Review

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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.

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Isku Gaming Keyboard Review

They must have really big desks in Germany, because the Isku, like the Kone+, is enormous. It is very wide and, with the unremovable wrist rest, nearly 10 inches deep, making it by far the largest keyboard in our collection.

The overall build quality is solid, with nice-looking (if fingerprint-attracting) glossy black accents. We prefer mechanical keys, but the Isku’s aren’t bad at all, as far as dome-switch keys go. The blue lighting effects are nice, and the intensity can be adjusted with a button on the keyboard.

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Kone+ Gaming Mouse Review

The first thing you notice about the Kone+ is the sheer size of it. It doesn’t look that large in pictures, but when you hold it in your hands, it becomes apparent that this is one of the larger mice on the market. Lengthwise it’s about the size of other long mice, like the Razer Mamba, but it’s wider and taller throughout the whole body of the mouse. It comes with a set of adjustable weights, and is comfortable in the hand, as long as you prefer a grip where your palm rests on the mouse—if you don’t, the Kone+ isn’t the right shape for you.

The Kone+ has the button-count we’ve come to expect from a FPS or general-purpose gaming mouse. It has two well-positioned thumb buttons that are large and easy to hit, as well as dpi and profile controls. One feature you don’t commonly see on gaming mice is the tilt scroll wheel. The feature, which allows you to tilt the scroll wheel to the right or left as additional buttons, is traditionally found on office mice, not gaming mice. We suspect that the reason for this is because the additional freedom of movement in the scroll wheel makes the regular downward click feel slightly less responsive, and we could have done without it on the Kone+.

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Cisco Linksys E4200v2 Review

The original Linksys E4200 (you can read our review at goo.gl/TEfmG) delivered two 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 2.4GHz radio and three 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 5GHz radio (for theoretical throughput of 300- and 450Mb/s, respectively). This updated model features a new chipset that delivers theoretical throughput of 450Mb/s on both its radios.

So all the changes are under the hood—the enclosure’s industrial design is identical, and that includes the lid that prevents us from plugging hooded Ethernet cables into the four-port gigabit Ethernet switch. We didn’t encounter any problems getting the router to power up a 2.5-inch USB hard drive this time, but it could be because we switched to a newer 500GB drive (we had been using a Verbatim Clōn; we’re now using a Western Digital My Passport Essential). There’s a UPnP media server onboard, but the router is not DLNA certified. If network-attached storage isn’t important to you, the USB port can be used to share a printer instead.

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NZXT Switch 810 Review

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.

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Samsung Series 7 Chronos Review

Because ultrabooks aren’t for everyone

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.

 

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XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition Review

‘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.