1,020MHz</td> <td>1,020MHz</td> <td>980MHz</td> <td>980MHz</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Boost clock</td> <td>1,085MHz</td> <td>1,085MHz</td> <td>1,033MHz</td> <td>1,033MHz</td> <td>1,050MHz</td> <td>1,000MHz</td> <td>1,000MHz</td> <td>925MHz</td> </tr> <tr> <td>PCI Express version</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Transistor count</td> <td>1.87 billion</td> <td>1.87 billion</td> <td>2.54 billion</td> <td>2.54 billion</td> <td>1.04 billion</td> <td>1.04 billion</td> <td>2.08 billion</td> <td>2.8 billion</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Power connectors</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> </tr> <tr> <td>TDP</td> <td>54W</td> <td>60W</td> <td>134W</td> <td>140W</td> <td>65W</td> <td>80W</td> <td>115W</td> <td>150W</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Fab process</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Multi-card support</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Outputs</td> <td>DVI, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, <br />2x HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>2x DVI, <br />HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>DVI-S, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>DVI, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Provided for reference purposes.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <h3>How we tested</h3> <p><strong>We lowered our requirements, but not too much</strong></p> <p>We normally test all of our video cards on our standardized test bed, which has now been in operation for a year and a half, with only a few changes along the way. In fact, the only major change we've made to it in the last year was swapping the X79 motherboard and case. The motherboard had endured several hundred video-card insertions, which is well beyond the design specs. The case had also become bent to the point where the video cards were drooping slightly. Some, shall we say, "overzealous" overclocking also caused the motherboard to begin behaving unpredictably. Regardless, it's a top-tier rig with an Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme processor, 16GB of DDR3 memory, an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, Crucial M500 SSD, and Windows 8 64-bit Enterprise.</p> <p>For the AMD video cards, we loaded Catalyst driver 14.1 Beta 1.6, as that was the latest driver, and for the Nvidia cards, we used the 334.89 WHQL driver that was released just before testing began. We originally planned to run the cards at our normal "midrange GPU" settings, which is 1920x1080 resolution with maximum settings and 4X AA enabled, but after testing began, we realized we needed to back off those settings just a tad. Instead of dialing it down to medium settings, though, as that would run counter to everything we stand for as a magazine, we left the settings on "high" across the board, but disabled AA. These settings were a bit much for the lower-end cards, but rather than lower our settings once again, we decided to stand fast at 1080p with high settings, since we figured that's where you want to be gaming and you deserve to know if some of the less-expensive cards can handle that type of action.</p> <h3>Mantle Reviewed</h3> <p><strong>A word about AMD's Mantle API</strong></p> <p>AMD's Mantle API is a competitor to DirectX, optimized specifically for AMD's GCN hardware. In theory, it should allow for better performance since its code knows exactly what hardware it's talking to, as opposed to DirectX's "works with any card" approach. The Mantle API should be able to give all GCN 1.0 and later AMD cards quite a boost in games that support it. However, AMD points out that Mantle will only show benefits in scenarios that are CPU-bound, not GPU-bound, so if your GPU is already working as hard as it can, Mantle isn’t going to help it. However, if your GPU is always waiting around for instructions from an overloaded CPU, then Mantle can offer respectable gains.</p> <p>To test it out, we ran Battlefield 4 on an older Ivy Bridge quad-core, non-Hyper-Threaded Core i5-3470 test bench with the R7 260X GPU at 1920x1080 and 4X AA enabled. As of press time, there are only two games that support Mantle—Battlefield 4 and an RTS demo on Steam named Star Swarm. In Battlefield 4, we were able to achieve 36fps using DirectX, and 44fps using Mantle, which is a healthy increase and a very respectable showing for a $120 video card. The benefit was much smaller in Star Swarm, however, showing a negligible increase of just two frames per second.</p> <p><img src="/files/u152332/bf4_screen_swap_small.jpg" alt="Enabling Mantle in Battlefield 4 does provide performance boosts for most configs." title="Battlefield 4" width="620" height="207" /></p> <p>We then moved to a much beefier test bench running a six-core, Hyper-Threaded Core i7-3960X and a Radeon R9 290X, and we saw an increase in Star Swarm of 100 percent, going from 25fps with DirectX to 51fps using Mantle in a timed demo. We got a decent bump in Battlefield 4, too, going from 84 fps using DirectX to 98 fps in Mantle.</p> <p>Overall, Mantle is legit, but it’s kind of like PhysX or TressFX in that it’s nice to have when it’s supported, and does provide a boost, but it isn’t something we’d count on being available in most games.</p> <h3>Final Thoughts</h3> <h3>If cost is an issue, you've got options</h3> <p>Testing the cards for this feature was an enlightening experience. We don’t usually dabble in GPU waters that are this shallow, so we really had no idea what to expect from all the cards assembled. To be honest, if we were given a shot of sodium pentothal, we’d have to admit that given these cards’ price points, we had low expectations but thought they’d all at least be able to handle 1920x1080 gaming. As spoiled gamers used to running 2K or 4K resolution, 1080p seems like child’s play to us. But we found out that running that resolution at maximum settings is a bridge too far for any GPU that costs less than $120 or so. The $150 models are the sweet spot, though, and are able to game extremely well at 1080 resolution, meaning the barrier to entry for “sweet gaming” has been lowered by $100, thanks to these new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia.</p> <p>Therefore, the summary of our results is that if you have $150 to spend on a GPU, you should buy the Sapphire Radeon R7 265, as it’s the best card for gaming at this price point, end of discussion. OK, thanks for reading.</p> <p>Oh, are you still here? OK, here’s some more detail. In our testing, the Sapphire R7 265 was hands-down the fastest GPU at its price point—by a non-trivial margin in many tests—and is superior to the GTX 750 Ti from Nvidia. It was also the only GPU to come close to the magical 60fps we desire in every game, making it pretty much the only card in this crowd that came close to satisfying our sky-high demands. The Nvidia GTX 750 Ti card was a close second, though, and provides a totally passable experience at 1080p with all settings maxed. Nvidia’s trump card is that it consumes less than half the power of the R7 265 and runs 10 C cooler, but we doubt most gamers will care except in severely PSU-constrained systems.</p> <p>Moving down one notch to the $120 cards, the GTX 750 and R7 260X trade blows quite well, so there’s no clear winner. Pick your ecosystem and get your game on, because these cards are totally decent, and delivered playable frame rates in every test we ran.</p> <p>The bottom rung of cards, which consists of the R7 250(X) cards, were not playable at 1080p at max settings, so avoid them. They are probably good for 1680x1050 gaming at medium settings or something in that ballpark, but in our world, that is a no-man’s land filled with shattered dreams and sad pixels.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>Nvidia GTX 750 Ti (reference)</td> <td>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti</td> <td>MSI GTX 750 Gaming</td> <td>Sapphire Radeon R7 265</td> <td>AMD Radeon R7 260X</td> <td>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</td> <td>MSI Radeon R7 250 OC</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Driver</td> <td class="item-dark">334.89</td> <td>334.89</td> <td>334.89</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3DMark Fire Storm</td> <td>3,960</td> <td>3,974</td> <td>3,558</td> <td><strong>4,686</strong></td> <td>3,832</td> <td>2,806</td> <td>1,524</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark"><strong>30</strong></td> <td><strong>30<br /></strong></td> <td>25</td> <td>29</td> <td>23</td> <td>17</td> <td>9</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Crysis 3 (fps)</td> <td>27</td> <td>25</td> <td>21</td> <td><strong>32</strong></td> <td>26</td> <td>16</td> <td>10</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Far Cry 3 (fps)</td> <td><strong>40</strong></td> <td><strong>40<br /></strong></td> <td>34</td> <td><strong>40</strong></td> <td>34</td> <td>16</td> <td>14</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Tomb Raider (fps)</td> <td>30</td> <td>30</td> <td>26</td> <td><strong>36</strong></td> <td>31</td> <td>20</td> <td>12</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CoD: Ghosts (fps)</td> <td>51</td> <td>49</td> <td>42</td> <td><strong>67</strong></td> <td>51</td> <td>28</td> <td>22</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battlefield 4 (fps)</td> <td>45</td> <td>45</td> <td>32</td> <td><strong>49</strong></td> <td>40</td> <td>27</td> <td>14</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batman: Arkham Origins (fps)</td> <td><strong>74</strong></td> <td>71</td> <td>61</td> <td>55</td> <td>43</td> <td>34</td> <td>18</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Assassin's Creed: Black Flag (fps)</td> <td>33</td> <td>33</td> <td>29</td> <td><strong>39</strong></td> <td>21</td> <td>21</td> <td>14</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 8. All games are run at 1920x1080 with no AA except for the 3DMark tests.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> http://www.maximumpc.com/best_cheap_graphics_card_2014#comments 1080p affordable amd benchmarks budget cheap cheap graphics card gpu Hardware Hardware maximum pc may 2014 nvidia Video Card Features Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:43:32 +0000 Josh Norem 28304 at http://www.maximumpc.com A Crash Course to Editing Images in Adobe Lightroom http://www.maximumpc.com/crash_course_editing_images_adobe_lightroom_2014 <!--paging_filter--><p><strong>When your images aren’t up to snuff, there’s always photo-editing software</strong></p> <p>Photography can be impenetrable from the gear to actually shooting and then the image editing software is a whole other uphill battle. Even with Adobe introducing Lightroom as a lightweight Photoshop alternative, it can be daunting to see a screen full of sliders as a complete novice. To help get you from serial Instagramer to amateur photographer, here’s a crash course to making your images look great with just a few steps in Lightroom.</p> <p><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u170397/lightroom_crash_course_top.jpg" width="620" height="419" style="font-weight: bold;" /></p> <h3 dir="ltr">Why you should shoot in RAW</h3> <p>First off, before we get to editing any images, it’s super important to start shooting RAW format images in case you haven’t already. Unlike JPEGs, RAW files are uncompressed digital negatives that carry much more information. This in turn makes them easier to work with in Lightroom or any image editor. Thanks to this full allotment of the data packed into RAW files, you can fix more images otherwise destined for the trash heap such as blue-tinged messes or almost completely black frames.</p> <p>If that wasn’t enough to sell you on shooting in RAW, this entire guide was done using the uncompressed format to show off and take advantage of the full image editing power of Lightroom.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">Getting started</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/image_import.jpg" width="620" height="324" /></p> <p>The first thing you’ll need to in Lightroom is to migrate your images of course. Upon starting Adobe Lightroom, navigate your mouse up to File and select “Import Photos and Video” (Ctrl+Shift+I). Another shortcut users can take advantage of is Lightroom will auto-detect any memory cards or cameras plugged into the computer.</p> <p>Lightroom will automatically drop images into dated folders. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some) this is programmed into the software, but users can always rename their folders. More importantly keywording your photos will be an indispensable tool to manage, search, and organize your images.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">Getting around inside lightroom</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/main_screen.jpg" width="620" height="333" /></p> <p>Once your images are all loaded into the library we can start editing one by clicking over (or hitting "D" on the keyboard) to the “Develop” screen. On the right edge of the screen users will find a list of settings that will allow them to tweak their images.</p> <p>There’s a lot to take in with Lightroom’s interface, but the most important thing users will navigate to are the filmstrip along the bottom to navigate images. Clicking anywhere on the image displayed in the center window, meanwhile, will zoom into the frame.</p> <p>Just beneath the featured picture there’s also a box designated with “X|Y” that will allow you to view the original image next to their processed counterpart. The button to the left of this aforementioned comparison toggle will return the window to normal, displaying only the final picture. Along the left side of the screen users will find a history log of all the edits made so far to each individual photo--and speaking of image settings, they’re all stacked on the right side of the window. At the bottom of this list of editing options there's also a handy "Previous" button to let users undo one chance or "Reset" to start all over again.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">Fix your framing</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/image_rotate.jpg" width="620" height="333" /></p> <p>Sometimes in the rush to capture that decisive moment there isn’t enough time to line up a perfect composition. But as long as the subject in the photo is in focus and your camera has enough megapixels, there’s always the option to crop the image.</p> <p>The crop tool is located on right, underneath the histogram, and is designated by a boxed grid icon closest to the left. Depending on the shot it might be smart to cut away some of the background to isolate the subject. Alternatively, cropping could come in handy to remove a busy or boring background (otherwise known as negative space). Sticklers for completely level images can also bring their mouse cursor to the edge of the frame to rotate the picture as well.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">Red Eye Correction</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/red_eye_correction.jpg" width="620" height="364" /></p> <p>Red eyes and flash photography seem to be inseparable despite all our technological advances, but at least it has gotten incredibly easy to fix this niggling issue. Located just two icons to the right from the Framing icon, clicking on Red Eye Correction will give you a new cursor that you'll want to select any red eyes in the photo. After that Lightroom will use the point users select and auto detect red pupils.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">White balance</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/white_balance.jpg" width="620" height="418" /></p> <p>Lighting is one of the toughest things in photography, especially when there’s a mix of sunlight and a blue hued lightbulb. Not only do the two different types of warm and cool light clash, they also completely throw off all the colors in your photos. With this in mind shifting the white balance should be one of the very first stops on your image editing train. Lightroom comes with a series of preset white balance settings just as cameras do with options such as daylight, shade, tungsten, and flash just to name a few.</p> <p>There's also the option to have Lightroom figure it out all on its own and most of the time it does an admirable job of picking out the right type of lighting. In case anything still looks a little off, there are also sliders that users can move around. Each slider is fairly self explanatory—shifting the top knob leftwards will make the image take on a blue shade while shifting towards yellow will cause your image to take on a sepia tone. The one underneath splits the spectrum between green and violet.</p> <p>For those wanting a bit more fine tuned control with a point-and-click solution users should select the eyedropper tool. Simply hover the dropper over to a neutral gray or white area and clicking it will have Lightroom take a best guess on white balance from that one spot.</p> <p><em>Click on to the next page where we'll dive into more editing magic.<br /></em></p> <hr /> <h3 dir="ltr">Getting to the Meat</h3> <p>Now that we’ve colored corrected the image and fixed up the composition, it's time to adjust the exposure. But before we start, there’s no hard and fast rule for what is the perfect image. It does not have to be a perfectly balanced image where everything in the frame is evenly illuminated. There’s nothing wrong with having harsh shadows or a blindingly bright spot—in fact it can actually be the thematic part of the picture you want to accentuate.</p> <p>Without further ado, here’s are the main ways you can use Lightroom to manipulate your images.</p> <ul> <li> <h3 dir="ltr"><img src="/files/u170397/basic_settings.jpg" width="200" height="610" style="float: right; margin: 10px;" /></h3> <p>Exposure: In a nutshell this lets users make the entire image brighter or darker.</p> </li> <li> <p>Contrast: Contrast changes the difference between the bright and dark parts of the image. Lowering the contrast evens out the exposure making it helpful if the picture was caught with extremely dark and bright sections. As such it can help to restore parts of the frame caught in shadows, but the trade off is this can also cause the entire picture to turn gray. On the flipside making photos more contrasty will produce a harsher look and cause colors to intensify.</p> </li> <li> <p>Highlights: Similar to affecting the brightness of the image, highlights specifically tones down the brightest parts of the frame. In most cases this could be useful for bringing back clouds lost in the blinding sunlight. Alternatively, photographers will want to tweak the highlights when photographing anything with a backlit screen or lights at night.</p> </li> <li> <p>Shadows: On the flipside of highlights changing the shadows will brighten or darken any areas caught in shade.</p> </li> <li> <p>Whites: Despite the fact we’ve already adjusted the bright parts of the frame, changing the White level in the image appears to do the same thing. Appears. What changing the white level really does is affect the lightest (or brightest) tones in the image, whereas highlights control the midtones in the frame.</p> </li> <li> <p>Blacks: At the opposite end of the spectrum blacks dictate how the darkest part of the images look. This can be helpful to make sure dark colors aren't grayed out when you've already brightened up the shadows.</p> </li> <li> <p>Auto Tone: Aside from setting all the parameters manually, Lightroom also has a handy Auto Tone tool. As with auto white balance, auto tone automatically adjusts the picture for what the program thinks will look best.</p> </li> </ul> <h3 dir="ltr">Time to get technical</h3> <p>Aside from the mix of sliders and staring at the image preview, a much more technical way of editing is using the histogram, which appears at the very top of the right side panel. Essentially it displays a graphical overview of the pictures’s full tonal range in which darker pixels fill out on the left side of as they lighten towards the right. Every edit we just explained can be done by clicking on parts of this histogram and dragging them around. Either way works so it's really up to your preference.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">Making photos “pop”</h3> <p>The tonal curve isn’t all there is to editing images. Just underneath the exposure settings is something called presence. Starting with Clarity, users can increase the sharpness of their images or give them a dreamy, hazy quality. Saturation intensifies colors in the photo, which can be useful to bringing back some color on gray and cloudy days.</p> <p>Vibrance does a similar job of intensifying colors except in a slightly smarter fashion than Saturation. Rather than uniformly bumping up the hues in the frame, Vibrance increases the intensity of muted colors whilst leaving already bright colors alone.</p> <p><em>Next up Sharpening, Noise Reduction, Lens Correction, and more.<br /></em></p> <hr /> <h3 dir="ltr">Detail control</h3> <p>Located in the "Detail" section below Lightroom’s "Basic" editing options you’ll find options to sharpen and reduce the noise of photos.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Sharpening</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="/files/u170397/sharpening_mask.jpg" width="620" height="363" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Firstly to quell any misconceptions, Sharpening won’t fix images for soft focus, camera shake, or any mistakes made at the time of taking the shot. Rather sharpening is a tool to accentuate details already in the photo. Just don’t over do it as over sharpening images introduces a slew of new problems including harsh edges, grainy noise, and smooth lines transforming into jagged zigzags.</p> <p>There are four parameters when it comes sharpening images:</p> <ul> <li> <p><strong>The Alt key:</strong> Well before we actually get started with any settings, holding down the Alt key is an invaluable tool that will give you a clearer, alternate view of what’s going on while you move around the sliders.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Amount:</strong> As you might have guessed this increases the amount of sharpening you add. This value starts at zero and as users get towards the high-end they will end up enhancing the noise in the image along with sharpening details.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Radius:</strong> Image sharpening mainly refines edges, but the Radius can be extended by a few pixels. In this case the radius number corresponds with the number of pixels Lightroom will apply sharpening around the edges in the picture. Having a high radius number will intensify details with a thicker edge.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Detail:</strong> The Detail slider determines how many edges on the image get sharpened. With lower values the image editor will only target large edges in the frame, meanwhile a value of a 100 will include every small edge.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Masking:</strong> Although every other slider has been about incorporating more sharpening into the image, masking does the opposite by telling Lightroom which areas should not be sharpened. Just keep in mind masking works best from image with an isolated background. The sharpening masks' effectiveness is significantly more limited with busy images, where there are edges everywhere.</p> </li> </ul> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Noise Reduction</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="/files/u170397/noise_reduction.jpg" width="620" height="364" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Noise is unavoidable whether its due to shooting higher ISOs or a result from bumping up the exposure in post—luckily there’s a way to save images from looking like sandpaper.</p> <ul> <li> <p><strong>Luminance:</strong> Our first stop towards reducing noise. Increasing this value will smooth over any stippling on the photo. Take care not to raise this too high as Lightroom will begin to sacrificing the detail and turn the picture into a soft mess.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Detail:</strong> In case users want to better preserve the sharp details in their image, they should increase the Detail slider.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Contrast:</strong> This is specifically used to tone down the amount of chromatic noise—typically green and red flecks that make their way into high ISO images. Unless there is colored noise in the image, it’s best to leave this set to 0.</p> </li> </ul> <ul> </ul> <h3 dir="ltr">Lens Correction</h3> <p>Moving on, we’re going to start correcting for imperfections in the lens by scrolling down the right sidebar to "Lens Corrections."</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Lens profiles</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="/files/u170397/lens_correction.jpg" width="620" height="333" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Enter the round hole, square peg problem. No matter how well engineered an expensive lens is, it will always produce some amount of distortion thanks to the nature of curved lenses filtering light onto flat sensors. The good news is this is the easiest thing to correct for. Simply click on "Enable Profile Corrections" on the "Basic" pane of Lens Corrections and Lightroom will do the work for you. Witness as your images are automatically corrected for barrel distortion and vignetting (dark corners). It's pretty much fool proof unless of course Adobe has not made a Lens Profile for the lens you shot with. It also might not be necessary to always click this option on as some photos might look better with the vingetting and distortion.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Color Fringing</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="/files/u170397/fringing.jpg" width="620" height="333" /><br /></strong></p> <p>Fringing for who don’t know appears as a purple or blue and green outline when an object is captured against a bright background—the most common example being a tree limb with the bright sky behind it. It can be a minor quibble with photos in most cases but certain lenses fringe so badly it can make a scene look like it was outlined with a color pencil.</p> <p>Luckily getting rid of fringing in Lightroom can be easy as spotting it and then clicking on it. To start, select the Color pane within the Lens Corrections and use the eyedropper just as we did with white balance. Usually fringing appears at points of high contrast so bring the cursor over to dark edges that meet a bright background. It might take a little bit of sniffing around but stay vigilant and you should be able to spot some misplaced purple or green-blue colors eventually. Some lenses are guilty of fringing terribly while others control it well, so it’s really up to you if the flaw is noticeable enough to merit correction.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Chromatic Aberration</strong></p> <p>Since we’re here anyway, go ahead and click on the option to remove chromatic aberration—another type of color fringing where wavelengths of light are blurring together—since it’s as simple as turning the option on.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">You Can’t Save Them All</h3> <p><img src="/files/u170397/cannot_save.jpg" width="620" height="333" /></p> <p>Despite how extensive this guide might appear, there’s even more editing magic to mine from Lightroom—we haven’t even gotten to making black and white images, or split toning! This is only a crash course to help you make your images look better and the only way to master photography is to keep on shooting and practicing.</p> <p>In the same breath, however, we would recommend users should not use Lightroom as a crutch. Although Lightroom can do a lot to salvage poorly shot images, it’s no excuse to just shoot half-assed and expect to fix things up afterwards. Otherwise post processing will end up eating up most of the shooter's time and eventually they’ll realize that there are even certain images Lightroom can’t save (as evidenced by the one shown above). Image editing software can be a great help, but its no substitute for good old skilled photography.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/crash_course_editing_images_adobe_lightroom_2014#comments Adobe image editing Lighroom Lighroom crash course Media Applications photoshop post processing Software Software Features Wed, 06 Aug 2014 17:43:10 +0000 Kevin Lee 28246 at http://www.maximumpc.com Xidax M6 Mining Rig Review http://www.maximumpc.com/xidax_m6_mining_rig_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>A gaming rig that pays for itself</h3> <p>Exotic car paint, multiple GPUs, and custom-built chassis’ be damned, boutique PC builder <a title="xidax" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/Xidax" target="_blank">Xidax</a> thinks it has the sexiest sales pitch on the planet with its <strong>M6 Mining Rig</strong>: It pays for itself! Now, we can’t say this PC is basically “free” because it ain’t that, but Xidax says by using the box’s spare GPU cycles to mine for crypto-currency, this baby would be paid off in about four months. To be honest, it’s not something we’ve ever considered, as we’ve seen gaming rigs, and we’ve seen coining rigs, but never in the same box. It seems like a solid idea though, as the system can game during the day, then mine at night to help cover its cost.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/xidax_guts13979_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/xidax_guts13979_small.jpg" alt="The Xidax M6 Mining Rig comes set up with everything you need to start mining crypto-currancy almost right out of the box." title="Xidax M6 Mining Rig" width="620" height="676" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Xidax M6 Mining Rig comes set up with everything you need to start mining crypto-currancy almost right out of the box.</strong></p> <p>The system’s specs include a 3.4GHz Core i5-4670K with 16GB of RAM, a Corsair RM 850 PSU, closed-loop liquid cooler, 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD, 1TB WD Black, and a pair of Sapphire Radeon R9 290X cards. In application performance, it’s pretty pedestrian with its stock-clocked Core i5-4670K. Why not something more badass? Xidax says it weighed hardware choices carefully because the pricier the hardware, the longer it takes to pay off with crypto-coins. The Radeons are a wise choice, as they offer about twice the performance of Nvidia’s fastest GPUs in mining applications. Gaming is also quite excellent (obviously, for a two-card system), and its mining performance is impressive at 1.7 to 1.8 Kilohashes per second. (Hashes of the kilo/mega/giga variety are the units of measurement for mining productivity.)</p> <p>Xidax ships the PC ready to start mining operations almost right out of the box, which is normally a daunting task. It also includes a Concierge (or should we say coincierge) service that has a Xidax rep remotely connect to the rig and do a final tune on the box for maximum mining performance. On this particular machine, it came ready to mine for Doge Coins and was forecast to make about $21.60 a day, or $670 a month, on a 24/7 schedule—including electricity costs.</p> <p>What’s the catch? There are a few. First, it’s loud when mining. In fact, it’s so loud that you won’t be able to stand being in the same room with it. Second, you can’t do anything with it while it’s mining because all GPU resources are pegged to the max. Third, crypto-currency can be volatile. Bitcoin saw its value see-saw from $130 to $1,242 and then back to $455 and $900 in just four months. It could all go kaput in a few months, or who knows—the government might even step in and ruin the fun.</p> <p>Considering its performance outside of mining, the M6 Mining Rig is pricey at $3,000. However, the price includes a lifetime warranty on parts and service except for the GPUs. Those carry a five-year warranty, which is still surprisingly good, considering that board vendors are already making noises that they don’t want to eat the cost of dead boards killed by mining. Xidax says it will cover them, though. And—again—it pays for itself, right?</p> <p>That’s ultimately the appeal of the M6 Gaming Rig, but it has to be carefully considered by potential buyers. After all, anything that sounds too good to be true usually is, but then again, it is a powerful gaming PC that could theoretically pay for itself in a few months. And even if the market blew up, at least you’d still have a formidable gaming PC rather than just standing there with your RAM sticks in one hand. And if it works out, whoa baby, you just got a PC for free! –</p> <p><strong>$3,000,</strong> <a href="http://www.xidax.com/">www.xidax.com</a></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/xidax_benchmarks.png" alt="xidax benchmarks" title="xidax benchmarks" width="620" height="277" /></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/xidax_m6_mining_rig_review_2014#comments april issues 2014 bitcoin dogecoin Hardware maximum pc Review xidax m6 mining computer Reviews Systems Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:42:51 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 28234 at http://www.maximumpc.com Intel 730 Series SSD 480GB Review http://www.maximumpc.com/intel_730_series_ssd_480gb_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>An overclocked enterprise SSD, priced accordingly</h3> <p><a title="intel" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/Intel_0" target="_blank">Intel</a> has largely been absent from the high-end SSD market for many years, which has been a real head-scratcher, considering the original X-25M’s dominance back in 2009. That all changes this month with the release of its all-new <strong>730 series SSD</strong>. It springs from the loins of its data center SSDs, which use validated NAND and Intel’s enterprise-level controller technology. To emphasize this heritage, Intel isn’t bragging about the drive’s overall speed, but instead notes the drive is rated to handle up to 70GB of writes per day, which is higher than any other SSD on the market by a huge margin. It features capacitors to protect data being written in case of a power outage, which is an unusual but not unprecedented feature on a consumer SSD. Intel also backs the drive with a five-year warranty.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ww_13_18_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ww_13_18_small.jpg" alt="Intel’s new flagship SSD is validated for a whopping 70GB of writes per day." title="Intel 730 Series SSD 480GB" width="620" height="437" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Intel’s new flagship SSD is validated for a whopping 70GB of writes per day.</strong></p> <p>To create the 730 Series, Intel has basically taken the NAND flash and controller from its data center–oriented S3700 SSD and bumped up the clock and interface speeds. If you recall the “SSD overclocking” demo Intel held at Pax last year, this is the result, though Intel decided against letting consumers overclock the drive. Instead, it did the overclocking at the factory so that the drives could be validated at those speeds. To drive home the point that this is an SSD made for enthusiasts, Intel has even adorned it with a sweet-looking Skulltrail badge.</p> <p>The drive is a 7mm unit, so it will fit inside an ultrabook, but is available only in 240GB and 480GB capacities. It’s odd that it’s not available in 750GB or higher capacities, but our guess is Intel is afraid of the sky-high sticker price that such a drive would require; the two capacities it’s offering are priced very&nbsp; high at $250 and $490, respectively. The drive features Intel’s 20nm MLC NAND and its own third-generation controller. It’s ditched SandForce, along with all the other SSD makers in the business. One interesting note is that since this is an enterprise drive, it essentially doesn’t have a “low-power state,” so it’s not intended for mobile usage. Also, it consumes 5W under load, which is double the consumption of even a 7,200rpm mobile hard drive.</p> <p>When we strapped the 730 Series drive to our test bench, we saw results that were a bit slower overall than we expected. It topped the charts in AS SSD, which measures read and write speeds of incompressible data, but the Intel drive was only a smidge faster than most, and not by enough to make it stand out, as they are all very fast. It was a bit slower than average in straight-line sequential read speeds, topping out at 468MB/s for reads and 491MB/s for writes. While this is still plenty fast, it’s a bit short of the 550MB/s Intel claims the drive is capable of, which is totally saturating the SATA 6Gb/s interface.</p> <p>It was also oddly slow in the ATTO benchmark, which has a queue depth of four and is a “best case scenario” for most drives. It scored just 373MB/s for 64KB-read speeds, compared to 524MB/s for the Samsung 840 Pro. We ran the test several times to verify, so it’s not an aberration. It placed mid-pack in PCMark Vantage, but was slower than its competition in our real-<br />world Sony Vegas test, where we write a 20GB uncompressed AVI file to the drive.</p> <p>Overall, this drive is a bit of a conundrum. We have no doubt it’s reliable, as Intel has always been strong in that regard and this drive is full of safety-oriented features. But is it more reliable than a Samsung 840 Pro for the average consumer? We doubt it, and therefore the drive’s extra-high price tag doesn’t make much sense. If Intel realizes it’s no longer the only game in town and adjusts the price a bit, it’ll be a much more competitive drive, but as it stands, we must give it a so-so verdict of 8.</p> <p><strong>$490,</strong> <a href="http://www.intel.sg/content/www/xa/en/homepage.html">www.intel.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/intel_730_series_ssd_480gb_review#comments Hardware Intel 730 Series SSD 480GB maximum pc May issues 2014 solid state drive Reviews SSD Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:36:43 +0000 Josh Norem 28289 at http://www.maximumpc.com Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X OC Review http://www.maximumpc.com/gigabyte_radeon_r9_290x_oc_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>As good as it gets, if you can find one to buy</h3> <p>Aftermarket Radeon R9 290X GPUs are beginning to make the rounds, and this month we had a WindForce-cooled behemoth from <a title="gigabyte" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/Gigabyte" target="_blank">Gigabyte</a> strutting its stuff in the lab. Unlike last month’s <a title="sapphire tri x r9 290x" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/sapphire_tri-x_radeon_r9_290x_review" target="_blank">Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X</a>, this board features a custom PCB in addition to the custom cooler, whereas the Sapphire slapped a huge cooler onto the reference design circuit board. Theoretically, this could allow for higher overclocks on the Gigabyte due to better-quality components, but more on that later.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/windforce14052_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/windforce14052_small.jpg" alt="Unlike the reference design, Gigabyte’s R9 290X is cool, quiet, and overclockable." title="Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X OC" width="620" height="476" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Unlike the reference design, Gigabyte’s R9 290X is cool, quiet, and overclockable.</strong></p> <p>This is the overclocked version of the card, so it clocks up to 1,040MHz under load, which is a mere 40MHz over stock. These boards always have conservative overclocks out of the box, though, and that is by no means the final clock speed for this card. We’ve covered its WindForce cooler in past reviews, so we won’t go into all the details, but it’s a three-fan cooler that only takes up two PCIe slots and uses six heat pipes with inclined heatsinks to better dissipate the warm. It’s good for 450W of heat dispersal, according to Gigabyte, and since the R9 290X is roughly a 300W card (AMD has never given a TDP for this particular model for some reason), the WindForce cooler should be more than up to the job.</p> <p>Like all Radeon R9 290X boards, this sucker is big and long, measuring 11.5 inches. Gigabyte recommends you use at least a 600W power supply with it, and it sports two dual-link DVI ports for 2560x1600 gaming, as well as HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2a if you want to run 4K. The card comes bundled with a free set of headphones. It used to include a free copy of Battlefield 4, but the company told us it was no longer offering the game bundle because it had run out of coupons. The MSRP of the board is $620, but some stores had it for $599 while others marked it up to $700.</p> <p>Once we had this Windy Bad Boy in the lab, we were very curious to compare it to the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X we tested last month. Since both cards feature enormous aftermarket coolers, have the exact same specs and clocks, and are roughly the same price, we weren’t surprised to find that they performed identically for the most part.</p> <p>If you look at the benchmark chart, in every test the two cards are almost exactly the same—the only exception being Metro, but since that’s a PhysX game, AMD cards can get a bit wonky sometimes. In every other test, the two cards are within a few frames-per-second difference, making them interchangeable. Both cards also run in the mid–70 C zone under load, which is 20 C cooler than the reference design. We were able to overclock both cards to just a smidge over 1,100MHz, as well.</p> <p>“Okay,” you are saying to yourself. “I’m ready to buy!” Well, that’s where we run into a small problem. Gigabyte’s MSRP for this card is $620—the same as the Sapphire Tri-X card—but at press time, the cheapest we could find it for was $700 on Newegg. We can’t ding Gigabyte for Newegg’s pricing, but it’s a real shame these R9 290X cards are so damned expensive.</p> <p><strong>$620,</strong> <a href="http://www.gigabyte.us/">www.gigabyte.us</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/gigabyte_radeon_r9_290x_oc_review#comments Air Cooling amd april issues 2014 Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X OC gpu graphics card Hardware maximum pc Review Reviews Tue, 05 Aug 2014 19:52:42 +0000 Josh Norem 28227 at http://www.maximumpc.com NZXT H440 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/nzxt_h440_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Remarkably clean, and limited, too</h3> <p>We love the fact that <a title="nzxt" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/nzxt" target="_blank">NZXT</a> bills this semi-silent-themed case as a “hassle-free experience.” We wonder if the company was using the same case that we were, because we encountered quite a bit of hassle building a standard configuration into this smaller-than-usual chassis.</p> <p>For starters, the case itself ships with no printed manual—at least, ours didn’t. We only hope that’s an oversight with our early review unit instead of a standard feature of the chassis itself, because there are definitely some features of the <a title="h440" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nzxt_h440_case_ditches_optical_drive_bays_cleaner_look" target="_blank">H440</a> that warrant a bit of instruction, especially for neophyte builders.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/h440_blk_main_24x32in_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/h440_blk_main_24x32in_small.jpg" alt="The H440 is the first case we’ve tested that doesn’t have 5.25-inch drive bays. " title="NZXT H440" width="620" height="578" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The H440 is the first case we’ve tested that doesn’t have 5.25-inch drive bays. </strong></p> <p>Case in point: There are absolutely zero 5.25-inch bays to be found on the H440, which is a good thing to know before you start attempting to pry off the H440’s front (Dremel in hand). We know, we know, the optical drive is dead, long live the optical drive—but is it too soon? To be honest, there’s an upstart contingent here at Maximum PC who think it’s a plus, while some cranky old farts think it’s a minus. Additionally, installing the power supply might evoke a bout of head-scratching at first, as there’s seemingly no way to just stuff it into the chassis thanks to how it’s been compartmentalized on the case’s bottom. This does build on the case’s motto of “remarkably clean,” though, by hiding your messy PSU cabling.</p> <p>This leads us into one of our major gripes with this chassis: There’s a lot of screwing. We pretty much pulled out the thumbscrews in the case’s side, which are supposedly designed to not do that. Beyond that, you have to unscrew a panel to slide the power supply in, you have to unscrew the standard PCI slot covers for any devices you want to install, and—most frustratingly—you have to first unscrew the case’s steel drive trays (up to six total) just for the privilege of being able to screw in your hard drive. Clean, yes. Toolless, no.</p> <p>The case feels a bit small on the inside, but it adequately supported our standard test setup (including an Nvidia GTX 480 video card) without any cramming or wedging. We like how the case’s three rubberized cable-routing holes fit perfectly with a standard video card setup—when using the top-most PCI Express x16 slot on our ATX motherboard, our video card didn’t block any of the much-needed routing holes.</p> <p>That said, cable routing is a bit of a challenge in the H440. There’s already not that much room between the rear of the motherboard tray and the case’s side panel. Amplifying the claustrophobia is a layer of soundproofing foam adhered to the side panel. We love that NZXT cares so much about our ears, but it makes for a less-than-pleasant smashing of cables against the case’s side (especially since there’s only one provided hole for power-supply cables to route through otherwise). Cable-management options feel more constrained by this case than others we’ve tested.</p> <p>The foam surrounding the case’s insides has quite a bit of work in store for it, too. No fewer than four of NZXT’s next-gen case fans grace the inside of the chassis: three 12cm fans on the front and one 14cm fan on the back. When we fired up the system with no components inside it, the soundproof-themed case was a bit audible. A full system only adds to the din, and while we appreciate NZXT’s efforts toward keeping the volume dial at a three instead of an eleven, it seems to be a bit of a lost cause.</p> <p>NZXT seems to think this case is perfect for liquid cooling. For some all-in-one setups, sure; for customized loops, you’re going to be in for something of a tubing nightmare. Best of luck!</p> <p><strong>$120,</strong> <a href="http://www.nzxt.com/">www.nzxt.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/nzxt_h440_review#comments april issues 2014 Hardware maximum pc Review Cases Reviews Tue, 05 Aug 2014 19:46:55 +0000 David Murphy 28236 at http://www.maximumpc.com Cooler Master Nepton 280L Review http://www.maximumpc.com/cooler_master_nepton_280l_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Not quite god, but still Herculean</h3> <p>In the world of CPUs, closed-loop liquid coolers (CLCs) seem to be standard-issue for enthusiasts these days. They give you higher overclocking headroom than even the most expensive and beefy air coolers, and they can operate more quietly. However, we haven’t seen many with radiators as large as 280mm—just the <a title="kraken x60" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nzxt_kraken_x60_review_2013" target="_blank">NZXT Kraken X60</a> and the <a title="Corsair h110 review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/corsair_h110_review" target="_blank">Corsair H110</a> come to mind—so we were eager to run the <strong>Cooler Master Nepton 280L</strong> through its paces.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/coolermaster14036_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/coolermaster14036_small.jpg" alt="The Nepton features a massive 280mm radiator." title="Cooler Master Nepton 280L" width="620" height="559" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Nepton features a massive 280mm radiator.</strong></p> <p>Many hardware vendors have chosen to license their CLC designs from Asetek, whose patents go back quite a way. With the 280L, however, Cooler Master decided to roll its own with a custom pump. It’s definitely larger than usual. The tubes coming out of it are sleeved with a material called FEP, which is similar to Teflon and designed to slow the rate of evaporation inside the loop. That’s an important factor for a cooler that’s not designed to be refilled. Cooler Master is also using its own JetFlo fans, designed for high static pressure. This feature is needed to penetrate into the fins of the radiator, and the 140mm version of the JetFlo is making its debut here (the radiator can also fit 120mm fans).</p> <p>Pump installation is pretty straightforward. First, we screwed in a small bracket to each side of the cold plate. Then, since our LGA 2011 motherboard has an integrated CPU backplate, we just attached four bundled screws to that, set the cold plate on top the CPU, and added four fasteners to fix the cold plate’s brackets to the four screws in the backplate. The fasteners only take a flat-bladed screwdriver, oddly, but they went in smoothly. The radiator screws also come in two sets of eight, differing only a couple of millimeters in length, so it took a minute to separate each type. It would have been better had they been clearly differentiated.</p> <p>The pump, plugged into our board’s secondary CPU fan header, operated at a steady 6,300rpm, which is unusually high. We checked with Cooler Master, and the company agreed. We used a Zalman Fanmate to manually tune it down to 5,000rpm, at which point the pump noise didn’t stand out. Despite a loss of 1,300rpm, temps only went up about 1 C during our load test, indicating that the additional speed offered minimal improvement anyway. We then plugged the pump into a chassis fan header without the Fanmate, and it leveled off at 4,500rpm.</p> <p>Of course, there are caveats. A large percentage of cases will not accommodate a 280mm radiator; either the dimensions are too small or the fan mounts are not sized for it. This is not the radiator’s fault, though, so we can’t really deduct points for it. It’s just something that you have to be aware of. Also, the thick FEP tubes are not especially flexible. The radiator screws have unusually open heads, requiring an uncommonly large bit to avoid stripping. Lastly, the pump is too loud without some fiddling.</p> <p>These are fairly minor issues that all have workarounds, though. Considering the Nepton’s top-tier cooling performance, reasonably low noise levels, and ease of installation, its quirks don’t stick out in the end. Its load temperatures were notably lower than anything else we’ve tested and may allow you to squeeze another couple-hundred MHz out of an overclock. The Nepton is an indisputable upgrade from Cooler Master’s older Seidon series.</p> <p><strong>$125 (street),</strong> <a href="http://us.coolermaster.com/">www.coolermaster-usa.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/cooler_master_nepton_280l_review#comments Air Cooling april issues 2014 clc closed loop cooler Cooler Master Nepton 280L cpu Hardware maximum pc water cooling Reviews Tue, 05 Aug 2014 19:35:45 +0000 Tom McNamara 28218 at http://www.maximumpc.com