ASUS HAS GOTTEN a lot of mileage out of its beefy DirectCU II GPU-cooling technology. It has brought some serious overclocking chops to the GeForce GTX 580 in the form of Asus’s Matrix-branded edition, for example. The DirectCU II versions of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and the Radeon HD 6870 also sport serious overclocks, and those cards perform well in their respective classes. What’s even better is that the company doesn’t charge much of a price premium for its best cooling tech on cards below the Matrix GTX 580.
We’re scratching our heads, however, over Asus’s decision to offer this GTX 570 card in a three-slot configuration similar to its Matrix GTX 580, but running at Nvidia’s reference clock speeds. The beefy cooler delivers plenty of DIY overclocking potential, but you must assume all the risk. Since we review cards based on out-of-the-box performance, we had to benchmark this one with its 742MHz core clock and 3,800MHz (effective) memory clock.
One good thing the new cooler does provide is fewer decibels. This card isn’t whisper-quiet under load, but it generates much less noise than many of the cards in its class—particularly the Radeon HD 6970, which can get fairly loud under heavy loads.
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.
At first glance, Optoma’s DLP-based HD33 struck us as the Charlie Brown of this batch. While it was the first 3D video projector in this price range to reach the market, it delivers only 1,800 ANSI lumens of brightness, its zoom lens is limited to 1.2x, and you must buy the 3D glasses separately. Like the Epson, the HD33 doesn’t have a lens-shift feature, but it is the least-expensive model we looked at, and its image quality is at least as good as the other two.
The HD33 comes with an RF emitter for synchronizing 3D glasses, but the emitter is a stand-alone device that must be plugged into a VESA 3D port at the back of the projector. Optoma helpfully provides a bit of two-way tape so you can glue it to the projector housing, but it’s a tacky (no pun intended) solution at best. The glasses Optoma sent for this review (not included in the price of the projector) were considerably dorkier looking and less comfortable to wear than the glasses Acer and Epson provided. Optoma’s glasses are also unique in that they use a rechargeable battery, but that comes with a downside: You recharge them using a Micro USB cable and an AC adapter, which is also not included (although you could plug them into your PC). Alternatively, you can use any manufacturer’s DLP Link 3D-compatible glasses. You can expect to pay about $100 per pair for active 3D glasses of any type.
The best feature of Epson’s Home Theater 3010—a three-chip LCD projector—is its extreme brightness. At 2,200 ANSI lumens, it’s 10 percent brighter than the Acer, and more than 18 percent brighter than the Optoma. Its biggest drawback is the fact that it doesn’t include lens shift, which could make the projector more difficult to set up without having to resort to quality-compromising keystone adjustments.
If you do need to make keystone adjustments, the 3010 renders horizontal adjustments easy and precise. And when you’re running the projector in 3D mode, you’ll definitely appreciate that added brightness, since the tinted active-shutter glasses will block a considerable amount of light from reaching your eyes. The trade-off for all that brightness is a black level that’s slightly worse than the Acer’s. But black remains black, not dark gray, so we think the trade-off is worthwhile.
All three projectors delivered stunning 3D experiences. There’s one scene in the IMAX Blu-ray disc Under the Sea 3D in which a gargantuan potato cod turns to face the camera, and it looked as though the huge fish was protruding eight feet off the screen and right into the middle of our home theater. But only the Epson could accomplish the trick with complete effectiveness in the presence of ambient light from nearby windows.
IF YOU'RE A LONGTIME PC user, you might remember Turtle Beach as one of the original manufacturers of computer audio hardware—we’re talking soundcards that competed with the best that Creative Labs had to offer. You might also have been dismayed in recent years, as the company became known for producing high-end headsets aimed primarily at console gamers. Turtle Beach has never forsaken its roots, though; its lineup has always included some solid offerings for the PC. The Ear Force Z6A is the latest in that line.
The Z6A features perfectly respectable build quality, with ear cups that swivel and flex to fit comfortably on any shape of head. The padding on the headband and the ear surrounds isn’t exactly plush, but we found it comfortable enough for extended wear. As is generally the case with Turtle Beach products, the Z6A boasts stylish design, with sharp-looking chrome accents and deep blue detailing.
THE MARKETING BLITZ swirling around the Droid Razr’s launch drive home these twin selling points: thin, yet powerful. This wafer of a smartphone measures just over a quarter of an inch thick along most of its chassis before filling out at the top where the camera lens and flash; speaker; and HDMI, USB, and headphone jacks reside. A layer of Kevlar fiber drapes the backside, and the Gorilla Glass covering the 4.3-inch display has a water-repellent coating for protection against errant spills and inevitable raindrops.
For all its vaunted thinness, the Razr feels very sturdy in your hand, while its substantial surface area assures that it doesn’t feel small. If anything, it’s a bit unwieldy for one-handed operation. The thin build has its share of downsides, too: The side-mounted power and volume buttons are too small, and this is one of the rare Android form factors that doesn’t let you remove the battery.
We do, however, cherish the generous qHD Super AMOLED Advanced display, which exhibits vivacious colors and deep black levels. The Razr is one of the first smartphones to allow Netflix streaming in HD; and for what it’s worth on a screen this size, movies, other HD video, and games look extraordinary.
WHEN SAMSUNG DEMOED the T27A950 for us a few months back, we got excited. This 27-inch, 120Hz display looks sleek and sophisticated, and it offers a long list of features, including an onboard digital HDTV tuner, picture-in-picture capability, DLNA-compliant networking, Samsung’s collection of smart TV apps, and active 3D. We couldn’t wait to get it in the Lab for a better look.
It didn’t take long for our excitement to ebb. The unconventional stand that makes the monitor stand out from the crowd severely limits the panel’s range of movement. You can tilt it forward and back by a few degrees, but you can’t adjust its height, pivot it into portrait mode, or mount it to a wall or any alternative stand.
THE FIRST AND SECOND Transformers movies were abominations, and Hasbro has sued Asus for violating its Transformers trademark, but there’s no denying that Asus’s Eee Pad Transformer Prime improves on the original Transformer tablet in nearly every conceivable fashion.
Asus’s latest tablet—we’ll just call it the Prime—loses the awkward build of its predecessor in favor of a smaller, lighter, and more stylish aluminum-backed chassis. It’s actually thinner than the iPad 2—probably as thin as it could be considering it’s outfitted with a combo headphone/mic-in jack, a Micro HDMI port, a MicroSD card slot, and a USB/charge/dock port. A matching keyboard dock (a $150 option) adds full-size USB and SD card interfaces and up to 10 hours of additional battery life. The dock provides many helpful keyboard shortcuts, and its keyboard action and trackpad mouse response improve over the original.