Review

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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.

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Akitio SK-3501 Super-S3 Review

USB 3.0 hard drive enclosure with plenty of ports, little appeal

LAST FALL'S flooding in Thailand caused massive devastation and the loss of hundreds of lives. Much less importantly, it also caused many hard drive factories to shut down temporarily, leading to a huge drop in HDD production. Drive prices are coming back down, but for some capacities cost is still prohibitive—which makes upgrading a little less tempting, never mind purchasing a portable drive for backup.

Of course, you can do your part by recycling and repurposing an old drive. And you can make that drive mobile with an enclosure like the Akitio SK-3501 Super-S3, which comes with myriad connection options and lets you give your old drive the new lease on life it deserves.

The Akitio SK-3501 is a basic-looking hard drive enclosure made of aluminum that's a magnet for greasy fingerprints and good for scratching up whatever it's resting on if you forget to attach the rubber feet. Mounting a drive inside of it requires a lot of screwing—that is, four screws to seat the drive into the internal base, and then four screws to bind the internal base to the external frame. Despite its price, the package and presentation actually feels cheap.

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Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review

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.

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D-Link DIR-827 Wi-Fi Router Review

Cool features don’t make up for mediocre performance

D-LINK’S DIR-827 WI-FI router boasts two features that our current favorite router, Netgear’s WNDR4500, lacks: a USB 3.0 port and an SD media card reader. Both products are dual-band models with radios operating on the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands, respectively. The DIR-827, however, supports only two simultaneous 150Mb/spatial streams on each band, where the WNDR4500 supports three.

D-Link positions the DIR-827 as a media router, optimized for streaming audio and video and delivering exceptional performance for online gaming. It’s the big brother to the single-band DIR-657 we reviewed in the December 2011 issue. Like that model, this one is fully DLNA compliant and features Ubicom’s excellent quality-of-service engine that assigns higher priority to data packets associated with those types of apps.

We expected the DIR-827 to be slower than Netgear’s best because it’s outfitted with only a 2x2 antenna array (two transmit and two receive), whereas the WNDR4500 boasts a 3x3 array. And while the WNDR4500 costs $30 more than the DIR-827, we didn’t expect D-Link’s router to be more than 50 percent slower in most of our test locations (although the DIR-827 did beat the WNDR4500 when the client was in close proximity).

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XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition Review

Unpacking the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition caused a bit of déjà vu. The card bears a strong resemblance to its big brother, the HD 7970 Black Edition (reviewed April 2012), clad in svelte brushed aluminum. If graphics cards dressed up for black tie galas, then the XFX Black Edition is ready to attend.

XFX pushes the reference clocks higher than stock, hitting 900MHz for the core clock and 1,375MHz for the memory clock. The additional memory cycles translate to a peak memory bandwidth of 5.5 gigabytes per second—the same as the HD 7970, and higher than the 5GB/s of the stock 7950. The question is: Can the GPU keep up? There’s always a balance between memory bandwidth and how much of that bandwidth the GPU cores can actually use. Plus, as more games become shader- and tessellation-intensive, bandwidth isn’t as big a part of the equation.

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Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OC Review

AMD’s reference HD 7950 board sets its core clock at 800MHz and memory at 1,250MHz, using the default cooling system. Sapphire takes this reference board, adds dual 12cm fans, and juices the core clock to 900MHz. The memory clock remains at 1,250MHz—but that’s 3GB of 1,250MHz GDDR5. Priced at around $480, it’s worth seeing how the card compares with Nvidia’s GTX 580. Note that we’ve also included results from the XFX Radeon HD 7970 for your reference, but excluded that card from the direct comparisons.

For direct comparison we turned to two different versions of the GTX 580—the slightly overclocked EVGA GTX 580 SC with 1.5GB of GDDR5 and the ultra-beefed-up EVGA GTX 580 Classified with 3GB of video RAM—as well as the XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition reviewed next.

The Sapphire card ships with a slight memory bandwidth disadvantage compared with the XFX card (5GB per second versus 5.5GB/s) due to running its GDDR5 frame buffer at the reference clock speed. This shows up in a few benchmarks, where the Sapphire card places just a little behind the XFX card, but the differences are pretty small.

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Alienware X51 Review

Move over game console, a PC is here to take your job

DON’T BLINK, it’s not a game console. It’s something far better—a PC that’s as small as the original Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with the promise of pretty good gaming performance, too.

As we all know, making things small, fast, and also affordable is no easy feat. Yet Alienware engineers somehow managed to smash real graphics into a standard slimline tower without tacking on a huge price tag.

To be frank, this isn’t the first attempt at a small, powerful PC with a slimline shape. The X51 reminds us very much of Voodoo/Hewlett-Packard’s Firebird PC from 2009 (review at bit.ly/Delqq). The Firebird’s main failing was relying primarily on notebook technology for its GPUs, which killed upgrades.

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Might and Magic Heroes VI Review

Might doesn't always make right

FOR THOSE OF YOU wondering, no, "Might and Magic Heroes" is not a typo. For the sixth installment of the venerated strategy-RPG hybrid series, Ubisoft has changed the name from "Heroes of Might and Magic" to "Might and Magic Heroes." This inexplicable rebranding is the perfect embodiment of Might and Magic Heroes VI's fatal flaw: It doesn't know what it is, or what it wants to be.

Heroes VI skews way more toward the role-playing end of the RPG-strategy spectrum—many of the management elements from previous entries have been "streamlined" out of existence. Resource management, though not entirely removed, is one such casualty, being pared down to four simple building blocks: gold, wood, ore, and crystals. This makes building towns much quicker and simpler, but unfortunately, it also makes the various factions feel much too similar to one another in their macro approach to town and kingdom growth strategy.

While easier to build, the tactical value of towns is more important than ever. In addition to providing your kingdom with troops and gold, each town has a zone of influence. Unlike previous games, where any structure could be hijacked at any point, in Heroes VI, mines and creature dwellings cannot be seized until the local town is captured. Furthermore, all of your entire kingdom's troops can be purchased from any single town or fort, cutting back on backtracking, but also completely removing the strategic value of troop and resource supply lines. This devaluation of individual structures and the increased importance of towns make exploration, once one of the pillars of the Heroes experience, feel like little more than filler between a series of grueling siege battles.