NZXT’s Switch 810 is aptly named: This toolless steel chassis is an excellent choice whether you’re indulging in extreme air cooling, radical water cooling, or near-silent running. It’s beautiful to behold no matter how you set it up, with white plastic panels that can be removed with a simple press of your fingertips.
The 22.3‑inch‑long by 23.5‑inch‑tall by 8.5‑inch‑wide chassis supports multiple platforms including ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX, E-ATX, XL-ATX, and Flex ATX mobo configurations. There’s plenty of room inside, with nine PCIe slots running in parallel with four tube cutouts, and plenty of convenient cable‑routing options. The Switch 810’s motherboard tray features 10 rubber-grommeted cutouts and an oversize 8-pin cable-routing hole. There’s enough room at the top of the case to fit a 60mm thick, 360mm radiator with push-pull fans. If you opt for a quiet configuration, you can slide the top-panel fan vents closed to reduce noise.
IT MIGHT SEEM like ultrabooks have overtaken the laptop landscape, what with all the attention they’ve received lately in the press and at CES, but there are still plenty of folks who prefer a more substantial laptop for general-purpose computing. These are the folks Samsung’s Series 7 Chronos is aimed at.
Like its ultrabook brethren, which inevitably draw comparisons to the MacBook Air, the Chronos bears a strong resemblance to an Apple product: the MacBook Pro. The 15.6-inch laptop is just shy of an inch thick; its lid, display bezel, and palm rest are all made of silver brushed aluminum; the island keyboard is backlit; and it features a large, 4.2x3-inch glass touchpad with integrated right and left buttons. The Chronos is not the paragon of industrial engineering that Apple is known for (the edges and bottom of the rig, for example, are made of plastic), but it has an attractive, refined aesthetic and its build quality feels solid.
The Chronos also costs a lot less than a comparably equipped MacBook Pro. The model we reviewed, sporting a 2.2GHz Core i7-2675QM processor, 8GB of DDR3/1333, an AMD Radeon 6750M GPU, and a 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive (plus an 8GB iSSD for fast boot and app loading), is fully $500 cheaper than the closest 15-inch MacBook Pro—and that model is limited to 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400rpm drive, and a 1440x900 display (vs. the Chronos’s 1600x900). It’s a no-brainer if you’re into value.
‘We don’t need no stinkin’ reference design!’ says XFX
It's not unusual to see factory-overclocked videocards ship with custom cooling solutions a few months after a GPU launches. But XFX didn’t waste any time with its Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition—a factory-overclocked card with a custom cooling solution that aims to take the performance crown. Based on what we’ve seen to date, XFX has delivered the fastest single-GPU card on the planet.
The Radeon HD 7970 is AMD’s latest GPU, with support for DirectX 11.1 and OpenCL 1.2. It’s a brand-new architecture—completely different from past AMD GPUs—built on TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process and sporting a staggering 4.3 billion transistors. In AMD’s reference design, the 7970’s core runs at 925MHz, and its GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,375MHz. XFX ups the ante significantly, pushing the core clock speed to a whopping 1GHz and running its 3GB of memory at 1,425MHz.
As you might imagine, the results are nothing short of amazing. We’re seeing genuine performance milestones here, including a 3DMark 11 performance score higher than 8,000 (for a single GPU), Far Cry 2 hitting 100fps at 2560x1600 with 4x AA, and Batman: Arkham City heading north of 50fps at the same resolution and AA settings. On top of that, the idle system power is just 124 watts, and a dark idle (when Windows 7 blanks the screen) draws 110 watts. Push the card and you’ll see system power consumption climb to 349 watts, but that merely puts its overall power draw into Fermi territory. XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition is substantially faster than EVGA’s super-overclocked 3GB GeForce GTX 580 Classified, and it’s outfitted with just two PCIe power connectors (one 8-pin and one 6-pin). EVGA’s card requires three power connectors.
Back in October 2011, we reviewed the 120GB Patriot Wildfire, the company’s first SF-2281-based SSD. With 32nm Toshiba asynchronous NAND, the Wildfire was a solid, if unremarkable, drive—awesome compared to nearly every other drive, but not quite up to the standard set by Corsair’s Force GT, OCZ’s Vertex 3, or OWC’s Mercury Extreme Pro. With the Pyro SE, Patriot hopes to change that.
The Force GT, Vertex 3, and Mercury Extreme Pro have one thing in common that the Wildfire lacked: 25nm synchronous NAND. Now a Patriot drive has the same stuff. The 240GB Patriot Pyro SE uses 16 128Gb modules of Micron 25nm synchronous NAND. Can the smaller process and synchronous NAND help the Pyro SE keep pace with the best SF-2281 SSDs on the market?
Yes. The better NAND pushes the Pyro SE past its stablemate and into the rarified air at the top of the SandForce-powered heap. With sequential read and write speeds at 482MB/s and 300MB/s, respectively, as measured by CrystalDiskMark, the Pyro SE is about as fast as the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro, and its 4KB random write speed, at over 91,000 IOPS, is the fastest we’ve ever seen from a 6Gb/s SATA drive. The synchronous NAND makes the most impact on sequential write speeds, offering a 40–50MB/s boost over the asynchronous NAND in the Wildfire.
For every season, there is a spin. Intel’s first consumer SSDs, the X-25M series, didn’t have the fastest performance, but they gained a reputation for reliability. We had high hopes for Intel’s 320 Series SSDs, which turned out to be really great 3Gb/s SATA drives, at a time when everyone else was shipping 6Gb/s drives. When Intel did ship a 6Gb/s SATA drive, the 510 Series, it used a Marvell controller, not an Intel one. Well, Intel has finally released its second 6Gb/s consumer SSD series, and it’s powered by… SandForce?
Yep. The 520 Series may ship in Intel’s familiar 7mm aluminum chassis with a 2mm black spacer, but inside it’s running the same SandForce SF-2281 as everyone else. It does use 25nm Intel synchronous NAND and Intel-validated firmware, which Intel says makes it better, faster, and more reliable than plain-Jane SF-2281-based drives.
Remember Indilinx? The company’s Barefoot SSD controller was the first really good solid-state controller. It was one of the first controllers to offer Trim support, as well as sustained read and write speeds near 200MB/s, and it ruled the roost until SandForce’s SF-1200 controller leapt ahead of Barefoot’s capabilities. The company’s next-gen controller was delayed, and in March 2011 OCZ bought the company. It’s been nearly a year, but OCZ finally has a consumer drive with the new Indilinx Everest controller. Was it worth the wait?
The 512GB Octane drive sent to us by OCZ contains 16 256Gb 25nm Intel synchronous NAND modules, two 2Gb Micron DDR3 SDRAM cache modules (512MB total), and, of course, the Indilinx Everest controller, all in a standard 2.5-inch SSD form factor. In CrystalDiskMark, it averaged 445MB/s sustained reads (35–40MB/s slower than the SandForce drives we’ve tested) and 315MB/s sustained writes (15MB/s faster). Its single-queue-depth 4KB random writes were competitive at around 5,600 IOPS, but at QD32, it only put out 22,000 IOPS—Samsung’s 830 Series does 35,000 and the Patriot Pyro SE does over 90,000. The Octane’s maximum response time in Iometer, at 429ms, is a bit worrying, too—its competitors have max response times of around 40ms. The Octane’s video encoding performance was within seconds of the other drives, and its PCMark Vantage and PCMark 7 scores, though lower than the rest, weren’t too shabby.
FINDING A GOOD motherboard is easy. Finding a good microATX motherboard, however, can be more of a chore. That’s because motherboard vendors have almost always associated microATX with budget needs. In addition to losing a couple of expansion slots and some PCB board space, you almost always lose features such as SLI, CrossFire, RAID , premium audio, and other add-ons to help push the price down.
That’s not the case with Asus’s new Rampage IV Gene. Made for premium LGA2011 chips, the Rampage IV Gene caters to builders who want performance but in a microATX form factor. As a Republic of Gamers board, it’s no surprise that the Rampage IV Gene emphasizes features and functionality. RoG boards are Asus’s cream of the crop.
That’s not to say the Rampage IV Gene has all the features of the company’s Rampage IV Extreme board. While the Extreme is truly tweaked for, well, extreme overclockers, the Rampage IV Gene seems better suited to building a compact gaming rig with the intent of normal overclocking, not setting records using liquid-helium.
WE REVIEWED Eurocom’s top-of-the-line mobile workstation, the Panther 2.0, in our June 2011 issue. That high-end behemoth weighed more than 15 pounds and cost upward of $5,000, but it sported a desktop Core i7-980X CPU and a pair of Radeon HD 6970s in CrossFire. This time around we’re taking a look at the company’s lighter-weight mobile workstation, the Neptune 3D.
While also billed as a high-end desktop-replacement, the Neptune 3D is far more modest than its beefy big brother. It’s based on a mobile Sandy Bridge CPU (Intel’s Core i7-2760QM) and a single mobile GPU (Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580M). The Neptune 3D weighs less than nine pounds, but its defining feature is its 17.3-inch, 120Hz, 3D display.
Cooler Master’s Storm Trooper is trimmed with a light-gray, rubber-coated plastic liner that covers the front and top of the case, creating a nice contrast with the black steel frame. It looks even better once its red fan LEDs switch on. It’s smaller than both NZXT’s Switch 810 and Xigmatek’s Elysium, measuring 23.8 inches high by 9.8 inches deep by 22.8 inches long and weighing 31.7 pounds. But this enclosure has plenty of room, boasting nine PCIe slots and space for even the longest consumer videocards.
Nine 5.25-inch drive bays occupy the front of the chassis, with a hot-swap 2.5-inch drive bay at the top of the stack. Two hard-drive cages with toolless trays can accommodate 2.5-, 3.5-, or 5.25-inch drives, and a second drive cage at the bottom of the chassis can handle four additional 2.5-inch drives. The trays aren’t shoddy, but they do feel less sturdy than what we’ve come to expect from Cooler Master.
Xigmatek’s Elysium is fricking huge. At 24.3 inches tall, 9 inches wide, a whopping 26.1 inches deep, and weighing more than 34 pounds, this monstrous full-tower enclosure is among the largest we’ve seen. Its cavernous interior can accommodate HPTX, XL-ATX, E-ATX, ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX mobo configurations—and you can mount a second PSU at either the top or bottom for those power-hungry HPTX builds. The Elysium has 10 PCIe slots, and you can fit a 12.2-inch GPU with room to spare. But all that interior vertical space is a double-edged sword: We had to mount our PSU in the top bay, because its 8-pin ATX 12V cable wasn’t long enough to reach the motherboard from the bottom.
Twelve 5.25-inch drive bays adorn the front of the case. Two four-bay drive cages in the lower half are secured with thumbscrews and can be moved or removed, but the two 12cm front fans mounted to them must go along for the ride. Drives must be secured inside the cages with screws, and all the bays are secured using finicky plastic mechanisms. The case weirdly lacks any 2.5-inch drive mounts, so you’ll need to spring for your own adapters if you’re using SSDs.