It's always a happy day when a new, mysterious box of unknown product arrives at the gates of Maximum PC. Specifically, my desk. Today's latest offering comes straight from Cooler Master, and it was wholly unexpected -- as we say at magazine, "surprise and delight!" Like a kid on Some Major December-ish Holiday, I tore open the packaging to find three new goodies: Cooler Master's new CM 690 chassis, a Glacier 600 cooler for ATI 2900XT video cards, and a Hydra cooler for Nvidia 8800-series cards.
When we decided to test external digital-to-analog converters (DACs) for the upgrade story in our June issue (“19 Bright Ideas: Upgrades You Didn’t Know You Needed”), we were surprised to learn that SilverStone offered one with pretty decent specs. We recommended Stereo-Link’s upscale A1300 in that story, but SilverStone’s less-expensive EB01 is a solid value. As we pointed out in the June issue, there’s a widespread misconception that digital audio is an all-or-nothing affair, and so the quality of the equipment you use to extract it doesn’t matter. It’s common knowledge, for instance, that getting audio physically off the electrically noisy motherboard results in cleaner sound, so it’s understandable that keeping audio in the digital domain until it’s entirely out of the PC would also help maintain its sonic integrity.
We reviewed Tritton’s Audio Xtreme 360 headset in our July issue. As you can tell by its model name, that device is aimed as much at console gamers as it is movie watchers and PC gamers. The AXPC is a little simpler, better suited to PC users, and nearly $50 cheaper. But it sounds just as mediocre.
When Dynapower’s Hachiman case hit the Maximum PC Lab, we were immediately taken aback by the coolness of its paint job. We’ve never been fans of anime, nor do we normally consider a case’s aesthetics during a review. That said, the Hachiman definitely gets points for looks. It’s not perfect; the paint has a bumpy, orange-peel texture, the decals don’t line up, and only half of the case’s chassis has a beautiful black undercoat. The other half is standard, butt-ugly gray.
If all the world’s computer cases were playing a game of Battlefield, then the Antec P190 would surely be one of the tanks. This thing is a monstrosity of a midtower, though functionally, it differs very little from everything else in Antec’s P-series of cases. However, this case does add improvements we’ve been dreaming of since we first laid our hands on the P180. The P190 comes with that extra bit of horizontal space that makes all the difference in the world if you rock extra-long videocards. Previous models were just too cramped—even if you weren’t using a water-cooling system.
Before you get too excited about LG’s combo optical drive, bear in mind that while the GGW-H10NI Super Multi Blue can read both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, it can write to only the former format. Still, this drive offers a degree of flexibility that no other next-gen drive we’ve tested has. You won’t be shut out of watching movies from studios that have allied themselves with just one of the high-def formats. Not surprisingly, this luxury doesn’t come cheap. At $1,200, the Super Multi Blue costs more than your average Blu-ray burner—by as much as $600.
NEC’s LCD2470WNX doesn’t offer quite as many input options as Gateway’s LCD, but it splits the difference between that monitor and the DoubleSight, with VGA, DVI, and four USB 2.0 ports. Like the other LCDs reviewed here, it provides the full range of ergo options—height, tilt, swivel, and rotate. The OSD, for its part, is fairly simple to navigate and includes the same variety of options whether you’re using the digital or analog interface. What’s more, it doesn’t squawk at you.
Gateway’s 24-inch LCD stands out in this crowd by offering far and away the most input options: VGA and DVI ins are joined by S-video, composite, and two component connectors, as well as four USB 2.0 ports. This LCD, however, also sports the most annoying OSD. Menu selections are accompanied by sound effects that are reminiscent of a Casio keyboard’s. And while there’s a healthy array of menu options to choose from, none appears to disable the menu’s audio. Twitchy touch-sensitive OSD buttons certainly don’t help matters.
DoubleSight is best known for its two-in-one monitor solutions, such as the dual 19-inch display we reviewed in March 2007, but we’ll take a single seamless 24-inch screen over that option any day. The DS-240WB looks all business with a simple but sturdy black frame. Its telescoping neck lets you adjust the screen’s height, plus you can tilt, pivot, and rotate the screen’s orientation. Input options consist of one VGA, one DVI, and one audio input. To access the whole gamut of onscreen display (OSD) options, you’ll need to use VGA. For instance, you can adjust the screen’s individual color channels and even its overall color tone only with the analog interface; DVI limits you to contrast and brightness changes.
Gigabyte cranks up the specsmanship for its GA-N680SLI-DQ6, which offers no fewer than 10 SATA ports and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. Yep. Four. What you’d ever need four Ethernet ports for, we don’t know.