Maximum PC - From the Magazine en Column: The Story Among Us <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u154082/lukeclemcrossing_final.jpg" alt="walking dead" title="walking dead" width="250" height="140" style="float: right;" /></p> <h3>How the golden age of TV is affecting gaming&nbsp;</h3> <p>It took me a while to warm to <a title="walking dead telltale" href="" target="_blank">Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead</a>, an entire game series built around two of my least-favorite mechanics: quick-time events and dialog trees. Yippee. Pass the digital Ambien.</p> <p>What eventually brought me around, and prepared me for an even better use of the system in <a title="the wolf among us" href="" target="_blank">The Wolf Among Us</a>, was a change in thinking. A lot us make pleasing noises about narrative and character elements in gaming, but the truth is that gameplay comes first. The telos (purpose, or end) of a game is the play. The narrative is what gives the play resonance and depth, and forms the binding element, but the key thing is what you do.</p> <p>Telltale’s latest work inverts that, finding a way to place the narrative first, while making the gameplay merely a driving element.</p> <p>All of the screen-scanning, gathering, talking, and fighting work are just fine, as long as they stay out of the way. Make it more complex, and the narrative stalls. Place it in a game with poor writing and no cinematic sensibility, and the gameplay is merely laughable.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/wolf_among_us.jpg" title="wolf among us" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Serial, episodic games are a welcome addition to videogame storytelling.</strong></p> <p>But place it at the service of storytelling skill that is equal to the best we’re seeing on television these days, and it works like a dream.</p> <p>Television is the most appropriate analog, particularly as it’s grown more sophisticated in the post-Sopranos, post-Lost, Breaking Bad era. Television’s embrace of serial storytelling—lavish plotlines, deep characters, and serious world-building spread out over dozens of hours—is giving the medium new heft.</p> <p>The Wolf Among Us nails this sweet spot, creating a noir mystery light on action and heavy on character, atmosphere, and story, then ending with that most tantalizing tease: “Next time on….”</p> <p>We’re seeing the flowering of something great here: a game you return to once a month or once a week for a new two-hour installment. As TV matures in its mastery of this serial format, so will games, and at some point, the two will merge into new forms of mainstream entertainment.</p> 2013 column Holiday issues 2013 maximum pc the walking dead the wolf among us tv Game Theory Columns Features Fri, 04 Apr 2014 17:18:01 +0000 Thomas McDonald 27439 at Build A Budget Haswell PC <!--paging_filter--><h3>We all know AMD makes damned-fine budget parts, but can Intel compete? This month, we build a $650 Core i5 Haswell rig to find out how it stacks up</h3> <p>It seems like whenever we build a high-end system it’s powered by an Intel CPU, and budget systems always run AMD parts. This month, we’re flipping the script and building a budget-oriented Intel system to see how it compares to AMD’s offerings, and to give people a glimpse of what a $650 Intel rig can throw down. For comparison’s sake, we recently built budget rigs using AMD’s new <a title="richland apu" href="" target="_blank">Richland APU</a> (October 2013) as well as one with a $120 Vishera FX-6300 CPU (“<a title="cheap PC" href="" target="_blank">Battle of the Budget Builds</a>,” June 2013), and found that both chips serve their niche quite well. For this Intel build, we knew we’d go with <a title="haswell" href="" target="_blank">Haswell</a>, and wanted to run a Core i3 CPU, which typically comes with two cores and Hyper-Threading (HT), but those haven’t been released yet. <em><strong>Note:</strong> This article was originally featured in our December 2013 issue of the magazine.</em> So, the next-best CPU we could get was the Core i5-4430— a quad-core CPU without HT for $180. That's a third of our budget on the CPU, which forced us to be frugal elsewhere. We also took this opportunity to try out a new microATX case from Cooler Master that retails for $50, which we felt was perfect for a budget build.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_13.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_12.jpg" width="620" height="720" /></a></p> <h3>Gathering Intel</h3> <p>Since we’re working on a tight budget, we planned this system to be relatively bare-bones, thus allowing us to build inside the smallish Cooler Master N200 microATX chassis. This is a chassis that’s smaller than a traditional mid-tower, but larger than a traditional small-form-factor case, with plenty of room for cables and extra-long GPUs. The foundation for our build would be a motherboard from Gigabyte, the GA-B85-D3H (not to be confused with the HD3). It has a fat heatsink on the parts that usually get pretty hot, so we figured the board would be relatively stable. Other than that, it is a budget B85 board, with four SATA 6Gb/s ports, Realtek integrated sound, one PCI Express 3.0 slot, and four RAM slots that can handle up to 32GB clocked at 1,600MHz. It also features Gigabyte's DualBIOS feature, so the motherboard can use the backup BIOS if the primary one fails to boot. The Core i5-4430 isn’t overclockable, so we won’t be messing with any of that. Although the Core i5-4430 is about $30 more expensive than the A10-6800K that we tried in the AMD budget build, that CPU also wore a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo cooler, which comes out to… about $30. So it's the same difference in the end, though CPU and integrated graphics performance will differ.</p> <p>Other than that, we're trying to keep the rest of the system similar to the Richland build, to create a level playing field, so you'll see the same 60GB SSD, Corsair power supply, 1TB hard drive, Windows 8, and an optical drive.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">INGREDIENTS</span></strong></div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">PART</th> <th>Price</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Case</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Cooler Master N200</td> <td> <p><strong>$50</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>PSU</strong></td> <td>Corsair CX500</td> <td><strong>$50</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Mobo</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Gigabyte GA-B85-D3H </td> <td><strong>$85</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>CPU</strong></td> <td>Intel Core i5-4430</td> <td><strong>$180 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Cooler</strong></td> <td>Intel stock cooler </td> <td><strong>N/A (bundled)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>GPU</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Intel HD 4600</td> <td><strong>N/A (integrated)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>RAM</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">2x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LP</td> <td><strong>$60 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>SSD</strong></td> <td>60GB Mushkin Chronos MKNSSDCR60GB-7 </td> <td><strong>$65 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>HDD</strong></td> <td>1TB Seagate Barracuda</td> <td><strong>$68 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Optical Drive</strong></td> <td>Samsung SH-S223</td> <td><strong>$15 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>OS</strong></td> <td>Windows 8 64-bit OEM</td> <td><strong>$90 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Total</strong></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td><strong>$663</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <h4>1. Stating Your Case</h4> <p>The N200 case is about 7.5 inches wide, so cable management quickly becomes an issue as soon as you begin inserting parts. As we began building, the first area of trouble we ran into was with the hard drive cage on the bottom of the chassis, which holds two 3.5-inch drives and one SSD. If we were to use the standard screw holes for the hard drive, it would have given us very little clearance to connect the SATA and power cables on the other side. So we moved the HDD forward by one hole, which gave us some extra space in the back, making it easier to store unused power supply cables out of sight. It’s a shame the hard drive cage doesn’t have rails, as installing drives is a PITA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/a_small_15.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/a_small_14.jpg" title="Image A" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>2. Getting Cagey</h4> <p>In order to install hard drives into the included cage, you need to attach screws to both sides of it, but there’s no way to access the cage's left side with it inside the system, so you have to remove it altogether first. To do that you need to remove two screws that secure it to the motherboard tray, then flip the case on its side to access four more screws underneath the case (pictured). With those removed, you can pull out the cage and access the holes on its left side.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/b_small_12.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/b_small_11.jpg" title="Image B" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p>There are also four built-in SSD installation points—one on top of the lower HDD cage, two on the mobo tray, and one beneath the upper 3.5-inch drive bay—but we used an adapter bracket to install our lone SSD in the 3.5-inch cage. Call us old-fashioned, but we felt it offered the cleanest wiring options. The upper 3.5-inch drive bay also holds a single drive, so despite the N200 being "only" an mATX case, you have plenty of options when it comes to storage.</p> <h4>3. Intercepting Cables</h4> <p>A modular power supply probably would have been easier to use in such a small case, but we used the same PSU from our Richland build, so we had no choice but to find room for all the cables. The side panels each have a bulge to them, but they’re not deep enough to squeeze a 24-pin power cable behind the motherboard tray. There’s also no cutout for the 8-pin power cable, so we had to route it over the motherboard like in the old days. Since there's no window on this case, we didn't feel too pressured to make the inside look pretty, but we did break out the twist ties in a few places.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/c_small_15.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/c_small_14.jpg" title="Image C" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to continue.&nbsp;</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>4. Laser Visions</h4> <p>Optical drives are still the easiest way to install Windows, so we’ll continue to use them until we’re pulling an OS from the cloud. Plus, some motherboards don't play nice when you try to boot from a USB stick, especially if it's a USB 3.0 device. To install an optical drive with this case, you need to remove the front bezel via a hidden handle at the bottom that pulls outward. Once it comes off, you squeeze two tabs on the drive bay cover to remove it. You can see from the photo that the entire front of the case is just one big mesh grill. It holds two 120mm fans, or a 240mm radiator on the inside of the chassis. Though we didn’t install a closed-loop cooler this time, it certainly can be done, but it makes for a very crowded interior. Once you put the front bezel back in place, smack it in each corner nice and hard.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/c_small_16.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/d_small_12.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <h4>5. Error Codes</h4> <p>We use a variety of monitors around the Lab, and during this build we happened to spot an unused 30-inch Dell with a resolution of 2560x1600 looking at us longingly. We thought it would be fun to test the system at that resolution, so we hooked it up only to find that we'd made a small oversight. The DVI connection on the back of this particular motherboard does not support dual-link DVI, it's single-link only. To distinguish the ports visually, DL has more pins in it—24 as opposed to single-link's 18. You need dual-link to get a 60Hz refresh rate at resolutions above 1080p. DisplayPort accomplishes this objective as well, but this board did not have that connector either, leaving us stranded on 1080p island. D’oh! For what it’s worth, you can get a motherboard in this price range with dual-link DVI, such as the MSI H87-G43, but that board has one fewer fan header than this Gigabyte board! Those fan headers come in handy, too, because this case has three fan mounts unused right out of the box, on the top, side, and front. The top even accepts 140mm fans, and the case comes with anti-vibration grommets.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/e_small_15.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/e_small_14.jpg" title="Image E" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>6. Loose Ends</h4> <p>Once we had mostly finished our build, we had to find space in the chassis to stash all of our cables, which is tricky in a case this size. Even cables that are in use need to have their middle parts tucked away. By moving our hard drive forward a bit in its drive cage, we were able to free up space behind it, into which we stuffed a lot of cables. We also took advantage of the small gap between the drive cage and the front of the case. Ideally, we would have spread these cables out behind the motherboard tray, but the side panels only bulge a few millimeters, and it didn't seem worth it to squeeze the cables that much just to clean things up, especially&nbsp; when there’s no case window.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/f_small_12.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/f_small_11.jpg" title="Image F" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p>One slick feature of this chassis is that the internal 120mm intake fan can be moved to the outside of the case, where it sits behind the front bezel. This is handy if you’re trying to set up a push-pull configuration on a radiator mounted inside the front of the case, though you’d need to remove the hard drive cage to accommodate such a setup.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/last_one_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/last_one_small.jpg" title="Gut Shot" width="620" height="420" /></a></p> <h3>Back to the Haswell</h3> <p>Building systems in these small cases always poses challenges, but it wasn’t too bad this time around. It was a bit time-consuming to install the SSD and HDD, since the drive cage had to be removed, but the rest of the build was fairly painless. Once it was up and running, we were surprised by how quiet it was, despite the front of the case being nothing but mesh. You'd think some noise would leak through there, but the system was just about silent, even under full load. In fact, one time it ran for a minute or so without the CPU fan even spinning (the fan cable got caught in the blades, before we secured it with a twist tie). The case fan cables are also about 18 inches long, so they'll reach all the way from one end of the N200 to the other.</p> <p>In terms of general desktop performance, we already had a good idea of what to expect since we had already tested Intel's Haswell CPU. In testing, the Core i5-4430 was able to encode videos and render hi-res panorama photos much faster than a comparably priced AMD CPU. Even when we overclocked the AMD 6800K to 4.7GHz, it couldn't keep up with a Core i5-4430 running at 3GHz.</p> <p>The same can't be said for its gaming performance, though, as AMD clearly takes the crown from Intel. In general, Haswell’s HD 4600 graphics are around 40 percent slower than the AMD 6800K's graphics. Then again, the Core i5-4430's non-GPU performance outclasses either AMD chip.</p> <p>In the end, going Intel or AMD at this price range really comes down to what your needs are. You can get an FX-6300 for about $120 right now and add a Radeon HD 7770 for about $75 (at least after a mail-in rebate). So, for gaming on a budget, AMD provides the best value. If you're editing HD videos and hi-res photos, though, Intel wins by a comfortable margin.</p> <p>All in all, the Intel system put up a heck of a fight against the AMD builds, at least in the computing realm; not so much in gaming. The system was fast enough for basic needs though, and if we had used a motherboard with DisplayPort and/or DL-DVI, we could call this build an all-around success.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light"> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>ZERO</strong></p> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>POINT</strong></p> </th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">1,710</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">1,135<strong><br /></strong></span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td>1,947</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">1,685<strong><br /></strong></span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">x264 HD 5.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark">9.0</td> <td>11.65<strong><br /></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>3DMark11 Performance</td> <td>1,668</td> <td>1237<strong> (-26%)<br /></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Stalker: Call of Pripyat (fps)</td> <td>8.3</td> <td>8<strong> (-33%)</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <p><span style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold;"><em>Our Richland system was a quad-core 4.1GHz A10-6800K at 4.7GHz, 8GB of Kingston DDR3/1600, on a Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-D3H motherboard. It ran Radeon 8670D integrated graphics, a Mushkin Chronos SSD, and Windows 8 64-bit.</em></span></p> 2013 affordable budget cheap computer haswell Intel CPU maximum pc December 2013 Systems Features Mon, 31 Mar 2014 23:24:44 +0000 Tom McNamara 27181 at 8 Products That Were Ahead of Their Time <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u154082/virtual-boy-set.jpg" width="250" height="179" style="float: right;" />Virtual Boy, Microsoft tablet, Dell phablet, and more</h3> <p>We all love innovation...when it works. Unfortunately when it comes to technological breakthroughs, timing is everything.&nbsp;For instance, did you know that Microsoft showed off its tablet PC way back in 2000? And who could forget Nintendo’s attempt at a VR headset with its Virtual Boy in 1995?</p> <p>Many of those gadgets were simply ahead of their time. To give credit where credits due, we thought we would round up eight of these lone-gone pioneers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Did you own any of these devices? Let us know in the comments below!</p> 2013 ahead of their time Hardware innovation maximum pc microsoft tablet oculus rift sony phablet tech gadgets virtual boy The List Thu, 27 Mar 2014 21:51:37 +0000 Jimmy Thang and Clark Crisp 27422 at Build It: Radeon HD 7990 PC <!--paging_filter--><h3>A dual R9 290X card isn't here yet, but the 7990 is the next best thing</h3> <p>The ongoing war between Nvidia and AMD for supremacy over the PC gaming landscape has been like the Hatfields and the McCoys of enthusiast computing: long, bitter, and deeply entrenched. Contrary to rumors, AMD hasn't revealed a dual R9 290/290X card yet, but the Radeon HD 7990 is the next best thing, combining two HD 7970 GPUs onto one card. It didn't come out until spring 2013, though, which was long after Nvidia's own dual-GPU behemoth, the GeForce GTX 690, had dug in its heels. And it wasn't until mid-summer that AMD began to address the stuttering issues that marred its multi-GPU setups. With AMD's R9 series arriving late last year, this crown jewel didn’t really have much time to shine. Today, we'll try and change that, pitting this Cadillac of a card against nothing less than Battlefield 4, with everything maxed out and running at 1920x1080. With the previous Battlefield regularly favoring Nvidia cards, this might seems like enemy territory. But this time, AMD is working closely with the developer to make sure nothing goes awry.&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Note: This article was originally featured in the Holiday 2013 issue of the&nbsp;</span><a style="font-style: italic;" title="maximum pc mag" href=";cds_mag_code=MAX&amp;id=1366314265949&amp;lsid=31081444255021801&amp;vid=1&amp;cds_response_key=IHTH31ANN" target="_blank">magazine</a><span style="font-style: italic;">.</span></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_19.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_18.jpg" title="Radeon HD 7990" width="620" height="626" /></a></p> <h3>Gathering the Troops</h3> <p>We're not working with a tight budget this time, so our roughly $750 video card will have some appropriately fancy company. With two 8-pin power connections, the 7990 draws a lot of juice, so that's our first consideration. We went with an 800-watt Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold. As its name indicates, it's a "gold"-rated PSU, so it will work efficiently, and it has some other nice features that we'll get into later. We also wanted a nice motherboard and CPU that could handle all the bandwidth that a dual-GPU card needs—that led us to the Asus X79 Deluxe and a Core i7-4960X. This is the LGA2011 platform, which gives us up to 40 PCI Express lanes, while LGA1150 boasts just 16 lanes. Since LGA2011 uses quad-band memory architecture, we'll be using four sticks of RAM. That’s not critical for gaming, but the extra bandwidth is great for video encoding. For storage, we have a speedy 240GB SanDisk Extreme II SSD to boot with and run games from, and a 3TB Seagate Barracuda for media storage.</p> <p>Our favorite item, though, has to be the case in which everything gets crammed. That would be the Silverstone <a title="FT04" href="" target="_blank">FT04</a> mid-tower. It's not the easiest case we've ever worked with, but the end result is pretty cool, in more ways than one. You've probably noticed that the picture on the opposite page appears to be reversed. That's not an optical illusion. The inside of the case was designed on Opposite Day, and that has some neat side effects that we'll dig into soon.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">INGREDIENTS</span></strong></div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">PART</th> <th>Price</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Case</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Silverstone FT04</td> <td> <p><strong>$230</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>PSU</strong></td> <td>Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 800W</td> <td><strong>$160</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>Mobo</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">Asus X79 Deluxe </td> <td><strong>$350</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>CPU</strong></td> <td>Intel Core i7-4960X</td> <td><strong>$1,000 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Cooler</strong></td> <td>Phanteks TC14PE </td> <td><strong>$80 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>GPU</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">AMD Radeon HD 7990</td> <td><strong>$550 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item"><strong>RAM</strong></td> <td class="item-dark">4x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LP</td> <td><strong>$150 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Hard Drive</strong></td> <td>240GB SanDisk Extreme II</td> <td><strong>$225 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>SSD</strong></td> <td>3TB Seagate Barracuda</td> <td><strong>$135 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Fans</strong></td> <td>Samsung SH-S223</td> <td><strong>$15 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>OS</strong></td> <td>Windows 8 64-bit OEM</td> <td><strong>$90 (street)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Total</strong></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td><strong>$2,985</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <h4>1.&nbsp; The Guest of Honor</h4> <p>The HD 7990 is about 12 inches long, so it's not for the faint-hearted builder. Our case officially has 13.3 inches of room, so it'll work. We wanted to use the case's bundled VGA bracket, which prevents the card from sagging, but it obstructed our jumbo CPU cooler. Fortunately, the HD 7990 has a metal backplate to keep it from bending, so the bracket’s not critical. (Water-cooling the CPU would allow use of the bracket). The card needs two 8-pin cables, which can be challenging to route in a traditional case layout, but here the power supply is installed right above the card, in the top of the case, so the cables don't need to do anything complicated to supply juice.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/a_small_17.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/a_small_16.jpg" title="Image A" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>2. Power to the Tower</h4> <p>The top of the case is no longer a common location for a power supply, but Silverstone is shaking things up. In ye olden days, the practice fell out of favor, as PSUs ended up sucking in heat rising off the CPU cooler and the video card, which was bad for long-term reliability. In the FT04, however, the power supply has a meshed vent right above it to aid cooling. Just remove a few thumbscrews in the back to slide off the case top and get the PSU inside. The top of the case has a built-in bracket to support the PSU's weight. Minimal heat comes off the GPU right below because the intake fans have been reversed, since the motherboard is flipped. The overall thermal design is much improved from earlier implementations. The side panels has tabs on the back that overlap with the top panel, so you have to remove the sides before taking off the top, then do the same in reverse.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/b_small_14.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/b_small_13.jpg" title="Image B" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>3. Features for Creatures</h4> <p>The X79 Deluxe (not to be confused with the older P9X79 Deluxe) has a number of interesting features. We like the beefy voltage regulators, integrated dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, eight SATA 6Gb/s ports, DTS audio, push-button USB-based BIOS updates, and even dual LAN ports and a stainless-steel I/O plate (pictured). The black-and-gold theme is also rather pimp. As an added bonus, the board recognized our Ivy Bridge-E CPU right away. This Intel chip is not a huge upgrade from the Core i7-3960X, but it performs moderately faster and generates a lot less heat. It's a hexa-core chip with Hyper-Threading. Games don't usually make much use of HT, but Battlefield 4 hungrily chews up every available processing thread. So it's nice to have 12.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/c_small_17.jpg" title="Image C" width="620" height="930" /></p> <p><em>Click the next page to continue.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>4. The Drive to Survive</h4> <p>Ordinarily, there isn't a whole lot to say about installing a couple of storage devices in your average case, but the FT04 is anything but average. It has two cages at the bottom and one large cage in the front, all of which are removable. On the bottom, one cage gets an integrated SATA and power-connection bracket, while the other has a mini-jack for holding up a large air cooler. We said, “por qué no los dos,” and put the bracket and the jack on the same cage, since we didn't need both cages. The FT04 has mounts for screwing up to four SSDs directly into the bottom of the case anyway, so the extra container would just take up space. To remove it, you lay the FT04 on its side and remove the cage screws from underneath, five in all. Being able to remove the screws from within the case is easier, but this will do in a pinch.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/d_small_14.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/d_small_13.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>5. Air to the Throne</h4> <p>You may wonder why we went with an air cooler in this system, since we're not really holding back in other areas. There are two reasons. One, we wanted to check out the case's built-in heatsink kickstand. It was just too neat of a widget to discard. Two, the FT04 doesn't have many case fan mounts. To put a 240mm radiator in the front, you have to remove two 180mm "Penetrator" fans, which are cool-looking and pre-connected to independent fan controllers. It seemed a shame to take those out of the picture, because they create some excellent airflow while keeping noise levels down. (In fact, the entire case is layered with sound-absorbing foam panels.) Since there are no fan mounts on the top, sides, or bottom, the only other alternative would be the 120mm mount in the rear, which we're already using as an exhaust port. We’d have to replace that with a radiator and fan, blowing outward. Not as thermally efficient as an intake, but you don't have much choice.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/e_small_17.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/e_small_16.jpg" title="Image E" width="620" height="930" /></a></p> <p>Regardless, we opted for air. The FT04 does not ship with a rear fan, so we pulled our Scythe Gentle Typhoon from a box of Dream Machine parts. Waste not, want not.</p> <h4>6. Cable Commentary</h4> <p>Like the Fractal Design Define R4, the Silverstone FT04 is a wide case for its mid-tower form factor, so we have a lot of room to route cables behind the motherboard tray. Some excess power supply cabling can be tucked in the top of the case, as well. We needed the full length of the PSU's 8-pin CPU power cable, but we had overly long cables elsewhere. We used a piece of tape to secure the wiring of the Scythe Gentle Typhoon fan because its cabling is surprisingly stiff and prone to popping out otherwise. A pre-installed sleeve would be nice, considering the relatively high cost of this fan. The Silent Pro Gold's cables are flat and very flexible, so we had no trouble connecting them to the HD 7990 in a presentable way.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/f_small_14.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/f_small_13.jpg" title="Image F" width="620" height="531" /></a></p> <h3>Into the Fray</h3> <p>Once we got the system up and running, it was pretty smooth sailing. We had the 13.11 beta Catalyst drivers for the video card, and we were able to keep Battlefield 4 solidly at 60fps at 1080p, with all visual effects cranked to max settings. There were occasional dips into the single digits, but this could be the result of network congestion or unfinished optimization (we were playing the beta version of the game as this issue went to press; and the Mantle version of BF4, which replaces DirectX, is not scheduled for release until mid-December, so we can't test that yet.)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main__image_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main__image_small.jpg" title="Main Image" width="620" height="464" /></a></p> <p>Also of note, BF4 seems happy to take as many CPU processing threads as you can give it, including Hyper-Threading (HT). Six appears to be the magic number; less than that, and the cores get pegged at 100 percent utilization. In addition to this system, we also tried the game on a Core i5-4670K system with dual GeForce GTX 770s, an i7-4770K system with a single GTX Titan, and an AMD FX-8350 system with dual GTX 780s, and then the HD 7990. Enabling HT bumped up performance about 10 percent. However, the FX-8350 could not hit 60fps even with the HD 7990, while an i7 with Hyper-Threading disabled stayed comfortably above that mark when using a GTX 780. Like we said, the game was in a beta state as this issue went to press, so some performance optimizations may have arrived by the time you read this. But right now, the gap between Intel and AMD CPUs is consistent and noticeable (although Premiere Pro spat out some odd results, despite repeated tests).</p> <p>Temperature-wise, dual 180mm intake fans bring in a lot of external air, and the Lab is temperature-controlled around 70 degrees F. Leaving a single 120mm fan to remove heat didn't seem to be a problem, though the Gentle Typhoon is admittedly very good at air displacement. Still, it seems like a $230 case should offer more options. The top has an intake for the power supply, and it looks like there's plenty of room for a fan mount up there, as well. The similarly priced Thermaltake Level 10 GT has a 230mm fan in the top and on the side, and a bonus mount on the bottom of the case. Of course, its aesthetics are much different. The FT04 is obviously designed to look sleek. But it may sacrifice too much in the process.</p> <p>Nevertheless, this build felt like a success. We got the performance we wanted, and the system felt very solid and stable. It was also fun to see a game use more than four CPU cores.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light"> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>ZERO</strong></p> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>POINT</strong></p> </th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">2,000</td> <td>2,020&nbsp; <strong>(-1%)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)</td> <td>831</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">744</span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">1,446</td> <td>1,309<strong><br /></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>x264 HD 5.0 (fps)</td> <td>21.1</td> <td>24.2<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batmans Arkam City (fps)</td> <td>76</td> <td>93<strong></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark11 Extreme</td> <td class="item-dark">5,847&nbsp;</td> <td>5,684<strong> (-3%)<br /></strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <p><span style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold;"><em>The zero-point machine compared here consists of a 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K and 16GB of Corsair DDR3/1600 on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard. It has a GeForce GTX 690, a Corsair Neutron GTX SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.</em></span></p> 2013 amd dual gpu feature graphics card Hardware Holiday issues 2013 radeon hd 7990 video Features How-Tos Mon, 24 Mar 2014 22:22:36 +0000 Tom McNamara 27358 at Column: Bring Back the Decentralized Internet <!--paging_filter--><h3>Keep the Internet old school</h3> <p>It's crazy to think of how this whole Internet age got started. Instead of networking as we know it, you asked a guy named Jon Postel for an address. If you wanted email, you ran a mail server. Angry Birds looked terrible on the PDP-11, but at least it was two-player.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="" alt="from" title="decentralized internet vs central internet (from" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Image from</strong></p> <p>In those days, you couldn’t buy services or watch ads in exchange for access. What that meant was the ’net was social, cooperative, and decentralized. If you wanted to put up ill-thought-out drunken selfies, you had to put up a server to host them, usually with the help of your local geek. It was more work, but it meant you controlled your data. Not Google, Facebook, or the NSA.</p> <p>The Paleonet was a strange place, but it was something we built together. It was a place without click-through agreements or our lives being tracked and tallied in the databases of marketers and governments.</p> <p>It’s time to get that back. Between copyright insanity, contracts that turn everyone into felons, and massive spying on service providers, it’s time to give up on centralized services and start looking to each other.</p> <p>There is nothing—not a thing—we host elsewhere on the net that we couldn’t provide to each other through community server sharing. It’s how we all did it before we lost our privacy. It’s the only way to get control of our online existence back. It means going in with<br />friends or neighbors on a server account somewhere, downloading software, and learning to run what you use.</p> <p>I’ve been doing this for 15 years. It’s great, knowing that we’re a group of friends helping each other. I doubt my buddy M is spying on me on behalf of my government, or Nike. Not so sure about Facebook.</p> 2013 column decentralized internet Holiday issues 2013 maximum pc News Byte Rights Law Columns Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:32:04 +0000 Quinn Norton 27440 at Unique and Cool Computer Cases <!--paging_filter--><h3><a class="thickbox" style="font-size: 10px; text-align: center;" href="/files/u152332/puget_small_0.jpg"></a><a class="thickbox" style="font-weight: normal;" href="/files/u152332/fang3_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/fang3_small.jpg" title="Cyber Power Fang III" width="200" height="266" style="float: right;" /></a></h3> <h3>What's it like to build in three of the most unusual cases on the market?</h3> <p>A generation ago, computer cases were typically beige pizza box–shaped things that resided under beige CRT monitors. You wrangled floppy disks in and out of them and pressed the power button at times, but they weren't conversation pieces or personal statements. We don't know exactly when the shift to case fanciness occurred. It evolved gradually, like facial hair or Nicolas Cage. And in the last few years, we've seen some pretty exotic enclosures come to the home desktop, in various degrees of affordability and physical dimensions. You may wonder what it's like to build inside one of these strange containers; we certainly did. To find out, we had three distinctly different unconventional cases delivered to our Lab: the Cooler Master HAF Stacker 935, the In Win D-Frame, and the Corsair Carbide Air 540 that are pictured here.</p> <p>With the help of our trusty intern Sam Ward, we built complete systems inside each of these enclosures, and we document the experience in the following pages of this article.</p> <p><em>Note: The time this article originally debuted in the magazine, we built up our HAF Stacker 935 using a prototype unit. As a result, the <a title="stacker case" href="" target="_blank">retail version</a> may have some slight differences.</em></p> <h4>Cooler Master HAF Stacker 935</h4> <p><strong>The Voltron of PC building</strong></p> <p>With our Stacker 935 fully assembled, the black mega-tower looked like something a super-villain would use in his or her secret lair. It measured over three feet tall, for Pete's sake, nine inches wide, and nearly two feet long. The Stacker 935 consists of one small ITX unit about 9 inches tall, and one large unit about 19 inches tall, with an MSRP of $170, for a total height of about 28 inches. You can't buy the big one by itself, but you can grab as many of the small ones as you like, and then stack them according to your needs. The small unit is called the Stacker 915 and retails for $70. Our combo of choice, pictured for your amusement, is a 935 and a 915, which Cooler Master sells as the "945." For comparison, a Corsair 900D is about 27 inches tall, and the inside of a Cooler Master Cosmos II is about 22 inches tall (the external handles add some extra height).</p> <p>In this pre-production unit, the cases attach to each other with a sliding mechanism, which you lock into place with a set of provided screws. Each compartment also comes with detachable feet and a detachable top panel, so you have flexibility in your stacking arrangement.</p> <p>The 915 is limited to ITX motherboards, but it's pretty wide open otherwise; the "F" variant gets its PSU in the front, and the "R" variant has one in the rear. But while the 915R won't give your CPU room for more than a stock air cooler, you can fit a water-cooling pump pretty easily, and a radiator and fan would mount on the side panel. The 915 also takes up to three drive cages, each containing three 3.5-inch drives, for a total of nine. Each of those nine slots can also take two SSDs if you have an adapter kit. If you limit your video card length to eight inches or less, you can fit an ITX motherboard and two cages.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1st_image_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1st_image_small.jpg" alt="While you’re free to arrange your Stacker cases in any order, Cooler Master recommends that you not add more than two smaller 915 cases to the basic 935 setup, lest the tower tip over." title="Cooler Master HAF Stacker 935" width="620" height="567" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>While you’re free to arrange your Stacker cases in any order, Cooler Master recommends that you not add more than two smaller 915 cases to the basic 935 setup, lest the tower tip over.</strong></p> <p>For system cooling, each side panel will accommodate a 360mm or 280mm radiator. That's probably overkill for the ITX system itself, but a custom liquid-cooling loop for a system located in the mid-tower can take advantage of this additional space. Cooler Master recommends quick-disconnect couplings for such a setup, so that the two cases can easily detach from each other even after the loop is installed. The stock 915 comes with a front 92mm fan, and the mid-tower ships with dual 120mm intake fans and one 140mm rear exhaust fan. The mid-tower's intake fans can fit inside the front bezel, to maximize room inside the case.</p> <p>For system cooling, each side panel will accommodate a 360mm or 280mm radiator. That's probably overkill for the ITX system itself, but a custom liquid-cooling loop for a system located in the mid-tower can take advantage of this additional space. Cooler Master recommends quick-disconnect couplings for such a setup, so that the two cases can easily detach from each other even after the loop is installed. The stock 915 comes with a front 92mm fan, and the mid-tower ships with dual 120mm intake fans and one 140mm rear exhaust fan. The mid-tower's intake fans can fit inside the front bezel, to maximize room inside the case.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2nd_image_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2nd_image_small.jpg" alt="You can swap drive cages freely between the big case and the small cases; they attach with four standard screws." title="Cooler Master HAF Stacker 935" width="620" height="690" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can swap drive cages freely between the big case and the small cases; they attach with four standard screws.</strong></p> <p>Other than sheer cable length, the systems were not difficult to put together. The cases are all roomy with plenty of cable management space, and the drive cages can be moved around to multiple spots.</p> <p><strong>Cooler Master HAF Stacker 935</strong></p> <p><strong>$170,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_small_11.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_small_10.jpg" width="620" height="750" /></a></p> <p><strong>1.</strong> In this config, the top case is a semi-portable HTPC unit powered by an AMD A10-6800K. It doesn't share any cabling or devices with the system underneath.</p> <p><strong>2.</strong> The gap between the cases is about an inch tall, so we have plenty of room for this Corsair H100i CPU cooler to blow exhaust out the top of the larger case.</p> <p><strong>3.</strong> The 915 has dust filters on its side panels; they're attached with four screws.</p> <p><strong>4. </strong>The larger case ships with two 120mm intake fans in the front, and one 140mm exhaust in the rear.</p> <p><em>Click the <a title="d-frame page" href=",1" target="_self">next page</a> to read about the Win D-Frame case.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>In Win D-Frame</h3> <p><strong>If you've got it, flaunt it</strong></p> <p>The industrial-looking In Win D-Frame was probably the most interesting to put together. If you're a fan of K'Nex or Tinkertoys, you'll be right at home attaching the four red pieces to each other and to the silvery mounting plate in back. When you're done, you'll be rewarded with a unique, all-aluminum frame, two tempered glass panels, and a fun 90-degree rotation from the standard direction (so your video cards will be vertical, for example). Despite its aluminum frame, the tempered glass makes the case surprisingly heavy, tipping the scales at 25 pounds before you start installing your hardware.</p> <p>The aluminum is supposed to help with heat dissipation, which itself is aided by a set of fans installed in the bottom of the case, blowing upward. The D-Frame comes with no fans of its own, as people who are paying the $400 price tag usually have a set of their own. We had to settle for a few Scythe Gentle Typhoons. It's a hard-knock life.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/win_d-frame_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/win_d-frame_small.jpg" width="620" height="551" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It may be heavy, but that tempered glass provides an awesome view of your beloved parts. Sloppy builders need not apply.</strong></p> <p>The rotation throws off some sizing estimations, admittedly. Minus the power supply cage in the back, the D-Frame is about 22 inches long and 19 inches tall. The width is a little misleading, due to the frame extensions that support the glass panels; inside, you'll actually have no more than six inches for an air cooler. So, we'd recommend a liquid-cooler instead. We used a Silverstone TD03 here; despite its extra-thick radiator and dual fans, it installed in the rear with plenty of room to spare. If you remove the 3.5-inch drive cage, the D-Frame could easily support a thick 240mm radiator as well. (And without the cage, there are still several storage device mounts built directly into the frame.) Our fan/rad combo hangs off of two circular brackets attached to the frame with a couple of screws. A fourth fan would usually go there if we weren't using liquid cooling, but these brackets have no problem with the heavier load. The power-supply cage is also spacious, holding a Corsair AX1200i—eight inches long—with room to spare.</p> <p>Video card length is basically a non-factor. There's about 13 inches of space in that area, and you can remove the fan bracket to add a couple more. We slapped a trio of Nvidia GeForce GTX 780s in there without breaking a sweat. The close proximity of the power supply cage makes hooking up the cards easy. The power supply can be oriented in two different directions; we chose this orientation because it shows off our pretty braided cables, in a patriotic selection of red, white, and blue. When your side panels are made entirely of glass, you can't skimp on the little visual details. Note that there are no other panels shielding the inside of the case, so foreign objects can fall in if you're not careful. On the other hand, this semi-open design makes tinkering a lot easier. You could ditch the panels altogether, if you don’t have any pets or small children around.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/win_d_frame_small-.jpg" alt="Despite its appearance of complexity, the D-Frame needs only a standard Phillips screwdriver to assemble." width="620" height="475" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Despite its appearance of complexity, the D-Frame needs only a standard Phillips screwdriver to assemble.</strong></p> <p>Lastly, this case is getting a limited run of 500 units, though that's apparently just for this red version. The orange version gets its own 500-unit run. Each one is stamped with a serial number—ours is 187. The point is, it won't be around forever. Though with this rugged design, the case itself may very well outlive you.</p> <p><strong>In Win D-Frame</strong></p> <p><strong>$400,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/win_d_frame1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/win_d_frame1_small.jpg" width="620" height="617" /></a></p> <p><strong>1.</strong> You can orient the power supply any way you want, but we recommend positioning its intake fan on the outside, so that it's not competing with the video card(s) for air.</p> <p><strong>2.</strong> For a little variety, we went with an AMD FX-8350 CPU on an Asus Crosshair V Formula-Z motherboard. Can't let Intel hog all the fun.</p> <p><strong>3.</strong> There's nearly three inches of space between the back of the motherboard and the side panel, so cable routing is very manageable.</p> <p><strong>4.</strong>&nbsp; Because of the extra length of this case, even a radiator and fan combo as bulky as the Silverstone TD03 fits in the back with room to spare.</p> <p><em>Click the <a title="corsair carbide air 540 page" href=",2" target="_self">next page</a> to read about the Corsair Carbide Air 540 and other interesting chassis.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Corsair Carbide Air 540</h3> <p><strong>It's hip to be square</strong></p> <p>When you peek inside the Corsair Carbide Air 540, you'll probably notice that it's missing some important stuff. Like, oh, a PSU and 5.25-inch drive bays. Have you gone crazy? Are invisible elves powering this puzzling cube? No and no. All you have to do is flip the case around to view the other compartment, and you'll see the wizard behind the curtain. The 13 inches of total width give ample room for the trick. The net effect is that you can have loads of fans and water cooling for the video card, CPU, and motherboard without sacrificing storage capacity. Two 3.5-inch drive bays sit on the bottom of the left-hand side, complete with built-in SATA connectors so that you never see drive cables on that side of the case. The right-hand side (where the PSU is) gets four 2.5-inch bays for SSDs.</p> <p>You may be concerned by the low number of 3.5-inch bays, but keep in mind that the two 5.25 bays in the back compartment can accommodate two such drives, with an adapter kit. We decided to put a Blu-ray drive in there instead. But keep in mind that these larger bays are vertical; not all optical drives are compatible with that orientation.</p> <p>Power supplies can be mounted pretty much any way you want, though, so Corsair takes advantage of this. The PSU is rotated 90 degrees onto its side to accommodate the relatively tight space, but its cables don't have to be clean here, since there's no window and just empty space between the PSU and the front of the case. This relaxed design makes it a lot easier just hook up everything and go, rather than taking painstaking steps to zip-tie every cable for maximum cleanliness. Nobody likes their side panel to bulge because they couldn't route everything smoothly, and here, you don't even have to think about it. The power supply can also be virtually any length. The lower right-hand corner of the panel has a grill, so the PSU can pull cooler external air.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/corsair_carbide_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/corsair_carbide_small.jpg" alt="The Carbide Air 540’s looks are reminiscent of the cube-shaped boxes found in server rooms, miniaturized for the home desktop." title="Corsair Carbide Air 540" width="620" height="567" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Carbide Air 540’s looks are reminiscent of the cube-shaped boxes found in server rooms, miniaturized for the home desktop.</strong></p> <p>The front of the case will take a 280mm or 360mm radiator—we installed the Corsair H110, which uses a 280mm rad. There was even room to put fans on both sides for “push-pull,” using the two stock 140mm front intake fans. This increases airflow through the rad, so the liquid that returns to the pump contains less heat and can therefore absorb more, before it's pumped back to the radiator. We still had room for an Asus DirectCU II GeForce GTX 770, which is 10.7 inches long, but it was tight—a card with PCI Express power connectors on the end instead of the side would not fit in this config.</p> <p>Meanwhile, you could add two 140mm fans in the top, though a push-pull setup didn't have quite enough space. The rear has a 140mm exhaust fan pre-installed. You can place a 140mm closed-loop radiator on top of it without obstructing anything—a feature usually only seen in full-tower cases. The rear will also take a 120mm fan, and the top will take two 120mm units, or one 240mm radiator.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/one_more_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/one_more_small.jpg" alt="The left-hand &quot;chamber&quot; is eight inches wide, leaving five inches on the other side for the power supply and 5.25-inch drive bays." title="Corsair Carbide Air 540" width="620" height="630" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The left-hand "chamber" is eight inches wide, leaving five inches on the other side for the power supply and 5.25-inch drive bays.</strong></p> <p>Back to the PSU side, there's room between it and the front of the case for a liquid-cooling reservoir and pump, but it will require some cable tidiness, especially if you're using two or more video cards. The rear of the case does not have pre-cut holes to route tubing to an external rad or reservoir, so your loop will need to be completely internal, unless you're prepared for a little DIY.</p> <p><strong>Corsair Carbide Air 540</strong></p> <p><strong>$140,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_small2_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_small2.jpg" width="620" height="710" /></a></p> <p><strong>1.</strong> Since the 5.25-inch drive bay is in a hidden chamber, you can wire up a fan controller back there without revealing much of the cable routing.</p> <p><strong>2.</strong> Our distinctively orange stunt motherboard for this rig is the Gigabyte GA-Z87X-OC, a quad-SLI board that retails for around $200.</p> <p><strong>3.</strong> The Air 540 has built-in motherboard standoffs with a central "guide" post, which shaves installation time down even further.</p> <p><strong>4.</strong> Because the power supply is laid on its side, it shouldn't need extension cables to reach the 8-pin CPU power connector at the top of the motherboard</p> 2013 cool computer cases cooler master stacker corsair carbide air 540 fishtank case Hardware Lian Li maximum pc unique unusual win d-frame Features Mon, 17 Mar 2014 21:28:07 +0000 Tom McNamara 27368 at Column: Small is the Next Big Thing <!--paging_filter--><p>SOME SAY the next big thing is the “Internet of Things”—zillions of networked devices like smart watches, smart sensors, even smart clothing. A better name might be the Internet of Small Things, because we’ve always had an Internet of Big Things. Indeed, some of the new small things are just smaller versions of big things.</p> <p>Which is why Intel recently introduced Quark, its smallest x86 processor core. As the subatomic name implies, it’s smaller than Atom, which now becomes the midsize model. Quark is 20 percent the size of an Atom core and sips only 10 percent as much power. Fabricated in Intel’s 22nm FinFET technology, it would use less than 25 milliwatts. Only one watt for 40 cores!</p> <p>A few years ago, Intel swore some industry analysts to secrecy, disclosed this project, and requested our feedback. My first suggestion was to keep the core small by using a subset of the x86 architecture,even if it prevented the core from running the latest software. This advice was controversial, but I didn’t think a fully compatible core would be small enough.</p> <p>My second suggestion was to make it synthesizable. So-called “soft” cores are software models that can generate circuit layouts. Although they are less efficient than custom circuits, they are easier to integrate in chip designs and can be manufactured at any chip foundry. Finally, I urged Intel to license the core to other companies.</p> <p>Intel heeded two-thirds of my advice. Quark reverts to the original Pentium architecture from 1993, dropping support for extensions like SSE, and is synthesizable. So far, though, it’s not licensable. Intel willcollaborate with other companies but won’t give them full control over design and manufacturing.</p> <p>Oh, well, two out of three ain’t bad. And I think Intel will eventually license Quark— though probably with some entanglements.</p> 2013 column Holiday issues 2013 maximum pc Fast Forward Columns Fri, 14 Mar 2014 09:06:18 +0000 Tom Halfhill 27438 at Best Windows 8 Start Menu <!--paging_filter--><h3>Microsoft isn’t returning the beloved Start Menu to Windows 8 anytime soon. But hope is not lost, thanks to these handy third-party tools!</h3> <p>Beyond all of the colorful tiles; the bolted-on Modern user interface; the giant, full-screen apps and panels; and the inability to boot to the desktop—to name just a few of our gripes—there’s one issue above all others that’s guaranteed to universally frustrate Windows 8 desktop users: the Start Menu.</p> <p>Specifically, Microsoft’s decision to remove the Start Menu entirely from Windows 8, giving users no recourse for adding it back as an optional alternative or supplement to the Modern UI’s tiled application shortcuts and search tool, which are Windows 8’s means of navigation.</p> <p>We can fix that.</p> <p>Perform a simple search for “Windows 8 Start Menu” and you’ll find a smorgasbord of apps with one purpose in mind: bringing back the button at any cost. The last thing you want to do is muck up your Windows 8 installation with a junky program, however—worse, to have wasted your time installing numerous Start Menu apps in an effort to find out which one is best (or prettiest).</p> <p>Worry not. Your Start Menu is coming back. And with 11 different apps in our Start Menu roundup, we’re going to show you the best free and paid-for ways to get it.</p> <h4>Start Menu Reviver</h4> <p><strong>It’s a Start Buffet, not a Start Menu</strong></p> <p>We appreciate what ReviverSoft is trying to do with its free Start Menu Reviver app. In many ways, the Start Menu that the app creates is like a miniature hybrid of Windows Modern and a conventional Start Menu. Big, bulky boxes give you access to your computer’s contents, your Internet browser of choice, the Modern dashboard, and what can only be described as a semi-shrunken version of Modern itself for quick app access.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Packed to the gills with links and shortcuts.</li> <li>Not a ton of configuration options on this one.</li> <li>Start Menu folder structure could be presented much better.</li> </ul> <p>With some tweaking of Start Menu Reviver’s limited configuration options you can create a vague resemblance to the conventional Start Menu. But even then, the app feels like it wastes space—we’d rather see more of our folders and shortcuts at once.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start_menu_reviver_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start_menu_reviver_small.jpg" title="Start Menu" width="620" height="512" /></a></p> <p>To balance out that annoyance, however, the app features a ton of links to various parts of the OS—and the ability to bypass Modern completely when Windows 8 boots.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Power 8</h4> <p><strong>We give it a Power 1</strong></p> <p>Sorry, Power 8 just doesn’t do it for us. First, we hate that there’s no way to assign your keyboard’s Windows Key to pull up this app’s Start Menu instead of Modern. The app is also a bit too thorough when it comes to disabling Modern’s Hot Corners—useful if you want to try and click its tiny Start button without accidentally activating a Windows 8 hot corner, but poor if you want to access any of the hot-corner options.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Big on pinning, if there’s a small list of apps that you only really ever use.</li> <li>Doesn’t work with your Windows Key; disables too much of Modern with no customizability.</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/power_8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/power_8_small.jpg" title="Power 8" width="620" height="610" /></a></p> <p>About that Start button—we wish that Power 8 came preconfigured with a larger button than the wee sliver the app stashes on the lower-left corner of your screen. The app’s glowing shortcut text is a bit tough on the eyes, and you’re forced to click a giant “Start Menu” button within the, er, Start Menu, just to access your standard Programs folder. No, thanks.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Classic Shell</h4> <p><strong>A Swiss Army knife of Start Menu approaches</strong></p> <p>The freeware app Classic Shell is a bit like using a bazooka to kill a fly. In this case, we commend the carnage. Once installed, the app allows you to slap a Start Menu button directly within Windows 8’s Desktop Mode that can be configured to operate in one of three ways: Windows Classic, Windows XP, or Windows 7.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/classic_shell_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/classic_shell_small.jpg" title="Classic Shell" width="620" height="269" /></a></p> <p>And, yes, Classic Shell comes with illustrated examples for those who don’t quite remember the differences between the three Start Menu setups.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>A great app for ignoring Modern completely.</li> <li>Highly customizable, with more options than Windows would give you natively.</li> <li>Bonus tweaks to File Explorer, which you can enable and disable at your leisure.<strong><br /></strong></li> </ul> <p>Other fun tweaks the app enables are the much-longed-for ability to bypass Windows 8’s Modern UI entirely in favor of a direct boot to Desktop Mode, a sea of configuration options that you can use to tweak your Start Menu to your liking, and Classic Explorer, which adds some creative visual tweaks to File Explorer itself!</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>ViStart</h4> <p><strong>Not too shabby, minus its weird name</strong></p> <p>It might feel a bit jarring at first when ViStart asks you to create a new Toolbar that it’ll use as your Start button, but don’t be scared off by the app’s treatment. You can still tap your Windows Key to launch the new menu—or at least, we could until the Windows Key started loading Modern again (a quick reset fixed that).</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Simple look and feel with a variety of switchable skins and decent display configuration.</li> <li>Scrolling programs menu should be replaced with one that shows all of your programs and folders at once.</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/vistart_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/vistart_small.jpg" title="Vistart" width="450" height="607" /></a></p> <p>ViStart’s scrolling programs menu mimics the conventional Windows 7 Start Menu, and its left-most shortcuts are convenient and customizable—you can even add brand-new ones if you’re down for a little bit of text-file editing. The app lets you bypass Modern upon booting and lets you customize which of Windows 8’s hot corners you’d like to flip on and off—a lovely touch. The app’s search leaves a little to be desired, as you can’t Ctrl-A all of your text and delete it en masse when you want to search for new things.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartW8</h4> <p><strong>Simple, easy, could be a bit more customizable</strong></p> <p>The no-frills freeware app StartW8 throws up a fairly simplified iteration of Windows 7’s Start Menu within your Windows 8 installation, up to and including the familiar scrollable list of folders and shortcuts buried within its “All Programs” link.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>A few-frills Start Menu app that gives you a classic, compact look.</li> <li>You can’t really manipulate your typical Start Menu shortcuts (our kingdom for a “pinning” option!).</li> </ul> <p>It’s a bit of a bummer that StartW8 doesn’t come with a way to pin most-used shortcuts to the Start Menu itself, or even change the order in which your shortcuts appear on StartW8’s “recent” section.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startw8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startw8_small.jpg" title="StartW8" width="500" height="525" /></a></p> <p>Nestled within Start8’s settings menu is a useful option that lets Windows 8 skip away from Modern and pull up your Windows Desktop when the OS loads. You’re also allowed to disable Modern’s hot corners in various configurations—we appreciate that Start8 resists an “all or nothing” approach. StartW8 lets you edit the menu items that the app tosses on the rightmost part of the Start Menu, but you can’t customize your own shortcuts.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>Pokki</h4> <p><strong>A lovely looking Start Menu… if it installs</strong></p> <p>Pokki isn’t so much a Start Menu replacement as it is a kitchen sink of utilities for the social enthusiast. In theory, the app gives you a brand-new Start Menu in Windows 8 that’s packed full of far more than you probably need on your Start Menu, including hooks to an app store that you can use to supplement your Pokki Start Menu with social networking tie-ins, games, and other web-themed fare.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Start Menu certainly looks pretty, but we’re wary of additional tie-ins.</li> <li>Frustrating installation setup, in that it didn’t work out for us at all.</li> <li>Perhaps Windows 8 (x64) users need not apply?</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/pokki_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/pokki_small.jpg" title="Pokki" width="550" height="551" /></a></p> <p>The problem? It doesn’t work. We had a great deal of trouble getting Pokki installed on our 64-bit system; either the app would install “correctly” and just not do anything (or even give the appearance that it was installed on our system), or the installation program would just hang, and hang, and hang. Trying to uninstall Pokki after an unsuccessful installation informed us that we didn’t have sufficient rights to do so. Argh.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page to read about Start Menu 7 and more.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Start Menu 7</h4> <p><strong>Display all the apps</strong></p> <p>Boom! That’s the sound Start Menu 7 should make the first time you click its four-color icon and get all of your programs blasted across your screen on one of the largest Start Menus we’ve ever encountered—thankfully, you can adjust the menu’s height and width as if it were a standard Windows… window.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>All of your apps in one giant start menu!</li> <li>Virtual folders can help get your shortcuts a bit more organized.</li> <li>Creating a “Favorites list” of shortcuts is a little annoying.</li> </ul> <p>You can configure Start Menu 7 to load itself, or Modern’s Start screen, via your keyboard’s Windows Key (or Shift + Windows Key combination). Flipping Windows 8’s hot corners on and off is as easy as clicking the available graphic and, yes, Start Menu 7 can bypass Modern when your system boots.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start_menu_7_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start_menu_7_small.jpg" title="Start Menu 7" width="620" height="468" /></a></p> <p>The app comes with five different skins for its Start Menu. More importantly, you can use the app to create “virtual groups” of folders and shortcuts for extra organization. The app’s “pinning” process for sticking shortcuts to the Start Menu could be a bit more streamlined, however.</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartIsback</h4> <p><strong>A Windows 7 Start Menu with little to no fuss</strong></p> <p>As an Irish lad, this reviewer does appreciate that StartIsBack uses a shamrock embedded in an orb as the default icon for the Start Menu it jury-rigs into your operating system. Even better, the Start Menu itself looks and operates swimmingly—as if you ripped it straight out of Windows 7 and dumped it into Windows 8. In fact, we’d assume you were just natively running Microsoft’s older OS if you sat us down at Windows 8’s Desktop Mode with StartIsback running. It’s that slick.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startisback_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startisback_small.jpg" title="StartIsback" width="500" height="622" /></a></p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Slick, smooth, and problem-free re-creation of the Windows 7 Start Menu.</li> <li>Tons of configuration options.</li> <li>You’ll have to download a new Start Menu orb if you’re not a big Ireland fan.</li> </ul> <p>StartIsBack comes with a number of configuration options for tweaking the look and feel of your Start Menu. The app also lets you bypass Modern entirely when booting, though it also gives you a host of options for configuring the nuances of Modern’s hot corners.</p> <p>Our favorite trick? The option that lets you sticky a taskbar within Modern itself. Take that, Windows 8 UI design.</p> <p><strong>$3,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>RetroUI Pro</h4> <h4>More features than a standard Start Menu</h4> <p>We like the look of RetroUI Pro, but some of its raw functionality—and default configurations—leave a little to be desired.</p> <p>For starters, we hate this Start Menu’s “pinning” feature, which requires you to click into a separate “edit mode” to sticky your most-used apps to your Start Menu. A simple, ever-present “pin” icon could have solved this bit.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/retroui_pro_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/retroui_pro_small.jpg" title="RetroUI Pro" width="620" height="378" /></a></p> <p>We also think it’s weird that Modern apps appear by default within your Start Menu’s All Programs listing, a feature you can thankfully switch off within RetroUI Pro’s settings. You can also configure away Modern’s hot corners, but you can’t specify which you’d like to toggle on or off—it’s all or nothing. At least RetroUI Pro really lets you tweak the links that appear on the Start Menu itself.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Plenty of customization.</li> <li>Built-in “ModernUI” Start Menu skin is downright atrocious; stick with Windows 7.</li> <li>TabletView gives you more of a visual, Modern-like shortcut list for launching apps.</li> </ul> <p>Additionally, RetroUI Pro’s “Enforce” technology does a great job of sticking your taskbar to the bottom of the screen when you run Modern apps.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>Start8</h4> <p><strong>Good looks meet powerful customizability</strong></p> <p>As far as looks go, Start8 presents a very convincing replica of the Windows 7 Start Menu with a few fun twists. First up, switching between that and a Windows 8–themed start menu—a mini-Modern, as it were—is super-easy to do within Start8’s simple configuration app. It’s as easy as changing the skins on the Windows 7 Start Menu, and you get five of those to choose from.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Powerful functionality (and multi-monitor options).</li> <li>Adding Start Menu shortcuts to custom locations on your system is a breeze.</li> <li>No way to sticky your taskbar to the bottom of Modern.</li> </ul> <p>As an aside, we love how all of your configuration changes occur in real time within the Start Menu—super-useful for testing out particular settings.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/start8_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/start8_small_2.jpg" title="Start8" width="620" height="607" /></a></p> <p>Start8 allows you to customize the various shortcuts that appear on the right side of the Start Menu, including adding shortcuts to any custom locations you want. You can set how you want your Windows Key to work and how Modern’s hot corners should run and, yes, Start8 lets you boot right into Desktop Mode, as well. Delightful!</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>StartMenuPlus8</h4> <p><strong>This isn’t a Start Menu; this is a punishment</strong></p> <p>The official website of StartMenuPlus8 looks a bit like a cross between a newbie Geocities site and a seizure, and we’re glad to see that the app itself follows suit—consistency’s important.</p> <p><strong>Highlights</strong></p> <ul> <li>Ugly</li> <li>Impractical</li> <li>We’d rather stick with Modern.</li> </ul> <p>The Start Menu button that StartMenuPlus8 creates on your taskbar is just a standard pinned application. You have to drag it over to the leftmost slot on your taskbar to mimic a start button and, even then, you get no way to disable Windows 8’s hot corners within the app.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/startmenuplus8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/startmenuplus8_small.jpg" title="StartMenuPlus8" width="620" height="453" /></a></p> <p>It’s hard to describe just how strange this app is, from its less-than-pleasing white-on-black color scheme; to its absurd amount of white space within the Start Menu itself; to the absurd level of unnecessary, difficult-to-parse detail packed into its single configuration window. You can’t fire up the Start Menu and start typing out a search, and some of the app’s own shortcut names don’t even fit on its Start Menu screen. Yuck.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h3>Five Other Ways to Tweak Windows 8</h3> <p><strong>If you want to spruce up the look of the rest of your operating system, we’ve got you covered!</strong></p> <p>It’s been a year and change since the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS, and it feels as if there’s still a dearth of apps for tweaking the operating system proper—besides all of the aforementioned Start Menu programs, of course. Still, we’ve identified five apps that do a pretty great job of making Windows 8 prettier, at the very least, and in some instances add new functionality that will enhance your new Modern lifestyle. Now that you’ve souped-up your Start Menu, it’s time to tackle the rest of the OS!</p> <h4>ModernMix</h4> <p>If you can’t stand the full-screen takeover brought on by the Modern portion of Windows 8, then ModernMix is worth the cost of lunch. This super-useful app allows you to run Modern apps as if they were standard applications, run in standard windows, right from Windows 8’s Desktop Mode. You can customize the size of the Modern apps themselves—in case you need a huge weather display, but just a tiny window for Skype—and you can pin them to your taskbar for easier access from your conventional desktop.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/modernmix_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/modernmix_small.jpg" title="ModernMix " width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <h4>Decor8</h4> <p>We’re big fans of those grayscale Windows 8 “wallpapers” for Modern’s Start screen—and no, we’re not being sarcastic. Even though they look a bit like someone pulled up their favorite Photoshop brush and went to town for a few minutes, they do add a pleasant aesthetic to Modern’s tiled interface.</p> <p>But you know us—we like customization. The app Decor8 unlocks the ability to turn any background you want into a wallpaper for your Start screen. You can randomize the backgrounds to set intervals if you want your Start screen to always look new and fresh, and the app will even automatically select a new color scheme for your tiles based on the colors of the background image you’ve selected.</p> <p>Yes, the Windows 8.1 preview adds this functionality, but it could be an interim solution while you wait for the final version.</p> <p><strong>$5,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <h4>OblyTile</h4> <p>If there’s one thing we especially detest about Modern’s interface, it’s that system tiles and downloaded apps get all the eye candy and our poor, simple shortcuts get ignored. The freeware OblyTile doles out a little love for your ugly-looking shortcuts by giving you the opportunity to customize them with their own thumbnail image, background color, and text color. Who needs Modern’s tile-grouping functionality when you have color coordination, anyhow?</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/oblytile_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/oblytile_small.jpg" title="OblyTile " width="500" height="647" /></a></p> <h4>Chameleon</h4> <p>The customization continues! Now that we’ve successfully freshened up the look of your Start screen, it’s time to give your Lock Screen a little bit of love—assuming you haven’t already used Windows 8’s Group Policy Editor to bypass the Lock Screen entirely. Chameleon, found via the Windows Store, isn’t the most intuitive of Modern apps. However, what it lacks in instruction, it makes up for in comprehensiveness.</p> <p>Using the app, you can have Windows 8 automatically update your Lock Screen’s background at set intervals and using a number of images from your computer’s photo library or various online sources—including NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and Bing’s Picture of the Day, to name a few.</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <strong>Windows App Store</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/chameleon_small__0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/chameleon_small_.jpg" title="Chameleon " width="620" height="328" /></a><br /></strong></p> <h4>UltraUXThemePatcher</h4> <p>This one’s simple. If you want to be able to install third-party themes within Windows 8 (as in, community-created themes instead of those bestowed from Microsoft directly), you’re going to need to patch your operating system with this simple tool. UltraUXThemePatcher is free, it’s fast, and it even backs up the original files it overwrites in case you need to uninstall the utility for some reason.</p> <p><strong>Free,</strong> <a href=""></a></p> 2013 best Classic Shell free September 2013 September issues 2013 Stardock start button startisback third party Windows 8 Start Menu Office Applications Software Features Tue, 11 Mar 2014 22:11:03 +0000 David Murphy 26792 at Best Web Browser <!--paging_filter--><h3>A ferocious free-for-all among the top web browsers</h3> <p>The landscape is evolving and you can either change with it or be left behind. This is the position browser makers find themselves in as cloud computing and touch interfaces take center stage, as Windows 8 with its vastly overhauled UI continues to wiggle into more homes and businesses around the world, and as web developers push increasing amounts of rich content at site visitors.</p> <h3><img src="" width="250" height="169" style="float: right;" /></h3> <p>Assuming all browsers handle online content reasonably well, you might be asking yourself why your choice of browser matters, since they’re all free to use. Don’t sell yourself short—you and every other computer user with an Internet connection matters to browser makers. More than just having an effect on your personal online experience, the browser you select is essentially a vote in favor of which company wields the most control over emerging and evolving web standards, which itself directly impacts how you see and experience the web.</p> <p>Secondly, there are advertising dollars at stake. The majority of Mozilla’s funding for Firefox comes from Google, which pays the open source browser maker an obscene amount of cash (around $300 million annually) to have its search engine the default option.</p> <p>There’s a lot at stake, and on the following pages, we’ll weigh in on each browser’s strengths and weaknesses. When evaluating a browser, we look for standout features, security protocols, privacy options, and raw speed. The stage is set, but which will emerge the victor: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Opera?</p> <h3>Mozilla Firefox 23</h3> <p><strong>Fast and nimble, but no longer the pack leader</strong></p> <p>In the little more than two years that elapsed since our last major browser brouhaha, Mozilla has taken Firefox from version 4 all the way to version 23, which itself is likely to be a version or two behind by the time you read this. That’s because Mozilla adopted a rapid release schedule that sees a new build around every 6 weeks. Mozilla felt pressured to keep up with fast evolving web standards like HTML5 and decided it was best to push out new features as quickly as possible. As a result, Firefox never gets outdated, though new builds end up feeling more like micro-updates rather than major revisions.</p> <h4>What’s New</h4> <p>If we focus solely on Firefox 23, there’s not a lot that’s new compared to the previous release. Mozilla removed some of the shine from the logo, added a button to the toolbar to share websites with participating social networks like Facebook, and beefed up security. Over the course of the last several releases, however, Firefox added a built-in PDF reader, gained a social API, added support for Retina displays on Mac OS X 10.7 and up, and made a few other tweaks. Somewhere along the line, Mozilla finally managed to plug the infamous memory leak issue that plagued earlier versions.</p> <h4>Security</h4> <p>Mozilla diligently patches security holes in each new release. In Firefox 23, Mozilla shored up its browser’s defenses by injecting a mixed-content blocking mechanism. When a secure HTTPS page loads non-secure, unencrypted content over HTTP (known as mixed content), you’re susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. Mozilla’s mixed-content blocker doesn’t let non-secure, active content through by default, thereby providing a layer of protection against these attacks. Cool, right?</p> <p>What’s not so cool is that Mozilla made it unnecessarily difficult to disable JavaScript by removing the option from the Contents tab in the Options menu. To flip the switch, you either have to install a third-party extension or poke around about:config settings.</p> <h4>Privacy</h4> <p>One feature we hoped Firefox would have added by now is turning on the Do Not Track (DNT) setting by default. Much to the chagrin of advertisers who serve up tracking cookies, Mozilla has long planned to do this, but it keeps getting delayed for one reason or another. Still, it’s there as an option, and so is the infamous private-browsing, which lets you surf the web without leaving any trace of your whereabouts once you close the browser.</p> <h4>Performance</h4> <p>Firefox 23 flexes a fair amount of web-rendering muscle, but it no longer has the quickest draw of the bunch. Out of the five browsers tested, Firefox 23 came in third in its own Kraken JavaScript benchmark, losing to Chrome and Opera. Not by much, mind you, but losing on its home turf underscores the changing of the guard that’s taken place since our last browser roundup (June 2011).</p> <h4>Power-User Tips</h4> <p>1. Since it’s not enabled by default, manually turn on Firefox’s Do Not Track feature by clicking on the Firefox menu and navigating to Options &gt; Options &gt; Privacy. Select the radio button that reads, “Tell sites that I do not want to be tracked.”</p> <p>2. To disable JavaScript, type about:config in the URL bar. Find javascript.enabled, right-click, and select Toggle to change the value to False.</p> <p>3. Need more real estate? Click Firefox &gt; Options &gt; Toolbar layout and check “Use Small Icons.”</p> <p>1) New to Firefox 23, you can now share websites on Facebook by clicking a button in the toolbar. Other social sites plan to integrate this function, too.</p> <p>2) To poke your head underneath the hood, type about:config in the URL bar and explore the underlying parts. Be careful though, changing settings can bork your browser.</p> <p>3) Other than the optional sidebar, Firefox 23 is virtually identical in appearance to Firefox 4 from two years ago. Now that Windows 8 is here, we suspect Mozilla will tweak the UI for touch navigation.</p> <p>4) Whoops, did you accidentally close a tab? Bring it right back by pressing Ctrl+Shift+T. If you want even more control over tabs, hunt down the Tab Mix Plus add-on.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/0-fb-landinpage_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/0-fb-landinpage_small_0.jpg" width="620" height="397" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to read about Opera and Chrome.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Opera 15</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">For years, Opera’s development team championed strict web standards through their own rendering engine called Presto. Maintaining a relevant rendering engine is a massive undertaking, so for version 15, Opera Software made the decision to swap out Presto for Google’s Blink engine, which is a fork of Webkit and the same one driving Chrome. It’s a significant change and one that allows the Norwegian browser maker’s small team to narrow their focus on Opera’s complementary features and security.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">A new rendering engine is just one of the many changes in Opera 15, not all of them positive. Bookmarks have vanished (Opera Software plans to return them in a future release), and the integrated M2 email and news client played a disappearing act just like Presto. In their place is an overhauled UI that more closely resembles Chrome, along with a combined address and search bar.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Opera’s Speed Dial feature lists thumbnails of saved web pages on new tab windows, and new to Opera 15 is the ability to group and search entries. Also new are Stash and Discover entries in new tab windows. When you click the heart icon in the address bar, Stash will take a snapshot of the website, while Discover lists news clips from around the web.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Finally, Opera 15 introduces an Off-Road mode that adopts server-side compression technology found in Opera Mobile.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">By making the transition to Blink, Opera 15 becomes the beneficiary of security protocols included in the Chromium project, such as running tabs in separate processes and sandboxing. Opera also adopts a rapid release schedule for more frequent security updates, both as it pertains to Blink as well as parts of the browser not related to Chromium (everything but the engine).</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Opera 15 retains the ability to open a private-browsing window, which you can run alongside a non-private session. The feature is more easily accessible in Opera’s main drop-down menu. Opera 15 also supports Do Not Track requests, though the feature is turned off by default.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">The Blink rendering engine gives Opera an instant speed boost that puts the browser nearly on par with Chrome. In our benchmark tests, Chrome 29 still edged out Opera 15 in most tests, though Opera was faster in Microsoft’s Lawn Mark 2013 test. Furthermore, neither browser ever left the other one in the dust. That’s an impressive testament to Opera’s upgraded code, since Chrome ended up being the fastest of the bunch.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/opera_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/opera_small.jpg" alt="Opera 15 does away with traditional bookmarks, but you can “Stash” websites with screenshot previews that appear on the Start page and new tab windows." title="Opera" width="620" height="318" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Opera 15 does away with traditional bookmarks, but you can “Stash” websites with screenshot previews that appear on the Start page and new tab windows.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Chrome 29</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>All hail the new king</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Chrome recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and though it required a few coats of polish to really shine, most users today couldn’t or wouldn’t want to fathom a world without Google’s quick and nimble browser. To wit, Chrome did what no other browser could do—it dethroned Internet Explorer in market share, at least according to StatCounter’s data. NetMarketShare still has IE in the lead, but the mere fact that Chrome is even in the discussion is a remarkable achievement for such a young browser.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Google decided early on that a rapid release schedule made the most sense, so like Firefox, individual updates typically lack hordes of killer features to make you pump your fist in excitement. Over time, however, the experience gradually changes. In Chrome 29, Google added an immersive mode that hides the toolbar and shelf in full-screen mode until you hover over the top. There’s also a “Reset browser settings” to restore Chrome to its original state. If you’re in love with Windows 8’s touch-friendly interface, you’ll also adore running Chrome in Windows 8 Mode, which replaces IE as the default browser in the process.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Chrome 29 came with more than two dozen security patches, an unusually large amount. Part of the reason is because Google routinely rewards external security researchers with financial bounties for discovering bugs. Combined with Chrome’s automatic updates and sandbox approach to browsing, you’re about as protected as you can get outside of a virtual machine.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Up until version 23, one of the few criticisms you could make about Chrome was that it didn’t have a Do Not Track feature like IE and Firefox. Google took its sweet time adding DNT code to Chrome, but it’s there, only you have to hunt down the setting and manually turn it on just like in Firefox. Even when you do, the effectiveness of DNT hinges on whether websites honor your request or essentially tell you to go fly a kite.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">For browsing on the sly, Chrome’s Incognito mode erases the past more efficiently than Stephen King’s Langoliers.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Even Michael Jordan didn’t win every game he played in, and though it wasn’t a clean sweep for Chrome either, Google’s browser had the best score in more benchmarks than any of the other four contenders in this roundup. And unlike in our browser cage fight from two years ago, Chrome now boasts hardware acceleration.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Power-User Tips</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">1. Install the Omnibox Timer extension to set reminders in the Omnibar while you’re at your PC. Once installed, activate a timer by typing TM in the Omnibar and then something like, “15 stand up and take a break” to be reminded in 15 minutes to move around. (Protip: Sitting for long stretches is bad for your health.)</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2. Google isn’t your only search option in Chrome. Type Amazon in the Omnibar followed by the Tab key and then type in your search query. You’ll see the option to bring up search when you start typing in websites you’ve previously visited. Alternately, type the name of a site followed by a colon and then your search query (e.g., MaximumPC: Intel).</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3. Fancy yourself a code junkie? Right-click a website and select “Inspect element” to spy a site’s code.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">1) If you’re not digging Internet Explorer in Windows 8’s Modern UI, you can swap it out for Chrome. Once you do, it always runs that way, even if you launch Chrome from the desktop.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2) There’s no need for a dedicated search bar in Chrome. The Omnibar (or address bar) also functions as a search bar.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3) Type chrome://flags in the Omnibar to bring up a wealth of experimental features to play around with. As always, be careful flipping switches willy-nilly, lest Chrome start acting in unexpected ways.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">4) Signing into Chrome allows you to sync your settings and data from one PC to another. Just sign into the same account when you get home to bring up your work PC’s Chrome session.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/chrome_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/chrome_small.jpg" title="Chrome 29" width="620" height="389" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: left;"><em>Click the next page to read about Safari and Internet Explorer.</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Safari 5.1.7</h3> <p><strong>Apple abandoned it, and so should you</strong></p> <p>The last time Apple updated its Safari browser for Windows desktops was in May 2012, and that was just a minor housekeeping patch. Apple left Windows users behind when it introduced Safari 6 for Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and while the Cupertino outfit hasn’t explicitly stated Safari will never make a return to Microsoft’s OS, there’s little reason to believe it will. Safari was never able to carve out a significant share of the browser market anyhow, though both NetMarketShare and StatCounter agree that there are more web surfers on Safari than Opera, so leaving Windows users behind might not have been the best long-term decision.</p> <h4>What’s New</h4> <p>Though Apple has turned a blind eye to Windows users, the latest version of Safari is still available to download. Prior to abandonment, Safari’s Reading List feature alone was reason to consider the browser. What it does is let you save web pages you don’t have time to read and return to them later, online or offline. Think of it as a temporary bookmarks feature that self-destructs once you’ve brought up a saved page.</p> <p>Safari Reader is another element of the browser we liked. It strips web pages to the bare essentials, removing most ads and preventing pop-ups.</p> <h4>Security</h4> <p>Safari’s biggest security feature is running web processes in a restricted environment, otherwise known as sandboxing. Pretty snazzy, except that it only runs that way on Mac OS, so it’s a feature that’s of absolutely no benefit to Windows users—boo! On the plus side, it’s rather easy to disable JavaScript, pop-up windows, and plugins from the Security tab in Preferences. Safari will also warn users when visiting a website it deems fraudulent.</p> <h4>Privacy</h4> <p>Safari blocks third-party cookies by default, a feature that’s found in the browser’s Privacy panel. It also contains an option to remove all website data with a couple of mouse clicks. In the same panel is an option to limit website access to location services. Some websites use information about your location to enable certain features and services, but if you’d rather keep that information private, you can disable it altogether or be prompted when a website requests your whereabouts.</p> <h4>Performance</h4> <p>In the majority of benchmarks, Safari came in dead last, especially when testing for JavaScript performance. The dated browser supports limited hardware acceleration in Windows, but it wouldn’t even run two of the three Microsoft test demos.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/safari_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/safari_small.jpg" alt="Click the Reader button in the address bar to de-clutter noisy websites and side-step pop-up ads." title="Safari 5.1.7" width="620" height="333" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Click the Reader button in the address bar to de-clutter noisy websites and side-step pop-up ads.</strong></p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Internet Explorer 11</h3> <p style="text-align: left;"><strong>An old browser reborn and bred for Windows 8</strong></p> <p style="text-align: left;">It wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to rebuild Windows without also revamping the parts that integrate with it, and so what we have in Internet Explorer 11 is a vastly different browser compared to previous releases. Yes, it will probably be available for Windows 7 by the time you read this, but it’s really intended to complement the vision Microsoft set out for Windows 8, which includes a heavy dose of touch interaction and interoperability across a range of Windows devices and screen sizes.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">While the version we’re testing is a Preview release, it’s very close to what the final build will be like, unlike an early beta, which could be missing key features and/or suffer from stability issues.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">What’s New</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">When firing it up from the Start screen, IE11 looks and feels like a brand-new browser rather than an upgrade of an existing one. That’s not really surprising since the same could be said of Windows 8 compared to previous versions. The first thing you’ll notice is that Microsoft moved the address bar to the bottom of the browser. It hides out of view to give you a full-screen browsing experience, though you can bring it back up with a right-click or swipe up from the bottom. If you have a touchscreen, you’ll also use swiping gestures to navigate forward and backward.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Outside of touch controls, the feature we’re most excited about is side-by-side browsing. While Windows 8 insists on running applications in full-screen mode, the side-by-side feature in IE11 allows you to view multiple websites at the same time, and you can resize the width of each one. This is handy for comparison shopping, among other uses.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">We’re only scratching the surface here. Microsoft lifted the limit of open tabs from 10 to 100 per window, which appear as scrollable tiles just above the address bar. Non-active tabs are suspended so they don’t drag down your PC’s performance or adversely affect battery life. Microsoft also implemented hardware-accelerated 3D web graphics through WebGL, plug-in-free HTML5 video support, and the ability to pin websites as live tiles on the Start screen—phew!</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Security</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">By default, IE11 turns on Enhanced Protected Mode (EPM), which only allows compatible add-ons like toolbars, browser helper objects (BHOs), and extensions to load. Furthermore, EPM shoves untrusted web content into a restricted environment sort of like a sandbox.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Instead of letting WebGL content run wild, it’s put through a pre-screening stage in IE11. It also runs on top of DirectX, so if malicious content bombards the GPU and takes it out, it will reset rather than crash the entire system.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Privacy</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">Microsoft was the first browser maker to turn on its Do Not Track feature by default, and that setting is retained in IE11. New to IE11, however, is a User-Granted Exceptions option so that users can grant permission to websites to use cookies that request it.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">InPrivate browsing mode is still available in IE11, though it’s not obvious when surfing from the Start screen. You can use the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+P) or bring up the Tabs menu and press the Tab tools button on the right-hand side.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Performance</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">IE11 posted the best SunSpider score in this roundup, which measures JavaScript performance. It was also the fastest in Microsoft’s 3D demos, especially Lawn Mark 2013, a benchmark Microsoft claims “uses emerging HTML5 techniques.” We’re a bit skeptical of the discrepancy in scores, as are Chrome developers, one of which stated in a Chromium forum that the benchmark is “running intentionally slow JavaScript in all browsers besides IE.” Still, it shows that IE11 is able to render 3D graphics at a fast clip, and surfing the web certainly feels fast as well.</p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">Power-User Tips</h4> <p style="text-align: left;">1. To add a website as a live tile, click the Star icon (Favorites) and then the Pin icon.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2. You can pin the address bar permanently to the bottom of the screen by bringing up the Charms menu (swipe or press Windows Key+C) and selecting Settings &gt; Options. Under the Appearance heading, flip the dial to On.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3. Sites not showing up correctly? Fire up IE11 in Desktop and press Alt. Select Tools &gt; Compatibility View settings.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">1) Side-by-side allows you to view multiple pages in separate, resizable Windows.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">2) It’s not the least bit obvious, but those three dots designate the Tab tools option. Click or tap to initiate an InPrivate browsing session.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">3) You’re no longer limited to just 10 open tabs. In IE11, you can have as many as 100 per window. Equally cool is the preview view of each one, which you can scroll through.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">4) Microsoft relocated the address bar to the bottom of the browser where it’s better optimized for touch. Just swipe up from the bottom (or right-click your mouse) to make it appear.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/ie_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/ie_small.jpg" width="620" height="401" /></a></p> <p><em>Click the next page to see what our overall pick for best web browser is!</em></p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">The Straight Dope</h3> <p><img src="/files/u154082/google_chrome_image.jpg" alt="best web browser" title="best web browser" width="250" height="250" style="float: right;" /></p> <p style="text-align: left;">With all due respect to diehard Firefox fans, the spunky browser is no longer our favorite vehicle for surfing the web. That distinction now belongs to Chrome, the sleekest and fastest browser available. Our primary gripe with Chrome in our last browser roundup two years ago was that it didn’t support hardware acceleration without mucking around with secret code. That’s long been addressed and our only lingering concern is that Google may cater to advertisers a bit too much, hence it being the last of the major browsers to implement Do Not Track technology, which still isn’t turned on by default.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">We also have to give props to Microsoft for its work with Internet Explorer 11. If you’re rocking a touchscreen in Windows 8/8.1, you may prefer to use IE11 over Chrome simply because it’s better suited for touch navigation. It’s also fast, though we’re calling shenanigans on Microsoft’s own tech demos, which seem to heavily favor its own browser over the competition, even though others also boast GPU acceleration. Still, it’s the best version of IE yet, and we especially like the side-by-side browsing feature when launching the browser from the Start screen.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Where does that leave the others? Firefox is still a great browser with a rich catalog of extensions, and Opera is one to keep an eye on now that it shares DNA with Chrome. That leaves Safari as the odd man out, a decision Apple ultimately made for the masses by discontinuing support for Windows.</p> <p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-style: italic;">Note: This article was originally featured in the December 2013 issue of the magazine.</span></p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>Firefox 23</td> <td>Chrome 29</td> <td>Internet Explorer 11</td> <td>Opera 15</td> <td>Safari 5</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Futuremark Peacekeeper</td> <td class="item-dark">2,348</td> <td><strong>3,760</strong></td> <td>WNR</td> <td>3,536</td> <td>1,803</td> </tr> <tr> <td>SunSpider 1.0.1 (ms)</td> <td>179.8</td> <td>194.4</td> <td><strong>159.1</strong></td> <td>205.8</td> <td>244.7</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane v1</td> <td class="item-dark">14,227</td> <td><strong>15,075</strong></td> <td>9,965<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>14,919</td> <td>3,188</td> </tr> <tr> <td>NonTroppo Table Rendering (ms)</td> <td>527</td> <td>338</td> <td>589<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>383</td> <td><strong>190</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>GUIMark 3 (fps)</td> <td><strong>62.56</strong></td> <td>61.66</td> <td>59.98</td> <td>59.85</td> <td>60.68</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Mozilla Kraken 1.1 (ms)</td> <td>1,994.9</td> <td><strong>1,727.5</strong></td> <td>3,182.5</td> <td>1,749.5</td> <td>12,493.7</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Acid3</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> <td>100</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Beta Fish IE Demo (fps)</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> <td>60</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Penguin Mark Demo</td> <td>168</td> <td>185</td> <td><strong>9,479</strong></td> <td>66</td> <td>WNR</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Microsoft Lawn Mark 2013 (sec)</td> <td>488.35</td> <td>543.05</td> <td><strong>11.17</strong></td> <td>514.31</td> <td>WNR</td> </tr> <tr> <td></td> <td>428</td> <td><strong>476</strong></td> <td>361</td> <td>451</td> <td>280</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ClubCompy</td> <td>10,128</td> <td><strong>10,128</strong></td> <td>16,656</td> <td>20,324</td> <td>13,384</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is an Intel Core i7 930, Asus P6X58D Premium, 12GB Corsair DDR3/1866 RAM, Radeon HD 7970, OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SSD, and Windows 8.1 64-bit.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> 2013 best web browser google chrome Internet Explorer Mozilla Firefox Opera Safari web browsers Software News Utilities December 2013 Features Fri, 07 Mar 2014 23:20:27 +0000 Paul Lilly 27217 at How to Build a Computer Test Bench <!--paging_filter--><h3><span style="font-weight: bold;">The basics of building an open-air test bench</span></h3> <p>While we typically follow a standard formula for our Build It section every month, sometimes it's nice to deviate a bit from the norm and explore different types of systems that are a bit more unconventional. One such system is the type of build we use at Maximum PC HQ for testing hardware, known as the open-air test bench. We have several of them deployed throughout the office alongside our standard-issue desktop PCs, and both types of machines serve an important purpose. The standard desktops are great for YouTube and Reddit, and occasional “work,” while the open-air test benches are used for most of our component testing since they let us swap a video card, CPU, SSD, RAM stick, or even the entire motherboard with minimal effort. When you’re using an open test bench setup on top of a desk, you’ll never again have to dig through the guts of your computer while on your hands and knees, with a flashlight clenched in your teeth. All you need to set up one&nbsp; for yourself is a basic set of spare parts, and it will let you operate like a civilized gentleperson, from the comfort of a chair, without breaking a sweat. With that in mind, we thought we would show you <strong>how to build an open air test bench PC</strong>!&nbsp;<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_9.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_8.jpg" title="Main Image" width="620" height="609" /></a><br /></strong></p> <h3>Thinking Outside the Case<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h3> <p>There are a lot of reasons any died-in-the-wool hardware enthusiast would want to have a test bench up and running at all times. The most obvious is that it’s great for quickly testing a stick of RAM, a malfunctioning piece of hardware, or benchmarking hardware outside of a system that needs to be used for productivity. At Maximum PC, our bench of choice is the <a title="top deck" href=";Category_Code=TopTechLRG" target="_blank">Top Deck Tech Station Kit</a> made by HighSpeed PC ($140, <a href=""></a>). This is a two-tier workbench, where the motherboard sits on the upper tray, and the power supply and storage devices (or other external bay items) sit on the lower tier. The station’s legs, rails, and PCI-card support brace are all made of sturdy and nonconductive materials, and the kit supports a decent amount of hardware, too. The top of the tray looks just like a standard motherboard tray in that it has rubber standoffs for clearance. A nylon guide post helps you align add-on cards with their slots in the motherboard, and a bundled neoprene mat helps prevent items in the lower tray from sliding around. In place of your case’s power and reset switches, there are switches you plug into the board's front-panel connectors that allow you to turn the machine on, reboot, monitor drive activity, and hear the PC speaker. Yes, they are pricey, but very durable and able to accommodate hardware not even conceived of yet, due to their open-air design and flexibility. As always, there are several things to consider before diving in, so let’s take a look at what’s involved in letting your hardware go commando.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h4>1. On the Rails<strong>&nbsp;</strong></h4> <p>Storage devices slide into rails pre-installed on the underside of the upper tray, and they only accommodate 3.5-inch drives. The rails also have no holes for drive screws, by design—you just slide the drive in, then slide it out when you're done. If you want to install an SSD, you'll need to order a 2.5-inch rail kit separately at Or you can skip the adapter, since SSDs don't need to be near the 120mm fan that cools the devices in that area, and since they have no moving parts they don’t need to be stabilized at all times like a spinning hard drive. The rails are long enough to support two 3.5-inch drives, and we put SSDs on the lower tray dangling from their SATA power cables.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_23.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_22.jpg" title="Image A" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>2. More Able Cables</h4> <p>A modular power supply is extremely useful when trying to keep your cables organized in an open test bench. If you’re not using an optical drive, there's plenty of space in the lower tray alongside the power supply to store the bag that contains the unused cables. Orienting the power supply can be a little tricky, since the 8-pin CPU power cable has to go to the top of the board, the 24-pin motherboard cable goes to the side, and the SATA power cables go to the bottom. Therefore, our preferred setup is to have the cables going toward the top of the motherboard, and the AC power plug facing the "bottom" of the motherboard. We also recommend using a stock CPU cooler since it makes accessing the area around the CPU easier, and if you can, just use the CPU's integrated graphics since it gives you one less PCI Express power cable to deal with. If we're testing a CPU without integrated graphics, we just use an old GPU that doesn’t require PCIe power.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_15.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_14.jpg" title="Image B" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p><em>Click on page two for the rest of the instructions on how to build an open-air test bench PC</em>.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>3. Pushing Buttons</h4> <p>The buttons and lights on the front of an ATX case are very useful, and allow you to turn on your system, reboot it, and watch CPU and hard-drive activity. Open-air benches have similar buttons and lights—on this model it’s called the ATX control kit and features a set of buttons and LEDs that plug into the motherboard's front-panel connectors. It even comes with a PC speaker, so you can hear beep codes in order to help you diagnose hardware issues (unless your motherboard has a debug LED on it, making the speaker redundant). You could always short the power-on circuit yourself with a knife blade, but this is more… dignified.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_19.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_18.jpg" title="Image C" width="620" height="413" /></a></strong></p> <h4 style="text-align: left;">4. Feeling Pinched</h4> <p>The top tray has an array of standoffs that accommodate ATX, eATX, Mini-ITX, and microATX motherboards. The standoffs sit inside rubberized feet secured with Phillips screws, so you can easily pop them out of one spot and stick them into another. No screws actually touch the motherboard, of course; it just sits on top of the rubber feet. Again, this is by design, to make it easier to swap one board for another. It does complicate plugging in power cables though, as pressing down on one edge of the board can raise the other side. When the connector is large, like with the 24-pin power cable, you have to pinch the top and bottom of the board at the same time, sandwiching the connector, as shown in the photo. When the connector is small, like a USB 2.0 cable, you can just support the board from below with your hand, right underneath where the connector is going in.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/4_small_10.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/4_small_9.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>5. Getting Some Air</h4> <p>Thanks to the open design of this workbench, there are no limitations to the length of PCI cards (handy when Nvidia and AMD deliver the latest 12-inch monsters). Cards are slid into their expansion slots and secured to the support bracket with the included plastic screws. The support brace is supported by metal posts but is made of plastic to help prevent static discharge. There are a total of seven screw holes in the bracket, which should be more than enough for any mobo configuration.</p> <p>Once a video card, hard drive, or RAID controller is installed, you may want to add additional cooling that would normally occur by virtue of a case’s airflow, but is lacking in this setup. Your best bet is to just place a 120mm fan on the top tray to move air across the components — jerry-rigged, maybe, but effective. Since the fans are easily accessible, we like being able to control fan speeds with a fan mate, which is an inline fan speed controller. HighSpeed PC also sells extension kits for mounting additional fans on the rim of the upper tray, but we’ve never felt the need to add that much cooling.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/4_small_11.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="413" /></p> <h4>6. Dat Masscool</h4> <p>The workbench comes with a pre-installed 120mm Masscool fan with a grill that is mounted in between the bench’s two tiers, so it blows air over the top and bottom of the tray, hitting the motherboard and any storage devices sitting in the rails below. The fan is universally compatible too, sporting both a 3-pin and a 4-pin Molex cable, so it’ll work with any setup you have. That single fan should provide more than sufficient cooling for a basic workbench. It’s surprisingly quiet, but we also use the onboard fan control in our system BIOS to make sure it’s silent.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/6_small_13.jpg" title="Image F" width="620" height="413" /></p> <p>The ATX control kit is not bad, either. Each of the widgets has an embossed triangle indicating the positive wire, so connecting them is simple. It won't damage anything if you install them incorrectly; they simply won't work. Things got a bit tight on our test board when we tried to plug in the semi-stiff PC speaker widget, so we left it off. The workbench also includes an expansion bracket with both power and reset buttons, but it’s really cheap and its wires are a rat’s nest.</p> <h4>Final Thoughts</h4> <p>It probably takes longer to assemble the workbench than it does to install all of its hardware, but once you remove a conventional case from the equation, building goes 10 times faster. You have superior lighting and there is minimal cable management to work out. We also love not having to worry about feeling crowded or lacking in space when building these rigs. There are some downsides, though. This workbench doesn't really allow liquid cooling, as there’s nowhere to mount the radiator. It would also be nice to have a couple of fasteners to pin down the motherboard, and we’d love to have an SSD rail included instead of it being an expensive add-on. Also, $140 is a lot of money, but HSPC also sells a smaller ATX bench for $80 that will be fine for most users.</p> <p>Probably the biggest problem with these setups is the exposed fan blades on the CPU, GPU, and chassis. We can already see a small child or a pet getting in trouble around this thing, so be sure to take precautions before deploying one in your home.</p> 2013 build it computer how to build computer test bench maximum pc no case November issues 2013 Open Air Test Bench PC top deck tech station kit November 2013 Features How-Tos Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:38:22 +0000 Tom McNamara 26974 at