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).
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.
A lot of enthusiasts have been buying off-brand Korean monitors lately. Now, this alone is hardly newsworthy, but these monitors are a little bit different than the average off-brand product. The QNIX 2710 ($333) is an LED-backlit, 27” PLS -- Samsung's version of IPS -- monitor at 1440p resolution. The QNIX 2710 is abnormal due to its lack of a scaler, which does require you to use DVI-D input, but allows the screen to be overclocked to 96Hz+. Yes -- these monitors can be overclocked. In fact, most users can overclock their QNIX 2710 to 96Hz, and some lucky people reach 120hz (though very rarely).
Due to the lack of a scaler, the QNIX does require DVI-D as the input source, adapters won't work, and consoles are not compatible with this monitor. The QNIX uses Samsung PLS panels, so the colors are quite vibrant and color-banding (inaccurate color presentation) isn’t common. These monitors do use cheaper casings, stands, and packaging to help decrease the cost. The standard QNIX 2710 comes in at $300 with a maximum of 5 stuck/dead pixels, and the “Pixel Perfect" version comes it at $345 with up to 3 stuck/dead pixels -- not quite pixel perfect, eh?
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.
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.
Most of our readers (and staff) are avid PC builders, generally opting to select and install components from one of our DIY PC guides. There are entire companies devoted to custom PC builds, though, and they often build and ship hundreds of custom gaming PCs each day; that's a huge number, considering the relative size of the “gaming PC” market compared to biz-client sales. Out of curiosity, we toured a few of these SIs (system integrators) to observe the process and learn about the automation involved in system building.
We previously toured CyberPowerPC, where we looked at a high-end PC build with custom NZXT components. Today, we're looking at iBUYPOWER's warehouse and assembly line, where you'll see a wall of thousands of dollars of video cards, conveyer belts moving rigs from one bench to another, and even packing tape automation. Yes. A robot that does nothing but tape boxes.
Most of the tech industry’s major players are located somewhere in California – a state that has, in our experience, proven to be very large and very saturated with horrifyingly bad drivers. It also happens to be saturated with leading technology innovators and game development companies; the hardware split is pretty even between SoCal (Orange County, Fountain Valley, LA, Industry) and NorCal (home to Silicon Valley). Game developers mostly hang-out in San Francisco and San Jose.
We’ve previously toured both regions, with some of our best content focusing on nVidia’s silicon failure analysis lab (San Jose) and Kingston’s automated RAM/SSD manufacturing line. Following Game24 and the GTX 980 launch, we returned to the Los Angeles area for more. In our most recent California trip, we visited NZXT, HyperX, CyberPower, and iBUYPOWER to see their assembly lines and warehouses.