Review

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EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Review

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.

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Mass Effect 3 Review

Shepard goes out with a very big bang

OUR SHEPARD LOOKS like hell. He’s got shadows under his eyes that’d frighten the seediest of back‑alley dwellers. Even when he smiles—for instance, while warmly embracing an old friend—there’s a palpable weariness to the gesture. This man, this hero we’ve piloted through countless near-apocalyptic trials and tribulations, is at the end of his rope. The Reapers have decided that all organic life is ripe for the picking, and Earth’s looking mighty juicy. Shepard’s got the weight of the entire universe on his shoulders, and little by little, every agonized step forward breaks his back a bit more.

After playing through Mass Effect 3, we look a lot like our Shepard, but for different reasons. We clearly haven’t slept, and basic hygiene has become so foreign a concept that we reply to the word “shower” with, “Yeah, it’s about 4:27 p.m.” Mass Effect 3, you see, is one of those experiences. By no means is it perfect, but it’s a tale so gripping as to have its own gravitational pull. It's Shepard’s darkest hour, and we had no intention of seeing the sun until its credits roll.

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Hitachi Deskstar 5K4000 Review

Finally, a 4TB hard drive. That’s one more than three!

MOST OF US DON'T NEED 4TB hard drives. Most of us don’t even need 3TB drives. Unless you create, edit, or store lots of high-definition video; have backups of all your machines; have a massive lossless audio library; or…. You know what? Maybe we do need 4TB drives. After a couple of years making do with puny 3TB drives (like animals!), it’s time to get 25 percent more stuff into our 3.5-inch drives. Though other drive makers offer 4TB external drives, Hitachi GST is the first drive maker to give you 4TB on the inside. And didn’t your mother or mother-equivalent teach you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts?

We’ve been expecting 4TB drives since Seagate’s 1TB/platter 3TB drive in the January 2012 issue, but the four-platter 4TB 7,200rpm drive we’ve been dreaming of isn’t here yet. Instead, we get Hitachi’s Deskstar 5K4000, which packs a full four terabytes into a standard 3.5-inch drive, but on five platters, not four. The platters have a maximum areal density of 443Gb per square inch. The 5K4000 has 32MB of cache, a 6Gb/s SATA controller, and a spin speed of 5,400rpm.

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Phanteks PH-TC14PE Review

Noctua imitator impresses

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.

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Apple iPad Review

One giant high-res step forward for tablets

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.

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XFX Radeon HD 7870 Black Edition Review

Recaptures the crown in the $350 category

AMD’S MARKETING pitch for the new Radeon 7800‑series GPUs suggests that “serious gaming starts here.” Built on AMD’s Graphics Core Next, the 7800 series, previously code-named “Pitcairn,” offers impressive performance for less than the price of AMD’s 7900 series. Let’s take a quick look at key features, as compared to the Radeon HD 6870 and 6950 GPUs, AMD’s previous players in the midrange.

The 7870 has 1,280 stream processors—more than the 6870, but fewer than the 1,408 in the Radeon HD 6950. The 7870’s 1,000MHz stock clock speed is 11 percent higher than the 900MHz of the 6870, and twice the 6950’s 500MHz clock. In the Black Edition HD 7870, XFX boosts the core clock an additional 5 percent to 1,050MHz. The 7870 ships with the same 2GB of 256-bit GDDR5 as the 6950—double the 1GB of the 6870.

The Black Edition ships with XFX’s semi-custom dual-fan cooling solution. As with past cards in this class, the HD 7870 requires two 6-pin power connectors. One disappointment: XFX is continuing its policy of leaving out monitor adapter connectors, so if you don’t have a DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort connector on your monitor, then you’ll need to shell out a little extra for one. It’s mostly not a problem for single-display users, but people with multiple monitors may need to acquire adapters.

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Dell XPS 13 Review

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.

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Origin PC Chronos Review

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.

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Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB Review

Turn a Win7 PC into a four-tuner HD DVR

WATCHING AND RECORDING digital cable TV on your PC should be simple. Modern CPUs and videocards pack considerably more processing power than what you’ll find in even the highest-end DVR your cable company provides; and hard drives—while temporarily pricey, due to the flooding in Thailand—offer plenty of recording capacity.

In short, there is no technical reason why every interested TV viewer shouldn’t be able to enjoy this harmonious technological convergence. Ceton’s InfiniTV 4 USB certainly does its part, rendering the process as easy as can be, considering DRM issues restrict you to using Windows 7 (Linux users need not apply) and subscribing to your local cable company (satellite TV viewers need not apply).

In an ideal world, hardware like this would work seamlessly. You’d buy a multistream CableCard from your favorite retailer, plug it into your InfiniTV, connect the InfiniTV to your coax cable and to your PC’s USB port, and—bam!—your PC would be transformed into a four-tuner DVR vastly superior to anything any cable company offers today. In reality, the process is nowhere near that simple.

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Netgear ReadyNAS Duo v2 Review

Platform shift hobbles Netgear’s latest ‘prosumer’ NAS

THE CPU WARS aren’t just about x86 procs, PCs, and phones. The second version of Netgear’s ReadyNAS Duo makes the move from an older Sun SPARC chip to ARM, and the transition isn’t pretty.

Netgear’s ReadyNAS Duo v2 uses a single-core Marvell 1.6GHz ARM processor and 256MB of memory. Two sliding hard drive bays are hidden behind the front door and support two drives in capacities up to 3TB each. The ReadyNAS Duo v2 ships in three configurations: empty, half populated (1TB), and fully populated (2x 1TB). We tested the last option, which came with two Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 drives. The chassis is steel and aluminum, not plastic like some other two-bay NAS devices.

The ReadyNAS Duo v2 supports JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, and X-RAID2 drive configurations. X-RAID2 is a configuration from Netgear that allows for dynamically expanding your volume by adding more drives—a carryover, one assumes, from Netgear’s larger NAS boxes, as it’s not useful in a two-bay NAS. The back of the NAS features two USB 3.0 ports, a single Gigabit Ethernet jack, and a power plug that connects to an external 60W power supply. A USB 2.0 port is located on the front of the device, along with the power button and LEDs to indicate drive and USB status. A single 9cm case fan on the rear of the NAS takes care of cooling while keeping the noise level to a low hum.