Assassin’s Creed II, like its predecessor, is an ambitious third-person action adventure game with a clever conceit: You’re a modern-day bartender reliving your assassin ancestors’ adventures. But where the first game fell short—in repetitive, sometimes-monotonous gameplay—the sequel soars. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s one hell of a fun ride.
This time around, you primarily play as goofy-charmer-turned-hooded-murder-machine Ezio Auditore. He’s got personality in spades, but that has its drawbacks—the first few hours of the game devoted to Ezio’s character development come at the expense of any truly exciting or pulse-pounding moments. Folks who want to leap straight into the face-stabbing will have to stow their bloodlust for a bit.
For years, if you wanted the speediest consumer hard drive you could get your hands on, you went with a 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor. Its first incarnation, released in 2003, was a 37GB single-platter drive using a PATA-to-SATA bridge. The next year brought a 74GB SATA 150 drive, and thereafter the drives roughly doubled in size (and went up a SATA spec) every couple of years. Last time WD refreshed the line, it bumped the capacity to 300GB, named the resulting 100MB/s-plus drive the VelociRaptor, and promptly won our Kick Ass award. But that was 2008—several hard drive generations ago. And though Western Digital’s latest VelociRaptor ups the ante with 600GB of space and a 6Gb/s SATA controller, the drive now has to compete with solid state drives and high-capacity, high-performance drives like WD’s own Caviar Black series.
Make no mistake: The new VelociRaptor, with its 32MB of cache and 6Gb/s transfer rates, is the fastest mechanical SATA drive we’ve ever tested. With average sustained read and write speeds greater than 130MB/s, it’s fully a third faster than the last-gen VelociRaptor, which averaged around 100MB/s for both. Random-access times hit around 7.1ms—about the same as the last-gen VelociRaptor, and about twice the speed of a fast 7,200rpm drive.
Do gamers really need six monitors? Having two displays—maybe even three—on your desk certainly makes sense for a productivity boost. And having run some games on three displays, we can say that the added immersion in the game world can indeed be compelling. But you can run three displays with any Radeon HD 5000–series cards, provided you have at least one DisplayPort monitor.
Sapphire and AMD are betting that some gamers will lust after more than three displays, which is why Sapphire is shipping the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity Edition. This isn’t just a stock 5870 with six monitor connectors; it also ships with a 2GB GDDR5 frame buffer. So even if you aren’t planning on running six displays on your desk, the 2GB of VRAM might itself be attractive.
Eyefinity is flexible as to monitor configurations. You can have the six displays arranged in two rows, which can be configured as one huge surface or two 3x1 surfaces. Or, you can have five LCD panels in line for a wraparound gaming experience.
Sounds intriguing, right? But what about performance? We put the Sapphire card up against an XFX Radeon HD 5870 XXX Edition and the Asus GTX 480 card.
We’ve reviewed a number of great speakers, but we haven’t been this excited about a set of boom boxes since we laid hands on the eponymous Cambridge SoundsWorks MicroWorks in the very first issue of boot magazine—way back in September 1996.
Listening to Peter Gabriel’s new album Scratch My Back on Bowers & Wilkins’ MM-1 computer speakers sent chills down our spines, a sensation rapidly followed by slack-jawed awe. We downloaded the album from B&W’s Society of Sound music club, which has the exclusive rights to distribute the album in studio-master quality: losslessly encoded in FLAC with 24-bit resolution at a 48Hz sampling rate. The MM-1 delivers audio quality that’s so exquisite, so pristine, that it makes the mighty AudioEngine A5—our previous favorite 2.0-channel speakers—sound almost muddy in comparison.
By now, if you’re buying a netbook, you know what you’re getting: All the models of a given generation are the same on the inside. So with the internals out of the decision tree, how do you choose which of dozens of near-identical netbooks is worthy of your purchase? Sure, the old standby differentiator of battery life still applies. But how about aesthetics? Can you actually choose a netbook based on design?
We think so. The Samsung N210’s internals could be those of any current-gen non-Ion netbook—a 1.66GHz Atom N450 Pine Trail processor, 1GB RAM, a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive—but it’s what’s on the outside that counts. The device has an embossed cream-color lid covered with a clear plastic coating. The interior is all matte white; and with its chrome edge trim and crisp gray lettering, it’s almost retro-futuristic. The keyboard puts every other netbook keyboard to shame—the chiclet-style keys aren’t cramped at all and the keyboard doesn’t feel mushy. We could type on it all day. The track pad’s multitouch capabilities help make up for its small size, and the LED-backlit screen is readable even at low brightness levels. Cranked up, the backlighting is quite bright for an office environment.
If you’ve been paying attention at all to case reviews lately, Corsair’s 700D should look familiar. That’s because it’s a slightly stripped-down version of the 800D, Corsair’s debut chassis (reviewed March 2010). We awarded the 800D 9 out of 10 points and a Kick Ass award, lauding its roominess, features, and design. The 700D only differs from the 800D in two respects: Its side panel has no window, and the 800D’s hot-swap SATA bays have been replaced with four HDD trays.
Like its predecessor, the 700D is huge—24 inches high, 24 inches deep, and 9 inches wide—and painted in a matte powder-black inside and out, except for the brushed-aluminum faceplate. It has five toolless 5.25-inch bays and six hard drive bays with slide-out trays, which can accommodate 3.5-inch hard drives without the use of screws, or 2.5-inch drives with screws. Two of the hard drive bays are in the case’s lowest compartment. The 800D had two 3.5-inch bays there too, but they were less accessible and did not feature slide-out trays. The remaining four hard drive bays take the place of the 800D’s hot-swap bays.
As we mentioned earlier, the Linksys E3000 is actually a rebadged WRT610N. We’re taking a second look at it now because it remains Cisco’s best consumer router; as such, we owe it to our readers to compare it to the best of what the rest of the industry has to offer.
We updated the router with the latest firmware for this review and downloaded fresh drivers for the Linksys AE1000 dual-band USB client adapter, so we were quite surprised to see the router perform more poorly than it did when we tested it several months ago. Cisco Connect remains the easiest tool we’ve ever used to establish a connection to a router, but Cisco’s “fix” for a problem we described in our initial review has rendered the router a whole lot less appealing.
When we ran our annual antivirus roundup in the May 2010 issue, many of you wrote in asking why we didn’t include Product X or Product Y. Fair question, so here’s the deal: We could have filled an entire issue reviewing just AV products, but that would have grown old by about page 32. Rather than do that, we’re devoting space each month to cover apps that didn’t make the cut, and CA Internet Security Suite is first up to bat.
After we installed CA ISS, it quickly became apparent that power users are not the target demographic. CA took a wrecking ball to last year’s version and completely redesigned the UI in an attempt to “eliminate the technobabble that makes PC security difficult to understand and control,” but in doing so, it made it needlessly tedious to poke around under the hood. The main interface consists of four index card–shaped menus that you can cycle through like a tie rack. Sounds easy enough, but if you want to set up a scan schedule, for example, you’ll need to bring up the My Computer card, click the Update Settings link, highlight the Threat Settings tab, and then scroll to the bottom. You’ll fumble around like this until you get accustomed to the interface, and when you do, you’ll discover there’s not a whole lot to play with. Strike one.
Most readers know the name iBuypower by now, but they don’t know our nickname for the company: iStealpower.
OK, that’s not really true, we just made that up to make this story sound sexier, but there is some truth to our jest. Over the years, we’ve often wondered how the hell these guys can offer PCs for less than the cost of the parts. You know, like getting $2,900 worth of parts in a machine that cost $2,200.
We’re not sure if the cost of the parts in iBuypower’s Paladin F exceeds the price of the machine, but it probably gets close. The Paladin F sports Intel’s new hotness: the hexa-core 3.33GHz Core i7-980X (clocked up to 3.8GHz). Even with AMD’s new hexa-core CPU now on the market, Intel’s Core i7-980X is still clearly the recognized fastest CPU in der verold! To the 980X, iBuypower adds Nvidia’s top-dog GeForce GTX 480 card, aka Fermi. Also aboard are 6GB of Kingston DDR3/1600, a 1-kilowatt PSU, an LG Blu-ray combo drive, a 1.5TB hard drive, and RAID 0 SSDs, along with Windows 7 Home Premium. The entire system is embedded in a Zalman GS1000 Plus enclosure.
We liked Metro 2033. We really did. But we wanted to love it. Its dusty, downtrodden, nuked-to-oblivion vision of a post-apocalyptic future is a thing of perverse beauty. At once terrifying and unsettlingly believable, it threatened to suck us in like no game before it. “Half-Life 2, who?” we asked ourselves frequently during the game’s opening moments—that is, when we weren’t left completely breathless.
Then the game made the mistake of putting a gun in our hands.
At best, Metro’s shooting is serviceable. The weapons—while compulsively upgradeable—are crafted in such a way as to be realistic, which in this case means “boring.” That would be fine and dandy if the other two pillars of first-person-shooter fun—level design and enemy AI—did enough heavy lifting to make up for it. Sadly, they don’t.