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 Func HS-260 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/func_hs-260_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Func’s foray into gaming headsets starts on solid footing</h3> <p>Func’s not a new brand, per se—the company has been making gaming peripherals since the turn of the millennium. However, until just over a year ago, it was only known for mousepads, so its recent foray into mice and keyboards represents quite a step up, at least in terms of ambition. Now, with the HS-260, Func is ready to complete the trifecta and take on gaming headsets as well.</p> <p>If the HS-260 is any indication, Func’s got the makings of a gaming peripheral contender. It’s not without its flaws, but as a freshman effort the analog HS-260 is very promising.</p> <p>To begin, the HS-260 is well-constructed. It’s a big set, with circumaural earcups that are large enough to provide plenty of room for even the biggest-eared among us. The plastic band is adjustable and pivots lightly where it meets the earcups, making for a flexible fit. The construction is all plastic, but all the materials feel solid and durable.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100_small.jpg" alt="The HS-260’s audio cable and microphone are both replaceable, and can be plugged in on either side." title="Func HS-260" width="620" height="668" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The HS-260’s audio cable and microphone are both replaceable, and can be plugged in on either side.</strong></p> <p>The design of the HS-260 is quite nice, with muted grays and matte blacks, plus just a hint of chrome to liven things up. The only touch of color in the whole set comes from the orange accents on the braided audio cable. If you prefer your accessories slick and a little on the understated side, this set definitely fits the bill.</p> <p>The HS-260 comes with interchangeable fabric and leatherette earcups, so you can pick whichever finish you prefer. We found both nicely padded and very comfortable. The set feels good overall, though it’s seriously heavy for a wired unit without built-in sound processing or multiple drivers or any of the other features that tend to weight down headsets. The headband is padded, but not by quite enough, and the “clamping” or inward lateral pressure of the headset is a little lower than average, leaving most of the weight bearing right down on the top of your head. All those factors combine to cause a mild headache after a couple hours of wear.</p> <p>This is not a feature-heavy design, but those that are present are nicely implemented. The HS-260 has a single control on the set itself for volume, along with ports for the removable cable and microphone. The audio cable is braided, but lacks an in-line remote, which has become a fairly common feature. There’s no software at all to go with the analog-only HS-260, so you’re pretty much at the mercy of what your sound hardware can output. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to your particular circumstances.</p> <p>Performance-wise, the HS-260 doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowd. Like most gaming headsets, it’s heavy on the bass, though the overall sound is a little lacking in power. We found ourselves needing to turn the volume up higher than usual to get a really immersive sound, and then some static would work its way in. The highs and mids are passable, but indistinct—for music, especially, the HS-260’s balance is a little off.</p> <p>That’s not to say that there’s anything bad about the HS-260’s sound quality—in fact, there’s really nothing bad about the set in general. It’s feature-light, and physically heavy, but it’s a solid headset overall and a surprisingly confident first effort. There’s not too much to make this particular unit stand out from the pack, but we’ll be watching to see what Func comes up with next.</p> <p><strong>$80,</strong> <a href="http://www.func.net/">www.func.net</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/func_hs-260_review#comments Func HS-260 gaming headsets Hardware July issues 2014 Review Headphones Reviews Fri, 17 Oct 2014 09:06:17 +0000 Alex Castle 28737 at http://www.maximumpc.com V3 Components Voltair Reivew http://www.maximumpc.com/v3_components_voltair_reivew <!--paging_filter--><h3>Don’t call it a comeback</h3> <p>If you’re an enthusiast who’s ready to drop more than $100 on a CPU cooler, it’s probably been a long time since you last considered air for this job. Most folks at this level have moved on to closed-loop liquid coolers (CLCs) or even custom loops. Even the best air-driven jobs on the market won’t match the heat dissipation of a good CLC. So unless you’re on a budget, why bother?</p> <p>Well, the folks at V3 Components think they have the answer. By taking the tower radiator design that’s common with high-performance air coolers and adding a Peltier plate to it, V3 believes there’s life left in air. The Peltier plate has an electrical current passing through it in a way that makes one side cooler than the other, to help lower temperatures beyond that of a standard air cooler. That’s the theory, anyway.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_v3voltair_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_v3voltair_small_2.jpg" alt="The two fan cables are sleeved and grafted together for a cleaner installation." title="V3 Components Voltair" width="620" height="542" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The two fan cables are sleeved and grafted together for a cleaner installation.</strong></p> <p>Peltier technology also needs a large radiator to handle all the heat it’s throwing off, otherwise it can actually become insulation. Lately, liquid cooling has done this job. With the Voltair, a series of 8mm copper heat pipes tackle that duty. These pipes are in direct contact with the top of the CPU, for maximum heat transfer. This system also requires a particularly large tower radiator, and the Voltair has two fans attached. That’ll take up a lot of real estate. You can remove the fans during installation, but we still had to screw down the radiator from the side, by hand. This meant pulling out our RAM and video card to get clearance, and it was still a little tight getting in there.</p> <p>The fans use 3-pin connectors, and the kit comes with a fan controller that installs in an expansion in the rear of your case. The location of the dial isn’t ideal, and a bit behind the times for a $130 cooler. We’d prefer the 4-pin PWM control that’s become standard. On the bright side, V3 separated the installation parts and widgets into several different baggies, shaving some time and tedium off installation. We wish other vendors would do the same.</p> <p>We’ve dealt with more awkward setups than this, though, and performance is what actually matters at the end of the day. But sadly, we couldn’t get the Voltair to deliver. V3 Components said that the unit should perform on par with a CLC, but we couldn’t get it to best the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, a standard air cooler that you can snag for around $30. Part of the problem may be the distinct grooves in between each heat pipe, at the section where the pipes touch the top of the CPU. Air pockets can get trapped there if the thermal paste doesn’t spread correctly.</p> <p>V3 Components sent us a replacement unit in case the first one was faulty, and the second one performed slightly worse, hitting 87 C under load when we turned the fans down to about 1,100rpm, triggering a blue-screen error. V3’s own testing with similar hardware indicated that performance should have been in line with a decent CLC, but we just weren’t able to get in their ballpark, despite multiple re-installs, second opinions, and various tweaks. This made us wonder if part of the issue is the design of the nuts V3 uses. They don’t bottom out or limit you during installation, so it’s nigh impossible to know if you’re mounted the cooler perfectly flat. The fine-course threads also mean you’ll be turning forever.</p> <p>The Voltair ended up being one of the most thoroughly tested coolers we’ve reviewed in a while, and the most puzzlingly disappointing. The company says that it’s already looking at creating a smoother contact surface, so hopefully it will fare better next time. Our Intel Core i7-3960X CPU draws up to 165 watts in testing, though, so users of Intel’s 1155/1150 CPUs may have better luck, since those chips use about half the power.</p> <p><strong>$130 (MSRP)</strong>, <a href="http://www.v3components.com/">www.v3components.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/v3_components_voltair_reivew#comments Hardware July issues 2014 maximum pc V3 Components Voltair Reviews Thu, 16 Oct 2014 11:07:05 +0000 TOM MCNAMARA 28727 at http://www.maximumpc.com Silverstone Raven RVZ01 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/silverstone_raven_rvz01_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>This DIY micro-tower takes flight</h3> <p>It’s official: micro-towers are now definitely a “thing.” Unfortunately for DIYers, being able to truly build from scratch hasn’t been an option—until now.</p> <p>Meet Silverstone’s Raven RVZ01, a micro-tower that somewhat resembles a game console but has enough room inside for a high-powered PC. We actually used this enclosure in a recent Build It, and now we’d like to give it a proper review. The short version is that you can pack some powerhouse computing in here, but there are a few caveats.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_silverstone_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_silverstone_small.jpg" alt="An SFX power supply mounts vertically inside the RVZ01." title="Silverstone Raven RVZ01" width="620" height="576" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>An SFX power supply mounts vertically inside the RVZ01.</strong></p> <p>The chief concern with the current wave of micro-towers is how difficult it can be to install a video card. We can settle that one right away: The bracket that holds the card is secured with a few standard Phillips screws. Remove those, lift the bracket out of the case, connect your card to the bracket’s integrated PCI Express connector, attach your PCIe cables, and put the bracket back in. Easy peasy. There’s even a slim 120mm fan preinstalled in that section of the case, to provide intake. Admittedly, this setup works best with a card that has a full “shroud,” where hot exhaust comes directly out the back of the card, instead of getting circulated within the tower. But it’s still an improvement over the usual mini-ITX setup, where the card gets an intake grill and nothing more.</p> <p>The power supply also gets better-than-average treatment in this chassis. You’ll need an SFX power supply instead of ATX, and these smaller units are currently limited to 450 watts. In our Build It, we found that was enough for a GeForce GTX 780 Ti and an Intel Core i7-4770K, but the Silverstone ST45SF-G’s gold rating has a lot to do with that. A more common bronze PSU might not cut it. The space for cabling was also very tight, even when we used a PP05-E flat cable kit (also from Silverstone). And while the PSU has an intake grill on the other side of the case, it exhausts its heat internally, which isn’t ideal. On the other hand, this is not unusual for a micro-tower. On the bright side, the bracket that holds the PSU is easy to access.</p> <p>There is one unavoidable fly in the ointment, though. While the company’s Facebook page featured a closed-loop liquid cooler (CLC) installed in this box, we couldn’t find room for both the radiator and a fan of standard thickness. We had to settle for the Silverstone’s bundled slim fan. Add the absence of air intake in this section of the case, and we were unable to overclock the CPU without running into heat issues. We ended up getting about the same performance as you would from a stock cooler, which undermines the option of putting an unlocked processor in the system—which in turn undermines the option of putting a high-end motherboard in the build.</p> <p>You can still put some nice gear into this case, but a mini-ITX overclocker is better served with a “shoebox” design, such as the Cooler Master Elite 130, or a “cube” design, such as the BitFenix Prodigy. These can take CLCs and ATX power supplies, giving you more options. If you’re not concerned about overclocking and just want something with a small footprint, though, the RVZ01 is really the only game in town right now.</p> <p><strong>$85 (street),</strong> <a href="http://www.silverstonetek.com/">www.silverstonetek.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/silverstone_raven_rvz01_review#comments Hardware July issues 2014 Review Silverstone Raven RVZ01 Reviews Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:44:13 +0000 TOM MCNAMARA 28720 at http://www.maximumpc.com Lian Li PC-V360 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/lian_li_pc-v360_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Brushed-aluminum elegance—for a price</h3> <p>Lian Li comes to the microATX market with a case that looks like a shorter, dieting version of its peers. It’s narrower and more vertically challenged than most microATX cases we’ve checked out, but you’d never guess that by the ample room inside the PC-V360 that the company gives you to play around with.</p> <p>The problem? We don’t really want to.</p> <p>It’s not that the miniature case lacks spirit. Installing a typical microATX motherboard didn’t give us any issues whatsoever, and we especially appreciated the chassis’ built-in motherboard standoffs. Securing up to four new PCIe devices—like our Nvidia GTX 480, which fit comfortably inside the case—was made a smidge more difficult through Lian Li’s use of external screws for its add-in card brackets. However, we forgave this element as it granted us a bit more horizontal space inside the case to work with (you can even remove an included 2.5-inch drive cage if you need more room).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100_0.jpg" alt="This mATX case is small, yet can pack a CLC." title="Lian Li PC-V360" width="620" height="438" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>This mATX case is small, yet can pack a CLC.</strong></p> <p>Pushing in a standard-sized power supply is a tight fit, though. The PSU itself doesn’t brush up against the case’s included top 12cm fan, but there’s a very small amount of room for you to wedge your cables up against the case’s other side panel and the rear of the motherboard tray. We just barely had enough clearance for our 24-pin main power connector, to put that in perspective. Cable management is tricky in this chassis; not impossible, but its limited space definitely requires a bit more thought. The narrow chassis will also limit your air-cooler options.</p> <p>The case’s single 5.25-inch drive bay is pretty standard, in that you’ll be securing your component into the bay using provided thumbscrews. The case’s five 3.5-inch drive bays are split by a single plate that allows you to convert one of these into a 2.5-inch bay (to accompany the three other 2.5-inch bays that come as part of the aforementioned removable drive cage).</p> <p>Installing drives requires you to affix screws and rubber grommets to their sides, which you then slide into the slot and secure into place with a fairly ho-hum “gate” mechanism. We’re not quite convinced of its usefulness versus a rails or tray setup, but the latter two options are certainly more convenient and probably more stable, too.</p> <p>The internal cables for the case’s two USB 3.0 ports and front-mounted 14cm fan are adequate in length, though we would have preferred more length for the case’s front-panel connectors to allow for cleaning wiring runs. Even though this case is tight, you can wedge in a closed-loop cooler on a clever hinged bracket that’s parallel to the CPU. It won’t look pretty, and it might be a cabling/tubing nightmare to contend with, but it’s possible. The CLC bracket (or fans) is one of the most pleasing elements the PC-V360 has to offer, though having more holes and room to mount different-sized fans/radiators would sweeten the deal.</p> <p>Not so pleasing: The fact that the case’s two USB ports are fixed on its right side, toward the front-bottom of the chassis. Put this case under your desk and you’ll be all but touching the floor just to mount a USB cable. The design also limits your ability to, say, place the right side of your system against a wall. It’s a minor quibble, but a more top-and-center USB positioning would be far better for ergonomics. The case also eschews any modern screwless features. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of screwless.</p> <p>While you get the classic “Lian Li” brushed-aluminum elegance, there is a steep price for it: $140. Aluminum will always cost more than steel, but that isn’t our only problem. You’re simply giving up a lot of modern amenities, and while the CLC bracket is clever, we think there are better options out there today.</p> <p><strong>$140, </strong><a href="http://www.lian-li.com/en/">www.lian-li.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/lian_li_pc-v360_review#comments Hardware July issues 2014 Lian Li PC-V360 Reviews Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:29:09 +0000 David Murphy 28719 at http://www.maximumpc.com MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming 3G Review http://www.maximumpc.com/msi_radeon_r9_280_gaming_3g_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>A lot of boom for your buckaroo</h3> <p>AMD has announced an “all new” GPU named the R9 280. This entry will plug the gap between the $230 R7 270X and the $300 R9 280X (these are MSRP prices, btw). It’s priced at $279 and goes head-to-head with Nvidia’s GTX 770, which is priced at $329. Both cards are designed for maximum 1080p, are squarely in the zone of what we would call “good value” as they are somewhat affordable, let you run all games with maximum settings, and handle 1080p with very acceptable frame rates.</p> <p>The reason we stated the R9 280 is a “new” GPU in quotes is that it’s a new SKU for the R9 series, but it’s really just a rebadged HD 7950 Tahiti board. Before you make nasty coughing sounds, keep in mind these second-gen Tahiti boards run much cooler and quieter than they did in their first generation, and with their prices significantly reduced, they are extremely competitive now. This month, we got our hands on the MSI Gaming edition of the card, which features its massive Twin Frozr cooling solution and a healthy overclock from 933MHz on the reference design all the way up to 1,000MHz right out of the box. It features 3GB of GDDR5 RAM just like the HD 7950, and is basically the same GPU except with a higher boost clock. In comparison to the slightly more expensive R9 280X, which is really an HD 7970, the R9 280 has fewer stream processors (1,792 versus 2,048) and slightly slower memory (5GHz versus 6GHz). The card has a 384-bit memory bus and a TDP of 250W, which is slightly higher than the HD 7950 due to the increased clock speeds. It features a Dual-link DVI port, HDMI, and two Mini DisplayPort outputs.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_msinightblade_small_6.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_msinightblade_small_5.jpg" alt="The HD 7950 Boost has been rebooted as the R9 280, now with less noise and a lower price tag." title="MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming 3G" width="620" height="632" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The HD 7950 Boost has been rebooted as the R9 280, now with less noise and a lower price tag.</strong></p> <p>Since you’ve already seen this particular cooling mechanism many times, and we’ve all seen this card before in two other iterations (the HD 7950 and the R9 280X), let’s get right to a discussion of its performance. There’s a saying we have around the office, which goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Translated into GPU performance, it means when a card costs less than another card, it’s usually slower, and it’s extremely rare for a card to be as fast or faster than a more-expensive competitor. That’s just how it works, and we see it very clearly in the case of the R9 280 from MSI. This card isn’t quite as fast as its GTX 770 arch rival, but then again, it’s about $40 less expensive, too (MSI’s GTX 770 with the same cooler is $340), so it’s a teeny, tiny compromise. It will eventually offer support for Mantle, though, but since this is a Tahiti card, it does not support TrueAudio. Looking at the benchmark chart, we see the GTX 770 holding a clear advantage across the board, especially in Batman, which is an Nvidia title with PhysX, so AMD cards don’t do well with those billowing plumes of smoke. All in all, though, we’d rate the R9 280 as a very playable 1080p card, even with all settings maxed and 4xAA. It’s not 60fps, but it hit at least 30 in every game, so it’s extremely playable in all the latest titles.</p> <p>When it comes to overclocking, we were able to boost it up to 1,084MHz, which is damned good for an AMD card. The sizeable Twin Frozr cooler does an exceptional job of keeping things cool and quiet, too, with the card whispering sweet nothings under load and never getting hotter than 66 C.</p> <p>Overall, this is a sweet card for 1080p gaming at the highest settings. It’s cool and quiet, and it’s priced reasonably. It’s a tough call between it and the GTX 770, boiling down mostly to whether Mantle or ShadowPlay/G-Sync pull at your heart strings.</p> <p><strong>$280</strong>, <a href="http://us.msi.com/">http://us.msi.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/msi_radeon_r9_280_gaming_3g_review#comments Hardware July issues 2014 maximum pc MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming 3G Reviews Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:16:37 +0000 Josh Norem 28718 at http://www.maximumpc.com MSI NightBlade Review http://www.maximumpc.com/msi_nightblade_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Bare-bones with a ’tude</h3> <p>Sometimes it’s nice to pick and choose every little component you want in your build, and sometimes it’s just nice to have someone else do the thinking for you.</p> <p>Nowhere is that more true than in the world of small form factor machines. While ATX towers are very forgiving to build into (you can’t pick the wrong PSU or GPU), that can’t be said of ITX PCs.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_msinightblade_small_3.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc100.rev_msinightblade_small_2.jpg" alt="You can jam even a Radeon R9 290X in this baby." title="MSI NightBlade" width="620" height="632" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You can jam even a Radeon R9 290X in this baby.</strong></p> <p>It’s actually fairly easy to make missteps when building an SFF from the ground up, unless you pay very close attention to cable lengths, cooler size, and fan placement. It’s this crowd that MSI’s NightBlade should appeal to the most. It’s an MSI-branded bare-bones box, to which you add storage, an OS, a CPU, and RAM, and you’re good to go.</p> <p>The NightBlade is a typical shoebox “shuttle form factor” that displaces about 16 liters, or 976 cubic inches as we say here in the free lands of ’Merica. That makes it slightly smaller than, say, the Cooler Master Elite 130 chassis. In fact, if you took the Cooler Master Elite 130 and turned it on its side, both would be about the same size and shape.</p> <p>MSI, though, appears to have put some thought into the NightBlade. Since it’s intended primarily as a compact gaming platform, one side of the case is heavily vented and ray-shielded, err, dust-shielded. This is where the big fat GPU is expected to get its air from. MSI says it takes GPUs up to 11.4 inches long and 1.37 inches wide. Basically, it’ll take a Radeon R9 290X without issue. The bottom intake is kept clear with a clever stand-off that does double duty as a carrying handle. The handle is very study, and we had no qualms carrying a built-out NightBlade around the office with it.</p> <p>The mobo inside the NightBlade is an MSI mini-ITX Z87i Gaming AC. The board features a pair of integrated rubber ducky antennas, and the company graciously includes an 802.11ac/Bluetooth 4.0 card. Other amenities include a 600-watt gold-rated PSU, Killer NIC E2200 networking chip, Creative Sound Blaster audio algorithms, and a nifty little SATA adapter cage that lets you install mSATA drives inside of it. The cage is about the size of a standard 2.5-inch SSD and has a standard power connector and two SATA 6Gb/s connectors. You can run the drives individually or in RAID. It’s a good thing you get this, as the NightBlade is limited to 2.5-inch drives and a single 3.5-inch drive. For most people, that’s enough, but we’ve seen designs such as Asrock’s M8 that let you run no fewer than five 2.5-inch drives.</p> <p>In the Kinda Neat department is a front-mounted “OC” button. Pushing the button when the machine is off turns on a subdued glow and, once the machine is booted, overclocks the chip up to 15 percent. On the Intel Core i5-4770K CPU we installed, the chip usually stayed at 3.5GHz with an occasional boost up to 3.9GHz. With the OC button engaged, we saw the NightBlade run at a permanent 4GHz overclock with a core voltage of 1.1 volts—that’s a pretty safe OC for any K-series part. One might argue that the hard button is extraneous, since most overclock and leave it there. Others will say more buttons equal coolness. We went ahead and hit the chip with a Prime95 run for a couple of hours and encountered no instability or offensive acoustics. Noise with a hot GPU, such as the Radeon R9 290, was another matter. Our stock “reference” card would work its fans into a frenzy. MSI does include a plastic bracket that’s labeled “Only for use with the R9 290X,” but we installed a 120mm fan on it to use with our R9 290, and it helped bring down the card whine a little.</p> <p>What the NightBlade really needed, though, was the ability to mount a closed-loop liquid cooler inside. At least in a way that’s apparent to the average builder. We’re sure you could hack one in, but we’d rather it be by design. The plastic fan mount isn’t strong enough to hang a reservoir on, and the rear exhaust fan is an 80mm, so it’s too small for most CLCs. We thought about mounting it directly to the door, but there’s no clear mounting points for a cooler on it, either.</p> <p>The NightBlade has an MSRP of $600, which was initially a turn-off, but on the street, the unit is pushing a reasonable $400. If you took the Cooler Master Elite 130, added the same MSI Z87I Gaming AC board, a 600-watt gold-rated PSU, fans, and a tower cooler, you’d be pushing about $400 at retail. Even the Asrock M8 micro-tower bare-bones machine is pricier at $550—although it does come with a slot-fed optical drive integrated. On the other hand, the NightBlade gives you that nifty mSATA drive adapter. So price-wise, it’s probably a wash. The Asrock M8 also isn’t technically rated to handle high-end GPUs, either.</p> <p>Our only major ding, really, is the inability to mount a closed-loop liquid cooler for the CPU, and even that might be nit-picking. You’ll only need the CLC if you’re doing heavier overclocking than the 4GHz the NightBlade can hit. To be honest, we’d rather see a liquid-cooled GPU in the NightBlade than a liquid-cooled CPU.</p> <p><strong>$400 (street), </strong><a href="http://www.msi.com/index.php">www.msi.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/msi_nightblade_review#comments Hardware July issues 2014 maximum pc Review Reviews Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:51:10 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 28716 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 Crucial M550 SSD 1TB Review http://www.maximumpc.com/crucial_m550_ssd_1tb_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>A slightly faster M500</h3> <p>Crucial has updated it’s slightly aging M500 SSD with a revamped model, and as the changes are modest, the drive’s name received only a slight bump of 50 marketing buzzwords, hence the name M550 instead of M600 or similar.</p> <p>Changes to the drive include a slightly tweaked Marvell controller, and use of the same 20nm two-bit-per-cell MLC NAND used in the M500. However, the lower-capacity models use NAND that has lower density per chip in order to improve performance via more parallelism. This means the 128GB and 256GB models use NAND dies with 64Gb per die, while the 512GB and 1TB models use lower-density 128Gb-per-die modules. This addresses an issue with the M500 wherein the lower-capacity drives suffered from slower write speeds than their more capacious siblings. The controller model number has also been updated from the Marvell 88SS9187 to the newer 88SS9189, with the biggest difference being better support for low-power states in order to conserve battery life in mobile deployments.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_crucial.m550_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_crucial.m550_small.jpg" alt="The M550 offers several tweaks over the M500, designed to boost performance in the lower-capacity models." title="Crucial M550 SSD 1TB" width="620" height="436" /></a></p> <p>The drive is available in all sizes from 128GB up to 1TB, and in 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2 form factors, though we’re of course testing the 2.5-inch model. There’s also been a fair bit of attention devoted to data protection on the M550, just like on its predecessor. The drive has built-in parity via reserved NAND blocks, so space is set aside specifically to rebuild data in case NAND blocks suffer failure, in addition to the already-present over-provisioning to help maintain drive health. The drive also has built-in capacitors to help preserve data in-flight in case of power loss (as did the M500), and features hardware encryption support, as well. Finally, the drive sports “thermal protection,” so if it gets too hot, it will throttle itself a bit until it can chill out, potentially keeping whatever laptop or tablet nice and cool, and preserving battery life, to boot. As you can see, this is a full-featured SSD, and like the previous model, it comes with a three-year warranty, but is rated to deliver the same 72TB of NAND writes over its life cycle, which works out to over 60GB of data written each day.</p> <p>Since the M500 we received for testing was the 960GB version we used in the Dream Machine, it was the only drive we had to compare to the M550. Not surprisingly, the two performed almost exactly the same. They both use the same 20nm NAND with the same density, so aside from the revamped controller and firmware, the drives are identical. We suppose if you’re looking to jam it into a notebook, we’d go for the M550 for its theoretical better low-power performance, but desktop users can safely flip a coin on this one. On a higher level, this drive performed extremely well for a mid-tier drive in our battery of tests. It’s not the fastest SSD in this price range, as that’s still the Samsung 840 EVO, but anyone who doesn’t trust Samsung’s use of TLC NAND in the EVO would be wise to pick up an M550. It’s priced very reasonably, and as noted above, has plenty of features designed to keep your data safe. All in all, it’s not our top pick for an SSD with a three year warranty, but it’s a very close second.</p> <p><strong>$530,</strong> <a href="http://www.crucial.com/">www.crucial.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/crucial_m550_ssd_1tb_review#comments Hardware Reviews Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:31:14 +0000 Josh Norem 28646 at http://www.maximumpc.com Plextor M6e PCIe SSD 256GB Review http://www.maximumpc.com/plextor_m6e_pcie_ssd_256gb_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>The first native PCI Express SSD has finally arrived!</h3> <p>The Plextor M6e is the first native PCI Express SSD we’ve been able to get our hands on, so we’re excited to finally see what an SSD can do when it’s not hobbled by the SATA interface and its 550MB/s bottleneck. Instead of SATA or a 2.5-inch device, this drive utilizes the M.2 form factor along with a PCI Express interface, so it can plug into any late-model motherboard and is bootable. The M.2 interface was designed for notebooks as a replacement for mSATA, as it allows for much higher capacities along with different size devices, so it can be mounted in a wider variety of locations compared to mSATA. To create the M6e, Plextor took a “gum stick” drive and mounted it to a PCI Express 2.0 x2 add-in card. Since each PCI Express 2.0 lane allows for 500MB/s of bandwidth, the two lanes connected to this card allow up to 1GB/s of bandwidth, which is around 800MB/s after deducting overhead. This isn’t a massive increase over SATA 6Gb/s speeds, but it’s a decent bump.</p> <p>This is a change from what we’ve seen in the past from drives labeled “PCI Express SSD,” as they were usually SATA drives bolted to a PCI Express adapter, then striped together in RAID 0 in order to overcome the SATA bottleneck. The Plextor drive is just one single slab of NAND flash, and though this PCIe drive won’t be of much value to those already rocking SATA 6Gb/s drives, anyone stuck on the older SATA 3Gb/s interface should give it a look.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/m6e_side_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/m6e_side_small.jpg" alt="The M6e features a full-blown PCI Express SSD in the new M.2 form factor." title="Plextor M6e PCIe SSD 256GB" width="620" height="476" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The M6e features a full-blown PCI Express SSD in the new M.2 form factor.</strong></p> <p>The drive uses a Marvell 88SS9183 controller, which as far as we can tell is somewhat new, as we’ve never seen it before and don’t think it’s been used on any consumer SSDs yet. The controller is paired with 19nm Toshiba MLC Toggle NAND, and there’s also a DDR3 buffer as well but the size varies according to the drive. The drive is available in both 128GB and 512GB capacities, and includes a five-year warranty along with a 2.4 million hours MTBF, so this is certainly a top-tier product with nothing held back in terms of features or performance. At $300 for the 256GB it’s more expensive than the $250 Samsung 840 Pro and Intel 730, so we were very curious to see if its performance was worth the high price tag.</p> <p>Long story short: Its performance was the best we’ve ever seen in sequential read and write tests by a decent margin, just as expected, but it fell a bit short in Iometer and PCMark Vantage. It was eclipsed by SATA 6Gb/s drives on our Z77 test bench, so out of curiosity we ran some tests on an X79 platform and saw its PCMark Vantage score double to over 100,000, and its performance in Iometer increased by 30,000 IOPS, too. While we were pleased to see such a large performance increase, we’re not sure what caused it. It set a new record in our Sony Vegas test, too, thanks to its extra bandwidth.</p> <p>Overall, this drive’s performance is very good, but it’s not quite a big enough jump from SATA III to justify its high price tag. We love its five-year warranty, its overall speed, and it’s just as easy to use as a 2.5-inch drive, but it’s too expensive and lacks a robust software package like Intel and Samsung drives. Its aesthetic needs serious work, too, if it’s being marketed toward gamers. All in all, a very solid drive, but not quite Kick Ass.</p> <p><strong>$300,</strong> <a href="http://plextor.com/">http://plextor.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/plextor_m6e_pcie_ssd_256gb_review#comments 256gb card Hardware June issues 2014 Plextor M6e Review ssd Reviews Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:39:33 +0000 Josh Norem 28644 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 Asus ROG Poseidon GTX 780 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/asus_rog_poseidon_gtx_780_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Air or liquid cooled—the choice is yours</h3> <p>Nobody would call the GeForce GTX 780 a particularly hot-running or noisy GPU, but that hasn’t stopped Asus from giving it the Poseidon treatment via a “hybrid” air-and-liquid cooling setup. It’s not a self-contained cooling system, but rather an integrated water block complete with copper vapor chambers that sits below an already-beefy DirectCU air cooler. This lets the card run just fine under its own air cooling, and lets you inject it into your liquid-cooling loop, as well. It’s able to do that care of two G1/4-inch tubes attached to the integrated water block that let you attach barbs in pretty much any size ranging from 1/2-inch ID to 1/4-inch ID, so you can easily add it to your existing setup.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_poseidon.1_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.rev_poseidon.1_small.jpg" alt="The Poseidon’s integrated water block features copper vapor chambers and sits below a massive aluminum heatsink." title="Asus ROG Poseidon GTX 780" width="620" height="518" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Poseidon’s integrated water block features copper vapor chambers and sits below a massive aluminum heatsink.</strong></p> <p>It’s a clever and cost-saving design, because if you’re rocking full-liquid, the alternative is to buy the GPU for $500, then the water block for $140 or so, then attach the block, and insert it into your loop. If you were already looking to upgrade your GPU, the Poseidon method would save you a lot of time and energy, and if you’re running a pre-Kepler GPU, it would be one hell of an upgrade.</p> <p>The board itself is still a two-slot card despite the added cooling hardware, and it has the same 3GB of 6GHz GDDR5 memory as other GTX 780s. It comes out of the box with a healthy overclock too, with the base clock running at 954MHz compared to the stock speed of 863MHz, and a Boost Clock of 1,006MHz compared to 900MHz. The card also has a pulsating Republic of Gamers logo in red that matches the card’s aesthetic. It features an aluminum backplate for support, Digi+ VRM components, and a ROG edition of its tuning software named GPU Tweak.</p> <p>For testing, we strapped the Poseidon to our GPU test bench and ran it though our tests, first on air and then on water. To test the liquid-cooled configuration, we dug out some parts we used on Dream Machine 2013, including the superb Swiftech MCP655 pump, several feet of 3/8-inch ID tubing, an XSPC 360mm radiator, and two Gentle Typhoon fans in a push-pull configuration. Sure, it’s a bit overkill, but we didn’t have a single 120mm radiator kit available for testing, so take the results with a grain of salt—we did use a huge radiator. In terms of performance, the Poseidon GTX 780 performed on par with the best GTX 780 cards we’ve tested, including the GHz edition from Gigabyte and the SC ACX model from EVGA, so it’s top of its class. Temps on air topped out at a respectable 73 C, and we hit 1,084MHz. Once we strapped the liquid-cooling apparatus to it, temps never rose above 44 C, and it was so quiet we had to put our ear right next to it, and even then we didn’t hear anything. It reminded us why we love liquid cooling so much, and the 29 C drop in temps over air were incredible.</p> <p>Overall, this card kicks ass, but is made to satisfy a very small niche of the market. We’d never recommend it over a vanilla GTX 780, but if you are running liquid cooling and need to upgrade, it doesn’t get much better than this. We do have one big complaint, though, which is that the barbs stick straight out from the card rather than being at a 90-degree angle, so when you attach the tubing, they will stick straight out from the card, too, and cause clearance problems with a case door. We ran ours with the case door removed since it was just a quick setup for testing, but long-term, we can see this being an issue unless you also use right-angle connectors. In our opinion, though, they should be built into the card. This omission is big enough that we are taking away the Kick Ass award this time; otherwise, this card is hard to fault.</p> <p><strong>$600,</strong> <a href="http://www.asus.com/">www.asus.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/asus_rog_poseidon_gtx_780_review#comments air coolers Air Cooling Asus ROG Poseidon GTX 780 Hardware June issues 2014 maximum pc Reviews Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:04:22 +0000 Josh Norem 28598 at http://www.maximumpc.com Tablets on Trial: Windows 8 Tablets Compared http://www.maximumpc.com/tablets_trial_windows_8_tablets_compared <!--paging_filter--><h3>x86 tablets arrive, but can they defeat the hordes of other devices?</h3> <p>Is a new wave of mobile x86 chips enough to help Windows fight off Android and iOS?</p> <p>In October 2012, Windows 8 arrived in two very different flavors. One was the standard x86 version for desktops and laptops. But the other was for Windows RT, a hybrid laptop/tablet device powered by an ARM chip that couldn’t run any x86 software. It wasn’t until the following February that the Surface Pro came out, packed with a conventional Intel CPU. But by then, the damage had been done. It wasn’t until late last year that x86 tablets started trickling out from Asus, Toshiba, and other usual suspects. Surface hybrids remained expensive, while Google’s Android devices invaded price ranges well out of Microsoft’s grasp.</p> <p>Until now. Other big players such as Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have joined the Windows 8.1 tablet party, so we now have a critical mass of relatively inexpensive units with x86 chips under the hood. We’ve decided to put them through their paces to crown a champion… or dissect a disaster.</p> <h3>Attack of the x86 tablets</h3> <p><strong>Can these tablets survive Windows 8?</strong></p> <p>Over the course of the last twenty years or so, the various versions of Windows have taken on a release pattern similar to Star Trek films. The first one blew, while the second was great. Windows XP fab, Windows Vista not. Right now, we’re dealing with the Star Trek: V of OSes with Windows 8.</p> <p>Without getting into gory details, we can say that Windows 8 and 8.1 (referred to collectively as “Windows 8” from here on) have not seen the success of Windows 7. Microsoft announced in February that it had sold 200 million licenses for the newer OS, so it’s by no means a failure. But that can get skewed by the number of laptops, desktops, and tablets for which Windows 8 is the only option—followed by wiping it and replacing it with Windows 7.</p> <p>Microsoft’s quoted number also doesn’t take into account how many devices were returned shortly after purchase. This is a sticking point, since Windows 8 has gotten a Vista-level drubbing in the enthusiast crowd. Its tile-based “Modern” (aka Metro) interface is not particularly optimized for mice and keyboards; it defaults to full-screen apps for opening images, PDFs, and videos; the popular Start menu has been abolished (it may return with Update 1 by the time you read this, but we’re not optimistic); and certain games and programs have compatibility issues.</p> <p>Despite all that, there is still an appeal to exploring this new crop of Windows tablets. Since they use an x86 Intel CPU, they can run Microsoft Office, Photoshop, Steam, and pretty much any other piece of standard Windows software. In fact, all four of these tablets come with a copy of MS Office Home &amp; Student 2013, which contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Not a trial version—a full-fledged copy with a product key. A Windows license would usually cost you about $100 for the OEM version, and Office 2013 goes for about $140. Since these tablets start around $250, this software is practically being given away.</p> <p>On the hardware side, they all have IPS screens, which are much better than standard TN panels; in-plane switching tech has much higher contrast, so you get more vibrant colors and deeper blacks. The screens are all eight inches diagonally and display 1280x800 pixels (except for the more expensive ThinkPad 8, which is 8.3 inches and has 1920x1200 pixels). 2GB of system RAM is the standard, and that doesn’t sound like a lot, but Windows 8 can be surprisingly efficient with its memory. Two units have 32GB of internal storage, while the other two have 64GB. All have SD card slots that can accept up to 64GB.</p> <p>The bottom line is that these are not Windows RT devices in a smaller form factor—these are full-on Windows PCs shrunk into tablet form. The secret sauce is Intel’s new line of Atom CPUs. These dual-core and quad-core x86 units are what make the whole shebang possible, by running regular Windows programs with acceptable speed, but without eating your battery. They’re nothing like the old Atom chips, thank goodness. They’ll even do some heavy lifting in a pinch, like HD video encoding. Unfortunately, these tablets all run 32-bit Windows despite the chips being 64-bit, so a few 64-bit only applications may not work. But Intel’s gear is fundamentally sound.</p> <p>Questions still plague the software side, though. How viable is Windows 8 as a touch-aware operating system? How many precious gigabytes does it take up on a mobile device? Is this stack of tablets the first salvo of an oncoming legion, or just a trial run? We think we can answer the first two. The answer to the third one ultimately depends on the end user. In other words, you, the reader. Are you ready to go where no one has gone before?</p> <h3>The Story of a Store</h3> <p>One of the key ingredients to Windows 8’s success (or failure) is the Windows Store. In theory, this would behave like Android’s Play Store or Apple’s iTunes Store. You’d buy apps, movies, music, books, and magazines through it, and all that content would be linked to a single account for later retrieval on multiple Windows 8 devices owned by the same individual or family.</p> <p>But there are a few drawbacks. The store is only accessible through Windows 8, and you won’t see a link to it in Windows unless you’re viewing the Modern UI screen. If you’re a mouse and keyboard user, you’ve probably already tweaked Windows to boot straight to “desktop” mode instead. So, in practice, the store has not quite achieved the same level of visibility or success as Apple’s or Google’s stores.</p> <p>For example, Mozilla recently pulled the Modern UI beta of its Firefox Internet browser because, according to company VP Johnathan Nightingale, “We’ve never seen more than 1,000 active daily users in the Metro environment.” Given that Microsoft has sold more than 200 million Windows 8 licenses, a thousand users is within the margin of error—a number so small that it could be the result of an accidental mouse click. Since the touch-optimized Modern interface is designed to be a tablet PC’s information hub, the lack of interest in the Modern UI flavor of a popular program like Firefox indicates that the Windows Store and Modern itself are not strong contenders for Interface of the Year awards. Thankfully, desktop mode is still a click (or tap) away, and you can set Windows 8.1 to boot to it automatically.</p> <h3>Windows tablets vs. the world</h3> <p><strong>How do these x86 tablets stack up against the leading contenders?</strong></p> <p>The primary competition to these mini Windows tablets isn’t really Windows laptops—it’s the new tech gadgets. So, to find out how these tabs stack up, we weighed their pluses and minuses against three competing platforms. –GU</p> <h4>Vs. Chromebook</h4> <p>Google Chromebooks have been a surprise hit among students and people looking for low-maintenance and low-cost computing. Unfortunately, Chromebooks are also low in functionality, especially compared to the tablets in our roundup. These tabs give you full x86 compatibility, which means that they’ll run your regular desktop apps. Sure, they’ll be slower or cramped on the small screens, but at least you can VPN to work on the obscure proprietary VPN software that the company runs. Light-duty Photoshop and 100 percent fidelity with Office documents is also within reach on these tablets. We’d even have to admit that Modern apps are actually richer in functionality than Chrome OS apps. Where the Chromebook rules is in cost—the cheapest tablet here is $250 without a keyboard. A great Chromebook can be had for $200 with a comfy keyboard included. Chromebooks also offer more resistance to malware. And if you lose one, your data isn’t lost, as it’s all in the cloud. Which is best? It very much depends on your needs. We actually see the appeal of the Chromebook for certain high-risk use cases or for someone who needs its zero-to-no-maintenance. At the same time, the ability to have a real OS and x86 processing in a tablet is also rather appealing for those times when you need (or want) a real Windows machine.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.chromebook_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.chromebook_small.jpg" width="620" height="478" /></a></p> <h4>Vs. Nexus 7</h4> <p>We love the Nexus 7 tablet. It’s fast, small, light, and packs a high-res screen with none of the scaling issues that Windows has on high-DPI panels. It may not have the power or capability of a mini Win tab in x86 apps, but the Google Play Store makes up for it in a lot of ways. It also helps that Android is a real fat-finger OS. Meanwhile, Modern is a work in progress, and desktop apps are a keyboard/mouse affair. Office productivity is also quite good, thanks to many Office-like apps, but it’s still not a real copy of MS Office. If we had to break it down, we’d take the Nexus 7 on a strictly no-work vacation for watching videos, using as an eReader, and playing Angry Ferret on the flight. If that trip required work or access to local files through the VPN, having the capability of full x86 Windows functionality is quite comforting, and we’d swap it out for a Windows tablet. The most disappointing aspect of Windows tablets, though, is the truly pathetic app store and lack of native Modern support for Google’s ecosystem. But hey, the “legacy” apps work. We could honestly see keeping both in our tech garage and pulling out the right tool for the job. If you’re wondering why we didn’t include a mini iPad here, iOS fans can just cut and paste Nexus 7 with the iPad Mini and you’d get the same result.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.nexus7_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.nexus7_small.jpg" title="Nexus 7" width="620" height="827" /></a></p> <h3>Vs. Surface RT</h3> <p>Yes, the original Windows RT is technically a competitor. The original Surface RT is now $300, which puts it in striking range of the Windows tabs. Unfortunately, that just means the mini Windows tablets get to strike Surface RT in the face repeatedly. While we laud Microsoft for some of the design features of the Surface RT and Surface 2, lower-cost Windows tablets really put the hurt on Windows RT. Although you get a free copy of Office 2013, the inability to run x86 apps really makes us wonder if Microsoft should continue with Windows RT at all now. All it offers you is the ability to access the Modern store, which is as bare as a grocery store six months after the zombie apocalypse. And yes, it’s really that bad. With sub-$300 Windows 8.1 tablets, there’s just no reason for Surface RT and Surface 2 to exist anymore. We’d prefer a Surface RT-like device running with an Intel Bay Trail Atom chip and Windows 8.1, for $300 or less. Throw in the copy of Office 2013, and you’d have an instant winner, in our book. But just in case you didn’t hear us—we see no reason to run a Surface RT or Surface 2 in the face of the mini Windows 8 tablets today.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.surfacert_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.surfacert_small.jpg" title="Surface RT" width="620" height="504" /></a></p> <h3> <hr /></h3> <h3>Lenovo ThinkPad 8</h3> <p><strong>Lenovo creates some Surface tension</strong></p> <p>Most 8-inch Windows tablets are aiming for the $200–300 price range, so Lenovo might seem a little out of touch when it crowds in with a $500 unit. The ThinkPad 8 is the nicest looking of the lot, at least. It’s the only one with a metal back, which helps with durability and also heat dissipation. The trim is rubberized to assist your grip, and the buttons look and feel sturdy. In your hand, it feels like a unit built for the long haul. Also, the rear camera has a flash LED, a rare and welcome addition on a tablet.</p> <p>The 1920x1200 screen also has more than twice as many pixels as the 1280x800 screens on the three other tablets in this roundup. So, all of Windows 8.1’s text and icons render more sharply on the ThinkPad 8, and you can watch videos in full HD. Granted, these are all IPS displays, so color accuracy, viewing angle, and contrast are very good regardless. But the ThinkPad 8’s graphical clarity is unmatched.</p> <p>It’s a double-edged sword, though. At 1200p, icons and other touch-enabled items are that much smaller, so the ThinkPad 8 is more reliant on a keyboard and mouse than the other three. This is not exactly the tablet’s fault, though; Windows 8.1 itself is only partly navigable with touch, and publishers have not flooded the Windows Store with Modern versions of their software. If you want mobility with fluid touch-enabled functionality, you have better odds with Android and iOS.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.thinkpad_15289_small_1.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.thinkpad_15289_small_0.jpg" alt="The ThinkPad 8 lives up to the name with a durable metal back." title="Lenovo ThinkPad 8" width="620" height="779" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The ThinkPad 8 lives up to the name with a durable metal back.</strong></p> <p>The other major difference is the ThinkPad 8’s quad-core Intel Atom Z3770, which runs at up to 2.4GHz, while the others in the roundup top off at about 1.8GHz. It took about ninety minutes to finish our ProShow benchmark, while the others took two hours or more. A desktop Core i5 with Haswell guts will knock that out in about 30 minutes, so the Z3770 isn’t a barnstormer. But for a tablet and Atom, it’s not bad. The tablet’s 2GB of system RAM is also a limitation—don’t expect to have a lot of browser tabs open while encoding HD video. On the other hand, the ThinkPad’s CPU is using a fraction of the power of a desktop chip, so it’s a great accomplishment on a performance-per-watt basis. Keep in mind, though, that it certainly won’t replace your gaming machine anytime soon. It can handle pixel-art side-scrollers like Terraria and Fez, but even a relatively modest older shooter like Prey needs greatly reduced resolution and visual settings.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks&nbsp;</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>Lenovo ThinkPad 8</td> <td>Asus T100 <br />(zero point)</td> <td>Difference</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark Ice Storm</td> <td class="item-dark">14,017</td> <td>15,264</td> <td>-8.2%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow (min)</td> <td>96</td> <td>164<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>46.4%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane</td> <td class="item-dark">6,661</td> <td>3,896</td> <td>41.5%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battery (min)</td> <td>252</td> <td>347</td> <td>-27.4%</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> <p>Like the other Windows tablets we’re reviewing today, the ThinkPad 8 also cannot use a USB cable to exchange data with a laptop or desktop PC. If you want to transfer files to your tablet, you have to connect over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which is slow and subject to interference, or copy the data to a USB flash drive and connect that drive to the tablet with an OTG cable, which is tedious and also slow, since you’re limited to USB 2.0 speeds.</p> <p>Unfortunately, that $500 price tag is a tough sell, since you’re entering the territory of Microsoft’s original Surface Pro tablet–with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 10.6-inch screen, and the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 (though battery life is not great). This flavor of the ThinkPad 8 also gets the trial version of Office, since Lenovo does not bundle that with tablets that come with Window 8.1 Pro. (Microsoft’s licensing can be quirky sometimes.) The ThinkPad 8 with regular Windows 8.1 costs $100 less and comes with Office Home &amp; Student, like the others in this roundup. It’s a much better deal for those who don’t need say, BitLocker or the ability to join a domain.</p> <p><strong>Lenovo ThinkPad 8</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>$500, <a href="http://www.lenovo.com/ " target="_blank">www.lenovo.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Dell Venue 8 Pro</h3> <p><strong>32GB is different in the Windows world</strong></p> <p>The longer the name of a product gets, the more you wonder about the potential variations. The Dell Venue 8 Pro (DV8P) takes a particularly interesting tack. This “Pro” is not an enhanced edition of the Venue 8. The Venue 8 is, in fact, a completely different product: It runs Android 4.2.2. instead of Windows 8.1, and it has a slower ARM CPU and RAM.</p> <p>Confusing nomenclature aside, the DV8P is a decent Windows 8.1 tablet, for the money. Its display is vibrant (though all the screens in this roundup are glossy, so your mileage may vary). The buttons and slots along the sides are all sensibly located; none of them will be blocked by a decent case, either when closed or when folded to act as a stand. The back is rubberized and textured, so you don’t need a case to keep it from slipping out of your hand. The bezel around the screen is thicker than average, but there are no logos on it; the only break in its surface is a little pinhole for the front-facing camera. The Windows button is even located on the edge of the tablet, while the others tablets in this roundup display it somewhere on their bezel. Minimalists should be pleased. The speaker on the side is mono but surprisingly loud. (The other tablets have “stereo” sound, but their speakers are adjacent, negating the separating effect.)</p> <p>Under the hood, the DV8P uses a quad-core Intel Atom Z3740D chip. The “D” is for Atoms that lack dual-channel RAM support. On paper, this reduces its memory bandwidth by up to 6.5GB/s, compared to the regular Z3740 in the Acer and Toshiba tablets. But in practice, we didn’t see a noticeable weakness. In fact, the Acer tablet took about 15 minutes longer in our HD video encoding test, a benchmark where memory bandwidth usually makes a difference. The Toshiba tablet encoded about as fast as the DV8P. (We did all tests with the units plugged into an AC outlet, to counter the effect of energy-saving power-throttling presets.)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.tablet_15289_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.tablet_15289_small.jpg" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Venue 8 Pro’s budget appeal has made it quite popular.</strong></p> <p>Unfortunately, storage space is a problem. The “32GB” version reviewed has only about 10GB of space, once Windows 8.1 and Office 2013 are on the device. You can pull some judo with things like recovery partitions and hibernation files—but it’ll never be close to what Android or iOS can do with that much space, since those operating systems and their downloadable apps are designed to fit on devices that have limited storage. Being able to run programs like MS Office and Photoshop is a nice perk, but it’s not going to store much media. The SD card slot can add another 64GB, but most SD cards run much more slowly than internal memory, and some programs partly install on the C drive no matter what you tell them. For Windows tablets, 64GB of internal memory is the way to go.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks&nbsp;</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>Dell Venue 8 Pro</td> <td>Asus T100 (zero point)</td> <td>Difference</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark Ice Storm</td> <td class="item-dark">15,763</td> <td>15,264</td> <td>3.1%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow (min)</td> <td>118</td> <td>164<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>28.1%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane</td> <td class="item-dark">5,604</td> <td>3,896</td> <td>30.5%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battery (min)</td> <td>295</td> <td>347</td> <td>-15%</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> <p>The DV8P also lacks HDMI output. You may not care about that, but the very similar Acer Iconia W4 comes with it and is currently priced the same. You can use a third-party dock, but those can easily run into the triple digits, and ones like the Plugable UD-3900 require an OTG cable connection, which disables charging. Miracast is still available, but it requires another dongle if you’re using a standard computer monitor, and you have to set up another Wi-Fi connection. Hooking up an HDMI cable is faster, cheaper, and easier. Being $250 does take out some of the sting, though.</p> <p><strong> Dell Venue 8 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_7.jpg" alt="score:7" title="score:7" width="210" height="80" /></div> </div> </div> <p><strong>$250, <a href="http:// www.dell.com/ " target="_blank">www.dell.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Toshiba Encore WT8</h3> <p><strong>It won’t get a standing ovation</strong></p> <p>On the surface, the Toshiba Encore is a pretty standard Windows 8.1 tablet for its price range. It has the increasingly familiar quad-core Intel Atom Z3470 chip, 2GB of RAM, an SD card slot, MS Office Home &amp; Student, HDMI output, and a 1280x800 IPS screen. So far, so good. It’s probably closest to the Acer Iconia W4 reviewed on the previous page.</p> <p>However, when you turn on the Encore, you’ll notice that its desktop is completely free of extra stuff, unlike the W4. On the Encore, Windows looks like a freshly installed copy. If you go to Programs and Features, you’ll see several Toshiba programs, but they don’t clutter your desktop with icons or popup windows. The sole capitulation to bundleware is a pre-installed copy of Norton Internet Security. Now, don’t run away screaming. Norton has actually improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with better malware detection, user interface, and resource usage. And keep in mind that Toshiba is not including this stuff to annoy you, or even to hand-hold the newbies. Companies pay OEMs to be pre-installed on devices, lowering the costs. If you don’t want it, you can just head over to Programs and Features and nuke it from orbit. It’ll never bother you again.</p> <p>It’s true that we talk a lot about the backs of these devices, but with a mobile gadget that’s intended to be held in one hand, it’s important to have a good grip and logically placed buttons and inputs. And you’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t put cases on their tablets (and phones, for that matter). Some people don’t like the additional bulk and weight, and that’s fine. To them, we say that the back of the Toshiba doesn’t grip very well (but it’s thankfully not as bad as the Iconia W4). It has squared-off dimples, but they’re too flat and smooth to have a material impact on your ability to hold the device. Thankfully, Amazon and other stores currently have stacks of cases that you can try out. The back is the most obviously plastic one in this roundup. Though Toshiba gets points for being the only tablet with its microphone placed far enough away from the volume buttons that clicking them won’t interrupt a recording. In fact, it has dual mics for additional noise reduction. The micro-USB and Micro HDMI connectors are right next to each other, though. Since they’re shaped almost exactly the same, you have to tilt the tablet every time and inspect the situation, to avoid using the wrong plug.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks&nbsp;</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>Toshiba Encore WT8</td> <td>Asus T100 <br />(zero point)</td> <td>Difference</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark Ice Storm</td> <td class="item-dark">15,709</td> <td>15,264</td> <td>2.8%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow (min)</td> <td>119</td> <td>164<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>27.4%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane</td> <td class="item-dark">5,539</td> <td>3,896</td> <td>29.6%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battery (min)</td> <td>302</td> <td>347</td> <td>-13%</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.toshiba_15289_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.toshiba_15289_small.jpg" alt="The 32GB version is difficult to find, compared to the more popular 64GB WT8." title="Toshiba Encore WT8" width="620" height="799" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The 32GB version is difficult to find, compared to the more popular 64GB WT8.</strong></p> <p>Unfortunately, this Encore is the 32GB version. After installing a couple of benchmarks, we had 7.2GB of space remaining on the internal storage. Once the manufacturer has created the recovery partition, you have just 23.3GB of space on the C drive. At least 15GB of that will be taken up by a fresh copy of Windows. While Android and iOS are built to fit on mobile devices, Windows 8.1 is not a lean system, and it shows here. You can delete the recovery partition, disable hibernation, and Google other tweaks, and you’ll probably end up with the same amount of space that Android will give you on a 16GB device. The necessity of 64GB on a Windows tablet means a price tag of $300 or more, while a Nexus 7 can be had for $230—albeit with only 16GB. You can’t run MS Office or Photoshop on Android, though, so it’s not a clear-cut scenario. But then the Windows tablet also needs a mouse, keyboard, USB flash drive, and an OTG cable.</p> <p><strong>Toshiba Encore WT8</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>$300, <a href="http://www.toshiba.com/ " target="_blank">www.toshiba.com</a></strong></p> <h3>Acer Iconia W4</h3> <p><strong>Overcoming presentation</strong></p> <p>Acer is Better known for its monitor and laptops, but the company’s presence in the tablet game has been gaining steam. The Iconia W4 is not drastically different from the other guys in this roundup. It has a quad-core Intel Atom Z3470 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage space, Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office Home &amp; Student 2013, a 1280x800 IPS screen, SD card slot, and HDMI output. So far, so good.</p> <p>This is actually a big step up from the W3. That version had a pokey dual-core CPU, a TN screen instead of IPS, no light sensor to assist the camera or display brightness, a 2MP rear camera instead of 5MP, no camcorder mode, a maximum of 32GB of storage, and a relatively modest 3,400mAh battery, versus the W4’s 4,960mAh. For Acer, the W4 is a triumph before you even take it out of the box.</p> <p>Interestingly, the unit comes wrapped in a plastic sheet with a printed diagram on it. This diagram indicates where all the buttons and inputs are, and what they do. It seems like a small thing, but this could be a big deal for someone who’s never used a tablet before. Once you’ve taken the sheet off, though, you’ll notice that the back of the device is very slippery. If you don’t buy a case for this guy, you’re rolling the dice. Just handing the tablet to someone might make your heart skip a beat. The inlaid logo looks good, and the faux brushed aluminum surface is about as nice as you can expect plastic to be. But the W4 pretty much requires at least one accessory to be on even footing with the other Windows tablets in this roundup. Thankfully, there are plenty of solidly rated cases on Amazon available, at least at the time of this review.</p> <p>When you start up the device, you may notice an unusual number of unfamiliar icons on the desktop and even in the taskbar. Enthusiasts call this “cruft.” Acer has pre-installed software for its own branded VPN (virtual private networking), cloud storage, an “Acer Portal” that consolidates a remote access service with the usual links to support and warranty web pages; “Acer Photo,” which is a sub-category of their cloud service; and more desktop shortcuts for eBay, Acer’s online store, and Norton Online Backup. The taskbar integrates an Amazon product search engine that’s actually pretty nice.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.acer_15289_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/mpc99.feat_tablets.acer_15289_small.jpg" alt="The lowered section on the bezel actually help with orientation sometimes." title="Acer Iconia W4" width="620" height="776" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The lowered section on the bezel actually help with orientation sometimes.</strong></p> <p>The “Acer Portal” is particularly distracting because it periodically pops up until you’ve created an “Acer ID” to access all the services promoted on the desktop. But you can uninstall the cruft in Windows’ “Programs and Features” control panel pretty quickly, so it’s more of an initial irritation than a persistent issue.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Benchmarks&nbsp;</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>Acer Iconia W4</td> <td>Asus T100 <br />(zero point)</td> <td>Difference</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">3DMark Ice Storm</td> <td class="item-dark">15,098</td> <td>15,264</td> <td>3.1%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>ProShow (min)</td> <td>138</td> <td>164<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>15.9%</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Google Octane</td> <td class="item-dark">5,409</td> <td>3,896</td> <td>28%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Battery (min)</td> <td>304</td> <td>347</td> <td>-12.4%</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> <p>With 64GB of internal memory, the W4 also delivers on the minimum storage space that Windows seems to need. After formatting and the installation of Windows, there’s about 25GB left over.</p> <p>The ProShow benchmark took an additional 15 minutes to finish, versus the very similar Dell and Acer hardware, indicating the unit was likely throttling for thermals (all tests were conducted with AC power, so we know it wasn’t an energy-saving preset in Windows.) But it’s difficult to pin down the source of the issue, since it’s early days for x86 Windows tablets. This shortfall did not carry over to the other benchmarks, which measure gaming and web browsing speed—things that you’re much more likely to do with a tablet. We like to push CPUs beyond their normal limits, just to see where they’ll go. And a Z3470 performs quite well for the money and for its intended role.</p> <p><strong>Acer Iconia W4</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>$300, <a href="http://www.acer.com/ " target="_blank">www.acer.com</a></strong></p> <h3>A Touching Finale</h3> <p><strong>We hope you like accessorizing</strong></p> <p>We hope you like accessorizingAs the first generation of mobile Windows 8 devices running on x86 chips, this selection of tablets is actually not bad. Had they all come with 64GB of internal storage instead of 32GB (we had two each of 64GB and 32GB), we would have seen a much stronger showing. A proper Windows PC simply needs more than what is left over from 32GB after installing the OS and an office suite. And right now, that means spending at least $300 for the 64GB flavor.</p> <p>And since Windows 8 doesn’t have a conventional mobile interface, you need a mouse and keyboard to make full use of it. The on-screen keyboard does text prediction and pops up when you tap a text entry area—but only when you’re using a Modern UI app or Office 2013. In desktop mode outside of Office, you have to tap on a tiny button on the taskbar, and it can take a few tries until it comes up. So, expect to shell out another $50 or so on a keyboard with a trackpad. Then, you’ll probably want a USB flash drive and an OTG cable (or you can get one of those flash drives that have both regular USB and micro-USB connectors). That USB flash drive/OTG cable combo would be about $25, given a 32GB drive.</p> <p>That comes out to about $375, versus a $250 street price for a 32GB Nexus 7 (and a Nexus 8.9 is apparently on its way soon, which would drive the price down further). The N7 has a 1920x1200 screen, a touch-optimized OS that scales with high DPI, a quad-core CPU (albeit ARM), an optional HDMI dongle, wireless charging, and the ability to mount as external storage when you connect to your PC with a USB cable. That’s some stiff competition, even though it doesn’t run Office or have an SD card slot.</p> <p>These Windows tablets’ inability to mount as USB storage is more than an irritation. Once you’ve spent some time in the Android world, and nothing happens when you plug Windows 8 tablet into a PC, it’s downright bewildering when you expect to be able to drag and drop large media files. It takes some Googling to figure out that nothing is actually wrong with the device—that’s just how the Windows tablets are built. If you want to use these as a mobile extension of your desktop, invisibility is a bit of an obstacle.</p> <p>Granted, streaming your media from an online service is pretty popular. Netflix is so cost-effective that you can’t afford not to subscribe. But when you’re actually mobile, especially on road trips, there’s no substitute for physical storage. The ability to use that storage quickly and efficiently is well understood by most other device makers. Plug it in, copy the files, done.</p> <p>The performance of these Windows tablets is generally fine, though. The Atom Z3740 has a much lower clock speed ceiling than the Z3770, and both are much slower than a desktop CPU, but they didn’t lag much when starting up Windows, opening various programs, or watching HD video. Even when limited to 2GB of system RAM, Windows 8 still remains snappy, as long as you don’t have a few dozen browser tabs open, with maybe a big Excel spreadsheet.</p> <p>In that respect, it won’t replace a laptop as a mobile office or gaming platform. And since Windows 8 is only partially touch-<br />optimized, the tablets in this roundup are not well positioned to replace the popular Android and iOS competition, either. After working with four of these Windows tablets and comparing them to our experiences with Android and iOS, it feels like the Windows OS needs a fundamental overhaul to come in line with the mobile competition. A large part of that is scaling icons, buttons, and text-entry areas for fingers instead of mouse pointers. We’ve seen the start of this in the Modern interface, but the OS as a whole needs a unity of design geared for mobile input methods before these tablets can be freed of mice and keyboards.</p> <p>Still, it’s hard to deny that there are some good bargains in here, for what you’re getting. About $300 before accessories gets you a mobile Windows 8.1 device with an HD IPS screen, a “real” x86 CPU with four cores, and a copy of MS Office. Hopefully, the next major version of Windows will just split off into two versions—one optimized for mobile and other optimized for desktops and laptops—instead of Microsoft trying to mash both uses into one product.</p> <div class="module orange-module article-module"> <div class="module orange-module article-module"><span class="module-name">Specifications</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>Lenovo ThinkPad 8</td> <td>Dell Venue 8 Pro</td> <td>Acer Iconia W4</td> <td>Toshiba Encore WT8</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">CPU</td> <td class="item-dark">Atom Z3770</td> <td>Atom Z3740D</td> <td>Atom Z3740</td> <td>Atom Z3740</td> </tr> <tr> <td>RAM</td> <td>2GB LPDDR3/1333</td> <td>2GB DDR3L-RS/1600<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></td> <td>2GB LPDDR3/1066</td> <td>2GB LPDDR3/1066</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="item">Internal Storage</td> <td class="item-dark">64GB</td> <td>32GB</td> <td>64GB</td> <td>32GB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Resolution</td> <td>1920x1200</td> <td>1280x800</td> <td>1280x800</td> <td>1280x800</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Ports</td> <td>Headphone/Mic, Micro USB 2.0, Micro HDMI</td> <td>Headphone/Mic, Micro USB 2.0</td> <td>Headphone/Mic, Micro USB 2.0, Micro HDMI</td> <td>Headphone/Mic, Micro USB2.0, Micro HDMI</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Cameras</td> <td>8MP rear w/flash, 2MP front</td> <td>5MP rear, 1.2MP front</td> <td>5MP rear, 2MP front</td> <td>8MP rear, 2MP front</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Dimensions <br />H x W x D (inches)</td> <td>8.7 x 5.2 x 0.36</td> <td>8.6 x 5.1 x 0.37</td> <td>8.4 x 5.4 x 0.42</td> <td>8.5 x 5.3 x 0.43</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Weight (ounces)</td> <td>14.3</td> <td>13.7</td> <td>14.3</td> <td>14.3</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Price</td> <td>$500</td> <td>$249</td> <td>$299</td> <td>$299</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p><em><br /></em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> http://www.maximumpc.com/tablets_trial_windows_8_tablets_compared#comments acer iconia w4 Hardware June issues 2014 tabs Toshiba Encore WT8 Tablets Features Wed, 17 Sep 2014 09:29:02 +0000 Tom McNamara 28551 at http://www.maximumpc.com