When we first saw prototypes of Thermaltake’s Level 10 concept chassis back in May, we were intrigued by its unique design but skeptical as to whether Thermaltake would ever actually produce it—and if it did, whether it would be any good. The answer to the first question is yes—it should be shipping by the time you read this. But is the most inventive chassis we’ve laid hands on since the Antec Skeleton actually a good case?
The Level 10, which Thermaltake designed with BMW, is not your standard ATX full-tower. Instead of a simple box shape, the Level 10 hangs its components from a central wall—basically a reinforced version of a standard case’s right side and frame. From this central wall protrude individual hinged covers: one each for PSU, optical drives, and the main motherboard compartment, as well as six SATA drive bays connected to a vertical aluminum heatsink. All cables between compartments are routed through the central pillar, behind the motherboard and drive trays, just like a standard case, resulting in an incredibly clean look—at least when the covers are closed. Red LEDs light a strip running from the front panel (with its four USB ports, one eSATA port, and audio ports), along the top to the rear. The case is huge, too, weighing 47 pounds and measuring 12.5 inches wide by 2 feet deep by 26 inches high.
Though solid state drives have existed for years, it is only recently that they’ve gained any sort of market penetration for average users. As we stated in our February 2009 white paper on the subject, solid state drives offer many advantages over traditional magnetic drives. Unlike mechanical hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts, so they draw less power and produce no vibrations. They’re also more resistant to physical shock. And most importantly, solid state drives offer much higher read and write speeds than traditional hard drives—at least when they’re new. Due to their NAND flash architecture, SSDs can suffer serious slowdowns once they run out of fresh blocks to write to. The TRIM command, found in Windows 7 and newer releases of the Linux kernel, aims to fix this. But what is TRIM, and why is it even necessary?
It’s been a long time since we tested a single-level cell (SLC) SSD, as the market has moved almost entirely over to multi-level cell (MLC) designs. MLC is favored because it’s cheaper to produce and each cell can store two bits of data, rather than one, so you can cram more storage into each flash unit. On the other hand, SLC is faster and is rated for 100,000 read/write cycles, as opposed to 10,000 for MLC. Naturally, SLC is preferred for enterprise solutions, while MLC has captured the consumer market. But with the introduction of the (relatively) affordable Agility EX series, OCZ is hoping to win back some of the consumer market for SLC.
The 60GB Agility EX pairs the popular Indilinx Barefoot controller—responsible for this generation’s blazing-fast, stutter-free SSDs—with 64GB of onboard SLC NAND. It’s worth noting that this is the same capacity as a standard 64GB SSD; OCZ just uses a binary naming convention. In our tests, the Agility EX’s sustained read speeds topped off at around 197MB/s, or approximately six percent slower than the second-gen Intel X-25M. Sustained write speeds, at 175MB/s, were the same as with the Patriot Torqx, an MLC drive using the same Indilinx controller. But the Agility really shone in application tests, with a five percent faster Premiere Pro encoding time and a 13 percent higher PCMark Vantage HDD score than the Torqx.
What sets a boutique builder apart from a huge OEM? Taking risks with hardware, that’s what.
Unfortunately, taking risks doesn’t always pan out. Take AVADirect’s Custom PC. Hot on the heels of numerous Core i7 rigs tipping the 4GHz and 4.2GHz range, AVADirect went a step further by clocking its Custom PC gaming rig at 4.4GHz. The company even goes so far as to include a custom profile for 4.7GHz—a speed the company had originally promised it would hit out of box, until cooler heads prevailed.
The bad news is that even at 4.4GHz, we were able to break the AVADirect machine with our stress test. The good news is that the machine remained stable in our benchmarking runs. Still, if we could stress it enough to reboot in two hours, someone else could, too. Working with AVADirect, we were able to get the machine to rock-solid levels at 4.4GHz, but it took several days of testing and more than 25 different BIOS combinations—which somewhat tarnishes the feat.
I have a Thermaltake DuOrb CPU cooler and when I installed it, I tightened the screws until I felt some tension, but I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. I have a Q6600 CPU and the temp was 34-36 C at 2.4GHz (stock). I overclocked my CPU to 2.8GHz and the temp went up to 38-42 C (idle). If I overclock to 3.0GHz the CPU gets too hot—55-65 C idle. Is there a proper way to tighten a CPU cooler for optimal performance?
In motherboards—as in life—it’s the little things that bring the greatest pleasure.
Take the new Core i5/i7 LGA1156 board, the Asus P7P55D Deluxe. Enthusiasts are used to the flashy heatsinks and tons of ports and slots, but small touches like Asus’s innovative RAM slots will make you take notice. Instead of using the typical latch connectors that can snag the GPU, Asus has designed a system that requires only one side of the RAM to be latched in.
But adding unexpected conveniences is Asus’s M.O. of late. The board also features snag-free I/O shields, a quick-connect for front-panel connectors, and ExpressGate—the somewhat handy pre-OS boot environment. Besides adding such extras, Asus said it spent an inordinate amount of time making sure the board overclocks like a champ. There are multiple ways to overclock: using the Turbo V function, AI Suite, and the OC Tuner in the BIOS. If that’s not enough, the company even includes three ominous switches to let you override BIOS limits on RAM, memory controller, and CPU voltage. Even more interesting is the Turbo V remote. This wired remote lets you power up or down and select from three overclocking profiles or crank up the Bclock in real time.
I built a home theater PC from scratch a while back. It has an Intel D945GCZLR motherboard with a Pentium D 925, a passively cooled GeForce 6600, and an Avermedia PCI-e Combo TV Tuner, all inside an Evercase ECE1341 case. I went with the best BTX CPU cooler I could find: the Thermaltake CL-P0191. This thing sounds like a lawn mower.
Even with plenty of airflow into the case and plenty of room in every direction on my entertainment system, the cooler is far louder than the 14-28dBA its marketing materials claim. I have already replaced the cooler’s fan once, but the new one was just as loud.
What can I do to quiet this thing down? Would upgrading to a cooler Core 2 Duo or Quad make a difference? What about upgrading to an actively cooled GPU? Even stock ATX coolers are cooler than this thing—can I just use one of those?
Facebook is the answer to a question no one asked: “How can I waste more of my time?” Compared to social network gaming, however, Facebook itself is as useful an invention as the cell phone.
Actually, I do like Facebook. I’ve used it to reconnect with dozens of people I used to know. Two of them are even people I like. A year after I first joined Facebook for the sole purpose of sharing pictures of a new puppy, I find myself updating my status, making comments, and listing things like the “Five TV Characters I Wish Were Real So We Could Hang.” (Dr. McCoy, Emma Peel, Hurley Reyes, Simon Templar, and Gomez Addams: another answer to a question no one ever asked sober or outside of a college dorm.)
I used Facebook for a year before I caved in and tried any social gaming. It held no appeal at all. I ignored the messages from friends asking me to join their Mafia, become part of their vampire clan, move in next door to their rutabaga farm, or contribute to efforts to elect Ron Paul president. (Oh, you mean they were serious about the Ron Paul thing?)
I bought two laptops for my two granddaughters about a year and a half ago. Now both have missing keys. Is there a way to purchase replacement keys, or do I need to buy a whole new keyboard? These two laptops are both Compaqs sold by HP. If I give HP the model number can I get a kit with all the key caps and a procedure for installation?