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.
At the end of our November 2008 solid-state-drive roundup, we concluded that those NAND-flash-based drives just weren’t ready for prime time, thanks to astronomically high prices, small capacities, and flaky first-gen controllers.
Flash forward to mid-2010. Not only have newer drive controllers thoroughly washed the bad taste of the first-gen SSDs out of our mouths, but performance has shot through the roof. And the slowdowns that early SSDs experienced when writing to memory blocks where data had been deleted have been vanquished by the TRIM command. Implemented in modern SSDs as well as in Windows 7 and Linux, TRIM’s garbage-collection functionality has helped SSDs overcome one of their remaining hurdles.
Of course, there’s still the matter of price. While solid state drives have several advantages over their mechanical hard drive brethren—durability, reliability, and speed among them—they still cost a lot more. A one-terabyte mechanical hard drive costs less than $100, but a 256GB SSD can cost close to $800. Nevertheless, today’s SSDs have significantly dropped in price, and combined with the technological advances, are a much improved value. Is that enough to get your purchasing dollars? We were compelled to find out, Maximum PC–style.
Back in the prehistoric times (April 2009), we reviewed the Domino A.L.C, an all-in-one liquid CPU-cooling system with three different speeds and an LCD screen. It worked well and was easy to install, but the screen (and attendant fan control) was, in our opinion, poorly thought-out. To see the apparatus, your case needed a side window, and to use it, you’d need to remove your side panel entirely—in which case, why not just use air? But the Domino performed well, so we let it slide.
Those features are gone in CoolIT’s new Eco A.L.C. In fact, the Eco bears a strong resemblance to Corsair’s H50 all-in-one that we reviewed in September 2009.
Like the Corsair H50, the Eco consists of a heat exchanger and pump that mount directly to the CPU socket, a radiator connected to the pump by a closed cooling loop, and a 12cm fan that connects to the radiator. The radiator and fan replace the rear 12cm or 14cm exhaust fan that’s standard in most ATX cases. The pump is powered by a 3-pin connector attached to any motherboard fan header, while the exhaust fan has a 4-pin PWM connector and attaches to the CPU_FAN header—just like with the H50.
What differentiates one netbook model from any other of the same size? There are only a few flavors, after all: last-gen netbooks, with Atom N270 or N280 processors and Windows XP; current-gen netbooks, with Pine Trail Atom processors and Windows 7; and Ion-based netbooks, with Nvidia mobile graphics and middlin’ battery life. Well, you could wait for second-gen Ion netbooks, which promise excellent gaming power and 10-hour battery life. Or you could go for the Asus Eee 1201N, which offers first-gen Ion performance and—get this—a friggin’ dual-core processor.
The 12-inch 1201N is the first netbook we’ve tested with an honest-to-goodness dual-core processor inside—Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom N330, which you may remember from bare-bones Ion boards and nettops. Paired with the N330 is Nvidia’s first-gen Ion platform, which turns a 12-inch netbook into something approaching a gaming platform (if 7-year-old titles fit your idea of games). The last Ion device we reviewed, the HP Mini 311 (February 2010), used a single-core N280, while upcoming second-gen Ion netbooks will use single-core Atom N450s. So is there a niche for a dual-core Atom netbook with Ion?
Just about everyone knows that Nvidia’s hot new Fermi graphics chip is literally hot. So, when Asus bundled its new ENGTX480 card with a custom voltage tweaker for overclocking, we wondered if it was such a good idea.
After all, do you really need the card to run hotter? And with the speed of the ENGTX480, you probably don’t need the higher clocks anyway. The ENGTX480 ships with 32 shader processors (what Nvidia calls “CUDA cores”) disabled, yet the card still manages to be the fastest single-GPU card you can buy today.
House brands are a common sight at the grocery store: Shop Safeway (a large chain on the west coast) and you can buy name-brand yogurt, or buy Lucerne and save a few pennies. Best Buy has been doing the same thing with consumer electronics products with its Insignia and Rocketfish brands.
Best Buy is now expanding beyond commodity products such as A/V cables to offer highly specialized components. The $600 Rocketfish WirelessHD Adapter (model RF-WHD100), for example, can stream an HDMI signal (with surround sound and 1080p video) across a room without wires. It’s comparable to the $1,000 Gefen Wireless for HDMI UWB.
It's called the Envy 13 for a reason. From its magnesium alloy frame, to its beautiful display and its laser etched hand-rest, HP's Envy 13 is sure to turn a few of your friends green. The only setback to this ultraportable? It's going to cost you a lot of green, too. The system starts out at $1,450, and as configured here, costs $1725.
The Envy 13 looks a lot like a MacBook Pro. It has a beautiful and large island-style keyboard that was easy to type on almost immediately. Below it is a multitouch trackpad that worked well for zooming in and out of websites and photos. If you've never used a multitouch trackpad, think of it like an iPhone screen: Simply pinch to zoom in and pull your two fingers apart to zoom out.
It can be sort of hard to review gaming mice. Problem is, all the major brands pretty much have it down—they make mice with excellent sensors, responsive hardware, and a set of feature that’s rapidly becoming an industry standard. They might have a couple of extra buttons here or there, or a superfluous LCD screen tucked away somewhere, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen something actually revolutionary. Well, here you go.
This is the Cyborg R.A.T.7 from MadCatz. We’d seen early pictures of the mouse, and we had our doubts—to say it looked “gimmicky” is a bit of an understatement. Well, we’re very pleased to have been proven wrong. The R.A.T.7‘s futuristic stylings aren’t just for show—they’re a product of a startling number of customization options and features. We’re going to walk you through these features, one by one. When we’re through, we think you’ll understand why this is our new favorite gaming mouse.
NZXT’s Panzerbox is akin to a Mini Cooper. It might look diminutive, but it has a surprising amount of space and is feature-packed, to boot. The Panzerbox is smaller than a mid-tower yet it has a slide-out motherboard tray, is made entirely of aluminum, and includes support for 12.2-inch videocards and even water cooling. At $120, it’s even affordable. On paper, the NZXT Panzerbox seems like the perfect case to house your LAN gaming rig. But is there a catch?
At 9.6 inches wide by 17.9 inches deep and 17.9 inches high, the Panzerbox’s all-aluminum chassis is one of the most compact modern ATX cases we’ve seen in years. And as mentioned above, that tiny chassis holds a lot of stuff, and still manages to offer decent airflow.
We had high hopes for Samsung’s P2770HD. After all, its 23-inch little brother rose to the top of a sea of crappy TN displays in our December 2009 roundup. With its street price of $400, the P2770HD looked like a strong value for folks with non-critical applications.
We stand by our opinion that twisted-nematic (TN) technology is inferior to in-plane switching (IPS), as well as our recommendation that you shouldn’t rely on a TN-panel monitor for critical applications such as photo and video editing (especially if your livelihood depends on it). On the other hand, TN panels like this one do deliver unarguably faster pixel response rates, which is great for gaming, and lately, they’ve become insanely cheap.