We’re constantly on the hunt for top-shelf PC performance—you’re not reading Bottom-Feeder PC, after all. When rendering our review verdicts, we do factor in price, but recommending a subpar product just because it’s cheap is sacrilege to us. Pricing can be relevant, but when it comes to videocards, we typically anchor our opinions on the toughest criteria we know of: 3D performance in the most demanding games on the market, at resolutions of 1920x1200 and higher and with all eye candy enabled.
While our editorial mantra might best be expressed as “better, faster, stronger” (hey, we should do a cover story on that!), there’s no escaping the fact that the videocard market boasts a broad spectrum of inexpensive—and intriguing—alternatives. In fact, as AMD and Nvidia have been battling for supremacy at the top of the market, we’ve watched the entry points for penultimate-performance videocards gradually but consistently come down to earth. Sure, playing Crysis on a 30-inch panel might be out of the question if you’re running one of the lower-priced cards, but we still wanted to discover the 3D tipping point—the point at which you’re better off giving up PC gaming altogether because the card you’re running is horribly, utterly lacking in horsepower.
Synaptics hopes to take mobile touchscreen technology to a whole new level with the company's recently announced ClearPad 3000 Series. Unlike two-finger capable touchscreens, the ClearPad 3000's capacitive touch pad can track up to 10 simultaneous finger touches.
"By enabling more devices to have multi-finger gesture capabilities, our premium ClearPad 3000 Series opens the door for innovative software developers to push the edges of the user interface envelope by creating exciting new classes of applications -- such as multi-user gaming -- not possible before, giving OEMs greater flexibility to differentiate their products," said Tom Tiernan, Synaptics president and COO.
Synaptics says the ClearPad 3000 is based on new, proprietary technology featuring 48 sensing channels and advanced power management. The end result is support for larger screen sizes up to 8 inches diagonally in a thin, low-profile design. Synaptics also boasts a high level of accuracy.
The company plans to ship engineering samples for general release starting in November 2009, which means you may see some snazzy new multi-finger touchscreen devices just in time for the holidays.
We'll admit it - Olive's new Opus No. 4 looks pretty swank and offers a ton of storage for your groovy tunes, but is it worth $1,800? We'll let you decide that one.
The new flagship entry to Olive's Opus Hi-Fi Digital Stereo line includes 2TB of storage, which the company claims is enough to hold almost 6,000 CDs worth of music on-board in the lossless FLAC format. Sound quality gets a further boost by a high resolution digital-to-analog converter (DAC), as well as "optimized circuit design and a precision power supply."
Other features include a color-coded touchscreen menu, drag & drop playlist creation through the Maestro browser-based software, thousands of pre-set Internet radio stations, and both wired and wireless connectivity for music streaming in up to 10 rooms simultaneously using the optional Melody Hi-Fi Multi-Room Player.
The Opus No. 4 in 2TB will be available starting August 1, 2009. If that's too rich for your blood. Olive also plans to offer 1TB and 500GB versions for a little less scratch, $1,600 and $1,500 respectively.
The Radeon HD 4830 at the heart of this card is a cut-down version of AMD’s second-best graphics processor, the RV770. The 4830 has 640 stream processors, compared to the 800 processors in a higher-end card such as the Radeon HD 4870.
The 4830 is designed to run at slower clock speeds, too, and PowerColor sets this model to operate its core at 575MHz and its 512MB of GDDR3 memory at 900MHz. These are pretty hobbled specs compared to those of the reference-design Radeon HD 4870, which boasts core and memory clock rates of 780MHz and 1GHz, respectively.
Whereas AMD’s Radeon HD 4830 resembles a Radeon 4870 after a partial lobotomy, the Radeon HD 4850 that sits between these two cards comes with a full complement of 800 stream processors. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can overclock a 4850 board to achieve the same performance as one based on the 4870: The latter uses GDDR5 memory while the former is limited to GDDR3.
Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GT is really just a rebadged GeForce 8800 GT, which makes it the only card in our roundup based on a previous-generation GPU architecture: Nvidia’s 65nm G92. Despite its age, however, the G92 helped EVGA’s GeForce 9800 GT best PowerColor’s Radeon HD 4830—at least in terms of gaming performance.
EVGA runs the 9800 GT’s core at 600MHz, but takes full advantage of its 112 shader processors’ capacity for operating at much higher frequencies: 1,500MHz in this implementation. The card has a 256-bit memory interface to a full gigabyte of GDDR3 memory running at 900MHz.
This card is based on Nvidia's most current GPU architecture, the GT200. Priced at $200, it's the least expensive model we tested that's capable of running Crysis at 60-plus frames per second.
If you shop for a GeForce GTX 260 card, make sure you're comparing apples to apples: Core 216 models like the one you see here are manufactured using a 55nm process, and are outfitted with 216 shader processors. Conversely, cards based on the original 65nm GTX 260 GPU remain on the market but possess only 192 processors. Both versions have a 448-bit interface to 896MB of GDDR3 memory.
The 55nm RV770 is one of the best arrows in AMD’s GPU quiver, so it’s a good thing the part has proven to be both versatile and powerful. As deployed in the Radeon HD 4870, the RV770 has a full complement of 800 stream processors—just like the Radeon HD 4850—but in this design, the GPU is paired with GDDR5 memory.
GDDR5 memory boasts a very high data rate (ranging from 3.6Gb/s to 6.0Gb/s, compared to GDDR3’s 1.0Gb/s to 2GB/s). This enables AMD to deliver nearly the same memory bandwidth through a relatively narrow and inexpensive 256-bit bus as it would with a much wider and costlier 512-bit bus.
Nvidia pretty much owns the top end of the GPU market, thanks to the mighty, dual-GPU GeForce GTX 295. But no manufacturer can survive by selling low-volume parts, no matter how pricey they may be. Selling oodles of moderately priced products is where the real money is made. And that’s where the GeForce GTX 275 comes in.
Nvidia would never have concocted the GTX 275 had AMD not launched the Radeon HD 4890. Competition is the consumer’s friend.
Thanks to the recent move to 34-nanometer manufacturing, Intel has been able to create a new series of SSDs, which will (eventually) sport higher capacities, and reduce costs. The new price for the 80GB X25-M drive is $225 (a 60 percent decrease from the $595 price tag a year ago). The 160GB version is down to $440, which is down from its introductory price of $945.
Though, we’ll have to wait a bit for higher capacities. According to Intel’s marketing manager for the NAND Products Group, Troy Winslow, “What we decided to do is split 34-nanometer into a two-step process.” The first step will be to cost-reduce existing 80GB and 160GB drives. “And what we'll do later--and it's not even going to be this year but first half of next year--we will introduce, also on 34 nanometer, a performance enhancement and a doubling of the capacity.”
So what does all this mean? Simply, we won’t see drives over 300GB until next year. Still though, the price cuts are very welcome.