Maximum PC latest stories, 14 Feb 2016 08:46:23 +0000yesIn Case You Missed It - February 7-13 Edition highlight of the biggest and most interesting tech news stories of the past week.Sun, 14 Feb 2016 08:46:23 +0000 Newegg Daily Deals: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB SSD, WD Blue 1TB Mobile HDD, and More! your PC feeling a little sluggish? Are you still rocking a mechanical hard drive? If so, it's high time you step into the modern era with a solid state drive. Doing so can breathe new life into your PC, and these days it's a relatively affordable upgrade.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:06:59 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Samsung 850 Evo Ssd"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>Is your PC feeling a little sluggish? Are you still rocking a mechanical hard drive? If so, it's high time you step into the modern era with a solid state drive. Doing so can breathe new life into your PC, and these days it's a relatively affordable upgrade. Just check out today's top deal for a <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-SSD-N82E16820147373-_-0212&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Samsung 850 Evo 2.5-Inch 500GB SATA III 3-D Vertical Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)</a> for <strong>$140</strong> with free shipping (normally $154 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGFF23</strong>]). It boasts read and write times of up to 540MB/s and 520MB/s, respectively, and is backed by a 5-year warranty.</p><p>Other Deals:<strong></strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814487142-_-0212&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">EVGA GeForce GTX 980 6GB SC+ GAMING w/ACX 2.0+, Whisper Silent Cooling w/ Free Installed Backplate Graphics Card</a> for $630 with free shipping (normally $650; additional $20 Mail-in rebate; FREE GAME: Rise of the Tomb Raider w/purchase+Bombshell w/registration)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820231652-_-0212&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">G.Skill Mobile Devices (microSD) 64GB microSDXC Flash Card Model</a> for <strong>$14</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $19 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGFF37</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820148719-_-0212&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model</a> for <strong>$32</strong> with free shipping (normally $40 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGFF24</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822236496-_-0212&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">WD Blue 1TB Mobile 9.50mm Hard Disk Drive - 5400 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 2.5-Inch</a> for <strong>$58</strong> with free shipping (normally $65 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGFF33</strong>])</p> Extra Rugged Chromebook Can Withstand 365 Pounds Piled on Top's NL6x Chromebook can survive a 365-pound person standing on top of it.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 18:53:23 +0000 <h3>Don't try this at home</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ctl Nl6x"></p><p> Most Chromebooks are pretty rugged, as they have to be in order to withstand the daily rigors of school age children treating them like regular objects. Even so, we wouldn't recommend standing on top of one, not unless you're looking to crush the screen for some odd reason.</p><p> That attempt might not work with CTL's new NL6X Extra-Rugged Chromebook for Education (just NL6X from here on out). This thing's been fortified with a pressure-resistant cover (doubles as a whiteboard) and reinforced corners. The result? <a href="" target="_blank">CTL claims</a> that in-house testing showed it can survive up to a 365-pound person standing on top of the thing.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CTL NL6x Stand"></p><p> It's not really a silly demonstration. Classrooms are increasingly congested and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision one of these things being stepped on because little Billy laid it down next to his backpack on the floor.</p><p> The laptop is also drop resistant up to 70cm, has a non-slip texture, features reinforced ports and hinges, boasts a stronger and thicker rear cover and frame to absorb shocks, and has a water-resistant keyboard with anti-peel keys.</p><p> Other specs and features include an 11.6-inch display with a 1366x768 resolution, Intel Celeron N2940 processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB eMMC, 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.05, 720p webcam, full-size HDMI port, USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports (one each), 2-in-1 card reader, and of course Chrome OS.</p><p> CTL's NL6X is <a href="" target="_blank">available now</a> for $269.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a target="_blank" href="">Google+</a>, <a target="_blank" href="!/paul_b_lilly">Twitter</a>, and <a target="_blank" href="">Facebook</a></em></p> Canonical Releases Snappy Ubuntu Core Images for Intel's NUC now has Ubuntu Core images available for Intel's NUC, which it sees as an ideal IoT development platform.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 18:16:49 +0000 NUCinternet of thingsNewsUbuntu Core <h3>Building an IoT development platform</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Intel NUC"></p><p> The fast growing Internet of Things (IoT) market is ripe with opportunities for developers, though several of the solutions are based on ARM's architecture, like the Raspberry Pi. That's not inherently a bad thing, but for developers needing more power and not wanting to venture out of their comfort zones, which might lie in x86, there aren't quite as many solutions.</p><p> Canonical and Intel want to change that. They've been working together to create a standard platform for developers to test and create x86-based IoT solutions using Ubuntu Core, and now the first Ubuntu Core images for Intel's NUC DE3815TY are available to download.</p><p> "We focused on the Intel NUC for its relatively low cost point for a starter platform (around $150) and broad availability (you can even find them on Amazon!). This affordable device running Ubuntu Core offers a simple developer experience, making embedded development accessible to all with a deployment ready edge computing option for IoT," Canonical stated in a <a href=";utm_me" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p><p> While a NUC is more expensive than a Raspberry Pi, this pairing gives developers a more powerful solution to work with.</p><p> "The Intel NUC DE3815TY is an ideal IOT development platform! It’s got enough computing power to prototype for all embedded use cases with an Intel Atom processor. It also offers a lot of IOs and configuration options: USB ports, I2C ports, 4Gb eMMC and the possibility to add a wireless card, up to 8G of RAM and a 2.5 inch HDD or SSD," Canonical adds.</p><p> Canonical lists off several potential applications for a solution like this, including digital displays and retail kiosks. They could be used as Bluetooth beacons, people counting devices, and much more, depending on the apps installed.</p><p> Ubuntu Core, also known as Snappy, is a stripped down version of Ubuntu designed to run on autonomous machines, devices, and IoT gadgets in general. One of the major keys to Ubuntu Core is its app architecture, which is part of a larger modular design. Applications that run in Snappy are called Snapps and they run within the context for frameworks&mdash;each Snapp is packaged and deployed in an isolated directory on the filesystem.</p><p> Canonical just recently published its 15.04 Snappy image and will release a 16.04 LTS version for Intel's NUC within the next few months.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a target="_blank" href="">Google+</a>, <a target="_blank" href="!/paul_b_lilly">Twitter</a>, and <a target="_blank" href="">Facebook</a></em></p> Remedy Goofed in Recommending a GeForce 980 Ti for Quantum Break on PC's previous list of recommended specs for Quantum Break on PC were for running the game with Ultra settings.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 17:30:00 +0000 BreakRemedy <h3>Clearing up confusion</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Quantum Break"></p><p> There's seems to some confusion swirling around the release of Quantum Break, which was once touted as an Xbox One exclusive. That's no longer case&mdash;it's also shipping to Windows 10 PCs, and if you pre-order a copy for Xbox One before it launches on April 5th, you'll receive a complimentary copy for Windows 10 (plus a few other goodies, including Alan Wake on Xbox One).</p><p> That's a spiffy deal, especially if you have a teenager or someone else in the household that prefers consoles to PCs (as if!). This way you both win. Also, the game supports cross-platform saves, but not cross-platform play (it's a single-player title).</p><p> As for what it takes to run Quantum Break on PC, Remedy initially listed some pretty heavy hitting hardware for the recommended specs, including a GeForce GTX 980 Ti. That's a $650ish graphics card, though Remedy later <a href="" target="_blank">clarified</a> that its initial list was for running the game at Ultra graphics settings&mdash;phew!</p><p> Here's a look at the updated systems requirements across the board:</p><p> <strong>Minimum </strong></p><ul> <li>OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)</li> <li>DirectX: DirectX 12</li> <li>CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 (2.7GHz) or AMD FX-6300</li> <li>GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 or AMD Radeon R7 260X</li> <li>VRAM: 2GB</li> <li>RAM: 8GB</li></ul><p> <strong>Recommended</strong></p><ul> <li>OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)</li> <li>DirectX: DirectX 12</li> <li>CPU: Intel Core i5-4690 (3.9GHz) or AMD equivalent</li> <li>GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 390</li> <li>VRAM: 4GB</li> <li>RAM: 16GB</li></ul><p> <strong>Ultra</strong></p><ul> <li>OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)</li> <li>DirectX: DirectX 12</li> <li>CPU: Intel Core i7-4790(4GHz) or AMD equivalent </li> <li>GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti or AMD Radeon R9 Fury X</li> <li>VRAM: 6GB</li> <li>RAM: 16GB</li></ul><p> That's still some potent hardware for the recommended configuration, but much more manageable than what Remedy says you'll need to run the game at Ultra settings.</p><p> The other highlight here is the DirectX 12 requirement. That means if you're wanting to play Quantum Break on PC but are content with Windows 7 or 8.1, then yes, you'll have to upgrade to Windows 10&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">womp womp</a>.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a target="_blank" href="">Google+</a>, <a target="_blank" href="!/paul_b_lilly">Twitter</a>, and <a target="_blank" href="">Facebook</a></em></p> Google to Ban Flash-Based Ads by 2017 ads on Google's network will be gone by 2017Fri, 12 Feb 2016 14:44:33 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Google"></p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Google said this week</a> that its Google Display Network and DoubleClick Digital Marketing service will now be based on 100 percent HTML5 in order to reach more devices and to offer the best browsing experience. That means the company is phasing out advertisements based on Adobe Flash, a move that’s being seen across the Internet as companies and sites shift over to the safer HTML5 format.</p><p>Google said that starting June 30, 2016, advertisers will no longer be permitted to upload Flash advertisements into DoubleClick Digital Marketing and AdWords. All Flash ads that were uploaded before that date will no longer run on the Google Display Network or through DoubleClick starting January 2, 2017.</p><p>The company has been pushing advertisers to use HTML5 over the last few years so that they can reach a larger number of screens, namely mobile platforms like iOS and Android, which don’t officially support Flash. For instance, AdWords supports HTML5 and will convert Flash-based ads into identical HDML5 versions. The company also offers&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Google Web Designer</a>, a free, professional-grade HTML5 authoring tool.</p><p>Along with the announcement, <a href="" target="_blank">Google has released a document</a> to help advertisers update their Flash ads to HTML5. The file states that if advertisers have Flash-based ads running on third-party ad servers (such as DoubleClick Manager), they can either create a static image ad, or generate an HTML5 ad externally and upload it to their desired ad server. AdWords can’t detect whether ads on third-party servers use Flash or not, Google says.</p><p>The news arrives after <a href="" target="_blank">Adobe launched Animate CC</a>, ditching the Flash Professional name. The name change shouldn’t be surprising to those who have been following Adobe, as the company revealed the change late last year. The company boasts that Animate CC is one of the company’s biggest releases to date, adding tons of features and enhancements like new vector art brushes, stage scaling, SVG file importing, HTML5 canvas improvements, and more.</p><p>Just days ago,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Adobe patched</a> a number of critical vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. If left unfixed, these vulnerabilities could allow an attacker to take control of the customer’s desktop or laptop. Affected versions that were patched include Adobe Flash Player for Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11, the AIR Desktop Runtime, the AIR SDK, and more.</p><p>Google officially discarded Adobe Flash as the default video format for YouTube <a href="" target="_blank">at the beginning of 2015</a>. The move to the new format was gradual, allowing the audience to view their favorite videos without having to install a browser plugin. Additionally,&nbsp;Netflix revealed HTML5 support in Firefox <a href="" target="_blank">back in December</a>, first arriving on the Windows platform, and followed by OS X support sometime in 2016. The days of Flash finally seem to be numbered.</p> Asus Combines 4K, G-Sync with ROG Swift PG27AQ new addition to the company's line of gaming monitorsFri, 12 Feb 2016 14:27:52 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus ROG Swift PG27AQ"></p><p>This week, <a href="">Asus introduced</a> a new monitor called the <a href="">ROG Swift PG27AQ</a>, the latest member in the company’s line of gaming panels. The big news with this release&nbsp;is that Asus crammed a 4K IPS panel together with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, providing extremely high-resolution and flicker-free gameplay for those with a GeForce GTX 980 GPU or higher. The drawback to this marriage is that the display costs a meaty $900. Ouch.</p><p>According to Asus, the company has squeezed a 3840x2160 resolution into a 27-inch panel with a pixel&nbsp;density of 163ppi. Other specifications include a brightness of 300 cd/m2, a max contrast ratio of 1000:1, 178 degree viewing angles, a 4ms (Gray to Gray) response time, and a color range of 1.07 billion distinct hues. There are also two built-in 2-watt speakers and a 5-way OSD navigation joystick.</p><p>Asus says that the new ROG Swift PG27AQ features a narrow bezel, making it a great choice if you want a multi-display setup. The screen also provides a number of connectivity options including an HDMI port, a DisplayPort 1.2 jack, two USB 3.0 ports for quick-charging devices, and an earphone jack. Smart cable management located on the back of the monitor’s stand helps keep your gaming area tidy.</p><p>The new monitor provides the Asus-exclusive GamePlus hotkey, which offers up in-game enhancements such as a crosshair overlay that consists of&nbsp;four crosshair options. GamePlus also includes an on-screen timer for keeping track of your gaming duration, and an FPS counter so that gamers can monitor how smoothly frames are&nbsp;flowing. </p><p>In addition to GamePlus, the panel also features the company’s GameVisual technology. Essentially, that means the panel provides six preset display modes for different types of content: RTS/RPG, FPS, sRGB, Scenery, Racing, and Cinema. GameVisual is accessed through a hotkey, or by jumping into the panel's OSD settings menu.</p><p>As for other features, the monitor comes packed with a custom heatsink, promising to keep the panel cool during long gaming marathons, and utilizes a passive Smart Air Venting Design that generates airflow by using convective currents. The panel also sports ultra-low blue light technology so help protect your eyes from the harmful effects of blue light. </p><p>Finally, the addition of&nbsp;G-Sync technology means you shouldn’t see any stuttering or flickering while playing games with a compatible Nvidia GPU. With G-Sync, the monitor doesn’t display a frame until it’s provided by the GPU. In a typical non-G-Sync setup, the framerate offered by the GPU is different than the refresh rate of the monitor, which causes all that annoying screen tearing and lag.</p><p>While the specs of this new monitor look pretty, getting 4K frames at a steady 60 FPS takes some hardware meat, as the GPU must process around half a billion pixels per second, the company points out. Naturally, PC gamers wanting the highest resolution possible may want to check out the <a href="">ROG Matrix 980 Ti</a> card from Asus, which sports a GeForce GTX 980 Ti GPU that’s clocked 23 percent faster than stock. There are also similar GPU&nbsp;solutions on the market, of course.</p><p>As previously stated, the new panel is available now for <a href="">$900 at Newegg</a>, and is backed by a three-year limited warranty.</p> Unity to Support Valve's SteamVR Natively and Valve have teamed up to bring native SteamVR support to the Unity engineFri, 12 Feb 2016 14:13:57 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Htc Vive White"></p><p>The road to populating the VR industry is growing hotter by the week. <a href="" target="_blank">Unity Technologies recently announced</a> that its Unity Engine, which powers a wide range of games and applications, will natively support Valve Software’s upcoming SteamVR platform. This feature will be added to the engine with no extra cost to developers.</p><p>In addition to supporting Unity, Valve Software has also released a SteamVR rendering plugin for the Unity engine that promises “enhanced fidelity and performance.” Unity Technologies says that this will provide a more realistic experience in games and applications built using the Unity engine, Unity Technologies says.</p><p>"We made many of our Vive demos using Unity, and continue to use it today in VR development," said Gabe Newell, Co-Founder and MD, Valve. "Through that process, and in working with VR developers, we found some opportunities to make Unity even more robust and powerful for us and really want to share those benefits with all VR content creators."</p><p>Previously, SteamVR was provided for the Unity engine by way of <a href="!/content/32647" target="_blank">a downloadable plugin</a> on the Unity store. The use of SteamVR means that developers can create a single interface that will work with most if not all virtual reality headsets on the market, including the upcoming Oculus Rift and the Valve-based HTC Vive. This interface can also handle experiences ranging from a seated position to full-sized rooms. Developers also have access to tracked controllers, render models for tracked devices, and other goodies.</p><p>"Valve and Unity are both dedicated to creating the highest quality VR experiences possible," said John Riccitiello, CEO, Unity Technologies. "That means giving developers every possible chance to succeed, and our collaboration with Valve is designed to do just that."</p><p>News of the native SteamVR support in Unity arrives after <a href="" target="_blank">Epic Games said</a> that its Unreal Engine 4 editor was up and running in a VR environment. The editor should allow developers to don a VR headset like the Oculus Rift and its accompanying motion controllers, and create VR experiences in real time. Additional details will be revealed in March during GDC 2016.</p><p>Earlier this week, <a href=";p=irol-newsArticle&amp;ID=2136613" target="_blank">Amazon introduced</a> its own gaming engine called Lumberyard. Tucked inside its announcement was news that Lumberyard currently supports PC and console games, "with mobile and virtual reality (VR) platforms coming soon." That's it on the details so far, though. Lumberyard is said to be&nbsp;based on CryTek’s CRYENGINE, which includes native support for the Oculus Rift.</p><p>Unity Technologies and Valve Software revealed the native VR support during Unity’s <a href="" target="_blank">Vision Summit 2016</a> in Hollywood, the “definitive event for innovators in AR/VR.” Valve said that it will be delivering talks during the event, and providing every attending developer with an HTC Vive Pre. The actual consumer model doesn’t ship until April 2016, although customers can begin pre-ordering headsets on February 29.</p> Games Galore at the PC Gamer Weekender in London you love games? Do you want to hang out with a bunch of other gamers, developers, and more for a weekend? Can you get to London? Then we have just the thing for you!Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:25:37 +0000 eventNamco BandaiPC GamerSega <p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="PC Gamer Weekender"></p><h3>All the World's a Stage</h3><p> Next month, our sister site and magazine PC Gamer will be hosting their first <a target="_blank" href=";utm_medium=referral">PC Gamer Weekender event in London</a>. The first 500 tickets are on sale at £9.99 each for the Standard Pass, or you can grab the Weekender Plus Pass for £24 each. This is Future's own special event, but they're not doing it alone. They've partnered up with developers and others in the industry, and there will be plenty of exciting and fun games and technology on display. Attendees will be able to check out some new and upcoming games, attend PC workshops, hang out with other gamers in the common room, and hear from some of the brightest minds in the industry. Let's take each of those in turn.</p><p> Along with plenty of existing games, attendees will have the chance to visit Bandai Namco and check out the pre-release version of Dark Souls III, or the early access version of Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade. Sega will be there with Total War: Warhammer, still a month away from release, and Capcom will have both Street Fighter V and the Resident Evil spin-off Umbrella Corps. Confirmed publishers include 2K Games, aPriori, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Chucklefish, Excalibur, Introversion, Jagex, Notgames, Resonance Studios, Team 17, Sol Trader, SEGA, and Wargaming. Here's the <a target="_blank" href=";categories=0B8E5DF0-5056-B753-A70675E3A7DCE699&amp;searchgroup=00000001-exhibitors">complete list of games</a> that will be at the show.</p><p> For the hardware enthusiasts&mdash;and that should be all of you reading this!&mdash; <a target="_blank" href="">Asus will be sponsoring PC workshops</a> ranging from the basics up through overclocking and a speed building competition. Another workshop will cover case modding, which can be a never-ending rabbit hole, as anyone who has looked at our Rig of the Months should know. Other topics include building PCs from scratch, upgrade advice for everyone from beginners to experienced users, and a GPU competition. Many of the hardware sessions are interactive, allowing you to go hands on with experts.</p><p> Over <a target="_blank" href="">in the common room</a>, sponsored by Sega, up-and-coming indie developers will be showing off their latest projects. So if you happen to be an aspiring developer, this could be your chance to get some tips from people who are making it in the industry. Or if you're far enough along in development, you can submit your game for consideration. We all know that some of the most creative games of the past several years have come from the indie community, and it will be great to see what's coming down the pipe.</p><p> And last but not least, we've gathered some of the brightest minds from the gaming industry, including those responsible for titles like Star Citizen, Mount and Blade 2, X-Com 2, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Total War: Warhammer, and more. Industry legend Julian Gollop, CEO of Snapshot games and the designer and director behind the classic X-Com: UFO Defense, will also be present. All of these <a target="_blank" href="">industry veterans and experts will be speaking</a> at the PC Gamer Weekender.</p><p> So if you're in the area&mdash;or you're willing to get there!&mdash;come hang out with folks from PC Gamer, Maximum PC, and more at the <a target="_blank" href="">inaugural PC Gamer Weekender</a>. There are only 500 tickets available at £9.99, along with the additional Weekender Plus passes that get you access for both days, as well as a digital subscription to PC Gamer. Also note that due to age restricted content, attendees must be 18 or older, so don't forget your ID.</p> Sapphire Radeon R9 380 4GB Review's R9 380 4GB still delivers impressive performance in its price bracketFri, 12 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 380ReviewssapphireTonga <div class="fancy-box"><h5 class="title">At a Glance</h5><p><strong>(+) Carmen Miranda:</strong> Good 1080p performance; beefy cooling; runs quiet.</p><p><strong style="background-color: initial;">(-) Hokey Pokey:</strong> Aging architecture; less efficient than Maxwell; needs lower quality settings on some recent releases.</p></div><h3>Doing the Tonga Tango</h3><p> AMD's Tonga architecture has always been a bit of an odd man out. It's essentially a refined version of the old Tahiti architecture, with a few architectural tweaks to allow it to do more with less. Specifically, Tonga is limited to a 256-bit memory interface, where Tahiti had a 384-bit interface, but Tonga's GCN1.2 architecture includes lossless delta color compression technologies. Other than those changes, the performance is still largely the same as the old Radeon 7950/7970. Anyone who already had a good AMD card at the time Tonga came to market likely left the poor chap sitting on the sidelines as a wallflower, hoping for someone to give him a chance.</p><p> When it first showed up as the R9 285, the naming hinted at the similarity, though some would inevitably hope the five point bump in model number would bring a bit more to the floor. Ultimately, performance is rarely more than a few percent faster/slower than the venerable R9 280 (aka HD 7950). But along with refinements to the memory interface, Tonga overall is an improvement in efficiency, and it's less expensive to manufacture.</p><p> Last year, the R9 380 and 390 series followed up on the existing R9 280/285 and 290 series; then later <a target="_blank" href="">AMD launched the R9 380X</a>, but we never formally reviewed the R9 380. We're going to rectify that omission, mostly because as a sub-$200 graphics card, the R9 380 still has a lot to offer. For example, you can find the card with either 2GB or 4GB of GDDR5 memory, but considering the nearly identical price, we recommend sticking with the 4GB models. Those cards <a target="_blank" href="">start at just $185</a> (with rebates bringing the card price as low as $165); meanwhile, the Sapphire card we're looking at is priced at <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1454982222&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+r9+380&amp;refinements=p_89%3ASapphire+Technology">$205 with a mail-in rebate dropping that to $190</a>. The 20-30MHz bump in core clocks on some models is hardly worth mentioning, so we're looking at the Sapphire card as well as the R9 380 in general.</p><h5>Shall We Dance?</h5><p> Sapphire has several models of the R9 380 available, including a compact 2GB model. The card we received is now a bit harder to find, in that it doesn't have the metal backplate found on the more readily available 380 Nitro. Other than that change, the two cards should perform similarly&mdash;ours just doesn't look quite as nice and isn't quite as heavy. Also, it's clocked a bit lower, but you can easily make up the difference using any overclocking utility, including <a target="_blank" href=";lang=eng">Sapphire's own Trixx utility</a>. Here's the full rundown of the card:</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Sapphire R9 380 Nitro 4G</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Card</strong> </td> <td> <strong>R9 380</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>GPU</strong> </td> <td> Tonga </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Architecture</strong> </td> <td> GCN 1.2 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Lithography</strong> </td> <td> 28nm </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Transistor Count (Billions)</strong> </td> <td> 5 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Compute Units</strong> </td> <td> 28 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Shaders</strong> </td> <td> 1792 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Texture Units</strong> </td> <td> 128 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>ROPs</strong> </td> <td> 32 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Core Clock (MHz)</strong> </td> <td> 985 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory Capacity</strong> </td> <td> 4GB </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory Clock (GT/s)</strong> </td> <td> 5800 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Bus Width (bits)</strong> </td> <td> 256 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)</strong> </td> <td> 185.6 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>TDP (Watts)</strong> </td> <td> 225 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Online Price</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1455056915&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+380+4GB">$205</a> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p>AMD's official stock clocks for the R9 380&mdash;stock clocks which almost no one actually uses&mdash;are 970/5700, so Sapphire gives a moderate bump to both with their Nitro card. (The Nitro with a backplate has clocks of 1010/5800, if you're wondering.) That amounts to a factory overclock of around 1.5 percent, which is basically margin of error for most gaming benchmarks. But don't let those tame clock speeds underwhelm.&nbsp;</p><p>First, despite the mainstream pricing, the R9 380 is a very capable GPU. It's true that in many ways performance isn't a huge step up from an old HD 7950 or R9 280, but it does offset things somewhat by including 4GB VRAM. Cross-platform gaming support has resulted in many games starting to push the limits on GPUs with less than 4GB VRAM, so if you're looking to move from an older generation mainstream GPU to a new $200 card, the 380 punches well above its weight class.</p><p> Second, there's always end-user overclocking. You'll need a utility that properly supports Sapphire's GPUs, and in this case you're best off just nabbing Trixx&mdash;MSI's Afterburner can't adjust clocks beyond +100MHz. Keep your expectations in check, however, as AMD's GCN has not proven nearly as overclocking friendly as Nvidia's Maxwell architecture. We managed to run through our benchmarks at 1100/6300 without any problems, but 1125/6500 resulted in a hard system lock, even when sitting at the desktop. What will our manual overclock (12/9 percent over factory) do for you? Around 5–10 percent more performance, which is nice since it's "free," though it's not usually enough to take a game from stuttering to playable.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Old MacDonald had a card, I/O, I/O, umm&hellip;" class=""> <figcaption>Old MacDonald had a card, I/O, I/O, umm&hellip;</figcaption></figure><p> The Sapphire Nitro card is only moderately large. Like nearly every mainstream or higher GPU (AMD R7 or Nvidia GTX), this is a dual-slot card. Sapphire uses the exact same core design for their R9 380X, so the "lesser" GPU still gets plenty of helpful features. There are two large 100mm fans cooling the card, which is sort of crazy to see&mdash;I remember when GPUs with 60mm fans were the norm. The large fans do require a slightly taller card, but it's only a 5mm difference. They're also powerful enough to make a racket if you run them at 100 percent, which shouldn't happen unless you're intentionally overclocking the GPU and cranking up the fan speed.</p><p> At factory settings, the card runs quieter than our CPU cooler and case fans, and even at our maximum overclock it's still not much louder than the rest of our system components. Temperatures also remain frosty, relatively speaking&mdash;the GPU maxed out at 70C during an extended gaming session, so there's no difficulty there.</p><p>And speaking of gaming, let's check out the benchmarks. Here are the details of our GPU test system, which is designed to eliminate other bottlenecks as much as possible. We've stuck with graphics cards that cost around $300 or less to keep things simple, since we all know the $500+ behemoths still reign supreme.</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Maximum PC 2015 GPU Test Bed</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>CPU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href="">Intel Core i7-5930K</a>: 6-core HT OC'ed @ 4.2GHz<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454134330&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Core+i5-4690K">Core i5-4690K</a> simulated: 4-core no-HT @ 3.9GHz<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454134343&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Core+i3-4350">Core i3-4350</a> simulated: 2-core HT @ 3.6GHz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Mobo</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044420&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Gigabyte+GA-X99-UD4">Gigabyte GA-X99-UD4</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>GPUs</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354483&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+285">AMD R9 285</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1455067767&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+380">AMD R9 380</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1455067863&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=Sapphire+R9+380X">AMD R9 380X</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354436&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+390">AMD R9 390</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1455067944&amp;sr=1-62&amp;keywords=GTX+770">Nvidia GTX 770</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354627&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=asus+Nvidia+GTX+950">Nvidia GTX 950</a> (Asus)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1455067657&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=gtx+960">Nvidia GTX 960</a> (EVGA)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354586&amp;sr=1-3&amp;keywords=asus+gtx+970">Nvidia GTX 970</a> (Asus) </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>SSD</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1447354339&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=samsung+850+evo+2tb">Samsung 850 EVO 2TB</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>PSU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044466&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=EVGA+SuperNOVA+1300+G2">EVGA SuperNOVA 1300 G2</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=G.Skill+Ripjaws+16GB+DDR4-2666">G.Skill Ripjaws 16GB DDR4-2666</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Cooler</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044501&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+Nepton+280L">Cooler Master Nepton 280L</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Case</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044514&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+CM+Storm+Trooper">Cooler Master CM Storm Trooper</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>OS</strong> </td> <td> Windows 10 Pro 64-bit </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Drivers</strong> </td> <td> AMD Crimson 16.1<br> Nvidia 361.75 </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><h5>Fearsome Foxtrot</h5><p>In terms of pricing, the R9 380 4GB goes up against the GTX 960, with both cards generally available for around $200. Unfortunately, we only have the 2GB model of the GTX 960 on hand, which means it's about $10 cheaper but it has problems with games that need more memory. Not to put too fine an edge on things, but the R9 380 4GB basically cleans the 2GB 960's clock. Perhaps slightly more sobering is that an older GTX 770 card is still managing slightly higher frame rates overall, but then that was originally a $400 GPU. (The 770 also stumbles on several of the latest games, at least at our tested settings, so keep that in mind.)</p><p>Of the nine games we tested, there's exactly one title where Nvidia manages a clear victory, <em>Metro: Last Light</em>. That's an older TWIMTBP title, so we wouldn't put too much stock in it, and even then, it's only a nine percent lead. Perhaps more surprising are some recent releases, like <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>. That's another TWIMTBP release, but memory demands basically crush the 2GB cards; the 380 beats the 960 by around 40 percent. <em>Shadow of Mordor</em> gives AMD a similarly huge lead, and <em>Hitman: Absolution</em> has the 380 ahead by around 30 percent. The remaining games are much closer, but overall we're looking at a 10–15 percent average margin of victory with 1080p gaming.</p><p>Grabbing a GTX 960 4GB card should improve the situation, as looking at the R9 380 vs. R9 285 we see about a 10 percent improvement in overall performance thanks to the increased VRAM. And if you're serious about overclocking, Nvidia's cards can usually manage closer to a 20 percent OC. But otherwise, we're looking at pretty comparable performance. And of course, in this case, comparable performance means that the sub-$200 cards really aren't equipped to handle anything more than 1080p high settings in more demanding titles.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The two 6-pin PEG connectors provide up to 150W of additional power." class=""> <figcaption>The two 6-pin PEG connectors provide up to 150W of additional power.</figcaption></figure><p>From specs to noise to performance, everything looks good for Sapphire's mainstream offering. However, there is one potential fly in the ointment: power requirements. The Sapphire card is listed as having a 225W TDP, which is 35W higher than the stock R9 380's 190W TDP. The GTX 960 by comparison is rated at only 120W. That means the R9 380 potentially consumes almost twice as much power. <em style="background-color: initial;">The horror, the horror!</em> Except, in practice, the difference is far less dramatic.</p><p>Looking at our collection of games, we measured system power use of 270-315W (depending on the game and scene) when our test rig was running the R9 380. Under the same conditions, the GTX 960 measured used 230–270W. So despite a 105W difference in TDP, in practice we're seeing a 40–45W gap. Put another way, that's like replacing <em style="background-color: initial;">one</em> incandescent bulb with a CCFL or LED bulb, which is hardly worth thinking about, considering you also get improved performance. If you're really trying to be green and reduce your energy use, we can think of plenty of better ways to save power than swapping to a more efficient GPU. We might start by ditching our X99 Haswell-E platform, which would drop idle and load power a solid 50W.</p><h5>Potent Polka</h5><p>There's a lot of sex appeal&mdash;erm, scratch that; <em>nerd-</em>appeal&mdash;in owning the fastest graphics cards and the most powerful gaming systems. And if you're serious about PC gaming and want to run at high fps and high quality settings with a 4K or 3440x1440 ultrawide display, you'll need every frame your GPU can muster. But there's also something to be said for just enjoying the experience of a moderate system. Console gamers know what we're talking about, as they typically make do with graphics that equate to 1080p medium settings, and they still don't get a 60 fps experience. If all you want is a good system for gaming and you're willing to stick with medium to high quality on the latest releases, the R9 380 is exactly what you're looking for.</p><p>Take this card and stuff it into any decent computer&mdash;yes, even that generic pre-built OEM system&mdash;and you suddenly have a gaming PC. Sapphire's Nitro cards aren't substantially different from other Radeon offerings, but sometimes you don't need the most capable dance partner to impress. Is the R9 380 going to sweep you off your feet and carry you into the sunset? Probably not, but until something better comes along (you know Polaris and Pascal are due later this year, right?), there are far worse ways to spend your time shuffling around the dance floor.</p> Microsoft: Win 10 Will Protect States from Hackers 10 is the most secure operating system yet for governments, Microsoft says.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 02:52:13 +0000 10 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Windows 10 Wallpaper"></p><p>Microsoft’s Mandy Tidwell <a href="" target="_blank">took to the company’s blog</a> this week to ensure governments that Windows 10 has the best security to thwart hackers. Tidwell says that security was a prime focus as Microsoft developed Windows 10, which was released last summer. The platform promises to protect governments from the growing rise of attacks better than previous Windows releases with several built-in features.</p><p>For starters, Windows 10 offers Microsoft Passport. This service is a two-factor authentication process that combines a registered device with a user’s PIN number, fingerprint, iris, or facial features. Thanks to this, attackers will have a hard time breaking into a government employee’s account because they need that physical information. This also prevents employees from using a username and password, the latter of which is usually identical to other passwords employees utilize on external non-government sites.</p><p>Another Windows 10 service that helps keep governments safe is a new security virtualization feature called Credential Guard, which separates credential identification information from the operating system. Thus, if malware <em>does</em> find its way on the Windows 10 device, the isolated information is extremely hard to reach. Backing up this service is Device Guard, which will lock down a device so that users can only run apps that are pre-authorized by the government agency.</p><p>Finally, Tidwell points to the built-in Windows Defender client. It’s an entirely new version of the company’s malware scanner that runs quietly in the Windows 10 background. Windows Defender will scan all files that are downloaded and executed, automatically and in real time. The client also downloads and installs antivirus updates without the user’s involvement and without the need to reboot the device.</p><p>“As the number and intensity of cyberattacks increase, cybersecurity has become a major focus for governments around the world,” Tidwell says. “Over the past few years, governments at all levels have been stepping up their protections, yet the threats continue to mount. Windows 10 has been designed to address security threats in a world of escalating risks.”</p><p>The blog update arrives just days after <a href="" target="_blank">a Bloomberg report</a> surfaced stating that Russia is threatening to ditch the Windows platform in government institutions and move to the open-source Linux platform. According to the report, 22,000 municipal governments are already prepared to make the switch. Why? There are claims that Microsoft could easily provide the U.S. government with secret information stolen from Windows-based Russian computers.</p><p>Russia isn’t the only country wanting to kick Windows to the curb. China banned the use of Windows 8 on its government computers <a href="" target="_blank">back in 2014</a>. The country supposedly stopped using the platform to “ensure computer security” because Microsoft ended support on Windows XP, which was highly popular in China. Microsoft said it was surprised by the move given it was working “proactively” with China’s Central Government Procurement Center and its other government agencies.</p><p>Tidwell says in the Microsoft blog that Windows 10 is the company’s best platform yet. <a href=";qpcustomd=0" target="_blank">As of January</a>, Windows 10 finally passed Windows XP in regards to the desktop operating system market, earning a 11.85% market share compared to Windows XP’s 11.42% share. However, the new platform has yet to come close to Windows 7, which still holds 52.47% of the market despite the current free Windows 10 upgrade.</p> Play Windows 3.1 Programs In a Browser Internet Archive now offersloads of Windows 3.1 games and programs that can be used within a browser.Fri, 12 Feb 2016 00:33:17 +0000 3.1 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Microsoft Windows 3.1 Logo"></p><p><a href="">Following recent news</a> that Windows 95 can be run in a browser without any plugins, <a href="" target="_blank">the Internet Archive announced</a> on Thursday that it has added hundreds of Windows 3.1 programs to its collection. Now you can relive the days of the early 1990s when consumers played games and carried out simple tasks in Microsoft’s popular-but-now-ancient-looking 16-bit Windows platform.</p><p>These programs work in a browser thanks to <a href="" target="_blank">EM-DOSBOX</a>, which is a forked version of DOSBOX that utilizes Emscripten to “<a href="" target="_blank">cross-compile LLVM bitcode to JavaScript</a>.” As we reported at the beginning of the month, 19-year-old Andrea Faulds of Scotland also used Emscripten to get Windows 95 running in a browser. Emscripten is an emulator that compiles C and C++ code into JavaScript that can execute at near-native speeds.</p><p>Unlike the Windows 95 emulation, curious Web surfers wanting to check out the Windows 3.1 programs won’t have to load and navigate&nbsp;the operating first. For instance, you can <a href="" target="_blank">play Roulette by clicking here</a>. The game and emulator metadata is downloaded, followed by the game data, and then DOSBOX is loaded in the browser. To play, you’ll have to hand mouse control over to the emulator; just hit the Escape button to release the mouse back to the operating system.</p><p>“Indeed, the colorful and unique look of Windows 3/3.1 is a 16-bit window into what programs used to be like, and depending on the graphical whims of the programmers, could look futuristic or incredibly basic,” the Internet Archive says. “For many who might remember working in that environment, the view of the screenshots of some of the hosted programs will bring back long-forgotten memories.”</p><p>Believe it or not, there are places that still use the ancient Windows platform. <a href="" target="_blank">Back in November 2015</a>, reports surfaced that a Paris airport’s DECOR system, which traffic controllers use to inform pilots about weather conditions during takeoff and landings, runs on Windows 3.1. The platform crashed, preventing traffic controllers from providing pilots with vital Runway Visual Range information. The crash also revealed to the media that the airport still relies on an operating system that originally launched in 1992 and hasn’t been supported by Microsoft since 2001.</p><p>So why still use it? In today’s world, Windows 3.1 demands extremely low hardware requirements. When it was released, Windows 3.1 needed a 80286 processor or better, 3MB of RAM if you wanted networking (4MB recommended), and 6.2MB of hard drive space although Microsoft recommended 14.5MB. Still, the platform is outdated and presumably dangerous to use given the lack of security updates. That said, do hackers even consider Windows 3.1 as a potential target?</p><p>Luckily for us, we can relive the Windows 3.1 experience safely within out browsers thanks to EM-DOSBOX and JavaScript. For those who want to go even deeper down memory lane, the Internet Archive also offers <a href="" target="_blank">a DOS Collection</a> too that includes thousands of utilities, applications, and games! However, visitors can experience the site’s entire Windows 3.x library simply <a href="" target="_blank">by heading here</a>. Have fun!</p> Here’s What You’ll Need to Run Hitman Beta on PC are the system requirements for Hitman Beta on Windows.Thu, 11 Feb 2016 18:24:37 +0000 <h3>Being prepared</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Hitman Beta"></p><p>As you probably know already, Hitman is getting a reboot. A beta version will available to PlayStation 4 gamers tomorrow, followed by a beta release to Windows PCs on February 19, 2016 (a week from Friday). Can your PC handle it?</p><p>That would have been tough to answer prior to today, but thanks to Steam, we now know what the required and recommended specs are. Here's a look at the minimum required specs:</p><ul><li>OS: Windows 7 64-bit</li><li>Processor: Intel CPU Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz / AMD Phenom II X4 940</li><li>Memory: 8GB RAM</li><li>Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 / Radeon HD 7870</li><li>DirectX: Version 11</li></ul><p>And here's a look at the recommended specs:</p><ul><li>OS: Windows 7 64-bit / Windows 8 (8.1) or Windows 10</li><li>Processor: Intel CPU Core i7-3770 3.4GHz / AMD FX-8350 4GHz</li><li>Memory: 8GB RAM</li><li>Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 / Radeon R9 290</li><li>DirectX: Version 11</li></ul><p>Nothing jumps out as particularly brutal for either set&mdash;as long as you have a relatively modern PC, you should be able to play the new Hitman title without any performance hiccups.</p><p>Keep in mind that the specs refer to the beta release&mdash;the final version is slated to release on March 11, 2016. Unlike previous Hitman titles, the reboot will be released in episodic fashion, with the first entry focusing on the prologue missions and Paris location. From there, Square Enix will publish new content every month.</p><p>The "Intro-Pack" is <a href="" target="_blank">available now</a> for $15 from Steam, or you can purchase the "Full Experience" for $60.</p> AOC's Ultra Cheap U289VF Monitor Combines 4K and FreeSync's new U289VF monitor boasts a 4K resolution and FreeSync for only $400.Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:54:54 +0000 <h3>4K on a budget</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Aoc U2879vf"></p><p> Going 4K doesn't have to be expensive, not anymore. AOC made sure of that with its new <a href="" target="_blank">U2879VF</a> monitor featuring a 28-inch display with a 3840x2160 resolution (@60Hz). The asking price? About $400 when it comes out next month.</p><p> At that size and price combination, you wouldn't expect an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel, nor do you get one&mdash;AOC opted for a cheaper TN panel. It's a definite concession, but for gamers looking to play titles at a high resolution on a decent sized monitor for not a ton of coin, the U2879VF certainly seems a viable option.</p><p> In addition to a high-resolution display, the U2879VF support's AMD's FreeSync technology for smooth, stutter-free gameplay. It also boasts a 1ms response time, 1,000:1 contrast ratio (80,000,000:1 dynamic), 300 cd/m2 brightness, viewing angles of 178/170 degrees, and 10-bit color support (1.07 billion colors).</p><p> AOC provides plenty of connectivity options&mdash;D-Sub, DVI, HDMI w/ MHL support, and DisplayPort, cables include (save for D-Sub). What you won't find are any USB ports or built-in speakers.</p><p> It's pretty basic as far as monitors go&mdash;even the stand lacks any fancy ergonomic adjustments&mdash;but for the asking price and combination of a 4K resolution with FreeSync support, we imagine this one will find an audience.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Newegg Daily Deals: LG Black 31-Inch Monitor, Samsung 2TB HDD, and More!'ve seen your share of monitorsblack and white models, those bulky CRTs, early era LCDs that were thick and heavy, and today's crop. Each and every time, you tell yourself, "Self, I want a big display, but doggone it, the bang-for-buck is so much higher if I go smaller." Well, it's time you treated yourself, don't you think?Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:30:00 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="LG Monitor"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>You've seen your share of monitors&mdash;black and white models, those bulky CRTs, early era LCDs that were thick and heavy, and today's crop. Each and every time, you tell yourself, "Self, I want a big display, but doggone it, the bang-for-buck is so much higher if I go smaller." Well, it's time you treated yourself, don't you think? If you're wanting to finally go big, then check out today's top deal for a <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824025267-_-0211&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">LG Black 31-inch 5ms HDMI Widescreen LED Backlight LCD Monitor</a> for <strong>$800</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $945). 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Limited Offer!)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822148840-_-0211&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Desktop HDD 1TB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive</a> for <strong>$45</strong> with free shipping (normally $51 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGFE23</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822178627-_-0211&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Samsung 2TB 5400 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 2.5-inch Internal Notebook Hard Drive Bare Drive</a> for <strong>$90</strong> with free shipping (normally $100 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGFE22</strong>])</p> Acer Agrees to Pre-Install Microsoft Products on Android Devices phones and tablets will come with certain Microsoft software pre-installed.Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:17:33 +0000 <h3>Useful software or bloat?</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acer Satya Nadella"></p><p> If you're not the type to install a custom ROM on your Android phone, then the first thing you're likely to do when buying a new handset or tablet is see which bits of pre-installed software can be removed. The rest can be tossed in a custom 'junk' folder (out of sight, out of mind, right?), leaving you with a relatively clutter-free device.</p><p> That's all well and good, but what about pre-installed Microsoft software? If your phone or tablet came with Office apps already on there, would you remove them or use them? Microsoft's banking on you using them and is therefore making a concerted effort to get its software and services installed onto as many mobile devices as it can, platform be damned.</p><p> It's latest partner towards this effort is Acer. Starting in the second half of 2016, Acer will start pre-installing select Microsoft apps and services on its portfolio of Android products. The specific apps include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype.</p><p> "We're excited to partner with Microsoft to provide enhanced mobile productivity to our products," <a href="" target="_blank">said ST Liew</a>, president of Acer Smart Products Business Group. "By integrating the Microsoft software suite, Acer customers will enjoy productivity on-the-go along with the familiar computing experience on their smartphones and tablets."</p><p> This is part of Microsoft's 'If we can't beat 'em, let's join 'em' strategy with regards to Windows on mobile devices. With a less than 3 percent share of the mobile market, Microsoft doesn't pose a real threat to Android or iOS. Maybe Windows 10 for Mobile will change that at some point in the future, but it won't happen today or anytime relatively soon.</p><p> That's okay because Windows isn't the end game anyway. Microsoft's larger play&mdash;and this is true of Windows 10&mdash;is to get users hooked on its subscription services. Microsoft would obviously prefer if those users ran Windows on their various devices, and there are benefits to doing so, but for those who choose other platforms, Microsoft will happily take their money, as well. Heck, Microsoft makes a handsome royalty on every Android sold anyway, though that's a story for a different day.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Tech Productivity Tips and Tools tips and tools that will help you be more productiveThu, 11 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 calendarkeepassNetFlixpocketproductivitytips <h3>Tech tips and tools that will help you be more productive</h3><p>While we all wish we could have personal assistants to get ourselves through the day (because being an adult is hard), most of us have to forego that luxury. Luckily, computers and technology have come a long way, and can help us save time, money, and ease the headaches of our everyday tasks. Here are some of the helpful technological productivity tips and tools that can help you stay on top of your s***.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Dual Monitors"></p><h4>Dual-monitor setup&nbsp;</h4><p>A lot of people make the mistake of using a single monitor when they work, but you can be almost twice as productive with two or more screens. With two monitors, you can split up tasks. For instance, I'm writing this article on one monitor and have a spreadsheet file on the other to handle a different task. Using a single monitor and having to switch between two tabs/programs just slows you down. </p><p>If you can’t get a second monitor for whatever reason, I suggest using a split-screen setup. For instance, with Windows 10, you can drag folders and browsers to either edge of your screen to simulate having two screens split down the middle of your monitor.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Google Calendar"></p><h4>Use a digital calendar</h4><p>My personal choice of calendar is <a target="_blank" href="">Google Calendar</a>, but there are plenty of others to choose from, most of which will help keep you on task. The nice thing about Google Calendar is that I can set up meetings, deadlines, and appointments on my computer, and then view or edit them later on my phone and vice versa. As soon as I know that I have to schedule a meeting/appointment, I throw it into Google Calendar so I can get a quick glimpse of what’s to come throughout the day/week/month whenever I want. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Keepass"></p><h4>Use a password manager </h4><p>Whether it's your email, Steam, bank, or whatever account, it can be hard to keep track of all your various passwords. There’s almost nothing more frustrating than being stuck at a login screen, trying to guess your own password. We’ve all been there. Sure, lots of websites will allow you to forget your password and change it, but this can take several minutes to resolve, and then you’re back to square one with having to remember that new password. Luckily, there are password managers such as&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">KeePass</a> and <a target="_blank" href="">LastPass</a>. I personally use KeePass as it’s free, and as long as you can remember your one KeePass login, you can save all your various username, passwords, and URLs for various sites that require logins. You can even use KeePass to open URLs and automatically type the login for you, once you’ve got the program up and running.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Pocket Device Lineup1"></p><h4>Get Pocket</h4><p>Ever come across an interesting article or an informative YouTube video, but don’t have time to get to it right away? Often, even if you try and make a mental note to read it later,&nbsp; the article just ends up slipping through the cracks. The&nbsp;<a href="">Pocket</a> desktop browser extension (and app) resolve those issues. With Pocket, anytime you come across an interesting video or story, you can save it to your Pocket folder in the cloud, and catch up on it later when you have more free time. The mobile app also lets you read stories offline, which is great if you’re on the train (or elsewhere) and don’t have Internet access. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Streak"></p><h4>Streak Chrome extension</h4><p>Have you ever wondered whether an email you sent out was actually read? You’re human, so of course you have. Luckily, there's the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Streak</a> Chrome desktop browser extension to help ease your mind. You can set it up so that you get pop-up notifications when your emails are being read, and if the recipient has location-enabled on their device, you can even see what city they’re in while they're reading it. The only downside is that if you send an email to multiple people at once, it doesn’t specifically designate who read the email, only that someone read it. Still, when sending an email to one person, you’ll at least know whether you should follow up on your messages.</p><h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Upgrade Your Pc"></p></h4><h4>Upgrade/build a PC</h4><p>Depending on what you do for a living, you may want to upgrade your PC. While a $580 i7-5930K&nbsp;CPU might sound like a lot, if you do video editing for a living, for instance, the speed boost can definitely be worth it in the end. Having at least a quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, a modern&nbsp;video card, and an SSD can also help cut down on various time sucks like rendering and load times as well. With better equipment, you can complete more tasks in less time.</p><p>Even if your job doesn't revolve around editing video or complex statistical&nbsp;number crunching, simple things like having a quad-core CPU and enough RAM so that you can have multiple programs/tabs open without&nbsp; slowing down or crashing your computer, can be a godsend. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Driverupdate"></p><h4>Use SlimWare Utilities DriverUpdate</h4><p>If you find yourself building a new computer (or multiple computers like someone who works in IT), you’ll want to make sure that your new rig has the latest drivers to ensure that everything runs smoothly and without any hitches. But tracking down the latest updates can be be painful. Luckily, there’s <a target="_blank" href="">SlimWare Utilities DriverUpdate</a>, which can detect, download, and install all the latest drivers in your computer for you. It can save you a ton of time, especially if you find yourself setting up many computers. It’s also good for general computer maintenance, ensuring that you always have the latest product firmware. While it does cost $40, there's also a free&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">SlimDrivers</a> version, which will locate all the drivers you need to download for your PC, but you'll have to manually install each one. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ninite"></p><h4>Use</h4><p>Speaking of setting up new computers, once you have all the latest drivers installed, you’ll want to download all your favorite programs. This too, however, can take a while if you have to manually download each program. Instead, head to the website&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a>, a great free resource that has a ton of web browsers, messaging clients, and lots of popular media tools. You can quickly tick a bunch of checkboxes and have everything downloaded and installed in one fell swoop. It’s super convenient when setting up new systems, and can be a great time-saver.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ok Google Voice Assistant"></p><h4>Talk to your AI assistant</h4><p>Yes, Siri isn’t as intricate as Samantha, the AI in the futuristic movie <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Her</em></a>, but you’ll be surprised by how helpful AI assistants like Siri and Ok Google can be. Using my Nexus 6P, I constantly use Ok Google voice commands to set calendar reminders, alarms, ask for directions, and more. Plus, using these voice features is much faster for getting answers than typing them out in your web browser. For instance, you can ask your voice assistant to tell you when your flight leaves or to check particular stock prices in a matter of seconds. If you’ve never spoken to your mobile device, it may seem awkward at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it. In the event that you don’t have a smartphone, Google has also added&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Ok Google</a> voice support through Google search on the desktop. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="To-do list"></p><h4>Keep a to-do list on the cloud</h4><p>Whether you’re at work or at home doing the chores, it always seems like there’s too much work to do as an adult. “I need to file my taxes, get a smog check, write that report, etc.” With so much to do, it’s easy to forget to follow through with everything, but you can change all that by filing your tasks in a to-do list. While you can keep a physical list on paper, the beauty of using an online list is that it's stored in the cloud, and you can view and edit it from any computing device. </p><p>There are many resources such as&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Evernote</a> or&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Wunderlist</a> that do this, but I personally like using&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Google Drive/Docs</a>. I create separate to-do lists for home and work usage to make sure that I’m on top of my personal and professional life.</p><h4> <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Netflix My List"></p></h4><h4>Use Netflix’s “My List” feature</h4><p>All work and no play might get the job done... until you burn out. So, if you like to unwind with a little Netflix from time to time, then I recommend using its “My List” feature. Adding awesome movies and TV shows to your personal list cuts down on the time you have to wade through the thousands of movies and TV shows to figure out what to watch. Generally, what you’re trying to do here is to trim down the fat that encroaches on your relaxation time, so that you have more time throughout the day to focus on the more important things. Like going on a healthy diet, it’s about having a cheat day every now and then, but you still have to learn how to cheat the right way.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Airfare Watch Dogs" style="width: 668px;"></p><h4>Save money on travel</h4><p>Speaking of having cheat days, there have been numerous studies that indicate that having vacations are good for productivity. But you don’t have to spend a fortune for a nice getaway to reset your mind. And as the saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned. Luckily, there are tools like&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Airfarewatchdog</a> that will notify you of crazy flight deals. There are also apps like&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Hopper</a>, which allow you to type in a location and date, and it will notify you when there’s a particularly cheap day to buy a specific airfare ticket you’ve been eyeing. Then, of course, there’s&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Airbnb</a>, which lets you lounge around people’s summer homes on the cheap.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Google Maps" style="width: 668px;"></p><h4>Take advantage of navigation tricks</h4><p>If the saying “time is money” is true, then you're paying dearly if you spend a lot of time stuck in traffic. Luckily, there are mobile apps like&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Waze</a>, which will not only help you find out how to get to your destination, but will show you the quickest way to get there (with real-time traffic updates).&nbsp;Google Maps&nbsp;also has a bunch of tricks. For instance, using your desktop browser, you can type a destination into <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and then use the “send to your phone” button so that when you pick up your phone, the navigation is up and ready to go. You can also save or “star” addresses on the map so you know where they are when you’ve parked the car and need to walk to the address. Google Maps also allows you to save regions/locations for offline use, which is great in case you lose your signal or are traveling to a foreign country where your signal might not work. There are a bunch of other helpful Google Maps tips and tricks&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Irfanview" style="width: 668px;"></p><h4>Batch images with Irfanview</h4><p>If you’re like me, you’ve come across several occasions where you’ve needed to either compress or convert a bunch of images, maybe to help get file sizes down when sending email attachments, for instance. While you can shrink and/or convert images one by one through various imaging programs, the program&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Irfanview</a> allows you to batch convert multiple images at once within seconds. Best of all, it’s completely free. If you’re a photographer (whether amateur or professional), a tool like this can be a great time saver.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Stand Up Extension" style="width: 668px;"></p><h4>Use health/fitness programs</h4><p>Research from <a href="" target="_blank">the CDC indicates</a> that a healthy person amounts to a productive person, but it can be hard to live a healthy life style if you’re constantly slaving away at your desk. Luckily, there are health tools that will help get you in shape. Since we know that sitting for prolonged periods of time isn't healthy, you can use the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Stand Up browser extension</a> to periodically remind you to stand up and walk around. If you’re trying to keep track of your calories and/or nutritional intake, you can download the <a href="" target="_blank">MyFitnessPal</a> app, which helps you log all your daily meals. In case you didn’t want to buckle down and purchase a fitness tracker, there are free apps such as <a href="" target="_blank">RunKeeper</a> that can help you track your exercise.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Mint" style="width: 668px;"></p><h4>Keep track of your finances</h4><p>It can be hard to be productive if you’re always worried about your personal finances, but <a href="" target="_blank"></a> (and its app), can track all of your spending for you. It can also provide you with weekly updates indicating how much you’ve spent throughout the week and how under/over budget you are in relation to your normal&nbsp;spending habits. There are tons of detailed reports here, and it can notify you when you have upcoming bills due and more.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ifttt"></p><h4>Use IFTTT</h4><p>Short for “If This Then That,”&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">IFTTT</a> is a powerful tool that allows you to set up “recipes” to get your favorite programs and tools working together. For instance, if you have a bad habit of not returning phone calls, you can set up IFTTT to send you reminder emails to respond to those missed calls. You can also set up recipes that remind you to respond to any emails that you mark as important. If you have smart home devices like the Philips Hue Lights, you can set them to dim or change colors as it gets darker outside. There are thousands of combinations of recipes here and it can pretty much get as intricate as you want.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Keyboard shortcuts" style="width: 668px; font-family: &quot;Helvetica Neue&quot;,Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif;"></p><h4>Learn keyboard shortcuts</h4><p>Whether you’re using Windows, Word, Chrome, or some other piece of software, it’s always a good idea to learn keyboard shortcuts, as using them can save you precious minutes every&nbsp;day (and those minutes add up, folks!). You probably know that CTRL + C equals copy and that CTRL + V equals paste, but did you know that the Windows button + print screen button automatically screenshots your desktop and saves it as&nbsp;a PNG image&nbsp;file in your Pictures folder? Or how about Using the Windows button + M to minimize all your desktop folders and windows, so that you don’t have to manually minimize each one? It’s not all about just shaving a few seconds, however.&nbsp;</p><p>What happens if your computer crashes and all your important tabs go away in Chrome? Well, you can press CTRL + Shift + T to restore them and pick up where you left off. You can find more helpful Windows shortcuts <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, and some useful Chrome shortcuts <a target="_blank" href="">here</a>.</p><p><em>And that rounds up our tips. Do you have any tools and recommendations of your own? Let us know in the comments below!</em></p> You Can Now Stream Video from Pirate Bay new plugin allows Pirate Bay visitors to stream video directly to a browserWed, 10 Feb 2016 20:36:51 +0000 baystreamingtorrent <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Piratebay"></p><p>The Pirate Bay this week announced a plugin offered by <a href="" target="_blank">Torrents Time</a>, offering users the ability to stream movies directly from torrent files. Currently&nbsp;in beta, the feature&nbsp;isn’t made obvious until users click on a torrent and see the “stream it” link residing between the torrent link and the anonymous download link. This is obviously illegal. Really illegal.</p><p>The plugin supports Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Apple Safari. Developed for Windows 7 and above, the plugin actually downloads the torrent and shares it with other users, meaning your browser is acting like a torrent client in the background&nbsp;while you watch the latest rip from the movie theaters. </p><p>Torrents Time says that the plugin features a built-in virtual private network (VPN) so that users can remain anonymous while they’re downloading and streaming torrents. The plugin also supports Chromecast, Apple Airplay and DLNA, meaning users can switch from the browser to a big-screen TV that’s connected to the same network.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Earlier this month</a>, Popcorn Time rolled out <a href="" target="_blank">Popcorn Time Online</a>, a web version of its popular online video service that allows users to stream movies and TV shows directly to their browser&hellip; no downloaded client needed. This version is also based on the Torrents Time plugin, and promises that Popcorn Time users will remain anonymous as they stream video to their desktops and laptops.</p><p>“Looking at the sad fate of the .io team, we believe that in today’s environment, maintaining anonymity will ensure that we will all be here for as long as we want to be," the team said. “By sticking to anonymity, we are not cowards who hide from righteous content monopolies, but content freedom fighters who respect the law but do not trust the law enforcers to play the law fair.” This is obviously quite the spin and no matter how it's sliced, it's still illegal.</p><p>How long Torrents Time remains in use is currently up in the air. <a href="" target="_blank">VentureBeat obtained&nbsp;a copy</a> of a cease-and-desist letter sent to Torrents Time&nbsp;from anti-piracy group BREIN, which is based in the Netherlands. The group says the streaming tool is illegal because Torrents Time is hosted on servers located in the Netherlands and must abide by the local piracy rules. The group also demands Torrents Time’s physical address and the names of those who are distributing the plugin. </p><p>However, Torrents Time isn’t taking the scolding lightly. The team insists that, like BitTorrent, the plugin can be used to stream <em>legal</em> content. The group also points out that the Torrents Time website does not serve up illegal content, nor has any court ever ruled that the plugin breaches copyrights. On that note, the plugin was only released a few days ago, so we’ll see.</p><p>In addition to The Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents also supposedly plans to support the Torrents Time plugin within the next few days.,, and were <a href="" target="_blank">also named</a> as upcoming supporters.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: MSI GT72S G Tobii Gaming Laptop, Toshiba 4TB HDD, and More!'s top deal is a little different than usual. It's not actually a product with a discount, but a new product that's really, really unique.Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:40:53 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MSI GT72S G Tobii"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>Today's top deal is a little different than usual. It's not actually a product with a discount, but a new product that's really, really unique&mdash;it's the <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-LaptopHD-N82E16834154102-_-0210&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">MSI GT72S G Tobii-805 Gaming Laptop with Tobii Eye Tracking Technology</a> for <strong>$2599</strong> with free shipping (Exclusive Launch at Newegg). This beast of a laptop (17.3-inch display, Intel Core i7-6820HK processor, 32GB RAM, 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD, GeForce GTX 980M, and Windows 10) is unique in that you can control games with your eyeballs. Crazy, right? Plus it comes with a few free gifts&mdash;backback, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and a mouse pad.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-CPU-N82E16819117559 N82E16819117559-_-0210&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Intel Core i7-6700K 8M Skylake Quad-Core 4.0 GHz LGA 1151 91W Desktop Processor Intel® HD Graphics 530</a> for <strong>$380</strong> with free shipping (normally $414 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEN22</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822149627-_-0210&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Toshiba 4TB 7200 RPM 128MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch Desktop Internal Hard Drive Retail Kit</a> for <strong>$120</strong> with free shipping (normally $135 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGEN25</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-SSD-N82E16820147362-_-0210&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Samsung 850 Pro 2.5-inch 1TB SATA III 3-D Vertical Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)</a> for <strong>$380</strong> with free shipping (normally $430 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEN23</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MOBO-N82E16813132516-_-0210&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus X99-A/USB 3.1 LGA 2011-v3 Intel X99 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard</a> for <strong>$230</strong> with $4 shipping (normally $250 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEN26</strong>])</p> AMD Stays Vested in Laptop Market, FreeSync Notebooks Coming Soon is claiming an increase in notebook traction.Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:30:35 +0000 <h3>Still a player in laptops</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="HP AMD Pro"></p><p> AMD issued a press release today touting an increase in notebook market traction specifically tied to its 6th Generation AMD PRO A-Series mobile processors. The company was short on figures, but did note a strengthened relationship with HP. In particular, AMD pointed to HP's 14-inch ProBook 645 and 15.6-inc ProBook 655 as examples of cost-effective and capable solutions for businesses.</p><p> "We are pleased to continue strengthening our relationship with HP through the latest HP ProBook design wins," <a href="" target="_blank">said Jim Anderson</a>, senior vice president and general manager, Computing and Graphics Business Group at AMD. "We've seen positive consumer and commercial response to our 6<sup>th</sup>Generation A-Series processors and the recent announcements by HP, along with AMD technology adoption by global companies and the popularity of AMD systems during the holiday season, help confirm the strength of our product."</p><p> It's sort of a strange press release that amounts to a lot of high-fiving between AMD and HP, though reading between the lines, AMD seems to be saying that it's not conceding the laptop market to Intel. That might not be obvious to casual observers who've only or mostly seen mention of Intel's Skylake architecture in laptops, but even so, AMD isn't waving the white flag.</p><p> The release wasn't totally absent of numbers, either&mdash;AMD points out that global facilities provider ISS recent equipped employees with HP EliteBooks powered by AMD PRO A-Series processors. ISS is home to over half a million employees spread across 77 countries.&nbsp;</p><iframe src="//" allowfullscreen="" width="500" frameborder="0" height="281"></iframe><p>Security outfit Brink also recently bought into AMD's architecture by equipping its IT staff with HP EliteBook 700 series models. So, uh, take that Intel?</p><p> The more interesting tidbit was a paragraph at the bottom confirming HP's plans to enable AMD's FreeSync technology in future laptops. Specifically, the HP Envy 15z powered by AMD A-Series processors will support FreeSync, AMD says. They'll be available sometime in the first half of this year, and by the end of the year, HP expects to support FreeSync on all AMD-powered laptops.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> PayPal Aids Netflix in Losing War Against VPN Users is blocking payments to a VPN that thwarts Netflix's regional blocks.Wed, 10 Feb 2016 17:59:30 +0000 <h3>An unwinnable war?</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Netflix Windows 10"></p><p> PayPal appears to be helping Netflix in its efforts to stop people from streaming movies and TV shows that aren't supposed to be available to them in their region. What isn't known is whether PayPal's effort is intentional or just coincidentally linked to Netflix. More on that in a moment.</p><p> Here's the thing&mdash;Netflix subscribers have been using VPN services to sidestep Netflix's content restrictions in certain areas. Netflix isn't unaware of this tactic, so for about the past month, it's been stepping up its effort to stop this from happening.</p><p> According to <a href="" target="_blank"><em>SlashGear</em></a>, Netflix has only been partially successful, with just two VPN providers having users report issues accessing Netflix. Those users received a message from Netflix saying that they were using "an unblocker or proxy" and that they should try accessing Netflix after disabling them.</p><p> Netflix was able to thwart the users' attempts to access restricted content by identifying the IP addresses their VPN providers were using. However, it was a short lived victory for Netflix&mdash;within hours, both VPN providers switched over to a new block of IP addresses and their users were once again able to access Netflix unfettered.</p><p> It's a constant uphill battle for Netflix, though it may have scored an unlikely ally in PayPal. The online payment service recently decided to stop processing payments to UnoTelly, a VPN provider in Canada. Here's why:</p><p> "Under the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for items that infringe or violate any copyright, trademark, right of publicity or privacy, or any other proprietary right under the laws of any jurisdiction," PayPal said.</p><p> PayPal didn't specifically mention Netflix, and the two may not be in cahoots at all. Be that as it may, Netflix will gladly take the assist, even if it's to fight a futile war.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Oculus Details First Rift Ready PC Bundles, Pre-Orders Start February 16 Ready PCs and Rift bundles go up for pre-order.Wed, 10 Feb 2016 17:18:58 +0000 riftSystems <h3>Getting a jump start on VR</h3> <p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Oculus Ready Systems"> </p> <p> Oculus has revealed the first batch of officially certified "Oculus Ready" PCs in anticipation of its Rift headset shipping to users at the end of next month. All of the systems unveiled will be available to pre-order on February 16, 2016 (next Tuesday) at a discount of up to $200 off their normal selling prices. </p> <p> Asus, Dell, and Dell's Alienware division are the first out of the gate with Oculus Ready branded systems. They start at $1,499 and come bundled with a Rift headset. If you already pre-ordered a Rift, Oculus will give you a code to purchase an Oculus Ready PC at a discount. </p> <p> Here's a look at the configurations: </p> <p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Oculus Ready PCs"> </p> <p> The prices you see above are for just the systems&mdash;you have to add another $599 to account for the Rift headset. In doing so, the least expensive configuration, a Dell XPS 8900 SE with an Intel Core i5-6400 processor, 8GB of DDR4 memory, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card, and 1TB hard drive, jumps to $1,499. Along with the Alienware X51 R3, both are just above the minimum recommended system requirements for the "full Rift experience," which calls for the following: </p> <ul> <li>Nvidia GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater</li> <li>Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater</li> <li>8GB+ RAM</li> </ul> <p> The Rift also requires Windows 7 SP1 or newer, two USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI 1.3+ video output supporting a 297MHz clock via a direct output architecture. </p> <p> Of course, "Oculus Ready" is just a marketing certification for vendors selling systems that meet or exceed the required specs&mdash;you can build your own PC to run with Rift. </p> <p> If you want to go the pre-built route, the above PCs will be available to pre-order from <a href="" target="_blank">Best Buy</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Amazon</a>,and the <a href="" target="_blank">Microsoft Store</a>. </p> <em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em> Google Updates Gmail with New Security Features is receiving new security features this weekWed, 10 Feb 2016 16:58:05 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Gmail Logo"></p><p>In celebration of Safer Internet Day, <a href="" target="_blank">Google has updated Gmail</a> on the web with two new security features that will be rolling out to users this week. The changes center around Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption and email authentication, aiming to keep users’ email safe from hackers. However, the company points out that other services need to take the same steps Google is implementing to ensure the privacy of both the sender and receiver.</p><p>“Gmail has always supported encryption in transit using TLS, and will automatically encrypt your incoming and outgoing emails if it can,” says Google’s Product Manager John Rae-Grant. “We support industry-standard authentication to help combat email impersonation. And there are tons of other security measures running behind the scenes to keep your email safe.”</p><p>The first change focuses on TLS encryption. If the Gmail user is about to send a message or receive a message from someone who uses a service that doesn’t support TLS encryption, then they'lll see a broken icon in the message. Why is this a big deal? TLS is a protocol that encrypts messages and delivers them securely. Without TLS, a third party could eavesdrop on the transmission between mail servers and read your private emails.</p><p>Google admits that TLS encryption isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s currently good enough to be adopted as the standard for secure email. Back in 2014, <a href="" target="_blank">Google showed</a> that 65 percent of the messages from Gmail to other providers were encrypted, whereas 50 percent of the incoming messages to Gmail were encrypted. <a href="" target="_blank">That number has climbed since then</a>, with 82 percent of outgoing email encrypted and 58 percent incoming encrypted.</p><p>The second Gmail change deals with authentication. If a user receives a message that Google can’t authenticate, then it will be branded with a question mark in place of the sender’s avatar, corporate logo, or profile photo. Email authentication is important because an email provider can recognize the sender of an incoming message. This authentication data can be used to fight spam and other forms of email abuse, and to verify to source of any received email.</p><p>“For example, if you receive a message from a big sender (like a financial institution, or a major email provider, like Google, Yahoo or Hotmail) that isn’t authenticated, this message is most likely forged and you should be careful about replying to it or opening any attachments,” <a href=";ref_topic=3404236" target="_blank">Google states</a>.</p><p>John Rae-Grant’s blog on Tuesday points out that not all email falling under the new security features will be dangerous. However, Gmail users are encouraged to be cautious about emails that can’t be authenticated or arrive from a mail server that doesn’t support TLS encryption. And as always, don’t click on links embedded in suspicious emails.</p> Technolust: Home Necessities and Accessories speakers, a sucky robot, and a cloud to sleep onWed, 10 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 <h3>Crazy speakers, a sucky robot, and a cloud to sleep on</h3><h4>Speakers worthy of the gods</h4><p>One&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Devialet Phantom speaker</a> costs $2,000 and supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and optical. It also peaks at 750 watts and has a sound range between 16Hz and 25Hz with a 99dB SPL rating one meter away. That’s a lot of volume firepower, and I want two of them for stereo audio. I was literally blown away by them when I got the chance to hear them live at Maximum PC Editor-in-Chief Tuan Nguyen’s house. They look extremely crazy up close, with the little spheres inside the 35x25x25cm body pulsating with an almost alien-like movement, but it was the sound that truly blew me away. It was easily the most powerful and amazing sound quality experience that I’ve ever heard in a home. We played a smattering of songs and I felt like I was at a live concert in front of live instruments.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Phantom"></p><h5><strong>So, what would the Devialet Phantoms provide me that I'm not getting now?</strong></h5><p>Right now, I’m using two cheap Dell speakers that I got as hand-me-downs from a decade ago. They get the job done, but won’t blow anybody away, let alone an audiophile. The Devialet Phantom would allow me to blow the roof off my place, much to the chagrin of my neighbors. </p><h4>A cloud for my back</h4><p>Right now I’m using a bed from Ikea that I bought several years ago, but I would love to have is a fancy bed. I googled “best bed in the world” and the $7,500&nbsp;<a href=";gclid=CjwKEAiAuea1BRCbn-2n7PbLgEMSJAABQvTToYBHIf55h57DpZXvY8WNoBxjmKpIJXzgy940_sn4ARoCILTw_wcB" target="_blank">GrandBed by Tempur-Pedic</a> was one of the first beds to pop up. Upon further research, it looks like the bed would indeed be a dream to sleep on. Dubbed “the ultimate sleep experience,” the GrandBed Mattress offers dual Tempure-HD Comfort Layers with awesome tailoring and expensive textiles. I’m no mattress expert, but that sounds like a dream come true.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="GrandBed by Tempur-Pedic"></p><h5><strong>So, what would the GrandBed by Tempur-Pedic provide me that I'm not getting now?</strong></h5><p>I suffer from a mild case of insomnia and I am sometimes up from the middle of the night until the sun creeps over the horizon. There are probably a number of contributing factors to blame, but I suspect my stiff bed has a lot to do with it. The GrandBed could greatly alleviate my sleep issues, and also help out some budding back pain issues I’m hoping to correct before they become worse.</p><h4>My own Rosie the Robot</h4><p>I’ve recently looked into getting a Roomba, and must admit I had no idea how expensive they can be! The one that I am eyeing in particular, the&nbsp;<a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454970533&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=roomba" target="_blank">iRobot Roomba 980</a> Vacuum Cleaning Robot, costs a staggering $900! That’s one expensive Vacuum cleaner, and for that price, it better suck! While it’s too steep for my wallet, a $900 robot that helps clean my room is the stuff of TechnoLusts.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="iRobot Roomba 980"></p><h5><strong>So, what would the iRobot Roomba 980 Vacuum Cleaning Robot provide me that I'm not getting now?</strong></h5><p>Right now, I have to bust out the heavy vacuum cleaner to clean up the carpet, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t been terribly great with that as of late. The Roomba 980 would allow me to be a little lazier, while having a cleaner place at the same time.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: Corsair AX Series 760W PSU, WD Black 1TB HDD, and More! you ask Pigeons and Planes, they'll tell you that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot should have gone platinum. Same goes for Madvillain's Madvillainy and Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. The list goes on, but the truth is, it's not that hard to go platinum80 Plus Platinum, that is.Tue, 09 Feb 2016 18:52:29 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Corsair AX760"></p><p><strong>Top Deals:</strong></p><p>If you ask <a href="" target="_blank">Pigeons and Planes</a>, they'll tell you that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot should have gone platinum. Same goes for Madvillain's Madvillainy and Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. The list goes on, but the truth is, it's not that hard to go platinum&mdash;80 Plus Platinum, that is. You can do it right now, just check out today's top deal for the <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-PSU-N82E16817139042-_-0209&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair AX series 760W SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 Plus Platinum Certified Power Supply</a> for <strong>$130</strong> with free shipping (normally $140 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEM25</strong>]; additional $30 Mail-in rebate). Not only is it efficient, it's also quiet and fully modular.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-EXT-HDD-N82E16822178778-_-0209&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate 2TB Game Drive for Xbox USB 3.0</a> for <strong>$90</strong> with free shipping (normally $100 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEM23</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822236625-_-0209&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive - 7200 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch</a> for <strong>$65</strong> with free shipping (normally $74 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGEM24</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824116663-_-0209&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">ViewSonic Black 23-Inch 5ms (GTG) Widescreen LED Backlight LCD Monitor IPS</a> for <strong>$110</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $120 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEM26</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820233853-_-0209&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Vengeance 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2666 (PC4 21300) Memory</a> for <strong>$200</strong> with free shipping (normally $210 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGET28</strong>])</p> Asus Pitches Multiple Benefits of New RP-AC68U Flagship Wireless Repeater announces its new top-shelf RP-AC68U dual-band Wi-Fi repeater.Tue, 09 Feb 2016 18:39:07 +0000 <h3>Extend your Wi-Fi coverage</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus RP-AC68U"></p><p> You've probably never seen a wireless repeater quite like the one Asus recently introduced. It's the <a href="" target="_blank">RP-AC68U</a> and it's modeled with Mayan-patterned panels on top for a unique look and ventilation. And those lines that run up and down? They glow red. You can form your own opinion on all that.</p><p> The RP-AC68U is a dual-band Wi-Fi repeater featuring four high performance internal antennas (three for transmit, one to receive), allowing users to extend coverage of their existing 802.11ac Wi-Fi network with combined speeds of up to 1,900Mbps (600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band).</p><p> In addition to extending Wi-Fi coverage, Asus touts other benefits, like a cheaper alternative to a NAS box.</p><p> "Connect up a portable hard drive to the USB 3.0 port and you’ll have a great alternative to a NAS. This way to create a personal cloud can save you a lot of cash, you can access your files using the free AiCloud app from your smartphone or tablet," <a href="" target="_blank">Asus says</a>.</p><p> Of course, connecting a portable drive to the USB 3.0 port on a Wi-Fi repeater isn't exactly the same as a dedicated NAS box, but if it's just a simple backup over LAN/WAN you're after, it's one possible solution (the same can be done with plugging a drive into your router's USB 3.0 port, if it has one).</p><p> The RP-AC68U also sports five GbE LAN ports for wired devices like game consoles, smart TVs, printers, NAS boxes (if you're not digging the portable drive + USB 3.0 idea), and whatever else you want to benefit from a wired connection.</p><p> Asus didn't say how much the RP-AC68U costs or when it will be available.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Google is Offering 2GB of Free Drive Storage for Completing a Quick Security Audit a brief security checkup from Google and receive 2GB of free Drive storage in return.Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:40:09 +0000 <h3>Rewarding good behavior</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Google Security Checkup"></p><p> It's in everyone's best interest if we all keep our accounts secure. To do that, it's a good idea to check your settings every so often. It's not a particularly glamorous thing to do, but if you take a few moments to run through Google's security checkup, Google will again award you 2GB of free Drive storage, just as it offered to do last year.</p><p> Depending on your account, it might only take a few seconds (literally) to run through the checkup. When I did mine, Google started off by asking me to check what I had listed for my recovery phone number, recovery email, and security question. That took about a second and a half, maybe two seconds if you count the time it took to move the mouse cursor and click on "Done."</p><p> The next thing Google audited was my list of connected devices. Once again, everything checked out with just a glance, so I clicked on "Looks good" and moved onto the third and final portion of the security checkup.</p><p> This one took a bit longer. Google has you look at your account permissions, and for my setup, I had to spin the scroll wheel a couple of times. It all checked out again, so I hit "Done" and walked away with free Drive storage. The entire process took maybe 10 seconds.</p><p> This isn't just a random thing Google is doing. Instead, it coincides with (and is in celebration of) <a href="" target="_blank">Safer Internet Day 2016</a>, an annual event organized by Insafe in February of each year.</p><p> Free storage promotions often have an expiration date, but there's no indication that Google's 2GB offering vanishes at any point&mdash;how groovy. To claim yours, <a href="" target="_blank">go here</a> and see if everything checks out.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> NextDesk CrossOver Turns Your Tabletop into a Powered Standing Desk's CrossOver is the first power standing desk converter.Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:16:15 +0000 <h3>A standing desk for the rest of us</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="NextDesk CrossOver"></p><p> It doesn't matter where you believe humans came from or what your stance is on evolution, one thing we should all be able to agree on is that we were never meant to sit on our rumps all day long. Studies have shown it's not healthy, yet if you make your living&nbsp;behind the glowing screen of a PC monitor, you might find yourself sitting for long stretches day after day, week after week, year after year.</p><p> You don't have to. Standing desks are growing in popularity and there are all kinds out there. Our current favorite is NextDesk's Air, a power-adjustable standing desk that earned a rare 100/100 verdict and coveted Kick Ass! award when we <a href="">reviewed it in December</a> of last year. With all the options available, it truly is the ultimate desk, though it's also expensive starting at nearly $2,200 before tacking on additional options.</p><p> It's one of several standing desks NextDesk offers, most of which are pricey. That's one of the things that makes NextDesk's relatively new CrossOver so exciting&mdash;it's comparatively affordable with a starting price of $399.</p><p> The CrossOver isn't actually a standalone standing desk, but purportedly the world's first powered standing desk converter. You place it on a tabletop of your choice&mdash;your existing desk, kitchen counter, living room table, whatever&mdash;and at the press of a button, the hybrid workstation lifts and lowers.</p><p> A 24V motor powers the CrossOver, which lifts up to 21 inches above whatever surface you put it on. You have a choice between bamboo or rubberwood, along with half a dozen color options.</p><p> The CrossOver lets you mount your monitor to the lifting column, or you can place it on the platform itself (the platform supports up to three monitors, for an additional cost, of course). By itself it weighs 40 pounds, making it more portable than heavier versions, and can lift up to 100 pounds at 1.5 inches per second.</p><p> We haven't played with the CrossOver first-hand, but if you're interested in it, NextDesk is accepting <a href="" target="_blank">pre-orders now</a>. It's estimated to ship sometime between March 25 to April 9, 2015.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Audio Path: Going from PC to Pro experiment with high-end audio, chasing unicorns in search of the ultimate listening experience.Tue, 09 Feb 2016 12:33:12 +0000 receiverAcoustic GeometryAcoustic Surfacesacoustic treatmentAdam AudioAuralexComputer speakersDenonFeaturesKRK Systemsm-audioMarantzMust ReadNADonkyoOppo HA-1pioneerSchiitsubwooferUSB DACusb sound cardyamahaYamaha HS8 <h3>Do you hear me now?</h3><p> Over the last two decades, PC audio has undergone a transformation. These days, it's relegated to a small corner spot on your motherboard, and little attention is given. There was a time when you could actually add RAM to your sound card.&nbsp;We really miss the days when there were 10 or more different companies competing for an expansion slot in your PC. Audio, the bastard child of the PC, is back in a different form, and there are even more options now than before. Onboard audio has become the new standard with add-ons moving outside of the chassis, and with a real focus on audiophile qualities.</p><p> There are a lot of choices, but it's not as easy to evaluate audio products as it is to, say, run benchmarks on the latest graphics card. But with the right equipment, we're able to come a little bit closer to a standard. Unfortunately, unless you have access to a true anechoic chamber with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, you'll just have to make due with your ears. For the most part, though, your ears will give you a good indication of whether something sounds good.</p><p> The entire chain of the listening experience distills down to four parts, each of which has a big impact in your overall experience: the source, the output device, the speakers, and your room. For this guide, we focus first on the stereo setup. We mention a few gaming-related options, but that that guide will come later.</p><h4>The Source</h4><p> The source is your material. This can be a streaming service, like Spotify, a lossy MP3 or lossless format like FLAC, or any other audio format. The better your source, the better the final output will sound. The difference between a 96kb/s MP3 file and a 320kb/s MP3 file is dramatic, even with moderate speakers/headphones. If you mostly spend your listening time with streaming&mdash;Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music&mdash;they&nbsp;all offer high-quality streaming options. Tidal, however, is the only one that offers FLAC streaming.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="YouTube. Not the best place for great audio quality." class=""><figcaption>YouTube. Not the best place for great audio quality.</figcaption></figure><p> Most of the world relies on MP3s. If your library consists mainly of MP3 files, try to make sure you've got 192kb/s or higher bit rate files. More serious listeners swear by only FLAC files for a true lossless audio transmission. MP3, no matter the bit rate, is always going to discard audio information to maintain compression sizes.</p><h4>The output device</h4><p> In most cases, your output device is going to be the sound codec on your motherboard. Sound cards are still a good option for a step up in quality, but motherboard audio has improved substantially over the years. Many motherboard companies have boards with codecs that are capable of 24-bit/192kHz output and most will produce Dolby Digital and DTS output.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard audio: convenient, but nowhere near good." class=""> <figcaption>Onboard audio: convenient, but no match for a dedicated sound card.</figcaption></figure><p> More recently, going with an external sound solution has become popular. External sound cards and USB DACs (digital to analog converter)&nbsp;will likely give you the best quality, but they present their own challenges as well. Some users will bypass the analog outputs on their motherboards entirely with an external home-theater receiver over digital optical or coaxial SPDIF output. Almost all motherboards except the cheapest ones offer SPDIF output. Some recent motherboards actually have very good audio output. Crazily enough, MSI has started using ESS's Sabre 9018 DACs in some of its products, including <a target="_blank" href="">its X99A Godlike Gaming motherboard</a>. We've come a long way from AC'97.</p><h4>The speakers</h4><p> The speakers you plan to use are ultimately the most important part of the audio chain. They can make a good source sound terrible or a low bit-rate MP3 sound decent.</p><p> A lot of "PC" speakers included with PCs are, frankly, throwaway systems. They have no dynamic range, sound muffled, have no clarity, and lack power. If you're reading this, hopefully you're using a good set of desktop speakers</p><p> The most famous sets of speakers for a desktop system are the Klipsch ProMedias and Logitech's Z-5500; these represent what a good desktop system ought to sound like. The Klipsch in particular have been a staple with enthusiasts for years. It's a shame that Klipsch no longer makes its 5.1 ProMedias, but you can still buy its 2.1 system.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Klipsch Promedia 5.1 Ultra. Still awesome even today." class=""> <figcaption>Klipsch Promedia 5.1 Ultra. Still awesome, even today.</figcaption></figure><p> Beyond desktop systems, there's a whole universe of options for speakers if you're willing to invest.</p><h4>The room</h4><p> Your room plays a critical role in how sound will be received by your ears. The acoustics of a room have a big effect on the sounds produced within it. Echo, reverb, resonance, and standing waves are all properties that are impacted by variables like room size, wall and floor construction, and other objects.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Lots of corners, and surfaces that can use treatment." class=""><figcaption>Lots of corners, and surfaces that can use treatment.</figcaption></figure><p> Professional recording studios all operate with acoustically treated rooms. This is to say that the rooms have absorbing and defusing panels and other&nbsp;materials attached to the walls to decrease or eliminate negative effects. This is the ultimate step in a sound setup and can dramatically improve your listening experience.</p><p> For this article, we'll be taking a look at three of the four parts in the chain: the output device, the speakers, and the room treatment. We're going to go straight to the high end, and attempt to put together an overall package for excellent audio that's suitable even for a home studio. If you're into recording your own music, the products we'll talk about here might just work for you.</p><p> This article goes through lots of topics, so here are jump links for convenience:</p><p> <a href="">Page 2: The output device</a><br> <a href="">Page 3: The DAC (Oppo HA-1)</a><br> <a href="">Page 4: The studio monitors (Yamaha HS8 and HS8 Sub)</a><br> <a href="">Page 5: Room acoustics</a><br> <a href="">Page 6: Room acoustic treatment</a><br> <a href="">Page 7: The results</a></p><h3>The output device</h3><p> We're going to assume you want to jump off the motherboard and go directly to an external device. Depending on what you want your speaker setup to look like, how much room you have, and your budget, we have a few different options.</p><p> There's a school of thought that says relying on your motherboard's output introduces interference and noise, caused by all the other components. This is true, but on some motherboards, manufacturers&nbsp;have gone to decent lengths to minimize interference. It's still there, though, as other components add line noise, since everything's connected to the same power supply, and there's guess work in that component, too. Our advice is to skip the PC box altogether and get an external DAC that will run over USB.</p><p> A good USB DAC will give you several important features. One, you're likely going to get a good DAC chip (AK, ESS, and AD chips come to mind). Two, it'll have a good built-in headphone amp to drive high-end headphones. And three, you can use many of them with your laptop. All that aside, the audio components and path design are far superior to than anything you can get inside a PC.</p><h4>The budget option (less than $100)</h4><p> You can go with <a target="_blank" href=";field-keywords=USB+sound+adapter">small USB adapters for audio</a>, and some of them even have 5.1 channel output. Most of these range between $6 and $9&mdash;yeah, really&mdash;and offer you working audio output. These are no-frills, no high-resolution audio, and some of them sound even worse than standard onboard audio. We don't recommend going this low, unless your onboard audio is shot.</p><p> Creative Labs has its <a target="_blank" href="">Sound Blaster Omni</a>, which is a USB sound module with built-in volume control. The Omni is small enough that you can tote it around with you if you're traveling, and it's entirely powered by USB; there's no power brick to haul. It offers relatively good sound.</p><p> If you want to go even smaller, <a target="_blank" href="">M-Audio has its new&nbsp;Micro DAC</a> that can do 24-bit/192kHz output. If you want a good step up, this is what we'd go with, but unfortunately it doesn't offer 5.1 output over analog. So for gaming, you're better off with the Omni as it has 5.1 analog speaker output and will do 24-bit/96kHz output. If you just want stereo, <a target="_blank" href="">Schiit's Modi 2 supports 24-bit/192kHz</a> sampling rates if you're willing to install drivers. Schiit's Modi 2 Uber for $149 is a step above if you're looking for full 24-bit/192kHz output over raw USB and SPDIF, and it seems to be a popular option with several Maximum PC readers.&nbsp;</p><h5> <strong>A step up:</strong></h5><p> You may want to consider an external USB DAC, but most within this budget only offer stereo output. Good options include the Schiit Modi 2 ($99), <a target="_blank" href="">Optoma's NuFroce uDAC3 ($98)</a>, and <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1454714786&amp;sr=8-1-fkmr1&amp;keywords=fido+e10k">FiiO's E10K ($119)</a>. They offer clean and low-noise sound output, but the caveat is that they're only stereo. If you're looking for 5.1 output, the <a target="_blank" href="">Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro</a> is a recommended choice.</p><h4>The midrange option ($200 to $600)</h4><p> This is where a lot&nbsp;more options open up. Many prefer to buy a receiver to handle audio duties. Even receivers in the $200 range can offer significantly better audio quality than any onboard solution. Going with a receiver will ensure that you have all the most popular sound formats covered, and in terms of flexibility, a receiver will let you use your desktop speakers or upgrade to hi-fi speakers.</p><p> Receivers also provide significantly more power output, and allow you to connect more devices. You'll be giving yourself better components, cleaner power delivery, and be covered for both stereo and multi-channel output&mdash;even budget receivers now have 7.1 channel support. The components inside a receiver are also better quality than can ever be stuffed onto the limited space of a motherboard.</p><p> The main drawbacks are that receivers are big and consume more power. If you're going to use a receiver for your PC, you're best going with an upgraded speaker system. You can still connect multi-channel desktop speakers to a receiver through its pre-outs, though.</p><p> Some good options include <a target="_blank" href="">Onkyo's TX-NR636 8.1 channel receiver</a>, which fully supports Dolby Atmos, should you choose to go all-in on speakers. Another good option is <a target="_blank" href="">Denon's AVR-S900W</a>, which is a 7.2 channel receiver; it lacks Dolby Atmos and has been discontinued by Denon, but it can still be found. You'll need to forgo your desktop speakers with receivers below $600, though, as they don't usually have the pre-outs necessary for use with desktop PC speaker systems.</p><p>For gamers, a&nbsp;<a href="">good option in this price range is the Sound Blaster X7</a>. It's got everything you need for excellent multi-channel and stereo output: a built&nbsp;in amplifier for passive speakers (in stereo), powerful headphone amplification, excellent DAC performance, and&nbsp;features for both music and gaming.&nbsp;<a href="">It's even liked by the audiophile community</a> and we picked it as the go-to option in our Dream Machine 2015.</p><h4>The high-end option ($1000+)</h4><p> If you have a bigger budget to work with, you'll have a lot more options still. This is where some serious DACs come into play. At this point you might even want two DACs, one for just listening to music and general audio, and a 5.1 unit like the X-Fi for games. All the high-end USB DACs are stereo-only.</p><p> For gaming, you'll definitely want a multi-channel receiver. If you do a lot of movie watching on your PC, this route will also serve you well. Some people use actual LED TVs for their PC&nbsp;setup&mdash;4K panels included. If this is you, a receiver is a must for 5.1 and higher. Any of the receiver brands mentioned above will have good options, but now that you're in this price bracket, you can consider other high-end brands&nbsp;like Cambridge, Marantz, NAD, and Pioneer.</p><p> For us, we're skipping the receiver entirely, focusing our money mainly on a high-end USB DAC that can work well with both speakers, monitors&nbsp;and headphones.</p><h3>The DAC</h3><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Oppo HA-1. Comes in silver and black." class=""> <figcaption>The Oppo HA-1 comes in silver or black.</figcaption></figure><h4>Oppo HA-1</h4><p> We have a few requirements for our USB DAC. First, it must posses a good DAC chip. Second, it must posses excellent circuit and power design to deliver clean and pristine sound at 24-bit/192kHz or higher. Third, it must provide excellent headphone-driving capabilities. Fourth, it needs the necessary outputs for supporting active studio monitors. If it has a wireless option as well, that's a bonus.</p><p> The DAC that <a target="_blank" href="">has all of the above and great engineering is the Oppo HA-1</a>. If you haven't heard of Oppo, you'll be forgiven. The company is most famous for making excellent Blu-ray players that have features not found elsewhere, with exceptional output quality. But recently, Oppo has gotten into both the business of making USB DACs and <a target="_blank" href="">excellent-sounding planar-magnetic headphones</a>. Oppo's PM-3 specifically was selected by The WireCutter as its <a target="_blank" href="">best-sounding headphones under $400</a>.</p><h5> <strong>A step up:</strong></h5><p> The other DACs we would consider include <a target="_blank" href="">Schiit Audio's Yggdrasil</a> and <a target="_blank" href="">Gungnir Multibit</a>. Both are true multi-bit DACs and both are revered by the audiophile community. The difference between the two models, according to Schiit co-founder Jason Stoddard:</p><ol> <li>Gungnir Multibit uses four 18-bit AD DACs, as opposed to Yggdrasil’s four 20-bit AD DACs.</li> <li>Gungnir Multibit’s analog stage uses all surface-mount components, whereas Yggdrasil has some through-hole components. Both are simple, discrete JFET buffers with the same topology, though.</li> <li>Gungnir Multibit’s power supply is much simpler than the Yggdrasil, which has a pretty heroic supply, including a choke-input and discrete shunt-regulated analog supply.</li> <li>Gungnir Multibit is only available with Gen 2 USB, while Yggdrasil has the newer Gen 3 USB.</li></ol><p> The only caveat is that both the Yggdrasil and Gungnir are discrete DACs and will require a separate amplifier if you plan to drive passive speakers, or plan to use headphones. The Gungnir Multibit and Yggdrasil are $1,249 and $2,299, respectively.</p><p>We'll be giving the Schiit Gungnir and Mjolnir 2 powered amp a closer look in an upcoming article, but if you're interested in finding out more from the community,&nbsp;<a href="">check out here</a> and&nbsp;<a href="">here</a>.</p><h5>A closer look at the Oppo HA-1 </h5><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Front and back." class=""> <figcaption>Front and back.</figcaption></figure><p> For $1,199, the Oppo HA-1 has one of the most sought-after features for a DAC: <a target="_blank" href="">an ESS 9018 Sabre 32 DAC (PDF)</a>. This DAC can be found in some of the highest-end receivers. The ESS 9018 DAC is widely considered as the best audio DAC in the world (many consider the Analog Devices DAC in the Schiit Yggdrasil to be the king), but ESS recently announced a new flagship DAC, the 9038PRO. Both DACs support 32-bit/384kHz on all channels. The 9038PRO has an incredible DNR (dynamic range) of 140dB (129dB for the 9018) and THD+ (total harmonic distortion plus noise) rating of -122dB (-120dB for the 9018). The entire audio path from power delivery to signal conversion is equally important in supporting a good DAC. You can find small USB adapters that have the Sabre DAC for less than $70, but the audio output won't be great.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="High-quality, fully linear power stages and analog audio path." class=""> <figcaption>High-quality, fully linear power stages and analog audio path.</figcaption></figure><p> If the ESS 9018 Sabre is the heart of the HA-1, then the Class A amplifier in the HA-1 would be its soul. The sound delivered by the HA-1 is extremely clean, with a very low noise floor. Even with the volume cranked to maximum, our headphones delivered nothing but silence. While Class A amps are considered best for audio quality, they do run hot. Lesser units will rely on Class D amps, which don't run as hot, are more efficient, but introduce more noise.</p><p> If you're interested in running a USB DAC, take note that the HA-1 is an asynchronous USB DAC, meaning it doesn't rely on the host computer's USB clock generator. If you're already familiar with USB DACs, sound output can be affected by poor USB clocks on the motherboard. DAC dropouts and/or strange noises when switch sampling rates are common. If you have a USB DAC and are experiencing issues, you might consider&nbsp;<a href="">Schiit's Wyrd USB Decrapifier</a>, which cleans up and rechecks the USB signal, virtually eliminating any problems you may have with your DAC, unless the DAC itself is going bad. We have two, and they work.</p><p> Besides being a fantastic headphone amplifier, the HA-1 is also great as a pre-amp for speakers. We like the HA-1 in particular for having both single-ended and balanced XLR outputs. Most speakers will connect to the single-ended RCA jacks, but if you're planning to use professional studio monitors, like the ones we chose, the balanced outputs will help reduce noise significantly over longer cable runs.</p><p> How does XLR balanced connections work? Using a technique called differential mode, the audio signal is carried over two separate wires with opposing polarity. The two signals cancel each other out on the receiving end (which must be differential-capable). What you're left with is just the noise signal, which is then rejected by the receiving end. With the noise signal removed, what you're left with is a clean audio signal. We made sure our entire signal path is fully balanced, with the same XLR cables through all interconnects, to ensure that the impedances are matched. If you're using headphones with the HA-1, it has support for both normal and high-gain output, and supports both headphones using 1/4-inch TRS connectors as well as balanced XLR connectors.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fully balanced outputs going to our monitors from the Oppo HA-1." class=""> <figcaption>Fully balanced outputs going to our monitors from the Oppo HA-1.</figcaption></figure><p> Oppo also filled the HA-1 with plenty of other useful features. Audio over Bluetooth (AptX) support is included, as well as a pure analog potentiometer for volume control. Many other DACs use a digital volume control chip to control output, which adds an additional step in the audio path. The HA-1 maintains a completely analog path from DAC to connector.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The HA-1's multiple display options." class=""></p><p> One minor complaint we have with the HA-1 is its inability to mute the pre-outs directly on the unit itself. You must use the supplied remote control to mute your speaker output if you decide to switch over to headphones. This is annoying and we hope Oppo can include it in a firmware update. If you lose your remote, you'll be unable to mute speaker output.</p><p>MEASUREMENTS</p><p><strong>Measuring equipment:</strong></p><ul> <li>- <a target="_blank" href="">Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface</a></li><li>- Onboard audio: Realtek ALC898 7.1&nbsp;channel</li><li>- DAC: Oppo HA-1 (ESS Sabre 9018 DAC)</li></ul><p><strong>Onboard (BLUE) vs. DAC pre-out (GREEN), volume min</strong><br><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Vs Dac Min"><br><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Vs Dac Volts"></p><p><strong>Onboard headphone out (PURPLE) vs. DAC headphone out (RED), volume min</strong><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Vs Dac Headphone Min"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Vs Dac Headphones Volts"></p><p><strong>Onboard out (BLUE)&nbsp;vs. Onboard headphone out (PURPLE), volume min</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Headphone Vs Out Min"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Onboard Headphone Vs Out Volts"></p><p>The audio output from the HA-1 is outstanding, naturally. It's clean, free of noise, and the frequency response is excellent. Compared to onboard, noise and distortion is significantly less. Keep in mind that the dB scale is logarithmic, meaning for every 3dB the perceived volume doubles. The ESS Sabre 9018 really shines in the HA-1. In terms of tonality, the sound produced by the 9018 is accurate, but if you're looking for a warmer-colored sound, the HA-1 may not be for you.</p><p>The onboard outputs, both rear jacks and headphone jacks, are completely destroyed by using an external USB DAC. The DAC has a superior low noise floor that just can't be matched by the motherboard solution, no matter how good it's shielded. There are too many factors inside your PC that can't be controlled, and the result of that&nbsp;show up on the analysis. There's even a stark difference between onboard rear outputs and onboard headphone jacks on the front panel. The cable that connects your motherboard's front-panel outputs to the actual jacks on your case are picking up lots of internal interference, even though they're short.</p><p>Now let's move on to choosing our speakers.</p><h3>The Speakers</h3><h4>Yamaha HS8 and HS8S subwoofer</h4><p> Instead of "speakers," we're going to use studio monitors. With studio monitors, you're going to get a more accurate reproduction of what a recording is supposed to actually&nbsp;sound like. Their goal is to produce the entire frequency range with a flat response curve without emphasis on any particular frequency range. The drawback is they're usually near-field, meaning they have a very narrow sweet spot. In our testing, though, monitors still sound good even when you're not sitting directly in the "zone."</p><p> A name that's legendary in the monitor business is Yamaha. The company's NS10 studio monitors are widely use in professional mixing studios and have been a staple in the industry for many years. You can easily identify them by their distinctive white bass cone. Yamaha has since introduced a <a target="_blank" href="">replacement to the NS series called the HS</a>, and <a target="_blank" href="">we opted for the HS8 monitors</a>&mdash;8 for the size of its 8-inch low-frequency driver. Yamaha also makes smaller sizes: the HS7 and HS5. However, the HS8 has a lower frequency extension than the HS7 and HS5. In fact, the HS8's dynamic range is so good that for some cases, you won't even need a subwoofer.</p><h5> <strong>A step down:</strong></h5><p> If the HS8 is too big for you, you can go for the HS7 and HS5. They're smaller, still blend seamlessly with the HS8S subwoofer, and are more affordable. Other options in this space include the <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454974748&amp;sr=1-6&amp;keywords=studio+monitors">KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation 3</a> monitors that go for $300, or the <a target="_blank" href="">M-Audio Studiophile AV 42 set</a>,&nbsp;which can be had for $180. The KRK speakers offer excellent flat response and are popular with those who mix (or listen to) hip-hop or synthesized music. Many people who want to swap out their desktop speakers for a pair of studio monitors find themselves picking M-Audio, and we reckon that's a great place to start. JBL is another brand we have no problem recommending, as they're popular with mixing and recording studios. Its LSR series are well regarded, <a target="_blank" href="">including the very popular LSR305 monitors</a>.</p><h5> <strong>A step up:</strong></h5><p> All of the above-mentioned companies offer higher-end products as well, with&nbsp;price ranges similar to Yamaha's HS8 series ($499 per monitor). But if you want to go a step higher, you may want to&nbsp;consider three excellent choices (there are more): Genelec, Neumann, and Adam Audio. In the case of Neumann, the company also makes some of the world's best microphones, so if you're recording, you might want your <a target="_blank" href=";lang=en">entire system run on Neumann</a>, but the prices for Neumann monitors can reach up to $10,000 apiece.</p><p> If we had to pick a good step up, <a target="_blank" href="">we'd go with Adam Audio's A8X</a>, which is a two-way powered monitor with a ribbon tweeter (<a target="_blank" href="">$2,000 for a pair</a>). Many in the mixing industry say that the ribbon tweeter used by Adam is less tiring to listen to over long hours than dome tweeters. It's no coincidence that we also chose Adam Audio as our supplier for the <a target="_blank" href="">speakers included in Dream Machine 2015</a>.</p><h5>A closer look at the Yamaha HS8 studio monitors</h5><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Yamaha HS8 monitor. A legend in studios." class=""> <figcaption>The Yamaha HS8 monitor; Yamaha's a legend in studios.</figcaption></figure><p> The HS8 is a two-way bi-amplified studio monitor with a frequency response of 38Hz to 30kHz with a total power rating of 120W RMS. The low-frequency driver receives 75W of power while the high-frequency driver uses 45W.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Room customization options on the rear of the HS8." class=""><figcaption>Room customization options on the rear of the HS8.</figcaption></figure><p> On the rear, the HS series has both single-ended and balanced XLR inputs&mdash;a perfect match for our Oppo HA-1. The monitor also features both room control and high-trim, allowing you to tailor the speaker to compensate for room acoustics.</p><p> For subwoofer duties&mdash;yes, we wanted one&mdash;Yamaha has an <a target="_blank" href="">accompanying matched sub called the HS8S</a>. With a sub, you'll have much greater dynamic range. The HS8S sub has both single-ended and fully balanced ins and outs. The HS8 monitors plug directly into the subwoofer in our case, but if you decide not to get a sub, they can plug directly into the Oppo HA-1's balanced outputs. Both the Oppo HA-1 and the Yamaha HS8S and HS8 monitors are fully differential.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fully connected HS8S subwoofer." class=""><figcaption>Fully connected HS8S subwoofer.</figcaption></figure><p> Yamaha features high- and low-cut options on the HS8S as well as phase control. The high cut will let you determine the high frequency ceiling of the subwoofer; in our case, we left it at 100Hz. Low cut determines the bottom end of the frequency range that is passed onto the monitors, which we also left at Yamaha's recommended setting of 100Hz.</p><p> Phase control is a bit more complicated. In a nutshell, it is like wiring the black cable to the red connector on a speaker, thereby reversing the phase of the output. In the case of the HS8S, this is to correct bass response depending on your room acoustics and where you've placed the subwoofer. In some cases, a sub can produce out-of-phase bass frequencies with the speakers, canceling out certain frequency ranges, causing an audible dip in frequency response. Essentially, phase control allows you to correct misalignment in cone movement timing between the speakers and the subwoofer, to make them in sync. If they're out of sync, you can correct this with a phase switch. For more information on phase correction, <a target="_blank" href="">check out Rod Elliot's excellent write-up</a> of phase shift and time delay.</p><p> Rear speakers that are facing the front speakers can also cancel each other's sound if wired incorrectly (out of phase). Always check if you've connected your speaker terminals correctly. In the photo above, we have our entire signal path running over a balanced connection. </p><p> The HS8 monitors will blow every PC speaker out of the water. Their response is fast and accurate, producing exceptional bass response as well as crisp highs. Midrange response is fantastic, too. The difference between even the Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 system that we were using before and the HS8 is night and day. With the accompanying HS8S sub, the setup is unmatched. </p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="HS8 and HS8S frequency response plot." class=""> <figcaption>HS8 and HS8S frequency response plot.</figcaption></figure><p> The HS8S produces tight bass, and responds down to nearly subsonic levels. Depending on your room acoustics, you can achieve frequencies below the HS8S's 22Hz bottom end. For accurate, full, and exceptional audio, you'll be hard pressed to find a better setup&mdash;save for going all out with hi-fi speakers attached to a receiver.</p><p> There are other great studio monitors from several other companies. The few that come to mind are M-Audio, KRK, JBL, Mackie, and Adam Audio. Your preferences on monitors may vary, but the common factor is they all aim to produce a flat frequency response.</p><h5>Isolating your monitors</h5><p>After moving over to monitors, you'll want to give them some isolation. Isolation pads decouple the monitors from the surface they're on&mdash;in our case it's the desk. They reduce resonance, which can interfere with your output, creating false acoustics and coloring the sound. We opted to&nbsp;<a href="">use Auralex's MoPAD</a> to isolate our HS8 monitors and they work incredibly well. They can be had for $34 on Amazon and can be positioned so that your monitors point upward, downward, or straight forward. For the HS8S subwoofer, we isolated it with&nbsp;<a href="">Auralex's SubDude-HT</a>. Our flooring is raised, and causes the bass to sound loose. With the pads in, the bass is significantly tighter, and clearer. The SubDude-HT goes for $72.50 on Amazon.</p><h4>Ground loops</h4><p> One problem people run into when running active monitors is the interference produced by ground loops. This is caused by either miswiring in a house/studio, or a badly designed power supply for a product connected to the same power line as the monitors. Simply speaking, ground loops occur when two or more components are going to the same earth ground, but they do so through more than one path. We ran into this exact situation. What you'll get from this is an annoying 60Hz humming sound emanating from the monitors, even at very low volumes. To learn more about ground loops, see this video:</p><iframe src="//" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" width="500"> </iframe><p> Unfortunately, we weren't able to determine what was causing the ground loop in our setup, so we had to get some ground-loop isolators.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Two ground-loop isolators: one power line based, and one in-line." class=""><figcaption>Two ground-loop isolators, one power-line based, and one in-line.</figcaption></figure><p> There are two ways to isolate ground loops: in-line on the audio path itself, or at the power plug. Using an in-line ground-loop isolator works, but it removes the 60Hz frequency and impacts low frequency response. We don't recommend this method. The way we solved our problem was to use a power-plug ground-loop isolator, solving the problem directly at the source, without interfering with the actual audio signal.</p><p> In our case, <a target="_blank" href="">the HumX from EBTech</a> worked perfectly, although they cost $55 a piece. The PAC in-line ground-loop isolator solved one problem and created another&mdash;not recommended.</p><p> Some people choose to eliminate ground-loop issues by actually removing the ground pins from their amplified components. This is most definitely not recommended, as it can cause damage to components, or in some cases, even electrical shock. A good starting place to test for ground-wiring issues is to get a <a target="_blank" href=";field-keywords=GFCI+tester">GFCI AC outlet tester</a>. They're cheap (less than $10) and can be bought on Amazon, HomeDepot, or any other electronics store.</p><h3>The Room</h3><p> If you've read up to this page, you're either very curious or very serious about getting the best sound possible from your setup. The last part of the equation has to do with your room.</p><p> Room acoustics play a big role in how you hear your music. Reflections can cause unwanted interference. Sound travels fast (340.20 meters per second), and can easily bounce off walls, causing flutter. Echo from other equipment you may have in the room&mdash;like your PC&mdash;can also create interference. What you'll want to do is acoustically treat your room. Here's an excellent video demonstrating room treatment by John Calder of Acoustic Geometry:</p><iframe src="//" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" width="500"> </iframe><p> As a test, you can go around your room with two wooden blocks and slap them together to hear the reflections and echoes in your room. The smaller your room, the more evident it will be. Larger rooms will have less of a problem, but they'll still benefit from treatment. In an empty room, the effects of its wave bounce acoustics will be much clearer. In a normal room with various things like sofas, shelves, or even a bed can help with deflecting and absorbing sound.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Auralex sound absorber panel." class=""><figcaption>Auralex sound absorber panels.</figcaption></figure><p> We'd like to point out that there is a difference between sound-proofing and acoustic treatment, and they often get confused. Sound-proofing is the process of preventing sound from leaving your room. Acoustic treatment is where you decrease the color that the flat surfaces in your room contribute to the overall sound. For the sake of simplicity, we'll just focus on acoustic treatment.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="High-end absorption panels by Acoustic Geometry." class=""><figcaption>High-end fabric-wrapped absorption panels by Acoustic Geometry.</figcaption></figure><p> There are several products professional studios use to treat a room. First are absorber panels. These are usually made from dense foam material and have a saw pattern on their surface. The second are diffusers, which scatter sound in different directions to reduce paths where sound is directly reflected back to your ears.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Phase-coherent diffusers by Acoustic Geometry." class=""><figcaption>Phase-coherent diffusers by Acoustic Geometry.</figcaption></figure><p> Most home studios tend to use absorbers only, which is fine. Trying to eliminate all reflections entirely is bad, as you still want some "good" reflections to occur, which adds a slight sound stage to your listening experience. Listening to music in an anechoic room is unpleasant, and is an even worse experience when nothing's playing. Your ideal setup will include both absorbers and diffusers. If you have computer equipment that's producing noise, echo eliminators will greatly reduce the fan noise you hear, which is caused from the sounds bouncing off walls.</p><h5> <strong>A step down:</strong></h5><p> Most people will want to start off with absorption acoustic foam pads, and a great company for that would be Auralex. Its pads come in various sizes and colors and can easily fit into any room. They don't have the same diffusing abilities as Acoustic Surfaces, but they offer good sound absorption for the money;&nbsp;Auralex <a target="_blank" href="">also offers diffusing panels</a>. The company also makes diffusion products, which are panels with square cutouts in varying heights to reduce waves from grouping, creating hot-spots in a room.</p><h5> <strong>A step up:</strong></h5><p> Essentially, more panels and more types of panels. Diffusers, ceiling panels, bass traps, absorbers... you can really go nuts. If you've done all you can in terms of treating a room, the next step may be to soundproof the room.</p><h3>The Treatment</h3><p> Our test room measures 14 feet by 25 feet. We decided to <a target="_blank" href="">reach out to the pros Acoustic Geometry</a> (a subsidiary of <a target="_blank" href="">Acoustic Surfaces</a>) to have our room treated. Acoustic Surfaces offers a huge selection of sound treatment products&mdash;you can get lost in its product catalog. If you're interested in soundproofing your room or studio, the company supplies products for doing that, too.</p><h4>Reducing existing noises</h4><p> The first step in our process was to significantly reduce the noise from our computer equipment. The ideal situation is to have those machines situated in another room, but in our case, this wasn't possible. We used a product from Acoustic Surfaces <a target="_blank" href="">called the Echo Eliminator</a>. The panels attach to the wall behind the machines via 3M double-sided adhesive and significantly reduce fan noise. Even if you're not trying to build a studio, you can reduce equipment noise to saner levels&mdash;especially if you sleep in the same area where you work.</p><p> <figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The Echo Eliminators significantly reduced fan noise caused by reflections." class=""><figcaption>The Echo Eliminators significantly reduced fan noise caused by reflections.</figcaption></figure></p><p> With the pads in place, the sound of our NAS setup was significantly reduced. The whirring sounds of fans were much less intrusive, and the whine of spinning hard drives was reduced as well. Our DBA mic was able to show a to 2dB drop in hum.</p><p> We also placed pads beside the PC to reduce its noise. Those who build quiet PCs will also be familiar with mass-loaded panels that can be adhered to the inside of the case panels, further reducing unwanted noise.</p><p> <figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Echo Eliminators reducing fan noise from the rear of our PC." class=""><figcaption>Echo Eliminators reducing fan noise from the rear of our PC.</figcaption></figure></p><p> After significantly reducing our equipment hum, the final step was to treat the room itself. Treating your room is a process that takes a bit of time. You'll first have to determine where the reflection points are. To do that, grab a mirror and get someone to help you. Move the mirror along the walls and tell your partner to mark the point on the wall where you can see your speakers. These are the first and most damaging reflection points. Once you've marked the walls, you'll have full indications of where absorbers and diffusers should go.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The diffusers measure up to 7-inches in depth." style="width: 588px;"> <figcaption>The diffusers measure up to seven inches in depth.</figcaption></figure><p> For our room size and purpose (listening, and not recording), we decided to go with Acoustic Surfaces' curved diffusers. These diffusers are large and stand tall, but come in two different widths. We received both small and medium size diffusers. The best part of the curved diffusers is that they both absorb and scatter sound waves, thereby keeping the general characteristics of our room for a pleasant listening environment. What frequency ranges do the diffusers affect?</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic Surfaces" style="width: 668px;"></p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Medium panels on either side of our ears, and two blocking corners." style="width: 588px;"> <figcaption>Medium panels on either side of our ears, and two blocking corners.</figcaption></figure><p> In our arrangement, two small diffusers stand vertically on either side of the monitors. We then placed two medium vertically standing diffusers directly on either side of our listening position, which is where the most sound flutter occurs. Finally, a medium diffuser was placed horizontally behind our listening position.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="A medium panel positioned horizontally behind our listening position." style="width: 588px;"> <figcaption>A medium panel positioned horizontally behind our listening position.</figcaption></figure><p> If you want to go further, ceiling absorbers can also be installed, since a ceiling is a large reflecting surface as well. You might also want to consider placing absorber panels behind the monitors. If you want to control your low frequencies further, you can place bass traps in the corners of your room. Room corners are referred to as trihedral corners because they connect three different wall surfaces. Dihedral corners are where side walls connect. Studios typically deploy bass traps to reduce the "boomy" effect, especially if you're using a subwoofer that's placed near a room corner. The goal is to ensure your subwoofer is producing tight, responsive, and clear musical bass.</p><h3>The Final Results</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Img 5109"></p><p>With the room finished, we decided to measure the difference. Keep in mind that different rooms will have different resonating frequencies. The more panels and diffusers you have in your setup, the more effective the results will be. For our setup, things were already getting quite crowded with 5 panels, and for the purpose of this article, drilling into our ceiling to install absorption clouds was not an option.</p><h4>Measurements</h4><h5><strong>Measuring equipment:</strong></h5><ul> <li><a href="">DBX RTA-M Reference microphone</a></li><li><a href="">Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface</a></li></ul><p><strong>With treatment (BLUE) vs. without treatment (ORANGE)</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic2"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic1"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic3"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic5"></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acoustic4"></p><p><strong>Remember: dB measurements are logarithmic, meaning every 3dB of change is a doubling or halving of audible volume.</strong></p><p>The results clearly show a stark difference between a treated room and a room that isn't. In subjective listening tests, we were able to hear a difference. Sound was more focused and more clear, and bass response was much tighter. We were able to hear sounds at a much more detailed level. In typical audio product reviews, you're often presented with poetic words and flowery descriptions that hardly mean anything, but from the graphs above, you can clearly see the frequency ranges that are impacted.</p><h5>Conclusion</h5><p>If you're interested in taking your desktop audio experience to new heights, these are the kinds of steps that you might consider. There's no need to do all four, but doing&nbsp;at least two of the&nbsp;steps will make a huge&nbsp;difference. As a matter of fact, upgrading just your speakers will make the biggest impact in your enjoyment. If you want to go all out, the total amount of money spent can rise quickly.</p><p>For those who want a quick DIY solution to acoustic treatment, blankets are an option. Some studios hang blankets and even place mattresses against a wall to absorb sound. If you're into home-theater setups, all the topics we covered in this article will apply too, and can impact your movie experience dramatically.</p><p>Audio is a highly subjective topic with a lot of murky areas. But with the right balance of equipment and planning, you can be sure your improvements are objectively appreciated.&nbsp;For us, this is going to be the setup we'll be using to test speakers and headphones. More on that soon!</p><p><em>(And now it's time to play my favorite Justin Bieber track. Ha! JK.&mdash;Ed.)</em></p> Newegg Daily Deals: MSI GeForce GTX 970 Graphics Card, WD Blue 6TB HDD, and More!'s a perfect storm brewing for gamers. First, Steam is having a sale on thousands of titles. Secondly, it's tax season, and hopefully that means a juicy refund is on its way to you. And third? That would be today's top deal.Mon, 08 Feb 2016 20:41:05 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Msi Gtx 970"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>There's a perfect storm brewing for gamers. First, Steam is having a <a href="">sale</a> on thousands of titles. Secondly, it's tax season, and hopefully that means a juicy refund is on its way to you. And third? That would be today's top deal for a <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814127832-_-0205&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">MSI GeForce GTX 970 4G 4GB 256-Bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support G-SYNC Support Video Card</a> for <strong>$325</strong> with free shipping (normally $360; additional $20 Mail-in rebate; Free game: Rise of the Tomb Raider w/ purchase, limited offer). It comes with a custom cooling solution that both cools better and runs quieter than reference, plus a free game.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822235009-_-0205&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">WD Blue 6TB Desktop Hard Disk Drive - 5400 RPM SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch</a> for <strong>$200</strong> with free shipping (normally $215 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGET74</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-mobo-N82E16813132575-_-0205&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus H170 Pro Gaming LGA 1151 Intel H170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard</a> for <strong>$111</strong> with $3 shipping (normally $130 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGET27</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DESKTOP-N82E16883221081-_-0205&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus Desktop Computer Intel Core i3 4160 (3.60 GHz) 4 GB DDR3 500 GB HDD Windows 7 Professional Pre-installed with Windows 8.1 Pro Key</a> for <strong>$350</strong> with free shipping (normally $370 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGET75</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820233863-_-0205&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3000 (PC4 24000) Desktop Memory</a> for <strong>$85</strong> with free shipping (normally $90 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGET35</strong>])</p><p><strong></strong></p> Microsoft Takes Axe to Surface Pro 4 and Band 2 Pricing hardware items in Microsoft's online store are currently on sale.Mon, 08 Feb 2016 19:25:02 +0000 2microsoftNewsSurface Pro 4 <h3>Getting a jump start on Presidents' Day</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Microsoft Sale"></p><p> It's not exactly rare for Microsoft to mark down prices on various hardware, though if you need an official excuse for the latest round of discounts, it's to celebrate Presidents' Day.</p><p> There's quite a bit that's on sale currently, including the company's line of Surface Pro 4 tablets. Each one is marked down $100 off the regular retail price. Here's how things shake out:</p><ul> <li>Surface Pro 4 w/ Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD: $799</li> <li>Surface Pro 4 w/ Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD: $899</li> <li>Surface Pro 4 w/ Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: $1,199</li> <li>Surface Pro 4 w/ Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: $1,499</li> <li>Surface Pro 4 w/ Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD: $1,699</li></ul><p> If you're not into the Surface Pro 4, there are several other 2-in-1 devices and regular laptops on sale at all different kinds of price points. On the lower end, the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 11 is just $97 (11.6-inch HD display, Intel Celeron N3050, 2GB RAM, 16GB eMMC, Windows 10), while the Vaio Z Canvas 2-in-1 starts at $997 (down from $2,199). At that price, you get a 12.3-inch IPS display, Intel Core i7-4770HQ processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Pro (plus a keyboard).</p><p> Moving along, Microsoft is selling its Band 2 wearable for $200, which is a $50 discount over its normal selling price, and you can find several deals on phones, Xbox One consoles, and accessories.</p><p> Go <a href="" target="_blank">here</a> to check it all out.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Hacker Makes Infiltrating FBI Database Seem All Too Easy steals and dumps data of personal information belonging to 20,000 FBI and 9,000 DHS employees.Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:51:06 +0000 <h3>Security fail</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fbi"></p><p> The team of geniuses on CBS's action-drama show Scorpion routinely make it look simple to hack into government systems, and while it's not supposed to be that way in real life, a hacker who wishes to remain anonymous didn't have much trouble plucking personal details of 20,000 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and 9,000 Department of Homeland Security employees. How so?</p><p> According to <em><a href="" target="_blank">Motherboard</a></em>, who's been in contact with the hacker, it all began with a compromised Department of Justice email account. The hacker didn't say how he sabotaged the email account, but once he had the login details, he tried accessing the DoJ's web portal. When that didn't work, he simply called up the department.</p><p> "I called up, told them I was new and I didn't understand how to get past [the portal]. They asked if I had a token code. I said 'No', they said 'That's fine, just use our one'."</p><p> After that, he logged in, clicked on a link to a PC that directed him to an online virtual machine, entered in the DoJ's email login details, and then had access to three computers, including the one belonging to the DoJ employee he initially hacked. According to the hacker, once he clicked on that PC, he had full access to it, and from there he pulled documents on the DoJ's intranet containing details of tens of thousands of employees&mdash;some 200GB worth (he had access to 1TB).</p><p> The hacker said that some of the data contained military emails and credit card numbers, though it's not clear if he swiped that as well or just peeked at it while he was in the system. Either way, he didn't provide those details to <em>Motherboard</em>, just the aforementioned accounts.</p><p> <em>Motherboard</em> was able to confirm that the data was accurate by randomly calling some of the numbers the hacker provided. The numbers led to various FBI agents and employees, one of which told the site this was the first they heard of the data breach.</p><p> The hacker has already dumped the data containing details of the 9,000 DHS employees through Twitter accompanied by a pro-Palestinian message. He also plans to dump the remaining data, but hasn't done so yet.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Play Games with Your Eyeballs on MSI's GT72S G Tobii Laptop, Available Now's GT72S G Tobii laptop with eye tracking technology is now available to purchase.Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:00:00 +0000 G TobiilaptopmsiNewsnotebook <h3>Are you looking at me?</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MSI GT72S G Tobii"></p><p> Ready for something trippy? MSI's GT72SG G Tobii laptop with eye-tracking technology that lets you control game activity with looks, stares, and gazes, is now available to purchase.</p><p> It's the first gaming laptop in the world to feature Tobii's eye-tracking tech, and with it you can do things like switch targets in a game, select objects, or simply just pause a game by looking away.</p><p> "The GT72S G Tobii Tobii adds another dimension to gaming and provides a level of interaction and immersion never experienced before," says Andy Tung, president of MSI Pan America."Our eyes will no longer be passive players, they will now direct, command and transport us into the future of PC gaming."</p><p> How is it possible? The necessary technology is baked right into the laptop, so there's no awkward third-party accessory to mount. Part of it consists of three dual-lens near-IR beams that appear as three red lights on the laptop, but they're really using infrared light to track your eye movement.</p><p> Outside of gaming, you can use the eye-tracking technology to navigate Windows and login via Windows Hello, and with supported applications like XSplit Gamecaster (you can find more supported apps <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>).</p><p> Beyond the eye-tracking tech, this is a pretty potent laptop. It has a 17.3-inch Full HD 1080p display powered by a 6th generation Intel Core i7-6820HK processor, 32GB of DDR4-2133 memory, GeForce GTX 980M GPU, and a 256GB PCIe-based SSD flanked by a 1TB hard drive.</p><p> Other features include a Blu-ray burner, 801.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, Killer Gaming Network E2400 LAN, half a dozen USB 3.0 ports, a singe USB Type-C port, mini DisplayPort, HDMI output, a pair of 3W speakers with a woofer, SteelSeries full-color backlit keyboard, and a few other odds and ends.</p><p> The GT72S G Tobii is available now from <a href="" target="_blank">Newegg for $2,599</a>. It comes with Tom Clancy's The Division and offers support for several other titles, such as Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Assassin's Creed Rogue, ArmA III, Elite Dangerous, and others.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> YubiKey Neo and Neo-n Review security and crypto device that fits on your key ringMon, 08 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 <h3>Your passwords aren't strong enough</h3><p> When it comes to contemporary security, the humble password (or passphrase) isn't enough to keep you safe. It seems like every day someone breaks into an organization's database and steals an array of passwords and user IDs. Even if organizations could keep their systems totally safe, some people still use low-tier passwords out of laziness.</p> <div class="fancy-box"> <h5 class="title">At a glance</h5> <p> <strong>One Key to Rule Them All: </strong>Secure 2FA with a slew of options like OATH-HOTP, HMAC-SHA1, and Yubico OTP; can securely store 2048-bit RSA keys; FIDO U2F compatible. </p> <p> <strong>And In The Darkness Bind Them:</strong> Not all services offer U2F, OATH, or HMAC; small enough to lose easily. </p> </div><p> It's for this reason that password managers are so handy, but even the password manager can be insecure due to its reliance on a password to secure it. Luckily, two-factor authentication (2FA) is beginning to become the norm. (If you haven't activated two-step verification for your Google account, <a href="" target="_blank">stop what you're doing and activate it now</a>.)</p><p> For those who want more than what Google Authenticator has to offer, there's Yubico's YubiKey. YubiKeys come in several models, and I got a chance to play with a YubiKey NEO and YubiKey NEO-n. Both of them are kick-ass pieces of security hardware.</p><p> The YubiKey NEO is an unassuming-looking USB device that you attach to a key-ring or lanyard. When inserted into your PC, the user only needs to touch the gold button on the YubiKey for it to work. (The button is capacitive, not a fingerprint reader.) The YubiKey NEO also supports NFC, so you can use the key with an Android device.</p><p> The NEO-n is a low-profile USB key that, when inserted, is nearly flush with the side of your laptop or USB port. To activate the NEO-n, you simply touch the exposed side of the device while it's inserted. The NEO-n does not have NFC capability.</p><p> Each YubiKey is unique, and will have to be paired with services separately. (If you have a NEO and a NEO-n, they will give different responses to whatever service is requesting input.) The devices also register as HID keyboards by default, so they will work without having to install any drivers. That's a big plus in my book.</p><h4>Three functions in one key</h4><p> The YubiKey NEO and NEO-n have three modes of use, and you can enable all of them at once with the newer firmware. (Older firmware only allowed the user to enable two at a time.) All YubiKeys (with the exception of the $18 blue Fido U2F Security Key model, which only has FIDO U2F support) ship with one-time password (OTP) mode enabled by default. </p><p> Services that use OTP authentication (like LastPass) make use of Yubico's cloud service to authenticate YubiKeys. In this mode, the YubiKey supplies a string of characters. The first few characters of the string is the YubiKey identifier and always remains the same. The rest of the string is a unique code made up of a cryptographic nonce. When the string is supplied to the service (like LastPass), the service checks it against the Yubico cloud to authenticate the string. If the service gets the okay from Yubico, access is granted. In this manner, the OTP mode basically serves as a second username and password, in which the password (nonce) for the YubiKey changes every time it's used.</p><p> The second mode that the NEO and NEO-n can use is chip card interface device mode, or CCID. In CCID mode, the NEO can store OpenPGP keys for use on different PCs. For those who use OpenPGP/GnuPG, this means that you won't have to carry around private and public key-files on a FAT32-formatted USB stick&mdash;though you should always keep a backup of your private key somewhere secure like a USB stick in a locked box. By extension, it also means that you won't have to move those keys to your PC. The only setback to this mode is that the YubiKey NEO (and NEO-n) only support 2048-bit RSA keys. If you have a 4096-bit key, you can get around this by creating 2048-bit signing, authentication, and encryption keys and moving those onto your YubiKey using GnuPG. (Note: The YubiKey 4 supports 4096-bit keys in CCID mode, but lacks NFC capability.)</p><p> The last mode is U2F, which makes use of the FIDO U2F standard. There are several services that make use of FIDO U2F, like Google and GitHub. However, at the time of writing, Mozilla's Firefox browser doesn't support FIDO U2F. (Native support of U2F in Firefox is being worked on, and <a href="" target="_blank">there is an active bug in Bugzilla</a> tracking the issue.) If you want to use U2F with web applications, you have to go with Chrome for now.</p><h3>Other authentication methods</h3><p>There are other features the YubiKey NEO can implement via one of its two "slots." Slot one comes pre-configured with Yubico's OTP. The first slot is activated by a quick tap on the YubiKey's button, while a long (three to four second) tap activates Slot 2. Using the YubiKey Personalization Tool, you can configure Slot 2 to to use a static password, OATH-HOTP, or a challenge-response using either the Yubico or HMAC-SHA1 algorithm.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="You can add OATH-HOTP, static password, or HMAC-SHA1 challenge-response functionality to a YubiKey using the YubiKey Personalization Tool." style="display: block; margin: auto;" class=""> <figcaption>You can add OATH-HOTP, static password, or HMAC-SHA1 challenge-response functionality to a YubiKey using the YubiKey Personalization Tool.</figcaption></figure><p>The static password is pretty straightforward, and has its uses in systems that don't support any other password method (like a BIOS password). The&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">OATH-HOTP option</a> generates a six to eight digit number, much like Google Authenticator or an SMS second-factor authentication method would. The&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">HMAC-SHA1 feature</a> allows for a system to challenge the YubiKey with a string that has to be combined with a shared secret and hashed before being sent back to the system. HMAC-SHA1 allows the YubiKey to be used for system logins with Yubico's login software for Windows, or with LUKS disk encryption on Linux.</p><p>Considering how small and simple the YubiKey is, that's an impressive array of security options that are available to the user. If you're still with me, let's go over one more really cool thing about the YubiKey NEO: NFC.</p><h4>NFC and Yubico Authenticator</h4><p>If you've ever&nbsp;used two-factor authentication, there's a good chance you've used Google Authenticator. Google Authenticator makes use of a shared secret, TOTP, and HMAC-SHA1 to generate one-time passwords that are generated on a clock cycle. It's reasonably secure, and lots of services use it because it's free, easy to use, and doesn't require the service to send SMS messages with one-time use codes.</p><p>But what if someone happens to unlock your phone? That 2FA isn't so secure. Yubico's Authenticator app requires the user to tap their YubiKey NEO to the back of their phone before codes are displayed. The codes that are displayed look and act just like Google's codes. The app can add any service that Google's Authenticator can, which makes the Yubico Authenticator a drop-in replacement for Google Authenticator.</p><p>Besides just using the YubiKey, the Yubico Authenticator allows you to lock the codes behind a password as well. This seems a little bit like overkill, since if someone has my phone, YubiKey, user name, and password, they're probably in a position where they can beat the Authenticator password out of me. Still, this feature offers security on top of security, and the truly paranoid can feel safe knowing that their one-time pass-codes are as secure as they can be.</p><h4>Losing your keys</h4><p>One bad thing about the YubiKey is that it's so small. The damned thing can be easy to lose if you're not careful. Even if attached to your key ring, the YubiKey is as easy to lose as your keys are. A couple of weeks ago I lost my keys on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which meant I had to reset all of my YubiKey pairings.</p><p>Another thing that ticks me off is that I can't use the YubiKey NEO with some services that really should allow FIDO&nbsp;U2F or OATH-HOTP. PayPal (and other sites that use Symantec's VeriSign), won't work with any YubiKey except&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">the YubiKey VIP</a>, which you have to call in to order.&nbsp;Steam doesn't yet support U2F and sticks to its proprietary 2FA system. None of the financial organizations I use take advantage of U2F. But hey, you can bet your ass my Gmail is secure.&nbsp;</p><p>I was also a little worried at first about what could have happened if I had my PGP keys loaded on the YubiKey. Then I remembered that if you load subkeys and not your primary key, all you would have to do is revoke the subkeys.</p><p>The upside to having this thing on my key ring is that I always know where my keys are when I'm working on a PC: right next to me. Since I need the YubiKey to unlock my LastPass vault on a regular basis, my key ring is never far from my laptop or desktop.</p><p>Using 2FA and advanced security features online and on your PC can be a pain the ass sometimes, but the YubiKey makes it really easy once it's set up. The added confidence in knowing that only someone with your physical YubiKey can access your accounts gives&nbsp;peace of mind to using password managers and online services. For the consumer worried about security, you really can't get much better than using the YubiKey when it comes to securing online accounts. 2FA won't save you by itself (it can't defend against man-in-the-middle attacks, for example), but it will make you a harder target.</p><p>At $50, I can't recommend the YubiKey NEO highly enough. Though I got to review the YubiKey NEO-n, you can't get the NEON-n individually, as Yubico only sells them in batches of 500 or more. That's not a big deal, since the $50 YubiKey 4 Nano is pretty much the same thing as the NEO-n and can hold 4096-bit RSA keys to boot.&nbsp;However, if you don't need the NFC features or want the ability to store&nbsp;4096-bit RSA OpenPGP&nbsp;keys, I'd recommend getting the cheaper YubiKey 4 for $40.</p> In Case You Missed It - January 31 to February 6 Edition highlight of the biggest and most interesting tech news stories of the past week.Sat, 06 Feb 2016 13:00:00 +0000 Epic Launching VR Editor for Unreal Engine 4 will be able to create VR experiences using Unreal Engine 4Fri, 05 Feb 2016 20:57:25 +0000 GamesNewsUnreal Enginevr <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Unreal Engine 4 VR Editor"></p><p>Epic Games reports that its Unreal Editor for Unreal Engine 4 is up and running in virtual reality, meaning developers should be able to strap on the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, don the accompanying motion controllers, and create virtual reality experiences in real time. The company says movement in the real world is mapped one-to-one in VR, allowing developers to reach out, manipulate, and grab objects. How cool is that?</p><p>According to Epic boss Tim Sweeney <a href="" target="_blank">in a recent blog</a>, VR movement and editing controls are now&nbsp;functional in the VR editor, which also sports “key parts” of the Unreal Editor UI such as the Content Browser and the Details Panel. When the editor is eventually&nbsp;released, it will be built into Unreal Engine 4, which can be downloaded gratis, straight from Epic. The company will also release the full source code on GitHub. </p><p>“You start out in the VR editor at a human scale, and can directly manipulate objects by moving around in a room-scale VR setting,” Sweeney says. “But you can also use a smartphone-like pinching motion to zoom in and out. With one pinch, the world is shrunk to the size of a Barbie Doll house on your table. You can manipulate it granularly and ergonomically, and then zoom back to human scale.”</p><p>He says that developers also have a laser pointer at their disposal, allowing them to point at an object that’s far away and either move it around, or reel in the object as if using a fishing rod. Developers can also teleport to the object’s location by merely clicking a button.</p><p>“With a mouse, several operations are often required to transform an object along multiple axes in 3D. In VR, you can frequently accomplish the same result with a single, intuitive motion,” Sweeney adds. “This should come as no surprise, as a mouse only tracks two degrees of movement (X and Y), but in VR your head and two hands track six degrees of freedom each: X, Y, Z, and three rotational axes. That’s 9 times the high-fidelity input bandwidth!”</p><p>Sweeney says that Epic’s Mark Rein saw the early DK1 version of Facebook’s Oculus Rift prototype years ago and decided that Unreal Engine needed to support the hardware. Sweeney thought the idea was crazy at the time, until the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch motion controllers were introduced. These devices proved that developers could manipulate 3D objects directly in 3D just as humans do with objects in the real world.</p><p>Unreal Engine has come a long way since it was first introduced back in the mid-'90s. It was the first engine to provide “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editing, allowing map creators to move around the virtual environment and place objects in real time. Now developers can do the same in virtual reality, providing a more personal, hands-on experience.</p><p>Sweeney says that additional details, including an actual release date, will be revealed in March during GDC 2016. In the meantime, you can catch the new VR editor in action by checking out the video below!</p><iframe src="" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="560"></iframe> Steam's Lunar New Year Sale Is Your Newest Excuse to Buy More Games's Lunar New Year Sale is taking place now.Fri, 05 Feb 2016 19:14:54 +0000 <h3>Ready...Set...Buy!</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Steam Lunar Sale"></p><p> Oh boy, like the diet that always starts on Monday so there's an excuse to splurge one more time beforehand, Steam's frequent game sales often prove too tempting to pass up. The discounted titles are like pieces of chocolate (speaking of which, guys and gals, Valentine's Day is right around the corner) or some other savory treat that you know you can do without, but what the hell, just this one last time, right?</p><p> You may have found yourself saying that when Steam held its Fall Sale or the Winter Sale that quickly followed. The latter barely ended a month ago, but if you thought Valve would give you time to play all those games you stocked up on, think again&mdash;the Steam Lunar New Year Sale is now underway with thousands of marked down games!</p><p> Some of today's highlighted deals include anywhere from 75-83 percent off XCOM titles, 33-75 percent off Fallout games (including 33 percent off Fallout 4, which puts the price at $40.19), 75 percent off Tomb Raider titles (minus Rise of the Tomb Raider), half off of Rust ($9.99), and 20 percent off Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide ($23.99, or $35.99 for the Collector's Edition).</p><p> Valve also continues to be creative with its sales. Last time Valve posted a free comic called "Gingerbread Jake in Northpole Noir" on Steam and revealed a new page each day of the sale. This time? There's an interactive story element.</p><p> "It is Lunar New Year once again, a time to travel home and reunite with family," the story begins. "You are far away from your home town of Monkey City, and many obstacles and choices lie on the path ahead... Your first obstacle is a massive body of water. Do you swim across, or hitch a ride and drive the long way around?"</p><p> Your choice will determin what type of discounted games you're shown next&mdash;choose to swim and you'll be shown aquatic titles, and if you choose to drive, you'll be shown driving games (you can always go back and alter your choice). It's goofy, but hey, if you're going to have a sale every month, this is one way to try and keep gamers coming back.</p><p> You can check it out for yourself <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some games to buy and some sweet treats to gobble before Monday rolls around.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Asus ROG Horus GK2000 Quiet Mechanical Keyboard is Loud on Looks ROG just announced a new mechanical keyboard, the Horus GK2000 with Cherry MX Red key switches.Fri, 05 Feb 2016 18:39:26 +0000 keyboardsNews <h3>Take your settings with you</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus ROG Horus GK2000"></p><p> Asus just <a href="" target="_blank">added</a> another mechanical keyboard to its Republic of Gamers (ROG) division, the Horus GK2000, which is wrapped in an aggressive looking chassis that gamers are likely to either love or hate.</p><p> A mishmash of lines and angles is pretty typical of an ROG product, be it a laptop or, in this case, a keyboard. It's not all just for looks, though&mdash;in addition to the wings, which <em>are</em> for aesthetics, Asus claims its newest plank has a premium, high-quality feel with CNC-processed aluminum accents and a special topcoat finish. You can also remove the bulky wrist-rest if you'd prefer a bit more desk space, plus there are two-way adjustable feet and a detachable stand for docking mobile devices.</p><p> One of the highlights of the keyboard is an embedded 32-bit MCU and 4MB of onboard memory. The reason for the hardware is to control the lighting effects and create and store macros and profiles right on the keyboard itself. In total, gamers can program up to 80 macro commands with mouse and media-control functions thrown into the mix, and store them in up to 10 profiles.</p><p> Asus chose Cherry MX Red key switches for the Horus GK2000. I prefer the audible and tactile click action of Cherry MX Blue key switches myself, though many gamers like the Reds because they're relatively quiet and have a low/lightweight actuation force (45g) that's preferable for rapid keystrokes.</p><p> Each individual key gets its own red LED backlight which you can adjust on a per-key basis (like lighting up just the WASD keys, for example). There are also five preset lighting modes, plus a sixth profile for your own customized LED layout.</p><p> The keycaps are ABS with a UV coating. According to Asus, they're also ergonomically shaped for both gaming and general purpose typing.</p><p> Other notable features include a volume knob that can also control the backlight, two built-in USB 2.0 ports, audio pass-through (headphone and mic), five dedicated macro keys, and N-Key rollover (NKRO) support.</p><p> It looks like the keyboard will come with a custom-fit neoprene carrying case so you can bring the plank to LAN parties. No word yet on price or availability though.</p><iframe src="//" allowfullscreen="" width="500" frameborder="0" height="281"> </iframe><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Sony Tries Hand at Consumer Solid State Drives has begun making its first consumer-based SSDs.Fri, 05 Feb 2016 18:01:08 +0000 state drivesonyssdstorage <h3>Look who's joining the SSD party</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Sony SSD"></p><p> Sony <a href="">sold off its Vaio PC busines</a>s around this time a year ago, but apparently the company is still interested in the PC space, at least from a component angle. Proof of that comes in the form of Sony"s new <a href="" target="_blank">SLW-M series</a> solid state drives.</p><p> The SLW-M series is Sony's first foray into the consumer SSD market. They're 2.5-inch form factor drives measuring 7mm thick with a SATA 6Gbps interface. Initially there was no mention of what controller or type of NAND flash memory chips Sony opted to run with, but a teardown of one of the drives by Chinese-language website <a href="" target="_blank"><em></em></a> reveals that Sony paired Toshiba's A19 TLC chips with a rebranded Phison S10 series controller.</p><p> Sony's kicking things off with two capacity options, 240GB and 480GB. They're rated to read and write data at up to 560MB/s and 530MB/s, respectively, though it's not clear if both drives sport the same rated performance or if those figures are combined maximums (performance tends to vary by capacity).</p><p> This isn't a high performance line, though the rated specs would have been top notch before the emergence of PCIe-based SSDs. It will be interesting to see how pricing shakes out, along with real-world performance metrics.</p><p> It's not yet known when the drives will be available or for how much. What is known is that the retail kit will come with a 9.5mm spacer, Acronis True Image 2015 HD, and Sony's own SSD Toolbox drive management software.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Mobile Connections Will Push Internet Traffic Past 1 Zettabyte in 2016 predicts that Internet traffic will enter the zettabyte era this year.Fri, 05 Feb 2016 17:35:14 +0000 <h3>The Zettabyte Era</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Datacenter"></p><p> If you need another reason to complain about data caps&mdash;we're looking at you, Comcast&mdash;consider that combined Internet traffic is expected to top the zettabyte mark this year, according to Cisco's Visual Networking Index, an ongoing survey of web traffic and trends.</p><p> What is a zettabyte? It's equivalent to around:</p><ul> <li>1,000 exabytes</li> <li>1,000,000 petabytes</li> <li>1,000,000,000 terabytes</li> <li>1,000,000,000,000 gigabytes</li> <li>1,000,000,000,000,000 megabytes</li></ul><p> These are rounded measurements, mind you, but you get the idea&mdash;a zettabyte is a lot of data, enough to fill about a hundred thousand of those fancy helium infused 10TB hard drives.</p><p> The explosion in Internet traffic is predominantly mobile&mdash;smartphones, laptops, tablets. Since the first camera phone was introduced in 2000, the number of mobile users has quintupled, and by 2020, Cisco predicts there will be 5.5 billion mobile users.</p><p> "With the ever-increasing billions of people and things that are being connected, mobility is the predominant medium that’s enabling today’s global digitization transformation," <a href=";articleId=1741352" target="_blank">said Doug Webster</a>, vice president of service provider marketing, Cisco. "Future mobile innovations in cellular, such as 5G, and Wi-Fi solutions will be needed to further address new scale requirements, security concerns, and user demands. IoT advancements will continue to fuel tangible benefits for people, businesses, and societies."</p><p> Not surprisingly, mobile video is growing the most of any mobile application. This is because faster online connections&mdash;think 4G LTE&mdash;have enabled higher resolution video feeds.</p><p> These trends don't show any signs of slowing down. Just the opposite, Cisco says that by 2020, global mobile data traffic will reach 30.6 exabytes per month, up from 3.7 exabytes in 2015. An auditing of the web will also show 81 trillion images and 7 trillion video clips by 2020.</p><p> Data caps are the bane of this increased dependence on Internet connectivity, particularly among smartphone owners, though expect more Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Cisco reckons that the total number of Wi-Fi hotspots, including home spots, will grow seven-fold from 2015 (64 million) to 2020 (432 million).</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Logitech Intros G810 Orion Spectrum Keyboard new mechanical keyboard for gamersFri, 05 Feb 2016 15:41:50 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum Keyboard"></p><p>Popular peripheral maker Logitech updated its RGB mechanical gaming keyboard lineup with the release of <a target="_blank" href="">the G810 Orion Spectrum</a>. The new keyboard features the company’s exclusive <a target="_blank" href="">Romer-G mechanical switches</a> that promise 25 percent faster actuation than standard mechanical keyboards. Logitech says these switches have an actuation point of 1.5mm and an improved durability of 70 million keystrokes. That's impressive.</p><p>According to Ujesh Desai, vice president and general manager of gaming at Logitech, the company met with “dozens” of gamers last year to see what they wanted from a keyboard. The resulting device features a fingerprint-masking matte texture, a durable braided cable, RGB lighting, and dedicated media buttons for controlling audio and video without having to leave the game.</p><p>The specs show that the RGB lighting is customizable and supports a full spectrum of colors (16.8 million). Users simply load up the Logitech Gaming Software and customize every aspect, from personalizing each key to marking specific groups of&nbsp;keys by color to synchronizing lighting effects with other Logitech products. The software, which can be downloaded from Logitech, comes packed with profiles for more than 300 games.</p><p>In addition to controlling the backlighting, the software also enables users to set up custom button macros on the F1 to F12 keys, and to determine what physical keys are turned off when the customer turns on Game Mode. The keyboard itself also provides 26-key rollover, three-step angle adjustments so that the user can set the keyboard to 0, 4, or 8 degrees, and rubber feet to keep the peripheral from sliding around during heated gaming moments.</p><p>Logitech says that the big selling point is the switches, which deliver “near-instant responsiveness,” a very desirable feature for intense PC gaming. The company indicates that they’re better than standard Cherry MX switches, giving gamers a competitive edge. These switches feature patent-pending asymmetric keycaps, a soft click switch design, and a surface-mounted LED design that minimizes light leakage. </p><p>“Low-force, 45g actuation results in near-instant responsiveness and helps minimize fatigue over long gaming sessions,” Logitech states. “Dual-contact redundancy helps ensure key activation at the same point, every time.”</p><p>Logitech’s new G810 Orion Spectrum is slated to arrive in the United States and Europe sometime in the beginning of February. The suggested retail price is $159, which isn’t too shabby for a mechanical gaming keyboard for the serious PC gamer.&nbsp;</p> Google Cracking Down on Fake Download Buttons someone is doing something about the fake download buttonsFri, 05 Feb 2016 14:57:25 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Google"></p><p>Google updated <a href="" target="_blank">its security blog</a> on Thursday with a promise of to rid our browsing experience of deceptive download buttons. This promise will be carried out via Google’s Safe Browsing service, which seeks to protect Web surfers from the growing number of social engineering attacks. The download buttons being targeted typically look legit, but instead lead to what the company calls "deceptive embedded content."</p><p>Safe Browsing, which has been used by more than one billion people to help ward off phishing attacks over the last eight years, got serious about social engineering attacks <a href="" target="_blank">back in November 2015</a>. Users are deceived by seemingly trusted web content, such as a fake-but-legit-looking bank or government page. This content tries to trick the visitor into coughing up valuable information such as passwords and credit card numbers. They’ll even lead unwary users to fake tech support calls.</p><p>According to Google, content will be considered to be "social engineering" when it pretends to act, look, and feel like a trusted entity, then tries to trick the Web surfer into doing something that the user would only do&nbsp; with an authentic trusted entity. For instance, a website may show a deceptive ad that asks the visitor to update their media player, but pressing the button leads the user to a malicious website or downloads malicious software.</p><p>“Our fight against unwanted software and social engineering is still just beginning,” Google says in its blog. “If visitors to your web site consistently see social engineering content, Google Safe Browsing may warn users when they visit the site. If your site is flagged for containing social engineering content, you should troubleshoot with Search Console.”</p><p>That warning usually appears as a big red sign flagging that a specific site the Web surfer is about to visit is deceptive. This site may trick you into doing something dangerous, the warning reads, such as installing software or revealing personal information. Users can either click on the details link or the “Back to safety” button.</p><p>Google’s Safe Browsing can be used in Apple’s Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. The company seems intent on cleaning out the junk that causes Web surfers headaches and financial woes. Google says it will continue to refine Safe Browsing protection so that more people can remain safe online.</p> Amazon Echo Finally Supports Spotify is now officially supported by Amazon Echo.Fri, 05 Feb 2016 05:51:18 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AmazonEcho"></p><p>Amazon introduced&nbsp;<a href=";node=13575751011&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_s=desktop-hero-kindle-A&amp;pf_rd_r=01621JB9GWZQ8HV2XJBW&amp;pf_rd_t=36701&amp;pf_rd_p=2382003162&amp;pf_rd_i=desktop">its Echo “smart” speaker</a> to the masses back in June 2015 after shaping the product with a closed group of customers starting late 2014. The device was available only&nbsp;through Amazon until this past holiday season when the company served up Echo in retail outlets such as The Home Depot, Staples, Sears, Brookstone, RadioShack and more. It’s priced at $179.99 and finally offers a feature owners have been asking for since its initial launch: Spotify support.</p><p>Amazon and Spotify announced the compatibility on Thursday, revealing that Spotify Premium members in the United States can now listen to their favorite playlist, artist, genre and more on Amazon’s device. Echo also now supports Spotify Connect, allowing customers to transfer and control their music from the Spotify app to Echo.</p><p>Amazon Echo already supports a number of music services such as Audible, Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and TuneIn. Users can simply ask for a station, playlist, genre, or song. However, the speaker also supports Bluetooth, allowing the customer to stream their favorite tunes from a compatible phone or tablet.</p><p>Amazon Echo comes packed with a Texas Instruments processor based on the ARM Cortex-A8, 256MB of LPDDR1 RAM, 4GB of internal storage, Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band Wireless N connectivity, one 2.5” woofer, one 2” tweeter, and seven microphones that use beamforming technology and enhanced noise cancellation. This device can hear users from across the room using far-field voice recognition technology.</p><p>“We’re extremely pleased that Spotify Premium subscribers can now listen to their favorite music on Amazon Echo,” said Ian Geller, Global Head of Hardware at Spotify. “Creating innovative experiences is core to our mission. We know our users will love controlling music with their voice at home.”</p><p>New customers can try Spotify Premium free for 30 days by <a href="" target="_blank">heading here</a>.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: HGST Deskstar NAS 4TB HDD, Dell 23.8-Inch LCD, and More!'re big proponents of NAS boxes. They're great for backing up data (among other things) and it's better to have a solid backup in place before the need arises (trust us on this one). If you're going to get one, mechanical hard drives still offer the best storage per dollar, and companies make HDDs specific for NAS applications.Thu, 04 Feb 2016 19:06:16 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Hgst 4tb"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>We're big proponents of NAS boxes. They're great for backing up data (among other things) and it's better to have a solid backup in place before the need arises (trust us on this one). If you're going to get one, mechanical hard drives still offer the best storage per dollar, and companies make HDDs specific for NAS applications. One of them is today's top deal for an <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822145912-_-0204&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">HGST Deskstar NAS 4TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch High-Performance Hard Drive for Desktop NAS Systems (Bare Drive)</a> for <strong>$140</strong> with free shipping (normally $160 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGEH22</strong>]). It's capacious, features an active Rotational Vibration Safeguard mechanism to decrease wear and tear, and is backed by a 3-year warranty.</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824260217-_-0204&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Dell S2415H Black 23.8-inch 6ms HDMI Widescreen LED Backlight LCD Monitor</a> for <strong>$150</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $170)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-EXT-HDD-N82E16822178781-_-0204&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Backup Plus 4TB Portable External Hard Drive with 200GB of Cloud Storage &amp; Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0</a> for <strong>$120</strong> with free shipping (normally $130 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEH23</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814150733-_-0204&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">XFX Radeon R7 370 4GB 256-Bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 CrossFireX Support Double Dissipation XXX OC Video Card</a> for <strong>$140</strong> with free shipping (normally $150; additional $10 Mail-in rebate)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-case-N82E16811139018-_-0204&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Carbide Series 200R Black Steel / Plastic compact ATX Mid Tower Case</a> for <strong>$55</strong> with free shipping (normally $60 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEG23</strong>]; additional $10 Mail-in rebate)</p> Oh Great, IRS Is Having Computer Problems Internal Revenue Service said yesterday that it's having computer issues.Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:55:39 +0000 <h3>Waiting on refunds</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Irs"></p><p> There's good news for nine out of 10 people expecting a refund after filing taxes&mdash;you'll likely receive it within the 21-day window the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) quotes. And if you're the unlucky sap in a group of 10? Well, who knows when it will come.</p><p> The IRS is currently experiencing computer issues in the form of a hardware failure, and it's affecting an untold number of tax processing systems.</p><p> "Several of our systems are not currently operating, including our modernized e-file system and a number of other related systems," the IRS said in a <a href="" target="_blank">statement</a> on Wednesday. "The IRS is currently in the process of making repairs and working to restore normal operations as soon as possible. We anticipate some of the systems will remain unavailable tomorrow [today]."</p><p> You can still prepare and file your tax return as usual, and even submit them to your e-file provider of choice. However, those companies will hold the tax returns until the IRS fixes things on its end. If you've already filed your tax return, there's nothing more to do other than cross your fingers and hope you're not among the unlucky 10 percent who will end up waiting longer than 21 days (whether or not that's due to the glitch, the IRS didn't say).</p><h4>Don't go phishing</h4><p> In related news, the IRS issued a <a href="" target="_blank">news release</a> warning taxpayers to be on the lookout for fake emails or websites looking to steal your personal information. Otherwise known as phishing, the scheme continues to be on the annual IRS list of "Dirty Dozen" tax scams.</p><p> "Criminals are constantly looking for new ways to trick you out of your personal financial information so be extremely cautious about opening strange emails," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "The IRS won't send you an email about a tax bill or refund out of the blue. We urge taxpayers not to click on any unexpected emails claiming to be from the IRS."</p><p> One thing to keep in mind is that the IRS doesn't typically doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal information or financial details. If you receive such a request, consider it a red flag.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Canonical's Ubuntu Linux Arrives in Tablet Form, Doubles as a Desktop's launches its first Ubuntu Linux tablet.Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:34:24 +0000 M10canonicallinuxNewstabletubuntu <h3>Fashionably late or right on time?</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Aquaris M10"></p><p> Canonical is on a mission to reinvent the personal mobile computing experience. That's not hyperbole on our part, it's Canonical's way of describing the significance of its new and first Linux tablet, the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, which it's launching in partnership with Spanish device maker BQ.</p><p> It's a curious time to be entering the tablet market&mdash;tablet shipments continue to decline while 2-in-1 detachables are <a href="">gaining steam</a>. But in Canonical's defense, the Aquaris M10 isn't an ordinary slate, it's a tablet that can also double as your desktop. Sounds like what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 10, right?</p><p> In that regard, the timing couldn't be better in Canonical's eyes. The company points out that Ubuntu is "firmly established as the preferred desktop experience of over 30 million users" around the globe, and that it's first three models of Ubuntu phones quickly sold out when they hit the market last year. Now with the release of the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, Canonical's looking at full convergence.</p><p> "We’re bringing you everything you’ve come to expect from your Ubuntu PC, now on the tablet with BQ, soon on smartphones. This isn’t a phone interface stretched to desktop size – it’s the right user experience and interaction model for the given situation," <a href="" target="_blank">said Jane Silber</a>, CEO of Canonical. "Also, in terms of applications, we have something no other OS can provide: a single, visual framework and set of tools for applications to run on any type of Ubuntu smart device."</p><p> Let's look at the specs. The BQ Aquaris M10 features a 10.1-inch multi-touch display powered by a MediaTek quad-core MT8163A processor clocked at up to 1.5GHz. It also has 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage expandable via microSD, Full HD 1080p front-facing camera, 12-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and dual flash, front-facing speakers, and a micro HDMI slot.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Aquaris M10 Attached PC"></p><p> The tablet is running the mobile version of Ubuntu with hundreds of apps and <a href="" target="_blank">scopes</a> now available in the Ubuntu App Store. That's not a lot compared to Android, iOS, or even Windows, but when you connect a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, you get the full Ubuntu PC experience. You can also connect the tablet to an external display. Think Continuum, but for Ubuntu.</p><p> Will it prove popular? Canonical seems to think so, and it's certainly not in this to be an also-ran.</p><p> "We're not out to win the tablet market. We want to win the reinvention of the PC experience," <a href="" target="_blank">Silber told <em>ZDNet</em></a> in an interview. "Today, the PC, tablet and smartphone markets are not really different things. It's what we're doing on our devices that's important. By providing one code base for all devices, our view of convergence will make it easier to deal with blurring of form factors."</p><p> It's a bold statement, and starting soon&mdash;the Aquaris M10 goes on sale in the second quarter of this year from BQ's online store (no word yet on price)&mdash; we'll see if Canonical can back it up.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Asus Rolls Out Three Small Form Factor Motherboards for Skylake announced a trio of B150 chipset motherboards for small form factor builds.Thu, 04 Feb 2016 17:34:40 +0000 <h3>Think small</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus B150 Motherboard"></p><p> Building a fast and respectable system doesn't necessarily mean going big with your setup. Lest there be any doubt, Asus has <a href="" target="_blank">three new</a> small form factor motherboard options for system builders looking to go small.</p><p> All three are based on Intel's B150 chipset for Skylake. The first of the three is the B150I Pro Gaming/WiFi/Aura. It's a mini-ATX mobo that boasts a pair of DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, a single PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot, four SATA 6Gbps ports, a single M.2 Socket 3 with M key, 802.11ac 2x2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, GbE LAN, four USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 3.0 Type-C port, four USB 2.0 ports, and HDMI and DVI-D graphics connectors.</p><p> The "Auru" in the model name denotes a new LED-illumination technology exclusive to select Asus motherboards. Through accompanying software, you can control a series of RGB lights with various effects, like breathing and color-strobing, to name just two. Going beyond simple bling, you can configure the lights to change their shade based on CPU temperatures&mdash;if everything starts glowing red, you might want to check your cooling scheme.</p><p> Second up is the B150I Pro Gaming/Aura. It's also a mini-ITX motherboard that's configured similarly to the one above, but without baked in Wi-Fi.</p><p> Finally, there's the B150M Pro Gaming. This one's a micro ATX motherboard, so it's a bit bigger than the other two and uses that additional real estate to offer a few additional ports and slots. Specifically, it adds two PCI Express 3.0 x1 slots to the mix, has six SATA 6Gbps ports instead of two, has four DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, and has a dozen USB ports split evenly between USB 3.0 (Type-A) and USB 3.0. Curiously, there's no Type-C connectors on this one. It also lacks onboard Wi-Fi and the Aura LED lighting.</p><p>Asus didn't say how much the boards cost or when they'll be available.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Google Boots Samsung's First Android Ad Blocker may be booting third-party apps that block ads in another company's softwareThu, 04 Feb 2016 16:06:47 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Adblock Fast"></p><p>Google has <a href="" target="_blank">confirmed with The Verge</a> that it has removed an app called Adblock Fast from Google Play. The company did not provide a reason, but the app’s developer, Rocketship Apps, claims that Adblock Fast was removed because it violates section 4.4 of <a href="" target="_blank">Google’s Developer Distribution Agreement</a>. Adblock Fast was developed in conjunction with Samsung and worked within Samsung’s mobile browser.</p><p>“You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Store, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorized manner the devices, servers, networks, or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Android users, Google or any mobile network operator. You may not use customer information obtained from the Store to sell or distribute Products outside of the Store,” Google states in its Agreement.</p><p>Until now, Adblock Fast was the first free and first open-source ad blocker on Samsung’s Android phones, promising a 51 percent faster load average because it leverages seven optimized filtering rules to clean out all the advertising junk. Adblock Fast was launched on Google Play just days ago, but now it’s nowhere to be found.</p><p>The app made its first appearance on Apple’s App Store back in September 2015, and has since racked up more than 200,000 users on the iOS platform. The app appeared on Google Play after Samsung rolled out support for content blocking as an over-the-air update over the weekend.</p><p>Ad blockers have become popular as of late thanks to Apple’s iOS 9 platform, which features built-in support for ad blockers. These plugins provide faster page loads, less data usage, and a cleaner browsing experience. The drawback is that advertisers aren’t reaching mobile visitors.</p><p>Since the removal of Adblock Fast, several other ad blocking solutions have surfaced on Google Play including Crystal (which is also on Apple’s App Store) and Adblock Plus. What’s unclear is how Adblock Fast has violated Google’s terms and the new solutions have not. The Verge notes that Adblock Plus ran into a similar problem back in 2013 and was only allowed to come back if it was bundled in the developer’s own browser.</p><p>An unnamed source close to the situation <a href="" target="_blank">told VentureBeat</a> that this was a “unique case” because two apps are required to activate the ad blocking process. Sources also said that Google has no problems with browsers that have built-in ad-blocking solutions, or browser&nbsp;plugins. Thus, Samsung’s Internet browser is all clear to be downloaded from Google Play, but the Adblock Fast app is not.</p><p>There’s now speculation that Samsung may merely distribute Adblock Fast through its own preloaded app store on Galaxy devices. As it stands, Google seems to be banning third-party apps that block ads within another company’s software.</p><p>Adblock Fast is currently available on Apple's App Store, and for Chome and Opera browsers for desktops and laptops.&nbsp;</p> Rise of the Tomb Raider AMD 16.1.1 Hotfix Testing delivering somewhat underwhelming performance with last week's launch, AMD has released their Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix driver for Rise of the Tomb Raider. We take the new drivers for a spin to see how much they help.Thu, 04 Feb 2016 09:30:00 +0000 of the Tomb Raider <h3> <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (4)"></p></h3><h3>Can AMD's Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix rise to the occasion?</h3><p> Last week, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> launched and received fairly good reviews. We then&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">benchmarked the game</a> to see how AMD and Nvidia GPUs stack up, along with checking out the CPU side of things. At the time, AMD was running "unoptimized" drivers while Nvidia had already released their 361.75 Game Ready drivers. We were told AMD was working to improve performance and would hopefully have an updated driver available this week, and they've followed through with their&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix</a>.</p><p> To be clear, these are drivers that are <em>only</em> supposed to help with <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>&mdash;performance in other titles shouldn't change, but AMD makes no promises. This is the difference between a beta (preview of a general update) and a hotfix (usually focused on one or two specific items that have been deemed critical).</p><p>We've covered all of the benchmarking details in our earlier article, so let's just jump straight to the chase.&nbsp;We're focusing purely on AMD performance here;&nbsp;if you want to see Nvidia numbers, nothing has changed from before. The reason for limiting testing will become fairly obvious in a moment. Here's our test system:</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Maximum PC Graphics Card Test Bed</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>CPU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href="">Intel Core i7-5930K</a>: 6-core HT OC'ed @ 4.2GHz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Mobo</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044420&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Gigabyte+GA-X99-UD4">Gigabyte GA-X99-UD4</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>GPUs</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354392&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=R9+Fury+X">AMD R9 Fury X</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354436&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+390">AMD R9 390</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354465&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+380">AMD R9 380</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354483&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+285">AMD R9 285</a> (Sapphire) </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>SSD</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1447354339&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=samsung+850+evo+2tb">Samsung 850 EVO 2TB</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>PSU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044466&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=EVGA+SuperNOVA+1300+G2">EVGA SuperNOVA 1300 G2</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=G.Skill+Ripjaws+16GB+DDR4-2666">G.Skill Ripjaws 16GB DDR4-2666</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Cooler</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044501&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+Nepton+280L">Cooler Master Nepton 280L</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Case</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044514&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+CM+Storm+Trooper">Cooler Master CM Storm Trooper</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>OS</strong> </td> <td> Windows 10 Pro 64-bit </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Drivers</strong> </td> <td> AMD Crimson 16.1 <br> AMD Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p>Note that we don't currently have any CrossFire configurations available, as our second 290X has gone kaput sometime during the past two months. CrossFire support is one of the items 16.1.1 apparently fixes, so if you have multiple AMD GPUs, that's at least a good sign.&nbsp;As before, we're using the same five test settings:</p><ul> <li>3840x2160, FXAA, High preset</li> <li>2560x1440, TMAA, Very High preset (without HBAO+)</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, Very High preset (without HBAO+)</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, High preset</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, Medium preset</li></ul><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Hotfix Rise of the Tomb Raider 2160p High"></p><p> Okay, did we miss something? Sure, the Hotfix drivers at least equal the performance of the previous drivers, but we're basically looking at margin of error here for most of the cards. There are two exceptions: The R9 390 97 percentiles are significantly better, and the R9 285 2GB is about eight percent faster. Otherwise, you basically won't notice any changes. It's too bad the same boost to minimum fps didn't happen on the Fury X, as it could have pushed the card into mostly playable territory. It's still breaking 30 fps, if only barely, but there's a lot of stuttering as you move around the game world.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Hotfix Rise of the Tomb Raider 1440p Very High"></p><p> At 2560x1440 with Very High settings, the situation is almost worse. Yes, we're still matching performance of the earlier drivers, but the R9 285 is again the sole benefactor. Average frame rates are up six percent, and 97 percentiles are up 38 percent. Unfortunately, that particular GPU is so far from being playable at these settings that it's an almost meaningless improvement.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Hotfix Rise of the Tomb Raider 1080p Very High"></p><p> The story is the same at 1080p Very High, with the R9 285 improving by 13 percent while everything else is less than a two percent change. The R9 380 does show a 10 percent bump to 97 percentiles, but it's not something you'd generally notice.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Hotfix Rise of the Tomb Raider 1080p High"></p><p> Hey, would you look at this? At 1080p High, we actually see some decent improvements on most of the GPUs&hellip;except it's still only to the 97 percentiles. The R9 390 with its large 8GB VRAM doesn't see any benefit, but nearly all of the other GPUs are now consistently staying above 30 fps. The Tonga-based R9 380 and R9 285 both see a jump of roughly 50 percent on minimum frame rates, and at least on the 4GB VRAM card it's enough to smooth out most of the stuttering. And once again, the R9 285 sees at least a statistically significant 8 percent increase to average fps, though anything less than 15 percent is pretty difficult to notice during actual use.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Hotfix Rise of the Tomb Raider 1080p Medium" style="background-color: initial;">Can 1080p Medium results save the day for the Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix? Not really. The R9 285 now sees a welcome 18 percent increase in average fps, and another 50 percent gain in minimum fps; that's great and it makes the card actually viable for 1080p Medium gaming in <em style="background-color: initial;">Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>. That's a bit shocking, however, considering the R9 285 is basically faster than any of AMD's current mobile GPUs. For the other cards, Fury X and R9 380 also show improved minimum fps results, but average fps is still basically unchanged.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (1)"></p><h5>Such a greedy woman</h5><p> So what's the problem&mdash;why is <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> so much more demanding than 2013's <em>Tomb Raider</em> reboot? Judging by our earlier results, it looks like the new Lara is very high maintenance. GPUs that could pull roughly 120 fps at 1080p Ultimate settings in the earlier release are finding performance has been cut in half. In fact, even at 1080p Medium, the results with the new Lara are worse than the 1080p Ultimate results of her predecessor. We can take that a step further: At 1080p on the Low preset, performance is about equal to the old 1080p Ultimate results. Yikes!</p><p> What happened? There's no easy answer, as the supported platforms remain the same (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One), so it's not like the developers were able to radically change the minimum hardware spec by dropping support for older consoles. Except, they <em>did</em> change the minimum hardware required to run <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>&mdash;you don't have a prayer of playing this game on Intel's non-Iris graphics solutions, for example. What it comes down to is improved visuals, where even the Low and Medium quality settings look quite good while the High and Very High settings are even better. Consider also that previously, TressFX was <em>only</em> enabled with the Ultimate preset, where PureHair is now toggled on starting at the Medium preset.</p><p> Bottom line: Lara is embracing her wealthy upbringing and expecting gamers everywhere to have potent systems. And more likely than not, the PC release isn't nearly as optimized for performance as the console release&mdash;though the consoles do seem to top out at the 1080p Medium equivalent in terms of image fidelity. Short of some major improvements from drivers and/or patches, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> also raises the bar for minimum hardware.</p><p>As for AMD's 16.1.1 Hotfix, it doesn't reduce performance, but outside of mainstream cards (particularly those with 2GB VRAM), it also doesn't dramatically improve performance either. CrossFire users will definitely appreciate having support for the game as well, though we weren't able to test that at present. Still, any&nbsp;CrossFire support is better than nothing.</p> Use Good Headphones with a Modmic "gaming headsets," the Modmic works with any headphonesThu, 04 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 AudioGaming headsetheadphonesKick-AssmicrophoneModmicReviews <div class="fancy-box"> <h5 class="title">Need to know</h5> <p> <strong>Product:</strong> Modmic 4.0<br> <strong>Company:</strong> Antlion Audio<br> <strong>Price:</strong> $43 (starting)<br> <strong>Options:</strong> Omni or uni-directional; muteless or mute-able<br> <strong>Link:</strong>&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href=""></a> </p> </div><p> So you're into gaming, which means unless you're a gaming hermit, you're probably communicating with your friends and other gamers via some sort of "gaming" headset. I never understood the word "gaming" for computer peripherals&mdash;they're usually reserved for products that have ugly designs, with some exceptions.</p><p> The most popular product categories to fall into the "gaming" pile are headsets, and the majority of them are not made with the best quality components. The microphone is usually terrible, or the audio is awful, or both. For the most part, 95 percent of headsets out there are pretty terrible, and if I were&nbsp;reviewing them, most would score a 6 out of 10. Yeah, that's a failing grade&mdash;pretty brutal. Probably the one gaming headset exempt from my scathing remarks would be Kingston's HyperX Cloud Gaming headset. It has relatively good audio, has a good microphone, and is comfortable to wear for long gaming sessions. But&nbsp;I still wouldn't use it for listening to music.</p><p> What if you've already got a great pair of headphones sitting around and you want to use them for gaming? That's a great question. My advice is to use&nbsp; <a target="_blank" href="">a product called Modmic by Antlion Audio</a>. It's a very high-quality boom microphone that can be purchased in either omni-directional or uni-direction configuration, with or without a mute switch.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The Modmic, by Antlion Audio." class=""><figcaption>The Modmic, by Antlion Audio.</figcaption></figure><p> I have been recommending the Modmic to many friends and readers,&nbsp;as it's the best way to get great audio with a great microphone. No "gaming" headset can beat a great set of headphones in audio. This is&nbsp;especially&nbsp;true if you have an ounce of interest in the quality of your&nbsp;audio output for&nbsp;games and music. The difference can be night and day.</p><p> Many readers seem to like using Sennheiser's headphones at their desk, especially the HD 598 or the HD 600. Other brands appear to be popular as well, including Audio-Technica, HiFiMAN, AKG, and Beyerdynamic. Then there are the other more boutique brands like Audeze, Fostex, Master and Dynamic, MrSpeakers, Oppo, Stax, etc. If you're familiar with any of these, and you've been looking for a way to add a microphone, look no further.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Adjustable magnetic attachment. Comes with 2 nubs." class=""><figcaption>Adjustable magnetic attachment;omes with 2 nubs.</figcaption></figure><p> The Modmic is easy to use. The mic itself has a magnetic attachment that tethers to a small nub, which&nbsp;you stick onto your favorite cans. Antlion ships the Modmic with two nubs so you can use more than one set of&nbsp;headphones, or you can&nbsp;stick the second nub somewhere that you can dock your Modmic when not in use.</p> <div class="fancy-box"> <h5 class="title"><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Strange use of the Modmic. Weirdo!" style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; color: rgb(154, 154, 154);" class=""></h5> <p> Strange use of the Modmic. Weirdo! </p> </div><p> Once attached, the link itself can be rotated in any direction. Perhaps you have a really short or really&nbsp;big head, and can't find a headset that suits your size. Or maybe you prefer your mic on the right instead of the left. Position the attachment nub anywhere you want; problem solved.&nbsp;Some users even&nbsp;attach a nub to the frames on their glasses. Bizarre!</p><p> Build quality is excellent, and the Modmic arm is easily adjustable so you can get the best positioning. Speaking with several people who own Modmics, they prefer using the uni-directional Modmic over the omni due to the omni picking up&nbsp;surrounding noises, like loud mechanical keyboard typing. The uni-directional Modmic is sensitive to your voice, but it isn't sensitive&nbsp;enough to pick up sounds that will&nbsp;annoy your buddies.</p><p> The Modmic is exceptionally clear in audio performance. In our tests, it's better than&nbsp;just about&nbsp;any other integrated mic on any gaming headset&mdash;even the HyperX. The best part of it all is it's easily stowed away when not in use.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Good case to protect your Modmic." class=""> <figcaption>Good case to protect your Modmic.</figcaption></figure><p> Getting back to the dual nubs,&nbsp;let's talk about other reasons people might like using two different sets of headphones.&nbsp;During our talks with users, many audio enthusiasts&nbsp;like&nbsp;having one closed set of&nbsp;headphones, and another set&nbsp;that's open. Most headphone reviewers&nbsp;say the same thing.</p><p> In FPS games especially, or other games with an emphasis on environmental acoustics, an open-back headphone can produce a more convincing environment, which helps to determine direction from audio cues. On closed-back headphones, the sound is more centered within your skull, and many like this focused sound when listening to&nbsp;music. Depending on how you like your audio and what you listen to, having both kinds of headphones is a great thing.</p><p> The Modmic is a simple and elegant solution for anyone requiring mic input. Pair it with your favorite headphones and ditch the world of poor mic, poor audio, poor quality "gaming" headsets. During gaming sessions, our friends easily heard the quality difference between headsets from companies like&nbsp;Corsair, Logitech, and Razer compared to the Modmic.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Attached and ready for action!" class=""> <figcaption>Attached and ready for action!</figcaption></figure><p> The Modmic Omni-directional muteless starts at $43, and a uni-directional with mute switch goes for $50. If the pricing seems a bit steep, it is&mdash;at first. Then you realize the quality of audio you're broadcasting is amazing, the flexibility it provides, and that you can take your mic with you should you decide to upgrade cans. Suddenly, the price isn't a deterrent, but it's a bargain instead&mdash;especially when you consider&nbsp;pro-level mics can get into the thousands of dollars. On the flip side, this is all in service of your friends (or for doing streaming sessions), since you don't have to listen to yourself. So if you don't care what your friends are hearing, maybe any old headset will do. But at least get a good pair of headphones!</p> Comcast Rolling out Gigabit Internet via Cable's new gigabit service uses DOCSIS 3.1 technologyWed, 03 Feb 2016 22:30:55 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Comcast"></p><p>Comcast announced this week the rollout of gigabit Internet connections for a handful of cities across the nation. The new service will hit residences and businesses in Atlanta and Nashville in early 2016, followed by Chicago, Detroit, and Miami in the second half of this year. Comcast hasn't yet provided pricing information.</p><p>What makes this announcement a big deal is that the new&nbsp;gigabit service won’t be experienced on fiber optic connections as seen with the company’s current <a href="" target="_blank">Gigabit Pro service</a>, which costs $300 a month and provides speeds of up to 2Gb/s. Instead, this new service will use the current TV cable network that’s already installed and sparkly new DOCSIS 3.1 technology.</p><p>First introduced in 1997, DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. New versions typically don’t make the headlines, the company explains, but v3.1 is different because it now allows gigabit speeds. That means Comcast doesn’t have to run new lines and its customers don't have to pay a hefty fee for installing the necessary equipment, unlike other gigabit services.</p><p>Comcast says that it has “extensively” tested the DOCSIS 3.1 modems in labs and simulated network environments, and a few have been installed in homes in Philadelphia and Atlanta. This rollout across the five cities will be the first time these modems will be widely used in homes and offices. Comcast will also be using its existing cable plants.</p><p>News of the cable-based gigabit service arrives after Comcast introduced Gigabit Pro last year to metro Atlanta, which offers a 2 gigabit symmetrical (same speeds up and down) residential service. Gigabit Pro has evolved into an 18 million client business, spreading over Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Nashville, and other markets. It’s a fiber-to-the-home solution, meaning potential customers must be located near Comcast’s fiber network in order to get the service.</p><p>Although Comcast’s new offering will be slower than Gigabit Pro, it’s still faster than what most North Americans receive from their broadband cable provider. There’s a good chance Comcast will charge half of what its Gigabit Pro customers pay. Comcast says that installation will be as easy as switching out the old cable modem for the new DOCSIS 3.1 model.</p><p>"DOCSIS 3.1 represents a tremendous step forward in our commitment to keeping customers at the technology forefront. Combined with all the upgrades we have already put into our advanced fiber optic-coax network, this technology will not only provide more gigabit speed choices for customers, it will also eventually make these ultra-fast speeds available to the most homes in our service areas,” says Comcast Central Division President, Bill Connors.</p><p>Along with the lack of a price, Comcast has also not specified if the new Gigabit service will have data caps or overage charges as seen with its broadband service.</p> New Lian Li Case Has Lots of Drive Mounts is a good case if you want to install lots of drives in a small form factor.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 22:21:23 +0000 LiNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Lian Li PC-M25"></p><p>Got a lot of hard drives you need to pack into a single mini-tower chassis? You’re in luck, as Lian Li just introduced <a href="" target="_blank">the PC-M25</a>, a small form factor case that provides space for up to seven 3.5-inch hard drives. There’s even a hot swap HDD cage that supports up to five 3.5-inch drives, and enough room left over to pack in a VGA card measuring up to 410mm in length.</p><p>The specs show that in addition to the hot swappable cage, the new case provides an HDD tray at the bottom for the remaining two 3.5-inch drives, or three 2.5-inch drives if you want to install something smaller. The cage itself includes thumb screws and a rubber suspension, for ease of pulling out the five hard drives on the fly.</p><p>On the cooling front, the case has a vent on each side and two fans: a 140mm intake fan to force cold air through the HDD cage and a 120mm exhaust fan at the top of the chassis. Thus air is pulled in from the front, blown across the hardware, and then up and out through the exhaust vent. Why not out the back? You need space for the ATX PS/2 power supply and its fan, which takes up around 230mm.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Lian LI PC-M25"></p><p>Lian Li’s new case supports Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards, and a CPU cooler measuring 80mm tall. Additional notable features include a tool-less side panel, vented PCI brackets, a PCI lock, a removable dust filter, and rubberized case stands to keep the case from scratching your desktop’s surface. The chassis is made of aluminum and comes in either Black or Silver finishes.</p><p>“Lian Li is famed for its quality of construction and minimal design, exemplified by the PC-M25. Everything from the power button to the case stands are cut from quality aluminum; it's a solid, lightweight chassis weighing only 8.24 pounds,” the company says.</p><p>The new Lain Li case measures 199(w)x322(h)x441(d)mm and will be made available in mid-February for a not-too-shabby price of $169.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti, Corsair Hydro H100i GTX, and More!'s time to upgrade your graphics card and you're thinking, "Go big or go home!," right? But then you check out the asking price for a GeForce GTX Titan X and think, "Hmm, maybe I'll go just a little less big." Hey, there's no shame in that, and if you're looking for a potent graphics card that's not quite as pricey as a flagship, then check out today's top deal.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 19:37:41 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="EVGA GTX 980 Ti"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>It's time to upgrade your graphics card and you're thinking, "Go big or go home!," right? But then you check out the asking price for a GeForce GTX Titan X and think, "Hmm, maybe I'll go just a little less big." Hey, there's no shame in that, and if you're looking for a potent graphics card that's not quite as pricey as a flagship, then check out today's top deal for an<a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814487160-_-0203&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank"> EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB FTW Gaming w/ACX 2.0+, Whisper Silent Cooling w/ Free Installed Backplate Graphics Card</a> for <strong>$630</strong> with free shipping (normally $680; additional $20 Mail-in rebate; Free game: Rise of the Tomb Raider w/ purchase, limited offer). It's not exactly cheap, but cheaper than usual, comes with a free game, and sports a custom cooling solution and reinforced backplate design.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-COOLING-N82E16835181090-_-0203&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Hydro Series H100i GTX Extreme Performance Water / Liquid CPU Cooler. 240mm</a> for <strong>$110</strong> with free shipping (normally $130; additional $20 Mail-in rebate)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820313531-_-0203&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Team Dark 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory</a> for <strong>$60</strong> with free shipping (normally $65 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEG32</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824260174-_-0203&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Dell U2414H Black 23.8-inch 8ms (GTG) HDMI Widescreen LED Backlight LCD Monitor IPS</a> for <strong>$190</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $200 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEG34</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-ODD-N82E16827135247-_-0203&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus Black 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA Internal Blu-ray Drive</a> for <strong>$40</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $53 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEGEG49</strong>])</p> Malwarebytes Scrambles to Plug Security Holes Pointed Out by Google Researcher is fixing security issues with its software that Google's Project Zero team made public.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 18:55:24 +0000 <h3>Time's up</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Malwarebytes"></p><p> Google's Project Zero team doesn't mess around when it comes to security vulnerabilities&mdash;if it finds one that's noteworthy, it gives companies 90 days to fix the issue before going public. Surprisingly, one of the latest disclosures involved Malwarebytes, a popular anti-malware program.</p><p> No anti-malware program is perfect, though in our experience, Malwarebytes does a good job of detecting threats that other software solutions miss. Be that as it may, Google Project Researcher Tavis Ormandy discovered a few security holes in Malwarebytes that could leave users vulnerable to attack, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Register</em> reports</a>. He alerted the company back in November of last year, but since several of the security issues have gone unpatched, they're now <a href="" target="_blank">public</a>.</p><p> One of the lingering issues is that Malwarebytes doesn't use a secure channel to deliver updates, nor are they signed, which leaves users open to man-in-the-middle attacks. And the other security holes could lead to things like remote code execution and trivial privilege escalation.</p><p> The good news is Malwarebytes isn't ignoring the threats, nor does it appear salty at Ormandy for pointing them out (companies <a href="">*ahem* Microsoft *ahem*</a> haven't always been receptive of Project Zero's 90-day policy).</p><p> "In early November, a well-known and respected security researcher by the name of Tavis Ormandy alerted us to several security vulnerabilities in the consumer version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware," Malwarebytes stated in a blog post. "Within days, we were able to fix several of the vulnerabilities server-side and are now internally testing a new version (2.2.1) to release in the next 3-4 weeks to patch the additional client-side vulnerabilities. At this time, we are still triaging based on severity."</p><p> Malwarebytes doesn't necessarily agree with Project Zero and Ormandy regardaing the severity of the security holes, but it is concerned enough with the findings that it's issuing fixes.</p><p> The company also announced a <a href="" target="_blank">bug bounty program</a> that will pay anywhere from <a href="" target="_blank">$100 to $1,000</a> per qualifying bug, depending on the severity.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Crappy USB Type-C Cable Sends Google Engineer's Laptop to the Grave Google engineer who's been testing USB-C cables fried his Chromebook Pixel using one that was non-compliant.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 18:16:51 +0000 pixelGoogleNewsUSB Type-C <h3>Proving an expensive point</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="SurjTech Cable"></p><p>Benson Leung, the Google engineer who took it upon himself to test and <a href="" target="_blank">review USB Type-C cables</a> and adapters on Amazon to call attention to the dangers of using ones that are out of spec, just sacrificed his Chromebook Pixel to the digital gods.</p><p> No cheap lesson, Chromebook Pixels start at $999 direct from Google. Nevertheless, Leung continued with his mission of publicly shaming (or praising, in some cases) USB Type-C cable makers through transparent user reviews on Amazon. When he attempted to test SurjTech's 3M USB A-to-C cable, he discovered just how troublesome a poorly constructed cable can be.</p><p> "Hi, Benson here doing another USB Type-C legacy cable review. This one will probably be the last one I do for a little while because this cable (1-star review score, straight off) seriously damaged the laptop computer I am using for these reviews, a Chromebook Pixel 2015, and two USB PD Sniffer devices (Twinkie)," Leung stated in his review.</p><p> Leung said he plugged the cable into the Twinkie as a pass-through and then into his Chromebook Pixel, which wreaked havoc as soon as he turned his system on. It immediately killed his analyzer, as well his laptop's USB controller chip, which took out&nbsp;both USB Type-C ports.</p><p> "I directly analyzed the Surjtech cable using a Type-C breakout board and a multimeter, and it appears that they completely miswired the cable. The GND pin on the Type-A plug is tied to the Vbus pins on the Type-C plug. The Vbus pin on the Type-A plug is tied to GND on the Type-C plug," Leung explained. "This is a total recipie for disaster and I have 3 pieces of electronics dead to show for it, my Pixel 2015, and two USB PD analyzers."</p><p> Mistakes happen on the manufacturing side, this one admittedly much more severe than most. However, the poor Q&amp;A that went into this particular product wasn't the only egregious complaint. Further investigation revealed that even if it had been wired correctly, it's still yet another Type-C cable that's out of spec. Here's what he had to say in a follow-up <a href="" target="_blank">Google+ post</a>:</p><ul> <li>Red wire to G. Black wire to V. So wrong.</li> <li>Missing SuperSpeed wires on the back of the connector. Only 4 wires in total. This cable was advertised as a USB 3.1 SuperSpeed cable but is entirely missing the TX/RX.</li> <li>Generally a poor job with the soldering of the wires.</li> <li>10 kΩ resistor instead of 56 kΩ resistor used.</li> <li>Resistor hooked up as a pull-down instead of a pull-up</li></ul><p> It's easy to take cables for granted and aim for the least expensive ones, but as Leung has shown on multiple occasions, these seemingly simple accessories aren't all built the same.</p><p> <em>Source: </em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>ArsTechnica</em></a></p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Toshiba's Upgraded OCZ Trion 150 SSDs Boast High Bang for Buck today announced the availability of its OCZ Trion 150 SSDs.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 17:34:33 +0000 state drivessdstoragetoshibaTrion 150 <h3>Budget drives by circumstance only</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="OCZ Trion 150 SSD"></p><p> Even if you have no plans whatsoever of overhauling your setup and upgrading to a fancy pants NVMe-based solid state drive, you should be super excited about the category. Why? Simply put, those stupid-fast drives that take advantage of PCI Express are pushing yesterday's performance models into budget territory. Just look at Toshiba's new <a href="" target="_blank">OCZ Trion 150</a> line for evidence of this.</p><p> The Trion 150 line is pitched as a real-world performance upgrade to the Trion 100 family. You might recall that we <a href="">evaluated a 480GB Trion 100 SSD</a> and weren't exactly blown away, but if the Trion 150 does indeed improve real-world speeds like Toshiba claims, it would suddenly become much more compelling.</p><p> Let's cover some stats. The Trion 150 uses Toshiba's 15nm triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash memory paired with Toshiba's own controller and firmware. The result is a list of performance ratings that, not too long ago, would have been considered top-end. Here's a look at capacities and speed ratings:</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="OCZ Trion 150 SSD Speeds"></p><p> And here's a look at street pricing:</p><ul> <li>OCZ Trion 150 120GB: $46 (~$0.38 per GB)</li> <li>OCZ Trion 150 240GB: $70 (~$0.29 per GB)</li> <li>OCZ Trion 150 480GB: $140 (~$0.29 per GB)</li> <li>OCZ Trion 150 960GB: $270 (~$0.28 per GB)</li></ul><p> Those prices are a bit cheaper than the what the Trion 100 series debuted at&mdash;the aforementioned Trion 100 480GB that we reviewed was $159 versus $140 for the same capacity Trion 150.</p><p> Once again, Toshiba's hoping to entice "value oriented mainstream consumers" with these new drives, and at the above price points, the company has our attention. The question is, do these drives bring enough of a real-world performance bump to make them more exciting than their predecessors? We'll let you know as soon as we have a chance to run some benchmarks.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Logitech Has Its Own VR Plans has plans to enter the VR arena.Wed, 03 Feb 2016 11:32:54 +0000 vivelogitechNewsoculus riftvr <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Logitech Logo"></p><p>In a recent interview with <a href="" target="_blank">The Australian Financial Times</a>, Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell revealed the company’s plans for entering the virtual reality market. However, don’t expect to see products from the company any time soon. Darrell indicated that Logitech intends to enter the VR market late rather than bust in “early and awkwardly.”</p><p>“Just like with the mouse and keyboard, optimizing the experience of the peripherals that go with VR will be an interesting place for us,” he said in the interview. “We're in the middle of many discussions in that space &hellip; and at some point you can bet we'll jump in. But we're years away from viewing that as a serious category.”</p><p>However, Logitech doesn’t plan on developing its own VR headset, but rather the peripherals that would be used along with a third-party solution such as Facebook’s upcoming Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Both those headsets will come with their own controllers, so whatever Logitech plans to launch is unknown at this point.</p><p>That said, by the time Logitech enters the VR arena, the market may be into its second or third generation of headsets. The market should be quite large by then, giving the peripherals company a bigger playing field to develop VR products. After all, the VR market is expected to explode into a billion dollar industry <a href="" target="_blank">in just a few short years</a>.</p><p>According to the interview, Darrell has been looking to expand Logitech’s reach into new territories such as mobile since he took the CEO role back in 2012. Since then, the company has produced products for tablets and phones, portable speakers, and smart home devices like the “Harmony” TV remote controls and the Bluetooth Audio Adapter.</p><p>Just last month, the Switzerland-based company saw a <a href="" target="_blank">3% rise in sales during its third quarter</a> compared to the same quarter last year. Retail sales actually grew to 9% in constant currency at $595 million. Thus, the company raised its fiscal year 2016 outlook, expecting retail sales to grow 7% to 9% in constant currency.</p><p>Logitech taking the road to VR should come as no surprise, as the company produces some of the best peripherals on the market. Logitech offers game-focused peripherals as well spanning from mice to keyboards to controllers for racing enthusiasts.&nbsp;</p><p>We're keeping a close watch on you, Logitech&nbsp;</p> Fallout 4 Graphics Revisited: Patch 1.3 three months later, the Commonwealth is looking better than ever, and AMD and Nvidia haven't been standing still eitherWed, 03 Feb 2016 11:22:14 +0000 4FeaturesGamingintelnvidiapatches <h3>War, war never changes&hellip;</h3><p> &hellip;the hardware and software you're using, on the other hand, can change in rapid fashion, often rendering older results meaningless. This is the case with <em>Fallout 4</em>, which we&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">initially benchmarked right after launch</a>. Two and a half months later, we've just received the latest official 1.3 patch, which was in open beta for the past week or two. Unlike the beta, the official release is intended to be ready for general consumption. This is important because there have been rumblings that <em>Fallout 4</em> performance has gotten worse with the patch.</p><p> Let's just cut straight to the point: That's bollocks. We've got the same performance sequence we used in our initial testing, only now we're running the latest AMD and Nvidia drivers. After dozens more repeat benchmark runs, we can comfortably say that almost everyone will see some healthy improvements to performance compared to the state of the game back in November. But there's more to the story than just driver updates and bug fixes.</p><p> <em>Fallout 4</em> version 1.3 offers a few new enhancements to graphics, both courtesy of Nvidia's GameWorks libraries. Now, before any AMD fans get too bent out of shape, let's be clear that all the new features are <em>optional</em> using the graphics presets. So if you go into the options and click Low/Medium/High/Ultra, you won't even see the new enhancements. Instead, you'll need to open the Advanced menu, and there you will see the option to set Ambient Occlusion to HBAO+, and if you have an Nvidia GPU, you can also set Weapon Debris to one of four options (Off/Medium/High/Ultra). Weapons Debris appears to leverage some PhysX libraries&mdash;or at least, something Nvidia isn't enabling for other GPU vendors&mdash;while HBAO+ will work on all DX11 GPUs.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 Ultra (left) vs. Max (right) quality settings" class=""><figcaption><em>Fallout 4</em> Ultra (left) vs. Max (right) quality settings</figcaption></figure><p> What does <em>Fallout 4 </em>look like with the image quality maxed out compared to the Ultra preset? The shadows are improved and there's more foliage in some areas, but outside of pixel hunting you likely won't notice a sizeable change in the way things look.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 version 1.3 Ultra quality preset" class=""><figcaption><em>Fallout 4 </em>version 1.3 Ultra quality preset</figcaption></figure><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 version 1.3 with HBAO+ and max quality" class=""><figcaption><em>Fallout 4</em> version 1.3 with HBAO+ and max quality</figcaption></figure><p> Besides the graphics updates, we've also noticed that the game now plays much more nicely when it comes to disabling V-Sync (iPresentInterval=0) or using a display that supports 144Hz refresh rates. Entering/exiting power armor no longer causes the player to occasionally get stuck, at least not in our experience, and while picking locks at high frame rates is a bit iffy (you'll break a lot of bobby pins), the only main concern with disabling V-Sync is the usual image tearing.</p><h5>Let's talk performance</h5><p> Before we get to the new performance numbers, let's quickly recap the launch. <em>Fallout 4</em> showed clear favoritism for Nvidia GPUs, but at the time AMD hadn't released an optimized driver for the game. That came out about a week after our initial benchmarking, and it dramatically improved the situation for AMD graphics cards. Since then, we've seen the Crimson 15.12 and 16.1 drivers, but <em>Fallout 4</em> performance has mostly stayed the same. Nvidia meanwhile has gone from their <em>Fallout 4</em> Game Ready 358.91 driver to the current 361.75 driver, and they've also shown some performance improvements during the past few months. CPUs were also a potential bottleneck at launch, particularly for AMD graphics cards, but the optimized drivers appear to have largely addressed that area.</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Maximum PC Graphics Test Bed</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>CPU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href="">Intel Core i7-5930K</a>: 6-core HT OC'ed @ 4.2GHz<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454134343&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Core+i3-4350">Core i3-4350</a> simulated: 2-core HT @ 3.6GHz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Mobo</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044420&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Gigabyte+GA-X99-UD4">Gigabyte GA-X99-UD4</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>GPUs</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354392&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=R9+Fury+X">AMD R9 Fury X</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354436&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+390">AMD R9 390</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354465&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+380">AMD R9 380</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354483&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+285">AMD R9 285</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354522&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=gtx+980+ti">Nvidia GTX 980 Ti</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354558&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=gtx+980">Nvidia GTX 980</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354586&amp;sr=1-3&amp;keywords=asus+gtx+970">Nvidia GTX 970</a> (Asus)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354627&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=asus+Nvidia+GTX+950">Nvidia GTX 950</a> (Asus) </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>SSD</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1447354339&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=samsung+850+evo+2tb">Samsung 850 EVO 2TB</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>PSU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044466&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=EVGA+SuperNOVA+1300+G2">EVGA SuperNOVA 1300 G2</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=G.Skill+Ripjaws+16GB+DDR4-2666">G.Skill Ripjaws 16GB DDR4-2666</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Cooler</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044501&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+Nepton+280L">Cooler Master Nepton 280L</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Case</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044514&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+CM+Storm+Trooper">Cooler Master CM Storm Trooper</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>OS</strong> </td> <td> Windows 10 Pro 64-bit </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Drivers</strong> </td> <td> AMD Crimson 16.1<br> Nvidia 361.75 </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> We're using the same hardware as before, though we've modified our choice of CPUs on the low end from parts that don't actually exist to a simulated Core i3-4350. Many gamers wouldn't be caught dead running such a "low-end" processor, but you might be surprised just how much performance even a Core i3 part can offer. We've trimmed down our list of GPUs slightly this round as well, dropping the GTX Titan X and GTX 960 as those scores aren't all that different from the other parts we're testing. And with that out of the way, let's just dive right back into the radioactive waters and hope our Rad-X can keep us healthy&hellip;.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 2160p Ultra GPU"></p><p> Running at 4K resolutions, particularly at Ultra quality, is generally the domain of multi-GPU setups, and that remains the case with <em>Fallout 4</em>. Sure, a single GTX 980 Ti can break 30 fps most of the time, and paired with a G-Sync display it's certainly playable, but it can definitely feel choppy. The good news is that nearly all of our GPUs show some decent performance improvements since launch, and especially AMD looks much more reasonable here.</p><p> With the 1.3 patch in place, we now have two GPUs comfortably breaking the 30 fps mark, and even the GTX 980 manages to just squeak by. 97 percentile frame rates are all below 30 fps, however, so you can expect a bit of stuttering on occasion&mdash;especially when you're outside and transition between area boundaries. <em>Fallout 4</em> doesn't demand ultra-high frame rates, however, and with a bit of tweaking (say, the High preset, or maybe just disable TXAA) you can definitely play 4K with the R9 390, GTX 980, R9 Fury X, and GTX 980 Ti.</p><p> What's interesting is how far the gap has narrowed between AMD and Nvidia GPUs. Where the 980 Ti and 980 used to hold double-digit percentage leads over the Fury X and 390, with the patch and updated drivers the cards are now running basically tied (4–6 percent leads for Nvidia, but AMD has better 97 percentile results now). The 970 was also more or less tied with the 390 before, but now the 390 holds a sizeable 12 percent advantage. It's just unfortunate it took a couple of weeks after launch to narrow the gap. We could point out how badly AMD dominates Nvidia at the $200 market, though with sub-20 fps results we'll save that for below.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 1440p Ultra GPU"></p><p> If the changes at 4K were helpful to AMD, at QHD they're almost a night and day difference. 980 Ti used to lead the Fury X by 30-40 percent; now it's down to less than 10 percent. The 980 still beats the 390 by 5-15 percent, but it should given their respective prices; the 970 on the other hand has gone from leading the 390 by 5-15 percent to trailing by 5-10 percent. And we're not just talking meaningless numbers here; at 1440p Ultra, all of these GPUs are certainly playable&mdash;particularly if you pair them with a G-Sync/FreeSync display. 97 percentiles are above 30 fps for all of these cards, and if you're shooting for even higher frame rates you can always drop the quality settings a notch.</p><p> For the lower priced cards like the GTX 950 and R9 380, 1440p Ultra still proves to be (mostly) insurmountable. The R9 380 4GB card is easily ahead of the others, however, and it leads the GTX 950 by almost 20 percent. Of course, it also costs 35 percent more than the GTX 950 2GB, so it's not really a decisive victory.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 1080p Ultra GPU"></p><p> 1080p Ultra isn't really where the highest-end cards are designed to run, though the 980 Ti still easily claims the top spot. AMD for their part shows 20-40 percent improvements compared to launch performance, with the Fury X benefiting the most. This is why driver optimizations for games are important, and the sooner you get them into the hands of gamers, the more likely they will be to recommend your hardware. If you're a day-0 gamer that pre-orders stuff in advance, AMD's track record doesn't look so good.</p><p> Nvidia still shows better scaling overall, suggesting the CPU is perhaps more of a bottleneck on AMD GPUs in this title. We'll get to that further on down the page. Having 4GB of VRAM also looks to be a big boost to performance here, with the R9 380 outpacing the R9 285 by a solid 15 percent or more, where prior to the driver and game updates the gap was mostly equal to the difference in their core clocks.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 1080p Max GPU"></p><p> But what happens if you enable the new HBAO+ ambient occlusion&mdash;along with maxing out all of the other settings? (Note that the weapons debris option is only available with Nvidia GPUs, so we left it off.) If you compare the numbers from 1080p Ultra to our 1080p Max, interestingly, the gap between AMD and Nvidia narrows again. All of the GPUs we tested remain "playable" (meaning, higher than 30 fps averages), though interestingly it's Nvidia that appears to have more stuttering and low frame rates now.</p><h5>How's your CPU?</h5><p> To be frank, I wasn't actually going to retest CPU performance, but there was a small snafu. The last testing I had done involved <em><a target="_blank" href="">Rise of the Tomb Raider</a></em>, running with a simulated i3-4350. I ran all of these benchmarks using that configuration before realizing I was missing four cores and 600MHz of CPU clock speed. Here's the catch, though: The simulated i3-4350 still has a full 15MB L3 cache, where a real i3-4350 only has 4MB L3&mdash;and of course, quad-channel DDR4-2667 instead of some form of DDR3 memory. You might be wondering how I could have missed the lack of CPU performance, especially in light of our earlier findings. Take a look at the charts, though:</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 2160p Ultra CPU Scaling"></p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 1440p Ultra CPU Scaling"></p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Fallout 4 V1.3 1080p Ultra CPU Scaling"></p><p> Previously, we simulated much slower parts and ran with multiple core configurations. This time, targeting a real Core i3 SKU does a lot to eliminate the performance gap. In fact, there are actually some oddities that show up, with the "Core i3" part often beating the real Core i7. Our best guess is that by devoting the whole 15MB L3 to just two cores, more data can fit into the cache, resulting in improvements particularly for our 97 percentiles.</p><p> Given we're testing with FRAPS, which is prone to wider variations between runs, we wouldn't read <em>too</em> much into these charts, but overall there looks to be very little difference in performance between our two processor configurations. Average frame rates are mostly within the margin of error (less than five percent), and only the two fastest GPUs (980 Ti and Fury X) appear to benefit from the hex-core i7-5930K&mdash;and even then, it's only at 1920x1080 Ultra where they outperform the simulated i3-4350. Crazy!</p><p> I suspect everything else showing the simulated Core i3 "winning" is due to the cache differences, because really that shouldn't happen with a real Core i3. We've got a faster core clock, three times as many cores, and more than three times as much L3 if we're looking at a true i3-4350 comparison. But even if you have an actual Core i3 processor, short of dual GPUs it's very likely the CPU won't be a significant bottleneck.</p><h5>Prepare for cryogenic sleep&hellip;</h5><p> And that wraps up our return to the post-apocalyptic wastes. Things have improved, and if you like open-world adventures, <em>Fallout 4</em> is awesome. You don't even want to know how many hours I've spent playing the game, let alone benchmarking it. But I digress. The short summary is that Nvidia continues to hold on to the performance crown, but AMD users no longer need to feel betrayed. In the midrange $200 GPU market, AMD even holds the lead, and with a few tweaks to the settings you should be able to happily run around soaking up rads until your eyes rot out.</p><p> We'll continue to use <em>Fallout 4</em> as one of our GPU and CPU benchmarks, because it's a popular title and can be reasonably taxing. But unless something really dramatic happens (like a DX12 patch, which is highly unlikely), this is going to be our last detailed look at <em>Fallout 4</em> performance. Meanwhile, if you heard rumors that Nvidia was intentionally crippling performance on older Kepler GPUs, we did run a quick test with a GTX 770 using both older and newer drivers and found no noteworthy changes, so you can hopefully rest easy.</p> Technolust: On the Road Again or Homeward Bound few exceptions, most of us can't have it all but dreams are free, which is why we technolustWed, 03 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 chairsmartphonesTechnolust <h3>Working from home and away</h3><p> Getting things done efficiently and effectively is part of our everyday lives. If there's a product out there that can help you get your work done faster, that means more free time to do the things you enjoy. It's also important to be comfortable, and having used a lot of different products over the years, I know what I like and what I don't. I also know what I'll use and what will gather dust, so while it would be really cool to have a sweet drone or an awesome home stereo, they're not particularly high on my priority list.</p><p> So what upgrades would I like to have right now? I can think of many, but at the top of my list are three things: a new smartphone, a new laptop, and a new chair&mdash;not necessarily in that order.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="iPhone 6S"></p><h4>My Dream Smartphone (for now)</h4><p> This might seem like a fanboy pick, but let me start out by saying that I only use one Apple product right now, and it's not something I purchased: It's my iPhone 5S 16GB. Prior to coming to Maximum PC, I used an Android phone, a Nexus 5 to be precise. I liked that phone a lot, but then I dropped it and shattered the screen (and repaired it, though it was never quite the same afterward). When I found out that my new job would provide me with a free phone, but it had to be an iPhone&hellip; well, I figured I would try switching and see how it goes.</p><p> First the bad: I miss the back button of Android, and I despise iTunes. Over the past year, I've learned to live with the iOS interface and have found it to be responsive and generally easy to use&mdash;the switch from Android wasn't all that bad. I've also found that the GPS works a lot better than on my old Nexus 5. But iTunes&hellip; oh, how I love to hate you. On Windows, it feels like it was intentionally developed as a way to try and convince people that Macs are superior. Why do I need to install iTunes just to use USB tethering? Or transfer images from my phone to my PC? It's a clunky piece of software and something I do my best to avoid using. But the phone, well, the phone is still great.</p><p> Design is where Apple really excels, and compared to most of the Android phones I've used and handled, iPhones simply have a fit and finish that's unmatched. I do think the 5/5S looks nicer in many ways than the latest offerings, and thinner isn't always better, but I do have a few gripes with the 5S. For example, turning on Bluetooth sucks my battery dry, the display is a rather smallish four inches, not to mention the 1136x640 resolution. Having come from a 5-inch 1920x1080 Nexus, I want something a bit larger than the 5S display, but not as big as the iPhone 6S Plus 5.5-inch display. The iPhone 6S is the near-perfect compromise in my book.</p><p> I don't know if the Bluetooth battery issue has been fixed with the latest model, and I can live without Bluetooth most of the time. It's really about moving to that 4.7-inch display, although for a company that coined the "retina display" category, I'm a bit surprised the resolution is still only 1334x750. Apple is also really good about delivering accurate colors on their displays, however, so given the choice between their lower resolution and other companies' offerings, the iPhone generally wins.</p><p> What's really surprising to me is how far Apple is pushing the performance metrics with their latest SoC. My old Snapdragon 800 in the Nexus 5 wasn't particularly sluggish, and the move to the 5S was more lateral than forward. But since the A7 in the 5S launched more than two years ago, Apple has come out with the A8 and now the A9 processor. As one of the first 14nm/16nm FinFET parts&mdash;yes, if you hadn't heard, Apple sourced the A9 from both TSMC and Samsung, which is frankly a crazy thing only Apple would do&mdash;the A9 is at the cutting edge of technology.</p><p> In practical terms, the iPhone 6S is roughly twice as fast as my current 5S, with graphics performance often two to three times faster. Oh, and Apple also delivers NAND performance that's hard to beat. What's really impressive is that Apple delivers all of this with just two of their Twister cores. Why use eight run-of-the-mill ARM cores when you can custom design your own processors that are apparently superior in every way? That doesn't mean Apple's A9 wins every performance metric, but when we struggle to use more than two cores on many desktop PCs, it's not surprising that the benefits of an octal-core smartphone SoC are more for marketing than the real world.</p><p> So far so good, but there's one area where I'm really techolusting after something more than my current phone: storage capacity. I got my phone for free, but I also got the base model 5S with a paltry 16GB of NAND. It's enough for minor use, but if I start snapping photos and recording videos, not to mention storing music for listening, 16GB gets gobbled up in no time at all. And of course, Apple has no intent to let you add your own micro-SD card, meaning you get what you buy and you live with it. For that reason, I'd normally go for the 64GB model, but in my dreams I'd go whole hog and nab the 128GB version&mdash;because why not?</p><h5><strong>What does the iPhone 6S get me?</strong></h5><p> In a word: more. More of everything. More performance, more screen, more resolution, more battery life, and more storage. There are few upgrades where you actually win in every single area, but this is one of them. The only compromise is in the money you have to spend. Depending on the color, an unlocked 64GB iPhone 6S <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454448793&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=iphone+6s+64gb">runs around $800</a> while the <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454448996&amp;sr=1-4&amp;keywords=iphone+6s+128gb">128GB 6S costs $890–$945</a>. Buying a phone via a carrier can help bring down the price, but only about $50, so I'd rather just pay the extra for a fully unlocked phone. The biggest drawback? We all know we're only eight months away from the iPhone 7 launch.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Dell XPS 15"></p><h4>A Well-Balanced Laptop</h4><p> I've had the opportunity to play with some of the fastest notebooks on the planet for much of the past decade. They're awesome, and I love seeing things like the new GTX 980 for notebooks stuffed into MSI's GT72S. But when it comes time for me to actually get a new laptop for business and pleasure, I'm looking for something a bit more portable&mdash;there's nothing worse than lugging around a 15-pound backpack during a trade show! Enter Dell's latest revision of their XPS 15.</p><p> It's come a long way since the earliest models, and the XPS brand is now basically Dell's take on a MacBook Pro Retina. In many ways, they even manage to beat Apple, which is saying something&mdash;plus, again, I'm not really an Apple devotee; I'll stick with my Windows OS, thank-you-very-much. The new Skylake edition packs a Core i7-6700HQ processor, which is plenty fast for my laptop requirements. There are many different configurations available, but the one I really want is the <a target="_blank" href=";l=en&amp;s=dhs">fully loaded XPS 15 Touch</a>. $2,650 is a serious investment, but this is basically a go-everywhere, do-everything option.</p><p> Joining the Core i7 processor is a not-insignificant GTX 960M graphics card. Granted, this is Maxwell 1.0 (GM107), which is a bit of a letdown, but it should still handle all games at medium to high settings running at 1080p. Besides, I've got my gaming desktop at home when I need it, so this is just something to let me game a little on the road. Optimus means I can still get good battery life, so there's no compromise there, and the top models are packing PCIe-based SSDs. In this case, you can get a full 1TB SSD, with no slow hard drive taking up space, allowing Dell to use a large 84Wh Li-polymer battery. Dell claims up to 17 hours of battery life, but they're probably running at minimum LCD brightness to get there; in practice, I expect 6–7 hours is more likely, and that's enough for me.</p><p> The screen is probably the real selling point for me&mdash;and I'm not just talking about the 3840x2160 touchscreen aspect. In truth, I don't need that high of a resolution, but it still looks great. What I really love is the "InfinityEdge" design, where the screen bezel is super narrow, at least on the top and sides. Dell would get even more bonus points if they would use a different aspect ratio (16:10 or even 3:2 would be awesome), but that ship has mostly sailed so I'll live with a 16:9 panel. The InfinityEdge does force the webcam down to the lower bezel, which can be a bit odd, but my webcam use is pretty limited so again, not a problem for me.</p><h5><strong>What does Dell's XPS 15 get me?</strong></h5><p> Much like the iPhone, this is a case of more being better. I have a laptop with a 512GB SSD, and it's generally sufficient, but it's not a PCIe-based drive and it's often running at 75 percent filled or more, forcing me to move files over to my desktop. It's not a huge problem, but a 1TB SSD would definitely be nice to have. I'd also like the move to a faster GTX 960M graphics chips for on-the-road gaming (my current laptop's GT 750M is proving woefully inadequate these days), and Skylake should provide a moderate but welcome improvement to both performance and battery life. The important thing is that I can get all of this in a laptop that still weighs under five pounds, and while there are times when I'd like an even smaller Ultrabook-class laptop, ultimately I'm not willing to give up the larger screen size and keyboard.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ergohuman ME7ERG"></p><h4>Sit Down and Relax</h4><p> Last but not least, while the prior two items are great for when I'm away from home, most of my work time is spent at my desk. I've thought about standing desks, but for now I'm sticking with a traditional seated option, which means I need a good chair. I've gone through quite a few office chairs over the past couple of decades, and many of them have ended up in the dump after a few years. My current chair mostly works, but it's uncomfortable and lacks many of the adjustment options I really want.</p><p> One thing that I know now is that I really don't like leather chairs, particularly when I'm going to be sitting there 5–10 hours a day. They don't breathe well, which is a real problem in the summer, and they're usually firmer than I'd like. Ergohuman makes some great chairs, and their ME7ERG is a fully mesh design&mdash;exactly what I'm after. With a <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454450959&amp;sr=1-1-catcorr&amp;keywords=ergohuman+me7erg">current price of $625</a>, It's about three times the price of my current chair, but having suffered with this seat for most of the past two years, I now realize how important a comfortable chair can be.</p><p> The Ergohuman V1 has been around for a while, though it underwent a slight redesign in 2011. Unlike so many other accessories, chairs can last for decades if they're made right, and a good design won't become outdated. The ME7ERG can adjust the position of pretty much every element, ensuring good support whether you're sitting up straight or reclining. It's also a high-back model with a headrest, which is definitely a must-have feature in my book. The adjustable back gives you better lumbar support, and there's the usual tilt, sliding seat, and height adjustments. The single-lever control mechanism is also pretty slick, and the arm rests can move up and down as well as swiveling in and out.</p><h5><strong>What can Ergohuman give me that I’m currently missing?</strong></h5><p> <strong></strong></p><p> Somehow or another, I ended up with one of the least comfortable office chairs I've ever used, and I've been stuck with it for a couple of years. It looked nice when I saw it in pictures, but besides being leather it has a serious problem: It can't properly support my 6'3" 220 pound size. And by that, I mean the height adjustment keeps sliding down. I tried locking the hydraulics in place with a pipe clamp, but the clamp&nbsp;still slides, and that takes away the height adjustment feature. Even at its best, however, this chair was merely serviceable rather than something comfortable that I want to keep using. The Ergohuman is a far better design, with a lifetime warranty, so even if something does go wrong, the company will fix it. And then I can let my children use my current chair and leave mine alone (fat chance of that happening).</p> Nintendo Eyeing Re-Entry into VR Industry is working on virtual reality technologyTue, 02 Feb 2016 23:35:13 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Nintendo"></p><p>Nintendo first entered the virtual reality industry back in 1995 with the launch of Virtual Boy. The product tanked in Japan and North America, which led the company to refrain from selling the device in other regions. Complaints about the device included headaches caused by the monochrome screen, the high retail price, and its failure to create an immersive experience. Virtual Boy only lasted seven months (give or take) on the North American market.</p><p>Despite its Virtual Boy failure, Nintendo may not be entirely out of the VR picture. Nintendo’s new president <a href="" target="_blank">Tatsumi Kimishima told reporters</a> during a news conference on Tuesday that the company was indeed researching VR products. He called the technology “interesting,” but only that: he gave no sign that the company would produce a product in the near future. </p><p>News of Nintendo’s new journey into VR isn’t surprising. Sony is developing a VR product of its own called <a href="" target="_blank">PlayStation VR</a> that’s slated to arrive in the first half of 2016 for the PlayStation 4 console. The headset packs a 5.7-inch OLED display with a 1920x1080 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. Microsoft, on the other hand, is currently developing <a href="" target="_blank">HoloLens</a>, which is powered by Windows 10 and supports holographic computing. The HoloLens developer kit is expected to arrive in early 2016.</p><p>Nintendo is currently working on its next gaming console, codenamed the NX, which is slated to be revealed later this year. Unnamed sources <a href="" target="_blank">said back in October</a> 2015 that the company was handing out the software development kit to third-party developers, and that the NX will be a console/mobile hybrid device sporting “industry-leading chips.” If Nintendo is indeed working on a VR headset, the console powering the device will definitely need all the horsepower it can get.</p><p>Nintendo is in need of new streams of revenue, and VR certainly could pay off if applied correctly. The company just announced falling numbers in its fiscal third quarter earnings report, revealing a net profit of Y29.1bn ($241m) in the October/December quarter, down from Y45.2bn earned in the same time frame last year. The company saw a 2 percent decrease in Wii U sales compared to a year ago, and 3DS sales saw a 28 percent drop.</p><p>One stream of revenue Nintendo investors are banking on is in the mobile sector. The company’s first mobile game is called Miitomo and is slated to arrive in March 2016. The game will be free-to-play but offer in-app purchases. Nintendo plans to launch a total of five mobile games before March 2017, the second of which promises to feature a “<a href="" target="_blank">best-known character</a>.”</p><p>On a whole, Nintendo will need to impress both consumers and investors with its new hardware to regain the momentum generated by the original Wii console. And because of the Virtual Boy failure, the company may face some hesitation from consumers regarding the introduction of a new VR headset. Still, if the recent high demand for VR equipment is any sign of things to come in 2016, we’ll likely see a VR hint from Nintendo before the end of the year.</p> Writers Wanted wanted for Maximum PCTue, 02 Feb 2016 21:04:11 +0000 pc Freelance for Maximum PC<br /> <br /> Do you write well and know PC hardware and/or&nbsp;software like the back of your hand? If you've been building PCs since&nbsp;before you could walk and would like to contribute to Maximum PC, we would love to have you on board.<br /> <br /> We’re currently looking for PC&nbsp;experts who can write about&nbsp;the following categories:<br /> Software (Windows/Linux/Multimedia Production/Editing)<br /> <br /> Cases<br /> Building PCs<br /> Cooling<br /> <br /> Overclocking<br /> <br /> Modding<br /> Peripherals (headset, keyboards, mice)<br /> <br /> NetworkingHome automationSecurityNAS<br /> Basically, if you write well and consider yourself an expert in any of the aforementioned categories, we would love to hear from you. Writers should be able to write a variety of content that could include how-to guides, tips articles, and informative features. Freelancers should be assertive and willing to take the&nbsp;initiative to pitch article ideas.To be considered, please send resumes/written samples to<br /><br /> and let us know what hardware/software beats you specialize in/like to cover!<br /> This Tool Reveals Which VPN Server Is the Fastest's a good way to decide which VPN service is best for youTue, 02 Feb 2016 20:20:38 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Vpn Scanner"></p><p>Looking to stream Netflix in your territory? Need to extend your private network to a location overseas? <a href="" target="_blank">There’s a new free tool</a> that monitors the upload and download speeds of specific Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers located around the globe. Even more, it lists the details of each provider’s servers, showing which connection is best for your VPN needs.</p><p>Upon first loading the site, new users are greeted with a popup welcoming them to the world’s first localized VPN speed testing tool, which was in development for two years before recently going live. The tool is sponsored by Private Internet Access and six other providers, and is accepting donations. Across the top is a list of social networks that allow the user to post news about the new tool. </p><p>“We have set upfew servers in multiple locations across North America, Europe &amp; Australia,” the site states. “Multiple intelligent software robots check internet speed of different VPN providers at their VPN servers at every hour every day. Every robot updates speed result at a centralized database. Another robot cleans this data with machine learning algorithm and finally sends accurate speed data to a Web server. The more data it receives the more accurate result it can produce, our current accuracy is more than 90% and at the end of 2015 the estimated accuracy will be 99%.”</p><p>On the left of the browser window is a sidebar with a list of VPN providers and a list of territories for testing the VPN speed in near real time (if a provider isn’t listed, you can request it to be added). The world map spread out across the window displays blue spheres that indicate the location of a VPN’s server; each sphere contains a number that displays the server’s download speed. Double-clicking on a sphere reveals the server download and upload details. You can zoom in and out of the map using the mouse wheel, and click the wheel to pan around the map.</p><p>AS an example of how the tool works, we checked out PIA’s server located in Florida. Using a test location in New York, the server had a download speed of 4.42MB/sec and an upload speed of 5.69MB/s. By changing the test location to London, that same server had a download speed of 7.69MB/s and an upload speed of 12.50MB/s. Not too shabby.</p><p>As for supported VPN providers, the list includes Private Internet Access (the default), VPN-S, Black VPN, Liquid VPN, Vyprvpn, Invisible Browsing VPN, Cactus, TorGuard, IP Vanish VPN, CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, and Hide My Ass. Test locations include two in the United States, Singapore, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Sydney, Toronto, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.</p><p>Ultimately users can walk away with valuable information that will help them choose the right VPN for their needs. While privacy is a very important factor in choosing a service, so is speed, especially when streaming video is involved. This tool, which updates server information on an hourly basis, is ideal because users can compare multiple providers in one sitting.</p><p>News of the tool arrives as Netflix begins to crack down on users who are using VPNs and proxies to stream content into geographic territories that don’t have licensing rights to the media. In other words, they’re getting access to movies and TV shows that aren’t legally available in their region. <a href="" target="_blank">Only the US military</a> is purportedly allowed to stream Netflix’s US catalog overseas via VPNs.</p><p>Netflix vowed to beef up its proxy and “unblocker” detection <a href="" target="_blank">in mid-January</a>. The company said this detection technology will continue to evolve, and should not affect members who are not using proxies.</p><p>VIA:&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a></p> Newegg Daily Deals: EVGA 80 Plus Gold 550W PSU, Seagate 3TB HDD, and More!, we're fans of excessit doesn't read Modest PC on our magazine cover, but Maximum PC. That doesn't mean we suggest being careless with your component selection and going over the top at every opportunity. Let's say you're putting together a respectable mid-range system with a quad-core processor, SSD, and a mid-level graphics card. You could spurge on a 1,200W power supply to run the thing, or make a much wiser choice with your money...Tue, 02 Feb 2016 18:51:03 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Evga 550w Psu"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>Look, we're fans of excess&mdash;it doesn't read <em>Modest PC</em> on our magazine cover, but <em>Maximum PC</em>. That doesn't mean we suggest being careless with your component selection and going over the top at every opportunity. Let's say you're putting together a respectable mid-range system with a quad-core processor, SSD, and a mid-level graphics card. You could spurge on a 1,200W power supply to run the thing, or make a much wiser choice with your money, such as today's top deal for an <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-PSU-N82E16817438049-_-0202&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">EVGA 550W Power Supply</a> for for <strong>$75</strong> with free shipping (normally $85; additional $20 Mail-in rebate). There's plenty of power here to play with, and it's a high-quality unit that's 80 Plus Gold certified. It's also modular and comes with a 5-year warranty.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822148844-_-0202&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Desktop HDD 3TB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive</a> for <strong>$85</strong> with free shipping (normally $100 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEGEF22</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824025212-_-0202&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">LG 25-inch IPS 2 x HDMI FHD Ultra-Wide LED Monitor 250 cd/m2 5,000,000:1</a> for <strong>$160</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $190)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814127878-_-0202&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">MSI Radeon R9 380 DirectX 12 R9 380 GAMING 4G 4GB 256-Bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support ATX Video Card</a> for<strong> $225</strong> with free shipping (normally $239; additional $10 Mail-in rebate)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-Other-N82E16874113147-_-0202&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">NBA 2K16 - Xbox One</a> for <strong>$50</strong> with free shipping (normally $54)</p> AMD Radeon Software Crimson 16.1.1 Hotfix Driver Now Available's Crimson Edition 16.1.1 Hotfix introduces performance optimizations for Rise of the Tomb Raider.Tue, 02 Feb 2016 18:36:40 +0000 <h3>Best performance for Rise of the Tomb Raider</h3> <p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the tomb raider"> </p> <p> Rise of the Tomb Raider is out now for PC (it has been for the past several days) and whether you use an NVIDIA or AMD graphics card, there's an optimized driver release available to download. </p> <p> For NVIDIA graphics cards owners, it's the <a href="">361.75 driver release</a>, which was made available a couple of days before&nbsp; the game's release. And for those on team AMD, it now has your back as well with the release of its new Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.1.1 Hotfix. </p> <p> The highlights of the hotfix are short and simple&mdash;performance and quality improvements for Rise of the Tomb Raider plus a Crossfire profile, and also a Crossfire profile for Fallout 4. </p> <p> AMD also resolved a bunch of issues with the latest hotfix. They include: </p> <ul> <li>[81915] Assassin's Creed Syndicate - Building textures may be missing on some AMD Freesync displays with VSync enabled</li> <li>[82892] Display corruption may occur on systems with multiple display systems when they have been left idle for some time</li> <li>[82926] Mordheim: City of the Damned – some loading screens may be very dark</li> <li>[83032] Star Wars: Battlefront – The sky rendering may be corrupted in some situations</li> <li>[83832] Radeon Settings – AMD OverDrive Power setting changes on the secondary GPU are not immediately displayed. This is seen only on dual GPU graphics cards, such as the AMD Radeon HD 7990 and Radeon R9 295x2</li> <li>[83833] Radeon Settings - AMD OverDrive&trade; clock gauge needles for the secondary GPU may be in wrong position when the system is idle and the secondary GPU is inactive</li> <li>[83839] Some games may experience brightness flickering with AMD FreeSync enabled</li> <li>[83940] AMD Radeon Additional Settings window will close if the help button is pressed on Japanese/Korean language setups</li> <li>[83948] Corruption seen in video playback for M2TS format files via Windows 10 Movie &amp; TV application</li> <li>[84199] Flickering textures experienced in Dota 2 when accessing the "Heroes" menu</li> <li>[84428] Battlefield Hardline – A crash may occur when changing graphics settings from "Ultra" to "High" during gameplay</li> <li>[85030] The screen may turn dark and colors may be corrupted after installing the driver on some AMD Crossfire setups</li> <li>[85099] Custom game profiles are reset to defaults after system is restarted</li> <li>[85142] HDMI audio lost when monitor enters sleep mode and are woken up</li> <li>[85299] Black line corruption seen all along the edges of characters and menus in Game of Thrones</li> </ul> <p> Rise of the Tomb Raider is the second title since 2013's Tomb Raider reboot. It's not overly demanding, though it definitely can be taxing if you crank up the eye candy and resolution. If you're thinking about jumping in or just want to know more, check out our separate Rise of the Tomb Raider <a href="" target="_blank">benchmarks</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">optimization guide</a>. </p> <p> AMD's hotfix is <a href="" target="_blank">available here</a>. </p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em> AMD Launches Quieter Stock Cooling Solutions and New Processors has a couple of new coolers that it says are whisper quiet, plus new processors.Tue, 02 Feb 2016 18:05:29 +0000 <h3>Achieving a library level of quietness</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="AMD Wraith"></p><p> Reference coolers aren't usually all that exciting or particularly newsworthy, though in this case, AMD deserves a shout out for finally introducing some new air cooling solutions.</p><p> First up is the Wraith. It replaces the stock air cooler that AMD's been using for the past several years, though as of right now it's only available with the company's FX 8370 CPU.</p><p> The Wraith is noticeably bigger than the one it replaces, and that added footprint is put to good use&mdash;it has a larger fan that spins at a low RPM to deliver what AMD claims is 34 percent more airflow than its predecessor, while the body offers 24 percent more surface area to dissipate heat. That allows it to do a better job cooling than its predecessor, while operating at a "near-silent 39 decibels, about as quiet as a library," which is one-tenth the noise level of its predecessor, <a href="" target="_blank">AMD says</a>.</p><p> The fan also brings a unique styling to the table with a fan shroud and backlit illumination for added bling.</p><p> In addition to the Wraith, AMD trotted out a new 95W stock cooler that it's including with half a dozen other processors, including a pair of new ones. They include the following:</p><ul> <li> AMD A10-7860K (new)</li> <li>AMD A8-7670K</li> <li>AMD A8-7650K</li> <li>AMD Athlon X4 870K</li> <li>AMD Athlon X4 860K</li> <li>AMD Athlon X4 845 (new)</li></ul><p> The Athlon X4 845 is AMD's first desktop chip based on its Excavator x86 architecture. It's a quad-core part clocked at 3.5GHz to 3.8GHz with 2MB of L2 cache and a 65W TDP. It doesn't have any built-in graphics, but in lieu of that, AMD touts a high IPC (instructions per clock) and budget friendly price tag ($70).</p><p> AMD's other new addition, the A10-7860K, features four Steamroller cores clocked at 3.6GHz to 4GHz. It also has 4MB of L2 cache, a 65W TDP, and eight built-in Radeon R7 graphics cores clocked at 757MHz. It's priced at $117.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Asus Gives Swift PG348Q G-Sync Monitor Flagship Status, Still Mum on Pricing ROG announces its Swift PG348Q monitor.Tue, 02 Feb 2016 17:12:52 +0000 <h3>Shipping this month</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus ROG Swift PG348Q"></p><p>Asus has been teasing its 34-inch PG348Q monitor since around last summer, first by trotting it out to Computex and IFA 2015, and more recently at CES where it won the convention's Innovation award. If you were starting to wonder if it would ever come to market, wonder no more, it's now officially part of Asus ROG's Swift lineup.</p><p>The flagship monitor boasts a curved panel with an ultra-wide QHD (3440x1440) resolution and 21:9 aspect ratio. It sports a frameless design and adopts the ROG "Armor Titanium" and "Plasma Copper" color scheme that Asus seems infatuated with as of late, plus some fancy built-in LED effects.</p><p>As for the panel itself, it's an In-Plane Switching (IPS) display with a 100Hz refresh rate, Nvidia G-Sync support, 100 percent coverage of the sRGB color space, 300 cd/m2 brightness, 1,000:1 contrast ratio, 5ms gray-to-gray response time, and viewing angles (horizontal and vertical) of 178 degrees.</p><p>One thing Asus warns is that 34 inches is a lot of real estate, especially if you're used to sitting close to your monitor.</p><p>"A 34-inch display so close to your face is simply massive. Initially it would take a little time to get used to it if you’re upgrading from a smaller display, [but] after spending some time with it, you simply can’t go back," <a href="" target="_blank">Asus says</a>.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus ROG Swift PG348Q back"></p><p>The Swift PG348Q has a pair of 2W speakers built into it. Connectivity consists of a DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4, four USB 3.0 ports, and an earphone jack.</p><p>As for the ergonomic stand, it supports height adjustments up to 115mm, tilt (+20 to -5 degrees), and swivel (+50 to -50 degrees).</p><p>Asus still hasn't said how much it's new flagship monitor will command, but did indicate that it will begin shipping this month.</p> Game Performance Using Different Storage Media different storage media affects in-game performanceTue, 02 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 vPC gamingperformancestorage <h3> How different storage media affects in-game performance</h3><p> One of the biggest questions when choosing your storage setup is what kind of device you want to use to store and run your games. While 1TB SSDs have fallen to about $300 as of early 2016, this may still be too pricey for those looking for large amounts of storage. But if you use an HDD when you don’t have enough storage to spare on your SSD really going to be a painful experience? Since hard drives are slower than SSDs, using one may affect not just the loading time of the game, but performance can suffer if the game accesses content from storage regularly and the hard drive can’t keep up.&nbsp;</p><p>With this conundrum in mind, let's take a look at how games perform using different types of storage media.</p><h4> Why would storage media affect performance?</h4><p> Your choice of storage media can make a difference if an application halts its processing when requesting data from storage. Because the data it wants isn't in RAM, it waits until it can get it from storage. This can either result in a small hiccup or a long pause, depending on how long it takes to get the data. We’re testing to see if putting a game on a hard drive will impact in-game performance over running it from an SSD, as hard drives have notably slower response times. To clarify, in-game performance is the frames per second the system can sustain.</p><h5> <strong>Testing setup and methodology</strong></h5><p> The following system setup is what we used to test:</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> CPU </td> <td> Intel Core i7-6700 <br> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> RAM </td> <td> 16GB DDR4-2166 <br> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> GPU </td> <td> GeForce GTX 980 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Storage </td> <td> HDD: 3TB 7200RPM Seagate Barracuda <br> SSD: <strong></strong>1TB Samsung 850 EVO SATA SSD<br> NVMe: 256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe SSD </td> </tr> <tr> <td> OS </td> <td> Windows 10 Pro </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p>The games we tested:</p><ul> <li><em>ARMA 3</em></li><li><em>Call of Duty: Black Ops 3</em></li><li><em>Civilization V</em></li><li><em>Company of Heroes 2</em></li><li><em>Crysis 3</em></li><li><em>Final Fantasy XIV</em></li><li><em>Grand Theft Auto V</em></li><li><em>The Witcher 3</em></li></ul><p>Each of the tests has scenarios that are repeatable, but in a real-world situation, i.e., no benchmark tests were used. We used both <a target="_blank" href=";MSPPError=-2147217396">Performance Monitor</a> and <a target="_blank" href="">Fraps</a> to gather data; Performance Monitor for&nbsp; gathering the number of bytes read per second, and FRAPS to capture the rendering time of each frame, with capture starting just before each scenario starts. For each game, we looked at storage activity in relation to performance to see if storage activity affects it.</p><p>To avoid the possibility of Windows caching games ahead of time into RAM, Superfetch was disabled. In addition, after each run for one type of storage, the PC was reset in order to flush out RAM. </p><p>Note that for some of the graphs, they may have data points that go off the chart in order to make seeing the rest of the data easier.</p><h4><strong>Results</strong></h4><h5><strong>ARMA 3</strong></h5><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 1"></p><p>For <em>ARMA 3</em>, we ran through the Showcase mission “Armed Assault.” This was done up until the second major checkpoint was reached.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 2"></p><p>From this scenario, <em>ARMA 3</em> regularly accesses the storage but the bandwidth is under 20MB/s most of the time. Still, with a lot of activity happening toward the middle, let’s see how this affects performance.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 3"></p><p>It does appear the hard drive has more stutters in the middle, but the average framerate isn’t too much worse than the SSDs. </p><p><strong>Call of Duty: Black Ops 3</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 4"></p><p>For this first-person shooter, we ran the first part of the mission “New World.”</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 5"></p><p>With very little reading going on during the game, we can expect it to run with similar performance on all three storage types. Interestingly, <em>Black Ops 3</em> is one of the few games in this test to exceed 200MB/s on the SSDs, and the HDD even managed to spike as high as 120MB/s.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 6"></p><p>As there wasn’t much storage activity, all three runs performed practically the same.</p><p><strong>Civilization V</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 7"></p><p>In this large-scale turn-based strategy game, we loaded up a game 400 turns in, then played 10 turns. Similar actions were performed for consistency.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 8"></p><p>Surprisingly, <em>Civilization V</em> does very little reading, and it topped out at 120MB/s for the SSDs. We can expect to see similar performance across the board.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 9"></p><p>All three storage types exhibit the same performance in-game. All the sudden jumps in rendering time were due to the computer players taking their turns. </p><p><strong>Company of Heroes 2</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 10"></p><p>In this World War II strategy game, we ran a 4 vs. 4 skirmish map, and stopped once the game timer reached 10 minutes.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 11"></p><p>Another interesting case, <em>Company of Heroes 2</em> is a high-bandwidth performer, topping the NVMe drive at almost 450MB/s while the hard drive achieves a respectable 120MB/s. However, the game practically doesn’t touch the drives afterward. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 12"></p><p>The game has a few jumps in rendering time for each run, but for the most part, the performs the same on all three storage types.</p><p><strong>Crysis</strong><strong> 3</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 13"></p><p>In this large-scale shooter, we played the mission “Welcome to the Jungle” up until the player character Prophet meets up with his teammate Psycho, the second major objective.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 14"></p><p>With its large environment for this map,<em> Crysis 3</em> does a lot of accessing during the run with lots jumps in read bandwidth. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 15"></p><p>Despite reading a lot from the storage, even using a hard drive doesn’t result in any appreciable performance loss, with the exception of that sudden jump in the middle.</p><p><strong>Final Fantasy XIV</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 16"></p><p>The test for this MMORPG from the popular <em>Final Fantasy</em> series consists of doing a Chocobo Porter run between three major areas. </p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 17"></p><p>Despite the areas being lively and covering large areas, there’s fairly little loading going on until the transition to another one.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 18"></p><p>However, the game’s performance on all three storage types remains effectively the same. One caveat is that your experience may vary on the server you use and what sort of activities you do. However, seeing that the game doesn’t make a lot of storage requests should instill confidence that there is plenty of wiggle room.</p><p><strong>Grand Theft Auto V</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 19"></p><p>In this large, lively open-world game, we be started from Franklin’s home, went to the nearest interstate on ramp to do a lap around Downtown Los Santos, then back to Franklin’s home. Refer to the image below for the route. </p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The route we drove around Los Santos."> <figcaption>The route we drove around Los Santos.</figcaption></figure><p>This route was chosen for having some of the most detailed scenery in the game, as well as having a high chance of dense population in the mix.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 21"></p><p><em>GTA V</em> frequently accesses the storage devices, floating around 20MB/s to 30MB/s, with some peaks of 40MB/s during the run. There was almost no idle time for storage until the end. This should be a good candidate to see if what kind of storage you have affects performance.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 22"></p><p>However, <em>GTA V</em> offers the most surprising result: Despite constantly reading from storage, there is little to no appreciable variation in performance between devices.</p><p><strong>The Witcher 3</strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 23"></p><p>For this open-world RPG, we played through the first few objectives of the early quest, “The Beast of White Orchard.”</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 24"></p><p>Despite having open spaces, <em>The Witcher 3</em> doesn’t read a lot from storage.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 25"></p><p>Storage type doesn’t affect performance all that much either. </p><h4>A quick recap: 95<sup>th</sup> percentile rendering times</h4><p>Taking all of that data, we’ll also look at the 95<sup>th</sup> percentile for rendering times on each game. This means 95 percent of all frames were rendered at or under the reported time.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Table"></p><h5>Digging a little deeper</h5><p>Looking at all of the data from the games we tested, performance doesn’t seem to be affected by the type of storage it’s on, save for loading. Not content with leaving it at that, we decided to take a deeper look into what one of the games was doing during the test. </p><p>For this test, we looked at <em>GTA V</em>, since it had the most storage activity, using a tool called <a href="">Process Monitor</a>. This tool examines a program that's running and tracks its events. In this case, we’re only interested in when the program reads a file and how long it took for the file to be accessed. We examined the <em>GTA V</em> test running from the hard drive:</p><p><strong></strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ShoGPF 26"></p><p><strong></strong></p><p>If this chart is unfamiliar to you, the horizontal axis represents if a request time falls between the two values. In this case, it starts at request times up to 1 millisecond. Every bar after that is 1 millisecond intervals. The vertical axis is how many requests fall in between the times.</p><p>According to the data pulled from Process Monitor, most of the requests made on the hard drive were finished in a millisecond or less. This seems strange when typical access times for a hard drive are around 8 to 10 milliseconds. However, the following may explain the low access time:</p><ul> <li>AHCI’s Native Command Queuing may shorten seek time when picking up data.</li><li><em>GTA V</em> spreads 36GB of data into 23 files. This helps prevent having to look up individual files, which incurs more overhead than a single file lookup.</li><li>A lot of requests in a row were for the same file but in a different location. </li><li><em>GTA V</em> may employ a technique to load lower-quality assets first, then load higher-quality ones as needed. If the higher-quality asset doesn’t come in, the game still runs with the lower-quality asset rather than wait for it.</li></ul><p><strong>Wrapping it up</strong></p><p>From the data collected, storage devices have little to no impact on performance while the game is running. Where it impacts the most is where there’s lots of loading, such as starting a new game, loading a new level, or loading from a save file. </p><p>While we recommend putting what you can on the SSD for maximum performance, if you’re stuck deciding what to put on your SSD and what to leave on the HDD, here are our recommendations:</p><ul> <li>Detailed open-world games, such as <em>GTA V</em> and <em>Fallout 4</em>, should be on an SSD to minimize load times and any possibility of performance hiccups.</li><li>Games with smaller maps to act as game levels, such as first-person shooters, strategy games, and action games, can remain on an HDD without fear of performance loss during gameplay. The load times for each level or map is still much smaller than open-world games, and they may play a cinematic to pass the time.</li><li>Games that you’ve heavily modded should be on an SSD. These mods may comprise of many files instead of large contiguous files games are usually packaged in, giving the faster access time of an SSD an edge.</li></ul><p>We also still recommend fitting an SSD into your PC build if you can, but if you’re having trouble budgeting for one, don’t worry about losing out on much in-game performance by using an HDD. A low-end processor or video card will hurt your performance more than running on an HDD.</p> Check Out Windows 95 Running In a Browser don't have to install a thingMon, 01 Feb 2016 22:09:41 +0000 95 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Windows 95 emulated in JavaScript"></p><p>The 90s was a great decade. It introduced us to <em style="background-color: initial;">The X-Files</em>, the Internet, polygon-based first-person shooters, and the dedicated GPU. The 90s also saw the dramatic&nbsp;transformation of Microsoft’s Windows platform, taking the DOS-heavy operating system and painting it with a slick interface and a new Start Menu. Enter Windows 95, the beginning of a beautiful relationship between computer and human.</p><p>Those who wish to relive the Windows 95 experience without having to install any software can do so by merely opening a browser. 19-year-old Andrea Faulds of Scotland managed to get the 20-year-old operating system running in JavaScript using Emscripten, which is an emulator that compiles C and C++ code into JavaScript that can execute at near-native speeds.</p><p>“I installed Windows 95 in DOSBox using <a href="" target="_blank">this guide</a> from a virtualised CD, then packaged up the disk image, along with an AUTOEXEC.BAT file and a custom dosbox.conf using Em-DOSBox,” Faulds writes. “Really, all the hard work was done by the Emscripten, DOSBox and Em-DOSBox people. And, of course, the browser vendors and other people who have worked tirelessly to make the modern web platform what it is today. In the process of making this, I never once had to touch the DOSBox source code!”</p><p>Faulds notes that Windows 95 is running on an emulated CPU. And because DOSBox isn’t running natively on your machine, it won’t run quite as fast as if it were installed locally on your hard drive. Faulds also warns that because the operating system is running entirely in memory, nothing can be saved, so don’t get crazy and hope to have an ancient, secondary operating system on your hands.</p><p>One thing Fauls points out is that this Windows 95 project is for educational purposes only. Windows 95 is still protected by copyright law, so those who choose to load Windows 95 into RAM are doing so at their own risk. If Fauls receives a cease and desist letter, the site will be shut down immediately.</p><p>Until then, you can check out Windows 95 in a browser <a href="" target="_blank">right here</a>. The disk image is 47MB gzipped and 131MB uncompressed, so it may take a short time to download and execute. Fauls suggests that interested users load up Windows 95 in Firefox, given that Mozilla’s browser supports asm.js. We tried loading it up in the latest Google Chrome release and didn’t have any problems.</p><p>Despite the caveats, what Fauls has done is simply awesome. After the platform loads and you’re required to set the date, users can stroll down memory lane and take Windows 95 for a spin. You can open My Computer and check out the “C” Drive (which is 125MB of allocated memory), play Solitaire, tool around in the Control Panel, and enter the MS-DOS prompt. However,&nbsp;Internet Explorer crashes, which is a known bug.</p><p>If you’re curious about Microsoft’s retired platform, this is a good way to check out what we endured in the mid-90s. Again, this experiment isn’t sanctioned by Microsoft, so it could get nuked at any time. It certainly brings back some great memories and doesn’t require that you install a thing!</p> Newegg Daily Deals: MSI Apache-235 Laptop, Seagate 4TB HDD, and More!, you're off to visit the in-laws for an extended stay. That can be a good thing or a really bad thing, depending on whether or not you get along with them. If not, the easy solution is to bring along a gaming laptop and excuse yourself to the guest bedroom for "work" at every opportunity.Mon, 01 Feb 2016 18:32:09 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MSI Apache Laptop"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>So, you're off to visit the in-laws for an extended stay. 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It's a respectable setup based on Intel's Skylake architecture, and it comes with free backpack to boot!</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822178338-_-0201&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Desktop HDD 4TB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive</a> for <strong>$115</strong> with free shipping (normally $125 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEFGN23</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820233731-_-0201&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2133 (PC4 17000) Memory Kit Model</a> for <strong>$165</strong> with free shipping (normally $175 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGN24</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DISPLAY-N82E16824022019-_-0201&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Samsung 24-inch 2ms HDMI Widescreen LED Backlight LCD Monitor 250 cd/m2 DCR Mega Infinity (700:1)</a> for <strong>$130</strong> with $1 shipping (normally $140 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGN22</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-NETWORK-N82E16833704232-_-0201&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">TP-LINK Archer C9 Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router</a> for <strong>$140</strong> with free shipping (normally $170 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGN56</strong>]; Free Pantum Laser Printer w/ Promocode!)</p> Acer's Windows-Based TravelMate B117 Will Take on Chromebooks in the U.S. Windows laptops from Acer are headed to the U.S. next month.Mon, 01 Feb 2016 18:19:20 +0000 <h3>Low cost Windows laptops</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Acer TravelMate B117"></p><p> Acer is one of Google's major partners in the Chromebook movement that's seen some success in the education market, but that won't stop Acer from trying to sell low-cost Windows laptops to the same audience. If you need evidence of this, then consider the company's forthcoming TravelMate B117.</p><p> Available in two base configurations, the TravelMate B117 was "tailor made for education," Acer says. A big reason why is the price.</p><p> The first model&mdash;TravelMate TMB117-M-C578&mdash;runs $229 and includes an 11.6-inch display with a 1366x768 resolution, Intel Celetron N3050 processor, 2GB of DDR3L RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage. 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, a webcam, up to 12 hours of battery life, and Windows 10 Pro. For $20 more, the TMB007-M-C0DK model doubles the amount of RAM to 4GB.</p><p> Acer considers the TravelMate B117 line to be "game changing," and not just because of the price points, but also the feature-set. One of the features Acer is touting is called TeachSmart.</p><p> "The TravelMate B117 with Acer TeachSmart features an LED light embedded on the lid which can flash in different colors. Students can toggle between four colors through a software interface to indicate their status, allowing teachers to easily keep track at a glance," Acer says.</p><p> "For example, teachers can post multiple-choice questions to the entire class. After students select their answers on the notebook, the LEDs will light up in a corresponding color to indicate the answers they have chosen," Acer added.</p><p> The LED light can also be used by students to let a teacher know that he or she has finished an assignment or otherwise needs attention.</p><p> As the TravelMate B117 is designed for students, it sports a ruggedized frame with a rubber strip to protect it from bumps and drops. It's also thin and lightweight at 0.8 inches and 2.9 pounds, and boasts a spill-resistant keyboard with a water drainage system.</p><p> Acer says the TravelMate B117 will head to the U.S. in March.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Tablet Shipments Tumble as 2-in-1 Devices Reach New Heights says that 2-in-1 shipments reached an all-time high while tablet shipments declined yet again.Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:57:27 +0000 <h3>Getting attached to detachables</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Surface Book image 3"></p><p>Well look at what we have here, another quarter of declining tablet shipments while detachable 2-in-1 devices reached an all-time high, according to data released by International Data Corporation (IDC).</p><p> This is notable on a number of levels. First, long time Maximum PC readers might remember a time when analysts were infatuated with rising tablet shipments. They blamed tablets for declining PC sales and pretty much predicted that tablets were the future. Wrong.</p><p> Secondly, it was barely three weeks ago when <a href="" target="_blank">IDC reported</a> a 10.6 percent year-on-year decline in PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2015, noting it was the largest year-on-year drop in the history of PCs. However, IDC's figures didn't include 2-in-1 PC shipments&mdash;they're tallied separately and would have added 6 percentage points to the fourth quarter total and 3 percentage points to the full year.</p><p> In any event, it's nice to see IDC acknowledging the market for 2-in-1 devices, which is comparatively small to traditional PCs but quickly growing.</p><p> "One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements," <a href="" target="_blank">said Jean Philippe Bouchard</a>, Research Director, Tablets at IDC. "We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it's clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is."</p><p> That might be overstating things a bit. Lest we get too excited about 2-in-1 devices, IDC isn't talking about hundreds of millions or even tens of millions of shipments, but 8.1 million units. And then there's the debate of whether or not an iPad Pro qualifies as a 2-in-1 dectachable.</p><p> As for tablets in general, despite the holiday season, the tablet market tablet again in the fourth quarter of 2015 with 65.9 million units shipped, down 13.7 percent year-over-year.</p><p> "The transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing as pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of -21.1%. On the other hand, detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of last year," IDC said.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Windows 10 Jumps Past Windows XP for Third Spot in OS Usage 10 continues to increase its share of the OS market.Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:26:09 +0000 10windows xp <h3>Number three or number two?</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Windows 10 PCs"></p><p> The first month of the new year is in the books and with it comes a new ranking for Windows 10, now either the second or third most popular operating system in the world, according to updated data by <em><a href=";qpcustomd=0" target="_blank">Net Applications</a></em>.</p><p> If you count Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 as separate operating systems, then Windows 10 is in third place. Otherwise, it's second only to Windows 7, still the big man on campus. But no matter how you slice it, Windows 10 is now on more PCs than Windows XP, a fan favorite that's managing to cling to a double-digit percentage.</p><p> Here's how things shake out based on the accounting methods of <em>Net Applications</em>:</p><ol> <li>Windows 7: 54.47 percent</li> <li>Windows 10: 11.85 percent</li> <li>Windows XP: 11.42 percent</li> <li>Windows 8.1: 10.4 percent</li> <li>Mac OS X 10.11: 3.44 percent</li> <li>Windows 8: 2.68 percent</li> <li>Mac OS X 10.10: 2.33 percent</li> <li>Others: 5.4 percent</li></ol><p> Microsoft's goal is to have Windows 10 installed on 1 billion devices two to three years post launch. Now six months into that time frame, Windows 10 is installed on more than <a href="">200 million active devices</a>, according to Microsoft's latest official count. At this rate, Microsoft will likely reach its goal somewhere between the two- and three-year mark.</p><p> The <a href="" target="_blank">numbers at <em>StatCounter</em></a> differ slightly but paint a similar picture. According to <em>StatCounter</em>, the OS landscape looks like this:</p><ol> <li>Windows 7: 46.66 percent</li> <li>Windows 10: 13.65 percent</li> <li>Windows 8.1: 11.67 percent</li> <li>Mac OS X: 9.03 percent</li> <li>Windows XP: 7.98 percent</li> <li>Unknown: 3.8 percent</li> <li>Windows 8: 3.15 percent</li></ol><p> "Microsoft's determined promotion of Windows 10 seems to be having an impact," <a href="" target="_blank">commented Aodhan Cullen</a>, CEO, <em>StatCounter</em>. "However, there remains a lot of loyalty to Windows 7 and it will be interesting to see if it becomes the equivalent of XP which, 14 years after launch, refuses to lie down and still has a 8 percent global share in terms of desktop internet use."</p><p> How does the adoption rate compare to previous versions of Windows 10? After six months on the market, Windows 8 was sitting at just 5 percent, while Windows 7 raced out to 13.5 percent, just behind the 13.65 percent Windows 10 now finds itself at.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Apple Reportedly Has a Big VR/AR Team supposedly has a big, secret dedicated team for VR and AR technologyMon, 01 Feb 2016 14:08:42 +0000 realityNewsvr <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Apple Headquarters"></p><p>Unnamed sources have <a href="" target="_blank">told the <em>Financial Times</em></a> that Apple has created a large team of experts to develop virtual and augmented reality devices. This team consists of employees poached from other companies as well as staff from recent acquisitions. This team has been working on prototypes for the past several months, sources say.</p><p>As the report points out, Apple is no stranger to VR technology development. The company experimented with headsets back in the mid-2000s but considered the technology “too immature” at the time. Apple is said to have become interested in VR again once the Oculus Rift surfaced, which has proven that the industry is finally ready for public consumption.</p><p>Reports say that Apple began to beef up its arsenal with the acquisition of PrimeSense in 2013, followed by Metaio and Faceshift. The company’s latest acquisition is Flyby Media, an augmented-reality startup that worked with Google on Project Tango. Sources say that Apple is still looking for more acquisitions in optical technologies to prefect its VR and AR designs.</p><p>Apple recently hired a top virtual reality researcher, former Virginia Tech computer science professor Doug Bowman. So far there’s no indication of what Bowman will be doing at Apple, although his background points to possible VR projects. Apple also hired several former Lytro employees who worked on a consumer-oriented camera that used light field optics.</p><p>During a recent quarterly earnings conference call from Apple, current CEO Tim Cook <a href="" target="_blank">answered a question</a> regarding the company’s interest in virtual reality. “In terms of VR, I don't think it's a niche. It's really cool and has some interesting applications,” he said. That’s not a confirmation about developing VR hardware, but it’s not a denial either.</p><p>Apple posted a series of job advertisements <a href="" target="_blank">last year</a> seeking software engineers who would create apps for virtual reality systems “for prototyping and user testing.” VR patents submitted by Apple also surfaced, such as a head-mounted display that is compatible with the iPhone and likely meant for virtual (or augmented) reality. </p><p>What’s unknown at this point is who Apple plans to take on in the VR and AR space. Will Apple’s VR/AR solution compete with Samsung’s Gear VR or Google Cardboard, or go after the heavy-hitters like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift? There’s also speculation that Apple may not release hardware at all, although given recent reports and the growing VR/AR industry, that seems unlikely.</p> Scan Firmware Using Google's VirusTotal can scan for malware in firmware using Google's new VirusTotal tool.Mon, 01 Feb 2016 14:02:44 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Virustotal"></p><p>Until now, Google's&nbsp;VirusTotal merely scanned URLs and “suspicious” files (up to 128MB) that are uploaded to the site including Windows executables, Android APKs, PDFs, images, and more. Now, <a href="" target="_blank">PC World points</a> to a new tool added to the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">VirusTotal</a> service that will scan firmware for known malicious code.</p><p>Firmware is at the root of a device, stored on a flash memory chip and loaded into memory when the device boots up. It’s the platform of communication between the hardware and operating system, and typically isn’t scanned by virus detection software. This has been a target by the likes of the National Security Agency and hackers, because malware embedded in firmware can survive device reboots and system wipes.</p><p>With the new tool in place, analysts and researchers can search for low-level infections in firmware, and label this firmware as either legitimate or suspicious. The new tool will also extract certificates, executable files that may be packed in the firmware, and UEFI portable executables (PEs), the latter of&nbsp;which could be the source of malicious behavior.</p><p>“These executables are extracted and submitted individually to VirusTotal, such that the user can eventually see a report for each one of them and perhaps get a notion of whether there is something fishy in their BIOS image,” says IT security engineer Francisco Santos. He added that the tool will also highlight which PEs are targeted at Windows, which could be a sign of foul play.</p><p>For those interested in scanning firmware, Santos suggests that users remove private information first, such as vendor “secrets” (like Wi-Fi passwords) that are stored in BIOS variables to retain specific settings during system reinstalls. For those on a Mac, Santos recommends DarwinDumper and checking the “Make dumps private” option.</p><p>Here’s a list of the basic tasks the new tool can perform:</p><ul> <li>Strings-based brand heuristic detection, to identify target systems</li><li>Extraction of certificates both from the firmware image and from executable files contained in it</li><li>PCI class code enumeration, allowing device class identification</li><li>ACPI tables tags extraction</li><li>NVAR variable names enumeration</li><li>Option ROM extraction, entry point decompilation and PCI feature listing</li><li>Extraction of BIOS Portable Executables and identification of potential Windows Executables contained within the image</li><li>SMBIOS characteristics reporting</li><li>Apple Mac BIOS detection and reporting</li></ul><p>For more information about VirusTotal, Google has a lengthy FAQ that answers common questions <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. VirusTotal is a subsidy of Google and is a free online service.</p> Is Apple Taking on Netflix with Original Content? may be working on exclusive video content for its streaming TV serviceMon, 01 Feb 2016 13:45:26 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Apple Store"></p><p>We’ve known for a while that Apple has been trying to launch a streaming TV service, but has met resistance from Hollywood studios and networks over pricing and how media will be served up. At one time there was even talk that Apple was creating an actual TV, but as of late we’ve only heard that the Cupertino-based company is seeking to provide a bundled service based on apps and Siri integration.</p><p>However, <a target="_blank" href="">a new report by The Street</a> indicates that Apple may be pushing to create its own content for iTunes customers. The company is said to have been in negotiations with Hollywood studios since last year, and plans to reveal the original content alongside its streaming TV service and the iPhone 7 in September 2016. So far, Apple has not reached an agreement regarding the original content, sources say.</p><p>According to the report, negotiations are being spearheaded by senior vice president of Internet sales and software Eddie Cue, along with vice-president of iTunes content Robert Kondrk. Meanwhile, Apple continues to hammer out its streaming TV service as revealed by ESPN president John Skipper in an interview with the <a target="_blank" href=""><em>Wall Street Journal</em></a>. The streaming TV service is expected to bolster sales of Apple’s struggling set-top box.</p><p>Original content seems to be the theme with streaming video providers. Netflix offers exclusive movies and TV shows such as <em>Daredevil</em>, <em>House of Cards</em>, <em>Orange is the New Black</em>, and Adam Sandler’s <em>The Ridiculous 6</em> (which is one of many Sandler exclusives to come). Amazon has exclusives for Prime subscribers such as <em>The Man in the High Castle</em>, <em>Transparen</em>t, and <em>Mad Dogs</em>. </p><p>Original content from Apple could help prove to Hollywood that the company means business. However, over the years we’ve heard talk about fears regarding a possible monopoly of the market on Apple’s part. Those fears have subsided with the growing popularity of competing streaming services like Sling, Netflix, and Hulu.</p><p>"Since the beginning of television, content differentiation has been the single most important element driving the business," Blair Westlake, former chairman of Universal TV told The Street. "Apple undoubtedly recognized that offering programming that is only available on iTunes is a 'must have,' just as it is for mainstream TV."</p><p>Two weeks ago, <a target="_blank" href="">reports surfaced</a> claiming that Apple was actually interested in acquiring Time Warner to accelerate its streaming TV plans. According to the <em>New York Post</em>, Apple would gain access to HBO programming, CNN news, Turner sports and movies, and TV shows from Warner Bros. Eddie Cue is reportedly “keeping tabs” on what’s going on at Time Warner, which could spin off its assets or be sold off entirely.</p><p>Apple could potentially disrupt the video streaming subscription industry with a new offering. It was former Apple CEO Steve Jobs who declared that the TV was broken, and set out to transform the way we consume content many years ago. Whether Apple will succeed depends on how the company’s offering will stand out against the other players in the field.</p> Sager NP9870-S Review engineering marvelMon, 01 Feb 2016 08:00:00 +0000 980Kick-AssReviewReviewssager <h3>An engineering marvel</h3><p> When Nvidia told us that it managed to shrink its&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">desktop GTX 980 GPU</a> to fit inside notebooks, we went through two stages of denial. The first stage was disbelief. “The 980 is a huge and powerful card,” we thought to ourselves. The second stage was dismissiveness. “It’s got to throttle tremendously.” To prove us wrong and to fan the flames of hardware absurdity, Sager armed its sexily named NP9870-S gaming notebook (seriously, who names these things?) with both a desktop 980 and a high-end&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">6700K Skylake desktop CPU</a>. On paper, it’s an abomination of a laptop, but crazily enough, it actually friggin’ works!&nbsp;</p><p> Of course, if you’re going to squeeze desktop components into a laptop chassis, you shouldn’t expect an ultra-portable package. The Sager here is of the big, bulky 17-inch variety, and it has a hefty 14-pound carry weight to match its size. If there’s one criticism we could levy against Sager in the past, is that its gaming notebooks were very bland looking. There are a few aesthetic bells and whistles this time around. In addition to the nice silver Sager logo on the back, there are some pulsating LEDs, which add a little bling to the look (if you’re into that). The chassis also has some sharp lines and edges, which give it a slightly futuristic look.&nbsp;</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="SagerLaptop NP9870S-0025"></p><p style="text-align: center;"> <strong>Surprisingly, 980 GPU performance wasn't throttled.</strong></p><p> More exciting is the 1080p display. While we would have preferred a 1440p screen, the monitor here uses a 75Hz IPS panel that supports G-Sync. That’s a lot of cool display tech in one sentence. The rest of the design is good. The speakers by Sound Blaster are competent, the LED-backlit keyboard offers some nice travel, and the trackpad is solid and has two discrete click buttons and a fingerprint reader. The notebook also sports enough ports to warrant its desktop-replacement label, which include: two Ethernet, five USB 3.0, one USB type C, two DisplayPort, an SD card reader, and an HDMI port.&nbsp;</p><p> But you probably aren’t reading this review to hear about the laptop’s ports. “How well does it perform?!,” you’re probably screaming. Cool your jets, we’re getting there. The 980 outfitted here has the same 256-bit memory interface width and 224GB/sec memory bandwidth as its desktop sibling. One advantage that this 980 has over Nvidia’s discrete card is double the VRAM. Your reference 980 has 4GB VRAM, whereas this card rocks 8GB. Considering that the notebook is relegated to a 1080p panel, you’d be hard pressed to actually use up all that VRAM (or anything near it), but it’s still nice to have. Compared to our&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Alienware 14&nbsp;ZP laptop</a>, which is getting long in the tooth with its GTX 765M GPU, we saw a 106–234 percent performance delta in our graphics benchmarks. It’s really not a fair comparison at this point, so we decided to see how it stacks up against the 3D Mark 11 Extreme numbers we ran on<a href="" target="_blank"> CyberPower’s Syber Vapor system</a> we reviewed last year. If you’ll recall, the Vapor rocked a 4790K and GTX 980 desktop card in a small Mini ITX chassis, which makes it a fair comparison point for the Sager.&nbsp;</p><p> The results? The Sager not only performed on par with the desktop PC, but actually ran three percent better! Older drivers on the Vapor could explain some of this delta, but still, getting anywhere near close to the desktop card in this form factor is insane. Consider us believers in this Nvidia voodoo. CPU performance was also great. We saw up to an 11 percent increase in single-threaded CPU tests compared to our ZP laptop’s Core i7-4700MQ laptop proc. In multithreaded tests, we saw a huge 43 percent difference. Yes, it did get a little loud under load, but it’s running top-tier desktop parts in a laptop chassis, so what do you expect?&nbsp;</p><p> One performance hurdle that we ran into pertained to boot times. It took roughly 25 seconds to reach Windows, despite the notebook using a premium Samsung 850 Evo SSD. Sager tells us that this is because the gaming notebook has so many built-in peripherals for the drive to check, so it takes a little longer. That seems fair.&nbsp;</p><p> At $2,850, you’ll be paying a high price for this kind of performance, but at the same time, it’s kind of an engineering marvel. To fit this much power out of a chassis of this size boggles the mind. You can max out pretty much any game at 75fps here. Whether you’re looking for a high-end gaming system, editing rig, or VR machine on the go, the Sager NP9870-S has you covered. It might not be cheap, but it’s still pretty Kick-Ass.</p><h5>BENCHMARKS</h5> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> &nbsp; </td> <td> Zero-point </td> <td> Sager&nbsp;NP9870-S </td> <td> Percent difference </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec) </td> <td> 962 </td> <td> 970 </td> <td> -0.8% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Proshow Producer 5 (sec) </td> <td> 1,629 </td> <td> <strong>1,459</strong> </td> <td> 11.7% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> x264 HD 5.0 </td> <td> 13.5 </td> <td> <strong>19.4</strong> </td> <td> 43.7% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Bioshock Infinite (fps) </td> <td> 36.1 </td> <td> <strong>74.6</strong> </td> <td> 106.6% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Metro Last Light (fps) </td> <td> 30.4 </td> <td> <strong>74.6</strong> </td> <td> 145.4% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> 3DMark 11 Perf </td> <td> 4,170 </td> <td> <strong>13926</strong> </td> <td> 234% </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Battery Life (min) </td> <td> <strong>234</strong> </td> <td> 124 </td> <td> -47% </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> Our zero-point notebook is an Alienware 14 with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ, 16GB DDR3/1600, 256GB mSATA SSD, 750GB 5,400rpm HDD, a GeForce GTX 765M, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. BioShock Infinite tested at 1920x1080 at Ultra DX11 settings; Metro: Last Light tested at 1920x1080 at DX11 medium quality settings with PhysX disabled.</p><h5>SPECIFICATIONS</h5> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> CPU </td> <td> Intel 4GHz Core i7-6700K </td> </tr> <tr> <td> RAM </td> <td> 16GB of DDR4/2133MHz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Chipset </td> <td> Intel Z170 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> GPU </td> <td> Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 w/8GB VRAM </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Display </td> <td> 17.3 inch, 1920x1080 display (matte) </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Storage </td> <td> 250GB SSD, 1TB HDD </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Connectivity </td> <td> 5x USB 3.0, headset and mic port, SD card reader, 2x Mini DisplayPort, HDMI port, 2x Ethernet port, fingerprint reader, USB type C </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Lap/Carry </td> <td> 10 lbs, 1.6 oz /14 lbs, 14.4 oz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Online Price </td> <td><a href=";qid=1454392727&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=np9870-s" target="_blank">Starting at $2849</a><br></td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> $2,850, <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p> In Case You Missed It - January 24-30 Edition highlight of the biggest and most interesting tech news stories of the past week.Sat, 30 Jan 2016 13:00:00 +0000 Benchmarked: Rise of the Tomb Raider's back, and she's more demanding than ever before; we find out what sort of hardware you really need to run the latest Tomb RaiderSat, 30 Jan 2016 10:03:53 +0000 of the Tomb Raider <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (6)"></p><h3>Who knew raiding tombs could be so difficult?</h3><p>You have to love Lara and her single minded focus on getting whatever she wants. And if you're like us, you're also jealous that she has all the money and equipment needed to jet set around the globe to all sorts of exotic locales. I have to be honest, though: I've been camping in the snow plenty of times, and a tiny campfire in the middle of a blizzard would not be enough to keep me warm. Which is why it's more fun to run around as Ms. Croft in a virtual world where rain, snow, falling rocks, wild animals, and gunshot wounds won't phase me.</p><p>Should you care to join us in this pastime, you might want to know if your rig is up to the task at hand. As the latest installment in the long-running franchise, and the second title since 2013's <em>Tomb Raider</em> reboot, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>&nbsp;(<a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454138861&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=rise+of+the+tomb+raider" target="_blank">$54 for PC download</a>)&nbsp;ups the ante on graphics requirements yet again. It's definitely not the most demanding game on the block, but if you want to crank every dial to maximum and run at a high resolution, you're inevitably going to come up short.</p><p>We've posted <a href="" target="_blank">our optimization guide</a> detailing all of the settings and what they do, along with some recommendations on what sort of settings you should use to get 60+ fps on our latest computer builds. Now, it's time to dig through a larger assortment of hardware and provide some concrete benchmarks. Rather than trying to determine what settings we should use to hit playable frame rates, this time we're using the same settings on a large collection of graphics cards&mdash;and in some cases, processors&mdash;to see which cards can reach the summit, and which will plunge into a spikey trap of destruction.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (5)"></p><h3>A scenic overlook</h3><p> Before we get to the benchmarks, let's take a quick detour off the beaten path to look at the scenery. As discussed in our optimization guide, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> comes equipped with five presets (plus "Custom") for graphics quality. We'll just bypass the Lowest preset, as frankly it looks pretty awful&mdash;though if we could travel back in time, our 2005 selves would likely be impressed. In fact, even for moderate systems, you hopefully won't need to stoop down to the Low preset, which again has a pretty noticeable drop in fidelity. Our focus will primarily be on the top three presets: Medium, High, and Very High. But if you're curious, here's what the five presets look like at 1080p:</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The Very High preset looks very nice!" class=""><figcaption>The Very High preset looks very nice indeed (this is with HBAO+ enabled)...</figcaption></figure><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The High preset is nearly as good, with only a minor loss of fine details." class=""><figcaption>...and the High preset is nearly as good, with some loss in shadow quality.</figcaption></figure><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Medium quality starts to make some compromises but still looks good." class=""><figcaption>Medium quality starts to make some compromises but still looks good.</figcaption></figure><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Low quality finally disables PureHair, and textures are very blurry." class=""><figcaption>Low quality finally disables PureHair, and textures are very blurry.</figcaption></figure><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="OMG! The Lowest preset turns off all shadows, and Lara's eyes look a bit glassy." class=""><figcaption>OMG! The Lowest preset turns off all shadows, and Lara's eyes look a bit cray-cray.</figcaption></figure><p> Even the Very High preset doesn't actually represent the maximum image quality&mdash;you can still enable things like SSAA, along with higher quality shadows and hair. The penalty for going from Very High to Maximum (minus SSAA) looks to be around 25 percent, however, and the minor improvements in image quality generally aren't worth the trouble. In fact, even looking at the Very High vs. High vs. Medium screenshots, you might wonder if the drop in frame rates is worth the slightly better visuals. Bottom line here is that you shouldn't feel bad if you have to start at the Medium setting and start tweaking, as <em style="background-color: initial;">Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> still looks quite nice.</p><p> Something else to mention is the game's use of HBAO+ for ambient occlusion, as opposed to the more pedestrian SSAO. Nvidia developed HBAO+, but unlike some previous titles, you can use the setting with both Nvidia and AMD GPUs. The catch is that it's optimized for Nvidia hardware, resulting in a larger hit to frame rates on AMD cards; for this reason, we've elected to test with HBAO+ turned off (using the "On" setting for ambient occlusion), even at the Very High preset. If you want to pixel hunt, there are differences between the two modes, and HBAO+ looks better, but in motion we feel most gamers are unlikely to notice or even appreciate the finer nuances of HBAO+.</p><h5>Check Your Equipment</h5><p> So what sort of settings will we test, and what hardware are we using? We've settled on the following five configurations, along with limited testing at the Low preset for a few specific cases that we'll get to later:</p><ul> <li>3840x2160, FXAA, High preset</li> <li>2560x1440, TMAA, Very High preset (without HBAO+)</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, Very High preset (without HBAO+)</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, High preset</li> <li>1920x1080, TMAA, Medium preset</li></ul><p> If you happen to be familiar with the last <em>Tomb Raider</em> (2013), you might think you have a good idea of what to expect. At the highest quality settings, the patterns are pretty similar, but the 2013 release happened to scale very well to lower performance hardware. Sure, it looked pretty awful at the lower quality settings, but a single fast GPU could reach into the hundreds of fps. <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is not so forgiving, as we'll see in a moment. Fast graphics cards may have to opt for High or even Medium presets (with tweaking), while moderate hardware may struggle even at the Low preset. Ouch. Don't say we didn’t warn you!</p><p> For our test platform, we're using one system for all the discrete graphics cards, but we'll check out a few integrated graphics solutions later and update the article. For the time being, here's our standard GPU test system:</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td colspan="2"> <strong>Maximum PC 2015 GPU Test Bed</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>CPU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href="">Intel Core i7-5930K</a>: 6-core HT OC'ed @ 4.2GHz<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454134330&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Core+i5-4690K">Core i5-4690K</a> simulated: 4-core no-HT @ 3.9GHz<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454134343&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Core+i3-4350">Core i3-4350</a> simulated: 2-core HT @ 3.6GHz </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Mobo</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044420&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Gigabyte+GA-X99-UD4">Gigabyte GA-X99-UD4</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>GPUs</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354392&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=R9+Fury+X">AMD R9 Fury X</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354436&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+390">AMD R9 390</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354465&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+380">AMD R9 380</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=r9+290x">AMD R9 290X</a> (Gigabyte)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354483&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=sapphire+R9+285">AMD R9 285</a> (Sapphire)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354522&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=gtx+980+ti">Nvidia GTX 980 Ti</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354558&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=gtx+980">Nvidia GTX 980</a> (Reference)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354586&amp;sr=1-3&amp;keywords=asus+gtx+970">Nvidia GTX 970</a> (Asus)<br> <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1447354627&amp;sr=1-2&amp;keywords=asus+Nvidia+GTX+950">Nvidia GTX 950</a> (Asus) </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>SSD</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1447354339&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=samsung+850+evo+2tb">Samsung 850 EVO 2TB</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>PSU</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044466&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=EVGA+SuperNOVA+1300+G2">EVGA SuperNOVA 1300 G2</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Memory</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044483&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=G.Skill+Ripjaws+16GB+DDR4-2666">G.Skill Ripjaws 16GB DDR4-2666</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Cooler</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044501&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+Nepton+280L">Cooler Master Nepton 280L</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Case</strong> </td> <td> <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1440044514&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Cooler+Master+CM+Storm+Trooper">Cooler Master CM Storm Trooper</a> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>OS</strong> </td> <td> Windows 10 Pro 64-bit </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <strong>Drivers</strong> </td> <td> AMD Crimson 16.1 <br> Nvidia 361.75 </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> We've also included results for two 980 Ti cards in SLI for some of the more demanding settings. On the AMD side, we tried to test a pair of R9 290X GPUs in CrossFire, but things didn't go so well as one of our GPUs has gone belly up. Le sigh. Since that's the only pair of AMD GPUs we currently have for CrossFire testing, we don't have any results right now, but you'll see in a moment that there are other items that AMD needs to address.</p><p> A few final items before we depart. First, we're running the latest graphics drivers for both AMD and Nvidia GPUs. However, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is an Nvidia title ("The Way It's Meant To Be Played") and Nvidia released a Game Ready driver a couple of days ago. AMD meanwhile reports that they are working on an optimized driver, but for the time being it is not ready&mdash;it may come out next week, or perhaps later in the month, and we'll see about testing and updating our findings when that happens. But let's be clear: If you're a gamer eagerly awaiting a new release, Nvidia's approach to drivers is far better; you get to play the game at launch with what should be a reasonably optimized experience. It may not always be perfect (see <em>Batman: Arkham Knight</em>), but more often than not, having a driver tuned for a new game helps a lot.</p><p> The second item we want to note is the choice of CPUs. Rather than trying to test multiple systems&mdash;which would be ideal if you want to know exactly how a particular configuration performs&mdash;we're electing to simulate slower processors using our i7-5930K. The Gigabyte BIOS allows us to disable cores and Hyper-Threading, and while the larger L3 cache is still a factor, at least we can get some idea of how mainstream parts like the i5-4690K and i3-4350 perform. Besides, testing every desirable configuration is a rabbit hole with no end in sight&mdash;we would have to look at A10-7850K, A8-7650K, FX-8350, FX-6300, and more to really check out the CPU side of the equation. The good news is that most games are far more dependent on GPU performance rather than CPU/APU performance, so our three test CPUs should at least give a good idea of what to expect.</p><h5>Feeing Testy?</h5><p> One final item to discuss before we get to the pretty graphs <em>[Ed: I like pretty graphs!]</em> is the benchmarking procedure. <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> doesn't have a built-in benchmark mode, unlike its predecessor, which means we need to explore alternative means of benchmarking. This is good and bad&mdash;good because it's a better real-world look at the game's true performance, but bad because it's far more time consuming and it makes it hard for others to compare results with our numbers. So let's talk about what we're doing for our test sequence.</p><p> We use a save at the start of the Soviet Installation level, except we've already played through the level and taken care of all the enemies. This makes the test sequence more consistent, as engaging hostiles in a benchmark inevitably leads to increased variability. We follow the same path each time, as closely as possible; each test run takes about 52 seconds. While we're running the test path, we use <a target="_blank" href="">FRAPS</a> to log frame rates, which we then analyze to find the average as well as 97 percentile performance.</p><p> If you'd like to test your own rig using our benchmark, you can <a target="_blank" href="">download our save file</a> and put a copy in the appropriate folder (default is C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Userdata\[Unique Steam ID]\391220\remote)&mdash;don't forget to back up your own save first, if you have one. As for the benchmark run itself, just follow our path shown in the video below. Then feel free to share your results in the comments&mdash;and if you want to calculate the 97 percentile, you'll have to do that by opening the CSV file in Excel (or some other spreadsheet program).</p><iframe src="" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="560"> </iframe><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (4)"></p><h3>The game is afoot</h3><p> We'll start our benchmarks with a look at graphics cards, all running on a 4.2GHz i7-5930K. This is a beefy rig, so rest assured we're making our best effort to hit high frame rates&mdash;if the CPU is a bottleneck here, there aren't many faster CPUs around (short of additional overclocking). As a reminder, we're testing at 3840x2160 using the High preset, with anti-aliasing set to FXAA.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance 2160p High"></p><p> 4K can be punishing even in the best of situations, and <em style="background-color: initial;">Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is certainly not going to be a best-case scenario, particularly so soon after launch. We might see some performance improvements over the coming weeks, but we're far from breaking 60 fps at the Very High setting, and even using the High preset we're still coming up short on the fastest current GPUs. A single 980 Ti at stock breaks the 30 fps mark, but not by much, with lows still dipping into the high 20s; it's still playable, for the most part, but it's not an ideal solution. The GTX 980 is about 20 percent off the pace set by its big brother, averaging exactly 30 fps but with frequent dips into the low-to-mid 20s. AMD's R9 Fury X meanwhile falls between those two in average fps, but the minimums are substantially worse, often dipping into the low teens. Lack of VRAM may be part of the problem here, as a single R9 390 actually manages slightly better 97 percentile results, but drivers are almost certainly a big part of the problem.</p><p> Looking at the potential for multiple GPUs to help, dual 980 Ti cards in SLI do get us well into the playable range, particularly if you're running a G-Sync display. (Our particularly test display is an <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1454128405&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Acer+XB280HK">Acer XB280HK</a>, if you're wondering.) Even so, we're still well short of 60 fps, and minimum frame rates end up slightly worse than with a single GPU&mdash;nothing new there. We've encountered plenty of new releases that fail to scale at all with SLI/CrossFire at launch, so getting even a 33 percent boost from the second GPU at launch is pretty decent; hopefully we'll see even greater gains in the coming weeks.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance 1440p Very High"></p><p> Dropping down to 2560x1440, we also move to the Very High preset (minus HBAO+, which ends up knocking about 10 percent off Nvidia GPUs and 15-20 percent off AMD GPUs). The net result is that we're rendering half as many pixels, but they're rendered at a higher quality, and performance ends up only improving by a moderate 30-50 percent. If you're struggling to hit acceptable frame rates at QHD, many GPUs will still need to run at the High or even Medium preset.</p><p> As for the cards, 980 Ti SLI easily averages more than 60 fps&mdash;so paired with a 40-144Hz QHD display like the <a target="_blank" href=";qid=1454130048&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Acer+XB270HU">Acer XB270HU</a> would be an awesome experience. Minimum frame rates are still a bit choppy at times, however, falling just below 40 fps. A single 980 Ti boasts higher 97 percentile scores, but it still falls short of 60 fps averages; again, G-Sync would be a boon here. The Fury X does a bit better at this setting, with a clear win over the GTX 980, but it's well short of 60 fps and would benefit from a FreeSync panel like the <a target="_blank" href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454130296&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=ASUS+MG279Q">Asus MG279Q</a>. (Yes, we're very bullish on FreeSync/G-Sync right now, precisely for games like this where averaging more than 60 fps can be a bit difficult even with higher-end hardware.)</p><p> Moving down the list, we can see that the 4GB VRAM cards are still struggling&mdash;look at the 390 vs. the 290X, where the minimum fps drops quite a bit thanks to texture thrashing on the 290X. For some reason the Fury X doesn't appear to have as much difficulty, perhaps because of its faster HBM, or perhaps due to some other architectural/driver differences. Basically, most graphics cards will need to reduce some of the quality settings to handle QHD at smooth frame rates.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance 1080p Very High"></p><p> 1080p with Very High settings finally allows several single GPU configurations to run at or slightly above 60 fps. Interestingly, the GTX 980 passes the Fury X now, placing second on our charts (not counting the SLI setup). AMD's minimum fps continues to be a problem, with a lot more dips and stutters than Nvidia's cards. We won't say too much else here, as we test multiple settings at 1080p, but the Very High setting still requires at least a GTX 980 or above to run really well. Users with FreeSync or G-Sync displays meanwhile could get by with an R9 390 or GTX 970 or better GPU.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance 1080p High"></p><p> 1080p with High settings finally allows the $300 GPUs to hit 60 fps averages, with the GTX 970 now holding a slight lead over the R9 390. In fact, AMD is still encountering problems, this time with apparent CPU limitations, as the GTX 970 also delivers a better overall experience than the Fury X. The 390 and 290X end up with the same average fps, but the additional VRAM on the 390 gives a huge boost to minimum frame rates.</p><p> Now granted, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> looks quite nice, even at the High preset&mdash;in many ways, it's similar to the previous iterations Ultimate preset. It's still a bit surprising to see so many GPUs struggling to reach playable frame rates at this setting, but we expect further driver tuning will help.</p><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance 1080p Medium"></p><p> Our final GPU chart is a sobering look at graphics requirements. Here we've turned off a lot of the high visual quality settings (though PureHair remains enabled), and yet the $150-$200 cards continue to fall well short of the 60 fps mark. Considering a GTX 950 is pretty similar to a notebook GTX 970M in performance, for the time being only the fastest notebooks are going to handle <em style="background-color: initial;">Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> without resorting to Low-to-Medium quality. Ouch.</p><p>Speaking of Low quality testing, we did run a few of the cards at 1920x1080 Low (FXAA). We won't generate graphs for these results, as the visual hit is pretty severe, but the GTX 950 managed 58.8 fps average, with a 48.9 fps 97 percentile score. That at least beats the R9 285 (for now), which scored 54.8/36.2 average/97 percentile. The R9 380 meanwhile crested the 60 fps mark with 67.4 fps and a 37.4 for 97 percentile. So even at Low quality, several otherwise capable GPUs are failing to hit 60 fps. Double Ouch.</p><p> Perhaps not surprising given the game's TWIMTBP branding, Nvidia comes out on top in most of our tests. The R9 390 at least is a decent match of the GTX 970, and the R9 380 4GB beats the GTX 950 2GB, but if you happen to run AMD hardware, we'd suggest holding off for a driver update before raiding this particular tomb.</p><p>And as a final little nugget of information, we did do some limited testing of Intel's HD 530 Graphics on an i7-6700K. It's not pretty, though not in the sense of rendering errors. There were a few minor rendering glitches, but the biggest problem is frame rates. Even at 1280x720 with the Lowest preset, average frame rates on HD 530 Graphics failed to break 30 fps, and in fact they're closer to 20 fps than 30: 21.6 average fps and 15.9 fps for 97 Percentile. So Intel processor graphics solutions other than Iris can basically forget about running <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>, unless a driver update from Intel improves the situation.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider (3)"></p><h3>Brain taxidermy</h3><p>Terrible puns aside, we also wanted to look at how a few of the GPUs scale with lesser CPUs. As noted earlier, we're using a single CPU to simulate two other CPUs. It's not going to be exact, but it should be close enough for our purposes. If a game is predominantly GPU limited&mdash;which was the case with 2013's <em>Tomb Raider</em> reboot&mdash;then any decent CPU will prove sufficient. We've tested the 1080p Very High and Medium presets this round, and we're looking at the 980 Ti and Fury X at the top of the GPU totem pole (basically, removing GPU limits from the equation as much as possible), with the R9 380 and GTX 950 representing mainstream parts.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider CPU Scaling 1080p Very High"></p><p>Yikes! Did we mention AMD needs to work on tuning their drivers for this particular title yet? The i7-5930K and i5-4690K are at least somewhat close, and the R9 380 doesn't do too badly with the i3-4350, but the Fury X takes a swan dive when paired with the dual-core processor. That's not encouraging, and hopefully it isn't too difficult to fix. Then again, we doubt many users are looking at running a Fury X with a budget Core i3 processor.</p><p>Nvidia for their part shows far more reasonable scaling. The 6-core i7-5930K wins out overall, which it should considering it's also running a higher clock speed, but the i5-4690K isn't far off, and neither is the i3-4650. There's a bit more choppiness with the Core i3 configuration, but overall you should be fine with any single Nvidia GPU matched with any recent Core i3 or higher Intel CPU. We had hoped to check out AMD APUs/CPUs as well, but time is not on our side&mdash;perhaps we'll check that aspect once drivers are up to snuff.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider CPU Scaling 1080p Medium"></p><p>Dropping to Medium quality puts more of a burden on the CPU, at least for the faster GPUs. Average frame rates on Nvidia remain relatively consistent, but minimums show a clear progression when moving from i3 to i5 to i7 parts. You could still use a 980 Ti with a Core i3 and not worry much, but again we expect most people plunking down $650 on a GPU will have at least a Core i5 processor, and more like a Core i7.</p><p>The R9 380 again has very stable results, but the Fury X is seriously handicapped by the dual-core processor&mdash;and Hyper-Threading doesn't appear to help. This is one of those items that DirectX 12 should help alleviate, as the CPU bottleneck will be reduced, but these CPU charts certainly paint AMD's drivers in a less than kindly light. Now we just need to wait and see how long it takes for AMD to rectify the situation.</p><h5>Tracking the Divine Source</h5><p>We've had plenty to say about performance and drivers, but the short summary right now is that Nvidia has a clear lead. That's not really a shock, given the Nvidia branding and Game Ready driver, but in an ideal world we'd see "Game Ready" drivers from all contenders on every major launch. With AMD's new Crimson drivers and a stated increased focus on all things Radeon (from the Radeon Technology Group), things are getting a bit better but AMD isn't out of the woods yet.</p><p>Interestingly, despite the Nvidia branding, AMD definitely had at least some influence on <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>. This is the first game to come out using Eidos' new PureHair library. AMD had Eidos present at their RTG Summit last December, and one of the points of their presentation was how Eidos was able to take AMD's open source TressFX and modify it as they saw fit. The result is PureHair, which is supposedly optimized to work even better for things like animating Lara's ponytail. Considering how much time you'll spend looking at Lara's head, it's a far more noticeable graphics effect than HBAO+ in our opinion.</p><p>As for&nbsp;<a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454138861&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=rise+of+the+tomb+raider" target="_blank"><em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em></a>, the game is treading familiar ground in terms of Lara Croft and her spelunking activities, but the reboot definitely helped to breathe new life into the series. There have been several other good games that overlap with <em style="background-color: initial;">Tomb Raider</em> in a variety of ways&mdash;the hunting and crafting of the <em style="background-color: initial;">Far Cry</em> series, for instance, definitely gives a feeling of <em style="background-color: initial;">déjà vu</em>&mdash;but that's not a bad thing. PC Gamer scored <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> at 83, and their full review is definitely worth a read if you haven't checked it out. This isn't a series known for innovation (other than the original game back in 1996, perhaps), but it's still good fun, and the graphics are better than ever. Sometimes, that's all you really want, and we can think of far worse ways to spend a weekend.</p> CybertronPC Readies Launch of CLX Line of Luxury PCs builder CybertronPC announced a new lineup of luxury systems.Fri, 29 Jan 2016 18:22:45 +0000 <h3>Fancy pants PCs</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC CLX"></p><p>Quick, name three different boutique system builders. Was CybertronPC among them? Probably not (unless you were swayed by the headline), though the company's been around since 1997 and boasts that it's the 15th largest system builder in the U.S. Out of how many, we don't know, though CybertronPC is attempting to boost its name recognition by launching a luxury line of customizable PCs.</p><p> "Already a strong leader offering products that cater to PC users across the spectrum on retail sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and Fry’s among others for 19 years, CybertronPC is expanding its growth with the introduction of the CLX brand targeted towards PC gamers looking for the ultimate custom PC that offers an aggressive price to performance options," CybertronPC said. "This marks a significant milestone for CybertronPC, as it’s the first time the company has launched a fully high end custom performance product line with special options from their Foundry customizations that includes features such as overclocking and liquid cooling."</p><p> Dubbed "CLX" for "CybertronPC Luxury Experience," the outfit will offer five different categories of systems inspired by the Egyptian mythos and sci-fi genre.</p><h3>RA</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC Ra"></p><p> First up is RA, CybertronPC's new flagship desktop PC line. Buyers can configure a RA system around an Intel's X99 or Z170 platforms with support for the latest Skylake processors, up to four Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics cards, up to 64GB of RAM, and hard-lined liquid cooling.</p><p> If you're looking to game at 4K, the RA is what you're after.</p><h3>Horus</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC Horus"></p><p> Next up is Horus, CybertronPC's line of mid-tower desktops. It offers the same components as RA, but in a smaller space and with toned down specifications, such as up to two graphics cards instead of four and up to 16GB of RAM instead of 64GB.</p><h3>Scarab</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC Scarab"></p><p> Moving on to Scarab, this is a line of mini-ITX desktops that deliver "Goliath performance," CybertronPC says. Component options will be the same as for the two aforementioned lines, but again, in toned down form such as support for a single graphics card (up to a Titan X) instead of multiple ones.</p><p> Overclocking will also be part of the package here, with a base configuration consisting of a closed-loop CPU cooling setup.</p><h3>Osiris</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC Osiris"></p><p> For mobile warriors, Osiris is a 17-inch desktop replacement. It supports up to an Intel Core i7-6700K processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics, plus up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM and lots of expandability. You may be tempted to pair it with an external display, as the hardware will likely be overkill for its 1920x1080 panel.</p><h3>Anubis</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="CybertronPC Anubis"></p><p> Finally, the Anubis is another gaming laptop line, one that comes in 15.6-inch and 17-inch form factors. These aren't desktop replacements, in that they measure less than an inch thick and sport mobile parts, such as up to a Core i7-6700HQ CPU and a GeForce GTX 970M GPU</p><p> CybertronPC said its new CLX systems will be available in two weeks (<a href="" target="_blank">countdown timer here</a>) starting at $999.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> G.Skill's 128GB Ripjaws DDR4-3200 RAM Kit Tops $1,000 MSRP announced a new 128GB DDR4-3200 Ripjaws memory kit for Intel's X99 platform.Fri, 29 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 <h3>Not for the faint of wallet</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="GSkill DDR4 Ripjaws V"></p><p> It's been less than three weeks since <a href="">G.Skill announced</a> its big and bad Ripjaws 128GB DDR4-3000MHz memory kit, and now it's back with another kit that's just as big and even faster at 3,200MHz.</p><p> Like the previous offering, this newest Ripjaws V series memory kit consists of eight 16GB modules, so if you're shelling out for this thing, make sure your motherboard has enough DIMM slots (and can support 128GB).</p><p> Capacity isn't the only thing that's big about this kit, so is the price. G.Skill's MSRP is a penny shy of $1,070. Before forking over that kind of dough, you'll want to assess your needs hyper-carefully to (A) see if you can utilize 128GB of RAM and if not, then (B) determine if you're willing to spend that kind of a premium on bragging rights.</p><p> Okay, enough of all that. Moving on, the new kit is designed for Intel's X99 platform, which tops out official support at 128GB. It's rated to run at 14-14-14-34 at 1.35V, which G.Skill is awfully proud of.</p><p> "Not only does this massive memory kit manage to max out on supported capacity at high speeds, its latency is also improved to<strong> </strong>CL14-14-14-34<strong></strong>, which is also more efficient than the standard DDR4-2133MHz latency of CL15-15-15-35. At this point, there’s nowhere else to go but faster," <a href="" target="_blank">G.Skill says</a>.</p><p> If this is the kit you've been waiting for, hang tight just a little bit longer&mdash;it will be available by the end of February.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Rising Surface Sales Helped Microsoft Post $6.3 Billion Quarterly Profit came out ahead by $6.3 billion during its fiscal second quarter ended December 31, 2015.Fri, 29 Jan 2016 16:57:11 +0000 <h3>Making it rain in Redmond</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Microsoft Store"></p><p>Microsoft gets to head into the weekend on a positive note. That's because the numbers for its second fiscal quarter ended December 31, 2015, are in and they're cause for celebration.</p><p> All of its businesses combined, Microsoft collected $25.7 billion in revenue (non-GAAP) during the quarter. Though that's down from $26.1 billion in the same quarter a year prior, Microsoft increased its quarterly profits by 8 percent to $6.3 billion, up from $5.8 billion.</p><p> "It was a strong holiday season for Microsoft highlighted by Surface and Xbox," <a href="" target="_blank">said Kevin Turner</a>, chief operating officer at Microsoft. "Our commercial business executed well as our sales teams and partners helped customers realize the value of Microsoft’s cloud technologies across Azure, Office 365 and CRM Online."</p><p> Indeed, the launch of the <a href="">Surface Pro 4</a> and <a href="">Surface Book</a> helped boost overall Surface sales 29 percent in constant currency to $1.35 billion, up more than double from the previous quarter's $672 million. This helped offset a 49 percent in Phone revenue, a decline that Microsoft said reflected its "strategy change announced in July 2015." In other words, this wasn't unexpected.</p><p> Microsoft was particularly pleased with its cloud performance, noting a 10 percent rise in revenue related to server products and cloud services, and a big 140 percent jump in Azure revenue.</p><p> "Businesses everywhere are using the Microsoft Cloud as their digital platform to drive their ambitious transformation agendas," said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer at Microsoft. "Businesses are also piloting Windows 10, which will drive deployments beyond 200 million active devices."</p><p> Investors reacted positively to the news, with shares of Microsoft trading up nearly 5 percent today.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> HP Spectre x2 Review those that want a Surface Pro, but can't afford oneFri, 29 Jan 2016 08:00:00 +0000 x2 <div class="fancy-box"><h5 class="title" style="margin-left: 0px;">At a glance</h5><p><strong>X2 (+)</strong> Good value; quiet; decent battery life.</p><p><strong>X-Men: </strong>The Last Stand (-) No integrated USB type-A port; performance not great; kickstand solution needs work.</p></div><h3>For those that want a Surface Pro, but can't afford one</h3><p> Now that&nbsp;<a href="">Microsoft's Surface Pro</a> line of computers is catching some hype, HP is jumping on the bandwagon with its own variant of the convertible. Meet the HP Spectre X2. In many respects, it’s similar to the Surface Pro 4 we reviewed in the February issue. It’s a 12-inch Windows 10 tablet with a kickstand and a detachable keyboard. You can also purchase a stylus for it, for more input choices. But perhaps the biggest difference between the two convertibles is in price. The unit we tested has a $1,150 price tag, which is $300 cheaper than the Surface Pro 4 we reviewed. Unfortunately, while this may sound great on paper, the Spectre x2 makes some compromises that help explain its more affordable price tag.</p><p> The Surface Pro 4 uses a super sharp 2736x1824 resolution panel; HP opts for a more conservative 1920x1280. To the left of the HP’s monitor, there’s a volume rocker and a USB type-C port. To the right of the monitor are ports for a SIM card and Micro SD card slot. We didn’t like that you need to use a needle to get these two ports open, however. Finally, the last port here is another USB type-C slot. If you’ve done the math, you’ll notice that we made no mention of any USB type-A slots. Yep, the x2 doesn’t include one. The company did this to accommodate for the thin form factor. While the one-centimeter-thick chassis is nice, we would have preferred HP make the convertible a little thicker to accommodate at least one type-A port. HP does include a USB type-A converter in the box, although it feels a little janky to have it dangling off the side of the tablet when not in use.<img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="HP Spectre X2" style="width: 668px; background-color: initial;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Unlike Microsoft, HP actually includes the keyboard.</strong></p><p> Despite the thinness, the x2 is about a pound heavier than the Surface Pro 4. At 3.4 pounds, however, it’s still not super heavy. We didn’t care too much for x2’s kickstand; in order to get it to pop out of the back, you have to press down on a physical switch to unlatch it. While this is a little annoying, perhaps the biggest annoyance here is that you can’t get the monitor to stand straight up or bend forward. The way the stand is set up, you have to lean it back a little. This is especially annoying when you want to lean it forward as you watch movies on it in bed. And the times we did use it in bed, the x2 had the habit of occasionally falling on its back. Fortunately, it comes with a good keyboard, which snaps on easily via a strong magnet, and the keys are about as comfortable to type on as any Ultrabook. We weren’t enamored as much with the trackpad, however, which is really wide and often couldn’t distinguish our right-clicks from our left. It also required a little more actuation force than we would have liked. Finally, rounding out the design are the speakers by Bang &amp; Olufsen, which we felt could use a little more volume firepower.</p><p> Our x2 unit rocks a 1.2GHz Intel Core M7-6Y75 along with 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The CPU is only a dual-core/four-thread part that carries a 1.2GHz base clock. While that doesn’t sound too enticing, it is a 4.5-watt Skylake chip that is passively cooled, which makes it silent.</p><p> In terms of actual performance, you can probably surmise that it’s not ultra powerful. Because its form factor is so similar to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, we decided we would use that as our zero point for testing. Now, we don’t expect it to best Microsoft’s convertible, considering our Surface Pro 4 cost $1,430 and uses a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300 CPU, but it should give you a good point of reference. In single-threaded CPU tests, the x2 ran around 20 percent slower compared to the Surface, and lagged behind in the mid 30s against Microsoft’s solution. In graphics, the x2 saw similar 25–30 percent losses. One benefit to going with a low TDP part, however, is battery life. Here, the x2 showed a 20 percent longevity boost over the Surface with the device lasting 325 minutes in our run-down test. Boot-up time was also great with the convertible launching in 14.6 seconds.</p><p> In the end, the x2 certainly has its blemishes but if you’re in the market for a Surface Pro 4–style device but can’t afford Microsoft’s version, the x2 can get the job done for a much lower price.</p><p>$1,150,&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p><p>Benchmarks</p><table><tbody><tr><td>&nbsp;</td><td>Zero-point (Surface Pro 4)</td><td>HP Spectre X2</td><td>percent difference</td></tr><tr><td>Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)</td><td><strong>1,447</strong></td><td>1884</td><td>-23.2%</td></tr><tr><td>Proshow Producer 5 (sec)</td><td><strong>2,343</strong></td><td>2,947</td><td>-20.5%</td></tr><tr><td>x264 HD 5.0</td><td><strong>7</strong></td><td>4.4</td><td>-37.1%</td></tr><tr><td>Tomb Raider (fps)</td><td><strong>33.4</strong></td><td>23.6</td><td>-29.3%</td></tr><tr><td>3DMark 11 Perf</td><td><strong>1,575</strong></td><td>1182</td><td>-25%</td></tr><tr><td>Battery Life (min)</td><td>270</td><td><strong>325</strong></td><td>20.4%</td></tr></tbody></table><p>Our zero-point is Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U CPU with 8GB of RAM, running Windows 10 64-bit.3DMark 11 was run in Performance mode; Tomb Raider was run using low settings.</p><table><tbody><tr><td>Specifications</td><td></td></tr><tr><td>CPU</td><td>1.2GHz Intel Core M7-6Y75</td></tr><tr><td>RAM</td><td>8GB</td></tr><tr><td>Display</td><td>12-inch 1920x1080 IPS</td></tr><tr><td>Storage</td><td>256GB SSD</td></tr><tr><td>Connectivity</td><td>2x USB C, microSD card reader, headphone jack, 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0</td></tr><tr><td>Tablet/Laptop</td><td>2.7 lbs/3.4 lbs</td></tr></tbody></table> Rise of the Tomb Raider Optimization Guide tips will help Lara Croft look her best in the latestTomb Raider installmentFri, 29 Jan 2016 07:15:25 +0000 GuideRise of the Tomb Raider <p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Lara Croft with a blue glow stick"></p><p> If you think of archaeology in pop culture, two big names come to mind: Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. If someone were to make a game about archaeology&mdash; <em>real archaeology</em>&mdash;it would be boring as hell. There'd be a lot of reading, fundraising, and cataloging tiny bits of pottery called sherds that often measure around a centimeter square.Only if things got really exciting would there be a dig, and even then the digs are carefully planned out and methodical. Indiana Jones, you've spoiled us.</p><p> Square Enix has released the follow-up to its 2013 reboot of the <em>Tomb Raider</em> series, calling this one <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>. In the game, you play as Lara Croft, a British archaeologist (of sorts) with a gift for getting into trouble. Our friends at PC Gamer wrote a review of the game, so if you're on the fence, it's worth a look.</p><h5>MORE: <a href="" target="_blank">PC Gamer's review of Rise of the Tomb Raider</a></h5><p> While we love <em>Tomb Raider</em> for its platforming, puzzle solving, and combat, we also really love the graphics. We've been using the benchmark from the 2013 <em>Tomb Raider </em>in our system tests for a while now, and it still can make the best PCs break a sweat at 4K resolutions. After playing this game for a couple of hours on a few of our rigs, we can safely say that your GPU will drop a few pounds trying to keep up with Ms. Croft.</p><p> This guide is designed to give you some insight into what you can do to get the best performance out of your PC while playing Rise of the <em>Tomb Raider</em>. Our goal is to get as close as possible to achieving an average frame rate of at least 60 frames per second. But before we get into that, it's a good idea to become acquainted with the options <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> comes with.</p><h3>The Options</h3><p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="ROTTR Launcher Options"></p><p> <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> has a slew of options to help you tweak the appearance of the game. Some settings have bigger effects on performance than others, but all of them can help make the game look amazing from scene to scene.</p><p> All of the options can be configured before launching the game, or while running the game itself. We recommend setting the fullscreen setting, the resolution, and the anti-aliasing mode before launching the game. Resetting things like resolution in the game will cause the video driver to reset, which can cause problems with some setups.</p><h4>Fullscreen </h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> The fullscreen toggle determines whether the game will be played fullscreen (on) or in a window (off). Most users will want to play in fullscreen mode.</p><h4>Exclusive Fullscreen</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> This toggle controls the <em>type </em>of fullscreen mode you'll be in. When set to <em>on</em>, the game fills the screen, and an Alt-Tab takes you to the desktop with the game minimized. This is what you're probably used to in most games, and what we recommend using for most people. When set to <em style="background-color: initial;">off</em>, the game renders in a borderless window to match the fullscreen resolution that has been set. If you're wondering why this wasn't combined with the Fullscreen option, we are too.</p><p> Running a game in a borderless window may sound funny, but it does have its merits. The game gets rendered like any other window, and captures input when active. When you press Alt-Tab, you can drag other windows on top of the game, which may be useful if you're looking up guides (you cheat, you), or want to be able to hop into another application quickly.</p><h4>Resolution</h4><p> <strong>Width x Height</strong></p><p> When you set the resolution, you're setting the size of the rectangle that the game will render. This number will default to your monitor's native resolution, but you'll generally be able to change it to any smaller resolution your monitor is capable of displaying.</p><p> Changing the screen resolution is often the single biggest determiner of performance for your GPU. The larger the resolution, the more pixels that have to be calculated and rendered. Generally, if you can't get a decent frame rate at your native resolution with settings turned down, you can often get a higher frame rate by stepping down to a lower resolution and turning the other settings up a notch or two. This can be especially helpful if you've got a hankerin' to turn up all the whiz-bang special effects the game has to offer.</p><h4>Refresh Rate</h4><p> <strong>Hz</strong></p><p> The refresh rate should match one of the refresh rates available to your monitor. This will allow VSync to work correctly. If you're not planning on using VSync (you should probably be using VSync) you can sort of ignore this setting, but you should still set it to your highest possible refresh rate. (Hint: 24Hz without VSync results in even more tearing. Fun!)</p><h4>Anti-aliasing</h4><p> <strong>Off, FXAA, SMAA, SSAA 2x, SSAA 4x</strong></p><p> Anti-aliasing is one of those settings that has a drastic effect on the appearance of the game. To put it simply, anti-aliasing is a type of edge blurring that attempts to make make the transition between two adjacent contrasting colors easier. This helps eliminate aliased edges or "jaggies." If you've ever used Photoshop to zoom in on an image and noticed how an outline or edge looks jagged, anti-aliasing is the equivalent of using the blur tool to make those edges a little softer.</p><p> After the screen resolution, anti-aliasing is frequently the next most "expensive" option to use. On top of that, the bigger the resolution, the more expensive anti-aliasing becomes. However, there's a limit to its usefulness: Anti-aliasing is typically used to compensate for low pixel density screens. With a high enough pixel density, the effects of anti-aliasing become harder to notice. If you use a moderately sized 4K monitor (as opposed to a 40-inch monster), the physical pixels are smaller. That increased definition and accuracy often lets you do away with anti-aliasing, which results in some pretty big compute savings for the GPU. This doesn't work as well at 1440p or 1080p, so if you're gaming at those resolutions, it's a very good idea to turn on anti-aliasing.</p><p> <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider </em>offers several anti-aliasing modes, and despite what we just said, the impact on frame rates ranges from mild to severe. FXAA (Fast approXimate Anti-Aliasing) will usually work just fine in most cases, and it's a type of post processing&mdash;a smart blur filter applied to the final rendered output before it gets sent to the screen. It's very fast on modern GPUs and is practically free to enable, though it doesn't always eliminate all jaggies. SMAA (Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing) is another post-processing filter, but it's supposed to look better than FXAA with a similar performance hit; in testing <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>, we found SMAA runs slightly slower than FXAA. SSAA (Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing) is one of the best looking forms of anti-aliasing, but it's also by far the most demanding. It effectively renders the game at a higher resolution (2x or 4x your selected resolution), then samples that down to your native resolution. Unless you have an extremely beefy setup, you're likely going to want to avoid SSAA for this title and invest the computing power elsewhere.</p><h4>VSync</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> Vertical-sync or VSync is basically a frame rate cap that the game or video driver places on the GPU. At first, VSync may sound counter-intuitive: Why the hell would you ever want to limit the output of your video card? Well, there are two big reasons.</p><p> First, VSync helps to synchronize the frame rate output with the refresh rate of your monitor. Without VSync, you can get what's called tearing, and it's a pretty nasty glitchy-looking effect. In short, the screen output can contain portions of multiple frames, and when a lot of things change between frames you get a horizontal split that's very visible. VSync causes frame buffer updates to only take place when the screen output isn't currently updating, thereby eliminating tearing.</p><p> The other good thing VSync can do is improve stability and reduce heat. Without a frame rate cap to meet, your system will happily churn out as many frames as it can. This requires the full effort of the GPU and CPU, which means more heat and potentially a shorter product lifespan. Using VSync helps keep heat and GPU utilization under control. It can also smooth out gameplay, as a steady 60fps or even 30fps can often feel better than jumps from 60 to 200fps and back.</p><p> The problem with VSync is that if your system is running just below your monitor's refresh rate&mdash;say, at 55fps on a 60Hz display&mdash;the next frame update always arrives just after the screen update. On a 60Hz display, you'd end up running at a steady 30fps instead of 55fps, which some will find too slow. If you're in an area that fluctuates between 55 and 65fps, it's potentially even worse, as you'll experience a stuttering effect where a few frames will update at 60fps and then you'll get some at 30fps, then back to 60.... But tearing isn't really any better, which is why it's usually best to leave VSync on (unless you're benchmarking).</p><p> There is now technology to take care of the VSync problem, of course. AMD's FreeSync and Nvidia's G-Sync allow your GPU and display to synchronize updates within a supported refresh range. So if your GPU is running at 50fps, your display will refresh at 50Hz. It's really a great technology and can definitely improve the gaming experience, particularly if you're falling shy of the "magical" 60fps mark; better displays even support refresh rates of up to 144Hz, which feels liquid smooth. But FreeSync and G-Sync displays cost more than regular displays.</p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The Graphics menu in Rise of the Tomb Raider."> <figcaption>The Graphics menu in Rise of the Tomb Raider.</figcaption></figure><h4>Preset</h4><p> <strong>Lowest, Low, Medium, High, Very High, Custom</strong></p><p> In the graphics menu, the first option you'll see is Preset. Presets vary from Lowest to Very High and are great jumping-off points to customize your settings. We prefer to start with a preset that gives us more frames than we're asking for and add features from there. Note that even the Very High preset won't max out all settings, however&mdash;which leaves room for future GPUs to push quality even higher.</p><p> The moment you change an option other than Preset, this option gets set to Custom to indicate that the user has set options manually.</p><h4>Texture Quality</h4><p> <strong>Low, Medium, High, Very High</strong></p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="High-res textures are expensive, but you can definitely see a difference."><figcaption>High-res textures are expensive, but you can definitely see a difference.</figcaption></figure><p> The texture quality sets the size of the texture files that <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider </em>will use to skin the game models. Simply put, the higher the setting, the larger the resolution of the texture files, and the more graphics memory you'll need to hold those textures.</p><p> There's a lot of processing that goes on with textures as well, so a higher setting will also tax the GPU more. We've found that using the Medium setting at 1440p still looks really good, so there's no need to feel bad if your GPU can't take the High or Very High settings.</p><h4>Anisotropic Filter</h4><p> <strong>Trilinear, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x</strong></p><p> Anisotropic filtering helps to make sure textures don't look weird and distorted when they're viewed on surfaces that are closer to parallel with the user's gaze than perpendicular. The higher the setting here, the better textures will look when not viewed straight-on. It also blends the transition between mipmaps (different texture resolutions are used based on how far a texture is from the user; there's no need to use a 2K texture on an object that's so far away that it only fills a few hundred pixels). While this used to be a relatively expensive option, modern GPUs are all fairly adept at ansiotropic filtering, though dropping this setting down to 2x may give you a couple of extra FPS. We don't recommend dropping it down to trilinear filtering unless you have to, since ansiotropic filtering looks much better.</p><p> This is one of those operations that is performed on your textures, so the the higher your Texture Quality setting, the more expensive this setting becomes.</p><h4>Shadow Quality</h4><p> <strong>Off, Medium, High, Very High</strong></p><p> This setting controls how sharp the shadows will appear in-game. The lower the setting, the more "jaggies" you'll see in shadow effects. We don't recommend turning this setting to Off, since it will ruin the atmosphere of the game. Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place in a number of caves and tombs, so having shadow in dark places is an obvious need. Why would you want to remove that basic element of the game art? However, running at Medium instead of High/Very High can definitely buy you some extra FPS.</p><h4>Sun Soft Shadows</h4><p> <strong>Off, On, High, Very High</strong></p><p> Sun Soft Shadows is basically like anti-aliasing for shadows cast by the sun. Shadows do look noticeably less jaggy with this feature turned on, but if you're in need of a few extra frames, it won't kill you to turn it off.</p><h4>Ambient Occlusion</h4><p> <strong>Off, On, HBAO+</strong></p><p> If the objects in a game were like the contours of an object in a sketch, ambient occlusion is like the shading an artist would use to bring out the details. Ambient occlusion helps accentuate the contours of just about every object in the game to create a better sense of depth. We highly recommend leaving this on. The game just doesn't look as impressive without it.</p><p> If you've got a dozen extra frames to spend on quality, switching this setting to HBAO+ (Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion)&nbsp;will yield even better results. This setting is computationally expensive, so we recommend leaving this setting to On unless you've got some serious graphics muscle to help kick it up a notch.</p><h4>Depth of Field</h4><p> <strong>Off, On, Very High</strong></p><p> If you've never taken a photography course, the idea of depth of field may be a little foreign to you. Don't worry, it's an easy enough idea to wrap your head around.</p><p> Depth of field has to do with the focal plane of a lens. A lens can only ever focus to a given distance. Depth of field determines how far away objects can be from that plane while still remaining in focus. A large depth of field means that almost everything will be in focus (think of a landscape photo), while a narrow depth of field will make everything in front of or beyond the plane look more blurry (think of a close-up of a flower).</p><p> This setting determines how much processing will be allocated to creating a depth-of-field lens effect. For some, it may not matter, since the effect is often subtle. However, the setting does add a little polish to the way the game feels, so we recommend leaving this set to On unless you're really pressed for frames&mdash;and even then, the difference in performance is generally not very big.</p><h4>Level of Detail</h4><p> <strong>Low, Medium, High, Very High</strong></p><p> The level of detail is a very vague setting, but an important one. It controls the number, draw distance, and quality of object meshes in the game. Higher settings require more processing power and memory, while lower settings can create good savings in terms of compute power.</p><p> In our tests, we found that Medium is really the lowest you want to go with this setting. While we were testing the Syria level in the game, we noticed that this setting directly affected how lush the environment looked.</p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Level of Detail set to Low."><figcaption>Level of Detail set to Low.</figcaption></figure><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Level of Detail set to Medium."><figcaption>Level of Detail set to Medium.</figcaption></figure><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Level of Detail set to High."><figcaption>Level of Detail set to High.</figcaption></figure><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Level of Detail set to Very High."><figcaption>Level of Detail set to Very High.</figcaption></figure><p> On top of that, we noticed that some objects like piles of bones simply disappeared at a distance when this was set to low. For this reason, we recommend keeping this setting at Medium unless playability becomes an issue.</p><h4>Tessellation</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Tessellation helps details like these engravings pop."><figcaption>Tessellation helps details like these engravings pop.</figcaption></figure><p> Tessellation is a fancy word that describes the subdivision of polygons into smaller polygons. Wait, what?</p><p> Three-dimensional objects in a games are first rendered by drawing polygons, which are then covered with a texture. The fewer the polygons in an object, the more blocky it looks (think of a cube). The more polygons (or sides) you add to the object, the more round or defined its characteristics can be (think of going from a dodecahedron to a sphere). Tessellation is basically a way to use texture to take a flat object and add depth, by creating a bunch of additional polygons.&nbsp;It looks great, but it takes a bunch of computing power to do it. In graphics engines, tessellation is usually only done fairly close to the player (or "camera"), since there's no need to display details the player won't notice.</p><p> Tessellation is great to have on, but it won't kill you if it's off either. The Medium preset, which we think looks pretty darn good at 1440p, has Tessellation turned off by default.</p><h4>Screen Space Reflections </h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> This setting determines whether or not the game will attempt to use ray tracing (produce reflections on water and other reflective surfaces) when it needs to. This can get pretty expensive for things like water, but most of the time it's not too big of a deal.</p><p> We don't think it's the end of the world if you turn it off, but it does look awfully nice when you notice it. If you can spare a few frames, we say keep it enabled.</p><h4>Dynamic Foliage</h4><p> <strong>Low, Medium, High</strong></p><p> You know how plants tend to move when you or an animal brush past them? That's what dynamic foliage is in <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>. The higher this setting is set to, the more plants will tend to move around. It's a cool effect that adds to the realism, but we think you can get away with this set to Low or Medium without much worry.</p><h4>Bloom</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> Bloom enables or disables the bloom effect when transitioning from dark to light areas. You know that painful contrast between sitting in a dark room and walking out a door into a bright, sunny day that makes you wonder if you're part vampire for just a second? That's what the bloom effect tries to emulate.</p><p> You can take it or leave it, but it won't destroy your frame rate to leave it on.</p><h4>Vignette Blur</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> The vignette blur is a slight blur effect around the edges of the screen. We don't think it's necessary for playability or for the aesthetic integrity of the game, so we turn it off.</p><h4>Motion Blur</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><p> Motion blur helps objects look like they have a greater sense of speed when moving. We like to keep it enabled, but if you're really trying to eke out a few extra frames, it's one more effect that's more like icing on the cake.</p><h4>PureHair</h4><p> <strong>Off, On, Very High</strong></p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Get used to looking at Lara's hair. You'll be doing it a lot."> <figcaption>Get used to looking at Lara's hair. You'll be doing it a lot.</figcaption></figure><p> PureHair is one of those effects that can get pretty expensive, but we try to enable&nbsp;it anyway. Since <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is a third-person game, you'll end up spending a lot of time looking at Lara's ponytail. PureHair helps make hair in the game look more realistic by simulating the physics for each strand of hair. That's quite demanding, but we think it's one of the nice touches that makes the cinematic scenes pop.</p><p> If you're wondering, PureHair was created by Eidos Labs as a modification of AMD's TressFX. <em>Tomb Raider 2013 </em>was one of the first games to use&nbsp;TressFX, and with AMD having released the code to the open source community, Eidos was able to improve the feature.</p><p> Of course, if you don't care about how Lara's (or anyone else's in the game, for that matter) hair looks, you can get a few extra frames by disabling this option. We recommend disabling it for midrange graphics cards, since there are other core effects and settings you should be prioritizing.</p><h4>Lens Flare</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Didn't anyone ever tell you not to look at the sun?"><figcaption>Didn't anyone ever tell you not to look at the sun?</figcaption></figure><p> This option should be pretty obvious. If you're reminded of Michael Bay every time you see a lens flare, feel free to turn this one off. If you like your lenses to refract light when pointed directly at a light source, feel free to leave this turned on. It's not terribly expensive in most scenes, since you'll be rummaging though a lot of dark places anyway.</p><h4>Screen Effects</h4><p> <strong>On, Off</strong></p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="A little motion blur combined with screen effects helps make the scene more immersive."><figcaption>A little motion blur combined with screen effects helps make the scene more immersive.</figcaption></figure><p> Screen effects are the spatters of dirt, water, and blood that appear to hit the lens of the "camera." Rise of the Tomb Raider also uses a slight film grain. The effects do add some grittiness to the game, so we like to leave this set to On; plus, these aren't particularly taxing to render.</p><p> Whew! Still with us? There's more to know about Lara Croft's latest game than just the raw settings. Next, we'll discuss what we found out about the engine and our hardware from our testing.</p><p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Lara with pistol"></p><h3>A tomb raider is a tough mistress</h3><p> We learned a few things about <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> from our testing. The first was that this game can be really demanding in some scenes. There's a lot going on in the world of Lara Croft. Crystal Dynamics took a lot of time crafting all the little details in the game, which can be a blessing or curse, depending on how you look at it.</p><p> We first tested the game on the <a href="" target="_blank">Midrange gaming rig</a> we built in November. The PC is no slouch, boasting an Intel i7-6700K, a GeForce GTX 980, and 8GB DDR4. Normally, this rig can handle just about anything at a resolution of 2560x1440. We were surprised to find the 980 falling under 60fps in many areas of the levels we used fortested on.</p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The frame rate struggle is real at 1440p."><figcaption>The frame rate struggle is real at 1440p.</figcaption></figure><p> Things didn't look much better for <a href="" target="_blank"> our Turbo rig</a> when we dialed the resolution up to 4K. Even when we dialed back to the medium preset and turned off anti-aliasing, we still struggled to climb north of 50fps in some zones. That's with an i7-5820K, 32GB of memory and two GTX 980 Tis working in SLI. (It's worth noting that when we turned the resolution down to 1440p on this rig, we didn't see frame rates dip below the high 60s while using the Very High preset.) So what gives?</p><p> It feels like the game simply isn't optimized for the PC. That's not to say it's not playable; it's just a battle to stay above 60fps in any given zone. The game remains very playable, and in most areas where you'll need a quick reaction time (like running from disaster while jumping over stuff), the frame rates we saw stayed in the mid-50's and low 60's for most of it.</p><p> It seems like when the engine is showing off (entering a tomb, presenting a temple, or playing a cinematic), the frame rate drops as well, often locking in at 30fps. The longer you're going to be looking at something, it feels like more power is spent on quality of frames over quantity.</p><figure><img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Cutscenes look great, but they also run closer to 30 fps than 60 fps."> <figcaption>Cutscenes look great, but they also run closer to 30fps than 60fps.</figcaption></figure><p> With all of that said, it bears remembering that wildly fluctuating frame rates can lead to unsightly tearing. We definitely recommend using a G-Sync or FreeSync monitor, if you have the option. Unless you're running a beastly rig (and maybe even only at 1440p), your frame rates will frequently drop below 60fps&mdash;and sometimes even 50fps&mdash;in <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider.</em></p><p> Even with all this gloomy doominess, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is still very playable at the lower frame rates<em>.</em> Rarely did we see frame rates slip below 30fps. Of course, you can always pretend to be a console gamer and set VSync to On, and you'll be all set.</p><p> So how did we get our rigs to run satisfactorily? Let's see.</p><h3>The Midrange</h3><p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Blueprints Fall 2015 Midrange Beauty"></p><p> The <a href="" target="_blank">Blueprints Midrange rig</a> is midrange in name only. This rig is designed to be built around a price of $1,500, and includes a water-cooled i7-6700K and a GTX 980. We designed this PC to be a go-to for 1440p gaming, though <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> had us doubting. We spent the most amount of time trying to tweak this rig, clawing our way toward 60fps. We got to that mark, but only by making some sacrifices that we wouldn't have to in other games. Here's what we used:</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <td> Setting </td> <td> Value </td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> Resolution </td> <td> 2560x1440 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Anti-aliasing </td> <td> FXAA </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Texture Quality </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Anisotropic Filter </td> <td> 2x </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Shadow Quality </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Sun Soft Shadows </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Ambient Occlusion </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Depth of Field </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Level of Detail </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Tessellation </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Screen Space Reflections </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Dynamic Foliage </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Bloom </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Vignette Blur </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Motion Blur </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> PureHair </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Lens Flares </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Screen Effects </td> <td> On <br> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><h3>The Turbo</h3><p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Blueprints Fall 2015 Turbo Beauty"></p><p> The <a href="" target="_blank">Blueprints Turbo PC</a> is built to be a statement of power. While still under the prices of many boutique PC builders, the Turbo is a baby brother to the Dream Machine. It runs <em>Star Wars: Battlefront</em> at 4K without breaking a sweat, and scored an impressive average of 77fps on the <em>Tomb Raider</em> benchmark at 4K. That's pretty awesome, but it's kind of to be expected when you have two GTX 980 Tis in SLI. Along with 32GB of DDR4 and a six-core i7-5820K, this rig happily takes whatever you can throw its way. However, <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> really put the machine through its paces. We were able to get frame rates that rarely dipped below 70fps at 1440p with these settings:</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <td> Setting </td> <td> Value </td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> Resolution </td> <td> 2560x1440 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Anti-aliasing </td> <td> FXAA </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Preset </td> <td> Very High </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> Meanwhile, this rig couldn't keep up with Lara at 4K, dropping to 40fps in some zones with the following settings:</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <td> Setting </td> <td> Value </td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> Resolution </td> <td> 3840x2160 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Anti-aliasing </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Preset </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><h3>The Budget Gamer</h3><p> <img class="" style="display: block; margin: auto;" data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Blueprints Fall 2015 Budget Gamer Beauty"></p><p> Our <a href="" target="_blank">Budget Gamer build </a>is only "budget" when compared to the awesome power of the Turbo and Midrange. With a target total cost of $800–$850, the Budget Gamer is designed to be a machine that will handle most games at 1080p. When it comes to <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em>, the system is quite capable of running the game at full HD.</p><p> With this configuration, frame rates stayed at or near 60fps, dropping into the mid-50s from time to time. Only rarely did rates drop into the 40s.</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <td> Setting </td> <td> Value </td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td> Resolution </td> <td> 1920x1080 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Antialiasing </td> <td> FXAA </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Texture Quality </td> <td> High </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Anisotropic Filter </td> <td> 2x </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Shadow Quality </td> <td> Medium </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Sun Soft Shadows </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Ambient Occlusion </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Depth of Field </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Level of Detail </td> <td> High </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Tessellation </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Screen Space Reflections </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Dynamic Foliage </td> <td> Low </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Bloom </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Vignette Blur </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Motion Blur </td> <td> On<br> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> PureHair </td> <td> Off </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Lens Flare </td> <td> On </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Screen Effects </td> <td> On </td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> The thing about gaming at 1080p is that objects can start to look surprisingly low-res after you've been gaming at 1440p or above. To compensate, we made sure to invest some power and memory into the high-resolution textures. We also turned off PureHair, which gave us about 3–5 frames per second right away.</p><h3>Final thoughts</h3><p> <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em> is still a very new title, so we may yet see patches or driver updates that boost performance on the PC. This game isn't an FPS, and as such isn't designed to keep a constant frame rate in every scene. To drive this point home, the game set the default graphics preset for our budget gamer to High. Frankly, it looked great, but that preset wasn't going to allow us to stay consistently near or above 60fps.&nbsp;</p><p> The game is designed well enough that it remains above 30fps in just about every instance. That said, frame rates like to jump around from zone to zone. Use of VSync and adaptive sync technologies (G-Sync, FreeSync) will help keep tearing under control, and we highly recommend using it if you've got it. For those that want to know more, we've done detailed&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">benchmarking of <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider</em></a><em>&nbsp;</em>using&nbsp;an assortment&nbsp;of graphics cards and several CPUs, so if your particular setup doesn't match any of these builds, that will give you a better idea of what to expect.</p><p> Have you played <em>Rise of the Tomb Raider </em>on the PC yet? Let us know what you're running, your settings, and what kind of frame rates you're getting in the comments.</p> Synology Releases New Two-Bay DiskStation NAS offers a new two-bay NAS packed with featuresFri, 29 Jan 2016 00:31:06 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Synology DiskStation DS216+"></p><p>Synology has released a new NAS server aimed at the small office and home user, the <a target="_blank" href="">DiskStation DS216+</a>. This backup solution offers on-the-fly H.264 4K to 1080p video transcoding for video streaming, two drive bays for up to 16TB of storage, and the intuitive DiskStation Manager (DSM) interface that should make data management a breeze for any user.</p><p>The specifications show that this new NAS sports a dual-core Intel Celeron N3050 processor (1.6GHz, 2.16GHz), 1GB DDR3 memory, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, an eSATA port, and a gigabit Ethernet port. A 92x92mm fan mounted on the back keeps the innards cool with two modes: cool and quiet.</p><p>The DS216+ comes equipped with an AES-NI hardware encryption engine, keeping your files safe and secure while transmitting over the network. Synology says that the NAS is capable of over 113MB/s read speeds and 109MB/s write speeds during encrypted data transmissions. Otherwise, the NAS is normally capable of exceeding 111MB/s read and write speeds.</p><p>Synology’s new NAS uses the Btrfs file system, allowing the device to offer services like quote control for shared folders, metadata mirroring, point-in-time snapshot, and more. It boasts easy integrates into your network, showing up in File Explorer and allowing users to drag-and-drop files directly to the NAS from Windows. Users can also set up an FTP server to share files securely with others.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Synology DiskStation DS216+ NAS"></p><p>For offices, the NAS can serve as a multi-function server, allowing users to share a printer across the network, create up to thirty local websites, send and receive emails using the built-in Mail Station app, create a VPN server to access files remotely, and more. There’s also a proxy server for monitoring website access and content regulation.</p><p>The big selling point is the DiskStation Manager operating system, which offers an awesomely cool user interface to make data management easy. The platform comes with its own app store, allowing users to download and install useful tools that will make the DS216+ even better. Users can also access the NAS by using mobile apps offered by Synology, such as DS Photo+ for managing photos, DS Audio for accessing stored music, and DS Video.</p><p>There’s a lot packed into this new two-bay NAS, which provides a tool-less drive tray design to make drive swapping painless. Synology says the DS216+ is now shipping worldwide for a MSRP of $300.</p> Amazon Wants to Take on Spotify, Apple Music has it that Amazon is launching a standalone music streaming service this fallFri, 29 Jan 2016 00:22:52 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Amazon"></p><p>Unnamed sources have informed the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York Post</em></a> that Amazon has set out to create a full-blown streaming music subscription service to take on Apple Music and Spotify. Rumor has it that the plan is in an early stage, but that the company has been conversing with music publishers over the last several weeks to license songs for the service.</p><p>According to the report, the service will be offered in addition to the current music streaming Amazon offers to its Prime (Music) subscribers. This new offering will also offer a more “robust” library of music than what’s offered on Prime. Sources say that Steve Boom, Amazon’s vice president of digital music, is in charge of the music service plans.</p><p>So, how much will Amazon’s new standalone music service cost? Sources state that the company is considering a $10-per-month fee. However, Amazon may offer a discount of $3 to $4 per month if the streaming service is bundled with <a href=";hvadid=84473570345&amp;hvpos=1t1&amp;hvexid=&amp;hvnetw=g&amp;hvrand=15696176900209839081&amp;hvpone=&amp;hvptwo=&amp;hvqmt=b&amp;hvdev=c&amp;ref=pd_sl_3zgs23gr54_b" target="_blank">Echo</a>, the company’s $180 voice-controlled speaker that boasts 360-degree omni-directional audio.</p><p><a href=";p=irol-newsArticle&amp;ID=1939437" target="_blank">Amazon launched Prime Music</a> back in June 2014, an ad-free service that’s part of Amazon Prime. The service is free to members, and includes more than one million songs and hundreds of Prime Playlists designed for various types of moods and occasions. Members can even download the music for offline playback on mobile devices. Some of the featured artists include Aerosmith, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Fun, and many more.</p><p>By comparison, both Spotify and Apple Music offer more than 30 million songs, so Amazon would need to beef up its music arsenal substantially to compete in the music-streaming subscription arena. Even more, <a href="" target="_blank">Spotify is rolling out a video component</a> to both its free and subscription services starting this week, with content provided by the likes of ABC, Adult Swim, BBC, Comedy Central, NBCUniversal, TBS, and numerous others.</p><p>Will Amazon be able to compete in the music subscription arena? Will music artists take to the new plan? Steve Boom seems to think so, as <a href="" target="_blank">he told Billboard</a> back in October that Amazon is “the only place that touches all of the different formats.” He added that Amazon is the biggest retailer of physical music and the second largest retailer of digital music.</p><p>According to the report, the company's plan is to roll out the standalone music streaming service this fall. Amazon has remained quiet regarding the report, but there’s a good possibility that the service will help make up revenue being lost due to an industry-wide decline in digital track download sales. Having a standalone music subscription service to pick up the slack&nbsp;makes sense.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: HP LaserJet Pro M402n Duplex Printer, EVGA 850W PSU, and More! advent of the Internet could have killed off the printer, but as it turns out, dead tree copies of receipts, school papers, and everything else are still in demand, and so is the printer. That will probably be the case for a long time to come.Thu, 28 Jan 2016 18:40:47 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="HP Laser Printer"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>The advent of the Internet could have killed off the printer, but as it turns out, dead tree copies of receipts, school papers, and everything else are still in demand, and so is the printer. That will probably be the case for a long time to come, and if you're need of a workhorse that can print fast, then check out today's top deal for an <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-Other-N82E16828414463-_-0128&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">HP LaserJet Pro M402n Duplex 4800 dpi x 600 dpi USB mono Laser Printer</a> for <strong>$160</strong> with $3 shipping (normally $270 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK35</strong>]). This thing holds up to 900 sheets of paper, prints up to 40 pages per minute, and offers mobile printing options.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-GPU-N82E16814121899-_-0128&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus GeForce GTX 970 4GB 256-Bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 HDCP Ready SLI Support G-SYNC Support Video Card</a> for <strong>$320</strong> with free shipping (normally $350 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK33</strong>]; additional $20 Mail-in rebate; Free game: Rise of the Tomb Raider w/ purchase, limited offer)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-PSU-N82E16817438030-_-0128&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">EVGA 80 Plus Bronze 850W Semi-Modular Nvidia SLI Ready and Crossfire Support Continuous Power Supply</a> for <strong>$80</strong> with free shipping (normally $85 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK78</strong>]; additional $20 Mail-in rebate)</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820233310-_-0128&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model</a> for <strong>$65</strong> with free shipping (normally $70 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK29</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822178381-_-0128&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Hybrid Drive 1TB MLC/8GB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s NCQ 3.5-inch Desktop SSHD</a> for<strong> $65</strong> with free shipping (normally $70 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEFGK27</strong>])</p> T-Mobile Customers Stream Twice the Video with Binge On, Amazon Joins the Party claims that streaming video has doubled since introducing Binge On.Thu, 28 Jan 2016 18:28:22 +0000 neutralityNewst-mobile <h3>Binge On lives up to its name</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="John Legere"></p><p> T-Mobile ruffled a few feathers when it introduced Binge On, a controversial streaming service that allows customers to watch an unlimited amount of video from participating providers without it counting against their data caps. It's controversial because critics claim it's a net neutrality violation, while T-Mobile CEO John Legere has adamantly denied such claims.</p><p> For now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is on T-Mobile's side, though it's examining so-called zero-rated video services, of which Binge On isn't the only one.</p><p> Controversy aside, Binge On is proving popular among T-Mobile's subscribers. The company today said that those on qualifying plans are already watching more than twice the video than before from the free services with Being On.</p><p> "Binge On is our most disruptive Un-carrier move yet. It has literally changed the way millions of people are watching video – they’re watching more, more than twice as much as before, and most importantly, they’re watching without worrying about bigger bills or surprise overages!," Legere said in a <a href="" target="_blank">statement</a>. "Binge On is the Un-carrier solution to satisfy Americans’ growing appetite for mobile video – and the facts are telling us that customers love it!"</p><p> This is just the beginning. T-Mobile continues to add more streaming video partners to the Binge On fold, including Amazon Video, Fox News, Univision Now, and WWE Network. The new additions bring the total number of partners to over 40, among them big names like HBO Now, Hulu, Showtime, and Sling TV.</p><p> Binge On works by "optimizing" video to mobile devices it's streaming to. While the video is downgraded, it's always at least 480p (DVD) quality.</p><p> According to T-Mobile, customers have streamed 34 petabytes of free video since launching Binge On. The wireless carrier also claims that one of its partners is seeing a 79 percent jump in daily viewers since joining Binge On.</p><p> Binge On is activated on qualifying accounts by default, though users can disable it if they want to. T-Mobile's also rolled out some changes to make it easier to do so&mdash;just dial #BNG# (#264#) on your phone and hit send to check your settings, #BOF# (#263#) to turn it off, and #BON# (#266#) to turn it on.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Cheap VR: Google Boasts 5 Million Cardboard Shipments announced that it's shipped over 5 million Cardboard headsets to date.Thu, 28 Jan 2016 17:46:56 +0000 realityvr <h3>Money talks</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Cardboard Graphic"></p><p> Google on Wednesday <a href="" target="_blank">revealed</a> that it's shipped over 5 million of its Cardboard VR headsets since launching a year and a half ago, and there might be a lesson there.</p><p> The fact that over 5 million people are willing to slap a cardboard contraption on their mug is telling. A virtual reality optimist will read it as a sign that the demand for VR is there and the hype is real. But the real lesson might be one of cost.</p><p> Let's back up a moment. Remember when Android tablets were new and shiny? In the beginning, the early models carried premium price tags in the neighborhood of $500 because they were trying to compete with Apple's iPad. Android device makers quickly figured out that though consumers loved the open source platform and were interested in tablets, they wanted to cheaper devices (compared to Apple's pricing). Device makers responded and suddenly Android tablets were everywhere.</p><p> It's too early to say whether or not VR products will shake out the same way&mdash;it's an apples and oranges thing&mdash;but there are signs that suggest it might. One of them is the <a href="">$599 pre-order price</a> of Oculus Rift. The price caught consumers off guard, in part because earlier comments suggested the headset might retail for $350ish.</p><p> Facebook and Oculus haven't said how many of Rift headsets&nbsp;have been sold so it's hard to evaluate things (for more reasons than one). What we do know is that a basic Cardboard headset runs $20 (sometimes less), or you can build your own, and though it seems goofy (and rudimentary) by comparison, there are millions of them in the wild.</p><p> It's an interesting topic, one we'll have to explore down the line when the Rift and HTC Vive start shipping. In the meantime, here are some more braggadocios stats and facts from Google.</p><ul> <li>In the past two months, installs of Cardboard apps from Google Play have increased by 10 million to over 25 million</li> <li>The top Cardboard app is Chair in a Room</li> <li>Users have watched over 350,000 hours of YouTube video in VR</li> <li>Cardboard Camera has been used to capture more than 750,000 VR photos</li></ul><p> Neat stuff, though the bigger point here is that Cardboard owners are actively using VR.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Oracle's Pulling the Plug on Java Browser Plugin long last, Oracle is killing its Java browser plugin in JDK 9.Thu, 28 Jan 2016 17:14:10 +0000 <h3>A more secure web</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Java"></p><p> Try to hold back your tears, but the Java browser plugin that's plagued the web with security holes is not long for this world; Oracle plans to snuff it out with the release of JDK 9, the company announced.</p><p> Consider the move the equivalent of Oracle throwing in the towel, and doing so much to the crowd's delight.</p><p> "With modern browser vendors working to restrict and reduce plugin support in their products, developers of applications that rely on the Java browser plugin need to consider alternative options such as migrating from Java Applets (which rely on a browser plugin) to the plugin-free Java Web Start technology," Oracle stated in a <a href="" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p><p> "Oracle plans to deprecate the Java browser plugin in JDK 9. This technology will be removed from the Oracle JDK and JRE in a future Java SE release," Oracle continued.</p><p> The writing was already on the wall for the plugin's fate. Mozilla in October of last year said it would remove support for plugins like Silverlight and Java in Firefox by the end of this year, while Chrome already stopped supporting plugins (like Java) that use the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) standard, choosing instead to run with a plugin technology called Pepper Plugin API (PPAPI). Microsoft's Edge browser doesn't support plugins, period.</p><p> Businesses that rely on the Java plugin might be upset about the move, but the web at large is cheering it&mdash;Java's been a pretty constant target of hackers, causing more than a few headaches for IT admins who have to deal with the aftermath.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> 12 Awesome New Vive Demos We Played showed us some impressive demos for its upcoming Vive launchThu, 28 Jan 2016 15:48:00 +0000 viveoculus riftValvevirtual reality Build It: Caged Power awesome cage-rig Thu, 28 Jan 2016 08:00:00 +0000 a gaming pcBuild a PCbuild itFeatures <p> <em>This article was published in the Holiday 2015 issue of </em>Maximum PC<em>. For more trusted reviews and feature stories, <a target="_blank" href="">subscribe here</a>. We have updated the pricing at the time of online posting (1/27/2016).</em></p><h4>Assembling the cage</h4><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit beauty"></p><p> Most of the time, our builds end up in PC cases that encloses the guts on all six sides. Even if there is a side panel window, five out of six sides remain mostly or totally opaque. That means that the case is on display, not the parts. Since the case is only a fraction of the cost of the PC, it’s a shame to hide all those parts away behind sheets of black steel or aluminum.</p><p> We wanted to try out this open-air case because it gives us a chance to look at those parts that are too often hidden away. But with beauty comes pain. An open-air case like this one presented some unique challenges for our build.</p><p> Even with those challenges, we were happy with the final result.</p><h4>Rounding up the parts</h4><p> When we set out to do this build, we wanted to include some shiny-new, recently released parts. This, of, course meant we had to go with Skylake; we’ve been overdue for a build that used Intel’s latest architecture. For graphics though, we had a choice to make: we could go lower-end with the recently released GTX 950, or go bigger with the AMD’s R9 Nano.</p><p> Guess which way we went? More power is sexier, so we went with the Nano, which fit really well in this mini-ITX build. It’s been a minute since we went with an AMD GPU in one of our monthly builds, and the Nano felt like the obvious choice for this form factor.</p><p> The CPU and GPU found their home on the Gigabyte GA-Z170N motherboard, which supports DDR4 and offers up a wireless connection with an included mini-PCIe Wi-Fi card. We had an EVGA Z170 board on hand, but for this build, we felt that the included Wi-Fi capability was a good reason to choose one board over the other. We do wish that the mobo came with on-board power and reset buttons like the EVGA model does. Since this is a Z170 board, we had to go with DDR4 memory. We got a couple of 8GB sticks of 2666MHz Corsair Dominator for the job.</p><p> All of our parts found a comfy, airy home in the In Win D-Frame Mini. We really liked this model with its orange-and-blue frame, but the D-Frame also comes in black-and-red and red-and-black. The cool thing about the case is that there’s no clear top or bottom; the only thing you need to worry about is access to ports and buttons.</p><p> The 750W power supply is plenty for the assortment of parts we chose, and since mini-ITX is limited to one GPU, there’s no need to worry about extra headroom for SLI or Crossfire. However, the extra wattage does allow for single-GPU upgrades, or the addition of some spinning drives.</p> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td> <strong>Part </strong> </td> <td> <br> </td> <td> <strong>Street Price</strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Case </td> <td> <a href="" target="_blank">In Win D-Frame Mini</a> (orange/blue) </td> <td> $270 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Motherboard </td> <td> <a href="" target="_blank">Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 </a> </td> <td> $150 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> CPU </td> <td> <a href="" target="_blank">Intel Core i7-6700K</a> </td> <td> $414 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> Memory </td> <td> 16GB (2x 8GB) <a href="" target="_blank">Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR4 2666</a> </td> <td> $125 </td> </tr> <tr> <td> GPU </td> <td><a href="" target="_blank">Radeon R9 Nano</a><br></td> <td> $500</td> </tr> <tr> <td> PSU </td> <td><a href="" target="_blank">BitFenix Fury 750G 80 Plus Gold</a><br></td> <td> $120</td> </tr> <tr> <td> SSD </td> <td><a href="" target="_blank">Samsung 850 Evo 2TB</a><br></td> <td> $620</td> </tr> <tr> <td> CPU Cooler </td> <td><a href="" target="_blank">Deepcool Maelstrom 240K</a><br></td> <td> $160</td> </tr> <tr> <td> Total </td> <td> </td> <td> $2,359</td> </tr> </tbody> </table><p> <small><em>All prices reflect market pricing at time of writing.</em></small></p><h4> <strong>Step 1 – Hot Stuff</strong></h4><p> <strong></strong></p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.1"></p><p> The Radeon R9 Nano a quite the powerful GPU, given its tiny form factor. However, we noticed that this card got pretty toasty when we ran our graphics benchmarks. While normal closed cases could solve this by channeling a lot of air through the case, we were low on options because there was no way to effectively push extra air over the card. The air coming from our CPU radiator was nice and cool, but the slight offset of the motherboard meant that the Nano wouldn’t get any of those cool breezes. Placing the “front” glass panel on the case helped a little bit, but at the end of the day, the Nano breathes best with a little extra air flow from a case fan.</p><p> If we were to redesign the case, we’d like to see an extra removable bracket for a case fan, just below the GPU mount. This would allow extra-toasty GPUs that would usually have more forced air to stay a bit cooler under load.</p><h4>&nbsp;Step 2 <strong>–</strong> Side Mounted</h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.2"></p><p> The PSU is the heaviest component in nearly any build, so mounting it on the side of the case might seem counter-intuitive. Not so, with the D-Frame. The PSU happily occupies a bracket on the side of the cage, but doesn’t make the cage feel off-balance. Since mini-ITX builds will rarely see high-wattage PSUs, extra support for a potential 1600W monster wasn’t warranted here. In this photo, we show the cage positioned with the PSU on the bottom.</p><p> To make things a little neater, we went with individually sheathed cables, which are easier to manipulate. These cables can also be used with cable combs for an ultra-clean look, though we just went with trusty zip ties. Routing the cables was a bit tricky with a smooth aluminum plate instead of a motherboard tray rife with cable-management tie loops. Luckily, the cage came with a few accessories that helped out with wrangling the cables.</p><p> Like we’d recommend for most mini-ITX builds, we used a modular power supply, so there’s no need to stash unused cables. That’s a big deal in a case where there are no hiding places for your cabling. The glass on this cage is tinted, so black cables don't exactly advertise their presence on the back side. If you prefer white or other bright-colored cables, be prepared to get creative to keep them neat. The tinting only hides so much.</p><h4> Step 3 <strong>–</strong> USB 3.0 Woes</h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.3"></p><p> If there was one beef we had with this motherboard, it was the positioning of the USB 3.0 front panel connection. At first glance, it didn’t look so bad, but after you figure in the presence of a GPU, it became clear that there was no sexy, clean way to attach the cable.</p><p> To the left, you have the R9 Nano, and routing under the GPU between the PCIe slot and the “back” panel was too tight of a squeeze. If we came from below, we’d have to let the cable cross over both the memory and CPU. That just wouldn’t do. We decided to run the cable over the “top,” which routes it over a pair of USB ports and the Wi-Fi antenna connectors. The result was the best of a bunch of less-than-ideal options. There really wasn’t an attractive way to do this.</p><p> If there’s an upside to this, it’s that the USB cable is braided, which makes it at least look good, even if it is in the way.</p><p> Then again, some may like the appearance of a cable or two jutting out of the mobo, giving it a bit of a cybernetic look. We won’t judge.</p><h4>Step 4 <strong>– </strong>Silent Storage</h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.4"></p><p> With the recent release of the 2TB Samsung 850 EVO, we thought that it would be the perfect storage solution for a mini-ITX build. Having two whole terabytes available on an SSD is pricey (even&nbsp;at $620, this SSD is still&nbsp;a luxury item), but it has its advantages: It eliminates the need for having a small HDD for Steam games or media files, and it means that there’s one less moving part to fail from frequent moves to and from LAN parties or events.</p><p> It also means that the machine will be a little quieter.</p><p> In a cage-type case, it’s easy to forget that an enclosed case muffles sounds of fans, and hard drives searching for, reading, and writing data. The high-speed clicks of the hard drive disappear when using an SSD, leaving only the CPU cooler and GPU as noise sources.</p><p> Another thing we noticed was the black finish on the 850 EVO is very similar to the finish of the aluminum mount of the D-Frame. This makes the slim little SSD seem to disappear, until you look from the top and see the Samsung label on its face. The one downside to this mount was that the drive is just a little too far from the edge of the plate (about two or three millimeters), which made it a little hairy when we tried using an L-shaped SATA cable.</p><h4> Step 5 <strong>– </strong>Dominating the Cage</h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.5"></p><p> When we went looking for memory to put in the build, we wanted to go big on the capacity. As we looked, we noticed that most of our DDR4 kits come are 16GB, but in 4x4GB kits. Bummer.</p><p> As we searched and searched, we remembered: We had a machine sitting in our lab that could donate a few sticks for our purposes. We grabbed two 8GB stick of Corsair Dominator RAM from our 2015 Dream Machine, and pressed them into service in this build.</p><p> The 2,666MHz sticks are plenty fast, and didn’t give us any problems at boot. However, just as with most X99 systems, our Z170 board from Gigabyte defaulted to setting the RAM clocks at 2,133MHz. The problem was quickly solved by upping the multiplier for the RAM clock, granting us our desired 2,666MHz.</p><p> Leaving the RAM at 2,133MHz wouldn’t have hurt performance much since RAM clocks are rarely a bottleneck these days. In other mini-ITX builds, going with 2,133MHz DDR4 RAM modules would be just fine in most cases, and you’ll save a little coin by forgoing higher RAM clocks.</p><h4> Step 6 <strong>–</strong> One Cool Cage</h4><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.6"></p><p> One of the neat things about this build was the way the cage accommodated our cooling solution. The cage comes with a bracket for a 240mm closed-loop cooler, which sits out of the way at the “bottom” of the cage.</p><p> We were able to get our Deepcool Maelstrom 240 snugly situated in the bracket, with nary a screw to secure it in place. Other coolers might not simply stay put with friction alone, so the eight screw holes can be used to secure fans to the bracket for a more secure fit.</p><p> The Deepcool cooler was our backup choice in this build, though. We tried using another, bigger cooler, but for some reason it wouldn’t have good enough contact with our CPU, which resulted in some problems booting. The larger cooler did fit on&mdash;not in&mdash;the bracket when we flipped it upside down, though.</p><p> The one main gripe we had about using a 240mm cooler with this mobo was the lack of PWN pinouts. The motherboard offers two pinouts: CPU and a case fan. Both pinouts are four-pin, but the lack of a CPU_OPT or second case fan pinout meant that we had to do something to get three PWM connectors (two fans and one pump) fit on two pinouts.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="MPC119.rd buildit.callouts"></p><ol> <li>The blue rubber bumpers on the D-Frame Mini allow you to position the cage in any orientation you like. They’ll also keep the case from sliding around in your car’s trunk on the way to a LAN party.</li><li>&nbsp;The extra room below the PCIe slot allows for full-length video cards. In our build, the Nano leaves this area sparse and clear.</li><li>Thumb screws allow for the attachment and removal of hard drive and cooler brackets, for tons of modularity.</li><li>The “front panel” is a bit of a misnomer in this cage, where there is no clear front, back, up, or down.</li></ol><h4>Breaking Out</h4><p>Throwing all of these parts together in a cage was a lot of fun and was quite a different building experience. Such a build requires you to think more about the aesthetics of the build’s entirety, since there’s no hiding of cables or extraneous accessories here.</p><p>Like we said earlier, though, an open-air case build is not without its challenges. One of those major challenges was the cooling system. We started off with a larger cooler that ended up not maintaining good contact with our CPU for some reason, so we had to go with the Deepcool we had on standby. Once we had the radiator and pump in place, we had three PWM connectors to plug in, but only two pinouts to work with. Problems.</p><p>We solved this in a roundabout way. First, we plugged the two fans for the radiator into the CPU and case fan pinouts. We then connected the pump to a two-pin Molex-to-PWM adapter. This had two consequences, which we weren’t exactly fond of. First, the two fans ran at different speeds, since each PWM pinout runs as a function of a different temperature sensor. The CPU fan is a function of CPU temps, as you’d expect, but the case fan takes temps from the motherboard itself. While we stayed at acceptably cool temperatures due to the large radiator, we wouldn’t do this when overclocking, as the fan plugged into the case fan connector wouldn't rev up as temps increase. Not good.</p><p>The other bad side effect was that the water pump runs at full speed while connected to the two-pin adapter. Normally, you’d connect the pump to a four-pin pinout for much of the same reason you’d attach the radiator fans to them. However, we just needed the pump to work, so we put up with this while we ran our benchmarks.</p><p>We wouldn’t recommend attaching fans and pumps this way, and ideally, we’d use a PWM two- or three-way splitter and attach the single side to the CPU PWM connector. But sometimes, you just gotta make things work.</p><p>Speaking of benchmarks, our caged rig did pretty well in some aspects, while relatively poorly&mdash;compared to our three-way SLI zero-point&mdash;in others. In the single-threaded CPU benchmarks, the i7-6700K Skylake performed well, outpacing the i7-5960X in our zero-point. With a 240mm cooling setup, we believe this CPU could score even higher with a little bit of overclocking. When we reviewed the CPU, we found that the 6700K can get a 17 percent performance boost from overclocking. Not bad at all.</p><p>When it came to the 3D application benchmarks, the little R9 Nano put up a good fight. Considering our beefy zero-point machine has three GTX 980s in SLI, a single GPU can hardly expect to beat it in raw frames per second.</p><p>Despite having less than half the 3DMark score in Fire Strike Ultra, the Nano delivered playable framerates in <em>Tomb Raider</em> and <em>Shadow of Mordor</em> at 4K. Remember that these benchmarks are stress tests, so turning off or reducing antialiasing will render much better framerates at 4K, without a big difference in video quality. In <em>Batman: Arkham City</em> at 1440p, the 92fps means that there’s plenty of power there to keep a FreeSync 1440p monitor synced and happy at 60Hz. </p><p>In the multithreaded test, x.264, the octa-core 5960X still reigns supreme, with double the cores that Skylake has to offer. While that seems damning on its surface, the majority of applications people interact with on a daily basis don’t take full advantage of multithreading anyway. </p><p>For most gamers and enthusiasts who don’t encode video all day, this build would perform nicely. And with its small, portable, and unique form factor, this PC can be quite the conversation starter at a LAN party.</p><table><tbody><tr><td></td><td>Zero-Point</td><td>Our Build</td><td>Percent Difference</td></tr><tr><td>Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)</td><td>806</td><td>781</td><td>+3.1%</td></tr><tr><td>ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td><td>1,472</td><td>1,442</td><td>+2%</td></tr><tr><td>x264 HD 5.0 (fps)</td><td>33.8</td><td>19.54</td><td>-42.9%</td></tr><tr><td>Batman: Arkham City 1440p (fps)</td><td>204</td><td>92</td><td>-54.9%</td></tr><tr><td>Tomb Raider 2160p (fps)</td><td>87.5</td><td>36.6</td><td>-58.2%</td></tr><tr><td>Shadow of Mordor 2160p (fps)</td><td>70.1</td><td>40.2</td><td>-42.7%</td></tr><tr><td>3DMark Fire Strike Ultra</td><td>8,016</td><td>3,362</td><td>-58.1%</td></tr></tbody></table><p><em>Our desktop zero point PC uses a 5960X CPU, three GTX 980s, and 16GB of RAM. Arkham City tested at 2560x1440 max settings with PhysX off. Tomb Raider at Ultimate settings. Shadow of Mordor at Max settings.</em></p> Aereo CEO Wants to Shake Up ISPs with No Caps seeks to disrupt the broadband Internet industryThu, 28 Jan 2016 02:25:39 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Starry Internet"></p><p>Former Aereo CEO Chaitanya "Chet" Kanojia tried to shake up the cable TV industry by transmitting over-the-air network TV signals to Aereo subscribers. That plan eventually failed, and now he’s set his sights on the broadband Internet sector by launching a new wireless service that promises speeds of up to one gigabit everywhere. That service is called Starry Internet, and is rolling out in the greater Boston area as a beta starting this summer.</p><p>The idea behind <a href="" target="_blank">Starry Internet</a> is to sell equipment directly to users that they can install themselves rather than lease the hardware on an ISP. The new Internet service is based on millimeter wave active phased array technology and uses the underutilized (freely available) high-frequency spectrum to deliver the wireless broadband signal. To receive this signal, users must place a “smart” antenna outside a window, aka the Starry Point receiver, as shown above.</p><p>“By using OFDM modulation coupled with MIMO as a foundation, along with active phased array RF front ends, Starry's technological architecture enables it to leverage OFDM radio technology, including MU-MIMO, in a dense architecture across multiple licensed spectrum bands, including ultra-high frequency millimeter waves, to deliver high speed broadband to your home or business through a self-installed home receiver,” the company explains.</p><p>The benefits, according to&nbsp;Starry Internet,&nbsp;is that there will be no data caps and no contracts to sign. The actual wireless broadband signals will be broadcast by a MetroNode, or what the company calls the Starry Beam beta, which converts an Internet connection into a millimeter-wave signal. This is what is picked up by the Starry Point receiver sticking out the user’s window.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Starry Station"></p><p>In addition to announcing the Starry Internet service, the company also revealed <a href="" target="_blank">the Starry Station</a>, a new Wi-Fi hub that communicates with the Starry Point and provides broadband to all of your wired and wireless devices. This will also be sold directly to consumers, and is compatible with Wireless AC devices and older. </p><p>Outside its triangular shape, the Starry Station’s biggest feature is its 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen. The spec sheet indicates that the&nbsp;hub also features dual-band, concurrent 4x4:3 MIMO Wireless AC radios, a dual-core processor, a dual-core display processor, 1.5GB RAM, and 8GB flash storage. There are two Gigabit Ethernet ports (one in, one out), a speaker and mic, a proximity sensor, and support for future&nbsp;802.15 Internet of Things devices.</p><p>According to the product page, the screen will show the health of each device connection using blue and red orbs: blue for healthy and red for troubled connections, and the larger the orb, the more data the connected device is apparently using. If there’s a problem, the hub will advise on a resolution. The proximity sensor is used to change the information on the screen when the user approaches, showing stats like the Health Score, the Internet speed, etc.</p><p>The Starry Station seems to have its sights set on Google’s OnHub router, another “hub” released last year that aims to make setup and management easy on users. While there’s no built-in screen on the OnHub, users can access the router’s interface using the Google On app for tablets and smartphones. The TP-Link model includes a dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB internal storage, two Ethernet ports, and a USB 3.0 port. We spent four weeks with the Google OnHub, which you can read about <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</p><p>As for when the Starry Station will be available, customers can reserve the device for a meaty $350 at until February 5. After that, the device&nbsp;can be purchased directly from the website, or pre-ordered from <a href=";node=12034488011" target="_blank">Amazon Launchpad</a>. The router is set to ship in March 2016, the company says.</p> Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura Mobo Does SLI, Too's new mobo officiallysupports Nvidia SLIWed, 27 Jan 2016 20:23:03 +0000 <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura"></p><p>AMD gamers looking to build a new system might want to start with the latest release from Asus, <a target="_blank" href="">the 970 Pro Gaming/Aura ATX motherboard</a>. It’s the first board based on the new AMD 970+SB950 chipset and not only supports two-way, quad-GPU CrossFireX configurations, but two-way, quad-GPU Nvidia SLI setups as well. The board even sports Aura RGB lighting, providing your build brilliant color and special effects.</p><p>The specifications show that the new 970 Pro Gaming/Aura provides four dual-channel DIMM slots for a maximum of 32GB DDR3 memory clocked at 2,133MHz. There are also two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots. Storage consists of six SATA 3 ports and one M.2 socket.</p><p>On the audio front, the board comes packed with the company’s proprietary SupremeFX eight-channel audio technology, with 115dB BNR stereo output. Asus says the audio portion of the board features a shielded design including an electromagnetic-interference cover and a voltage-protected 5V power supply. Backing the audio is the Realtek ALC1150 codec and an illuminated red-line shielding.</p><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Asus 970 Pro Gaming/Aura"></p><p>For PC gamers, Asus has tossed in “tournament-level” Intel Gigabit Ethernet, promising fast, lag-free gaming. Added to the mix is Asus’s LANGuard capacitors and components for better connections and protection against power surges, and the company's&nbsp;GameFirst technology that allocates more bandwidth to games and prioritizes game-related packets. </p><p>As for input and output, the board provides an optical S/PDIF-out port on the back panel. There are also two USB 3.1 Type-A ports on the back, two USB 3.0/2.0 ports mid-panel, eight 2.0/1.1 ports on the back, and six USB 2.0/1.1 ports mid-board. There’s also an Ethernet port, audio jacks, a PS/2 port. All of this is backed by a corrosion-resistant stainless-steel panel.</p><p>Asus says the new motherboard provides a dedicated onboard water-pump header, RAMCache technology for quick program loading, the Digi+ voltage-regulator module, durable capacitors, and DRAM Overcurrent Protection with resettable fuses. Also included is a special Sonic Radar II software overlay for quickly pinpointing the origin of sounds heard in-game.</p><p>The new motherboard is compatible with the latest FX/Phenom II/Athlon II/Sempron 100 processors for the AMD AM3+ socket. Asus hasn't provided pricing or an actual ship date yet. Still, there seems to be a lot of goodness packed into this board, and the support for Nvidia SLI as well as CrossFireX is an added plus PC gamers shouldn't ignore.</p> Newegg Daily Deals: HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB HDD, Intel Core i5-6500, and More! was a time when a 1TB drive might have felt super spacious. Not anymore. It's pretty easy to fill such a thing with videos, photos, saved games, and everything else, so why mess around with a smaller size drive?Wed, 27 Jan 2016 18:18:55 +0000 dealsNeweggNews <p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Hgst Hdd"></p><p><strong>Top Deal:</strong></p><p>There was a time when a 1TB drive might have felt super spacious. Not anymore. It's pretty easy to fill such a thing with videos, photos, saved games, and everything else, so why mess around with a smaller size drive? If you're in need of a storage upgrade, check out today's top deal for an <a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-INT-HDD-N82E16822145973-_-0127&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">HGST Deskstar NAS 6TB 7200 RPM 128MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5-inch High-Performance Hard Drive Retail Kit</a> for <strong>$230</strong> with free shipping (normally $270 - use coupon code: [<strong>ESCEFGK25</strong>]). This drive is built for 24/7 operation and is backed by a 3-year warranty.</p><p><strong>Other Deals:</strong></p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-DESKTOP-N82E16883221132-_-0127&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Asus Desktop Computer AMD FX-Series FX-8310 (3.40 GHz) 8 GB DDR3 2 TB HDD Windows 8.1 64-Bit</a> for <strong>$420</strong> with free shipping (normally $430 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK56</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-CPU-N82E16819117563-_-0127&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Intel Core i5-6500 6M Skylake Quad-Core 3.2 GHz LGA 1151 65W Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 530</a> for <strong>$193</strong> with free shipping (normally $205 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK22</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-EXT-HDD-N82E16822178740-_-0127&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">Seagate Expansion 3TB USB 3.0 3.5-inch Desktop External Hard Drive</a> for <strong>$80</strong> with free shipping (normally $90 - use coupon code: [<strong>EMCEFGK34</strong>])</p><p><a href=";cm_mmc=BAC-MaximumPC-_-DailyDeals-_-MEMORY-N82E16820231428-_-0127&amp;nm_mc=ExtBanner&amp;AID=5555555" target="_blank">G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory</a> for <strong>$33</strong> with free shipping (normally $50)</p> Vaio Back in Action with New Laptop Models for Businesses today introduced its Vaio Z and Vaio S notebooks for business professionals.Wed, 27 Jan 2016 17:54:21 +0000 <h3>A familiar face</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Vaio Z Flip"></p><p>Sony <a href="" target="_blank">dumped</a> its Vaio PC brand two years ago and hightailed it to mobile, though you could be forgiven for thinking it was still involved in some way. That's because the newest Vaio laptops retain the same overall look as systems that came before them, and of course carry the same branding.</p><p> Be that as it may, these are new models, starting with the Vaio Z available in both two-in-one convertible and clamshell styles. The flip model weighs 2.96 pounds while the clamshell variant is even lighter at 2.58 pounds.</p><p> Both are based on Intel's 6th generation 28W Skylake architecture and feature 13.3-inch displays, albeit with different resolution options&mdash;1920x1080p or 2560x1440 for the clamshell model and just 2560x1440 for the flip version.</p><p> The least expensive of the bunch is the Vaio Z Clam VJZ131X0211S. It runs $1,499 and includes an Intel Core i5-6267U processor, 8GB of LPDDR3-1866 RAM, 256GB PCIe-based SSD, 1920x1080 resolution, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, SD card slot, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, Windows 10 Home 64-bit, and up to 15.5 hours of battery life.</p><p> On the opposite end of the spectrum, the highest end configuration is the Vaio Z Flip VJZ13BX011B priced at $2,399. It bumps things up to an Intel Core i7-6567U processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. Battery life on this one is rated at up to 11 hours and 15 minutes.</p><p> While the Vaio Z models are pitched as flagship machines, the Vaio S is an "all-purpose, durable" laptop, also with a 13.3-inch display (1920x1080 only).</p><p> "The Vaio S is equipped with a molded magnesium alloy casing that ensures robustness and durability. The casing is further reinforced by adding ribs to the designated points, which also brings improvement to the feel of keyboard and touch pad," <a href="" target="_blank">Sony says</a>.</p><p> Pricing for the Vaio S ranges from $1,099 to $1,399, the latter of which boasts an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of DDR3L-1600 RAM, 256GB of PCIe-based SSD storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and VGA output, SD card slot, and Windows 10 Pro 64-bit.</p><p> The Vaio Z in flip form will be available to order starting February 8, 2016; all the rest will be available in early March of this year.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> What Monitor Makers Have Planned for 2016's what kind of monitors AU Optronics, Samsung, and LG are planning this year.Wed, 27 Jan 2016 17:17:15 +0000 optronicsLGmonitorsNewssamsung <h3>Continuing to innovate</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Samsung Monitor"></p><p> This is generalizing things a bit, but not that long ago it seemed like the monitor market was stuck in a rut with options limited to low-end models, mid-range offerings, high-quality IPS panels, and the granddaddy of them all, a 30-inch monster with a 2560x1600 resolution. Times have changed.</p><p> Those options still exist, but they're also surrounded with even more choices, sizes, and technologies. The buzz around 4K seems to have awoken monitor makers, which not only responded with a variety of 4K models, but also fancy technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync, along with curved screens and so on.</p><p> So, what's in store for 2016? The folks at <a href="" target="_blank"><em>TFT</em></a> did some digging at AU Optronics, LG Display, and Samsung to find out (credit to <em><a href="" target="_blank">Fudzilla</a></em> for the heads up).</p><p> The information from AU Optronics was fairly limited, though it was discovered that it's bringing 30-inch and 35-inch ultra-wide curved panels in the third and second quarters of this year, respectively. Both will be of the VA variety and feature a 3440x1440 resolution with a 144Hz refresh rate, a first for that resolution.</p><p> "This would push things beyond DP 1.2 bandwidth limitations as we understand it, so this might require the forthcoming DP 1.3 interface to be practical," <em>TFT </em>says.</p><p> As for LG Display, it's forging ahead with more borderless neo-blade panels. These will be different sizes, among them 23.8 inches, 27 inches, and 31.5 inches. But the biggest treat is its LM375UW1 panel&mdash;it's 37.5 inches in size and will offer a 3840x1600 resolution, giving it a 2:4:1 aspect ratio, perfect for watching Blu-ray flicks.</p><p> Finally, Samsung is planning a 31.5-inch curved display with a 2560x1440 (QHD) resolution and 144Hz refresh rate in the third quarter. While not confirmed, it's believed it will be an SVA panel.</p><p> Samsung also plans to release 41-inch and 49-inch panels, though it's not known if those will be big size monitors or TVs.</p><p> What about 8K? Samsung's on it with a 31.5-inch 8K4K (7680x4320) resolution monitor planned for the third quarter.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Nvidia Releases 361.75 Drivers for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy's The Division 'Game Ready' drivers from Nvidia are available for Rise of the Tomb Raider and Tom Clancy's The Division beta.Wed, 27 Jan 2016 16:46:49 +0000 of the Tomb RaiderTom Clancy's The Division <h3>Lara Croft approved this message</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Rise of the Tomb Raider"></p><p> Attention Nvidia GeForce GPU owners, there's a new Game Ready driver available to download, one that's intended to deliver the best possible gaming experience for Rise of the Tomb Raider and the beta for Tom Clancy's The Division.</p><p> It's a minor update with optimizations for both of the aforementioned titles, plus a few other goodies thrown into the mix. One of them is beta support for GeForce GTX graphics over Thunderbolt 3, as seen with Razer's external Core accessory. With the latest driver, Nvidia adds official support for all GeForce GTX 900 series graphics cards, plus the Titan X, GeForce GTX 750, and GeForce GTX 750 Ti.</p><p> The new 361.75 driver release also adds or updates the following SLI profiles:</p><ul> <li>Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - multiplayer EXE added to profile</li> <li>Rise of the Tomb Raider - profile added</li> <li>Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo - profile updated to match latest app behavior</li> <li>Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege - profile updated to match latest app behavior</li> <li>Tom Clancy's The Division - profile added</li></ul><p> That's about the extent of the driver release.</p><p> Rise of the Tomb Raider releases to PC tomorrow, as is the beginning of the closed beta for Tom Clancy's The Division. Barring any delays, the latter will be available in finished form to all PC players on March 8, 2016 (and also for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One).</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Technolust: I'm Fulla Schiit first time I'm featuring Schiit from just one company, but it's all greatWed, 27 Jan 2016 08:00:00 +0000 amplifierSchiitSchiit FullaSchiit Mjolnir 2Schiit RagnarokSchiit Wyrd USB DecrapifierSchiit YggdrasilTechnolustUSB DACusb sound card <h3>This Schiit's great!</h3><p> If you haven't gathered by now,&nbsp; <a target="_blank" href="http://https//;theater">I'm somewhat of an audio enthusiast</a>. Notice I didn't use the word "audiophile." That's because the term's now being thrown around like a Frisbee. No one even knows what it really means anymore, other than "Hey, my stuff's expensive." This is an unfortunate situation, and the world of high-end audio is full of hyperbole and snake oil, which doesn't lend itself credibility. I've seen things as ridiculous as a $3,500 1m long "audio" USB cable. Apparently, the cable also opens up mini worm holes for you to travel into another universe.&nbsp;Well, we plan to review audio gear here without all the BS.</p><p> It's also rare that I'm&nbsp; <a target="_blank" href="">featuring just one company in a single Technolust piece</a>, but the case with Schiit is that it's a company that's been making really good audio gear without the crazy hyperbole-induced prices. Right now I can think of two companies that make audio electronics without snake oil: Oppo and Schiit. If you've been to Schiit's website, it's&nbsp;pretty tongue-in-cheek about the company name. Just look at the&nbsp; <a target="_blank" href="">Amazon description for its "USB Decrapifier"</a>:</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Improves your color printing. Just kidding." class=""> <figcaption>Improves your color printing. Just kidding.</figcaption></figure><h3>Schiit Yggdrasil</h3><p> The "Yggy" from Schiit is&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">possibly the best high-end DAC for the money</a>. Unlike essentially every other DAC on the market, the Yggy doesn't use delta-sigma digital-to-analog converters. What is a delta-sigma DAC? In short, delta-sigma converters take samples of the changes in an analog voltage (signal), and covert them into pulses. The pulses are then matched to the voltages, and is an approximation of the voltage changes. Delta-sigma modulation introduces errors, because the modulation can never completely represent the original analog signal, since voltage changes are infinitesimal. Delta-Sigma DACs are popular because they're easy to design for, but to go truly accurate, you don't use Delta-Sigma DACs.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Schiit's multi-bit Yggdrasil DAC." class=""> <figcaption>Schiit's multi-bit Yggdrasil DAC.</figcaption></figure><p> The Yggdrasil from Schiit throws out the&nbsp;Delta-Sigma for a&nbsp;"multi-bit" design&mdash;the same technology used in medical MRI imaging machines. Utilizing Analog Devices' AD5791 DAC,&nbsp; <a target="_blank" href="">the Yggdrasil boasts the world's most accurate DAC</a> at a true&nbsp;1ppm (parts per million) resolution. The drawback? Complex engineering and design skills are required to design products around the AD5791.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="The &quot;Yggy's&quot; internal design." class=""> <figcaption>The internal design of the"Yggy."<br></figcaption></figure><p> This is where Schiit engineers show their audio engineering prowess. The other killer feature? Yggy retains the original samples from the incoming analog signal. Other DACs get rid of the original samples in place of fully interpolated samples. Lastly, one very desirable feature is the end-to-end balanced design of the Yggy. XLR in, XLR out. This helps shed any interference over the cable runs. Of course, you'll need speakers that have XLR inputs, which you'll have if you're considering studio monitors.</p><h5>So, what can the Schiit Yggdrasil do for me that I can't do now?</h5><p> Right now&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">I'm using an Oppo HA-1 DAC</a>, which is a fabulous piece of work in its own right. It's got the fully balanced ins and outs, as well as every possible type of input known to man. It sounds fantastic. But I'd really like to try out my music on a multi-bit DAC. If you know your DACs, you know that&nbsp;the Yggy is the Schiit.</p><h3>Schiit Ragnarok</h3><p> What would pair perfectly with the Yggy? Schiit's&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">Ragnarok might be just the answer</a>. The Ragnarok is a headphone/speaker amp designed to pair perfectly with the Yggy, or Schiit's Gungir. Offering balanced headphone output,&nbsp;powered speaker output, and pre-outs, you're covered in your audio outputs.&nbsp;</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Schiit's Ragnarok headphone and speaker amp." class=""><figcaption>Schiit's Ragnarok headphone and speaker amp.</figcaption></figure><p> What about output power?</p> <div> Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.25db, 2Hz-110KHz, -3dB <br> Maximum Power, 4 ohms: 100W RMS per channel <br> Maximum Power, 8 ohms: 60W RMS per channel <br> Maximum Power, 32 ohms: 15W RMS per channel <br> Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 10W RMS per channel <br> Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 1.7W RMS per channel <br> Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 850mW RMS per channel <br> THD: Less than 0.006%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS <br> IMD: Less than 0.008%, CCIF at 1V RMS, high gain mode (worst case) <br> SNR: More than 103db, unweighted, referenced to 1V RMS, in gain = 1 mode <br> Crosstalk: Less than -80dB, 20Hz-20KHz <br> <br> </div><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Ragnarok rear; fully equipped." class=""> <figcaption>Ragnarok rear: fully equipped.</figcaption></figure><p> That's an impressive piece of equipment with an ultra-low noise floor. In fact, Schiit challenges you to dial up the volume on the Ragnarok's potentiometer and witness zero noise. Thanks to multiple outputs, the Ragnarok would help with A/B testing audio gear too.</p><h5>So, what can the Ragnarok do for me that I can't do now?</h5><p> Essentially, lower my noise floor and offer powered speaker output. As impressive as my Oppo HA-1 is, it lacks powered speaker outputs, which means I always need powered monitors or rely on a separate powered amplifier. Not so with the Ragnarok.&nbsp;</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Schiit's Mjolnir 2 with swappable tubes." class=""> <figcaption>Schiit's Mjolnir 2 with swappable tubes.</figcaption></figure><p> For those who are interested in customizing the "color" of their sound,&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">check out Schiit's Mjolnir 2</a>, which allows you to swap between tubes and solid state. The Mjolnir has just about everything the bigger Ragnarok has except powered speaker application and extra balanced-XLR inputs.</p><h3>Schiit Fulla</h3><p> What if I wanted to take my Schiit on the go? The company has a&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="">portable headphone amp/DAC called the Fulla</a>&mdash;I told you the company has a sense of humor. For $79, you can carry with you a high-quality USB DAC with plenty of power to handle sensitive headphones.</p><figure><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Schiit's Fulla portable USB DAC/headphone amp." class=""> <figcaption>Schiit's Fulla portable USB DAC/headphone amp.</figcaption></figure><p> The Fulla is small, but just as well made as the rest of Schiit's audio products. And yes, everything is designed, made, and fully assembled in the USA. It uses a high-quality potentiometer for adjusting volume, just like the Ragnarok&mdash;no chip interference here.</p><p> The Fulla supports 24-bit/192kHz formats and boasts high-tolerance to USB clock jitter. Best of all? The Fulla's AK4396 DAC&nbsp;supports 1-bit DSD decoding. This is like carrying a mini Yggy in your pocket.</p><h5> So what can the Schiit Fulla do for me that I can't do right now?</h5><p> With Fulla, I can ensure that my audio listening sessions remain blissful when I'm traveling. I'd love to carry an Yggdrasil and Ragnarok around with me in my backpack, but while that would be great for my ears, it wouldn't work out very well for my back. The Fulla will allow me to bypass a laptop's cruddy audio and is small enough not to make any noticeable impact in carrying weight. The Fulla is about the size of two rolls of quarters. Schiit, I wish the company made a portable music player.</p> Intel Starts Shipping Faster Clocked Skylake and Xeon CPUs for Laptops just updated its CPU price list to include new mobile Skylake and Xeon processors.Tue, 26 Jan 2016 20:23:01 +0000 <h3>Faster laptops on the horizon</h3><p><img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Intel Core i7 Skylake Logo"></p><p>If you haven't been all that impressed with the first batch of Skylake-based laptops to hit the market, hang tight, faster models are the horizon. Intel just added some new Core i7 Skylake (and mobile Xeon) models to its CPU price list, as <em><a href="" target="_blank">PCWorld spotted</a></em>, and it's only a matter of time before they trickle into new laptop offerings.</p><p> This is good news if you've been hankering for a high performance laptop upgrade. Even though Skylake has been shipping since last year, laptops based around Intel's 6th generation Core architecture have mostly been aimed at entry-level and mainstream users.</p><p> Among the chips Intel just added to its price list, the fastest is the Core i7-6970HQ. It's a quad-core chip with Hyper Threading support clocked at 2.8GHz and with 8MB of cache. It's listed at $623, so expect this one to only show up in premium priced laptops.</p><p> Two other entries include the Core i7-6870HQ and Core i7-6770HQ. Both are also quad-core CPUs with Hyper Threading support, the higher of the two clocked at 2.7GHz with 8MB of cache and priced at $434, and the other clocked at 2.6GHz with 6MB of cache and priced at $378.</p><p> These are likely to hold the high-end fort until Intel's Extreme Edition Skylake chips manifest.</p><p> In regards to mobile workstations, Intel also added a trio of Xeon CPUs, all of which are quad-core parts with Hyper Threading support and 8MB of cache. From bottom to top they include the Xeon E3-1535M v5 clocked at&nbsp;2.8GHz and priced at $489, Xeon E3-1545M v5 clocked at 2.9GHz and priced at $679, and Xeon E3-1575M v5 clocked at 3GHz and priced at $1,207.</p><h3>Celeron Too!</h3><p> On the opposite end of the spectrum, Intel fleshed out its Celeron lineup on the desktop with some new chips. They include the following:</p><ul> <li>Intel J3710: 4 cores, 4 threads, 2MB cache, up to 2.64GHz, $161</li> <li>Intel G3920: 2 cores, 2 threads, 2MB cache, 2.9GHZ, $52</li> <li>Intel G3900: 2 cores, 2 threads, 2MB cache, 2.8GHZ, $42</li> <li>Intel J3160: 4 cores, 4 threads, 2MB cache, up to 2.24GHz, $107</li> <li>Intel J3060: 2 cores, 2 threads, 2MB cache, up to 2.48GHz, $107</li> <li>Intel G3900T: 2 cores, 2 threads, 2MB cache, 2.6GHz, $42</li></ul><p> You can view the full price list <a href="" target="_blank">here (PDF)</a>.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p> Thermaltake Core X5 'Riing' Edition Case is Big, Trips Your Spell Checker's new Core X5 and Core X5 Riing Edition cases are cube shaped enclosures.Tue, 26 Jan 2016 19:13:51 +0000 <h3>Don't call it a typo</h3><p> <img data-fullimage-src="" src="" alt="Thermaltake Core X5 Riing Edition Side-by-Side"></p><p> Thermaltake is sorry-not-sorry that its new Core X5 Riing Edition computer case will eat away at the part of your OCD that twitches at typos, but ultimately decided that an extra "i" was necessary. Why? We're not really sure.</p><p> What we <em>do </em>know is that the Core X5 Riing Edition sports two pre-installed 140mm green Riing fans, one in the front and one in the back, to give the case a look that's "nothing like your usual PC chassis." That claim is based on the ring of LED lighting that circles the fan and is viewable from any angle.</p><p> The case itself is a sort of bright, neon green, which is another reason the Core X5 Riing Edition stands out from the crowd. It's big enough to hold up to an E-ATX motherboard, though if more space is required&mdash;or if you have multiple builds that need to be close to one another&mdash;you can stack the cases on top of each other.</p><p> You can also stack Thermaltake's regular Core X5, which is the same case but in black and with two regular 120mm fans pre-installed instead of the flashy Riing fans.</p><p> "The Core X5 and Core X5 Riing Edition offer endless stackable capacity and expandability for enthusiasts to create massive liquid cooling systems for a single system, file server, or even dual systems," <a href="" target="_blank">Thermaltake says</a>. "Users can customize the chassis for the best viewing presentation with an interchangeable window and I/O panel design."</p><p> Both cases feature modular drive racks in a 3+4+3 configuration, giving users the ability to install up to seven storage devices. Builders also have access to eight expanson slots and three 5.25-inch drive bays.</p><p> As far as clearance restrictions go, there's a lot of space to work with. Thermaltake says its Core X5 cases support graphics cards up to 480mm (around 18.89 inches) in length if yanking out the ODD cage, or 330mm (12.99 inches) if keeping it in. There's also room for CPU coolers up to 230mm (9 inches) high and PSUs up to 220mm (8.66 inches) long.</p><p> Thermaltake didn't say when its new <a href="" target="_blank">Core X5</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Core X5 Riing Edition</a> cases will be available or for how much.</p><p><em>Follow Paul on <a href="" target="_blank">Google+</a>, <a href="!/paul_b_lilly" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a></em></p>