Hardware

The original Sandia & Coolchip style coolers spiked interest in a market segment that’s otherwise relatively stagnant. With a whirling aluminum block serving as both the fan and the heatsink, the cooling concept seemed novel, dangerous, and potentially efficient. That’s a mix to cause some excitement in CPU coolers, which are otherwise the expected mix of metal and air or, if you wanted to get really crazy, liquid, metal, and air.

That concept largely vanished. We haven’t heard much about the use of Sandia-inspired designs since 2014, and certainly haven’t seen any majorly successful executions of either Sandia or Coolchip coolers in the CPU cooling space. Nothing that took the market by force and demanded eyeballs beyond initial tech demos and CES showcases.

Thermaltake decided to take its own stab at this type of cooler, working with Coolchip on technology implementation and execution of the Engine 27 unit that was at CES last month.

Thermaltake’s Engine 27 is $50. It’s a 27mm form factor cooler, meaning it’s one of a select few that could fit in something like a SilverStone PT13 with its 30mm requirement. The direct competition to the Engine 27 is SilverStone’s NT07 and NT08-115XP, the latter of which we’re also testing. This Thermaltake Engine 27 review looks at noise and temperatures versus the SilverStone NT08-115XP & Cryorig C7.

BitFenix’s new flagship case is the Shogun, a “super mid-tower” compatible with up to E-ATX boards, and a thematic successor to the similarly simplistic Shinobi mid-tower. We haven’t covered a BitFenix enclosure since we named the Pandora one of the best mid-range cases of 2015, and we were curious about the company has changed since its LED-laden efforts.

BitFenix made a name for itself with the Prodigy small form factor case a few years ago, and has been trying to recreate that success ever since. The new BitFenix Shogun case is what we’re reviewing today, priced at $160 and targeting the (“super”) mid-tower market with its mix of aluminum, steel, and glass. The case primarily differentiates itself with a slightly user-customizable layout internally, something we’ll talk about in this review.

The Pure Base 600 is the newest, cheapest, and smallest of Be Quiet!’s silent enclosures, but it manages to hold its own in the current lineup. It’s a stark contrast to previous Be Quiet! cases like the Silent Base 800, a chunky enclosure that we found pleasant to work with but fairly expensive at $140.

As a $90 mid tower, the Pure Base 600 fits into the same category as the S340 Elite (reviewed) and other high-end cases, although notably without tempered glass or indeed any side window at all. In fact, Be Quiet! also manages to dodge the entirety of the RGB LED craze, making the Pure Base 600 oddly unique in its “older” approach to case features. Granted, there will be a tempered glass variant in March for an extra $10.

Instead of all these extras, the 600 derives its value from Be Quiet!’s hallmark blend of acoustic foam, rubber grommets, and case fans intended to deaden noise as much as possible. We’ll cover acoustic testing later on, but for now, our first impressions:

GPU diode is a bad means for controlling fan RPM, at this point; it’s not an indicator of total board performance by any stretch of use. GPUs have become efficient enough that GPU-governed PWM for fans means lower RPMs, which means less noise – a good thing – but also worsened performance on the still-hot VRMs. We have been talking about this for a while now, most recently in our in-depth EVGA VRM analysis during the Great Thermal Pad Fracas of 2016. That analysis showed that the thermals were largely a non-issue, but not totally inexcusable. EVGA’s subsequent VBIOS update and thermal pad mods were sufficient to resolve any concern that lingered, though if you’re curious to learn more about that, it’s really worth just checking out the original post.

VBIOS updates and thermal pad mods were not EVGA’s only response to this. Internally, the company set forth to design a new PCB+cooler combination that would better detect high heat operation on non-GPU components, and would further protect said components with a 10A fuse.

In our testing today, we’ll be fully analyzing the efficacy of EVGA’s new “ICX” cooler design, to coexist with the long-standing ACX cooler. In our thermal analysis and review of the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 (~$630) & SC2 ICX cards (~$590), we’ll compare ACX vs. ICX coolers on the same card, MOSFET & VRAM temperatures with thermocouples and NTC thermistors, and individual cooler component performance. This includes analysis down to the impact the new backplate makes, among other tests.

Of note: There will be no FPS benchmarks for this review. All ICX cards with SC2 and FTW2 suffixes ship at the exact same base/boost clock-rates as their preceding SC & FTW counterparts. This means that FPS will only be governed by GPU Boost 3.0; that is to say, any FPS difference seen between an EVGA GTX 1080 FTW & EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 will be entirely resultant of uncontrollable (in test) manufacturing differences at the GPU-level. Such differences will be within a percentage point or two, and are, again, not a result of the ICX cooler. Our efforts are therefore better spent on the only thing that matters with this redesign: Cooling performance and noise. Gaming performance remains the same, barring any thermal throttle scenarios – and those aren’t a concern here, as you’ll see.

Intel i3-7350K Review, Benchmarks, & 5.0GHz Overclock

By Published February 09, 2017 at 12:30 pm

The first unlocked i3 CPU, upon its pre-release disclosure to GN, sounded like one of Intel’s most interesting moves for the Kaby Lake generation. Expanding overclocking down to a low/mid-tier SKU could eat away at low-end i5 CPUs, if done properly, and might mark a reprisal of the G3258’s brief era of adoration. The G3258 didn’t hold for long, but its overclocking prowess made the CPU an easy $60-$70 bargain pickup with a small window of high-performance gaming; granted, it did have issues in more multi-threaded games. The idea with the G3258 was to purchase the chip with a Z-series platform, then upgrade a year later with something higher-end.

The i3-7350K doesn’t quite lend itself to that same mindset, seeing as it’s ~$180 and leaves little room between neighboring i5 CPUs. This is something that you buy more permanently than those burner Pentium chips. The i3-7350K is also something that should absolutely only be purchased under the pretense of overclocking; this is not something that should be bought “just in case.” Do or do not – if you’re not overclocking, do not bother to consider a purchase. It’s not uncommon for non-overclockers to purchase K-SKU Core i7 CPUs, generally for desire of “having the best,” but the 7350K isn’t good enough on its own to purchase for that same reason. Without overclocking, it’s immediately a waste.

The question is whether overclocking makes the Intel i3-7350K worthwhile, and that’s what we’ll be exploring in this review’s set of benchmarks. We test Blender rendering, gaming FPS, thermals, and synthetics in today’s review.

For comparison, neighboring non-K Intel products would include the Intel i5-7500 (3.4GHz) for $205, the i3-7100 for $120, and Intel i3-7320 (4.1GHz) for $165. These sandwich the 7350K into a brutal price category, but overclocking might save the chip – we’ll find out shortly.

To catch everyone up, we’ve also already reviewed the Intel i7-7700K ($350) and Intel i5-7600K ($240), both of which can be found below:

EVGA’s CLC 120 cooler fell on our bench shortly after the EVGA CLC 280 ($130), which we reviewed last week against the NZXT X62 & Corsair H115i. The EVGA CLC 120 prices itself at $90, making it competitive with other RGB-illuminated coolers, but perhaps a bit steep in comparison to the cheaper 120mm AIOs on the market. Regardless, 120mm territory is where air coolers start to claw back their value in performance-to-dollar; EVGA’s chosen a tough market to debut a low-end cooler, despite the exceptionally strong positioning of their CLC 280 (as stated in our review).

Before diving in to this review, you may want to read the EVGA CLC 280 review, NZXT Kraken X42/X52/X62 review, or its subsequent tear-down.

The Kaby Lake i7-7700K launched to the usual review verdict for Intel CPUs: Not particularly worthwhile for owners of recent Intel i7 CPUs, but perhaps worth consideration for owners of Sandy Bridge and (maybe) Ivy Bridge. The CPU gave an extra 1.5-3% gaming performance over the i7-6700K and roughly ~+7% performance in render applications. The i5-7600K we’d suspect would be similar in its generational stepping, but it’s worth properly benchmarking.

Our i5-7600K ($240) review and benchmark includes CPUs dating back to the i5-2500K (including OC) and i5-3570K, though we’ve also got a similar amount of i7 CPUs on the bench. We’ve just finished re-benching some of our AMD CPUs for some near-future articles, too, but t hose won’t make it on today’s charts.

EVGA CLC 280mm Review vs. NZXT X62, Corsair H115i

By Published February 01, 2017 at 9:00 am

EVGA’s closed-loop liquid cooler, named “Closed-Loop Liquid Cooler,” will begin shipping this month in 280mm and 120mm variants. We’ve fully benchmarked the new EVGA CLC 280mm versus NZXT’s Kraken X62 & Corsair’s H115iV2 280mm coolers, including temperature and noise testing. The EVGA CLC 280, like both of these primary competitors, is built atop Asetek’s Gen5 pump technology and primarily differentiates itself in the usual ways: Fan design and pump plate/LED design. We first discussed the new EVGA CLCs at CES last month (where we also detailed the new ICX coolers), including some early criticism of the software’s functionality, but EVGA made several improvements prior to our receipt of the review product.

The EVGA CLC 280 enters the market at $130 MSRP, partnered with the EVGA CLC 120 at $90 MSRP. For frame of reference, the competing-sized NZXT Kraken X62 is priced at ~$160, with the Corsair H115i priced at ~$120. Note that we also have A/B cowling tests toward the bottom for performance analysis of the unique fan design.

Relatedly, we would strongly recommend reading our Kraken X42, X52, & X62 review for further background on the competition. 

Antlion ModMic 5 Review & Quality Comparison

By Published January 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm

We’ve noticed that one of the important factors in team game coordination and success is the extent of communication. That’s no big surprise for anyone, but it’s especially true for faster-paced games such as shooters and MOBAs. Oftentimes, text wheels and typing are decent, but in the heat of the moment nothing beats using a mic to communicate.

Unfortunately, many users may not have much desk space for a desk mic or might have a lot of background noise, making it less than ideal to grab a broadcast mic. Further, for folks who already own high-end headphones that they don’t want to replace with a headset (which oftentimes have mediocre mics and speakers), it’d be nice to keep using those headphones just with a mic attachment. This leaves few options except for clip-on mics (which are easy to hit, annoying to use, and sometimes require amps) or something like the Antlion ModMic. We previously reviewed the ModMic 4 and found it to be a reliable product, with some minor issues that were largely overlooked at its price tag.

We just received Antlion’s new version of the ModMic for review: the ModMic 5. This new version features more robust build quality, omni- and uni-directional mics, and a removable mute switch, but it also has a higher price tag of $70.

Gigabyte’s Z270X Aorus Gaming 7 motherboard was the first to host our Intel i7-7700K Kaby Lake CPU that we reviewed. The board also forced us to try a few different motherboards for our Kaby Lake CPU thermal benchmarking, because the initial numbers were astronomically high. We’ll get to that later.

Gigabyte’s newest rendition of its Gaming 7 line places the Z270 7th Gen chipset on the motherboard, alongside the RGB LEDs expected of the company’s “Aorus” brand. The board bills itself a rather high-end solution – at least, before venturing into extreme OC territory – and does so under a $240 banner. Also on our bench the next two weeks, the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon (Z270) and MSI Tomahawk (Z270) were used as a point of comparison against the Gaming 7. As Kaby Lake and the i7-7700K are brand new, the three boards are all we’ve used from the 200-series chipsets thus far.

(UPDATE: We talk about Auto vCore issues in this review. Please note that Gigabyte has since updated its BIOS to fix these problems. Learn more here.)

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