Hardware http://www.maximumpc.com/taxonomy/term/41/ en HP Omen Review http://www.maximumpc.com/hp_omen_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>A good sign</h3> <p>The word “omen” generally connotes bad juju for most people. For some longtime PC enthusiasts, however, it evokes fond memories of Voodoo PC’s old beautiful and powerful desktops. While HP isn’t bringing Voodoo PC back from the grave, it hopes to pay homage to the Omen namesake by rebirthing it as a modern gaming notebook.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u99720/hpomen.jpg" alt="HP Omen press shot" width="492" height="366" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Omen isn't the most powerful notebook, but it's one of the most polished.</strong></p> <p>Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the 15.6-inch HP Omen is one sleek-looking laptop, with its machined-aluminum chassis. The anodized black finish coupled with its thin 0.8 inch body gives the notebook some added sex appeal. It’s also really portable for its class, weighing four pounds, 11.9 ounces.</p> <p>While we were a little dismayed to hear that it uses a 1080p monitor, something we’ve seen dozens of times over, this isn’t some mediocre display. It uses an IPS panel that features a 72 percent color gamut, which provides beautiful, saturated colors. It also sports a touchscreen, which makes it the first gaming laptop we’ve reviewed that offers one.</p> <p>We were generally pleased with the keyboard, which offers seven customizable color zones that you can tweak using HP’s Omen Control Panel software. The keys themselves offer a satisfying amount of travel and feel quite tactile, as a result. You also get a column of six macro keys on the left side of the keyboard, which is rare to see in a notebook of this size. We weren’t enamored of the Omen’s trackpad, however. Measuring 5.5 inches across, it’s so wide that we often found our resting fingers interfering with our swiping gestures.</p> <p>On opposite ends of the trackpad are a pair of LED lights that pulsate with the sound of your audio. It’s a unique touch that gives the notebook added flair. The speakers themselves are quite good and offer decent volume firepower. Despite being licensed by Beats Audio, a company known for its bass-heavy emphasis, the audio here is balanced.</p> <p>Unlike the sexy chassis, the specs of the laptop aren’t super fancy. It uses a 2.5GHz i7-4710HQ processor for its CPU. For its graphics card, HP went with the GeForce GTX 860M, which is the de facto GPU for thin gaming notebooks. The base model comes with two gigs of GDDR5 VRAM, but ours included four. In regard to system RAM, configs starts out at 8GB, which is fine in most instances, but our maxed-out unit came with 16GB.</p> <p>CPU performance was pretty average, performing ever so slightly faster than our Alienware 14 zero-point’s 2.4GHz i7-4700MQ processor. In GPU perf, we saw respectable gains between 20 and 60 percent. In short, our graphics tests reminds us that the 860M is a midrange card. It will run the majority of modern games at high settings with smooth framerates, but don’t expect to max out games here.</p> <p>While the laptop’s performance didn’t blow us away, neither did its fans (pun intended). The Omen isn’t silent, but it’s very reasonable under load. We’d go so far as to say HP found the perfect balance between performance and acoustics. The laptop is able to keep its cool by using dual fans that pull in cool air from the bottom, which it expels through the back. A benefit of this design is that gamers won’t have to worry about warm wrists.</p> <p>When it came to battery life, the laptop was pretty average. The first time we ran our video-rundown test, the notebook lasted a mediocre 172 minutes. When we turned off all the fancy LED lights, we got an extra half hour. Our biggest concern with the Omen really pertained to storage. While we love the fact that it uses the faster M.2 PCIe standard, we’re a little put off that it doesn’t support traditional hard drives. This means you’re topped off at 512GBs. Luckily, the drive is really fast, and allowed the notebook to boot up in 11 seconds.</p> <p>The Omen may not be the most powerful notebook out there, but it’s extremely polished and well-designed. Everything from its looks, portability, and thermals are top notch. While our decked-out unit cost $2,100, if you’re looking for a more affordable configuration, we recommend going with the $1,800 model, which includes a 512GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and an 860M with 2GB of VRAM. It’s still a pretty good Omen.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/hp_omen_review_2014#comments Gaming Hardware HP Omen laptop notebook Thin voodoo pc Gaming Reviews Notebooks Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:45:39 +0000 Jimmy Thang 29111 at http://www.maximumpc.com Blizzcon 2014: Gigabyte Shows New Brix Gaming PC and Top-Tier X99 Motherboard [Video] http://www.maximumpc.com/blizzcon_2014_gigabyte_shows_new_brix_gaming_pc_and_top_tier_x99_motherboard_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u166440/x99_ga_motherboard.jpg" alt="X99 Motherboard" title="X99 Motherboard" width="200" height="129" style="float: right;" />It’s not all about the games and cosplay</h3> <p>Blizzcon isn’t just a convention that revolves around all things Blizzard, such as the developer’s recently announced FPS game <a title="Overwatch article" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/blizzard_announces_team-based_shooter_%E2%80%9Coverwatch%E2%80%9D" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Overwatch</span></a>.&nbsp; Vendors and manufacturers, such as <strong>Gigabyte,</strong> are also there to advertise their products. Maximum PC online managing editor Jimmy Thang took the time to visit the Gigabyte booth, where he got to see the new model of the Brix Gaming PC kit and check out the topitier x99 motherboard.</p> <p>The Brix Gaming PC kit was revealed <a title="Brix Gaming" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/gigabyte_adds_gaming_mini_pc_brix_family311" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">back in June</span></a>, and the i5 processor model was released back in September. Jimmy was able to speak to a Gigabyte representative who showed him the yet-to-be-released Brix Gaming kit with an i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 760 GPU. Unlike the i5 model's green color, the i7 version will come in black and is expected to be out during late November or sometime in December.</p> <p>Be sure to watch the video to learn more:</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/5WDmVGTS_KM?list=UUdLWXfNqKICJBpE8jVMm6_w" width="600" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Jimmy Thang also got to look at the GA-X99 Gaming G1 WIFI motherboard, which was one of three new X99 chipset mobos that was announced <a title="X99 motherboards" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/take_sneak_peek_three_upcoming_gigabyte_motherboards_haswell-e_2014" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">back in August</span></a>. This is the top-tier mobo, and features a heatsink that lights up and blinks with the beat of your music. The lights will also pulsate on and off, and can of course be turned off if you aren't into that flashing lights thing. It also sports the LGA 2011 socket-v3 socket for Haswell-E processors and is the first generation to have DDR4 memory support.&nbsp;</p> <p>The GA-X99 Gaming G1 WIFI is expected to sell for around $350 and is currently available online.</p> <p>For additional details, check out the video:</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/PsE1B53H1kQ?list=UUdLWXfNqKICJBpE8jVMm6_w" width="600" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Follow Sean on&nbsp;<a title="SeanDKnight Google+" href="https://plus.google.com/+SeanKnightD?rel=author" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Google+</span></a>, <a title="SeanDKnight's Twitter" href="https://twitter.com/SeanDKnight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Twitter</span></a>, and <a title="SeanDKnight Facebook" href="https://www.facebook.com/seandknight" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">Facebook</span></a></em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/blizzcon_2014_gigabyte_shows_new_brix_gaming_pc_and_top_tier_x99_motherboard_2014#comments Brix Gaming PC gigabyte Hardware X99 Motherboard Gaming News Motherboards Sun, 09 Nov 2014 02:49:03 +0000 Sean D Knight and Jimmy Thang 28866 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best Free Hardware Monitoring Tools http://www.maximumpc.com/best_free_hardware_monitoring_tools_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Apps that regulate your rig’s internals</h3> <p>Making sure your rig’s temperatures, hardware, and clock speeds are running correctly is a good way to monitor your PC’s health. We always recommend stress-testing your shiny-new rig, or checking your hardware if you experience any stability issues that occur out of the blue. We’ve gathered up a list of the best free utilities you can use to make sure you have a healthy PC.</p> <p>Know of any other free monitoring tools? Let us know in the comments section below!</p> <p><strong><a title="CPU-Z" href="http://www.cpuid.com/softwares/cpu-z.html" target="_blank">CPU-Z:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154280/cpuid_cpu_z.png" alt="CPU-Z" title="CPU-Z" /></p> <p>CPU-Z tells you what’s going on with your CPU by giving you readouts of your Core Speed, Multiplier, Bus Speed, and your different cache levels. It also tells you the make and model of your motherboard and video card, along with your RAM speed and capacity.&nbsp;</p> <p>We recommend using this tool if you have a preconfigured system from an OEM like Lenovo, HP, or Dell and need to find out your motherboard’s model number (if it isn’t printed on the board). The tool can also be used to monitor your CPU’s voltage, so it's overclocker friendly.</p> <p><strong><a title="GPU-Z" href="http://www.techpowerup.com/downloads/SysInfo/GPU-Z/" target="_blank">GPU-Z:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154280/gpu_z.png" alt="GPU-Z" title="GPU-Z" width="560" height="637" /></p> <p>GPU-Z gives you detailed readouts of your GPU’s clock speeds and memory size. You can use this tool to make sure that your video card is running at PCIe 3.0, as some boards run in 2.0 instead of 3.0 by default. You’ll look at the Bus Interface box to check out your video card's PCIe configuration.</p> <p><strong><a title="Furmark" href="http://www.ozone3d.net/benchmarks/fur/" target="_blank">Furmark:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/furmark.png" alt="Furmark" title="Furmark" width="600" height="453" /></strong></p> <p>Got GPU problems? Furmark is a fantastic tool if you’re getting blue screens during games and want to find out if your video card is the culprit. The utility gives your GPU a workload to max-out your video card. You’ll also see a temperature read from it, so you can see if your card is running hot.</p> <p><strong><a title="FRAPS" href="http://www.fraps.com/download.php" target="_blank">FRAPS:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/fraps.png" alt="FRAPS" title="FRAPS" width="600" height="370" /></strong></p> <p>Getting weird frame rate issues after freshly installing BF4 or Assassins Creed Black Flag? FRAPS will give you readouts of your real-time frame rate in-game, so you can see when and where you rig is starting to stutter. We like using this utility when a game is running poorly, so we can keep an eye on our frame rate during gameplay. We also use this tool to capture average frame rates of games that don’t come with benchmarking tools like BF4, Far Cry 3, and Crysis 3.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><a title="Core Temp" href=" http://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/" target="_blank">Core Temp:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/core_temp.png" alt="Core Temp" title="Core Temp" width="351" height="388" /></strong></p> <p>Unlike other utilities in this round-up of free apps, Core Temp tells you the individual temperatures of each of your CPU’s cores. We use this tool to make sure our processor isn’t running too hot. Core Temp also tells you the TDP, voltage, and power consumption of your&nbsp; CPU.</p> <p><strong><a title="AMD Catalyst Control Center" href="http://support.amd.com/en-us/download/desktop?os=Windows+7+-+64" target="_blank">AMD Catalyst Control Center:&nbsp;</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/amd_overdrive.png" alt="AMD Catalyst Control Center" title="AMD Catalyst Control Center" width="600" height="573" /></strong></p> <p>AMD video card users can use AMD’s Catalyst Control center to monitor their video card’s performance. You’ll be able to change your GPU’s core and memory clock speeds by using AMD’s Overdrive utility, which is found in the performance tab of AMD’s Catalyst driver. You can also adjust your video card’s fan speed here.</p> <p><strong><a title="Prime 95" href="http://files.extremeoverclocking.com/file.php?f=205" target="_blank">Prime 95:&nbsp;</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/prime_95_running.png" alt="Prime 95" title="Prime 95" width="600" height="378" /></strong></p> <p>Prime 95 puts your CPU through its paces by giving it a workload that will max-out your processor’s cores. We suggest using this utility if you’re having blue screen errors or freezing issues to make sure that your CPU isn’t the offender behind those infuriating messages.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><a title="3DMark" href=" http://store.steampowered.com/app/223850/" target="_blank">3DMark:&nbsp;</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/3dmark_demo.png" alt="3DMark" title="3DMark" width="600" /></strong></p> <p>3DMark is great for benchmarking your system’s overall performance, and the free demo version also shows you where your rig stacks up with other systems that have similar hardware. The paid version lets you run the Extreme benchmarks, which run in 1080p instead of the demo’s 720p default.</p> <p><strong><a title="Rainmeter" href="http://rainmeter.net/" target="_blank">Rainmeter:</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/rainmeter.png" alt="Rainmeter" title="Rainmeter" width="600" /></strong></p> <p>Rainmeter is a simple widget that displays your CPU and RAM usage and also tells you how full your hard drive and/or SSD are.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p><strong><a title="EVGA Precision X" href=" http://www.evga.com/precision/" target="_blank">EVGA Precision X:&nbsp;</a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><img src="/files/u154280/evga_precision_x.png" alt="EVGA Precision X" title="EVGA Precision X" width="600" height="471" /></strong></p> <p>Precision X is made by EVGA exclusively for Nvidia video cards. The tool allows you to check out your GPU clock speed and temperatures, and adjust your fan speeds, too. You can also overclock your GPU with the sliders, seen above. This tool displays your GPU's load, which we find quite handy.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/best_free_hardware_monitoring_tools_2014#comments apps benchmark components cpu id free furmark gpu z Hardware Hardware monitoring tools overclock pc monitor heat Software News Features Tue, 21 Oct 2014 23:41:16 +0000 Chris Zele 27117 at http://www.maximumpc.com Computer Upgrade Guide http://www.maximumpc.com/computer_upgrade_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Avoid the pitfalls and upgrade your computer like a pro</h3> <p>Building a new PC is a relatively easy task—you pick your budget and build around it. It’s not the same with upgrading a computer. No, upgrading an older computer can be as dangerous as dancing Footloose-style through a minefield. Should you really put $500 into this machine, or just buy a new one? Will that new CPU really be faster than your old one in the real world? Are you CPU-limited or GPU-limited?</p> <p>To help give you more insight on how to best upgrade a PC that is starting to show its age, follow along as we take three real-world boxes and walk you through the steps and decisions that we make as we drag each machine back to the future through smart upgrades. While our upgrade decisions may not be the same ones you would make, we hope that we can shed some light on our thought process for each component, and help you answer the eternal question of: “What should I upgrade?”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.opener_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u154082/computer_upgrade.jpg" alt="computer upgrade" title="computer upgrade" width="620" height="533" /></a></p> <h3>Practical PC upgrading advice</h3> <p>There’s really two primary reasons to upgrade. The first is because you can—and believe us, we’ve upgraded just because “we could” plenty of times. Second, because you need to. How you define “need to” is very much a personal preference—there’s no way to put a hard number on it. You can’t say, “If I get a 5.11 in BenchMarkMark, I need to upgrade.” No, you need to determine your upgrade needs using everyday metrics like, “I will literally throw this PC through a window if this encode takes any longer,” or “I have literally aged a year watching my PC boot.” And then there’s the oldie: “My K/D at Call of Battlefield 5 is horrible because my graphics card is too slow.”</p> <p>Whether or not any of these pain points apply to you, only you can decide. Also, since this article covers very specific upgrades to certain components, we thought we’d begin with some broad tips that are universally applicable when doing the upgrade dance.</p> <h4>Don’t fix what’s not broken</h4> <p>One of the easiest mistakes to make with any upgrade plan is to upgrade the wrong component. The best example is someone who decides that his or her PC is “slow,” so they need to add RAM and take it from 8GB to 16GB, or even 16GB to 32GB. While there are cases where adding more RAM or higher-clocked RAM will indeed help, the vast majority of applications and games are pretty happy with 8GB. The other classic trap is deciding that a CPU with more cores is needed because the machine is “slow” in games. The truth is, the vast majority of games are coded with no more than four cores in mind. Some newer games, such as Battlefield 4, do indeed run better with Hyper-Threading on a quad-core or a six-core or more processor (in some maps) but most games simply don’t need that many cores. The lesson here is that there’s a lot of context to every upgrade, so don’t just upgrade your CPU willy-nilly on a hunch. Sometimes, in fact, the biggest upgrade you can make is not to upgrade.</p> <h4>CPU-bound</h4> <p>You often hear the term “CPU-bound,” but not everyone understands the nuances to it. For the most part, you can think of something being CPU-bound when the CPU is causing a performance bottleneck. But what exactly is it about the CPU that is holding you back? Is it core or thread count? Clock speeds, or even microarchitecture efficiency? You’ll need to answer these questions before you make any CPU upgrade. When the term is used in association with gaming, “CPU-bound” usually indicates there is a drastic mismatch in GPU power and CPU power. This would be evident from, say, running a GeForce Titan in a system with a Pentium 4. Or say, running a Core i7-4960X with a GeForce 8800GT. These are extreme cases, but certainly, pairing a GeForce Titan or Radeon 290X with a low-end dual-core CPU will mean you would not see the most performance out of your GPU as you could with a more efficient quad-core or more CPU. That’s because the GPU depends on the CPU to send it tasks. So, in a CPU-bound scenario, the GPU is waiting around twiddling its thumbs most of the time, since the CPU can’t keep up with it.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.nehalem_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.nehalem_small.jpg" alt="One of the trickier upgrades is the original LGA1366 Core i7 chips. Do you upgrade the chip, overclock it, or just dump it?" width="620" height="605" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>One of the trickier upgrades is the original LGA1366 Core i7 chips. Do you upgrade the chip, overclock it, or just dump it?</strong></p> <h4>GPU-bound</h4> <p>The situation can be reversed, too. You can indeed get GPU-bound systems by running older or entry-level graphics with a hopped-up CPU. An example could be a Haswell Core i7-4770K overclocked to 4.5GHz paired with say, an entry-level GeForce GTX 750. You will certainly get the best frame rate out of the GPU possible, but you probably did not need the overclocked Haswell to do it. You could have kept that entry-level GPU well-fed with instructions using a cheaper Core i5-4670K or AMD FX part. Still, the rule of thumb with a gaming machine is to invest more in the GPU than the CPU. If we had to make up a ratio though, we’d say your CPU can cost half that of your GPU. A $500 GPU would be good with a $250 CPU and a $300 GPU would probably be OK with a $150–$170 CPU.</p> <h4>You can ignore the GPU sometimes</h4> <p>Keep in mind, this GPU/CPU relationship is in reference to gaming performance. When it comes to application performance, the careful balance between the two doesn’t need to be respected as much, or even at all. For a system that’s primarily made for encoding video, photo editing, or other CPU-intensive tasks, you’ll generally want as fast a CPU as possible on all fronts. That means a CPU with high clocks, efficient microarchitecture, and as many cores and threads possible will net you the most performance. In fact, in many cases, you can get away with integrated graphics and ignore discrete graphics completely. We don’t recommend that approach, though, since GPUs are increasingly becoming important for encoding and even photo editing, and you rarely need to spend into the stratosphere to get great performance. Oftentimes, in fact, older cards will work with applications such as Premiere Pro or Photoshop, while the latest may not, due to drivers and app support from Adobe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>Core 2 Quad box</h3> <p><strong>A small Form Factor, Light-Gaming Rig before SFF was popular</strong></p> <p>This small box has outlived its glory days, but with a modest injection of capital and a few targeted upgrades, we’ll whip it back into shape in no time. It won’t be able to handle 4K gaming, but it’ll be faster than greased lightning and more than capable of 1080p frag-fests.</p> <p>This particular PC could have very easily resided on the desktop of any Maximum PC staffer or reader back in the year 2009. We say that because this is, or was, actually a pretty Kick Ass machine in the day. It was actually a bit ahead of its time, thanks to its combination of benchmark-busting horsepower and small, space-saving dimensions. This mini-rig was probably used for light gaming and content creation, with its powerful CPU and mid-tier GPU. As far as our business here goes, its diminutive size creates some interesting upgrade challenges.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Specifications</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Original part</th> <th>Upgrade Part</th> <th>Upgrade Part Cost</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Case/PSU</td> <td class="item-dark">Silverstone SG03/500w</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">No Change</span></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CPU</td> <td>Intel Core 2 Quad QX6800</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">No change</span></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Motherboard</td> <td class="item-dark">Asus P5N7A- VM</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Cooling</td> <td>Stock</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>4GB DDR2/1600 in dual-channel mode</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">GPU</td> <td class="item-dark">GeForce 9800 GT</td> <td><strong>EVGA GTX 750 Ti<br /></strong></td> <td>$159</td> </tr> <tr> <td>HDD/SSD</td> <td>500GB 7,200rpm WD Caviar</td> <td>240GB OCZ Vertex 460</td> <td>$159</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ODD</td> <td>DVD burner</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>OS</td> <td>32-bit Windows Vista Ultimate</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Misc.</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>USB 3.0 add-in card</td> <td>$12</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Total upgrade cost</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>$330</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <p>It’s built around a Silverstone SG03 mini-tower, which is much shorter and more compact than the SFF boxes we use nowadays. For example, it can only hold about nine inches of GPU, and puts the PSU directly above the CPU region, mandating either a stock cooler or a low-profile job. So, either way, overclocking is very much out of the question. Water-cooling is also a non-starter, due to the lack of space for a radiator either behind the CPU area or on the floor of the chassis. In terms of specs, this system isn’t too shabby, as it’s rocking an LGA 775 motherboard with a top-shelf Core 2 Quad “Extreme” CPU and an upper-midrange GPU. We’d say it’s the almost exact equivalent of a $2,000 SFF gaming rig today. The CPU is a 65nm Kentsfield Core 2 Quad Extreme QX6800, which at the time of its launch was ludicrously expensive and the highest-clocked quad-core CPU available for the Core 2 platform at 2.93GHz. The CPU is plugged into an Asus P5N7A-VM motherboard, which is a microATX model that sports an nForce 730i chipset, supports up to 16GB of RAM, and has one PCIe x1 slot in addition to two PCI slots, and one x16 PCI Express slot. GPU duties are handled by the venerable GeForce 9800 GT, and it’s also packing 4GB of DDR2 memory, as well as a 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive. Its OS is Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.</p> <h4>Lets dig in</h4> <p>The first question that crossed our minds when considering this particular machine’s fate was, “Upgrade certain parts, or go whole-hog with a new motherboard/CPU/RAM?” Sure, this is Maximum PC, and it would be easy to just start over. But that’s not really an upgrade; that’s more like open-heart surgery. Besides, where’s the challenge in that? Anyone can put together a new system, so we decided to buckle down, cinch up our wallets, and go part-by-part.</p> <p>Starting with the motherboard, CPU, and RAM, we decided to leave those as they were. For Intel at the time, this CPU was as good as it gets, and the only way to upgrade using the same motherboard and chipset is to move to a Yorkfield quad-core CPU. That’s a risky upgrade, though, for two reasons. First, not all of those 45nm chips worked in Nvidia’s nForce chipset, and second, benchmarks show mostly single-digit percent performance increases over Kentsfield. So, you’d have to be crazy to attempt this upgrade. We also deemed its 4GB of DDR2 to be satisfactory, since we’re running a 32-bit OS and anything over 4GB can’t be seen by it. If we were running a 64-bit OS, we’d upgrade to 8GB as a baseline amount of memory, though. We’re not happy about the motherboard’s SATA 3Gb/s ports, and the lack of a x2 PCIe slot is a problem, but SATA 3Gb/s is fast enough to handle any late-model hard drive, or an SSD upgrade. Another problem area is its bounty of 12 USB 2.0 ports. We appreciate the high number of ports, but USB 2.0 just plain sucks, so we added a PCIe USB 3.0 adapter, which gave us four SuperSpeed ports on the back of the chassis.</p> <p>One area ripe for upgrade is the GPU, because a GeForce 9800 GT is simply weak sauce these days. It was actually a rebadge of the 8800 GT when it arrived in 2009. This GPU was actually considered to be the low-end of the GeForce family when it arrived, as there were two models above it in the product stack—the 9800 GTX and the dual-GPU 9800 GX2. This single-slot GPU was only moderately powered at the time and features 112 shader processors clocked at 1,500MHz, and 512MB of GDDR3 clocked at 1.5GHz on a 256-bit memory bus. Since this system has limited space and only a single six-pin PCIe connector, we decided to upgrade the GPU to the Sapphire Radeon R7 265, which is our choice for the best $150 GPU. Unfortunately, the AMD card did not get along at all with our Nvidia chipset, so we ditched it in favor of the highly clocked and whisper-quiet EVGA GTX 750 Ti, which costs $159. This will not only deliver DX11 gaming at the highest settings at 1080p, but will also significantly lower the sound profile of the system, since this card is as quiet as a mouse breaking wind.</p> <p>Another must-upgrade part was the 500GB WD hard drive. As we wrote elsewhere, an SSD is a must-have in any modern PC, and we always figured it could make an aging system feel like new again, so this was our chance to try it in the real world. Though we wanted to upgrade to a 120GB Samsung 840 EVO, we couldn’t get our hands on one, so we settled for a larger and admittedly extravagant OCZ Vertex 460 240GB for $160. We decided to leave the OS as-is. Despite all the smack talk it received, Windows Vista SP2 was just fine.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_3_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_3_small.jpg" width="620" height="404" /></a></p> <h4>Real-World Results</h4> <p>Since we upgraded the GPU and storage subsystem, we’ll start with those results first. With the SSD humming along, our boot time was sliced from 1:27 to 1:00 flat, which is still a bit sluggish but doesn’t tell the whole story. Windows Vista felt instantly “snappy,” thanks to the SSD’s lightning-fast seek times. Everything felt fast and responsive, so though we didn’t get a sub-20-second boot time like we thought we would, we still gained a very noticeable increase in day-to-day use of the machine. For the record, we blame the slow boot time on the motherboard or something with this install of Vista, but this is still an upgrade we’d recommend to anyone in a similar situation. Interestingly, we also saw a boost in one of our encoding benchmarks, which could be due to the disk I/O, as well. For example, Sticth.Efx 2.0 dropped from 41 minutes to 36 minutes, which is phenomenal. Stitch.Efx creates in excess of 20,000 files, which will put a drag on a 500GB hard drive.</p> <p>Our gaming performance exploded, though, going from 11fps in Heaven 4.0 to 42fps. In Batman: Arkham Origins, we went from a non-playable 22 fps to a smooth 56fps, so anyone who thinks you need a modern CPU for good gaming performance is mistaken (at least for some games); the GPU does most of the heavy lifting in gaming. We also got a major reduction in case temps and noise by going from the hot-and-loud 9800 GT to the silent-and-cool GTX 750 Ti. The old card ran at 83 C under load, while the new one only hit 53 C, and made no noise whatsoever.</p> <h4>No regrets</h4> <p>Since we couldn’t do much with the motherboard/CPU/RAM on this board without starting fresh, we upgraded what we could and achieved Kick Ass real-world results from it, so this operation upgrade was very successful. Not only does it boot faster and feel ultra-responsive, it’s also ready for at least another year of gaming, thanks to its new GPU. Plus, with USB 3.0 added for storage duties, we can attach our external drives and USB keys and expect modern performance. All-in-all, this rig has been given a new lease on life for just a couple hundies—not bad for a five-year-old machine.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong></div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Pre-upgrade</th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Cinebench R15 64-bit</td> <td class="item-dark">WNR</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">WNR</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td>3,060</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">3,334 <strong>(-8%)</strong></span></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Stitch.Efx (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">2,481</td> <td>2,166</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Bootracer (sec)</td> <td>90</td> <td>60</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batman: Arkham Origins (fps)</td> <td>22</td> <td>56 <strong>(+155%)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Heaven 4.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark">11</td> <td>42<strong> (+282%)</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <hr /></div> <h3>Skeleton Rises</h3> <p><strong>Flying the AMD flag</strong></p> <p>Our second rig flies the AMD “Don’t Underclock Me” flag. You know the type. No matter how wide a gap Intel opens up with its latest CPU techno-wonder, this AMD CPU fanboy won’t switch until you pry that AM3 CPU from his cold, dead motherboard. In fact, the bigger the performance gap with Intel, the deeper this fanboy will dig in his heels.</p> <p>The box itself is built around the eye-catching and now discontinued Antec Skeleton open-air chassis. It draws a lot of whistles from case aficionados when they walk by, but truth be told, it’s really not great to work in and not exactly friendly to upgrading. The base machine parts are pretty respectable, though. The mainboard is an Asus Crosshair IV (CHIV) Formula using the AMD 890FX chipset, with a quad-core 3.2GHz Phenom II X4 955 and GeForce GTX 570 graphics. For the record, this machine was not built by us, nor do we know who built it, but the original builder made the typical error of inserting the pair of 2GB DDR3/1066 DIMMs into the same channel memory slots, causing the sticks to run in single-channel mode instead of dual-channel. As any salty builder knows, there’s a reason the phrase “RTFM” exists. For storage, the machine packs a single 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive and a DVD burner. Power is handled by an AntecTruePower 750, which is plenty for a rig like this. Cooling is a stock AMD affair with dual heat pipes.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Specifications</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Original part</th> <th>Upgrade Part</th> <th>Upgrade Part Cost</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Case/PSU</td> <td class="item-dark">Antec Skeleton / TruePower 750</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">No Change</span></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CPU</td> <td>3.2GHz Phenom II X4 955</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">4GHz FX-8350 Black Edition</span></td> <td>$199</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Motherboard</td> <td class="item-dark">Asus Crosshair IV Formula</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Cooling</td> <td>Stock</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>4GB DDR3/1066 in single-channel mode</td> <td>8GB DDR3/1600 in dual-channel mode</td> <td>$40</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">GPU</td> <td class="item-dark">EVGA GeForce GTX 570 HD</td> <td>Asus GTX760-DC2OC-2GD5<strong><br /></strong></td> <td>$259</td> </tr> <tr> <td>HDD/SSD</td> <td>1TB 7,200 Hitachi</td> <td>256GB Sandisk Ultra</td> <td>$159</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ODD</td> <td>DVD burner</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>OS</td> <td>32-bit Windows Vista Ultimate</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Total upgrade cost</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>$657</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <h4>The easy upgrade path</h4> <p>All in all, it’s not a bad PC, but the most obvious upgrade was storage. It’s been a long time since we used a machine with a hard drive as the primary boot device, and having to experience it once again was simply torture. We’re not saying we don’t love hard drives—it’s great to have 5TB of space so you never have to think about whether you have room to save that ISO or not—just not as the primary boot device. Our first choice for an upgrade was a 256GB Sandisk Ultra Plus SSD for $159. We thought about skimping for the 128GB version, but then figured it’s worth the extra $60 to double the capacity—living on 128GB is difficult in this day and age. The SSD could easily be moved to a new machine, too, as it’s not tied to the platform.</p> <p>The OS is 64-bit Windows 7 Pro, so there’s no need to “upgrade” to Windows 8.1. No, we’d rather put that $119 into the two other areas that need to be touched up. The GPU, again, is the GeForce GTX 570. Not a bad card in its day, but since the Skeleton’s current owner does fair bit of gaming, we decided it was worth it to invest in a GPU upgrade. We considered various options, from the GeForce GTX 770 to a midrange Radeon R9 card, but felt a GeForce GTX 760 was the right fit, considering the system’s specs. It simply felt exorbitant to put a $500 GPU into this rig. Even the GTX 770 at $340 didn’t feel right, but the Asus GTX760-DC2OC-2GD5 gives us all the latest Nvidia technologies, such as ShadowPlay. The card is also dead silent under heavy loads.</p> <p>Our next choice was riskier. We definitely wanted more performance out of the 3.2GHz Phenom II X4 955 using the old “Deneb” cores. The options included adding more cores by going to a 3.3GHz Phenom II X6 1100T Thuban, but all we’d get is two more cores and a marginal increase in clock speed. Since the Thuban and Deneb are so closely related, there would be very little to be gained in microarchitecture upgrades. X6 parts can’t be found new, and they fetch $250 or more on eBay. As any old upgrading salt knows, you need to check the motherboard’s list of supported chips before you plug in. The board has an AM3 socket, but just because it fits doesn’t mean it works, right? Asus’ website indicates it supports the 3.6GHz FX-8150 “Zambezi” using the newer Bulldozer core, but the Bulldozer didn’t exactly blow us away when launched and they’re also out of circulation. (Interestingly, the FX-8150 sells for less than the Phenom II X6 chips.) Upgrading the motherboard was simply out of the question, too. Our last option was the most controversial. As we said, you should always check the motherboard maker first to find out what chips are supported.</p> <p>After that, you should then check to see if some other adventurous user has tried to do it anyway: “Damn the CPU qual list, full upgrade ahead!” To our surprise, yes, several anonymous Internet forums have indeed dropped the 4GHz FX-8350 “Vishera” into their CHIV boards with no reported of issues. That FX-8350 is also only $199—cheaper than a used X6 part. We considered overclocking the part, but the Skeleton’s confines make it pretty difficult. It’s so tight that we had issues putting the GeForce GTX 760 in it, so using anything larger than the stock cooler didn’t make sense to us. We’re sure you can find a cooler that fit, but nothing that small would let us overclock by any good measure, so it didn’t seem prudent.</p> <h4 style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_2_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_2_small.jpg" width="620" height="401" /></a></h4> <h4>Was it worth it?</h4> <p>Let’s just say this again if it’s not clear to you: If you are running a hard drive as your boot device, put this magazine down and run to the nearest store to buy an SSD. Yes, hard drives are that slow compared to SSDs. In fact, if we had money for only one upgrade, it would be the SSD, which will make an old, slow machine feel young again. This machine, for example, would boot to the desktop in about 38 seconds. With the SSD, that was cut down to 15 seconds and general usability was increased by maybe 10 million percent.</p> <p>Our CPU upgrade paid off well, too. AMD’s Vishera FX-8350 offers higher clock speeds and significant improvements in video encoding and transcoding. We saw an 83 percent improvement in encoding performance. The eight cores offer a huge advantage in thread-heavy 3D modelling, as well. We didn’t get the greatest improvement with Stitch.Efx 2.0, but the app is very single-threaded initially. Still, we saw a 30 percent increase, which is nothing to sneeze at.</p> <p>In gaming, we were actually a bit disappointed with our results, but perhaps we expected too much. We tested using Batman: Arkham Origins at 1080P with every setting maxed out and saw about a 40 percent boost in frame rates. Running Heaven 4.0 at 1080P on max we also saw about a 42 percent increase in frame rate. Again, good. But for some reason, we expected more.</p> <h4>Regrets, I’ve had a few</h4> <p>PC upgrades can turn into a remorsefest or an inability to face the fact that you made the wrong choice. With our upgrades, we were generally pleased. While some might question the CPU upgrade (why not just overclock that X4?), we can tell you that no overclock would get you close to the FX-8350 upgrade in overall performance. The SSD upgrade can’t be questioned. Period. End of story. The difference in responsiveness with the SSD over the 1TB HDD is that drastic.</p> <p>When it comes to the GPU upgrade, though, we kind of wonder if we didn’t go far enough. Sure, a 40 percent performance difference is the difference between playable and non-playable frame rates, but we really wanted to hit the solid 50 percent to 60 percent mark. That may simply be asking too much of a two-generation GPU change, not going all the way to the GeForce GTX 570’s spiritual replacement: the GeForce GTX 770. That would actually put us closer to our rule of thumb on a gaming rig of spending about half on your CPU as your GPU, but the machine’s primary purpose isn’t just gaming, it’s also content creation.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong></div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Pre-upgrade</th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Cinebench R15</td> <td class="item-dark">326</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">641</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td>3,276</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">1,794</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Stitch.Efx (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">1,950</td> <td>1,500</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Bootracer (sec)</td> <td>37.9</td> <td>15 <strong>(+153%)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batman: Arkham Origins (fps)</td> <td>58</td> <td>81</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Heaven 4.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark">29.5</td> <td>41.9<strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <div class="spec-table orange"> <hr /></div> <h3>One Dusty Nehalem</h3> <p><strong>The original Core i7 still has some juice</strong></p> <p>It’s easy to make upgrade choices on an old dog with AGP graphics and Pentium 4, or even a Core 2 Duo on an obsolete VIA P4M890 motherboard (yes, it exists, look it up.) When you get to hardware that’s still reasonably fast and relatively “powerful,” the upgrade choices you have to make can get quite torturous.</p> <p>That’s certainly the case with this PC, which has an interesting assortment of old but not obsolete parts inside the Cooler Master HAF 922 case. We’ve always been fans of the HAF series, and despite being just plain-old steel, the case has some striking lines. It does, however, suffer from a serious case of dust suckage. Between the giant fan in front and various other fans, this system was chock-full of the stuff.</p> <p>The CPU is the first-generation Core i7-965 with a base clock of 3.2GHz and a Turbo Boost of 3.46GHz. That may seem like a pretty mild Turbo, but that’s the way it was way back in 2008, when this chip was first released. It’s plugged into an Asus Rampage II Extreme motherboard using the X58 chipset, and running 6GB of DDR3/1600 in triple-channel mode.</p> <p>In graphics, it’s also packing some heat with the three-year-old GeForce GTX 590 card. For those who don’t remember it, the card has two GPU cores that basically equal a pair of GeForce GTX 570 cards in SLI. There was a secondary 1TB drive in the machine, but in the state we got it, it was still using it’s primary boot device—a 300GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000rpm hard drive that was 95 percent stuffed with data. Oh, and the OS is also quite vintage, with 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Specifications</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Original part</th> <th>Upgrade Part</th> <th>Upgrade Part Cost</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Case/PSU</td> <td class="item-dark">Cooler Master HAF 922 / PC Power and Cooling 910</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">No Change</span></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CPU</td> <td>3.2GHz Core i7-965 Extreme Edition</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">No change</span></td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Motherboard</td> <td class="item-dark">Asus Rampage II Extreme</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Cooling</td> <td>Stock</td> <td>Corsair Hydro Cooler H75</td> <td>$69</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>6GB DDR3/1600 in dual-channel mode</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">GPU</td> <td class="item-dark">GeForce GTX 590</td> <td>No Change</td> <td></td> </tr> <tr> <td>HDD/SSD</td> <td>300GB 10,000rpm WD Raptor, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi </td> <td>256GB Sandisk Ultra</td> <td>$159</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ODD</td> <td>Lite-On Blu-Ray burner</td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>OS</td> <td>64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate </td> <td>No Change</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Total upgrade cost</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>$277</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <h4>Always Be Upgrading The SSD</h4> <p>Our first upgrade decision was easy—SSD. In its day, the 300GB Raptor was the drive to have for its performance, but with the drive running at 90 percent of its capacity, this sucker was beyond slow. Boot time on the well lived-in Vista install was just over two minutes. Yes, a two-minute boot time. By moving to an SSD and demoting the Raptor to secondary storage, the machine would see an immediate benefit in responsiveness. For most people who don’t actually stress the CPU or GPU, an SSD upgrade is actually a better upgrade than buying a completely new machine. And yes, we fully realize the X58 doesn’t have support for SATA 6Gb/s, but the access time of the SSD and pretty much constant read and writes at full bus speed will still make a huge difference in responsiveness.</p> <p>The real conundrum was the CPU. As we said, this is the original Core i7, a quad-core chip with Hyper-Threading and support for triple-channel RAM. The CPU’s base clock is 3.2GHz. It is an unlocked part, but the chip is sporting a stock 130W TDP Intel cooler. Believe it or not, this is actually how some people build their rigs—they buy the overclocked part but don’t overclock until later on, when they need more performance. Well, we’re at that point now, but we knew we weren’t going very far with a stock Intel cooler, so we decided that this was the time to introduce a closed-loop liquid cooler in the form of a Corsair H75. Our intention was to simply overclock and call it a day, but when we saw some of the performance coming out of the AMD Skeleton, we got a little jealous. In two of our tests for this upgrade story, the AMD FX-8350 was eating the once-mighty Nehalem’s lunch. Would overclocking be enough? That got us wondering if maybe we should take the LGA1366 to its next-logical conclusion: the Core i7-970. The Core i7-970 boasted six cores with Hyper-Threading for a total of 12 threads. It has the same base clock of 3.2GHz and same Turbo Boost of 3.46GH, but it uses the newer and faster 32nm “Westmere” cores. Long since discontinued, it’s easy to find the chips used for about $300, which is about half its original price. This is that conundrum we spoke of—while the Westmere would indeed be faster, especially on thread-heavy tasks such as video encoding and 3D modeling, do we really want to spend $300 on a used CPU? That much money would almost get us a Core i7-4770K, which would offer far more performance in more apps. Of course, we’d have to buy a new board for that, too. In the end, we got cold feet and decided to stick with just an overclock.</p> <h4>Windows Vista Works</h4> <p>Even our OS choice had us tied up. There’s a reason Windows Vista was a hated OS when it was released. It was buggy, slow, and drivers for it stunk. For the most part, though, Windows Vista turned into a usable OS once Service Pack 1 was released, and Service Pack 2 made it even better. While we’d never buy Vista over Windows 7 today, it’s actually functional, and the performance difference isn’t as big as many believe it to be, when it’s on a faster system. The only real shortcoming of Windows Vista is the lack of trim support for the SSD. That means the build would have to have the SSD manually optimized using the drive’s utility, or we’d have to count on its garbage collection routines. For now, we’d rather put the $119 in the bank toward the next system build with, perhaps, Windows 9.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image1_small.jpg" width="620" height="403" /></a></p> <p>Even more difficult was our choice on the GPU. The GeForce GTX 590 was a top-of-the-line card and sold for $700 in 2011. Obviously, this card was put into the system after the box was initially built, so it has had one previous upgrade. In looking at our upgrade options, our first thought was to go for something crazy—such as a second GTX 590 card. They can be found used for about $300. That would give the machine Quad SLI performance at far less the cost of a newer top-tier GPU. That fantasy went up in smoke when we realized the PC Power and Cooling Silencer 910 had but two 8-pin GPU power connectors and we’d need a total of four to run Quad SLI. Buying another expensive PSU just to run Quad SLI just didn’t make sense in the grand scheme of things, since the PSU is perfectly functional and even still under warranty. Once the second GTX 590 was ruled out, we considered a GeForce GTX 780 Ti as an option. While the 780 Ti is a beast, we came to the realization that the GTX 590 honestly still has plenty of legs left, especially for gaming at 1080p. The 780 Ti is indeed faster by 20 to 50 percent, but we decided not to go that route, as the machine still produces very passable frame rates.&nbsp; In the end, we spent far less upgrading this machine than the other two. But perhaps that makes sense, as its components are much newer and faster than the other two boxes.</p> <h4>Post-upgrade performance</h4> <p>With our only upgrades on this box being an overclock and an SSD, we didn’t expect too much—but we were pleasantly surprised. Our mild overclock took the part to 4GHz full-time. That’s 800MHz over the base clock speed. In Cinebench R15, the clock speed increase mapped pretty closely to the performance difference. In both ProShow Producer and Stitch.Efx, though, we actually saw greater performance than the simple overclock can explain. We actually attribute the better performance to the SSD. While encoding tasks are typically CPU-bound, disk I/O can make a difference. Stitch.Efx also spits out something on the order 20,000 files while it creates the gigapixel image. The SSD, of course, made a huge difference in boot times and system responsiveness, even if it wasn’t on a SATA 6Gb/s port.</p> <h4>Regrets</h4> <p>Overall, we were happy with our upgrade choices, with the only gnawing concern being not upgrading the GPU. It just ate us up knowing we could have seen even better frame rates by going to the GTX 780 Ti. But then, we also have $750 in our pocket that can go toward the next big thing.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light">Pre-upgrade</th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Cinebench R15 64-bit</td> <td class="item-dark">515</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">617</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td>2,119</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">1,641<strong>&nbsp;</strong></span></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Stitch.Efx (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">1,446</td> <td>983</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Bootracer (sec)</td> <td>126</td> <td>18&nbsp; <strong>(+600%)</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batman: Arkham Origins (fps)</td> <td>86</td> <td>87</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Heaven 4.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark">68.2</td> <td>68.7</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <h3> <hr /></h3> <h3>How to upgrade from Windows XP</h3> <p><strong>It’s game over, man!</strong></p> <p>Stick a fork in it. It’s done. Finito. Windows XP is a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace… on a considerable number of desktops worldwide, much to Microsoft’s chagrin.</p> <p>You’ve read Microsoft’s early-2012 announcement. You’ve seen all the news since then: the warnings, the pleas, the tomes of comments from frustrated users who wish they could just have a fully supported Windows XP until the launch of Windows 20. If you were a holdout, you even got a few pop-ups directly in your operating system from Microsoft itself, imploring you to switch on up to a more powerful (re: supported) version of Windows. So says Microsoft:</p> <p>“If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer should still work, but it will become five times more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. And as more software and hardware manufacturers continue to optimize for more recent versions of Windows, a greater number of programs and devices like cameras and printers won’t work with Windows XP.”</p> <p>There you have it: Keep on keepin’ on with Windows XP and you’ll slowly enter the wild, wild west of computing. We can’t say that your computer is going to be immediately infected once you reach a set time period past what’s been chiseled on the operating system’s tombstone. However, the odds of you suffering an attack that Microsoft has no actual fix for certainly increase. You wouldn’t run a modern operating system without the latest security patches; why Windows XP?</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_4_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_4_small.jpg" width="620" height="397" /></a></p> <p>So, what’s a person to do? Upgrade, obviously. We do warn in advance that if your current Windows XP machine is chock-full of legacy apps (or you’re using more antiquated hardware like, dare we say it, a printer attached to a parallel port), then you might find that upgrading to a newer version of the OS ruins the experience you previously had. For that, we can only suggest taking advantage of the ability of newer versions of Windows to support virtualized Windows XP environments—Windows 7 supports the Virtual PC–based “Windows XP Mode” natively, whereas those on Windows 8 can benefit from freeware like Virtualbox to run a free, Microsoft-hosted download of a virtualized Windows XP.</p> <p>As for what you should upgrade to, and how, we’re recommending that you go with Windows 8—unless you can find Windows 7 for extremely cheap. Microsoft has greatly improved resource use in its flagship OS, in addition to streamlining startup times, adding more personalization, and beefing up security. Windows 8 has far more time before its end-of-life than Windows 7, even though, yes, you’ll have to deal with the Modern UI a bit when you make your upgrade.</p> <h3>Step-by-Step Upgrade Guide</h3> <p><strong>Anyone can upgrade, but there is a right way and wrong way</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_3_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_3_small.jpg" alt="The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is a bit more useful than the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant in terms of actionable items that you’ll want to know about. Doesn’t hurt to run both!" width="620" height="457" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is a bit more useful than the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant in terms of actionable items that you’ll want to know about. Doesn’t hurt to run both!<br /></strong></p> <p>Will your legacy system even run a modern version of Windows? That’s the first thing you’re going to want to check before you start walking down the XP-to-8 upgrade path. Microsoft has released two different tools to help you out—only one of them works for Windows XP, however. Hit up Microsoft’s site and do a search for “Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant.” Download that, install it on your Windows XP machine, and run the application.</p> <p>After a (hopefully) quick scan of your system, the program will report back the number of apps and devices you’re using that are compatible with Windows 8. In a perfect world, that would be all of them. However, the tool will also report back fatal flaws that might prevent you from running Windows 8 on your Windows XP machine to begin with—like, for example, if your older motherboard and CPU don’t support the Windows 8–required Data Execution Prevention.</p> <p>Since Windows 8 is quite a bit removed, generation-wise, from Windows XP, there’s no means by which you can simply run an in-place upgrade that preserves your settings and installed applications. Personal files, yes, but now’s as good a time as any to get your data organized prior to the big jump—no need to have Windows 8 muck things up for you, as it will just create a “windows.old” folder that’s a dump of the “Documents and Settings” folders on your XP system.</p> <p>If you have a spare hard drive lying around, you could always clone your current disk using a freeware app like Clonezilla, install Windows 8 on your old drive, and sort through everything later. If not, then you’re going to want to grab some kind of portable storage—or, barring that, sign up for a cloud-based storage service—and begin the semi-arduous task of poring over your hard drive for all of your important information.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_7_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_7_small.jpg" alt="The Windows Easy Transfer app, downloadable from Microsoft, helps automate the otherwise manual process of copying your files from your XP machine to portable storage." width="620" height="491" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Windows Easy Transfer app, downloadable from Microsoft, helps automate the otherwise manual process of copying your files from your XP machine to portable storage.</strong></p> <p>There really isn’t a great tool that can help you out in this regard, except perhaps WinDirStat—and that’s only assuming that you’ve stored chunks of your important data in key areas around your hard drive. If worse comes to worse, you could always back up the entire contents of your “Documents and Settings” folder, just to be safe. It’s unlikely that you’ll have much critical data in Program Files or Windows but, again, it all depends on what you’ve been doing on your PC. Gamers eager to make sure that their precious save files have been preserved can check out the freeware GameSave Manager to back up their progress.</p> <p>As for your apps, you’re going to have to reinstall those. You can, however, simplify this process by using a tool like Ninite to quickly and easily install common apps. CCleaner, when installed on your old XP system, can generate a list of all the apps that you’ve previously installed within the operating system—handy for making a checklist for things you’ll want to reinstall later, we suppose. And finally, an app like Magical Jelly Bean’s Product Key Finder can help you recover old installation keys for apps that you might want to reinstall within Windows 8.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_8_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_pcupgrade.xp_8_small.jpg" width="620" height="452" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Need to know what you’ll need to reinstall in Windows 8? Use CCleaner to make a simple text file of every app you installed on Windows XP, and check off as you go! </strong></p> <p>As for installing Windows 8, we recommend that you purchase and download the ISO version of the operating system and then use Microsoft’s handy Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to dump the contents of that ISO onto a portable flash drive. Your installation process will go much faster, trust us. From there, installing the OS is as easy as inserting your USB storage, resetting your computer, and booting from the flash drive—which might be accessible via some “boot manager” option during your system’s POST, or might be a boot order–related setting that you have to set up within the BIOS itself.</p> <p>Other than that, the installation process is fairly straightforward once Windows 8 gets going. You’ll enter your product key, select a Custom installation, delete or format your drive partitions, install Windows 8 on the new chunk of blank, empty storage, and sit back and relax while the fairly simple installation process chugs away.</p> <p>You might not have the speediest of operating systems once Windows 8 loads, depending on just how long your Windows XP machine has been sitting around, but at least you’ll be a bit more secure! And, hey, now that you have a license key, you can always upgrade your ancient system (or build a new one!) and reinstall.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/computer_upgrade_2014#comments computer upgrade Hardware Hardware how to June issue 2014 maximum pc Memory News Features Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:11:21 +0000 Maximum PC staff 28535 at http://www.maximumpc.com Asus ROG G750 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/asus_rog_g750_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Real desktop gaming... from a notebook</h3> <p>Looking at the outside of the 2014 model of Asus’ 17-inch ROG G750 gaming notebook, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything new. But, like mama used to say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.</p> <p>The real heart of the G750 is the GTX 880M, and it’s a beast. It has 4GB of GDDR5, a GPU running at 954MHz, and the memory clocks in at 1,250MHz. According to our graphics benchmarks, it will run anywhere from 50 percent to 120 percent as fast as our Alienware 14 zero-point’s GTX 765M. While you most likely won’t be able to run the most graphically demanding games maxed-out with the card (that’s what SLI and desktop GPUs are for), we were able to play Metro: Last Light on “very high” settings with frame rates around 40 FPS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_asusg750.1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_asusg750.1_small.jpg" alt="The ROG G750 is eerily quiet under load. " title="Asus ROG G750" width="620" height="515" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The ROG G750 is eerily quiet under load. </strong></p> <p>Even though the new GPU is really the star here, the other components are anything but shabby. The laptop’s armed with Intel’s high-end Core i7-4700HQ mobile CPU clocked at 2.4GHz, two 256GB SSDs in RAID 0, and 32 friggin’ gigabytes of RAM.&nbsp; That much RAM is really overkill for gaming, so its inclusion is puzzling.</p> <p>In our CPU tests, it performed nearly identically to our AW14, which has a very similarly clocked i7-4700MQ CPU, only slipping by 4 percent in our single/multi-threaded Stitch test. We did a quick-and-dirty storage test using CrystalDiskMark, with the G750 coming in 46 percent faster in reads and 54 percent in writes.</p> <p>The laptop is also armed with a big 8-cell lithium-ion battery. In our video run-down test, it lasted an impressive 283 minutes, trumping our Alienware’s already long-lasting offering by 20 percent. In conjunction with its big battery is “Nvidia Battery Boost,” which is an exclusive feature to 800M-series GPUs. The idea behind the new GeForce Experience technology is that it puts a hard limit on frame rate to optimize for battery life. Nvidia is claiming up to 2x battery life when gaming with this feature. To test it out, we continuously looped our Metro: Last Light benchmark until the G750 keeled over. We realize that this stress test will have the GPU sweating bullets at all times, but it should at the very least represent a worst-case gaming scenario. With Battery Boost disabled, our laptop lasted 1 hour and 12 minutes. With it enabled, it lasted a whopping 4 minutes longer. That’s not exactly a great showcase for Nvidia’s new technology, but Asus tells us that the laptop was already designed to throttle the GPU to optimize for battery life, similarly to how Nvidia Battery Boost handles it. So for now, the jury is still out on Battery Boost.</p> <p>In terms of appearances, the chassis reminded us a lot of the tumbler Batmobile from the Dark Knight movies, with its matte-black finish and sharp triangular edges. It’s also quite tankish in size and weight, measuring 16.3x12.7x2.2 inches and weighing 11 pounds, 8.4oz. One happy feature of the unit is that its dual-exhaust design emits heat out of the back of the chassis, as opposed to venting through the sides and cooking your wrists as with most laptops. But more impressive is that the laptop never got loud, even under our heavy-duty benchmarks. It was frighteningly quiet. This is partly due to the large chassis and partly because the CPU and GPU each have independent dedicated cooling. Our one complaint about the chassis is that it’s not very serviceable, as Asus has opted to block off the screw holes with rubber standoffs.</p> <p>As great as the G570’s internal specs are, the laptop unfortunately sports a TN panel. Thankfully, it’s one of the best TN panels we’ve seen and offers respectable viewing angles. On the audio front, the notebook’s 2.1 speakers are loud and crisp. The laptop’s keyboard gets the job done and features subtle white LED backlighting. Its large 5-inch trackpad is also competent, has two dedicated buttons, and supports multitouch gestures like two-finger scrolling. We were disappointed that there’s no option to reverse the trackpad’s scrolling direction, as some of us prefer to invert the controls.</p> <p>These relatively minor caveats aside, Asus has constructed a mighty fine laptop: It’s incredibly powerful, has relatively good battery life, and is equipped with awesome components all around.&nbsp; It isn’t perfect, however, as we personally think Asus went overboard with 32GB of RAM and would have rather seen that investment spent on an IPS panel. If you don’t mind downgrading from two 256GB SSDs to two 128GB SSDs and opting for a DVD drive instead of a Blu-ray player, we actually recommend going with the 24GB RAM model to save $500. That configuration is especially Kick Ass.</p> <p><strong>$3,000, </strong><a href="http://www.asus.com/pk/">www.asus.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/asus_rog_g750_review#comments 880m asus rog g750 Business Notebooks gaming laptop Hardware Hardware June issues 2014 laptops Reviews Notebooks Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:57:38 +0000 Jimmy Thang 28599 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best Keyboard http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/best_keyboard_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>UPDATE: We've added six more keyboards to our best keyboard roundup</h3> <p>If you’re a gamer, you can probably identify a few points in time when you realized something important about your control setup that made you better at the game. When you discovered that putting your left hand on WASD gives you more options than putting it on the arrow keys, for instance, or when you realized that your crappy optical mouse was actually holding you back in shooters. These kinds of peripheral epiphanies don’t happen every day, but it might be just about time for you to have a new one. It might be time for you to realize that your keyboard is holding you back.</p> <h3 style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u152332/keyboard_opener13195_small_1.jpg" alt="best keyboard" title="best keyboard" width="620" height="480" /></h3> <p>We’re giving you some credit here—we’re not talking about making the upgrade from a $6 keyboard you got at the grocery store. No, we’re talking about making the upgrade from a gaming keyboard to an amazing gaming keyboard. Going from entry level or midrange to top-of-the-line.</p> <p>We looked around and picked out some of the <strong>best keyboards</strong> we could find. To compare them, we put them through our usual battery of real-world testing, including gaming and typing, and compared their features and overall feel. Because these keyboards come attached to some pretty heavy price tags, we made sure to give them extra scrutiny. We know that minor inconveniences that might fly on a cheap keyboard become a lot more galling when you’ve paid $150 for the privilege of suffering them, and our verdicts reflect this.</p> <p>Ready to make the upgrade to serious typing hardware? Then let’s go!</p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">CMStorm Mech</h4> <p><strong>CMStorm looks to get a handle on the high-end mechanical keyboard market<br /></strong></p> <p>The CMStorm Mech is, first of all, a great-looking keyboard. Most of the top of the keyboard is wrapped in a subtly etched aluminum plate, and the board’s geometric, asymmetrical silhouette is more imaginative than most. The aluminum plate can be removed for easy cleaning, which is a nice feature, but the seven hex screws that make removal possible mar the Mech’s otherwise-excellent aesthetics.</p> <p>Despite the Mech’s metal-clad looks, it’s not the sturdiest keyboard in this roundup. The back side of the board, and particularly the wrist rest, are made of hollow plastic that sometimes flexes and creaks under pressure. It also features a large handle on one side, and a detachable USB cable. These would be handy features for someone who takes their keyboard on the road frequently, but it’s not otherwise an especially portable keyboard. It would be nice if the handle were removable or retractable, because it adds an extra two or three inches to the Mech’s already substantial width.</p> <p>The software support is simple and easy to use. It allows you to customize the five dedicated macro keys, or to rebind any other key on the board, and includes a flexible macro editor.</p> <p>Actual typing and gaming performance is top-notch and virtually identical to the other mechanical gaming keyboards on the market. Fans of any variety of Cherry MX switch will be able to find a Mech that’s right for them—CMStorm offers the keyboard with Red, Blue, or Brown switches.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13204_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13204_small.jpg" alt="The Mech is a big mechanical keyboard, but isn't quite as sturdy as it looks." title="CMStorm Mech" width="620" height="425" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Mech is a big mechanical keyboard, but isn't quite as sturdy as it looks.</strong></p> <p>In all, the Mech is a solid gaming keyboard, but doesn’t quite live up to its top-of-the-line $160 price tag.</p> <p><strong>CMStorm Mech</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$160,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cmstorm.com/ " target="_blank">www.cmstorm.com</a></strong></p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">Mad Catz STRIKE 3</h4> <p><strong>Is a less-extravagant Strike a better deal?</strong></p> <p>The Strike 3 is the least expensive in Mad Catz’s line of high-end gaming keyboards, but it’s by no means a piece of budget hardware. If the $100 price tag doesn’t convince you of that, seeing the Strike 3 in person will.</p> <p>It’s designed to look like the higher-end Strike boards, which can be split into two parts and rearranged, but this one doesn’t actually come apart. Build quality is good overall, with a removable wrist-rest and a pair of USB passthroughs. The board comes in glossy black, red, and white, and features customizable backlighting.</p> <p>The Strike 3 isn’t mechanical, which weakens the credibility of this $100 keyboard, but Mad Catz hasn’t ignored key quality altogether. The dome switches on the Strike 3 are some of the best we’ve felt, with a crisp actuation that feels almost, but not quite, as good as a mechanical model. They definitely feel better than any of the other non-mechanical boards we tested for this roundup.</p> <p>The Strike 3 features five dedicated macro keys on the right side of the board, and seven macro buttons at the top-left. The left-side buttons, unfortunately, are pretty abysmal. They’re tiny, far away from the home row, and strangely wiggly in their sockets—we found it virtually impossible to hit a particular one without looking.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13217_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13217_small.jpg" alt="The seam down the middle of the Strike 3 is just for show—this keyboard's only one piece." title="Mad Catz STRIKE 3" width="620" height="461" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The seam down the middle of the Strike 3 is just for show—this keyboard's only one piece.</strong></p> <p>The Strike 3 is a good keyboard, but we would generally recommend a mechanical board if you’re looking to spend this much. If you personally prefer non-mechanical switches, however, this would be an excellent choice.</p> <p><strong>Mad Catz Strike 3</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100, <a title="mad catz" href="http://www.madcatz.com" target="_blank">www.madcatz.com</a></strong></p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">Click the next page for more keyboard reviews.</h4> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;"> <hr />SteelSeries Apex</h4> <p><strong>All the keys you could want, and then some</strong></p> <p>Sometimes, more is more. That seems to be the guiding principle behind the SteelSeries Apex keyboard, which comes with about as many keys as we’ve ever seen on a gaming keyboard. In addition to the standard full QWERTY layout with number pad, the Apex includes 10 macro keys and four layer keys down the left side, 12 more macro keys above the function row, and six dedicated media buttons along the right side. Even the arrow pad gets two extra diagonal keys. SteelSeries doesn’t advertise the Apex as an MMO keyboard specifically, but it’s hard to imagine what other application could make use of this abundance.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13209_small_2.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13209_small_1.jpg" alt="You can prop the Apex up in the back by replacing two of it's rubber feet." title="SteelSeries Apex" width="620" height="448" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can prop the Apex up in the back by replacing two of it's rubber feet.</strong></p> <p>Despite its absurd inventory of keys, the Apex doesn’t feel cluttered at all, and in fact looks quite nice. With its built-in wrist rest the board is pretty enormous, but the low-profile keys and customizable sectioned backlighting keep it looking sleek. The build quality is good, though not quite as hardy as SteelSeries’s mechanical keyboards. The Apex includes a pair of USB passthroughs, and allows for some angle customization with a pair of swappable rear feet.</p> <p>Our only real issue with the Apex is that it doesn’t use mechanical keys, and even compared to other dome-switch keyboards in this roundup, like the Strike 3, the Apex’s keys feel distinctly mushy. If it had better key performance, it would be a strong contender for best keyboard in this price range. As it is, we’d recommend it highly to those who prioritize lots of macro keys and great design over maximum key responsiveness.</p> <p><strong>SteelSeries Apex</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100,&nbsp;<a href="http://steelseries.com/ " target="_blank">www.steelseries.com</a></strong></p> <h3>What We Look for in a Keyboard</h3> <p>When we review a keyboard, we look at it on three levels. The first and most important level is basic user experience—how the board feels when you use it. This includes factors like key quality and responsiveness, layout, and build quality. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the way you use your keyboard comes down to those standard QWERTY keys, so we’ll take a great-feeling keyboard over a flimsy one with a zillion features any day. We would also consider a keyboard without enough anti-ghosting/rollover for gaming usage to have failed on this basic level.</p> <p>Second, we examine the board on the level of practical, value-adding features. These are what make a gaming keyboard different from a more standard keyboard, and include things like macro keys, profiles, USB/audio passthroughs, the ability to rebind any key, and media controls. Of course, there’s no standard rule for what’s “practical” and what’s not, and we take into consideration that, for instance, the first five macro keys add a lot more value to the keyboard than macro keys number 15-20. This is also the level where we consider the keyboard’s software support.</p> <p>Finally, we look at the keyboard’s less-essential features, and what they bring to the table. Here you’ll see us talk about things like backlighting, interchangeable keycaps, and paint jobs. These are frequently surface features, designed more for showing off to other gamers than for your own use.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/81173948_copy_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/81173948_copy_small.jpg" width="620" height="412" /></a></p> <p>All of this isn’t to say that we think keyboards should be boring, just that it’s important they have their priorities straight. Awesome backlighting can be a great addition to a gaming keyboard, but boards with tons of bells and whistles built into a crappy or just mediocre foundation are distressingly common.</p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">Roccat Ryos Mk Pro</h4> <p><strong>This flashy keyboard is more than just looks</strong></p> <p>Build quality on the Ryos MK Pro is outstanding. It’s all plastic, as far as we can see, but is incredibly weighty and rugged-feeling. The surface is treated with a glossy dot-matrix pattern that gives the Ryos a high-class look without leaving it as vulnerable to fingerprints as a pure-gloss keyboard. Like the last Roccat keyboard we tested, the Ryos has a non-removable integrated wrist rest. It’s comfortable (particularly with the back of the board elevated on sturdy-feeling supports), but makes the keyboard take up an absolutely massive amount of desk space.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13210_smalll_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13210_smalll.jpg" alt="LEDs in each key in the Roccat MK Pro can light up and blink independently." title="Roccat Ryos Mk Pro" width="620" height="451" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>LEDs in each key in the Roccat MK Pro can light up and blink independently.</strong></p> <p>The software support for the Ryos is fine, though not outstanding. The interface is a little cluttered and at times unresponsive, but it gets the job done, allowing you to customize lighting, macros, and key binding for each profile.</p> <p>A lot of keyboards have backlighting these days, but this is the first one we’ve tested that has completely independent lights behind every key. The color can’t be changed, but you can choose which keys should light up and which shouldn’t for each profile. Better still, the Ryos MK Pro comes with a few special lighting effects, which can cause pressed keys to briefly light up, or even to send out a ripple of light across the whole keyboard. It’s simultaneously the most superfluous and most fun new feature we’ve seen in a keyboard in years.</p> <p>It’s hard to say that the Ryos Mk Pro completely justifies the $170 asking price—that’s quite a bit more money than other very good mechanical keyboards—but it at least comes close.</p> <p><strong>Roccat Ryos MK Pro</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$170,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.roccat.org/ " target="_blank">www.roccat.org</a></strong></p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">Click the next page to read about the Gigabyte K7 review and more.</h4> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;"> <hr />Gigabyte Force K7</h4> <p><strong>A budget-friendly board that’s light on features</strong></p> <p>With a $50 MSRP, the Force K7 targets the budget-minded consumer, but still hovers comfortably above the bottom of the barrel. Any keyboard involves compromises, but with the K7, there just might be too many.</p> <p>The K7 advertises “extreme short actuation distance” for its keys, which are built on laptop-style scissor switches. Keyboard feel is a matter of personal preference, of course, but for gaming we’ve never been very fond of scissor switches, which offer almost no tactile feedback. The key layout on the K7 is standard, though it uses the half-width backspace key and double-decker enter key configuration that’s less commonly seen in gaming keyboards and makes touch typing a bit more difficult.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13214_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13214_small.jpg" alt="LEDs in each key in the Roccat MK Pro can light up and blink independently." title="Gigabyte Force K7" width="620" height="454" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Force K7 has a low profile, with laptop-style scissor-switch keys.</strong></p> <p>Build quality on the K7 is generally good—it’s sturdy and feels heavy on the desk. Our review unit did, however, come with an extra 0 key instead of the hyphen key, which raises some questions about quality assurance.</p> <p>If anything, the K7 is notable for its lack of gaming-specific features. It has no macro keys, no profiles, no ability to rebind keys, no USB passthroughs—none of the things that identify a keyboard as made especially for gaming. The only extra features the board does include are underwhelming three-color backlighting and a pair of thumbwheels, which can only be used to control volume and backlight intensity.</p> <p>There are no glaring problems with the K7, but without a clear performance advantage, there’s nothing to recommend this board over one of the low-end Logitech or Microsoft keyboards, which are similarly priced and offer a better set of features.</p> <p><strong>Gigabyte Force K7</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$50,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gigabyte.us/ " target="_blank">www.gigabyte.us</a></strong></p> <h4 style="font-size: 10px;">Corsair Raptor K50</h4> <p><strong>The Cadillac of non-mechanical keyboards</strong></p> <p>The Corsair Raptor K50 is a beautifully designed board, borrowing the floating-keys design of the more expensive Vengeance boards, with just a hint of brushed aluminum along the top edge. The look is rounded out with high-quality customizable key lighting that shines through the keycaps, without leaking out around the edges of the keys. Build quality is second-to-none, and as usual, the raised-key design makes it easy to keep crumbs from accumulating under the keycaps.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The K50 is nicely feature-packed, with a USB passthrough, media keys, a large metal volume wheel, and, oh yeah, like a million macro keys. Well, 18, anyway, all in one huge bank at the left, along with dedicated buttons for switching between three macro layers and recording them on the fly. That number might be bordering on the too-many-to-actually-use zone, but some gamers might find a use for them all, and on-the-fly recording is a feature we wish more boards had. The software for the K50 works well, and onboard storage allows you to use your profiles on any computer.&nbsp;<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-13212_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-13212_small.jpg" alt="If you're the kind of gamer who needs an unhealthy number of macro keys, the Raptor K50 is for you." title="Corsair Raptor K50" width="620" height="413" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>If you're the kind of gamer who needs an unhealthy number of macro keys, the Raptor K50 is for you.<br /></strong></p> <p>We like the K50 a lot, but—at the risk of sounding like a broken record—for most users we wouldn’t recommend a non-mechanical $100 board. Our recommendation at this price range would be to get a mechanical board with slightly fewer features, or to jump up an extra $30 and get a similarly feature-packed mechanical board, such as Corsair’s own Vengeance K70 or K90.</p> <p><strong>Corsair Raptor K50</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.corsair.com/ " target="_blank">www.corsair.com</a></strong></p> <p>Click the next page to read about some of the older mechanical keyboards we've reviewed such as the Razer Deathstalker Ultimate and more.</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Razer Deathstalker Ultimate</h4> <p><strong>Fun to look at, less fun to use</strong></p> <p>The Razer Deathstalker is really a thing to behold. The gaming keyboard is thin, sleek, and nicely designed with tri-color glowing keys, but nothing draws your attention like the “Switchblade” user interface, borrowed from the <a title="razer blade" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/razer_blade_review2012" target="_blank">Razer Blade</a> gaming laptop.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227183_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227183_small_2.jpg" alt="Instead of a number pad, the Deathstalker Ultimate features a touchscreen, along with 10 contextual keys." title="Razer Deathstalker Ultimate" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Instead of a number pad, the Deathstalker Ultimate features a touchscreen, along with 10 contextual keys.</strong></p> <p>The Switchblade UI consists of a responsive multitouch 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen and 10 context-sensitive dynamic keys. The screen can act as a trackpad, or can play host to a number of applications including a web browser, Twitter client, YouTube viewer, and plenty of others, such as game-specific apps for a handful of popular titles. Additionally, the keyboard has plenty of on-the-fly macro keys, and the software suite that manages it is polished and very powerful. In other words, the Razer Deathstalker is clearly the most sophisticated gaming keyboard around. The question is, do the Deathstalker’s technical flourishes justify its massive $250 price tag.</p> <p>At that kind of price, we expect every element of a keyboard to be top-notch; unfortunately, that’s not the case with the <a title="deathstalker" href="http://www.razerzone.com/deathstalker" target="_blank">Razer Deathstalker</a>. The problem is the keyboard itself, which uses widely spaced chiclet-style keys, familiar to anyone who’s used a MacBook or most Ultrabooks. They look nice, but it’s not clear why a large, high-end gaming keyboard would opt to use them over mechanical switches or even rubber-dome membrane keys. The chiclet keys simply don’t feel very good to use—they float around inside their tracks and have miniscule travel when pressed. They’re not awful, but we’d expect a lot better from a $250 keyboard.</p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">Razer Deathstalker Ultimate</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">Juicy Fruit<br /></span> <p>Super-cool Switchblade UI; good software support.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Chiclets<br /></span> <p>Key quality is subpar for typing and game play; very expensive.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$150, <a href="http://www.razerzone.com " target="_blank">www.razerzone.com</a></strong></p> <h4>S.T.R.I.K.E. 7</h4> <p><strong>Plenty of novel features, but look at that price</strong></p> <p>Probably the most interesting thing about the <a title="strike 7" href="http://www.cyborggaming.com/strike7/" target="_blank">S.T.R.I.K.E. 7</a> is that it’s modular and customizable. When you first take it out of the box, the keyboard is in seven pieces, which can be screwed together in a number of different configurations. One of the pieces is a large touchscreen, which can be affixed to either the left or right side of the keyboard, as can an extra bank of macro keys and the adjustable “active palm rest,” which features a thumb wheel and button. The two halves of the keyboard can be used separately, though both must be connected to the touchscreen, and the kit comes with a set of 16 replacement key caps, so you can make sure your S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 doesn’t look like anyone else’s.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227_small.jpg" alt="The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is modular, and can be assembled in several different configurations." title="Cyborg S.T.R.I.K.E. 7" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is modular, and can be assembled in several different configurations.</strong></p> <p>On the other hand, you probably won’t meet anyone else with a S.T.R.I.K.E. 7, unless you regularly attend LAN parties down at the yacht club. At $300, this is the most expensive keyboard we can remember reviewing, and some of the features just don’t rise to the level of expectations set by the price. The touchscreen, for instance, is resistive and not nearly as responsive as the screen on the Razer Deathstalker Ultimate. And like the Deathstalker, the S.T.R.I.K.E. opts for non-mechanical keys. Though the dome-style membrane keys are better than the Deathstalker’s chiclet keys, we firmly believe that a keyboard that costs three times as much as most of its competition ought to have the best keys available.</p> <p><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/3AbwJON7ECk" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">S.T.R.I.K.E. 7</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">Home Run<br /></span> <p>The most customizable keyboard around; tons of room for macros on keyboard and touchscreen.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Strike Out<br /></span> <p>Super pricey; non-mechanical keyboard feels so-so; touchscreen responsiveness is lacking.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$300, <a href="http://www.madcatz.com" target="_blank">www.madcatz.com</a></strong></p> <h4>Logitech G710+</h4> <p><strong>Logitech brings it back to basics</strong></p> <p>Logitech has finally decided that the recent trend toward mechanical gaming keyboards isn’t a passing fad, and has thrown its own hat into the ring with the G710+. At $150, the <a title="logitech g710+" href="http://gaming.logitech.com/en-us/product/g710plus-mechanical-gaming-keyboard" target="_blank">G710+</a> is one of the company’s most expensive boards, but it forgoes the LCD screens and raft of macro buttons usually found on Logitech’s highest-end products. Instead, the G710+ is a relatively straightforward keyboard built around a sturdy base of mechanical keys.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-5227187_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-5227187_small_0.jpg" alt="The backlight for the Logitech G710+’s arrow and WASD keys is separate from the rest of the board, so you can make them glow brighter than their surroundings." title="Logitech G710+" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The backlight for the Logitech G710+’s arrow&nbsp; and WASD keys is separate from the rest of the board, so you can make them glow brighter than their surroundings.</strong></p> <p>The G710+ uses MX Cherry Brown switches, which are a sort of compromise between the hyper-sensitive Reds and the tactile (and loud) Blues. They’re a nice middle-ground switch, excellent for both gaming and typing, though not completely ideal for either. Logitech has augmented the Cherry Browns with noise-dampening rings inside each key, for a quieter gaming session. The keys are mounted into a heavy board, with a clean black-and-gray aesthetic with orange accents. When connected via USB, the G710+’s laser-etched keycaps glow white—you can’t change the color, but the brightness is adjustable. In a nice, novel feature, the brightness of the WASD and arrow keys can be adjusted independently, to make them stand out more.</p> <p>Beyond the mechanical keys, the G710+ doesn’t have a lot of flashy features—just a set of macro keys (programmable on-the-fly), some media controls, and a standard-issue software suite with pre-made macro profiles for most modern games. It comes with a removable wrist rest, and includes a single USB pass-through. In all, it’s a nice, well-constructed keyboard, though its feature set is just a tiny bit smaller than some similarly priced mechanical boards from other brands.</p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">Logitech G710+</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">O.G.<br /></span> <p>Excellent typing and gaming feel; dual-zone lighting;noise-dampened keys.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Oh No<br /></span> <p>On the pricier side; few pass-throughs.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$150, <a href="http://www.logitech.com " target="_blank">www.logitech.com</a></strong></p> <h3>The Art of Cherrypicking</h3> <p>If you’re the pattern-recognizing sort, you may notice that every mechanical keyboard in this roundup uses Cherry MX switches for their key mechanisms. That’s because virtually all mechanical gaming keyboards today use some variety of Cherry MX switch, such as Brown or Blue. The names indicate both the actual color of the switch (pry a keycap up and you’ll be able to tell by sight which switch is underneath), and the switch’s mechanical characteristics, in terms of tactility and resistance.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/k60_d_install_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/k60_d_install_small.jpg" width="620" height="403" /></a></p> <p>A switch that is highly tactile has a noticeable “bump” that you overcome as you press it down, and tends to make a click noise as it passes that bump. A switch with high resistance requires more force to depress. Here are the four most common varieties of Cherry MX switch:</p> <p>Red: A non-tactile switch with low resistance. The pressing action is smooth, with no bump, and because of its low resistance it is very responsive. Good for action gamers.</p> <p>Black: A non-tactile switch, like the Red, with higher resistance.</p> <p>Blue: A highly tactile switch, with a dramatic (and loud) click. Considered the best switch for typing, but they can be slightly harder to double-tap quickly for gaming.</p> <p>Brown: A middle-ground switch, with a light tactile click and medium resistance. Functions well for both typing and gaming.</p> <p>Click <a title="mechanical keyboard guide" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/mechanical_keyboard_guide_2013" target="_blank">here</a> to read our in-depth mechanical keyboard guide.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>Corsair Vengeance K90</h4> <p><strong>All the macro keys money can buy</strong></p> <p>The <a title="K90" href="http://www.corsair.com/gaming-peripherals/gaming-keyboards/vengeance-k90-performance-mmo-mechanical-gaming-keyboard.html" target="_blank">Corsair Vengeance K90</a> launched early last year alongside the Vengeance K60. It is, at heart, an expanded version of that board, fitted with a vast bank of customizable macro keys at the far left, and a detachable rubberized wrist rest. The extra functionality is mostly aimed at MMO players, who may have need for the truly staggering number of macro keys—18 keys, arranged into three banks of six, with three profile buttons for a total of 54 programmable actions. We’re a bit skeptical about the utility of so many macro buttons, as it becomes difficult to remember which key does what, and to hit them without looking, as the button count increases. Still, you should be able to imagine whether you’d be able to put the buttons to good use or not.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboards-5227181_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboards-5227181_0.jpg" alt="With the K90, Corsair goes deep on macro keys. Unfortunately, only the main QWERTY keyboard and arrow keys are mechanical." title="Corsair Vengeance K90" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>With the K90, Corsair goes deep on macro keys. Unfortunately, only the main QWERTY keyboard and arrow keys are mechanical.</strong></p> <p>Beyond those extra keys, the K90 features the strong points of the K60, including a rugged all-aluminum body and responsive Cherry MX Red switches. The fantastic-looking low-profile aluminum design is even snazzier in the K90, thanks to blue backlighting that shines through the laser-etched keycaps. One of the strangest and worst features of the K90 is that it uses membrane-style switches for a small subset of the keys on the board (the 18 macro keys, the function keys, as well as the block above the arrow keys), which feel noticeably worse than the mechanical keys that make up the rest of the board. Especially for keys that are meant to be used in the heat of the moment, the transition to non-mechanical keys is very jarring.</p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">Corsair Vengeance K90</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">Macro<br /></span> <p>Tons of macro keys; nice build quality and design; mechanical.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Micro<br /></span> <p>Not all keys are mechanical; giant block of macro keys is difficult to use efficiently.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$130, <a href="http://www.corsair.com " target="_blank">www.corsair.com</a></strong></p> <h4>Rosewill RK-9100 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard</h4> <p><strong>A solid board, low on features</strong></p> <p>Sometimes it’s nice when a company comes along and boils down a product category to just the features that are important. With the <a title="rk-9100" href="http://www.rosewill.com/products/2320/ProductDetail_Overview.htm" target="_blank">RK-9100</a>, Rosewill does just that, offering a solid mechanical gaming keyboard with few flourishes.</p> <p>The RK-9100 is a compact design with no wrist rest and a minimal lip around the outside of the board. It’s heavy, and feels quite sturdy. It uses mechanical keys—once again, Cherry MX switches, though with the RK-9100 you have a choice of the typing-friendly Blue switches, or the in-between Browns. We tend to prefer the Browns as a nice compromise between gaming and typing, which makes it a bit frustrating that the Brown-switch version of the RK-9100 retails for $130, $20 more than the Blue version.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227185_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227185_small.jpg" alt="The Rosewill RK-9100 isn’t the fanciest-looking keyboard, but it feels great to use." title="Rosewill RK-9100 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard" width="620" height="321" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Rosewill RK-9100 isn’t the fanciest-looking keyboard, but it feels great to use.</strong></p> <p>The keyboard has a nice blue backlight, except for the scroll-, num-, and caps-lock keys, which glow green while active. It’s a good idea, but for some reason the green light is incredibly bright, and angled to shine right into your eyes while active. It’s distracting, and unfortunately can’t be turned off—we wouldn’t be surprised if most RK-9100 owners end up fixing the problem with electrical tape. That’s the only significant problem we noticed while using Rosewill’s keyboard, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that $130 is a bit too much to ask for this board. The Logitech G710+ features the same MX Brown switches, and with street a price that’s currently only about $10 more than RK-9100, includes significantly more features that set it apart as a gaming keyboard.</p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">Rosewill RK-9100 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">Rose water<br /></span> <p>No-nonsense design; selection of different Cherry MX switches.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Hose water<br /></span> <p>No macro keys; no software support.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$130, <a href="http://www.rosewill.com " target="_blank">www.rosewill.com</a></strong></p> <h4>Roccat Isku</h4> <p><strong>Membrane plank makes strong impression</strong></p> <p>If you’re not ready to make the jump to a mechanical keyboard, and aren’t interested in touchscreens or scalp massagers or whatever other luxury features are going into the $200-plus planks, your money will go a lot farther. Specifically, it’ll go all the way to the <a title="roccat" href="http://www.roccat.org/Products/Gaming-Keyboards/ROCCAT-Isku/" target="_blank">Roccat Isku</a>, a handsome and feature-rich keyboard from German newcomer Roccat.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227184_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/wwkeyboards-5227184_small.jpg" alt="The Isku is thin but takes up a lot of room, thanks to its broad wrist rest and bezel." title="Roccat Isku" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Isku is thin but takes up a lot of room, thanks to its broad wrist rest and bezel.</strong></p> <p>The Isku is wide and flat, with an oversized wrist rest and a wide bezel all around the board, taking up plenty of desk real estate. It’s got a grippy textured-plastic frame and recessed contoured keys that make the whole thing seem flatter and lower to the desk than normal. The dome keys are good (as far as they go) with a fairly crisp and responsive activation.</p> <p>Where the Isku really shines is in its expansive set of features. It has eight macro buttons (including three “thumbster” keys under the spacebar), with on-the-fly recording, and profile switching. It gets further mileage out of the bindable keys and macros with an “EasyShift” button where the caps-lock key would normally be, which temporarily switches the functions of all right-hand-accessible keys while held down. There’s a lot to customize, and the included software suite is intuitive and up to the task.</p> <p>Also, the Isku is part of the “Roccat Talk” ecosystem, which allows button presses on the keyboard to affect the behavior of a Roccat gaming mouse, and vice versa. At this price, we’d strongly recommend buying a mechanical board, but if you can’t or don’t want to, the Isku is an excellent choice.</p> <div class="lowdown"> <div class="module orange-module article-module verdict-block"><span class="module-name-header" style="font-size: 14px; border-bottom: 1px solid #000;">Roccat Isku</span><br /> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="product-verdict"> <div class="positive"><span class="header">Rose water<br /></span> <p>No-nonsense design; selection of different Cherry MX switches.</p> </div> <div class="negative"><span class="header">Hose water<br /></span> <p>No macro keys; no software support.</p> </div> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90, <a href="http://www.roccat.org" target="_blank">www.roccat.org</a></strong></p> <h3>A Keyboard for Clean Freaks</h3> <p>One of the keyboards we received while preparing this roundup was the <a title="logitech washable keyboard" href="http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/washable-keyboard-k310" target="_blank">Logitech Washable Keyboard K310</a>. Somehow it didn’t seem quite fair to pit the $40 K310 against the likes of the Razer Deathstalker in a straight head-to-head, but we couldn’t resist the chance to see if this washable keyboard really works.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/keyboard_before_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/keyboard_before_small.jpg" width="620" height="415" /></a></p> <p>The K310 has a standard full-size layout with flat, thick plastic keys. Despite the very plastic-y construction and non-standard keys, the keyboard actually feels pretty decent to use.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/dirtykeyboard_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/dirtykeyboard_small_0.jpg" width="620" height="415" /></a></p> <p>We don’t actually have a standard testing procedure worked out for washable keyboards, so we improvised. We took a quick trip to the corner store for a bag of Cheetohs—bane of all keyboards. We then used a mortar and pestle to mash them into a fine, delicious powder, and applied it liberally to the keyboard (and surrounding table).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/washingkeyboard_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/washingkeyboard_small.jpg" width="620" height="415" /></a></p> <p>We were originally going to stick the K310 in the dishwasher, but a label on its back specifically warns against doing so. Instead, we gave it a thorough hand-washing in the sink.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/clean_keyboard_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/clean_keyboard_small.jpg" width="620" height="347" /></a></p> <p>What’s the verdict? The keyboard looks like new, and works just fine. Not bad!</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/best_keyboard_2013#comments March 2013 2013 best keyboard Hardware Hardware Logitech G710+ maximum pc Razer Deathstalker Ultimate reviews strike 7 Keyboards Reviews Features Wed, 10 Sep 2014 21:44:05 +0000 Alex Castle 25598 at http://www.maximumpc.com Maingear Epic Force Video Review http://www.maximumpc.com/maingear_epic_force_video_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>See what a $12,000 gaming rig looks like</h3> <p>One of the best parts of this job is getting to play with hardware we can’t afford. For this video, Gordon walks you through Maingear’s Epic Force which is a tour de force of beautiful plumbing even Mario would be proud of. The machine, delivered to us before Intel’s epic Core i7-5960X “<a title="haswell e" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/haswell-e_review_2014" target="_blank">Haswell-E</a>” is built on an overclocked Core i7-4790K “Devil’s Canyon” chip and packs a pair of water cooled Radeon R9 295 X2 graphics cards.</p> <p><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/yNoxJJ70se0" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p>What do you think of the Maingear Epic Force PC? Let us know in the comments below.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/maingear_epic_force_video_review_2014#comments big chassis Desktop Hardware maingear epic force maximum pc MPCTV pc Review video Reviews Systems Mon, 08 Sep 2014 21:05:28 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 28498 at http://www.maximumpc.com Build it: Real-World 4K Gaming Test Bench http://www.maximumpc.com/build_it_real-world_4k_gaming_test_bench_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>This month, we find out what it takes to run games at 4K, and do so using a sweet open-air test bench</h3> <p>The computer world loves it when specs double from one generation to the next. We’ve gone from 16-bit to 32-bit, and finally 64-bit computing. We had 2GB RAM sticks, then 4GB, then 8GB. With monitor resolutions, 1920x1080 has been the standard for a while, but we never quite doubled it, as 2560x1600 was a half-step, but now that 4K resolution has arrived, it’s effectively been exactly doubled, with the panels released so far being 3840x2160. We know it’s not actually 4,000 pixels, but everyone is still calling it “4K.” Though resolution is doubled over 1080p, it’s the equivalent number of pixels as four 1080p monitors, so it takes a lot of horsepower to play games smoothly. For example, our 2013 Dream Machine used four Nvidia GeForce GTX Titans and a CPU overclocked to 5GHz to handle it. Those cards cost $4,000 altogether though, so it wasn’t a scenario for mere mortals. This month, we wanted to see what 4K gaming is like with more-affordable parts. We also wanted to try a distinctive-looking open test bench from DimasTech. This type of case is perfect for SLI testing, too, since it makes component installation and swapping much quicker.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_29.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/beauty_shot_small_28.jpg" width="620" height="417" /></a></p> <h3>Triple Threat</h3> <p>Instead of GTX Titans, we’re stepping it down a couple of notches to Nvidia GTX 780s. They provide similar gaming performance, but at half the cost. We’re also using “only” three cards instead of four, so the price difference from Dream Machine to this rig is a whopping $2500 (even more if you count the fact that the Dream Machine cards were water-cooled). These cards still need a lot of bandwidth, though, so we’re sticking with an Intel LGA 2011 motherboard, this time an Asus X79 Deluxe. It’s feature-packed and can overclock a CPU like nobody’s business. The X79 Deluxe is running Intel’s Core i7-4960X CPU, which has six cores and twelve processing threads. It’s kind of a beast. We’re cooling it with a Cooler Master Glacer 240L water cooler, which comes with a 240mm radiator.</p> <p>We’ll also need a boatload of power, so we grabbed a Corsair AX1200 PSU which, as its name suggests, supplies up to 1200 watts. It’s also fully modular, meaning that its cables are all detachable. Since we’re only using one storage device in this build, we can keep a lot of spare cables tucked away in a bag, instead of cluttering up the lower tray.</p> <p>All of this is being assembled on a DimasTech Easy V3 test bench, which is a laser-cut steel, hand-welded beauty made in Italy and painted glossy red. It can handle either a 360mm or 280mm radiator as well, and it comes with an articulating arm to move a case fan around to specific areas. It seems like the ultimate open-air test bench, so we’re eager to see what we can do with it.&nbsp;&nbsp; \</p> <h4>1. Case Working</h4> <p>The DimasTech Easy V3 comes in separate parts, but the bulk of it is an upper and lower tray. You slide the lower one in and secure it with a bundled set of six aluminum screws. The case’s fasteners come in a handy plastic container with a screw-on lid. Shown in the photo are the two chromed power and reset buttons, which are the last pieces to be attached. They have pre-attached hexagonal washers, which can be a bit tricky to remove. We had to use pliers on one of them. You’ll need to wire them up yourself, but there’s a diagram included. Then, connect the other head to the motherboard’s front panel header, which has its own diagram printed on the board.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/a_small_29.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/a_small_28.jpg" title="Image A" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>2. Getting Testy</h4> <p>Unfortunately, the Easy V3 does not ship with a 2.5-inch drive bay, nor do standard 3.5-inch to 2.5-inch adapters fit inside the bays. If you want to install a solid-state drive, you need to purchase the correctly sized bay or adapter separately from DimasTech. Since this is an open test bench, which is designed for swapping parts quickly, we chose to just leave the drive unsecured. It has no moving parts, so it doesn’t need to be screwed down or even laid flat to work properly. We also moved the 5.25-inch drive bay from the front to the back, to leave as much room as possible to work with our bundle of PSU cables. The lower tray has a number of pre-drilled holes to customize drive bay placement. Meanwhile, our power supply must be oriented just like this to properly attach to the case’s specified bracket. It’s not bad, though, because this positions the power switch higher up, where it’s less likely to get bumped accidentally.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/b_small_24.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/b_small_23.jpg" title="Image B" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>3. Able Cables</h4> <p>The best way to install a modular power supply is to attach your required cables first. This time, we got a kit from Corsair that has individually sleeved wires. It costs $40, and also comes in red, white, or blue. Each of these kits is designed to work with a specific Corsair power supply. They look fancier than the stock un-sleeved cables, and the ones for motherboard and CPU power are a lot more flexible than the stock versions. All of the connectors are keyed, so you can’t accidentally plug them into the wrong socket. We used a few black twist ties to gather in the PCI Express cables.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/c_small_27.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/c_small_26.jpg" title="Image C" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>4. Taking a Stand(off)</h4> <p>The Easy V3 comes with an unusually tall set of metal motherboard standoffs. These widgets prevent the motherboard from touching the tray below and possibly creating a short circuit. You can screw these in by hand, optionally tightening them up with a pair of pliers. Once those were in, we actually used some thumbscrews bundled with the case to screw the board down on the standoffs. You can use more standard screws, but we had plenty to spare, and we liked the look. The tall standoffs also work nicely with custom liquid cooling loops, because there is enough clearance to send thick tubing underneath (and we’ve seen lots of photos on the Internet of such setups). For us, it provided enough room to install a right-angle SATA cable and send it through the oval cut-out in the tray and down to the SSD below.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/d_small_23.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/d_small_22.jpg" title="Image D" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h4>5. Triple Play</h4> <p>This bench has a black bracket that holds your PCIe cards and can be slid parallel to the motherboard to accommodate different board layouts. It will take up to four two-slot cards, and DimasTech sells a longer 10-slot bracket on its website for workstation boards. We had to use the provided aluminum thumbscrews to secure the cards, since all of the screws we had in The Lab were either too coarsely threaded or not the right diameter, which is unusual. Installing cards is easy, because your view of the board slot is not blocked by a case. The video cards will end up sandwiched right next to each other, though, so you’ll need a tool to release the slot-locking mechanism on two of them (we used a PCI slot cover). The upper two cards can get quite toasty, so we moved the bench’s built-in flexible fan arm right in front of their rear intake area, and we told the motherboard to max out its RPM. We saw an immediate FPS boost in our tests, because by default these cards will throttle once they get to about 83 C.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/e_small_21.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/e_small_20.jpg" title="Image E" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <h4>6. Cool Under Pressure</h4> <p>Since the Glacer 240L cooler has integrated tubing that’s relatively short, the orientation pictured was our only option. We could have put the fans on the other side of the radiator, but since performance was already superb, we decided we liked the looked of them with the grills on top. To mount the radiator, we used the bundled screws, which became the right length when we added some rubber gaskets, also included.&nbsp; The radiator actually doesn’t give off much heat, even when the CPU is overclocked and firing on all cylinders, so we didn’t have to worry about the nearby power supply fan pulling in a lot of hot intake. In fact, the CPU never crossed 65C in all of our benchmarks, even when overclocked to 4.5GHz. We even threw Prime95 at it, and it didn’t break a sweat. Temperatures are also affected by ambient temperatures, though. With our open-air layout, heat coming out of the GPUs doesn’t get anywhere near the radiator, and The Lab’s air conditioning helps keep temperatures low, so it’s pretty much an ideal environment, short of being installed in a refrigerator. Your mileage may vary.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/f_small_22.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/f_small_21.jpg" title="Image F" width="620" height="413" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/main_image_small_18.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/main_image_small_17.jpg" title="Main Image" width="620" height="382" /></a></p> <h3>A Golden Triangle</h3> <p>Despite our penchant for extreme performance, we rarely build triple-GPU systems, so we weren’t sure how well they’d handle 4K, but we figured they’d kick ass. Thankfully, they handled UHD quite well. So well, in fact, that we also tested the system with “only” two GTX 780s and still got respectable gaming performance. For example, with two cards, the Bioshock Infinite benchmark reported an average of a little over 60 FPS on its highest settings. In Tomb Raider, we disabled anti-aliasing and TressFX, maxing out all the other settings, and we still averaged 62 FPS. We benchmarked the opening sequence of Assassin’s Creed 4 with AA and PhysX disabled and everything else maxed out, and we averaged 47 FPS. The Metro: Last Light benchmark, however, averaged 25FPS on max settings, even with PhysX disabled.</p> <p>Unfortunately, we had trouble getting Hitman: Absolution and Metro: Last Light to recognize the third card. This issue is not unheard of, and made us think: If you stick with two GPUs, you no longer need the PCI Express bandwidth of expensive LGA 2011 CPUs, or their equally expensive motherboards, or a huge power supply. That potentially cuts the cost of this system in half, from around $4200 to roughly $2100. You could also save money by going with, say, a Core i7-4930K instead, and a less expensive LGA 2011 motherboard and a smaller SSD. But it’s still a pretty steep climb in price when going from two cards to three.</p> <p>The test bench itself feels sturdy and looks sweet, but we wish that it accepted standard computer-type screws, and that it came with a 2.5-inch drive bay or could at least fit a standard 3.5-to-2.5 adapter. We’d also recommend getting a second articulating fan arm if you’re liquid-cooling, so that one could provide airflow to the voltage regulators around the CPU, and the other could blow directly on your video cards. With the fan aimed at our cards, we instantly gained another 10 FPS in the Tomb Raider benchmark.</p> <p>The Seagate 600 SSD was nice and speedy, although unzipping compressed files seemed to take longer than usual. The X79 Deluxe motherboard gave us no trouble, and the bundled “Asus AI Suite III” software has lots of fine-grained options for performance tuning and monitoring, and it looks nice. Overall, this build was not only successful but educational, too.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><strong><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span></strong><br /> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 627px; height: 270px;" border="0"> <thead> <tr> <th class="head-empty"> </th> <th class="head-light"> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>ZERO</strong></p> <p style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal; text-align: start;"><strong>POINT</strong></p> </th> <th></th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td class="item">Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">2,000</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">1,694</span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)</td> <td>831</td> <td><span style="text-align: center;">707</span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)</td> <td class="item-dark">1,446</td> <td>1,246</td> </tr> <tr> <td>x264 HD 5.0 (fps)</td> <td>21.1</td> <td>25.6<strong></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batmans Arkam City (fps)</td> <td>76</td> <td>169<strong></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark11 Extreme</td> <td class="item-dark">5,847&nbsp;</td> <td>12,193</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> </div> <p><span style="font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold;"><em>The zero-point machine compared here consists of a 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K and 16GB of Corsair DDR3/1600 on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard. It has a GeForce GTX 690, a Corsair Neutron GTX SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.</em></span></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/build_it_real-world_4k_gaming_test_bench_2014#comments 4k computer gaming pc geforce Hardware maximum pc May issues 2014 nvidia open Test Bench Features Wed, 03 Sep 2014 19:29:01 +0000 Tom McNamara 28364 at http://www.maximumpc.com Dell UltraSharp UP2414Q Review http://www.maximumpc.com/dell_ultrasharp_up2414q_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>The 4K monitor you’ve been waiting for?</h3> <p>Call it 4K. Call it UltraHD. Either way, massive pixel counts are the next big thing. This year’s festival of rampant consumerism at CES in Las Vegas is a case in point. Inevitably, a ton of 4K HDTVs filled the field of view in every direction, but the show also included several 4K and UHD laptops. Meanwhile, phones with full 1080p grids are becoming commonplace. Likewise, tablets with panels over 1080p, including Google’s 2560x1600-pixel Nexus 10, are now almost routine.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/dell_ultrasharp_up2414q_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/dell_ultrasharp_up2414q_small.jpg" width="620" height="545" /></a></p> <p>But what of the PC? Sadly, it’s been a bit of a 4K laggard to date. So far, we’ve only reviewed a single 4K PC monitor, the Asus PQ321. It’s absolutely, positively gorgeous, but also punitively priced at around $3,000. So expensive, in other words, that it’s pretty much irrelevant to most PC lovers.</p> <p>That’s actually rather ironic, because of all the devices out there, the PC is nearest to ready-and-able to make the most of 4K resolutions right now. 4K HDTVs, quite frankly, are a gimmick; there’s simply no content to watch on them yet. Super-high-resolution tablets and phones are marginal, too. But not PCs. Ramp up the res and you can immediately enjoy the boost in desktop elbow room, although you may run into scaling and DPI problems with Windows (more on that a bit later). Applications in the video and photo editing spheres certainly benefit from more pixels. Then there’s gaming, which is the biggie for us, though the argument here is more finely balanced.</p> <p>In theory, you can run pretty much any game at full 4K. Most will offer the option to render at the maximum resolution of your graphics subsystem. And render they will. The only snag involves achieving that at playable frame rates. As we explained in our Asus PQ321 review, 4K/UHD is essentially four times the resolution of a 1080p pixel grid, so that’s four times the workload for your GPU to cope with. Cripes. So, it’s into this broader context that we introduce our second-ever 4K PC monitor review.</p> <p>The specimen in question this time is Dell’s new UltraSharp UP2414Q. It sports the same 3840x2160 resolution as the groundbreaking Asus PQ321, but there are two significant differences. The first of these is price; the new Dell can be had for slightly under $1,300—less than half the cost of the Asus. That’s still not exactly cheap for a monitor, but it’s much, much more accessible.</p> <p>The second major change-up involves panel proportions. The Dell spans a mere 24 inches—so that’s $1,300 for a 24-inch monitor. Yikes. Of course, you could argue that it’s resolution and not size that determines desktop real estate, and you’d be right, but some people will still balk at the very notion of paying so much for a panel size that can be had for little more than $120 these days.</p> <p>The UP2414Q’s general metrics are your typical IPS fare, with 178-degree viewing angles for both the horizontal and vertical planes. Likewise, the claimed static contrast of 1,000:1 is very much par for the course, and the UP2414Q’s 8ms quoted response is the same as other cutting-edge IPS panels.</p> <p>Of course, all of that means there are some superior options available by some measures. IPS technology is all the rage, but in truth, TN tech is better for pixel response and VA panels offer far superior contrast. Overall, IPS is still the best compromise—just don’t fall into the trap of assuming it’s universally superior. It ain’t quite that simple.</p> <p>Elsewhere, there’s an LED backlight and brightness rated at 350cd/m2, and a super-fine pixel density of 185PPI. As for inputs, the UP2414Q has one HDMI, one DisplayPort, and one Mini DisplayPort. Thanks to the super-high resolution, it’s only the DisplayPort that offers full native operation. The lone HDMI port is limited to HDMI 1.4, and you need HDMI 2.0 for 4K at 60Hz. Finally, there’s a fully adjustable chassis, complete with tilt, rotate, swivel, and height tweakability.</p> <p>What is it actually like to look at? Utterly stunning, is the first impression. Even the epic Asus can’t match the crispness and sharpness that you get from cramming all those pixels into such a relatively small panel.</p> <p>As with super-high DPI phones and tablets, you almost don’t feel like you’re looking at an active display at all. You essentially can’t see the individual pixels—they’re simply too small—which gives the UP2414Q a wonderfully seamless feel.</p> <p>The colors are exquisite, too, though admittedly, no more so than many other high-end IPS screens; they all look spectacular these days. The same goes for the results in our objective image quality test. Gradient rendering, viewing angles, white and black scales—they’re all absolutely immaculate and super sexy&shy;—again, just like other pricey IPS screens.</p> <p>Then, there’s actually using this 4K beauty for multimedia entertainments. Not that there’s much 4K video content to watch, but what there is, by the lords of science, is gorgeous! It more or less ruins standard 1080p HD content for you. Once you’ve seen 4K, there’s almost no going back.</p> <p>The same goes for gaming, except this time round, the narrative is a little bit more complicated and depends on what kind of GPU you’re packing. We decided to take the UP2414Q for a spin courtesy of&nbsp; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti, the fastest single graphics card you can buy right now, and it can only just cope with that colossal native resolution at full detail gaming in moderately demanding titles.</p> <p>Speaking of technologies that aren’t ready for 4K and super-high DPI displays, you can add Windows to the list. Even the latest 8.1 build of Windows does a poor job of scaling, and believe us, you really will want to enable some kind of scaling. If you try running the UP2414Q at native resolution, with standard Windows DPI and standard font size settings, everything on the screen looks preposterously tiny. It just isn’t usable. Even If you fiddle around with the fonts and text scaling, you’ll still hit problems. Sure, you can achieve something legible, and we’d even concede that many core elements of the Windows 8.1 desktop interface, including Windows Explorer, scale nicely and look superb. Unfortunately, most third-party apps look, if you’ll pardon the colloquialism, utterly ass. What you get is a blurred, blown-up bitmap that makes everything look soft and fuzzy. The same goes for nearly all web pages and the Steam interface. The harsh truth is that much of the computing world isn’t ready for high-DPI displays, and that becomes all too apparent as soon as you fire up the UP2414Q.</p> <p>Windows 8.1’s Modern UI is properly scalable, and looks crisp and clean for the most part, but it’s probably not the bit of Windows most people will be planning to use predominantly with a monitor that’s not touch-enabled.</p> <p>All of which makes this 24-inch 4K monitor a tricky proposition. It looks absolutely fantastic, but at this stage, it’s probably of more interest to content-creation professionals than PC performance and gaming enthusiasts. Instead, it could well be a TN panel that is larger and half the price that makes ultra-HD resolutions a practical, affordable prospect for gaming and other desktop PC applications.</p> <p><strong>$1,300,</strong> <a href="http://www.dell.com/">www.dell.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/dell_ultrasharp_up2414q_review#comments 4k Dell UltraSharp UP2414Q Hardware maximum pc May issues 2014 monitor panel Review screen Reviews Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:45:11 +0000 Jeremy Laird 28459 at http://www.maximumpc.com Corsair Hydro H105 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/corsair_hydro_h105_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>The H75’s big brother is not too shabby</h3> <p>Over the past couple of years or so, we gearheads have transitioned from membrane keyboards to mechanical ones; from mechanical hard drives to SSDs; and from air-cooling our CPUs to using closed liquid loops. All favorable moves, though the latter group suffers from a lack of variety. You can get radiators in 120mm, 240mm, and 280mm sizes, but they’re almost all painted plain black with black tubing, although some include the small style concession of a glowing logo on the pump housing. Part of this has to do with just a handful of companies designing coolers for a large number of brands. This plainness may be a drag in a tricked-out rig, but in the case of the Corsair H105, we’ve discovered that a lack of fanciness can be an advantage.</p> <p>Corsair’s H105 radiator is thicker than usual (38mm instead of 27mm), and there’s a silver ring on the top of the pump that can be switched out for a red or blue one. But it’s not reinventing any wheels. Its tubing isn’t thick, and its pump isn’t very large. But you’ll notice how easily it installs in your system. There’s just one basic fan cable for the pump, which you can plug into any header on the motherboard, or directly into the power supply with a Molex adapter. The pump has two speeds: on and off. The fans use PWM control, so they’ll spin up and down smoothly, according to temperature readings. Just attach them to the bundled standard splitter cable, then connect that to the motherboard’s CPU fan header. And there’s no software this time; you just use your motherboard’s fan controls instead.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/corsair_hydro_h105_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/corsair_hydro_h105_small.jpg" alt="Since this pump does not offer variable speeds, it can be plugged directly into the power supply for maximum effectiveness." title="Corsair Hydro H105" width="620" height="505" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Since this pump does not offer variable speeds, it can be plugged directly into the power supply for maximum effectiveness.</strong></p> <p>Our test bed’s Rampage IV Extreme motherboard has Windows-based software called “Fan Xpert” that intelligently controls fan speeds. We ran our torture test with the H105’s fans set to “Quiet” in Fan Xpert, and got a pretty respectable 70 Celsius. When pushed to “Turbo” mode, the fans spun up to about 2,000rpm and lowered CPU temps to 65C. These aren’t the lowest temperatures we’ve seen, but they’re still pretty respectable, and the H105’s noise levels were surprisingly good. However, we couldn’t get a clear picture of how much the thickness of the radiator compensated for the modest diameter of the tubing and size of the pump. Those two properties seem to give the Cooler Master Glacer 240L and Nepton 280L an edge. But at press time, the H105 cost less at most stores than the Glacer (we suspect partly because the Glacer is an expandable system), and the Nepton has a 280mm cooler that doesn’t fit in a lot of cases.</p> <p>If you want a liquid-cooling system with a 240mm radiator, and you don’t care about expandability, then the ease of installation, ease of use, and manageable noise levels of the H105 make it hard to beat for the price. And like all Corsair liquid coolers, it gets a five-year warranty, whereas the competition usually gives you two or three years of coverage. On the other hand, the radiator’s extra 11mm of thickness makes it too large for certain cases. Corsair says that the cooler is compatible with “the vast majority” of chassis, but its list leaves off a number of seemingly workable cases of its own, such as the Carbide 500R and the Graphite 600T. If you can spend more money, there are slightly better coolers out there, but the H105 is a well-rounded package.</p> <p><strong>$120,</strong> <a href="http://www.corsair.com/en">www.corsair.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/corsair_hydro_h105_review#comments Air Cooling Corsair Hydro H105 cpu Hardware maximum pc May issues 2014 Review water cooler Reviews Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:39:38 +0000 Tom McNamara 28444 at http://www.maximumpc.com Intel NUC D54250WYKH Review http://www.maximumpc.com/intel_nuc_d54250wykh_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>You can stuff 3TB of storage into this baby</h3> <p>Intel’s cool Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PCs have one serious limitation compared to say an All-In-One PC: storage. With room for just a single mSATA drive, NUC storage was limited to about 1TB. That’s no longer the case, though, thanks to the NUC D54250WYKH, which accepts 2.5-inch drives in addition to mSATA devices.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/intel_nuc_d54250wykh_small_0.png"><img src="/files/u152332/intel_nuc_d54250wykh_small.png" alt="We were sorely tempted to ding the D54250WYKH a point for its boring, annoying name." title="Intel NUC D54250WYKH" width="620" height="612" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We were sorely tempted to ding the D54250WYKH a point for its boring, annoying name.</strong></p> <p>Yup, if you enjoy memorizing Intel SKU numbers to impress people at cocktail parties, you’ll recognize that the NUC D54250WYKH is just one letter different from sibling, the NUC D54250WYK, which we reviewed in our March Ultra Compact SFF roundup. Besides the extra H, the obvious difference is the increased height of this NUC. The unit is about half an inch taller but retains the standard 4.5-inch by 4.5-inch width and depth of all NUCs. The increased depth is to accommodate the installation of a 2.5-inch SATA drive. You may scoff at the notion of a 2.5-inch tray having an impact on a system’s storage, but the alternative is the single mSATA slot, which is far more limited. There’s enough room inside to stuff a standard 9.5mm SSD or HDD, and while you won’t get a 4TB hard drive inside, you can get Seagate’s 2TB 9mm Spinpoint M9T to fit. Even better, you can use the M9T for bulk storage and still run your OS from an mSATA drive. The 2.5-inch tray also gives budget-minded builders the option to run much cheaper 2.5-inch SSDs instead of pricey mSATA drives.</p> <p>Inside, you’ll find an mSATA slot, a mini PCIe slot for wireless, and a pair of low-voltage DDR3 SO-DIMM slots. The NUC supports RAM speeds up to DDR3/1600, and Intel means it. We tried to push it further with a pair of low-voltage 8GB G.Skill DDR3/1866, but got occasional bluescreens, so it looks like this NUC is stuck at DDR3/1600. That’s unfortunate, because a little more memory bandwidth would certainly help the graphics performance.</p> <p>Speaking of performance, we feel pretty good scoring the performance of this NUC, now that we’ve had half a dozen of these pint-sized PCs through the lab. Our zero-point is the older Ivy Bridge–based NUC. That unit runs a 1.8GHz Core i3-3217U with HD4000 graphics, so it’s a dual-core part with Hyper-Threading but no Turbo Boost. The new “fat NUC,” as we call it, easily slams the older Ivy Bridge unit by a significant margin, thanks to its Turbo Boost and newer Haswell cores. Interestingly, we expected the performance of this NUC to be the same as the NUC D54250WYK we reviewed last month since both units use the same motherboard and CPU. All Intel really did was add the 2.5-inch drive tray and increase the size of the unit, but otherwise they are the same. While both perform about the same in most of the benchmarks, the taller NUC had the edge in gaming. Why? We suspect driver updates after we originally ran our tests. In practical gaming, you shouldn’t have high expectations. The 10-year-old Counter Strike: Source is very playable at greater than 60 fps at 1080p, and Counter Strike: GO ran well, too. We also ran Minecraft at about 40–50 fps (although the game can scale up with high-res textures). In CPU-intensive chores, though, the Fat NUC fares well. It’s certainly not in the same league as Gigabyte’s Kick Ass Brix Pro, but for most things people will do with a NUC, it’s more than enough and actually quieter than the Brix Pro, too. At the end of the day, it is still just a dual-core part.</p> <p>We like this new NUC as much as we liked the Intel NUC D54250WYK, being as they’re, well, almost the same. There is a cost premium for the thicker unit, but for someone who intends to store a lot of files or use it as an HTPC box, it’s well worth it.</p> <p><strong>$460;</strong> <a href="http://www.intel.sg/content/www/xa/en/homepage.html">www.intel.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/intel_nuc_d54250wykh_review#comments cpu d54250wykh Hardware Intel NUC review May issues 2014 pocket portable pc raspberry pi small tiny Reviews Systems Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:50:22 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 28434 at http://www.maximumpc.com Maingear Pulse 17 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/maingear_pulse_17_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>A large, light gaming laptop marred by several flaws</h3> <p>Like the <a title="ibuypower battalion" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/ibuypower_battalion_m1771-2_review" target="_blank">iBuypower Battalion</a> laptop we previously reviewed, Maingear’s Pulse 17 is aimed at enthusiasts who want a large gaming laptop but don’t want to kill themselves lugging it around.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/maingear_pulse_17_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/maingear_pulse_17_small.jpg" alt="You can customize the backlit LED keyboard’s colors to your heart’s content." title="Maingear Pulse" width="620" height="741" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can customize the backlit LED keyboard’s colors to your heart’s content.</strong></p> <p>The 17.3-inch Pulse 17 fits the bill in screen real estate, and at 0.8-inches thick and 6 pounds, it’s in line with the thinnest laptops while maintaining a manageable weight. However, what it saves you in weight, it eats up in footprint, with a 16.5-inch by 11.2-inch spot on your desk. It’s large enough that it won’t fit in most normal-sized laptop backpacks.</p> <p>Though it uses the same chassis as iBuypower’s Battalion, Maingear says that unlike that machine, its Pulse 17 gives customers the option to opt for a wireless AC network card (for an additional $50), the widest array of SSD options (up to two MSATA 256GB SSDs in RAID 0), and a custom lid paint job. You can choose among a wide variety of colors (we opted for the “Alpine White” coat for a clean look), and while that’s certainly appreciated, the paint job is a little rough around the edges of the Main Gear logo on the lid. That cuts two ways, though; a decal would be cleaner, but then it’s a decal, not a custom paint job.</p> <p>Even though that’s certainly a small gripe, the build quality in general seemed a little subpar. The chassis allows quite a bit of flex, making it impossible to pick up the notebook without hearing it creak. In addition, one of its rubber feet fell off, which is annoying and further indication of a substandard build. The notebook’s keyboard is similarly lackluster; its keys lack a firm tactile response. We also had an issue with the space bar intermittently failing to register presses. Unfortunately, its ELAN trackpad was unresponsive when it came to two-finger scrolling. Even worse is the gesture used for two-finger scrolling, which is counter to how smartphones maneuver, with no way to change it in settings. We wish we could say that the panel and speakers made up for these shortcomings, but both the TN panel and the speakers were meh.</p> <p>Thankfully, the laptop’s performance is very respectable, especially when you consider its form factor. Inside, you’ll find a quad-core 2.4GHz Core i7-4700HQ CPU, 16GB of DDR3/1600, and the most popular GPU for ultra-thin gaming laptops today: a GeForce GTX 765M.</p> <p>While the Pulse 17’s graphics card score tied our Alienware 14 zero-point laptop (which also uses a GeForce GTX765M), the Pulse 17 was able to outperform it by 5 percent in both our Metro: Last Light and BioShock Infinite benchmarks.</p> <p>What this amounts to in real-world terms is average frame rates in the high 50s playing BioShock Infinite on “medium” settings. It wasn’t quite as impressive CPU-side, though, falling in line with Alienware’s very similar Core i7-4700MQ chip in single-threaded tasks, but faltering 6 percent in our multithreaded x264 test. It also wasn’t quite as energy-efficient as the Alienware 14, but its 6-cell battery did last around 3.5 hours in our video rundown test, which is actually longer than the majority of gaming laptops we’ve reviewed, especially compared to iBuypower’s similarly spec’d Battalion notebook, which couldn’t even make it to 2.5 hours.</p> <p>Where the iBuypower laptop really has the advantage over the Maingear, however, is in price. At $2,400, the Pulse 17 costs a whopping $540 more with very similar specs. Yowza! The added expense likely comes down to the custom paint job that Maingear offers, and the company’s two-year warranty program versus the one-year warranty that iBuypower provides. If you don’t care about those added features, but are still interested in the laptop, we recommend going with iBuypower’s product.</p> <p><strong>$2,400,</strong> <a href="http://www.maingear.com/">www.maingear.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/maingear_pulse_17_review_2014#comments Business Notebooks Hardware maingear maximum pc May issues 2014 Review Reviews Thu, 28 Aug 2014 00:35:39 +0000 Jimmy Thang 28445 at http://www.maximumpc.com OCZ Vertex 460 240GB Review http://www.maximumpc.com/ocz_vertex_460_240gb_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated</h3> <p>That last time we heard from OCZ was back before the end of 2013, when the company was in the grips of bankruptcy and nobody was sure what its future held. Fast forward to March 2014, and things are looking rather good for the formerly beleaguered company, much to everyone’s surprise. Rather than simply dissolve and fade away like we had feared, the company has been acquired by storage behemoth Toshiba, and is now operating as an independent subsidiary.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/vertex460_lrg_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/vertex460_lrg_small.jpg" alt="OCZ’s new drive has a more subdued, corporate look to it, thanks to a takeover by “the man.”" title="OCZ Vertex 460 240GB" width="620" height="449" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>OCZ’s new drive has a more subdued, corporate look to it, thanks to a takeover by “the man.”</strong></p> <p>The best news is OCZ’s NAND-acquisition troubles are seemingly a thing of the past, as Toshiba is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of NAND. So, it is no surprise that the first drive we’re seeing from the new venture is essentially a reborn Vector drive, only with Toshiba NAND flash. Dubbed the Vertex 460, this “new” drive blends the company’s proprietary Barefoot 3 controller found on its high-end Vector drives with Toshiba’s 19nm MLC NAND flash, so it’s ditching the Micron NAND it used previously. The result is basically a slight watering-down of its Vector 150 drive in order to make it more affordable and consumer-friendly. It also needed to bring its Barefoot 3 controller over to its mainstream line of Vertex-branded drives, so this drive accomplishes that feat, as well.</p> <p>In many ways, the Vertex 460 is very similar to the company’s recent Vector 150 drive, the only difference being the Vector has a five-year warranty and has a higher overall endurance rating to reflect its use of binned NAND flash. The Vertex 460 is no slouch, though, and is rated to handle up to 20GB of NAND writes per day for three years. The drive also utilizes over-provisioning, so 12 percent of the drive is reserved for NAND management by the Barefoot 3 controller. Though you lose some capacity, you gain longer endurance and better performance, so it’s a worthwhile trade-off. The Vertex 460 also offers hardware encryption support, which is very uncommon for a mainstream drive, and though we’d never use it, it’s nice to have options. Otherwise, its specs are par for the course in that it’s a 7mm drive and is available in 120GB, 240GB, and 480GB flavors. It’s also bundled with a 3.5-inch bay adapter as well as a copy of Acronis True Image, which is appreciated.</p> <p>When we strapped the Vertex to our test bench, we saw results that were consistently impressive. In every test, the Vertex 460 was very close to the fastest drives in its class, and in all scenarios it’s very close to saturating the SATA bus, so it’s not really possible for it to be any faster. It had no problem handling small queue depths of four commands in ATTO, and held its own with a 32 queue depth in Iometer, too. It was a minute slower than the Samsung 840 EVO in our Sony Vegas test, which writes a 20GB uncompressed AVI file to the drive, but also much faster than the Crucial M500 in the same test. Overall, there were no weak points whatsoever in its performance, but it is not faster than the Samsung 840 EVO, and its OCZ Toolbox software utility is extremely rudimentary compared to the Samsung app. Though the Vertex 460 is an overall very solid drive, it doesn’t exceed our expectations in any particular category. In other words, it’s a great SSD, but not quite Kick Ass.</p> <p><strong>$190,</strong> <a href="http://ocz.com/">www.ocz.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/ocz_vertex_460_240gb_review#comments Hard Drive Hardware HDD May issues 2014 OCZ Vertex 460 240GB Review solid state drive ssd Reviews Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:16:12 +0000 Josh Norem 28382 at http://www.maximumpc.com Nvidia Shield Tablet Review http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_tablet_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Updated: Now with video review!&nbsp;</h3> <p>Despite its problems, we actually liked <a title="Nvidia Shield review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_review_2013" target="_blank">Nvidia’s original Shield Android gaming handheld</a>. Our biggest issue with it was that it was bulky and heavy. With rumors swirling around about a Shield 2, we were hoping to see a slimmer, lighter design. So consider us initially disappointed when we learned that the next iteration of Shield would just be yet another Android tablet. Yawn, right? The fact of the matter is that the Shield Tablet may be playing in an oversaturated market, but it’s still great at what it sets out to be.</p> <p><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/dGigsxi9-K4" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We've updated our review to include the video review above.</strong></p> <p>At eight inches, the Shield Tablet features a gorgeous 1900x1200 display, which shares the same resolution as Google’s flagship <a title="nexus 7 review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/google_nexus_7_review_2013" target="_blank">Nexus 7</a> tablet. At 13.1 ounces, the Shield Tablet is about three ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 but still a lot lighter than the original’s 1 lb. 4.7 ounces.&nbsp;</p> <p>Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you’re getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat. It’s a little heavier than we like, but isn’t likely to cause any wrist problems. On the back of the Shield is an anti-slip surface and a 5MP camera, and on the front of the tablet is a front-facing 5MP camera and two front-facing speakers. While the speakers are not going to blow away dedicated Bluetooth speakers, they sound excellent for a tablet. In addition to the speakers, the Shield Tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top. Other ports include Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, and a MicroSD card slot capable of taking up to 128GB cards. Buttons on the Shield include a volume rocker and a power button, which we found to be a little small and shallow for our liking.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_exploded_view_black_bckgr.jpg" alt="Nvidia Shield Tablet guts" title="Nvidia Shield Tablet guts" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The guts of the Nvidia Shield Tablet.</strong></p> <p>All of this is running on the latest version of Android KitKat (4.4). Nvidia says that it will update the tablet to Android L within a few weeks of Google’s official release. If Nvidia’s original Shield is any indication of how well the company keeps up with OS updates, you should be able to expect to get the latest version of Android after a couple of weeks, if not a months, after release. Regardless, the Shield Tablet is running a pretty stock version of Android to begin with, the main difference being that Nvidia has pre-loaded the tablet with its Shield Hub, which is a 10-foot UI used to purchase, download, and launch games.</p> <p>Arguably, the real star of the tablet is Nvidia’s new Tegra K1 mobile superchip. The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC features Nvidia’s Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores along with 2GB of low-power DDR3. K1 supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics cards, including tesselation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.</p> <p>In our performance benchmarks, the K1 killed it. Up until now, the original Shield’s actively cooled Tegra 4 is arguably one of the most, if not <em>the</em> most, powerful Android SOC on the market, but the K1 slaughters it across the board. In Antutu and GeekBench benchmark, we saw modest gains of 12 percent to 23 percent in Shield vs. Shield Tablet action. But in Passmark and GFX Bench’s Trex test, we saw nearly a 50 percent spread, and in 3DMark’s mobile Icestorm Unlimited test, we saw an astounding 90 percent advantage for the Shield Tablet. This is incredible when you consider that the tablet has no fans and a two-watt TDP. Compared to the second-gen Nexus 7, the Shield Tablet benchmarks anywhere from 77 percent to 250 percent faster. This SOC is smoking fast.</p> <p>In terms of battery life, Nvidia claims you’ll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. This is up 3.75 Wh up from Google’s Nexus 7 equivalent, and from our experiential tests, we found those figures to be fairly accurate if not a best-case scenario. It will pretty much last you all day, but you'll still want to let it sip juice every night.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_shield_controller_war_thunder.jpg" alt="Shield Tablet review" title="Shield Tablet review" width="620" height="343" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The new wireless controller uses Wi-Fi Direct instead of Bluetooth for lower latency.</strong></p> <p>Of course, if you’re going to game with it, you’re going to need Nvidia’s new wireless Shield Controller. Sold separately for $60, the 11.2-ounce Shield Controller maintains the same button layout as the original Shield controller, but feels a lot lighter and is more comfortable to hold. While most Android game controllers operate over Bluetooth, Nvidia opted to go with Wi-Fi Direct, stating that it offers 2x faster response time and more bandwidth. The extra bandwidth allows you to plug a 3.5mm headphone into the controller and also allows you to link up to four controllers to the device, which is an appreciated feature when you hook up the tablet to your HDTV via the Shield Tablet’s <a title="shield console mode" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_sweetens_shield_console_android_442_kitkat_price_drop_199_through_april" target="_blank">Console Mode</a>. Other unique features of the controller include capacitive-touch buttons for Android’s home, back, and play buttons. There’s also a big green Nvidia button that launches Shield Hub. The controller also has a small, triangle-shaped clickable touch pad which allows you to navigate your tablet from afar. One quibble with it is that we wish the trackpad was more square, to at least mimic the dimensions of the tablet; the triangle shape was a little awkward to interface with. Another problem that we initially had with the controller was that the + volume button stopped working after a while. We contacted Nvidia about this and the company sent us a new unit, which remedied the issue. One noticeable feature missing from the controller is rumble support. Nvidia said this was omitted on the original Shield to keep the weight down; its omission is a little more glaring this time around, however, since there's no screen attached to the device.</p> <p>The controller isn’t the only accessory that you’ll need to purchase separately if you want to tap into the full Shield Tablet experience. To effectively game with the tablet, you’ll need the Shield Tablet cover, which also acts as a stand. Like most tablets, a magnet in the cover shuts off the Shield Tablet when closed, but otherwise setting up the cover and getting it to act as a stand is initially pretty confusing. The cover currently only comes in black, and while we’re generally not big on marketing aesthetics, it would be nice to have an Nvidia green option to give the whole look a little more pop. We actually think the cover should just be thrown in gratis, especially considering that the cheapest 16GB model costs $300. On the upside though, you do get Nvidia’s new passive DirectStylus 2 that stows away nicely in the body of the Shield Tablet. Nvidia has pre-installed note-writing software and its own Nvidia Dabbler painting program. The nice thing about Dabbler is that it leverages the K1’s GPU acceleration so that you can virtually paint and blend colors in real time. There’s also a realistic mode where the “paint” slowly drips down the virtual canvas like it would in real life.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u154082/shield_tablet_shield_controller_trine2_0.jpg" alt="Shield tablet review" title="Shield tablet review" width="620" height="404" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Shield Controller is a lot lighter and less blocky than the original Shield Portable.</strong></p> <p>But that’s probably not why you’re interested in the Shield Tablet. This device is first and foremost a gaming tablet and even comes with a free Android copy of Trine 2. Trine 2 was originally a PC game and it’s made a great transition to the Shield Tablet. While the game was never known to be a polygon pusher, it looks just as good as it ever did on its x86 debut.&nbsp;</p> <p>With gaming as the primary driver for Shield Tablet, you may wonder why Nvidia didn’t bundle its new controller. The company likely learned from Microsoft’s mistake with Kinect and the Xbox One: Gamers don’t like to spend money and getting the price as low as possible was likely on Nvidia’s mind. Of course, not everyone may even want a controller, with the general lack of support for them in games. Nvidia says there are now around 400 Android titles that support its controller, but that’s only a small percentage of Android games and the straight truth is that the overwhelming majority of these games are garbage.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nvidia is making a push for Android gaming, however. The company worked with Valve to port over Half Life 2 and Portal to the Shield and they look surprisingly fantastic and are easily the two prettiest games on Android at the moment. Whether Android will ever become a legitimate platform for hardcore gaming is anyone’s guess, but at least the Shield Tablet will net you a great front seat if the time ever arises.</p> <p>Luckily, you won’t have to rely solely on the Google Play store to get your gaming fix. Emulators run just as well here as they did on the original Shield and this iteration of Shield is also compatible with Gamestream, which is Nvidia’s streaming technology that allows you to stream games from your PC to your Shield. Gamestream, in theory, lets you play your controller-enabled PC games on a Shield.</p> <p>At this point, Nvidia says Gamestream supports more than 100 games such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Titanfall from EA’s Origin and Valve’s Steam service. The problem, though, is that there are hundreds more games on Steam and Origin that support controllers—but not the Shield Tablet’s controller. For example, Final Fantasy VII, a game that we couldn’t get to work with the original Shield, still isn't supported even though it works with an Xbox controller on the PC. When Gamestream does work, however, it’s relatively lag-free and kind of wonderful. The one caveat here is that you’ll have to get a 5GHz dual-band router to effectively get it working.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/rh7fWdQT2eE" width="620" height="349" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Nvidia Shield Video demo.</strong></p> <p>Would we buy the Shield Tablet if we owned the original Shield (now renamed the Shield Portable)? Probably not. If we were looking for a new tablet and top-notch gaming performance was on the checklist, the Shield Tablet is easily the top contender today. We’d take it over the second-gen Nexus 7 in a heartbeat. While we understand why Nvidia decided to separate the cover and controller to keep the prices down and avoid the Kinect factor, we think a bundled package with a small price break as an alternative would have been nice. All things considered though, consider us surprised. The Shield Tablet is pretty dang cool.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>$300</strong></p> <p><em><strong>Update:</strong> The original article incorrectly labled the Shield Portable benchmarks with the Nexus 7 figures. The issue has been resolved and both benchmark charts are listed below.&nbsp;</em></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_shield_tablet_review_2014#comments android Google Hardware KitKat maximum pc nvidia portable Review shield tablet wireless controller News Reviews Tablets Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:36:57 +0000 Jimmy Thang 28263 at http://www.maximumpc.com Best Cheap Graphics Card http://www.maximumpc.com/best_cheap_graphics_card_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Six entry-level cards battle for budget-board bragging rights</h3> <p>The video-card game is a lot like Hollywood. Movies like My Left Foot and The Artist take home the Oscars every year, but movies like Grown Ups 2 and Transformers 3 pull in all the cash. It's the same with GPUs, in that everyone loves to talk about $1,000 cards, but the actual bread-and-butter of the market is made up of models that cost between $100 and $150. These are not GPUs for 4K gaming, obviously, but they can provide a surprisingly pleasant 1080p gaming experience, and run cool and quiet, too.</p> <p>This arena has been so hot that AMD and Nvidia have recently released no fewer than six cards aimed at budget buyers. Four of these cards are from AMD, and Nvidia launched two models care of its all-new Maxwell architecture, so we decided to pit them against one another in an old-fashioned GPU roundup. All of these cards use either a single six-pin PCIe connector or none at all, so you don't even need a burly power supply to run them, just a little bit of scratch and the desire to get your game on. Let's dive in and see who rules the roost!</p> <h3>Nvidia's Maxwell changes the game</h3> <p>Budget GPUs have always been low-power components, and usually need just a single six-pin PCIe power connector to run them. After all, a budget GPU goes into a budget build, and those PCs typically don't come with the 600W-or-higher power supplies that provide dual six- or eight-pin PCIe connectors. Since many budget PSUs done have PCIe connectors, most of these cards come with Molex adapters in case you don't have one. The typical thermal design power (TDP) of these cards is around 110 watts or so, but that number fluctuates up and down according to spec. For comparison, the Radeon R9 290X has a TDP of roughly 300 watts, and Nvidia's flagship card, the GTX 780 Ti, has a TDP of 250W, so these budget cards don't have a lot of juice to work with. Therefore, efficiency is key, as the GPUs need to make the most out of the teeny, tiny bit of wattage they are allotted. During 2013, we saw AMD and Nvidia release GPUs based on all-new 28nm architectures named GCN and Kepler, respectively, and though Nvidia held a decisive advantage in the efficiency battle, it's taken things to the next level with its new ultra-low-power Maxwell GPUs that were released in February 2014.</p> <p>Beginning with the GTX 750 Ti and the GTX 750, Nvidia is embarking on a whole new course for its GPUs, centered around maximum power efficiency. The goal with its former Kepler architecture was to have better performance per watt compared to the previous architecture named Fermi, and it succeeded, but it's taken that same philosophy even further with Maxwell, which had as its goal to be twice as efficient as Kepler while providing 25 percent more performance.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/maxwell_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/maxwell_small.jpg" alt="Maxwell offers far greater power savings by using more granular clock gating, which allows it to shut down unused graphics units. " width="620" height="279" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Maxwell offers far greater power savings by using more granular clock gating, which allows it to shut down unused graphics units. </strong></p> <p>Achieving more performance for the same model or SKU from one generation to the next is a tough enough challenge, but to do so by cutting power consumption in half is an even trickier gambit, especially considering the Maxwell GPUs are being fabricated on the same 28nm process it used for Kepler. We always expect more performance for less power when moving from one process to the next, such as 32nm to 28nm or 22nm to 14nm, but to do so on the same process is an amazing achievement indeed. Though Nvidia used many technological advances to reduce power consumption, the main structural change was to how the individual CUDA cores inside the Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs) are organized and controlled. In Kepler, each GPC contained individual processing units, named SMX units, and each unit featured a piece of control logic that handled scheduling for 192 CUDA cores, which was a major increase from the 32 cores in each block found in Fermi. In Maxwell, Nvidia has gone back to 32 CUDA cores per block, but is putting four blocks into each unit, which are now called SM units. If you're confused, the simple version is this—rather than one piece of logic controlling 192 cores, Maxwell has a piece of logic for each cluster of 32 cores, and there are four clusters per unit, for a total of 128 cores per block. Therefore, it's reduced the number of cores per block by 64, from 192 to 128, which helps save energy. Also, since each piece of control logic only has to pay attention to 32 cores instead of 192, it can run them more efficiently, which also saves energy.</p> <p>The benefit to all this energy-saving is the GTX 750 cards don't need external power, so they can be dropped into pretty much any PC on the market without upgrading the power supply. That makes it a great upgrade for any pre-built POS you have lying around the house.</p> <h4>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce</h4> <p>Nvidia's new Maxwell cards run surprisingly cool and quiet in stock trim, and that's with a fan no larger than an oversized Ritz cracker, so you can guess what happens when you throw a mid-sized WindForce cooler onto one of them. Yep, it's so quiet and cool you have to check with your fingers to see if it's even running. This bad boy ran at 45 C under load, making it the coolest-running card we've ever tested, so kudos to Nvidia and Gigabyte on holding it down (the temps, that is). This board comes off the factory line with a very mild overclock of just 13MHz (why even bother, seriously), and its boost clock has been massaged up to 1,111MHz from 1,085MHz, but as always, this is just a starting point for your overclocking adventures. The memory is kept at reference speeds however, running at 5,400MHz. The board sports 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and uses a custom design for its blue-colored PCB. It features two 80mm fans and an 8mm copper heat pipe. Most interesting is the board requires a six-pin PCIe connector, unlike the reference design, which does not.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/9755_big_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/9755_big_small.jpg" alt="The WindForce cooler is overkill, but we like it that way. " title="Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce" width="620" height="500" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The WindForce cooler is overkill, but we like it that way. </strong></p> <p>In testing, the GTX 750 Ti WindForce was neck-and-neck with the Nvidia reference design, proving that Nvidia did a pretty good job with this card, and that its cooling requirements don't really warrant such an outlandish cooler. Still, we'll take it, and we loved that it was totally silent at all times. Overclocking potential is higher, of course, but since the reference design overclocked to 1,270MHz or so, we don’t think you should expect moon-shot overclocking records. Still, this card was rock solid, whisper quiet, and extremely cool.</p> <p><strong>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti WindForce</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9.jpg" alt="score:9" title="score:9" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$160(Street), <a href="http://www.gigabyte.us/ " target="_blank">www.gigabyte.us</a></strong></p> <h4>MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming</h4> <p>Much like Gigabyte's GTX 750 Ti WindForce card, the MSI GTX 750 Gaming is a low-power board with a massive Twin Frozr cooler attached to it for truly exceptional cooling performance. The only downside is the formerly waifish GPU has been transformed into a full-size card, measuring more than nine inches long. Unlike the Gigabyte card though, this GPU eschews the six-pin PCIe connector, as it's just a 55W board, and since the PCIe slot delivers up to 75W, it doesn't even need the juice. Despite this card's entry-level billing, MSI has fitted it with “military-class” components for better overclocking and improved stability. It uses twin heat pipes to dual 100mm fans to keep it cool, as well. It also includes a switch that lets you toggle between booting from an older BIOS in case you run into overclocking issues.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/msigtx750_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/msigtx750_small.jpg" alt="MSI’s Twin Frozr cooling apparatus transforms this svelte GPU into a full-sized card." title="MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming" width="620" height="364" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>MSI’s Twin Frozr cooling apparatus transforms this svelte GPU into a full-sized card.</strong></p> <p>Speaking of which, this board lives up to its name and has a beefy overclock right out of the box, running at 1,085MHz base clock and 1,163MHz boost clock. It features 1GB of GDDR5 RAM on a 128-bit interface.</p> <p>The Twin Frozr cooler handles the miniscule amount of heat coming out of this board with aplomb—we were able to press our finger forcibly on the heatsink under load and felt almost no warmth, sort of like when we give Gordon a hug when he arrives at the office. As the only GTX 750 in this test, it showed it could run our entire test suite at decent frame rates, but it traded barbs with the slightly less expensive Radeon R7 260X. On paper, both the GTX 750 and the R7 260X are about $119, but rising prices from either increased demand or low supply have placed both cards in the $150 range, making it a dead heat. Still, it's a very good option for those who want an Nvidia GPU and its ecosystem but can't afford the Ti model.</p> <p><strong>MSI GeForce GTX 750 Gaming</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$140, <a href="http://www.msi.com/ " target="_blank">www.msi.com</a></strong></p> <h4>Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X</h4> <p>The Sapphire Radeon R7 265 is the odds-on favorite in this roundup, due to its impressive specs and the fact that it consumes more than twice the power of the Nvidia cards. Sure, it's an unfair advantage, but hate the game, not the player. This board is essentially a rebadged Radeon HD 7850, which is a Pitcairn part, and it slides right in between the $120 R7 260X and the $180ish R7 270. This card actually has the same clock speeds as the R7 270, but features fewer streaming processors for reduced shader performance. It has the same 2GB of memory, same 925MHz boost clock, same 256-bit memory bus, and so on. At 150W, its TDP is very high—or at least it seems high, given that the GTX 750 Ti costs the exact same $150 and is sitting at just 60W. Unlike the lower-priced R7 260X Bonaire part, though, the R7 265 is older silicon and thus does not support TrueAudio and XDMA CrossFire (bridgeless CrossFire, basically). However, it will support the Mantle API, someday.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/sapphire_radeon_r7_265_dualx_2gb_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/sapphire_radeon_r7_265_dualx_2gb_small.jpg" alt="Sapphire's R7 265 is the third card in this roundup to use a two-fan cooling apparatus. " title="Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X" width="620" height="473" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Sapphire's R7 265 is the third card in this roundup to use a two-fan cooling apparatus. </strong></p> <p>The Sapphire card delivered the goods in testing, boasting top scores in many benchmarks and coming in as the only GPU in this roundup to hit the magical 60fps in any test, which was a blistering turn in Call of Duty: Ghosts where it hit 67fps at 1080p on Ultra settings. That's damned impressive, as was its ability to run at 49fps in Battlefield 4, though the GTX 750 Ti was just a few frames behind it. Overall, though, this card cleaned up, taking first place in seven out of nine benchmarks. If that isn't a Kick Ass performance, we don't know what is. The Dual-X cooler also kept temps and noise in check, too, making this the go-to GPU for those with small boxes or small monitors.</p> <p><strong> Sapphire Radeon R7 265 Dual-X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_9ka.jpg" alt="score:9ka" title="score:9ka" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$150 (MSRP), <a href="http://www.sapphiretech.com/ " target="_blank">www.sapphiretech.com</a></strong></p> <h4>AMD Radeon R7 260X</h4> <p>The Radeon R7 260X was originally AMD's go-to card for 1080p gaming on a budget. It’s the only card in the company’s sub-$200 lineup that supports all the next-gen features that appeared in its Hawaii-based flagship boards, including support for TrueAudio, XDMA Crossfire, Mantle (as in, it worked at launch), and it has the ability to drive up to three displays —all from this tiny $120 GPU. Not bad. In its previous life, this GPU was known as the Radeon HD 7790, aka Bonaire, and it was our favorite "budget" GPU when pitted against the Nvidia GTX 650 Ti Boost due to its decent performance and amazing at-the-time game bundles. It features a 128-bit memory bus, 896 Stream Processors, 2GB of RAM (up from 1GB on the previous card), and a healthy boost clock of 1,100MHz. TDP is just 115W, so it slots right in between the Nvidia cards and the higher-end R7 265 board. Essentially, this is an HD 7790 card with 1GB more RAM, and support for TrueAudio, which we have yet to experience.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u152332/amdrad_r7_260x_1_small_0.jpg"><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u152332/amdrad_r7_260x_1_small.jpg" alt="This $120 card supports Mantle, TrueAudio, and CrossFire. " title="AMD Radeon R7 260X" width="620" height="667" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>This $120 card supports Mantle, TrueAudio, and CrossFire. </strong></p> <p>In testing, the R7 260X delivered passable performance, staking out the middle ground between the faster R7 265 and the much slower R7 250 cards. It ran at about 30fps in tests like Crysis 3 and Tomb Raider, but hit 51fps on CoD: Ghosts and 40fps on Battlefield 4, so it's certainly got enough horsepower to run the latest games on max settings. The fact that it supports all the latest technology from AMD is what bolsters this card's credentials, though. And the fact that it can run Mantle with no problems is a big plus for Battlefield 4 players. We like this card a lot, just like we enjoyed the HD 7790. While it’s not the fastest card in the bunch, it’s certainly far from the slowest.</p> <p><strong>AMD Radeon R7 260X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_8.jpg" alt="score:8" title="score:8" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$120 <a href="http://www.amd.com/ " target="_blank">www.amd.com</a></strong></p> <h4> <hr />MSI Radeon R7 250 OC</h4> <p>In every competition, there must be one card that represents the lower end of the spectrum, and in this particular roundup, it’s this little guy from MSI. Sure, it's been overclocked a smidge and has a big-boy 2GB of memory, but this GPU is otherwise outgunned, plain and simple. For starters, it has just 384 Stream Processors, which is the lowest number we've ever seen on a modern GPU, so it's already severely handicapped right out of the gate. Board power is a decent 65W, but when looking at the specs of the Nvidia GTX 750, it is clearly outmatched. One other major problem, at least for those of us with big monitors, is we couldn't get it to run our desktop at 2560x1600 out of the box, as it only has one single-link DVI connector instead of dual-link. On the plus side, it doesn't require an auxiliary power connector and is just $100, so it's a very inexpensive board and would make a great upgrade from integrated graphics for someone on a strict budget.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/msi_radeon_r7_250_oc_2gb_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/msi_radeon_r7_250_oc_2gb_small.jpg" alt="Some R7 250 cards include 1GB of RAM, but this MSI board sports 2GB." title="MSI Radeon R7 250 OC" width="620" height="498" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Some R7 250 cards include 1GB of RAM, but this MSI board sports 2GB.</strong></p> <p>That said, we actually felt bad for this card during testing. The sight of it limping along at 9 frames per second in Heaven 4.0 was tough to watch, and it didn't do much better on our other tests, either. Its best score was in Call of Duty: Ghosts, where it hit a barely playable 22fps. In all of our other tests, it was somewhere between 10 and 20 frames per second on high settings, which is simply not playable. We'd love to say something positive about the card though, so we'll note that it probably runs fine at medium settings and has a lot of great reviews on Newegg from people running at 1280x720 or 1680x1050 resolution.</p> <p><strong>MSI Radeon R7 250 OC 1TB</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_6.jpg" alt="score:6" title="score:6" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$90 <a href=" http://us.msi.com/ " target="_blank">http://us.msi.com</a></strong></p> <h4>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</h4> <p>The PowerColor Radeon R7 250X represents a mild bump in specs from the R7 250, as you would expect given its naming convention. It is outfitted with 1GB of RAM however, and a decent 1,000MHz boost clock. It packs 640 Stream Processors, placing it above the regular R7 250 but about mid-pack in this group. Its 1GB of memory runs on the same 128-bit memory bus as other cards in this roundup, so it's a bit constrained in its memory bandwidth, and we saw the effects of it in our testing. It supports DirectX 11.2, though, and has a dual-link DVI connector. It even supports CrossFire with an APU, but not with another PCIe GPU&shy;—or at least that's our understanding of it, since it says it supports CrossFire but doesn't have a connector on top of the card.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/r7-250x-angle_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/r7-250x-angle_small.jpg" alt="The R7 250X is a rebadged HD 7770, made for cash-strapped gamers. " title="PowerColor Radeon R7 250X " width="620" height="369" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The R7 250X is a rebadged HD 7770, made for cash-strapped gamers. </strong></p> <p>When we put the X-card to the test, it ended up faring a smidgen better than the non-X version, but just barely. It was able to hit 27 and 28 frames per second in Battlefield 4 and CoD: Ghosts, and 34 fps in Batman: Arkham Origins, but in the rest of the games in our test suite, its performance was simply not what we would call playable. Much like the R7 250 from MSI, this card can't handle 1080p with all settings maxed out, so this GPU is bringing up the rear in this crowd. Since it's priced "under $100" we won't be too harsh on it, as it seems like a fairly solid option for those on a very tight budget, and we'd definitely take it over the vanilla R7 250. We weren't able to see "street" pricing for this card, as it had not been released at press time, but our guess is even though it's one of the slowest in this bunch, it will likely be the go-to card under $100.</p> <p><strong>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</strong></p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p> <div class="module-content" style="margin-top: -20px;"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="verdict"><img src="/sites/maximumpc.com/themes/maximumpc/i/mxpc_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$100, <a href="http://www.powercolor.com/ " target="_blank">www.powercolor.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Should you take the red pill or the green pill?</h3> <p><strong>Both companies offer proprietary technologies to lure you into their "ecosystems," so let’s take a look at what each has to offer</strong></p> <h4>Nvidia's Offerings</h4> <p><strong>G-Sync</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's G-Sync technology is arguably one of the strongest cards in Nvidia's hand, as it eliminates tearing in video games caused by the display's refresh rate being out of sync with the frame rate of the GPU. The silicon syncs the refresh rate with the cycle of frames rendered by the GPU, so movement onscreen looks buttery smooth at all times, even below 30fps. The only downside is you must have a G-Sync monitor, so that limits your selection quite a bit.</p> <p><strong>Regular driver releases</strong></p> <p>People love to say Nvidia has "better drivers" than AMD, and though the notion of "better" is debatable, it certainly releases them much more frequently than AMD. That's not to say AMD is a slouch—especially now that it releases a new "beta" build each month—but Nvidia seems to be paying more attention to driver support than AMD.</p> <p><strong>GeForce Experience and ShadowPlay</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's GeForce Experience software will automatically optimize any supported games you have installed, and also lets you stream to Twitch as well as capture in-game footage via ShadowPlay. It's a really slick piece of software, and though we don't need a software program to tell us "hey, max out all settings," we do love ShadowPlay.</p> <p><strong>PhysX</strong></p> <p>Nvidia's proprietary PhysX software allows game developers to include billowing smoke, exploding particles, cloth simulation, flowing liquids, and more, but there's just one problem—very few games utilize it. Even worse, the ones that do utilize it, do so in a way that is simply not that impressive, with one exception: Borderlands 2.</p> <h4>AMD's Offerings</h4> <p><strong>Mantle and TrueAudio</strong></p> <p>AMD is hoping that Mantle and TrueAudio become the must-have "killer technology" it offers over Nvidia, but at this early stage, it's difficult to say with certainty if that will ever happen. Mantle is a lower-level API that allows developers to optimize a game specifically targeted at AMD hardware, allowing for improved performance.</p> <p><strong>TressFX</strong></p> <p>This is proprietary physics technology similar to Nvidia's PhysX in that it only appears in certain games, and does very specific things. Thus far, we've only seen it used once—for Lara Croft's hair in Tomb Raider. Instead of a blocky ponytail, her mane is flowing and gets blown around by the wind. It looks cool but is by no means a must-have item on your shopping list, just like Nvidia's PhysX. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Gaming Evolved by Raptr<br /></strong></p> <p>This software package is for Radeon users only, and does several things. First, it will automatically optimize supported games you have installed, and it also connects you to a huge community of gamers across all platforms, including PC and console. You can see who is playing what, track achievements, chat with friends, and also broadcast to Twitch.tv, too. AMD also has a "rewards" program that doles out points for using the software, and you can exchange those points for gear, games, swag, and more.</p> <p><strong>Currency mining</strong></p> <p>AMD cards are better for currency mining than Nvidia cards for several reasons, but their dominance is not in question. The most basic reason is the algorithms used in currency mining favor the GCN architecture, so much so that AMD cards are usually up to five times faster in performing these operations than their Nvidia equivalent. In fact, the mining craze has pushed the demand for these cards is so high that there's now a supply shortage.</p> <h3>All the cards, side by side</h3> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>MSI Geforce GTX 750 Gaming</td> <td>GigaByte GeForce GTX 750 Ti </td> <td>GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost *</td> <td>GeForce GTX 660 *</td> <td>MSI Radeon R7 250</td> <td>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</td> <td>AMD Radeon R7 260X</td> <td>Sapphire Radeon R7 265</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Price</td> <td class="item-dark">$120 </td> <td>$150</td> <td>$160</td> <td>$210</td> <td>$90</td> <td>$100</td> <td>$120</td> <td>$150</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Code-name</td> <td>Maxwell</td> <td>Maxwell</td> <td>Kepler</td> <td>Kepler</td> <td>Oland</td> <td>Cape Verde</td> <td>Bonaire</td> <td>Curaco</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Processing cores</td> <td class="item-dark">512</td> <td>640</td> <td>768</td> <td>960</td> <td>384</td> <td>640</td> <td>896</td> <td>1,024</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ROP units</td> <td>16</td> <td>16</td> <td>24</td> <td>24</td> <td>8</td> <td>16</td> <td>16</td> <td>32</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Texture units</td> <td>32</td> <td>40<strong><br /></strong></td> <td>64</td> <td>80</td> <td>24</td> <td>40</td> <td>56</td> <td>64</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>1GB</td> <td>1GB</td> <td>2GB</td> <td>2GB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory speed</td> <td>1,350MHz</td> <td>1,350MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,125MHz</td> <td>1,500MHz</td> <td>1,400MHz</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Memory bus</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>192-bit</td> <td>192-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>128-bit</td> <td>256-bit</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Base clock</td> <td>1,020MHz</td> <td>1,020MHz</td> <td>980MHz</td> <td>980MHz</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Boost clock</td> <td>1,085MHz</td> <td>1,085MHz</td> <td>1,033MHz</td> <td>1,033MHz</td> <td>1,050MHz</td> <td>1,000MHz</td> <td>1,000MHz</td> <td>925MHz</td> </tr> <tr> <td>PCI Express version</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> <td>3</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Transistor count</td> <td>1.87 billion</td> <td>1.87 billion</td> <td>2.54 billion</td> <td>2.54 billion</td> <td>1.04 billion</td> <td>1.04 billion</td> <td>2.08 billion</td> <td>2.8 billion</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Power connectors</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>N/A</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> <td>1x six-pin</td> </tr> <tr> <td>TDP</td> <td>54W</td> <td>60W</td> <td>134W</td> <td>140W</td> <td>65W</td> <td>80W</td> <td>115W</td> <td>150W</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Fab process</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> <td>28nm</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Multi-card support</td> <td>No</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>No</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> <td>Yes</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Outputs</td> <td>DVI, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, <br />2x HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>2x DVI, <br />HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>DVI-S, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>DVI, VGA, HDMI</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> <td>2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Provided for reference purposes.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <h3>How we tested</h3> <p><strong>We lowered our requirements, but not too much</strong></p> <p>We normally test all of our video cards on our standardized test bed, which has now been in operation for a year and a half, with only a few changes along the way. In fact, the only major change we've made to it in the last year was swapping the X79 motherboard and case. The motherboard had endured several hundred video-card insertions, which is well beyond the design specs. The case had also become bent to the point where the video cards were drooping slightly. Some, shall we say, "overzealous" overclocking also caused the motherboard to begin behaving unpredictably. Regardless, it's a top-tier rig with an Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme processor, 16GB of DDR3 memory, an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, Crucial M500 SSD, and Windows 8 64-bit Enterprise.</p> <p>For the AMD video cards, we loaded Catalyst driver 14.1 Beta 1.6, as that was the latest driver, and for the Nvidia cards, we used the 334.89 WHQL driver that was released just before testing began. We originally planned to run the cards at our normal "midrange GPU" settings, which is 1920x1080 resolution with maximum settings and 4X AA enabled, but after testing began, we realized we needed to back off those settings just a tad. Instead of dialing it down to medium settings, though, as that would run counter to everything we stand for as a magazine, we left the settings on "high" across the board, but disabled AA. These settings were a bit much for the lower-end cards, but rather than lower our settings once again, we decided to stand fast at 1080p with high settings, since we figured that's where you want to be gaming and you deserve to know if some of the less-expensive cards can handle that type of action.</p> <h3>Mantle Reviewed</h3> <p><strong>A word about AMD's Mantle API</strong></p> <p>AMD's Mantle API is a competitor to DirectX, optimized specifically for AMD's GCN hardware. In theory, it should allow for better performance since its code knows exactly what hardware it's talking to, as opposed to DirectX's "works with any card" approach. The Mantle API should be able to give all GCN 1.0 and later AMD cards quite a boost in games that support it. However, AMD points out that Mantle will only show benefits in scenarios that are CPU-bound, not GPU-bound, so if your GPU is already working as hard as it can, Mantle isn’t going to help it. However, if your GPU is always waiting around for instructions from an overloaded CPU, then Mantle can offer respectable gains.</p> <p>To test it out, we ran Battlefield 4 on an older Ivy Bridge quad-core, non-Hyper-Threaded Core i5-3470 test bench with the R7 260X GPU at 1920x1080 and 4X AA enabled. As of press time, there are only two games that support Mantle—Battlefield 4 and an RTS demo on Steam named Star Swarm. In Battlefield 4, we were able to achieve 36fps using DirectX, and 44fps using Mantle, which is a healthy increase and a very respectable showing for a $120 video card. The benefit was much smaller in Star Swarm, however, showing a negligible increase of just two frames per second.</p> <p><img src="/files/u152332/bf4_screen_swap_small.jpg" alt="Enabling Mantle in Battlefield 4 does provide performance boosts for most configs." title="Battlefield 4" width="620" height="207" /></p> <p>We then moved to a much beefier test bench running a six-core, Hyper-Threaded Core i7-3960X and a Radeon R9 290X, and we saw an increase in Star Swarm of 100 percent, going from 25fps with DirectX to 51fps using Mantle in a timed demo. We got a decent bump in Battlefield 4, too, going from 84 fps using DirectX to 98 fps in Mantle.</p> <p>Overall, Mantle is legit, but it’s kind of like PhysX or TressFX in that it’s nice to have when it’s supported, and does provide a boost, but it isn’t something we’d count on being available in most games.</p> <h3>Final Thoughts</h3> <h3>If cost is an issue, you've got options</h3> <p>Testing the cards for this feature was an enlightening experience. We don’t usually dabble in GPU waters that are this shallow, so we really had no idea what to expect from all the cards assembled. To be honest, if we were given a shot of sodium pentothal, we’d have to admit that given these cards’ price points, we had low expectations but thought they’d all at least be able to handle 1920x1080 gaming. As spoiled gamers used to running 2K or 4K resolution, 1080p seems like child’s play to us. But we found out that running that resolution at maximum settings is a bridge too far for any GPU that costs less than $120 or so. The $150 models are the sweet spot, though, and are able to game extremely well at 1080 resolution, meaning the barrier to entry for “sweet gaming” has been lowered by $100, thanks to these new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia.</p> <p>Therefore, the summary of our results is that if you have $150 to spend on a GPU, you should buy the Sapphire Radeon R7 265, as it’s the best card for gaming at this price point, end of discussion. OK, thanks for reading.</p> <p>Oh, are you still here? OK, here’s some more detail. In our testing, the Sapphire R7 265 was hands-down the fastest GPU at its price point—by a non-trivial margin in many tests—and is superior to the GTX 750 Ti from Nvidia. It was also the only GPU to come close to the magical 60fps we desire in every game, making it pretty much the only card in this crowd that came close to satisfying our sky-high demands. The Nvidia GTX 750 Ti card was a close second, though, and provides a totally passable experience at 1080p with all settings maxed. Nvidia’s trump card is that it consumes less than half the power of the R7 265 and runs 10 C cooler, but we doubt most gamers will care except in severely PSU-constrained systems.</p> <p>Moving down one notch to the $120 cards, the GTX 750 and R7 260X trade blows quite well, so there’s no clear winner. Pick your ecosystem and get your game on, because these cards are totally decent, and delivered playable frame rates in every test we ran.</p> <p>The bottom rung of cards, which consists of the R7 250(X) cards, were not playable at 1080p at max settings, so avoid them. They are probably good for 1680x1050 gaming at medium settings or something in that ballpark, but in our world, that is a no-man’s land filled with shattered dreams and sad pixels.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks</span><br /> <div class="module-content"> <div class="module-text full"> <div class="spec-table orange"> <table style="width: 620px; height: 265px;" border="0"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>&nbsp;</td> <td>Nvidia GTX 750 Ti (reference)</td> <td>Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti</td> <td>MSI GTX 750 Gaming</td> <td>Sapphire Radeon R7 265</td> <td>AMD Radeon R7 260X</td> <td>PowerColor Radeon R7 250X</td> <td>MSI Radeon R7 250 OC</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Driver</td> <td class="item-dark">334.89</td> <td>334.89</td> <td>334.89</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> <td>14.1 v1.6</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3DMark Fire Storm</td> <td>3,960</td> <td>3,974</td> <td>3,558</td> <td><strong>4,686</strong></td> <td>3,832</td> <td>2,806</td> <td>1,524</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps)</td> <td class="item-dark"><strong>30</strong></td> <td><strong>30<br /></strong></td> <td>25</td> <td>29</td> <td>23</td> <td>17</td> <td>9</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Crysis 3 (fps)</td> <td>27</td> <td>25</td> <td>21</td> <td><strong>32</strong></td> <td>26</td> <td>16</td> <td>10</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Far Cry 3 (fps)</td> <td><strong>40</strong></td> <td><strong>40<br /></strong></td> <td>34</td> <td><strong>40</strong></td> <td>34</td> <td>16</td> <td>14</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Tomb Raider (fps)</td> <td>30</td> <td>30</td> <td>26</td> <td><strong>36</strong></td> <td>31</td> <td>20</td> <td>12</td> </tr> <tr> <td>CoD: Ghosts (fps)</td> <td>51</td> <td>49</td> <td>42</td> <td><strong>67</strong></td> <td>51</td> <td>28</td> <td>22</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battlefield 4 (fps)</td> <td>45</td> <td>45</td> <td>32</td> <td><strong>49</strong></td> <td>40</td> <td>27</td> <td>14</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Batman: Arkham Origins (fps)</td> <td><strong>74</strong></td> <td>71</td> <td>61</td> <td>55</td> <td>43</td> <td>34</td> <td>18</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Assassin's Creed: Black Flag (fps)</td> <td>33</td> <td>33</td> <td>29</td> <td><strong>39</strong></td> <td>21</td> <td>21</td> <td>14</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em>Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 8. All games are run at 1920x1080 with no AA except for the 3DMark tests.<br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> http://www.maximumpc.com/best_cheap_graphics_card_2014#comments 1080p affordable amd benchmarks budget cheap cheap graphics card gpu Hardware Hardware maximum pc may 2014 nvidia Video Card Features Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:43:32 +0000 Josh Norem 28304 at http://www.maximumpc.com