Maximum PC - Reviews en Razer Leviathan Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>More than just a Bluetooth speaker</h3> <p>If you were to tell us three years ago that Razer was going to make a Bluetooth speaker, we would have been interested, but now that we’re inundated with Bluetooth speakers everywhere, it’s pretty hard to get excited. But while Razer’s Leviathan sound system is far from perfect, it’s also more than just a pair of Bluetooth speakers. &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/razer_leviathan.jpg" alt="razer leviathan" title="razer leviathan" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p>Technically speaking, the Leviathan is in the “sound bar” family of Bluetooth speakers. The sound bar here features two 2.5-inch full-range drivers and two .74-inch tweeters. Spec-wise, the sound bar has a total power output of 30 watts, an impedance of eight ohms, and a frequency response rate between 180Hz and 20KHz. Weighing 4.4 pounds and measuring 19.5 inches wide, the sound bar is small enough to be tucked under your monitor or placed underneath your HDTV. Its black chassis is sexy to boot, though it would have been sexier if the Razer logo on the front was also an LED that would be able to light up with the company’s signature green color, but alas, that’s a small quibble.&nbsp;</p> <p>Razer is also touting the Leviathan as a 5.1 setup, and the extra kick comes by way of a passive 5.1-pound matte-black subwoofer, which has a 5.25-inch downward-firing subwoofer with a 30-watt output. The subwoofer features an impedance of eight ohms and a frequency response rate between 20Hz and 180Hz.&nbsp;</p> <p>Setup was relatively painless and took less than 10 minutes. In addition to the sound bar and subwoofer, inside the box you’ll find an optical cable, 3.5mm auxiliary cable, power adapter, subwoofer-to-sound bar connector, and two pairs of detachable feet that allow you to adjust the tilt angle of the sound bar to either 0, 15, or 18 degrees. Some may be happy to hear that the back of the sound bar also has room for wall-mount screws.&nbsp;</p> <p>All in all, there are several ways to get music out of this box. The Leviathan supports Bluetooth 4.0, and there’s even a spot on the top-right of the sound bar that allows you to tap your phone and pair it via NFC. Bluetooth here should allow you to move your phone 30 feet from the sound bar, which is plenty. If you want to replace your crappy HDTV speakers with Razer’s sound bar, you can switch over to the Leviathan’s optical mode. Finally, there’s auxiliary mode if you want to hook up the speakers up to your PC’s mobo or sound card. In terms of audio inputs, the Leviathan supports all modern mainstream solutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>In terms of features, the Leviathan supports Dolby Digital Surround, but we didn’t really notice much of a difference when we toggled it on and off. The same thing can be said with the Leviathan’s different presets, which includes movie, music, and game modes.&nbsp;</p> <p>For the most part, the Leviathan really accentuates whatever bass it can pick up, which has become a popular trend for which you can thank Beats Audio. No joke, the Leviathan has a ton of volume firepower at max volume and we thought we were experiencing a minor earthquake when we cranked it all the way up. It’s that thunderous. While the audio still manages to sound clean at higher volumes, we initially thought there was no way to crank down the subwoofer, which can sound overwhelming at times, but luckily you can do that by holding down the Dolby button and adjusting the volume buttons. Finally, if you’re expecting a true, all-encompassing 5.1 setup from these speakers, you’re going to be disappointed. Razer marketing talk aside, all of these drivers are still coming directly in front of you, so it would be unfair to expect musical magic here. Still, all in all, the Razer Leviathan never sounded distorted or unclean, and sounded great overall.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/razer_leviathan_2.jpg" alt="razer leviathan" title="razer leviathan" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p>As much as we like Razer’s Leviathan, it’s certainly not without faults. It’s a little annoying that there is no volume indicator on the device; heaven forbid that you forget you had the speakers on blast the last time you turned them on. Speaking of turning them on, you’ll have to do that a lot, considering the Leviathan shuts off after 20 minutes of being idle. While this might allow you to cut down on your power bill, having the option to disable this feature would be greatly appreciated as it can be annoying to try and watch TV from across the room, and then be bothered with having to walk back across the room to wake up the box. And on that note, yes, you’re going to have to manually press down on the Leviathan’s power button since it has no remote control. This isn’t that big of a deal if you’re using them as PC speakers right in front of your monitor, but it can be grating if you’ve got them set up for your HTPC across the room. Finally, another very small gripe we had with the sound bar is that it doesn’t have a built-in battery pack and needs to be tethered to a wall. It would be cool if there were at least a little battery pack inside so you could take it on camping trips or something. We hope Razer makes a second-gen Leviathan and corrects some of these quirks.</p> <p>Still, for under 200 bones, the Leviathan is fairly priced, sounds much better than your cheapo 2.1 hand-me-down speakers, and supports a variety of devices and audio inputs.&nbsp;</p> <p>$197,</p> <p><em>UPDATE: The review has been updated to reflect that you can adjust the intensity of the bass by pressing down on the Dolby button.</em></p> analog bluetooth speaker HDMI leviathan nfc optical razer sound bar subwoofer Reviews Speakers Tue, 31 Mar 2015 17:44:06 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29669 at PC Gaming Week: Maximum PC Editors' Rigs <!--paging_filter--><h3>We invite you in to check out our personal systems</h3> <p>In celebration of <strong>PC Gaming Week</strong> by our sister publications, we at Maximum PC thought it would be good to contribute to the cause, with an article dedicated to exploring the rigs of our editors. The bunch of us gathered together, and you could tell it was a battle of testies. Truth be told, it wasn’t really about who had what system, but rather, why did things get built that way and for what purpose. We hope you’ll see how diverse we are in terms of builds, and each build will be accompanied by the editor’s comments, on why they put together what they did.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/maxpc_bros.png" alt="MaxPC Staff" title="Maximum PC Staff recording a podcast" width="619" height="473" /></p> <p style="text-align: left;">In the media world, people like to talk about how we should remain unbiased. But truth be told, there’s some amount of bias in everything. And you know what? That’s great, because if you didn’t want valuable insights and opinions, you would read an article written by a robot. Bias, under appropriate moderation, allows you as a reader to come away with a level of awareness that help lead you toward either a better buying decision, or a better understanding of what helps and what’s just garbage.</p> <p>We hope you enjoy reading about each of our personal rigs and the insights into why we picked the stuff we have.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">If you want to jump to different systems, click one of these links to check them out:</p> <ul> <li>Alex Campbell's system (this page)</li> <li><strong><a href=",1">Tom McNamara's system</a></strong></li> <li><strong><a href=",2">Jimmy Thang's system</a></strong></li> <li><strong><a href=",3">Tuan Nguyen's system</a>&nbsp;</strong></li> </ul> <h3>First up: Alex Campbell, Associate Editor</h3> <p style="text-align: left;">CPU: AMD A8-5600K 3.6GHz<br />CPU cooler: ARCTIC Freezer 7 Pro<br />Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-F2A88X-D3H<br />GPU: EVGA 01G-P3-1556-KR NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 1GB<br />RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3<br />SSD: Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S3/120G 120GB<br />HDD: Seagate Barracuda ST500DM002 500GB 7200RPM x 2, Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB 6,200rpm<br />Audio: Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi<br />PSU: Rosewill RX850-S-B Extreme Series 850W<br />Case: CM Storm Scout 2 Advanced<br />Keyboard: Logitech K800<br />Mouse: Logitech M310<br />Display: An unimpressive 1080p display<br />Accessories: None</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p><p><img src="/files/u99720/alex_campbell_pc_1.jpg" alt="Alex Campbell home rig" title="Alex Campbell home rig" width="620" height="465" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Alex Campbell's home rig.</strong></p> <p>My machine at home is a bit of a Frankenstein monster that I built in early 2014, from a combination of new-ish parts and cannibalized bits from my old desktop built in 2010. In early 2014, I was still in school finishing up my bachelor’s, which was focused on photojournalism.</p> <p>In case I turned photography into a business, I needed a new machine to handle some photo editing in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I also wanted a machine that could handle some video editing. I knew my budget wouldn’t be able to handle a 4K load, so I didn’t even try to reach that level. Instead, I focused on making sure I had enough storage to keep all the hefty RAW files from my Nikon D90.</p> <p>I play games, too, so I needed a card that could render decent framerates with a some RTS and FPS games I could find on Steam. Primarily, though, my goal was to create a midrange digital workstation to produce media. </p> <p>I’ve been an AMD builder most of my life, so I looked for a decent mid-range FM2 chip to do the number crunching, and settled on an AMD A8-5600K Trinity Quad-Core 3.6GHz. I dropped it into a GIGABYTE GA-F2A88X-D3H that I chose for its price, USB 3.0 ports, and decent reviews on Newegg. The fact that it sports 8 SATA 3 ports was a big plus, as I was planning on packing it full of spinning drives. I transplanted my ARCTIC Freezer 7 Pro Rev. 2 CPU Cooler onto my new chip, and used the stock AMD fan for my old CPU, which is now the heart of a SAMBA file server.</p> <p>Video is powered by an EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti, which was a solid card, and can still play many games at a decent framerate. While it’s still a great card for what I paid, the 550 Ti doesn’t support many of the latest features of NVIDIA’s drivers and software.</p> <p>I grabbed a couple of 8GB DDR3 1866 GSKILL Ripjaw X Series RAM sticks to run my apps. Sure, 1866 wasn’t the fastest speed available, but again, my starving-student budget didn’t give me much wiggle room.</p> <p>Storage was the name of the game for this build, so I nabbed a 120GB Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S3 SSD for my system partitions. The SSD houses both Windows 8.1 and Arch Linux. A pair of 500GB Seagate Barracudas house my “active” video and photo files. One drive serves as the “main” working disk and the other is the backup. In case you’re wondering, they’re not linked in RAID 1, because RAID is not a backup scheme, it’s a drive redundancy scheme. Using the second drive as a backup ensures that if something happens to my work, I can get the next most recent version of my working files back.</p> <p>Media and personal live on a 1TB Barracuda, which is split between an NTFS partition for Windows and an Ext4 partition for my Linux /home directory.</p> <p>I threw all of this into a CM Storm Scout 2 Advanced case. The case is nice because the built-in front LEDs have their own toggle switch and the carrying handle on top is quite comfortable to use. When I moved up to the Bay Area, it was much easier to pack into my car than my server was. It also has decent space for cable management on the back panel and plenty of fan-mounting options.</p> <p>I powered the rig with a 850W Rosewill RX850-S-B Xtreme Series I transplanted from the server box. The power supply is 80 Plus Bronze, which helps with my power bill. The thing is also surprisingly silent, which is nice if I sleep with the computer on in my room.</p> <p>My storage solution also includes my server, running on a quad-core Athlon X2 Black Edition with two cores unlocked in BIOS. The server’s Arch Linux image lives on a 60GB SanDisk SSD. A pair of 2TB Barracudas serve as photo-archive drives. One drive serves as the primary and the other as backup, just like the working drives in my main box. Backups are automated with rsync and cron. The server also has a 3TB Barracuda for NAS use and is encrypted with dm-crypt/LUKS. I really should buy a couple more for a RAID array, though. The server is powered by a 650W Cooler Master GX.</p> <p>My peripherals and display are rather lackluster and in dire need of replacement, but I do like my illuminated Logitech K800. It’s not mechanical or great for gaming, but the backlighting is gentle and fades in and out as you move your hands over it, which is great for working at night, or just adjusting the system volume while watching Netflix from across the room.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Tom McNamara, Technical Editor</h3> <p>CPU: Intel Core i7 3770K @ 4.2GHz<br />CPU cooler: NZXT Kraken X40<br />Motherboard: Gigabyte GX-Z77-UD5H<br />GPU: MSI Gaming 4G NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980<br />RAM: Corsair LP 16GB (4x 4GB) DDR3<br />SSD: Crucial M500 480GB<br />HDD: Seagate Desktop HDD 4TB <br />Audio: Onboard<br />PSU: Thermaltake TPG-675M Toughpower 675W<br />Case: Fractal Design Define XL R2<br />Keyboard: Logitech G710+<br />Mouse: Logitech M310<br />Display: Dell S2340M 23-inch<br />Accessories: None</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/tom_mcnamara_pc_1.jpg" alt="Tom McNamara's home rig" title="Tom McNamara's home rig" width="620" height="836" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Tom McNamara's home rig.</strong></p> <p>My overall strategy with this system was to create something that would be fairly quiet, spacious, and understated. I don't go for case windows because they let more noise through, and I get over looking through them after a few days anyway. So, the Fractal Design Define XL R2 fit the bill. It has sound-absorbing panels and three 140mm fans pre-installed.</p> <p>For the CPU, I wanted something with eight threads, so I went with the Intel Core i7-3770K. It gets me better performance than AMD's FX-8350, and it draws much less power. I cool it with an NZXT Kraken X40, since I'm not going for particularly high clock speeds. I still use the original "Kraken Control" software instead of CAM, because I prefer the simpler interface. The radiator is mounted in the top of the case. The GA-Z77-UD5H motherboard has served me pretty well so far. I might try an Asus board in the future, because I like their fan control software, and I tend to get pretty high overclocks out of them, and with less fiddling in the BIOS. I use low-profile RAM because you never know when you might need the physical clearance, and I don't need fancy heatsinks. DDR3 just doesn't get hot enough to warrant them, in my experience.</p> <p>I went with the MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G because I wanted something beefy, but not noisy. This GPU is rated to pull around 165 watts under load, so the card's cooling fans don't have to make much noise. I can also add a second 980 without stressing out my 675-watt power supply, whereas two Radeon R9 290Xs would call for about 850 watts.</p> <p>For storage, I got a good deal on a 480GB Crucial M500, but I ended up running out of room for my Steam games, so I got a 1TB Samsung 840 EVO to give me some breathing room. I was using my 4TB Seagate HDD to copy games over when I needed room; copying them back later is much faster than re-downloading. It's also good to have for system and file backups.</p> <p>For input, I've been using the Corsair M65 for a while now. Its finish doesn't rub or flake off, which I've had happen with other mice. That flaking makes the texture feel weird and like the mouse is dirty even though it looks fine. I'll probably be trying out the Logitech G303 soon, though, for some variety.</p> <p>I got a good deal on the Dell S2340M monitor, and I liked it so much that I bought another. The back of it is a bit awkward, though; bulky DVI connectors simply can't fit. It also doesn't do HDMI. The image quality is great, and the bezels are thin, but 23 inches is just a bit too small for my tastes. I'll probably be getting a 2560x1440 monitor soon, now that we're going to be getting things like 144Hz IPS and FreeSync. Unfortunately, the S2340M doesn't rotate into portrait mode, and I don't currently have enough desk space for two of those and a 1440p display. First-world problems.</p> <p>I've had good luck with Logitech's keyboards, so I bought a G710+ a while back. It has white LED backlighting, Cherry MX brown mechanical switches, and some macro keys that I never use. But it's quiet and hasn't let me down yet. I tried the Corsair RGB keyboard, but I found its keys too springy for my taste. Before this, I was using a Tesoro Durandal G1NL, which is also Cherry MX Brown, but with a reddish-orange backlight similar to the Sidewinder X4 that I had before that. I stopped using the G1NL because it wouldn't initialize until Windows had booted, meaning I couldn't access the BIOS. No amount of tweaking would fix it. I keep hoping that Microsoft will enter the mechanical keyboard fray, but they don't seem to be interested in enthusiast keyboards or mice anymore.</p> <p>I play a variety of games on this rig. Lately, it's been Cities: Skylines, which some people have described to me as the de facto sequel to Sim City 4. I think it's pretty great, especially for $30. I've also been dabbling with Star Citizen; its very transparent and publisher-free development process has been fascinating to watch. Shadow of Mordor has also been great fun, and I'm looking forward to testing my system's limits with The Witcher 3.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Jimmy Thang, Online Managing Editor</h3> <p>CPU: Intel Core i7 3770K<br />CPU cooler: Hyper 212<br />Motherboard: Something useful<br />GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan<br />RAM: Corsair Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3<br />SSD: Samsung 840 Pro 256GB<br />HDD: Seagate Desktop HDD 4TB <br />Audio: Creative Sound Blaster Z<br />PSU: A car battery<br />Case: Fractal Design Define R4<br />Keyboard: Razer Black Widow<br />Mouse: Logitech Daedalus Prime<br />Display: ASUS VG248QE 24-inch 144Hz</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/jimmy_thang_pc_1_s.jpg" alt="Jimmy Thang's home rig" title="Jimmy Thang's home rig" width="420" height="682" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Jimmy Thang's home rig.</strong></p> <p>At the heart of my current home rig, I’m using a 3770K CPU, GTX Titan GPU, and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RAM. In addition to gaming, I dabble in photo and video editing, and my i7 processor and 16GB of RAM are good enough for my amateur needs there. I’ve also got a 4TB Seagate HDD that allows me to store the copious assets. Of course, that isn’t my only storage drive. For the OS, I’m running a Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD, which allows my PC to boot up in under 15 seconds. All of this is wrapped in a white Define R4 chassis, which I like because of its clean aesthetics. </p> <p>Currently, my main display is a 24-inch 144Hz 3D panel from Asus. I don’t use the 3D features at all, but I do like having super high framerates (for when 60fps simply won’t do). I also have a separate 24-inch IPS display from Dell, which I use as a secondary monitor to help with productivity work. My GeForce GTX Titan may seem overkill for a 1080p display, but I’m also playing around with an Oculus Rift DK2, which has demos render 1080p scenes twice for each eye, and demands experiences be a consistent 75fps. VR games like space simulator Elite Dangerous really put my Titan to work here.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/jimmy_thang_pc_2_s.jpg" alt="Jimmy Thang's displays" title="Jimmy Thang's displays" width="620" height="362" /></p> <p>When I’m not running around in VR, I find myself playing a lot of different indie games like Darkest Dungeon or Transistor. I was also really into League of Legends for a while. Yes, these games don’t tax my hardware at all, but I’ll occasionally play more demanding games, such as Evolve or Shadow of Mordor, and I like knowing that I have a relatively future-proof rig capable of maxing out any game I throw at it. This, of course, will change when I make the eventual move to a 4K monitor (I’m mostly waiting for the scaling issues to be resolved before I dive in). </p> <p>The accessories I’m using to play these games include Razer’s Black Widow mechanical keyboard (I like the really loud and clicky feel of it) and Logitech’s Daedalus Prime mouse, which was originally designed for MOBAs with its quick click-actuation time. For audio, I’m using Corsair’s Vengeance 2100 wireless headset. It can be a burden to charge every now and then, but the audio quality and sound isolation are great, and I really enjoy the freedom of being able to walk around my room untethered as I listen to music. I’m also using a wireless Xbox 360 controller, which I feel is the best controller for PC gaming at the moment, but that could change with Valve’s Steam Controller that’s coming out this November.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Tuan Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief</h3> <p><strong>System 1, The Workhorse:</strong><br />CPU: Intel Core i7 3970X<br />CPU cooler: NZXT Kraken X41<br />Motherboard: ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition<br />GPU: EVGA 04G-P4-2986KR NVIDIA GTX 980<br />RAM: Samsung “Green” Low-profile (8 x 4GB) DDR3 <br />SSD: Samsung 850 Pro 256GB x 2<br />HDD: Western Digital Black WD4003FZEX 4TB x 4<br />Audio: Onboard + Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1, Astro Gaming A40 headset<br />PSU: Seasonic Platinum-1000 1000w<br />Case: NZXT H440 Black/Blue<br />Keyboard: Das Keyboard 4 Ultimate<br />Mouse: Logitech MX Master<br />Display: Dell UltraSharp U3011 30-inch, Dell UtraSharp 2311h 23-inch<br />Accessories: APC Smart-UPS 1500 UPS, Fujitsu U2300 Magneto-Optical drive, Logitech C920 webcam</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/tuan_nguyen_pc_3.jpg" alt="Tuan's workhorse" title="Tuan's workhorse PC" width="620" height="827" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Gigabyte X79A-UD5 mobo has since been replaced with an ASUS Rampge IV Black Edition.</strong></p> <p><strong>System 2, The Decapitator:</strong> <strong>Digital Storm Bolt 3</strong><br />CPU: Intel Core i7 4790K<br />CPU cooler: Digital Storm HydroLux Liquid<br />Motherboard: ASUS Maximus VII Impact<br />GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X<br />RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum (2 x 8GB) DDR3 <br />SSD: Samsung 850 Pro 512GB<br />HDD: Western Digital Black WD4003FZEX 4TB<br />Audio: Onboard + [Below], Astro Gaming A50 headset<br />PSU: Seasonic Platinum-1000 1000w<br />Case: Digital Storm Bolt 3<br />Keyboard: Das Keyboard 3 Ultimate<br />Mouse: Logitech G502<br />Display: Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB Projector<br />Accessories: APC Smart-UPS 1000 UPS, Xbox 360 controller (wired)<br />Audio: Pioneer Elite VSX-82TXS receiver, Aperion Audio Verus Grand HD speakers</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u191083/tuan_nguyen_pc_4.jpg" alt="Digital Storm Bolt 3" title="Digital Storm Bolt 3" width="620" height="776" /><br /><strong>Tuan's Decapitator:</strong><span style="text-align: start;">&nbsp;</span><strong>Digital Storm Bolt 3</strong></p> <p>I’ve been a gamer for as long as I could remember. I gamed on Atari’s old systems, 286 PCs with yellow monochrome CRT monitors, and a huge array of everything available, up until today. I grew up on all the consoles. I actually don’t own any of the recent consoles, but I do own a first-generation Sony PlayStation running over SCART RGB video into my receiver—I know, it’s pretty nerdy, but I love it. The last console I bought was an Xbox 360. There just aren’t enough great games on the current consoles to warrant getting them. But there are many, many great games on the PC. My setup consists of two different PCs for two different purposes, although one could argue that the two systems could swap duties just fine.</p> <p>The first system is called The Workhorse. It’s used for… you guessed it, work. I’d wager though, that it could play games decently, too. I do play a limited number of games on it, but I save the real entertainment for another system. </p> <p>I went with an NZXT H440 chassis because I enjoy having a minimalistic and clean setup, at least on the outside. On the inside, however, I’ve crammed just about the best components that I could into the system. It’s using a Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition only because I haven’t the chance to move into the new CPUs, but the Core i7 3970X is still a beastly six-core CPU. The motherboard is a loaded ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition, and I chose it because I ended up preferring ASUS’s EFI over Gigabyte’s. Previous to the Rampage, I was using a Gigabyte X79A-UD5 board, which wasn’t quite as stable. And honestly, Gigabyte really needs to do a better job with their firmware. One of the photos shows my old Gigabyte motherboard, but the more recent photo of the entire computer shows the ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition.</p> <p>I’d like to point out that the RAM you see in the photo doesn’t look like much. In fact, it may even look like old DIMM sticks before heatsinks became all the rage. In the overclocking community, these Samsung DDR3 sticks are considered the “golden” standard. They run so cool and clock so fast, you don’t even need heatsinks. I’ve never been a fan of decorative heatsinks, instead I prefer simple ones with actual fins that are efficient at removing heat. A lot of the stuff that’s out there today is all about grabbing your attention. Give me stability over that any day.</p> <p>Other than that, the components I picked are what I feel are best in class. From the SSD to HDD, to GPU and PSU, the components I have in The Workhorse are essentially the best. The Dell UltraSharp U3011 was the company’s previous flagship 30-incher. Dell now has the U3014, which delivers a 30-inch display backed by LED instead of the CCFL backlighting in the U3011. Still, it’s a beauty, but it’s not a “gaming” display by any means. It doesn’t do any of the faster refresh rates, nor does it have the best response time for some types of games, and it doesn’t come with G-Sync either. I use an Acer XB280HK 4K 28-inch display at work that has G-Sync, and I can honestly say, I want G-Sync or FreeSync in all my future displays. </p> <p>To round out the system, I use a Das Keyboard 4 Ultimate for input nirvana. I actually have 3 of these keyboards. Once for this system, one for the entertainment system, and one for my PC at the office. I’m just a really big fan of Cherry MX blue switches. And yes, all the keys are blank on these keyboards.</p> <p>OK, enough work, let’s play.</p> <p>For my entertainment duties, I was really attracted to Digital Storm’s Bolt series of PCs. No only does Digital Storm build really good PCs, they do so with the best components that you and I can buy. Thus exists the Bolt 3. </p> <p>Digital Storm co-designed a chassis, with Lian Li, that I feel is an excellent fit for the living room—that is, not too big, and looks great laying horizontally. At this point, you might be asking why didn’t I just build another rig. Good question. My answer is, this publication is called Maximum PC, not Maximum DIY. I think as fans of PCs, and fans of technology in general, <a href="">we should appreciate and embrace all types of technology</a>. There are plenty of reasons why someone would choose to build or not to build. Since I’ve been building all my life, I figured: why not see what’s going on the other side? And you know what? It’s awesome! Funny how life works.</p> <p>The Bolt 3 is loaded to the gills with the best parts: an NVIDIA Titan X, Core i7 4790K, Samsung 850 Pro SSD, and more. The best part of the rig, though, is the design. It’s sleek, black, and has a huge plane of dark tempered glass covering one side of the system. It’s slightly larger than the outgoing Bolt 2, but the slight increase in volume allows better airflow, as well as maintenance. In fact, there’s space for two Titan X cards, but I have yet to figure out how to cram that second card in.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u191083/tuan_nguyen_pc_5.jpg" alt="Digital Storm Bolt 3" title="Digital Storm Bolt 3" width="620" height="574" /></p> <p>For its duties as a home-theater gaming rid, the Bolt 3 is connected via HDMI to my Pioneer receiver, which in turn is connected to a monster of a projector: an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB. This is one of the best prosumer 1080p projectors you can buy. It’s extremely highly rated, and outputs a mind-blowingly good picture, even with ambient lighting. </p> <p>I play (or have played): Battlefield 4, Titanfall, League of Legends, Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, Supernova (alpha), and a bunch of other titles. Right now though, the game I enjoy playing the most is Ori and the Blind Forest. If you haven’t played it, get it. If you don’t know it, get it. My game library is a mixed bag of different genres, and we know that different games require different hardware to get maximum fidelity. So, going with a Bolt 3 configured as it is allows me to enjoy any title on the market in my living room without fuss. Of course, we’d be just as happy and supportive if you built your own, too.</p> <p>Other than games, I use the Bolt 3 for all other duties, such as movie playback, and the occasional web browsing.</p> <p><span style="font-size: 10px;"><strong>And that's a wrap</strong></span></p> <p>We hope you enjoyed having a deep look into what we use for our own personal systems at home. We try to keep things varied, and all of us have different things that we do with our PCs. No matter what each of us use though, one thing is clear: we love to build stuff. I'd like to point out though that Alex only showed a photo of his PC from the outside because his system is horrendously dusty on the inside. Awful!</p> <p>We're interested in what you guys have in your builds, or if you bought a pre-built, what did you configure it with and why? Why one CPU over another? Why 64GB of RAM instead of 32GB? Is there a brand favorite you have and why? And, if you have questions for our editors about their specific setup, hit us up in the comments!</p> amd build PC Campbell intel McNamara Nguyen nvidia Thang Gaming Editor Blogs Systems Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:36:26 +0000 Maximum PC Staff 29636 at AMD Announces Four New FreeSync Monitors <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u166440/benq_xl2730z.jpg" alt="benq xl2730z" title="benq xl2730z" width="200" height="216" style="float: right;" />AMD claims that Nvidia G-Sync technology can negatively affect FPS</h3> <p>Shore up your homes everyone, it appears that another battle is about to be waged between AMD and Nvidia consumers. The resulting storm is going to be over AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync technologies. While&nbsp;<strong>AMD announced that four new monitors with FreeSync support are now available</strong>, it didn’t stop there. The company went on to claim that Nvidia’s G-Sync can negatively affect a game’s FPS.</p> <p>Simply put, both technologies allow graphics cards to synchronize the display of a video game’s frame with the output of a video card. In addition, they both eliminate tearing and stuttering in games though AMD claims that, through internal studies, Nvidia’s G-Sync can negatively affect a game’s FPS by 1.14 percent (Alien: Isolation was the game used for the study). For the same study, the company claimed that FreeSync saw an improved affect of 0.16 percent FPS. Another issue that AMD pointed out is that consumers can disable FreeSync (or adaptive sync) off on FreeSync monitors while G-Sync monitors cannot turn off VSync which can reduce the mouse’s latency.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u166440/amd_gsync_chart.jpg" alt="amd gsync chart" title="amd gsync chart" width="600" height="226" /></p> <p>The company didn’t stop there as it pointed out some of the benefits of manufacturers using its technology compared to Nvidia’s. AMD’s FreeSync will not require a proprietary module, will have no licensing fees, is open source, use DisplayPort, be compatible with standard monitor features (audio, scaling, OSD), and have a refresh rate range of 9-240Hz. All of which would make the tech more appealing to manufacturers compared to Nvidia’s G-Sync which AMD points out requires a proprietary module, charges a licensing fee, is not open source, and has a refresh rate range of 30-144Hz.</p> <p>But while fanboys can argue to their hearts content about these differences, there are four new monitors that are currently available that supports AMD’s FreeSync tech. The cheapest monitor will be the LG 29UM67 29-inch monitor featuring an In-Plane Switching panel that will start at $449 with 2560x1080 (21:9 ultrawide) resolution and 48-75Hz refresh rate. For $499, there is the Acer XG270HU 27-inch monitor with TN Type Panel, 2560x1440 (16:9) resolution, and 40-144Hz refresh rate. Next is the BenQ XL2730Z 27-inch monitor with a TN Type Panel, 2560x1440 (16:9) resolution, and 40-144Hz refresh rate that will retail for $599. Finally, there is the LG 34Um67 34-inch monitor IPS with 2560x1080 (21:9 ultrawide) resolution and 48-75Hz refresh rate for a starting retail price of $649.</p> <p>Additional monitors supporting FreeSync will be available soon.</p> <p><em>Follow Sean on&nbsp;<a title="SeanDKnight Google+" href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Google+</span></a>, <a title="SeanDKnight's Twitter" href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Twitter</span></a>, and <a title="SeanDKnight Facebook" href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Facebook</span></a></em></p> amd FreeSync FreeSync monitors g-sync monitors nvidia Gaming News Monitors Fri, 20 Mar 2015 01:45:47 +0000 Sean D Knight 29616 at Nvidia Titan X Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>A new hero descends from the heights of Mount GeForce</h3> <p>In ancient Greek mythology, the Titans are the immediate descendants of the primordial gods. So it is with the Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan, descended from the company's top-shelf professional workstation GPUs. <a title="Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan review" href="" target="_blank">First debuting in March 2013</a>, the original Titan was nearly the most powerful video card that the company could offer. They sealed off a couple items that would be of little interest to gamers, which also prevented professionals from using these much less expensive gamer variants for workstation duties.</p> <p>In the two years since, the company has iterated on this design, adding more shader processors (or "CUDA cores," as Nvidia likes to call them), and even adding a second GPU core on the same card. Now the time has come for it to deliver the Maxwell generation of super-premium GPUs, this time dubbed the <strong>GTX Titan X</strong>. And it's a beast. Despite being stuck on the 28nm process node for several years now, the company continues to extract more and more performance from its silicon. Interestingly, the card goes up for sale today, but only at Nvidia's own online storefront. There is currently a limit of two per order. The company tells us that you'll be able to buy it from other stores and in pre-built systems "over the next few weeks." First-world problems, right?</p> <p><img src="/files/u99720/nvidia_titan_5159.png" alt="Titan X" title="Titan X" width="620" height="401" style="text-align: center;" /></p> <p>These days, you can use the number of shader cores as a rough estimate of performance. We say "rough" because the Maxwell cores in this Titan X are, according to Nvidia, 40 percent faster than the Kepler cores in the earlier Titans. So when you see that the Titan X has "only" 3072 of them, this is actually a huge boost. It's about 30 percent more than the GTX 980, which is already a barnstormer. For reference, the difference in shader count between <a title="Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 review" href="" target="_blank">the GTX 780</a> and the original Titan was about 16 percent. The Titan X also has an almost ridiculous 12GB of GDDR5 VRAM. We say "almost" because Nvidia has some ambitious goals for the resolution that it expects you to be able to play at with this card.</p> <p>At the Game Developers Conference two weeks ago, its reps pitched the Titan X to us as the first GPU that could handle 4K gaming solo, at high settings. They demoed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which wasn't a solid 60fps, as they readily acknowledged. But we did see all the graphics settings cranked up, and gameplay was smooth at about 45fps <a title="G-Sync introduction video" href="" target="_blank">when paired with a G-Sync monitor</a>. As its name implies, G-sync synchronizes your monitor's refresh rate to the frame rate being delivered to your video card, which vastly reduces tearing. They also enabled motion blur, which can help mask frame rate drops.</p> <p><img src="/files/u160416/titanx3.jpg" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p>For our review, we used seven high-end cards that have come out in the same two-year time frame as the original Titan. Some of these are no longer sold in stores, but they still provide an important frame of reference, and their owners may want to know if upgrading is going to be worth it.</p> <p style="font-weight: normal;">Note that the clock speeds in the charts on the next page are not all for the reference versions. These are for the particular models that we used for this review. The GTX 980 is the MSI Gaming 4G model; the GTX 970 is the Asus GTX970-DCMOC-4GD5; the GTX 780 is the Asus&nbsp;STRIX-GTX780-OC-6GD5 (and the reference model also has 3GB of VRAM instead of 6GB); and the Radeon R9 290X is the MSI Lightning edition. We used the prices for the reference versions, however.</p> <h3 style="text-align: right;"><a title="GeForce Titan X Review Page 2" href=",1" target="_self">Click here to turn to page 2 for the specs!</a></h3> <hr /> <p>Let's take a look at their specs:</p> <div class="spec-table orange" style="font-size: 12px; font-weight: normal;"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead></thead> <tbody> <tr> <td></td> <td>Titan X</td> <td>Titan&nbsp;</td> <td>GTX 980</td> <td>GTX 970</td> <td>GTX 780 Ti</td> <td>GTX 780</td> <td>R9 290X</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Generation</td> <td>&nbsp;GM200</td> <td>&nbsp;GK110</td> <td>&nbsp;GM204</td> <td>&nbsp;GM204&nbsp;</td> <td>&nbsp;GK110&nbsp;</td> <td class="item-dark">&nbsp;GK104</td> <td>Hawaii</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Core Clock (MHz)</td> <td>&nbsp;1,000</td> <td>&nbsp;837</td> <td>&nbsp;1,216</td> <td>&nbsp;1,088</td> <td>&nbsp;876</td> <td>&nbsp;889</td> <td>"up to" 1GHz</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Boost Clock (MHz)</td> <td>&nbsp;1,075</td> <td>&nbsp;876</td> <td>&nbsp;1,317</td> <td>&nbsp;1,228</td> <td>&nbsp;928</td> <td class="item-dark">&nbsp;941</td> <td>N/A</td> </tr> <tr> <td>VRAM Clock (MHz)</td> <td>&nbsp;7,010</td> <td>&nbsp;6,000</td> <td>&nbsp;7,000</td> <td>&nbsp;7,000</td> <td>&nbsp;7,000</td> <td>&nbsp;6,000</td> <td>5,000</td> </tr> <tr> <td>VRAM Amount</td> <td>&nbsp;12GB</td> <td>&nbsp;6GB</td> <td>&nbsp;4GB</td> <td>&nbsp;4GB</td> <td>&nbsp;3GB</td> <td>&nbsp;6GB</td> <td>4GB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Bus</td> <td>&nbsp;384-bit</td> <td>&nbsp;384-bit</td> <td>&nbsp;256-bit</td> <td>&nbsp;256-bit</td> <td>&nbsp;384-bit</td> <td>&nbsp;384-bit</td> <td>512-bit</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ROPs</td> <td>&nbsp;96</td> <td>&nbsp;48</td> <td>&nbsp;64</td> <td>&nbsp;56</td> <td>&nbsp;48</td> <td>&nbsp;48</td> <td>64</td> </tr> <tr> <td>TMUs</td> <td>&nbsp;192</td> <td>&nbsp;224</td> <td>&nbsp;128</td> <td>&nbsp;104</td> <td>&nbsp;240</td> <td>&nbsp;192</td> <td>176</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Shaders</td> <td>&nbsp;3,072</td> <td>&nbsp;2,688</td> <td>&nbsp;2,048</td> <td>&nbsp;1,664</td> <td>&nbsp;2,880</td> <td>&nbsp;2,304</td> <td>2,816</td> </tr> <tr> <td>SMs</td> <td>&nbsp;24</td> <td>&nbsp;15</td> <td>&nbsp;16</td> <td>&nbsp;13</td> <td>&nbsp;15</td> <td>&nbsp;12</td> <td>N/A</td> </tr> <tr> <td>TDP (watts)</td> <td>&nbsp;250</td> <td>&nbsp;250</td> <td>&nbsp;165</td> <td>&nbsp;145</td> <td>&nbsp;250</td> <td>&nbsp;250</td> <td>290</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Launch Date</td> <td>March 2015</td> <td>March 2013</td> <td>Sept 2014</td> <td>Sept 2014</td> <td>Nov 2013</td> <td>May 2013</td> <td>Oct 2013</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Launch Price</td> <td>&nbsp;$999</td> <td>&nbsp;$999</td> <td>&nbsp;$549</td> <td>&nbsp;$329</td> <td>&nbsp;$649</td> <td>&nbsp;$699</td> <td>$549</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p>You probably noticed that the Titan X has a whopping 96 ROPs. These render output units are responsible for the quality and performance of your anti-aliasing (AA), among other things. AA at 4K resolutions can kill your framerate, so when Nvidia pitches the Titan X as a 4K card, the number of ROPs here is one of the reasons why. They've also made a return to a high number of texture mapping units. TMUs take a 3D object and apply a texture to it, after calculating angles and perspectives. The higher your resolution, the more pixels you're dealing with, so this is another change that serves 4K performance well.</p> <p>"SM" stands for "streaming multi-processor." Stream processing allows a GPU to divide its workload to be processed on multiple chips at the same time. In Nvidia's architecture, each one of these SMs contains a set of CUDA cores and a small amount of dedicated cache memory (apart from the gigabytes of VRAM listed on the box). Having 50 percent more SMs than your next-fastest card should give you an impressive jump in performance. The result won't be linear, though, becuase the Titan X has lower clock speeds—those extra one billion transistors on the Titan X generate additional heat, so lowering clocks is the main way of dealing with that. Its siblings the GTX 980 and 970 have "only" 5.2 billion transistors each, so they can set their clocks much higher.</p> <p><img src="/files/u160416/titanx2.jpg" width="620" height="390" /></p> <p>Despite all the silicon crammed into the Titan X, it still uses Nvidia's reference dimensions; it's only about 10.5 inches long, and it's not taller or wider than the slot bracket. If not for its darker coloring, you could easily confuse it for any baseline Nvidia card released in the past couple years. Its fan is noticeably quieter than the Titans that have come before, but it won't disappear into the background like we've seen (heard) when Nvidia's partners install their own cooling systems. If you want reliable quietude, you'll have to wait for EVGA's Hydro Copper version, which attaches to a custom water-cooling loop, or try your hand at <a title="Accelero Hybrid GTX 680 Review" href="" target="_blank">something like Arctic Cooling's Accelero Hybrid.</a></p> <p>One card arguably missing from our lineup is the Titan Black. However, <a title="Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti review" href="" target="_blank">the GTX 780 Ti</a> is basically the same thing, but with a 3GB frame buffer instead of a 6GB frame buffer, and slightly lower clock speeds.</p> <p><a title="AMD Radeon R9 290X review" href="" target="_blank">The Radeon R9 290X</a> is the fastest GPU that AMD currently has available, so we thought it would make for a good comparison, despite being about a year and a half old; and the MSI Lightning edition is arguably the beefiest version of it.</p> <p>Before we show you the benchmarks, here's the system that we used to test these cards:</p> <div class="spec-table orange" style="text-align: center;"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead></thead> <tbody> <tr> <td><strong>Part</strong></td> <td><strong>Component</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">CPU</td> <td class="item-dark">Intel Core i7-3960X (at stock clock speeds; 3.3GHz base, 3.9GHz turbo)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CPU Cooler</td> <td>Corsair Hydro Series H100</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Mobo</td> <td class="item-dark">Asus Rampage IV Extreme</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>4x 4GB G.Skill Ripjaws X, 2133MHz CL9</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Power Supply</td> <td>Corsair AX1200</td> </tr> <tr> <td>SSD</td> <td>1TB Crucial M550</td> </tr> <tr> <td>OS</td> <td>Windows 8.1 64-bit</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Case</td> <td>NZXT Phantom 530&nbsp;</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p>Our Sandy Bridge-E system is getting a little long in the tooth, but the Intel Core i7-3960X is still quite a beefy chip and fine for benchmarking video cards. We'll probably be moving to the Haswell-E platform soon.</p> <p>We test with every game set to its highest graphical preset and 4x multi-sampled anti-aliasing (MSAA). Sometimes individual settings can be increased even further, but we leave these alone for more normalized results. That's because these settings are usually optimized for a specific brand of cards, which can end up skewing results. For example, we leave PhysX disabled. We did make one exception, to show you how much of an impact certain niche settings can have: At 3840x2160, we tested Tomb Raider with TressFX on, and TressFX off. Since this hair-rendering tech is an open spec, both Nvidia and AMD can optimize for it.</p> <p>MSAA is not an available setting in Tomb Raider, so we use 2x super-sample antialiasing (SSAA) instead. This form of AA generates a higher resolution frame than what the monitor is set at, and squishes the frame down to fit.</p> <p>All Nvidia cards in this roundup were tested with the 347.84 drivers, which were given to us ahead of release and are scheduled to be available for everyone to download on March 17th. The Titan X is also scheduled to hit retail on this day. We tested the R9 290X with <a href="" target="_blank">AMD's Omega drivers released in December</a>.</p> <h3 style="text-align: right;"><a title="GeForce Titan X Review Page 3" href=",2" target="_self">Click here to see the benchmarks and analysis!</a></h3> <hr /> <p>We test with a mix of AMD-friendly and Nvidia-friendly titles (it seems like you're either one or the other, these days); Metro: Last Light, Hitman: Absolution, and Tomb Raider usually favor AMD; Batman: Arkham Origins, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Unigine Heaven favor Nvidia. In all cases, we use their built-in bechmarks to minimize variance.</p> <h3>1920x1080 Bechmark Results, Average Frames Per Second</h3> <h4 style="font-size: 12px;"> <div class="spec-table orange" style="font-weight: normal;"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead></thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p>&nbsp;</p> </td> <td> <p>Metro:</p> <p>Last Light</p> </td> <td> <p>Arkham</p> <p>Origins</p> </td> <td> <p>Hitman:</p> <p>Absolution</p> </td> <td> <p>Shadow of</p> <p>Mordor</p> </td> <td> <p>Tomb</p> <p>Raider</p> </td> <td> <p>Unigine</p> <p>Heaven</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Titan X</td> <td>&nbsp;93</td> <td>&nbsp;127</td> <td>&nbsp;84</td> <td class="item-dark">&nbsp;106</td> <td>&nbsp;205</td> <td>&nbsp;97</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Titan</td> <td>&nbsp;63</td> <td>&nbsp;80</td> <td>&nbsp;63</td> <td>&nbsp;67</td> <td>&nbsp;129</td> <td>&nbsp;57</td> </tr> <tr> <td>980</td> <td>&nbsp;86</td> <td>&nbsp;99</td> <td>&nbsp;70</td> <td>&nbsp;93</td> <td>&nbsp;164</td> <td>&nbsp;79</td> </tr> <tr> <td>970</td> <td>&nbsp;71</td> <td>&nbsp;81</td> <td>&nbsp;59</td> <td>&nbsp;72</td> <td>&nbsp;132</td> <td>&nbsp;61</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780 Ti</td> <td>&nbsp;72</td> <td>&nbsp;84</td> <td>&nbsp;70</td> <td>&nbsp;77</td> <td>&nbsp;142</td> <td>&nbsp;69</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780</td> <td>&nbsp;67</td> <td>&nbsp;77</td> <td>&nbsp;65</td> <td>&nbsp;71</td> <td>&nbsp;122</td> <td>&nbsp;62</td> </tr> <tr> <td>290X</td> <td>&nbsp;82</td> <td>&nbsp;111</td> <td>&nbsp;64</td> <td>&nbsp;84</td> <td>&nbsp;143</td> <td>&nbsp;65</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </h4> <p>You probably noticed that the GTX 780 trades blows with the original GTX Titan, despite the Titan having better specs. The 780 benefits from a higher clock speed and an enhanced cooler designed by Asus. Historically, Nvidia has not allowed its partners to use vendor-specific coolers on the Titan cards, so the other cards with slightly lower specs and better cooling could catch up with some overclocking. However, Nvidia says that the Titan X was highly overclockable despite using a reference cooler, so we'll be exploring that soon.</p> <p>The 780 Ti handily beats the original Titan despite also using reference clock speeds, because the Ti variant is basically a Titan Black, which is the sequel to the original Titan and came out about a year later. (And the Titan X is a physically black card, while the Titan Black is not. It can get a little confusing.)</p> <p>Meanwhile, the R9 290X beats all the Kepler generation cards, except in Hitman: Absolution, which is usually a bastion for AMD's GPUs. It looks like Nvidia has figured out some driver optimizations here.</p> <p>In general, the Titan X says to the other cards, "Get on my level." It's clearly operating on a different tier of performance.&nbsp;<a title="Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Review" href="" target="_blank">The GTX 980</a> also stays generally ahead of the 290X by a comfortable margin.</p> <h3>2560x1440 Bechmark Results, Average Frames Per Second</h3> <h4 style="font-size: 12px;"> <div class="spec-table orange" style="font-weight: normal;"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead></thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p>&nbsp;</p> </td> <td> <p>Metro:</p> <p>Last Light</p> </td> <td> <p>Arkham</p> <p>Origins</p> </td> <td> <p>Hitman:</p> <p>Absolution</p> </td> <td> <p>Shadow of</p> <p>Mordor</p> </td> <td> <p>Tomb</p> <p>Raider</p> </td> <td> <p>Unigine</p> <p>Heaven</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Titan X</td> <td>&nbsp;64</td> <td>&nbsp;90</td> <td>&nbsp;60</td> <td class="item-dark">&nbsp;77</td> <td>&nbsp;129</td> <td>&nbsp;61</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Titan</td> <td>&nbsp;44</td> <td>&nbsp;58</td> <td>&nbsp;43</td> <td>&nbsp;49</td> <td>&nbsp;77</td> <td>&nbsp;38</td> </tr> <tr> <td>980</td> <td>&nbsp;59</td> <td>&nbsp;71</td> <td>&nbsp;46</td> <td>&nbsp;67</td> <td>&nbsp;105</td> <td>&nbsp;48</td> </tr> <tr> <td>970</td> <td>&nbsp;47</td> <td>&nbsp;59</td> <td>&nbsp;39</td> <td>&nbsp;51</td> <td>&nbsp;81</td> <td>&nbsp;36</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780 Ti</td> <td>&nbsp;51</td> <td>&nbsp;62</td> <td>&nbsp;48</td> <td>&nbsp;56</td> <td>&nbsp;86</td> <td>&nbsp;42</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780</td> <td>&nbsp;47</td> <td>&nbsp;59</td> <td>&nbsp;44</td> <td>&nbsp;52</td> <td>&nbsp;80</td> <td>&nbsp;40</td> </tr> <tr> <td>290X</td> <td>&nbsp;54</td> <td>&nbsp;83</td> <td>&nbsp;54</td> <td>&nbsp;63</td> <td>&nbsp;91</td> <td>&nbsp;40</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </h4> <p>As we ratchet up the resolution (while keeping all other graphical settings the same) we see the performance separation begin. While everyone comfortably sustained 60-plus fps at 1080p, older GPUs struggle to maintain that threshold at 2560x1440, as does the GTX 970. We're pushing 77 percent more pixels onto the screen, and the original Titan's relatively low number of ROPs, low clock speeds, and Kepler-generation CUDA cores combine to make an obstacle that the other cards don't have to deal with. The new Titan X is producing well over 50 percent more frames in some of these tests, despite generating less noise, about the same amount of heat, and costing about the same. Wringing these kind of gains from the same 28nm process node is pretty impressive. It comfortably beats AMD's best card in every test. Tomb Raider and <a title="Batman: Arkham Origins review" href="" target="_blank">Batman: Arkham Origins</a> distinguish themselves as two particularly well-optimized games.&nbsp;</p> <p>The R9 290X remains ahead of Nvidia's Kepler cards and pulls away in Hitman. AMD's 512-bit bus provides a wide pipe for memory bandwidth, and that advantage emerges once you move past 1080p. It's not until we encounter newer premium cards like the GTX 980 and Titan X that we find a competitive alternative from Nvidia. And when the Titan X arrives, it makes a statement, decisively maintaining 60-plus fps no matter what we threw at it. We'd want nothing less from a card that costs nearly three times as much as the 290X. The GTX 980 gets more mixed results here, but it still looks like a great card for playing at this resolution.</p> <h3>3840x2160 Bechmark Results, Average Frames Per Second</h3> <h4 style="font-size: 12px;"> <div class="spec-table orange" style="font-weight: normal;"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead></thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p>&nbsp;</p> </td> <td> <p>Metro:</p> <p>Last Light</p> </td> <td> <p>Arkham</p> <p>Origins</p> </td> <td> <p>Hitman:</p> <p>Absolution</p> </td> <td> <p>Shadow of</p> <p>Mordor</p> </td> <td> <p>Tomb</p> <p>Raider*</p> </td> <td> <p>Unigine</p> <p>Heaven</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Titan X</td> <td>&nbsp;35</td> <td>&nbsp;53</td> <td>&nbsp;33</td> <td class="item-dark">&nbsp;44</td> <td>&nbsp;44/60</td> <td>&nbsp;26</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Titan</td> <td>&nbsp;24</td> <td>&nbsp;34</td> <td>&nbsp;22</td> <td>&nbsp;25</td> <td>&nbsp;26/37</td> <td>&nbsp;18</td> </tr> <tr> <td>980</td> <td>&nbsp;32</td> <td>&nbsp;41</td> <td>&nbsp;24</td> <td>&nbsp;37</td> <td>&nbsp;36/48</td> <td>&nbsp;20</td> </tr> <tr> <td>970</td> <td>&nbsp;24</td> <td>&nbsp;32</td> <td>&nbsp;19</td> <td>&nbsp;28</td> <td>&nbsp;27/37</td> <td>&nbsp;15</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780 Ti</td> <td>&nbsp;27</td> <td>&nbsp;38</td> <td>&nbsp;23</td> <td>&nbsp;32</td> <td>&nbsp;29/40</td> <td>&nbsp;19</td> </tr> <tr> <td>780</td> <td>&nbsp;26</td> <td>&nbsp;35</td> <td>&nbsp;23</td> <td>&nbsp;30</td> <td>&nbsp;27/38</td> <td>&nbsp;18</td> </tr> <tr> <td>290X</td> <td>&nbsp;28</td> <td>&nbsp;41</td> <td>&nbsp;29</td> <td>&nbsp;37</td> <td>&nbsp;31/43</td> <td>&nbsp;17</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </h4> <p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-weight: normal;">*<em>TressFX on/TressFX off</em></span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal;">When you look at these results, it's important to keep in mind that our review process does not aim for playable framerates. We want to see how these cards perform when pushed to the limit. Despite this demanding environment, the Titan X remains a viable solo card to have at 4K, though it's still not ideal (putting aside for the moment <a title="4K Monitors: Everything You Need to Know" href="" target="_blank">the technical resolution difference between DCI 4K and Ultra HD 4K</a>). The good news is that 4xMSAA is arguably not needed at a resolution this high, unless you're gaming on a big 4K HDTV that's less than a couple of feet from your eyes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal;">Those with screens that are 32 inches or smaller will probably be fine with 2xMSAA, or some version of SMAA (</span><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">Enhanced Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing), which is known to be quite efficient while producing minimal blurriness and shimmering. Nvidia's TXAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing) can be a good option when you have one of the company's cards and are playing a game that supports the feature. And with the Maxwell generation of cards (the Titan X, GTX 980, and GTX 970), you also have MFAA, or&nbsp;Multi-Frame Sample Anti-Aliasing. The company claims that this gets you 4xMSAA visual quality at the performance cost of 2xMSAA.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">The GTX 780 nearly catches up with the 780 Ti at this resolution, again demonstrating the importance of clock speeds, although the difference is pretty modest in this scenario. At 4K, this GTX 780's additional 3GB of VRAM also comes into play. The 6GB card spends less processing power on memory management. However, the 780 does not support 4-way SLI, if that's your thing. It's limited to 3-way SLI. The GTX 970 and 980 have the same difference with their SLI support. The GTX 960 is limited to only 2-way SLI. This is one of the methods that Nvidia uses to encouraging the purchase of their more expensive cards. All Titans support 4-way SLI.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">The R9 290X maintains its lead over Kepler, though it shrinks inside the margin of error at times. It's weakest in Unigine Heaven, because this benchmark makes heavy use of tessellation (dynamically increasing surface complexity by subdividing triangles in real time), and that's something that Kepler and Maxwell do much better. In general, it's a very respectable performer, especially for the price, which has fallen to roughly that of a GTX 970. Since the 290X is meaningfully faster in every single benchmark that we used, and it bumps up against the GTX 980 when we get to 4K, it makes for a pretty good spoiler until the Titan X arrives and leapfrogs everyone in the contest.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;"><img src="/files/u160416/titanx1.jpg" width="620" height="393" /></span></p> <h3><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">Conclusion</span></h3> <p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">Overall, things are looking pretty rosy for the Titan X. Since it's packed with a huge amount of ROPs, SMs, shader processors, and VRAM, it's able to overcome the limitation of the aging 28nm process. The Maxwell-generation CUDA cores are also about 40 percent faster than the older Kepler version (by Nvidia's estimation, at least), and the company improved color compression for additional performance gains. It's not the Chosen One if you want to game with a single GPU at 4K, but you can get pretty close if you're willing to tweak a few graphical settings.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-size: 1em;">Also keep in mind that it was about one year ago when Nvidia debuted the GTX Titan Z, which has two Titan Black GPUs on a single card. So they may plan to drop a dual Titan X sometime soon, as well. And there's room in the lineup for a "980 Ti," since there's quite a spec gap (and price gap) right now between the GTX 980 and the GTX Titan X. If that's not enough, <a title="AMD Radeon R9 370 Core Edition Leaked" href="" target="_blank">rumors around AMD's next generation of video cards are reaching a boiling point</a>. There's always something new around the corner, isn't there? But if you're comfortable with this price tag, and you don't care about what AMD's got cooking, the Titan X is the fastest thing you'll find for gaming beyond 1080p.</span></p> Gaming gpu Hardware Nvidia Titan X sli Video Card Reviews Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:00:13 +0000 Tom McNamara 29579 at Intel NUC5i5RYK Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Need Ultrabook components in a tiny desktop?</h3> <p>Intel’s quasi-barebones NUC PC is back for round three, with the sexy-named “NUC5i5RYK” SKU leading the charge. Equipped with Intel’s i5-5250U dual-core CPU, clocked at 1.6GHz, the processor still comes soldered to the NUC’s motherboard. And once again, owners will have to bring their own OS to the party.&nbsp;</p> <p>In terms of form factor, the NUC is still extremely portable—it measures 4.5x4.3x1.3 inches and weighs one pound, 4 ounces. Ports include four USB 3.0, one Mini HDMI 1.4a, one Mini DisplayPort 1.2, and an Ethernet jack. In addition to the new Broadwell proc, there are several upgrades to the NUC5i5RYK. This NUC now supports up to 16GB of 1866MHz SO-DIMM RAM, with its two memory slots. This addition is appreciated, considering the old NUC D54250WYKH SKU would only support 1,600MHz RAM. For the purposes of this review, Intel provided us with 8GB of HyperX DDR3L RAM clocked at 1,600MHz, but you’ll have to BYO if you want to join in on the NUC party. In addition, this NUC does away with both SATA and mSATA slots and replaces them with the faster M.2 standard, previously known as the Next Generation Form Factor. For review purposes, Intel provided us with its own 530 series M.2 SSD and Samsung’s more expensive XP941 series 256GB drive, to give us an idea of how an enthusiast M.2 SSD could take advantage of the speedier slot. Finally, another nice addition to this is an 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 combo adapter. With previous SKUs, you bought your own.&nbsp;</p> <h3><img src="/files/u154082/intel_nuc_broadwell.png" alt="intel nuc broadwell" title="intel nuc broadwell" width="620" height="461" /></h3> <p>Accessing all of these components is just as easy as unscrewing four screws on the bottom of the NUC. Owners may be happy to hear that the base uses captured screws, which means they won’t fall out. Users will be able to install their M.2 drives by unscrewing a single screw, which anchors the drive in place (we had to use a small Phillips head screwdriver here because our standard screwdriver was too big). You can also pry open and change the top cover. The default black lid pops out easily enough with a thin flathead screwdriver. Intel says there will be different color options available, but we don’t really see this catching on in much of a big way outside of the enthusiast NUC community.&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering that Broadwell is a “tick” on Intel’s tick-tock roadmap and equates to a new 14nm manufacturing process, our CPU is focused more on power efficiency than pure performance gains. Oddly enough, however, we saw a bit of the reverse to be true in our test. Measuring the wattage, this NUC5i5RYK soaked up roughly one watt less at idle than the <a title="Haswell nuc review" href="" target="_blank">D54250WYKH Haswell NUC</a> we reviewed last year, but consumed roughly five more watts when we stressed it under Prime95 and Furmark. Thankfully, this Broadwell NUC made up for it in performance, where it bested its Haswell cousin by roughly 7–10 percent in our CPU benchmarks.&nbsp;</p> <p>While the CPU gains were admirable, we saw a bigger delta in our graphics benchmarks. The NUC5i5RYK uses Intel’s HD Graphics 6000, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to the <a title="Gigabyte Brix Pro" href=",2" target="_blank">Gigabyte Brix Pro</a> we reviewed last year, which uses Intel’s top-of-the-line Iris Pro graphics, it is a step up compared to Intel’s HD Graphics 5000 series, beating it by 10–45 percent in our graphics tests.&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering that the box is quite small, you might be wondering how hot or loud it gets. When the NUC is sitting idle, it’s both cool and quiet. Under the onslaught of our benchmarks, however, the fan did rev up, but it was hardly offensive. The box also got a little warm to the touch, but nowhere near as scorching as the Gigabyte Brix Pro, which is an enthusiast NUC gunning for performance.</p> <p>The real story here pertains to the included M.2 slot, which allows for some ridiculous storage speeds. With Intel’s 530 Series M.2 SSD installed, we saw sequential-read and -write speeds of 419MB/s and 213.6MB/s, respectively, using our CrystalDiskMark benchmark. Those numbers aren’t super impressive, but considering that a 180GB drive will run you $105, it isn’t a super high-end SSD either. When we plopped in Samsung’s more expensive ($254) XP941 256GB M.2 drive, however, we got stupid sequential-read and -write speeds of 1,089MB/s and 798MB/s, respectively. You’re grandmother’s traditional 2.5-inch SSDs can’t touch those numbers, as they are limited to SATA III’s 6Gb/s bandwidth cap. What makes M.2 drives interesting is that they come in different sizes and even have different connectors. Interesting tidbit aside, the downside of M.2 SSDs at the moment is that they aren’t as plentiful as traditional 2.5-inch SSDs, and are still quite expensive. Alas, this is the price you pay for being an early adopter.</p> <p>If you can stomach the extra cashola that the M.2 slot currently demands, then you’ll appreciate some of the tweaks that this NUC brings to the table. The included Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are greatly appreciated, and we like that you can stuff speedier RAM in the box, which could further bolster the integrated graphics. Like other NUCs, we still feel that it’s going to be a pretty niche product at the end of the day. It’s certainly not hard to build into, and could be a good first step for the noob PC builder. That said, the fact you have to purchase your own storage, RAM, OS, and install all the drivers yourself may turn off PC noobs from picking up what is essentially a pretty cool Ultrabook tossed into a small desktop form factor.&nbsp;</p> <p>$400</p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/nuc_broadwell_specs.png" width="620" height="189" /></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/nuc_broadwell_benchmarks.png" width="620" height="358" /></p> broadwell Desktop Hardware intel NUC next unit of computing NUC5i5RYK Review small pc Windows News Reviews Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:12:02 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29591 at CyberPower PC Syber Vapor Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>A Steam box for the enthusiast</h3> <p>Much like what <a title="alienware" href="" target="_blank">Alienware</a> did with its <a title="alpha" href="" target="_blank">Alpha</a> console, <a href="">CyberPower PC</a> is transforming its <a href="">Steam Machine</a> into a Windows box (you can thank <a href="">Valve’s delay</a> of its hardware initiative for that). CyberPower PC is branding its new line of PCs under its Syber Vapor line, which is an obvious nod to Valve’s “Steam” nomenclature. Unlike the Alienware Alpha, however, there is no proprietary 10-foot UI here. Rather, the Vapor boots directly into Steam’s <a title="big picture mode" href="" target="_blank">Big Picture Mode</a>. CyberPower PC is billing the Vapor as “the ultimate PC gaming console,” and with some minor quibbles aside, we think the company makes a pretty compelling argument.&nbsp;</p> <p>Arguably, our biggest issue with the Vapor is that it’s... well, pretty big. Don’t get us wrong, at 13.8x13.5x3.8 inches it’s certainly a lot smaller than most gaming desktop PCs, but unlike Alienware’s much smaller Alpha, the Vapor is much too big for backpacks. It wouldn’t even fit in our Everki Beacon backpack, to which, as you might remember, we awarded a 9 Kick Ass and praised for being able to carry large 17-inch gaming notebooks. The portability problem is also exacerbated by the Vapor’s weight—it’s heavy. Whereas the Alpha was a tiny bundle of joy to lug around at 4.5 pounds, the Vapor is likely to strain backs, weighing in at 15 pounds.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/cyberpower_pc-2.jpg" alt="syber vapor review" title="syber vapor review" width="620" height="367" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>There are seven LED color schemes to choose from.</strong></p> <p>While it is a bit larger than Microsoft’s Xbox One, it looks more like a console than a PC. The version that we got is white with black trim, but it also comes in an all-black chassis. Even though we like the look of both, we prefer the black and white version a bit more for its contrasting hues. Both color variants offer LED lights on the front, with six colors schemes to choose from via a physical button on top of the case. The colors include red, blue, green, light-green, light-blue, and purple. There’s also an option to have the case cycle through all the colors automatically. There’s something of a Tron vibe to the chassis, but we kind of like it in this case (no pun intended). You can also turn off the LEDs if they don’t appeal to you.</p> <p>Even though Alienware’s Alpha was somewhat modular and allowed you to swap out the storage, RAM, and CPU, that’s about all you could change. With the Syber Vapor, it’s much less proprietary and just about as modular as any Mini-ITX system. It can take a single full-length graphics card, handle up to 16GB of RAM, and can house a standard SFX PSU up to 800 watts.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Syber Vapor boots directly into Steam Big Picture Mode</strong></p> <p>While CyberPower PC comes with a wireless controller, instead of going with the wireless Xbox 360 controller (like the Alienware Alpha), the Vapor includes a Logitech F710 gamepad. The button layout is similar to Microsoft’s equivalent, but the shape of the controller feels similar to Sony’s Dual Shock offering, in that there are dual sticks toward the bottom-middle of the controller. The F710 works OK, but we prefer the Xbox 360 controller, as it contours better to our hands. The F710 isn’t the only peripheral that CyberPower PC included with our unit, however. While some of the more affordable models in the Vapor line include a wireless mini QWERTY keyboard, our system came with Logitech’s K400 wireless keyboard. The K400 has a little touchpad to the right of the keys, so you can mouse around. CyberPower PC opted to include this because, unlike Alienware, it didn’t program its controller to emulate a mouse-and-keyboard setup. While we would have really appreciated this feature, and feel it’s sort of a cheap shortcut on CyberPower PC’s part, the inclusion of the K400 keyboard does open up the system as both a Steam box and a full-fledged Windows PC (You can get to the Windows desktop by exiting Steam). Whereas it was a bit of a chore having to rely solely on a wireless Xbox 360 gamepad to control the Alpha, the Vapor’s included K400 does go a long way to mitigate annoying installation pop-ups in Steam Big Picture Mode. On a related note, as hard as Valve has worked on BPM, it still has some issues to iron out.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/cyber_vapor.jpg" alt="Vapor PC" title="Vapor PC" width="620" height="620" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The case also comes in black.</strong></p> <p>When it came to our Vapor’s specs, we had little to complain about. While there are a couple of different configurations to choose from, CyberPower PC sent us its super-decked-out SKU, which includes components such as Intel’s 4GHz quad-core i7-4790K CPU coupled with Zalman’s CNPS8900 Quiet CPU cooler, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980, and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance lower-power DDR3 RAM clocked at 2,133MHz. All of this is sitting on top of an MSI Z97I AC Mini-ITX mobo and has a 450-watt Silverstone ST45SF-G SFX PSU. And for storage, our Vapor has a 120GB Kingston SSD and a 1TB 2.5-inch 7,200rpm HDD. All in all, this is nearly as much computer power as CyberPower PC can cram into this box. The cost of our unit? At the time of print, our particular SKU retails for $1,638 and while that certainly prices it well beyond the consoles, it’s actually quite a bargain. As a matter of fact, when we searched for all the individual components on Newegg to try and replicate the build ourselves, the total tab came out to be $1,807. So, you’re easily saving over $150 here, and you’re getting CyberPower PC’s one-year warranty on top of that. That’s some OEM voodoo right there.</p> <p>To see how it compares to a full-tower DIY system with the same components, we look at the desktop featured in the cover story of our February 2015 issue, which conveniently has the same CPU and GPU. As would be expected, the bigger chassis allowed our desktop to perform slightly better overall, with the Vapor trailing behind one to five percent in our graphics tests. The only graphics benchmark where the Vapor was actually able to outperform our desktop equivalent was in Batman: Arkham Origins, but we suspect it’s because of the newer GeForce drivers we’ve got running compared to the build we originally set up for the February issue. As a gaming machine, our Vapor is a beast and should be able to max out any game you throw at it with smooth framerates. If anything, our unit is overkill for 1080P, with the upside being that it’s a bit more “future proof.” One of our complaints about Alienware’s Alpha is that it didn’t support GeForce Optimal Playable Settings, which is great for console noobs who don’t want to finagle with adjusting graphics settings. With our Vapor, users can simply set everything to max. It’s a brute-force way of tackling a complex problem, but hey, in this case, it works.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/k400.jpg" alt="k400 keyboard" title="k400 keyboard" width="620" height="371" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Our Syber Vapor came with Logitech's K400 wireless keyboard</strong></p> <p>When it came to the CPU benchmarks, the Vapor trailed the desktop by 5 to 10 percent, but we suspect that mostly has to do with our desktop’s Kraken X61, which is a great CPU liquid cooler. The Vapor is definitely running high-end desktop parts, but its form factor tames its components ever so slightly. But let’s be honest here, a 4790K is overkill for gaming today.</p> <p>Considering the Vapor is meant to connect to your HDTV, all of the power in this box is moot if the user experience isn’t good. Because the Vapor runs Windows 8.1, users will have to go through the annoying Windows 8.1 setup process. Once we got that out of the way, we noticed that the Vapor scaled perfectly to our 1080p Samsung HDTV over HDMI. We couldn’t say the same about the Alienware Alpha, which required us to rejigger our display to fit the confines of the screen. Unfortunately, some games like SpeedRunners boot up in windowed mode, which takes you out of the illusion that you’re playing on a console. And speaking of booting, the startup process took 16 seconds to get to Windows, but then the Vapor automatically boots into Steam Big Picture Mode after that and kicks up the timer to 30 seconds overall. That’s not super-fast, but it’s much faster than the Alienware Alpha, which takes more than three times as long to boot. We have to say that we really missed being able to use the gamepad to emulate the mouse and keyboard, however, as that did work for Alienware’s box in a pinch. Really, who wants to go looking for their wireless keyboard whenever you’re playing a Steam game with only partial controller support? One thing that we really liked about the experience, however, is that our Vapor ran very quietly under load.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/f710.png" alt="Logitech F710" title="Logitech F710" width="498" height="319" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>CyberPower includes Logitech's F710 wireless controller</strong></p> <p>We had some relatively small minor issues with the build quality. The unit we tested was actually our second unit; the first unit we received was dead on arrival. But hey, that stuff happens every now and then. The replacement unit reviewed here had its top lid pretty much fall off out of the box; its single screw wasn’t secured all the way. We tightened it easily enough, but then when we placed the Vapor flat on its side (which is one of the ways you can orient the box), one of the rubber feet came off (there was enough adhesive on it to stick it back in place). Little issues like these make us question CyberPower PC’s assembly line.</p> <p>The Syber Vapor certainly isn’t perfect, and neither is Steam’s Big Picture Mode, but as a Mini-ITX gaming PC, it rocks, especially for the price. At this point, you literally cannot beat its price if you tried to DIY. In addition, it’s got enough horsepower to eat any 1080p game you throw at it. Yes, it’s relatively big and heavy, and a part of us would have preferred a smaller, cheaper, and more portable unit with a short GTX 970, but as it stands, this is still one pretty kick ass gaming PC.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Syber Vapor Specs</strong></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/syber_vapor_specs.png" alt="syber vapor specs" title="syber vapor specs" width="615" height="273" /></p> <p><strong>Syber Vapor Benchmarks</strong></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/syber_vapor_benchmarks.png" alt="syber vapor benchmarks" title="syber vapor benchmarks" width="587" height="333" /></p> <p><em>Our full-tower desktop PC uses an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 and an Intel Core i7-4970K CPU.&nbsp;</em></p> alienware big picture mode console cyberpower pc Review Steam steam machine syber vapor Valve Gaming News Reviews Tue, 17 Feb 2015 22:40:49 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29436 at An Inside Look at How Logitech Designs Its Gaming Mice <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/dsc01600.jpg" alt="logitech gaming mouse" title="logitech gaming mouse" width="250" height="141" style="float: right;" />The science and testing behind Logitech’s gaming mice</h3> <p><em>This is part two of our in-depth tour of Logitech’s facilities in Switzerland. This article focuses on how Logitech designs and develops its gaming mice. For an inside look at how the company is attempting to reinvent the mechanical keyboard, click <a title="logitech mechanical keyboard" href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p> <p>While Logitech is generally viewed as a peripheral manufacturer, the company views itself as a technology company. In an attempt to show PC gamers that it uses cutting-edge design methodologies, Logitech invited us to its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland to show us how the company designs and tests it gaming mice.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech explains how its G402 mouse uses two sensors</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><img src="/files/u154082/g402_hyperion_fury.jpg" alt="logitech g402 hyperion fury" title="logitech g402 hyperion fury" width="200" height="214" style="float: left; margin: 5px;" /></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Logitech G402 Hyperion Fury<br /></strong>The company’s most interesting mouse today is arguably the G402 Hyperion Fury, which it claims to be “the world’s fastest gaming mouse.” Logitech boasts that the G402 can move a blistering 12.5 meters a second. To achieve this, Logitech says it uses a combination of two sensors. At slow-to-moderate speeds, the mouse uses a traditional optical sensor. Optical sensors are arguably the most common sensors used in gaming mice and use high-speed cameras to take blazing-fast images of the surface it rests upon. From here, the sensor then overlaps the images to create a movement map. While the cameras used in Logitech’s optical sensors are magnitudes faster than the traditional point-and-shoot cameras you find at your camera store (think about 12,000 shots a second), the company says that even they have detectable lag when you’re trying to move a mouse at 12.5 meters a second. Therefore, beyond a certain speed threshold, the G402 switches over to an accelerometer/gyroscope solution. It uses a small ARM processor that can switch on the fly, and Logitech claims less than a millisecond of delay results from the switch. While a gyroscope solution isn’t the most accurate sensor at low speeds, Logitech says they excel when there is a quick burst of movement, thus the G402 uses a hybrid solution that aims to leverage both sensor’s strengths to achieve its speed.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>An indepth interview with Logitech's mouse expert Chris Pate</strong></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/logitech_g302.jpg" alt="Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime" title="Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime" width="200" height="166" style="float: left; margin: 5px;" /></p> <p><strong>Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime<br /></strong>While this hybrid sensor seems advantageous for the end user, we were surprised to hear that the company’s even newer G302 Daedalus Prime mouse opts instead to support a more traditional optical solution. Logitech told us the reason the hybrid solution wasn’t included was because the G302 was designed to be a smaller, lighter MOBA mouse, and trying to house two sensors along with the G402’s ARM processor wasn’t ideal to achieve this compact form factor. This isn’t to say the G302 doesn’t have its element of uniqueness, however.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech says its mice are good for at least 20 million clicks</strong></p> <p>Because MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2 feature tons of clicking, the Daedalus Prime is largely focused on eliminating the travel between the mouse’s buttons and its microswitches that activate commands. The G302 is able to do this by separating the left and right mouse buttons from the body of the mouse (Logitech says most mice use a monolithic design), and having them rest directly on top of the microswitch. This means that there is no air travel between the button and the switch at all. In the absence of air travel, Logitech designed a new metal spring tensioning system that rests between the button and the switch. When we asked Logitech if this could potentially add unwanted tension, which could theoretically create microscopic amounts of lag in and of itself, the company assured us that it didn’t, but rather aided in a consistent clicking experience.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>A Logitech contraption that measures mouse accuracy</strong></p> <p><img src="" alt="logitech g602" title="logitech g602" width="200" height="165" style="float: left; margin: 5px;" /></p> <p><strong>Logitech G602<br /></strong>One of the best-selling mice that Logitech currently offers is its G602 wireless mouse. According to Logitech, when you look at the mouse industry as a whole, wireless mice outsell wired ones. This might not be true for gaming, but with the G602, Logitech worked to overcome many of gamers’ fears.</p> <p>The most obvious concern for gamers is lag. According to Logitech, lag on the G602 is imperceptible. The company ran an experiment where it asked a group of gamers if they could detect any noticeable lag using its wireless gaming mouse. People said they believed it felt laggier than a traditional wired mouse. When Logitech plugged in a faux wired cable (that did nothing), the same users said it felt much more responsive. Essentially, Logitech asserts that it was merely the placebo effect at play. According to Logitech, the G602 is capable of delivering a two millisecond response time. The company says that most people can only detect latency at four milliseconds and beyond. According to its own studies, some people can’t even perceive 40 milliseconds of lag.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech has a special room that removes all wireless signals to detect wireless dead zones for its wireless mice.</strong></p> <p>Logitech claims it could have gotten the G602’s response time under two milliseconds, but at the cost of battery life, which is actually the true obstacle of a wireless gaming mouse. By scaling it back to two milliseconds, Logitech says it was able to get much more battery life out of the G602, which it asserts is able to get 250 hours of use out of a single charge. How is the company able to achieve those figures? Logitech says that it designed the G602 with battery in mind and created a sensor specifically for gaming wirelessly. The G602 also uses Logitech’s proprietary USB interface. When we asked them why it didn’t use Bluetooth, the company informed us that the response rate of Bluetooth devices are at the mercy of the host (computer) device. The G602, in particular, uses a 1,000Hz polling rate through USB.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><iframe src="//" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Logitech proving that there is no added acceleration to its mice.</strong></p> <p>Other interesting things we learned about mice from Logitech is that no sensor is 100 percent accurate. You might see that terminology used to market mice from other vendors, but Logitech asserts that these claims are simply false.</p> <p>Another question we had pertained to laser mice. Several years ago, laser mice were quite popular because they tracked on a wider range of surfaces compared to optical. While laser mice aren’t terrible, optical mice have one key advantage over them, and that comes down to accuracy variance, more commonly referred to as “mouse acceleration.” Mouse acceleration is undesired for gaming and generally equates to an inconsistent movement experience. According to Logitech, with laser mice, you get about a five to six percent variance, making for an inconsistent experience, compared to an optical sensor’s one percent equivalent.</p> <p>One final interesting tidbit that we learned is that many gamers prefer braided cables on their mice, but Logitech’s data shows that more pros actually prefer plastic cables as they tend to offer more flexibility. So if you want to play like a pro, you might want to consider ditching the braided cable.</p> <p>For more pictures and information from the event, check out our image gallery below.&nbsp;</p> Daedalus Prime esports G302 G402 g602 gaming mice Hardware hyperion fury logitech moba mouse shooter wireless Gaming News Mice Features Tue, 27 Jan 2015 19:35:46 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29321 at Alienware Alpha Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>A great console-sized PC stuck in the alpha stage</h3> <p>As great as PC gaming is, let’s face it, when it comes to gaming in the living room, consoles have the PC beat. Alienware and the Steam Machines were supposed to change that, but considering <a title="steam machine delayed" href="" target="_blank">Valve delayed its hardware initiative</a>, Alienware decided to releases its box early as a small Windows 8.1 PC, dubbed the <a href=""><strong>Alienware Alpha</strong></a>. While the PC does an admirable job of attacking the PC’s problem areas in the living room, as the name implies, it’s still (unfortunately) in a bit of an alpha stage.</p> <p>The chassis is black and small. Measuring 2.1x7.8x7.8 inches, the Alpha is closest in size to Nintendo’s Wii U console. At 4.5 pounds, Alienware’s little PC is also extremely portable. We had an easy time lugging it around to friends’ apartments with four controllers inside a backpack. Speaking of controllers, the unit comes with a black wireless Xbox 360 controller.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/alienware-alpha-1920.jpg" alt="alienware alpha review" title="alienware alpha review" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p>Ports on the Alpha include two USB 3.0, three USB 2.0, one S/PDIF, and two HDMI (one for output and another for input). It is a little disappointing that there isn’t an analog headset port, but Alienware told us it was one concession it had to make to produce such a small form factor.</p> <p>The box’s aesthetics aren’t very flashy. It’s got some sharp angles, akin to Alienware’s gaming laptops, a glowing triangular LED, and a glowing Alienware power button. You can also customize the LEDs through Alienware’s UI. Overall, it will look nice sitting next to your TV.</p> <p>Inside the box, the Alpha is running a mobile GPU based on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 860M, which was the same graphics card used in the <a title="hp omen" href="" target="_blank">HP Omen</a> gaming laptop we reviewed last month. Since this box has such a unique setup, the Omen seemed like the fairest candidate for a zero point to test against. Its GPU runs at 1,020MHz and has 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM clocked at 1,253MHz. Compared to our ZP, however, the Alpha’s performance was a disappointing 11 percent slower in our Metro: Last Light and 3DMark 11 benchmarks. It did perform 7 percent better in BioShock Infinite, however. Overall, the Alpha is nowhere near the most powerful gaming PC out there, but it should be able to run most AAA games on medium to high settings. It will, at the very least, be competitive with the next-gen consoles.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/alpha_tv.jpg" alt="alpha tv" title="alpha tv" width="620" height="342" /></p> <p>One aspect of the Alpha that we feel isn’t up to snuff is system RAM; our unit only offered what we feel is a minimal 4GB. Sure, the majority of games should run fine on 4GB, but that’s beginning to change with newer titles. We think Alienware should up the Alpha’s base RAM to 8GB. Luckily, you can upgrade the RAM to 8GB, though you’ll need laptop RAM to do so.</p> <p>You can also upgrade the storage with any 2.5-inch drive. If you’re like us, you’ll really want to do this. Our unit came with a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, which was embarrassingly slow. It took the Alpha one minute and 35 seconds to boot up, and then another 35 seconds to boot up into Steam Big Picture Mode. If you’re loading a really big game, it’s only going to lengthen the wait.</p> <p>At the heart of the console is the Alpha’s i3-4310QT CPU. Despite the box’s size, it’s actually a quad-core desktop CPU running at 2.9GHz. You can upgrade this to a quad-core i7, too. And you may want to, considering this i3 gets beat up by 30–54 percent compared to the HP Omen’s mobile i7-4710HQ processor. While dual-core CPUs are fine for the majority of games, for a little more future-proofing, we would have preferred at least a quad-core i5 chip.</p> <p>Of course, the hardware means very little if the software isn’t properly optimized to take over the living room. While the Alpha is running Windows 8.1 underneath, Alienware has wrapped its own user interface around it, which you can navigate with a controller. The Alpha UI also allows you to launch directly into Steam Big Picture Mode, which comes pre-installed. Because some Steam games only offer partial controller support, Alienware has done some super-nifty software tweaks to allow you to use an Xbox controller like a mouse in a pinch. You can do this by pressing down on all four shoulder buttons and pressing down on the left stick. This will allow you to navigate past any pop-up window boxes.</p> <p>The Alpha isn’t perfect, however. One of the taglines Alienware is using for the Alpha is that it “combines the freedom of PC gaming with the ease of a console,” but the slogan doesn’t always ring true. We encountered some resolution issues. For instance, in Shadow of Mordor, it defaulted to 1280x1024 resolution on our 1080p TV and had no in-game option to adjust it to 1080p. Some games that allowed us to adjust the resolution ended up blacking out the screen when we cranked it up to 1080p. Meanwhile, some games would open up off-center in a windowed mode by default. When we tried to boot up Skyrim, it gave us an error message that read, “Failed to initialize renderer. Your display doesn’t support the selected resolution.”</p> <p>The consoles also allow you to watch Netflix, and the only real good way to do that on the Alpha at the moment is to boot it up to the desktop mode, but here you’ll need to have a keyboard/mouse plugged in. Because of that, we really recommend getting something like <a title="k400" href="" target="_blank">Logitech’s wireless K400 keyboard</a>, which pairs well with the Alpha.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/alpha_010.png" alt="alpha review" title="alpha review" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p>Another area in which the consoles have at a little easier than PC gaming is that console gamers don’t have to tweak their settings. Nvidia has a solid workaround to this problem with its GeForce Experience, but unfortunately the Alpha does not support GeForce optimal playable settings, which is a shame considering many console noobs might not know which graphical knobs to twist.</p> <p>At $550, the Alpha certainly isn’t cheap, especially when you look at its specs and compare it to the consoles. And the Alpha has a bunch of little software hiccups to overcome. Despite these problems, however, when the Alpha works, it’s awesome. Steam has a surprising number of fun local co-op games like Broforce, SpeedRunners, and more. Alienware’s box does a great job of bringing PC games to the living room. Sure, you could build a cheaper, more powerful system, but Alienware has spent a decent amount of R&amp;D trying to solve the software/UI issues. Yes, the box is in a bit of an alpha stage right now and isn’t the console-killer it set out to be, but we hope that Alienware continues to make future iterations of the Alpha. As it stands, the Alpha is a good machine for the PC vet, but not a perfect solution for the console noob.</p> <p><strong>Alienware Alpha Specs</strong></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/alienware_alpha_benchmarks.png" alt="alienware alpha benchmarks" title="alienware alpha benchmarks" width="620" height="373" /></p> <p><img src="/files/u154082/new_spec_chart.png" alt="alienware alpha specs" title="alienware alpha specs" width="615" height="249" /></p> alienware alpha review console Hardware small gaming pc steam machine Valve Windows Gaming News Reviews Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:21:34 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29316 at Samsung Portable SSD T1 Review <!--paging_filter--><h3>The little engine that could</h3> <p>With the US still lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to the availability of high-speed Internet, there's still a lot of need for high-capacity external storage. It's also a good idea to have local system backups. A few years ago, your choices were mostly clunky 3.5-inch drive enclosures that needed external power. We've since graduated to sleek 2.5-inch units that get their juice straight from USB 3.0 cables that shuttle bits between the drive and your PC. Today, Samsung is taking it a step further with the Portable SSD T1, an external solid-state drive that can operate in the neighborhood of SATA III speeds.</p> <p>An enterprising gearhead can get most of the T1's functionality by purchasing an internal SSD and a drive enclosure that supports UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol). In short, UASP lets an external storage device use commands normally reserved for internal storage devices. The two key differences between UASP and standard USB are the ability to deal with data requests in an arbitrary order, and the ability to process multiple data requests at once. This can boost your performance by hundreds of mehabytes per second, putting UASP drives in a completely different performance class from USB 3.0. As you might imagine, this also requires a more sophisticated USB controller on the motherboard, and a driver for your operating system. Your mobo manufacturer customarily provides drivers or software to enable the UASP function of its USB controller.</p> <p><img src="/files/u160416/samsung_portable_beauty_620_corrected.jpg" alt="Samsung Portable SSD T1" title="Samsung Portable SSD T1" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p>The Portable T1 has an additional advantage, however, and it's not the compact dimentions. It has integrated drive encryption. When you plug it into your PC, it will ask you to set a password for your new drive. You don't have to set one immediately. You can do it later by double-clicking the turquoise gear icon in your system tray and clicking on the arrow next to the drive's security status. Your password can be up to 22 characters, which isn't as long as we could like, but the only way to reset it is to wipe the drive. This is actually a good thing. An external drive whose encryption can be bypassed with a physical switch or a call to customer support isn't all that encrypted.</p> <p>You can set up all kind of fancy encryption with that SSD that you've put into a UASP enclosure, but it's not going to offer encryption out-of-the-box. It needs third-party software to interact with the drive before it's secured. Having this built into the drive is a big advantage for non-expert users. If you don't need encryption, or you don't mind the logitistics of using third-party encryption software, then getting your own internal SSD and a UASP enclosure is definitely more cost-effective; the 250GB version we tested has a list price of $179.99. The 500GB version comes in at $299.99, and the 1TB is $599.99. They may end up selling for much less than the list price, which happens frequently with PC components. But it's starting out on the high end. Right now, you can get a 960GB Sandisk Ultra II internal SSD for $350 from NCIX US, and a UASP enclosure from Amazon for less than twenty bucks (which comes with a USB 3.0 cable). Most internal SSDs in that size range hit between $400 and $450, but the price difference is still pretty significant.</p> <p>Its performance isn't too shabby, either. Without UASP, the drive will transfer data in the neighborhood of 200MB/s, which is very respectable. It still leaves the Sandisk Extreme Pro at the top of the heap when it comes to external storage speeds. That's ironic, because it's just a thumb drive. The Portable T1 has 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB capacities, though, so there's that. The Extreme Pro's largest size is 256MB.</p> <p>With UASP in the mix, the Portable T1 leaps ahead of the pack, with a sustained read speed of 433MB/s, and a sustained write speed of 355MB/s, according to CrystalDisk Mark. But your results will vary. When paired with an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, we couldn’t manage a sustained read speed of more than 350MB/s. When we plugged it into a USB 3.0 port on the back of a Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H, we could read at around 450MB/s, but the write speed maxed out at only 85MB/s. We tried another port on the back, and the sustained write speeds jumped up to 355MB/s. It's not the drive's fault, but it is disappointing to see this much variance from one USB controller to another, even on the same motherboard (which will sometimes use multiple controllers). PCMark Vantage also locked up while attempting to test this drive, but it reports a somewhat abstract score, rather than actual performance numbers, so it's not critical to our understanding of the drive's capabilities.</p> <p>The Portable T1's cable is also extremely short, measuring only about four inches long. This is perfect for laptop users, but desktop users will have the device basically dangling off one the ports on their case. We also regret to report that it uses a bright blue LED to indicate connectivity, though it's a small one, thankfully. It doesn't look like the electronics industry is in any hurry to return to the red LEDs we used for decades that never distracted the retina. On the bright side, it continues to push the envelope of external storage performance. In that light, our benchmark chart compares the drive to internal SSDs, since it completely outclasses non-UASP external drives. It's still not ideal for sustained high-bandwidth things like HD video editing, but it's a surprisingly snappy little unit otherwise.</p> external drive Portable T1 Review samsung solid state drive ssd storage UASP USB 3.0 Reviews SSD Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:06:33 +0000 Tom McNamara 29278 at Sound Supremacy: Six Gaming Headsets Reviewed <!--paging_filter--><h3>Great sound is a gaming necessity—we put six hotshot headsets to the test</h3> <p>For a gamer, top-notch sound is just as important as great graphics. Fancy, polygon-pushing GPUs may get all the attention in gaming, but if you pair them with a crappy pair of speakers or a low-rent headset, you’re ruining the immersion and depriving yourself of a competitive advantage.</p> <p>Click <a title="gaming headset" href="" target="_blank">here</a> to read our last roundup of gaming headsets.</p> <p>And if you do want excellent sound, a headset is the most practical way to go. Speakers are great, but they take up a lot of space, and unless you’re gaming in your own fortress of solitude, those window-rattling bass thumps might not be appreciated by your neighbors or family. A high-quality headset gets you right inside the game, keeping the outside world out and the gaming world in.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.opener15408_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.opener15408_small.jpg" width="620" height="470" /></a></p> <p>We’ve rounded up six high-end units from respected peripheral makers, and put them through the paces. We evaluated each one based on the unique features it brings to the table, as well as the three criteria we value most: comfort, build quality, and audio performance.</p> <h3>Roccat Kave XTD</h3> <p><strong>This big headset delivers true 5.1 surround sound</strong></p> <p>German gaming-gear company Roccat has been on the scene for a few years now, but is still making products like it’s got something to prove. Roccat’s newest headset, the Kave XTD, is a remarkably solid entry into the fast-growing “true 5.1” market.</p> <p>Unlike “virtual 7.1” headsets, a true 5.1 unit such as the Kave XTD actually has multiple drivers in each ear, so that sounds that come from behind you in the game actually hit your ear from behind in real life. The result is excellent positional audio—easily the best of any of the headsets we tested for this article. For games as well as movies, the bass-heavy mix and convincing surround sound really enhance immersion. For music, the Kave XTD is acceptable but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15364_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15364_small_0.jpg" alt="The Kave XTD’s earcups feature a small opening that widens on the inside, sealing you off from the outside world." title="Roccat Kave XTD" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Kave XTD’s earcups feature a small opening that widens on the inside, sealing you off from the outside world.</strong></p> <p>The Kave XTD includes a nicely designed desktop mixer with a built-in “soundcard.” The mixer allows you to adjust your equalization on the fly and, interestingly, can connect to your smartphone with Bluetooth. When you get a call, you just punch a button on the mixer, and you can take it on the headset. Our only gripe with the mixer is that the Kave XTD is permanently connected to it—there’s no way to use the headset by itself, or even to take them apart to store them.</p> <p>Like many other true 5.1 headsets, the Kave XTD has a bit of a weight problem. It has a super-cushy padded headband to distribute the force from those maximum-diameter earcups, but it still started to feel a little oppressive during longer play sessions. We’d certainly prefer a slimmer design, but at this point in time, a little extra weight and size is just part of the trade-off for “true 5.1.”</p> <p>The other part of the trade-off is price. You get a lot of headset for your money, but the $170 price tag makes the Kave XTD more expensive than a lot of great-sounding cans. Still, if you want a well-built pair, and prioritize surround-sound gaming and movies above music, the Kave XTD is a strong choice.</p> <p><strong>Roccat Kave XTD</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/" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$170, <a href=" " target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>We’ve got you surrounded!</h3> <p>For a long time, surround sound and headsets were mutually exclusive. Headset manufacturers acknowledged the harsh reality that headphones, aka a pair of small speakers strapped to your dome, are by their nature a stereo experience. Even as 5.1 and 7.1 surround speaker setups started taking off in the home theater, and then with gaming PCs, nobody thought to market headsets as anything but stereo. All that has changed in the last couple of years, and now it’s hard to find a high-end headset that doesn’t claim to offer some sort of surround sound. Here’s a quick primer on the surround configurations you’re likely to encounter, and when they’re the right fit.</p> <p>7.1 Surround The hottest new trend in high-end headphones is being marketed as “Virtual 7.1” or even just “7.1 surround” headsets. Of course, these headphones still have exactly two drivers. The “7.1” label comes from the inclusion of built-in audio processing (these are always going to be USB headset or include a USB dongle or mixer) that takes a 5.1 or 7.1 surround signal from a game or movie, then mixes it down to two channels for the headset using techniques that create the illusion of three-dimensional sound. Of course, your game will do that by itself if you set it to output stereo audio, but the processing in a good pair of headphones will be better tuned to create positionality in a headset. The difference is noticeable, but not dramatic.</p> <p>5.1 Surround 5.1 surround headsets, on the other hand, actually physically include multiple physical drivers in each earcup for better sound positionality. This can make a big difference, particularly with picking out whether sounds are coming from in front of or behind you. The trade-off with true 5.1 headsets is that they tend to be expensive, large, and heavy. Further, the multiple smaller speakers usually don’t have quite the same dynamic range as the single large driver found in each earcup of stereo cans, making these inferior for listening to music.</p> <h3>Plantronics RIG</h3> <p><strong>A gaming headset for the smartphone generation</strong></p> <p>The RIG’s main selling point is that it’s a headset that does double duty—you plug your gaming hardware and your cell phone into a single mixer, then toggle between the two simply by flipping a switch. Unlike the Bluetooth connection found in the Kave XTD, the RIG connects to the phone with an audio cable. It’s less convenient, but the physical connection makes switching back and forth feel a little more responsive.</p> <p>The mixer also includes a nice set of hardware switches for controlling both gaming and phone volume and other settings. The RIG can also be used as a straight-up phone headset, as it comes with an extra wire with an inline microphone, if you want to ditch the mixer and the boom mic entirely. It’s a nicely designed product all around, with a simple look that favors clean, circular elements. The earcups and headband are plainer-looking than a lot of the competition, but they’re comfortable and feel reasonably solid. The circular control pod is similarly attractive and feels nice and heavy on the desk. Its various buttons, toggle and sliders all feel durable and high-quality.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans._155443_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans._155443_small.jpg" alt="The RIG can be detached from the desktop mixer for use on the go." title="Plantronics RIG" width="620" height="851" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The RIG can be detached from the desktop mixer for use on the go.</strong></p> <p>The RIG mixer is an interesting hybrid in that it uses your onboard analog ports but separates the microphone into a USB input. The mixer has three preset equalizer levels, but the stereo sound quality on the whole is neither outstanding nor unacceptable. You can find headsets with better sound quality for $100, but we have to assume anyone buying the RIG is at least partially invested in its unique, phone-based feature set.</p> <p><strong>Plantronics RIG</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/" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100, <a href=" " target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3> <hr />CM Storm Pulse-R</h3> <p><strong>This aluminum-clad headset fails to make an impression</strong></p> <p>As a headset, the Pulse-R is pretty plain, aside from some nice-looking LED backlighting (which is not customizable, and necessitates an otherwise useless USB connection), and some removable aluminum cladding on the earcups. We’re all in favor of metal on our gaming hardware, but the aluminum here looks super cheap, particularly compared to the exposed steel in the headband. CMStorm advertises these aluminum plates as customizable, and they do indeed feature prominent hex screws if you’d like to swap them out, but we’re not totally sure what you’re meant to swap them out for.</p> <p>The headset’s construction feels solid, but we weren’t crazy about the earcup design. The squarish cans are an in-between <br />size—smaller than full circumaural cups, but a little larger than most on-ear earcups. We frequently found one or both ears getting bent out of shape while wearing the set. The leather earcups are nicely padded, but in all, we weren’t impressed with the set’s comfort.</p> <p>The Pulse-R also features a poorly executed inline control unit. It’s surprisingly large, with a cheap-feeling mute switch and volume slider. Despite the control’s huge size, the volume slider only has about 5mm of travel, making it pretty worthless for fine volume control.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15373_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15373_small.jpg" alt="The aluminum side plates on the Pulse-R are removable, but what you replace them with is anyone's guess." title="CM Storm Pulse-R" width="620" height="836" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The aluminum side plates on the Pulse-R are removable, but what you replace them with is anyone's guess.</strong></p> <p>Sound quality was toward the low end of this roundup, with bass that was powerful but not terribly clear. For music and movies, the sound quality was especially bad, producing muddled audio that sometimes made it hard to hear dialogue and higher parts.</p> <p>The CM Storm doesn’t fall terribly short in any one area, but consistent quality issues and questionable design choices leave us unable to recommend this as a smart purchase.</p> <p><strong>CM Storm Pulse-R</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/" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90, <a href=" " target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>Tritton Kunai</h3> <p><strong>A light-weight headset for gamers on a budget</strong></p> <p>Selling for around $50, the Tritton Kunai sits right at the entry level for real, high-grade gaming gear. For products in this category, the question is always whether they’re actually a good option for budget-minded gamers, or if they’re just pretenders that managed to sneak out of the bargain bin. So, where does the Kunai land?</p> <p>First, let’s talk build quality. As you would expect with a cheaper headset, the Kunai cuts some corners on construction. In all, it’s all-plastic build feels perfectly fine, but two issues concern us: First, the headband is plastic throughout—there’s no steel core to the band. Second, the audio cable that’s attached to the headset is neither braided nor terribly thick. Both of these represent pretty easy ways the Kunai could wear out or break.</p> <p>The headset is very light, and surprisingly comfortable with its pair of well-padded, rectangular on-ear cups. Its flexible boom mic is removable, and the earcups swivel to more easily rest on your collarbones while not in use. Between the small, lightweight design, removable mic, and smartphone-ready audio cable, there’s a pretty compelling secondary use case for the Kunai as a portable headset that’s also good for playing games at home.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15381_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15381_small.jpg" alt="The Kunai is marketed as a gaming console headset, but it doesn’t have any console-specific features, other than audio-cable adapters." title="Tritton Kunai" width="620" height="891" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Kunai is marketed as a gaming console headset, but it doesn’t have any console-specific features, other than audio-cable adapters.</strong></p> <p>For this price range, sound quality on the Kunai is good. It can’t get anywhere near the clarity and power that some of the other headsets in this roundup offer, but that's what the extra $100 or so buys you. For at-home gaming use alone, you can find alternatives with better sound and features in this price range, as well. However, if you value light weight, portability, and value, the Kunai’s not a bad deal.</p> <p><strong>Tritton Kunai</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="" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$50, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <h3>SteelSeries 9H</h3> <p><strong>A durable headset with excellent fundamentals</strong></p> <p>The Steelseries 9H is, first and foremost, a well-built set of cans. The headband is built of steel, clad in an extra-rugged plastic. The earcups feature the same durable plastic as well as thick leather pads that are much suppler and less cheap-feeling than the leather found on even the most high-end models. Despite its solid workmanship, the headset is quite light for its size, and comfortable even after long sessions.</p> <p>Sound quality is similarly respectable, with bass that can be pumped up to head-shaking levels without drowning out the respectably crisp mids and highs. By default, it seems tuned for gaming, but with the software equalizer you can get solid music and movie performance out of it, as well.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15366_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15366_small.jpg" alt="When retracted, the microphone on the 9H is flush with the earcup’s surface." title="SteelSeries 9H" width="620" height="873" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>When retracted, the microphone on the 9H is flush with the earcup’s surface.</strong></p> <p>The 9H is flexible, usable either as an analog headset, or with an included USB dongle that offers the standard suite of audio processing, including the ubiquitous Dolby Headphone virtual 7.1. It comes with adapters for separate audio and mic connections or a single three-pole jack for use with phones and tablets. The braided cable includes a compact in-line remote with volume control and mic switch, as well as an optional extension that brings the total cable length to over 9 feet. When you’re not using the flexible noise-cancelling mic, it retracts fully into one of the earcups.</p> <p><strong>Steelseries 9H</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/" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$160, <a href=" " target="_blank"></a></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At $160, the 9H is very expensive for a wired stereo headset, but you get your money’s worth in comfort and audio quality. Some PC-exclusive gamers might find the similar-but-wireless Corsair Vengeance 2100 a better deal at around the same price, but for those specifically looking for a wired or analog version, the 9H is an excellent choice.</p> <h3>Corsair Vengeance 2100</h3> <p><strong>This wireless headset gives you your money’s worth</strong></p> <p>Since its first entry into the headset market about four years ago, we’ve been reliably impressed with Corsair’s gaming headphones. Corsair has consistently focused on build, comfort and audio quality, without tacking on needless features that send the price sky-high. The Vengeance 2100—the company’s new top-of-the-line set, is no exception.</p> <p>Like previous Vengeance headsets, the 2100 errs on the side of “too big.” It’s heavy because of the built-in battery, but it's not uncomfortable. We’d prefer a lighter headset, but Corsair’s designed the Vengeance 2100 to handle its bulk the right way—by spreading out the weight evenly with a broad, padded headband, and huge, cushy earcups.</p> <p>The Vengeance 2100 is a wireless “7.1 surround” headset. A lot of high-end headsets are calling themselves “7.1” these days, but that just means that they’re stereo with built-in audio hardware for simulated 7.1 surround sound. As with most such headphones, the 7.1 surround in the Vengeance 2100 is an improvement over unprocessed sound, but it doesn’t <br />offer quite the same positionality as “true 5.1” surround like that found in the Roccat Kave XTD.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15365_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_cans.15365_small.jpg" alt="The Vengeance 2100’s extra-wide headband helps distribute its substantial weight." title="Corsair Vengeance 2100" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Vengeance 2100’s extra-wide headband helps distribute its substantial weight</strong></p> <p>The actual sound quality of the Vengeance 2100 is top-notch. The punchy base and defined mids are great for picking out noises on the virtual battlefield and in movies. Unlike many of the other gaming-tuned headsets, the Vengeance 2100 sounds great playing music, as well. The bass response is still excellent, without the indistinct highs that can make music sound muddy. A true audiophile probably won’t be in the market for a gaming headset in the first place, but it would be difficult to find headphones that sound better than this in the price range.</p> <p>Of course, one of the main selling points of the Vengeance 2100 is that it’s wireless. We found that the wireless worked perfectly, with no degradation of sound quality, good reception area, and an easy charging process. At $130, the Vengeance 2100 isn’t cheap, but it’s less expensive than most other high-quality wireless alternatives. With excellent sound quality, good comfort, and no major flaws, the Vengeance 2100 is a great deal and one we’d easily recommend.</p> <p><strong>Corsair Vengeance 2100</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/" alt="score:9ka" title="score:9ka" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$170, <a href="http:// www.corsair.comm/ " target="_blank">www.corsair.comm</a></strong></p> <h3>Audiophile headphones for gaming?</h3> <p>Obviously, gaming headsets aren’t the only game in town when it comes to head-mounted audio. There are plenty of cheapo earbuds and on-ear headphones available for those who don’t care much about sound quality, but there’s also a whole world of audiophile hardware out there—high-quality headphones designed for maximum-fidelity audio. Most audiophile-grade equipment is seriously expensive, but some of the “entry-level” models fall in the $100–200 range, along with most of the headsets in this roundup. With sets like the Sennheiser HD558 highly regarded and available for $130, are there reasons to buy a gaming headset at all? Here are the pros and cons of using an audiophile version for gaming.</p> <p>Pros An audiophile headset will almost always give you better fidelity for playing music, so if that’s a major priority for you, you’d do well to consider going that route. Also, it’s been our experience that build quality tends to be a little better. Finally, audiophile headphones are a lot more understated, design-wise. Whether that’s a plus or a minus depends on your particular tastes, but we think there’s something to be said for subtlety.</p> <p>Cons To be able to use voice, you’ll have to buy a clip-on microphone. You can get one for next to nothing, but we’d recommend springing for one of the $20–30 models if you want good recording capabilities. Audiophile headsets don’t prioritize big booming bass the way gaming varieties do, so if you like brain-rattling explosions in your games, or even if you’re a fan of bass-heavy music genres like hip-hop or EDM, you might not see much of an audio quality boost from cheaper audiophile cans. Lastly, many gaming headsets offer built-in audio processing, which can be a great value if you don’t have a dedicated sound card in your rig.</p> CM Storm Pulse-R Hardware June issues 2014 Plantronics RIG Roccat Kave XTD SteelSeries 9H Tritton Kunai Features Thu, 15 Jan 2015 22:11:35 +0000 Alex Castle 28567 at