Steve Burke

Steve Burke

The Zotac GTX 980 Extreme ($610) is the most disappointing, saddening attempt at a high-end overclocking device I've ever seen. I've never been so resonantly disheartened by a review product. I've also never seen an aftermarket product perform worse than the reference model while being priced more than 10% higher. The added cost is justified – on paper – by several factors, including a better cooler and higher bin (better GM204).

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Testing Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme overclocking card began with excitement and anticipation, rapidly decaying as despair and uncertainty took hold. When the card failed to overclock higher than my reference GTX 980 ($550), I first suspected error on my end – and proved that suspicion wrong – and then went to Zotac with strong emphasis that the BIOS needed a serious overhaul. A BIOS update should have been quick and easy if no hidden problems existed in the hardware, as other video card manufacturers have proven in the past. We published all of this about a week ago, firmly stating that no one buy the GTX 980 Extreme until we could revisit the topic.

We're revisiting it.

The release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel saw our staff benchmarking the game's framerate performance across various graphics cards, as always. We'd already previewed the gameplay mechanics of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel at PAX, but now that the game's released, it's time to resolve some of the most common crash fixes. This is something we do regularly for major releases, including Watch Dogs and Titanfall in previous launch cycles.

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As with most major launches these days, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel suffers from some flickering, crashing & CTDs, black screens, freezes, and PhysX issues. This guide will help resolve a few of the issues we've uncovered thus far.

As we tend to do with new game releasesGRID, Titanfall, and Watch_Dogs included – we decided to put Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel through its performance paces. We originally spoke about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel at PAX, where we got hands-on with the game and discussed gameplay mechanics. Since then, the title has shipped at the now-normal $60 price-tag, complete with the usual nVidia partnership and a basis on Unreal Engine.

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We've been playing around with Zotac's GTX 980 Extreme for about a week now. The story of Zotac in this launch cycle is sort of an interesting one. The company has been making mini-PCs (“ZBOX”) and nVidia video cards for many years now, but they've managed to remain in an unremarkable B-list / C-list of vendors in the GPU market. I don't think many would really disagree with the statement that Zotac has historically not been the first company that pops into mind when looking for a new GeForce card. But all of that changed with the GTX 980 and Game24, where we caught our first glimpses of a revitalized effort to capture the limelight.

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From a design standpoint, the GTX 980 Amp! Extreme is positioned to be the best overclocking GM204 device on the market, short of adding liquid. It will compete with K|NGP|N on air. The triple-fan setup uses dual flanking exhaust and a single, central intake fan, with a massive copper coldplate mounted to the semiconductor, stemming from which are four heatpipes that feed into an aluminum sink. This will help cool the ~171W TDP device that can theoretically (2x8-pin) consume upwards of 300W (or more) when overclocked correctly. Additional aluminum is available near the somewhat over-engineered VRM, making for what should be cooler phases when placed under load. The problem is just that, though – we can't place the card under load. Yet. We've been trying for an entire week now, and I think we've deduced the heart of the issue.

Everyone's making a home theater PC now. They've all entered the market, but we've seen names vary from “HTPC” to “Steam Machine” to “Mini Gaming PC.” They're everywhere: We recently reviewed Zotac's EN760 gaming box outfitted with the 860M, a ~$500 solution to mid-range gaming in the living room; Syber Gaming, a subsidiary of CyberPower, also has solutions shipping; Gigabyte has its Brix that we've spoken about; Alienware is making a mini PC for the living room, too.

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After its CES debut, system integrator iBUYPOWER has officially launched its “SBX” entertainment system, a dedicated cross-breed of a console/PC for the living room.

NVidia's GTX 970M and 980M launched alongside several laptop SKUs today, including new products by MSI, Origin PC, CyberPower, and others. The first of our many laptop write-ups includes CyberPower's updated Fangbook, an i7-4870HQ-equipped unit hosting nVidia's new GTX 970M, 8GB of RAM, and a 4K screen for UHD gaming.

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The Fangbook Edge ships in two versions, both equipped with the GTX 970M and both using a shell effectively identical to MSI's GS70 Stealth notebook – one of the skinniest gaming notebooks we've ever written about. The SKUs are differentiated only by the display; the Fangebook Edge Gaming Notebook uses a 1920x1080 15.6” display, whereas the Fangbook Edge 4K Gaming Notebook uses – as indicated by the name – a 3840x2160 15.6” display.

It feels like we've been linking back to our GTX 980 review relentlessly, and it's going to happen just a few more times this month. NVidia has officially unveiled its GTX 900-series mobile lineup, starting today with the 980M, and indicates a heavy focus on extended battery life when gaming at high framerates.

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The news comes after a previous announcement of the company's “Battery Boost,” a notebook technology that eases off the GPU throttle more regularly when driving a portable unit without an AC drop to the wall. NVidia has had its scope on mobile gaming for at least a year now, but seems to be more serious this time; the company opened our briefing with industry growth trends, emphasizing that gaming notebook growth has expounded five times in three years. In light of this, the current leading graphics manufacturer presented the below image – “Closing the Gap” – and informed us that the GTX 980M would retain nearly 80% of the performance exhibited by the GTX 980 desktop video card. Considering that the GTX 680M was closer to 60% of the GTX 680's performance, the gains are noticed and large.

After reviewing the GTX 980 a few weeks ago, we had the chance to get hands-on with MSI's 4G GTX 970 and ZOTAC's GTX 970 Omega video cards. At the time, we had the specs for the GTX 980 “Extreme” video card, but didn't have one available.

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Now we've got two.

We're looking at Zotac's new Pico PI320 mini-PC today which, despite its name, is not a Raspberry Pi derivative. The Pico is part of an invasion force of mini computers that has been flooding the market lately. Steam Machines are one thing – and Zotac has made those, too – but these are entirely different. Mini PCs are more targeted at low-end, TV-mounted used, generally favoring browsing and YouTube viewing over any heavy-duty tasks.

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Most don't have enough storage to work as a long-term multimedia solution, demanding a more robust network-attached storage device if movie or TV file streaming is a requirement. Mini PCs also don't afford the gaming prowess required to run much more than a 2D platformer; with thanks to efforts made by Valve's Steam, AMD, and nVidia (GameStream), game streaming to a mini PC is a possibility, but even that has other throttles (network, OS / platform concerns). All these shortcomings noted, they're still viable computers – it just depends on what the user wants. For browsing, business use (documents, simple spreadsheets, day-to-day life), and down-streamed content, a mini PC has potential for deployment.

NVidia's Maxwell re-debut saw the unveil of the GTX 980 – the best gaming video card we've tested yet – and GTX 970, along with Maxwell's architecture. The devices were launched at a first-time event for nVidia, “Game24,” where gamers gathered in numerous hangars and LAN arenas globally (and online) to observe the launch and get hands-on with the new tech. We were present at Hangar 8 in Los Angeles, where a (somewhat dragged-out, if we're honest) presentation gave way to gaming on the new Oculus Rift dev kit as powered by the 980.

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