This year’s case manufacturers will primarily be focused on shifting to USB Type-C – you heard it here first – as the upcoming trend for case design. Last year, it was a craze to adopt tempered glass and RGB LEDs, and that’s plainly not stopped with this year’s CES. That trend will carry through the half of 2017, and will likely give way to Type-C-heavy cases at Computex in May-June.
For today, we’re looking at the best PC cases of 2017 thus far, as shown at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Our case round-ups are run every year and help to determine upcoming trends in the PC cases arena. This year’s collection of the top computer cases (from $60 to $2000) covers the major budget ranges for PC building.
AMD’s Ryzen platform is on its march to the launch window – likely February of 2017 – and will be pushing non-stop information until its time of delivery. For today, we’re looking at the CPU and chipset architectures in greater depth, following-up on yesterday’s motherboard reveal.
First, let’s clear-up nomenclature confusion: “Zen” is still the AMD next generation CPU architecture name. “Ryzen” is the family of CPUs, comparable to Intel’s “Core” family in some loose ways. Each Ryzen CPU will exist on the Zen architecture, and each Ryzen CPU will have its own individual alphanumeric identifier (just like always).
CES 2017 allowed our team to dig deeper into the Zen architecture, its Ryzen family of CPUs, and the ensemble of AM4 motherboards in the pipes. There are currently “more than 50” SKUs of AM4 motherboards, according to the AMD team, and that’ll include the X370, B350, A320, and A/B/X300 chipsets. In this article, we’ll provide a GN-made block diagram of Ryzen’s PCIe lanes and other features, a look at ASRock and Biostar motherboards, and some brief notes on the S3.0 radiator.
Before diving in, here’s a block diagram that GamersNexus created to better represent the Ryzen / Chipset relationship:
We just published our final video walkthrough of iBUYPOWER’s ongoing “Project Snowblind” enclosure, which uses an NZXT Noctis 450 and custom LCD side panel assemblage. The setup has been in our coverage for several months now, starting with PAX Prime in September, followed by an office visit in October (with several upgrades), and now concluding with CES 2017.
In its simplest form, the Snowblind enclosure offers an LCD side panel (rather than traditional case side panel) which is capable of graphics playback or Rainmeter overlay. Really, it can do anything that an extra monitor could do, it’s just limited by visibility and contrast. The Snowblind uses all white/black internals to ensure the side panel’s output remains as legible as possible, and further uses ultra-bright LEDs along the inside wall of the side panel to provide the effective “backlight” for the display. iBUYPOWER is using an expansion slot in the case to host a small card that bridges comms between a DVI link (from the GPU), but the card does not use any motherboard slots. A simple DVI pass-through runs from the video card to the expansion card, which then runs the wiring to the LCD side panel.
At CES 2016, Razer introduced what they touted as the long-awaited solution for laptop users that wanted desktop power gaming: the Razer Blade Stealth and the Razer Core. Razer promised UltraBook lightweight portability combined with PNP conversion to desktop GPU performance; however, like many products at CES, only part of the solution was ready. The UltraBook and external GPU enclosure combination was demonstrated at that CES and, to Razer’s credit, PNP worked … mostly.
While on the show floor, we were permitted to disconnect and reconnect the Core from the Stealth multiple times to watch the PNP in action. During the process, the engineers that we worked with explained the many difficulties involved with making real-time driver switching across Thunderbolt 3 (brand new, at that point) work. Asking a Microsoft OS to disconnect and reconnect display drivers from 3 different vendors (AMD, Intel, nVidia) was challenging. So, as we watched Windows change the display drivers in real time through Device Manager, we were impressed to see it working even if it wasn’t the fully polished end product. Soon after the show, Razer began delivering Stealths with 6th generation Core i7 CPUs, 2560x1440 QHD or 4K touch screens, 8GB of DDR3 DRAM, and up to 512GB PCIe based SSDs. The only slightly disappointing specification was the 45 WHr battery which provided around 9 hours of use.
Deepcool has made their mark on the PC hardware industry by including liquid cooling solutions in their cases. Deepcool’s Genome cases had a helical reservoir built into the front of the case. At CES 2017, Deepcool unveiled three new liquid-cooled cases, a show case, and two similar RGB fan sets.
The MF120 and MF120GT are the two new fans. The MF120GT uses a traditional housing design with the LEDs in an “X” pattern across the middle. The MF120 housing implements a frameless design with the RGB LEDs running nearly parallel through the middle. Both models share several properties: the housings are aluminum, the blades have a unique design meant to improve air pressure, they rotate on FDBs, and the fans are PWM adjustable between 500 and 2200 RPM. The plan is to sell 3 fans and a controller for $100 USD, and the system will be controlled through an Android or Apple mobile app. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a Windows desktop control app at the moment.
Optane is Intel’s latest memory technology. The long-term goal for Optane is for it to be used as a supplemental system memory, caching storage, and primary storage inside PCs. Intel claims that Optane is faster than Flash NAND, only slightly slower than DRAM, has higher endurance than NAND, and, due to its density, will be about half the cost of DRAM. The catch with all of these claims is that Intel has yet to release any concrete data on the product.
What we do know is that Lenovo announced that they will be using a 16GB M.2 Optane drive for caching in a couple of their new laptops during Q1 2017. Intel also announced that another 32GB caching drive should be available later in the year, something we’ve been looking into following CES 2017. This article will look into what Intel Optane actually is, how we think it works, and whether it's actually a viable device for the enthusiast market.
At the tail-end of our CES 2017 coverage, our visit to the Thermaltake showroom provided a look at upcoming cooling products – as the name might suggest – alongside some spin-offs of existing product lines. The more playful side of the room was outfitted with an original Donkey Kong arcade cabinet look-alike, a case mod by “Thermal Mike” for which we’ll post a separate video, while the rest of the room featured liquid and air cooling products.
Today's focus is on the Thermaltake P1 TG mini-ITX wall-mount enclosure, the Rainbow AIO CLC, and the Engine 27 Sandia-style ($50) cooler.
CORSAIR today announced updates to their flagship K95 keyboard and their SCIMITAR gaming mouse (the CORSAIR marketing department really likes capital letters). The Scimitar Pro is out now and the K95 Platinum will be available sometime later this month, but both are at Corsair’s CES exhibit. We’ll also be covering Corsair’s RGB Vengeance memory and, albeit briefly, new “gaming” chair.
The K95 Platinum starts at $200 and has already replaced its non-platinum predecessor on the Corsair products page. For comparison, Newegg is selling the older version with Cherry MX Brown or Red switches for $170 (with some extra keycaps thrown in).
EVGA’s CES 2017 suite hosted a new set of 10-series GPUs with “ICX” coolers, an effort to rebuff the cooling capabilities of EVGA’s troubled ACX series. The ACX and ICX coolers will coexist (for now, at least), with each SKU taking slightly different price positioning in the market. Although EVGA wouldn’t give us any useful details about the specifications of the ICX cooler, we were able to figure most of it out through observation of the physical product.
For the most part, the ICX cooler has the same ID – the front of the card is nigh-identical to the front of the ACX cards, the LED placement and functionality is the same, the form factor is effectively the same. That’s not special. What’s changed is the cooling mechanisms. Major changes include EVGA’s fundamentally revamped focus of what devices are being cooled on the board. As we’ve demonstrated time and again, the GPU should no longer be the focal point of cooling solutions. Today, with Pascal’s reduced operating voltage (and therefore, temperature), VRMs and VRAM are running at more significant temperatures. Most of the last-gen of GPU cooling solutions don’t put much focus on non-GPU device cooling, and the GPU cores are now efficient enough to demand cooling efforts be diverted to FETs, capacitor banks, and potentially VRAM (though that is less important).