PC shipments continued to disappoint in the second quarter of 2012, declining 0.1 percent from the same period last year. This was, according to Gartner’s Mikako Kitagawa, the seventh successive quarter of “flat to single-digit growth” for the global PC industry. Gartner is not alone, though, as the latest data from market research firm IDC also points to an identical 0.1-percent decline in global PC shipments during the quarter.
Asus has been coming on strong in graphics cards for several years now, though it never offers quite the variety of versions as companies like XFX and EVGA. Typically, Taiwan-based Asus will ship a reference card under its main brand, and then a custom-built, high-end card under its DirectCU brand. At a later date, the company might ship a super-high-end card using the company’s Matrix or Mars sub-brands. Price differences between Asus’s high-end and standard versions are wider, too, so it’s a little easier to figure out which card really is the premium version.
Consider the bog-standard reference-card design. Enthusiasts often sneer at the thought, but the GTX 680 reference design is efficient, quiet, and fast. You often have to spend extra for higher clocks and more fans—and more moving parts and heat often equate to a higher probability of failure.
The EVGA GTX 680 we’re reviewing here is a standard reference card, but EVGA equips it with one of the best overclocking software tools we’ve tested.
You can use Precision to tweak the base clock, Boost clock, voltage, fan settings, and more. The GTX 680 GPU itself offers good overclocking headroom, so a few quick tweaks using Precision should get you 5–10 percent pretty easily.
YOU'RE FORGIVEN if you’ve never heard of Phanteks. After all, the company only makes one heatsink, though it comes in four colors, and it’s only been out since last fall. The Phanteks PH-TC14PE consists of a nickel-plated copper heatsink and five thick heat pipes, rising through two sets of anodized aluminum cooling fins in orange, blue, red, or plain ol’ aluminum.
Fans of Austrian engineering might notice that the PH-TC14PE looks a lot like Noctua’s NH-D14. They’re almost exactly the same (massive) size and follow the same basic design. The TC14PE’s box even says “Designed in Europe.” But, see, it’s totally different, because the Phanteks cooler has five thick heat pipes and the Noctua has six smaller-diameter pipes. The Phanteks’ colored fin stack is a tiny bit shorter than the tips of the Noctua’s heat pipes and around a tenth of an inch wider. Also like the Noctua, the Phanteks cooler can interfere with the RAM slots on some motherboards. We couldn’t install it at all on a microATX Rampage IV board, and we had to use RAM without towering heat spreaders on our P9X79 Deluxe board in order to install the Phanteks.
APPLE DIDN'T CALL the newest iPad the iPad 3 or the iPad HD—just the iPad. And that’s fitting, because while it’s a handsome upgrade to the best tablet on the market, it’s not a huge leap forward. If you’ve used any iPad for more than 10 minutes, this won’t blow you away—the revolution was two years ago. Now it’s time to iterate.
Yes, it’s a little bit thicker: 9.4mm, compared to the 8.8mm iPad 2. And it’s a skootch heavier: 1.44 pounds, or 1.46 pounds if you get Wi-Fi + 4G; the iPad 2 ranged from 1.33 pounds for Wi-Fi to 1.35 pounds for the AT&T version of the Wi-Fi + 3G. We bet you won’t notice. What you will notice is the 4G/LTE speed and the Retina display.
The bright 9.7-inch display’s dizzying resolution is now 2048x1536, or 264ppi. That’s four times the pixels on the 1024x768 iPads of yore, and the best screen we’ve ever seen on a hunk of electronics. It’s got a million more pixels than a 1920x1080 HDTV, plus better color saturation than the iPad 2.
Dell’s XPS 13 certainly isn’t wanting for style. Sporting a slick wedge profile that measures .24–.71 inches front to back, the XPS 13 is all matte-silver, machined aluminum up top, with a carbon fiber base. A soft-touch surface on the bottom makes the device easy to grip and two rubber “feet” that run horizontally along the underside will surely hold it in place on any surface and promote airflow. Dell even took care to construct a thin metal door on the XPS 13’s underside to hide the Windows certificate of authenticity sticker and sundry other unsightly logos.
An embedded magnet keeps the lid securely attached to the base when the laptop is closed, but opening it can be a challenge—it’s a two-handed affair. Inside, the XPS 13 continues its logo-free theme (save for the “XPS” on the screen bezel). The black, soft-touch palm rest is void of third-party branding. It’s kept company by a black magnesium clickpad and a shiny black island keyboard, which is backlit. The screen consists of edge-to-edge Gorilla glass. As with the HP Folio 13, it’s 13.3 inches with a 1366x768 resolution. The TN panel displays all the typical weakness—move your head or the screen beyond the narrow sweet spot and see contrast and colors diminished.
While HP’s Folio 13 is sized similarly to the other ultrabooks we’ve tested, sporting a 13.3‑inch screen and measuring 12.54x8.67x.7 inches, it’s a bit heavier than the others, but not by much. With a lap weight of 3 pounds, 4.8 ounces, it’s 3.7 ounces heavier than the Asus Zenbook, although its battery is nearly twice the size and weight of the latter’s.
Aesthetically, the Folio 13 is pleasing. The lid, keyboard deck, and palm rest are all brushed aluminum. Screen bezel, trackpad, and keyboard are black, as is the Folio’s underside, which sports a rubberized finish that makes the laptop nicely grippable. In all, it’s a handsome and well-contructed device.
The Folio 13’s port selection is comparatively generous for this class. Ethernet, full-size HDMI, and a media reader are all welcome inclusions, and one of the two USB ports is a 3.0 variety, although the driver for the Fresco Logic USB 3.0 controller wasn’t installed in our model (d’oh!). When it was, performance for the port was in line with expectations, giving us reads and writes to an external USB 3.0 drive of 217.7MB/s and 184.4MB/s, respectively.
Fast and affordable, this rig takes aim at Alienware
ORIGIN PC’S GAME plan with its new Chronos box is pretty clear: It wants a piece of the buzz that Alienware stirred up with its much-lauded X51 mini gaming PC.
Where Origin PC hopes to punch the Alienware X51 in its exoskeleton nose is in performance. The Alienware X51 that we reviewed in the May 2012 issue came with a GeForce GTX 555 and 3GHz Core i5-2320 (the fastest configuration at the time). The Chronos easily out-specs that with its liquid-cooled 3.4GHz Core i5-2550K and EVGA Classified GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 card. To make it even less fair, Origin takes advantage of the liquid cooler to clock the chip up to 4.7GHz on the Zotac Z68ITX-A-E board.
With its 57 percent higher base-clock speed, it’s no surprise that the Chronos outpaced the Alienware X51 by more than 40 percent in our application tests, as well as nearly 110 percent in STALKER: CoP and 78 percent in Far Cry 2.
Ice Cream Sandwiched between the flavors of last month and next month
IN THE TRADITION of the Nexus S, which was the first Android Gingerbread phone, Samsung has constructed an elegantly simple, yet powerful, phone to show off the stock version of Google's latest OS, Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). Android function buttons are now onscreen only; the bottom bezel holds just a white notification LED. A complete rundown of ICS would require its own article, but this full Android redesign merges tablets and phones into one OS with many improvements. For example, the more detailed Settings are available from the Notifications menu, you can swipe items out of the Recent Apps menu, and an unlock screen swipe to the left takes you straight to the camera, which, like many of the stock apps, is also greatly improved.
The 5MP camera certainly falls behind the times in specsmanship, where 8MP is soon to be replaced by 12MP as the standard for top camera phones. Yet it works fast and has tap-to-focus, a super‑bright flash, and an elegant software interface that lets you easily share/upload photos to any of the compatible apps on the phone right from the photo playback screen.