Hardware

SilverStone’s Raven RV02 enclosure was once a chart-topper in our bench, laying claim to thermal superiority by taking risks. The RV02 uniquely approached system configuration by rotating the motherboard 90-degrees clockwise, a move that slipstreamed intake from three bottom-mounted, 180mm fans into the video card and CPU cooler. All of the air exhausted through a single top fan, creating a “Stack Effect” solution that yielded high-performance cooling for the GPU and CPU.

It’s been a while since the RV02 came out and made its splash and – a fact we didn’t learn until months after our review – that case was dust-prone, resultant of its positive pressure and all-bottom intake setup. We’ve been due for another risk-taker in the market.

Corsair today officially launches its new 600C and 600Q cases, each deploying an inverted motherboard design and strongly highlighting cooling efficiency. In the 600C/Q, the motherboard is not only rotated by 180-degrees, but inverted – it’s on the right side of the case, rather than the left. Without front-facing I/O, this is the only way to pull-off a 180-degree motherboard rotation. The models are differentiated by the right side panel (which, remember, is the access panel to the board): the 600Q (“quiet”) sacks the window in favor of a steel panel with sound-damping material; the 600C spotlights internals with its large window, somewhat similar to the company’s 760T arrangement (though not glass). The 600C/Q cases are each priced at $150.

AMD R9 380X Review & Benchmark: Red Strides Forward

By Published November 19, 2015 at 7:58 am

“Team Red” appears to have been invigorated lately, inspired by unknown forces to “take software very seriously” and improve timely driver roll-outs. The company, which went about half a year without a WHQL driver from 2H14-1H15, has recently boosted game-ready drivers near launch dates, refocused on software, and is marketing its GPU strengths.

The newest video card from AMD bears the R300 series mark, from which we previously reviewed the R9 380 & R9 390 GPUs. AMD's R9 380X 4GB GPU costs $230 MSRP, but retails closer to $240 through board partners, and hosts 13% more cores than the championed R9 380 graphics card (~$200 after MIRs). That places the R9 380X in direct competition with nVidia's GTX 960 4GB, priced at roughly $230, and 2GB alternative at $210.

Today, we're reviewing the Sapphire Nitro version of AMD's R9 380X graphics card, including benchmarks from Battlefront, Black Ops III, Fallout 4, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and more. The head-to-head would pit the R9 380X 4GB vs. the GTX 960 4GB, something we've done in-depth below. We'll go into thermals, power consumption, and overclocking on the last page.

MSI B150A Gaming Pro Motherboard Review

By Published November 13, 2015 at 11:05 am

Not every machine needs a Z170 motherboard. This fact is often overlooked by builders concerned with potentially limiting themselves in expansion options or framerate – a valid concern – but in instances where overclocking and multi-GPU arrays are not intended, B- and H- chipsets work perfectly. The chipset structure provides a hierarchy of prices for different target markets, with H170, B150, and H110 offering particularly compelling solutions for mainstream gaming PC builds.

Our previous motherboard review looked at Biostar's H170-Z3 board, which uses the H170 chipset and hosts both DDR3L and DDR4 memory slots. Today's review looks at the MSI B150A Gaming Pro motherboard, a business chispet-equipped board targeting the gaming market. MSI's B150A Gaming Pro hits the market at around $120 MSRP, justifying some of its price hike over competing boards by way of RGB LEDs.

This review looks at the power consumption of the B150A Gaming Pro, boot times, board layout, and UEFI power afforded to the user.

We recently reviewed the Corsair Strafe ($110), a mechanical keyboard with semi-customizable backlighting. Since then, the Strafe RGB keyboard has come out as the higher-end RGB version with the same chassis.

The Strafe RGB is a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown RGB, MX Red RGB, or MX Silent Red RGB switches, including a full 16.8 million colors available for lighting customization. Other than the option to set macros, the Strafe RGB is still a normal keyboard -- nothing too crazy about it, but that fits the Strafe’s market. The primary obstacle to the Strafe – which is the case with many PC components and high-end keyboards – is the price tag: $150, in this case.

Skylake's launch caused some initial curiosity because of its split RAM compatibility. The Skylake memory controller is capable of running both DDR4 and DDR3L memory – but not both simultaneously – and is compatible with platforms hosting both memory slot types. Importantly, DDR3 is not the same as DDR3L (low voltage), so just re-using Z97 platform DDR3 sticks won't necessarily (but could) work with Skylake boards.

Biostar's Hi-Fi H170-Z3 motherboard is among the first options to support both DDR3L and DDR4. With four DIMM slots and two per memory type, you're limited to a single DIMM per channel (dual-channel supported) with a maximum of 2 sticks per configuration. Using DDR4, a maximum memory configuration of 32GB (16GB per slot) is supported, with just 16GB (8GB per slot) on DDR3L.

Today we're reviewing the Hi-Fi H170-Z3. We've gone through the board design, UEFI, and some basic objective tests. Being that the board uses the H170 chipset, overclocking was not possible and not tested.

NZXT HUE+ RGB LED Controller & Case Lighting Review

By Published October 27, 2015 at 9:59 am

The company that generated industry-wide attention for its H440 case, launched in 1Q14, has returned from relative product-silence with its HUE+ LED controller. The HUE+ is outfitted with a number of substantial improvements over its championed HUE analog controller.

NZXT's HUE+ is a dual-channel RGB LED controller, complete with four high-density, fully addressable LED strips and an SSD form factor hub. It's possible to expand to eight total LED strips (four per channel) for 80 LEDs, each addressable through NZXT's existing CAM software. CAM, already established for Kraken CLC control and live FPS monitoring, makes available eight preset display modes, a pair of custom display modes, four lighting modes, and allows for fully-digital control over the LEDs.

We built a system using the NZXT HUE+ RGB LED controller and spent some time with CAM. This review looks at the new NZXT HUE+ RGB LED system, its build quality, brightness, LED bleed, and overall value. You can find a video review below, worth watching if only for a more visual representation of the LED functionality.

The GT72 Dominator Pro G is MSI's latest gaming notebook, primarily symbolic for its inclusion of nVidia's GTX 980 desktop GPU. Last month, we reported that desktop GTX 980 GM204 chips were en route to the notebook market, already integrated in various form factors and manufacturer offerings. We've gotten hands-on with a few GTX 980 notebooks – the Aorus X7 DT, CLEVO P870DM, ASUS GX700VO, MSI GT72 – and have seen form factors spanning slim (<1” thickness) through the usual “desktop replacement” models (2”, for the GT72).

Our first GTX 980 notebook review is of MSI's GT72 Dominator Pro G, including gaming (FPS) benchmarks, thermal & temperature plots, battery life, and value. There's no softening the blow with this one: It's $3100, 2” thick, and weighs about 8.4 lbs. This is, in its truest form, a “desktop replacement” laptop. Of note, we previously reviewed CyberPower's Fangbook III with a GTX 980M, which is a rebranded MSI GT72 notebook using the mobile version of the GTX 980 – a slimmed-down offering from today's model. With the Fangbook on extended loan, we were able to re-benchmark performance and conduct a GTX 980 vs. GTX 980M laptop benchmark. To expand on this just slightly, a desktop GTX 980 was also benchmarked as a parity-check with the more thermally-constrained notebooks.

Liquid-cooled video cards have carved-out a niche in the performance market, granting greater power efficiency through mitigation of power leakage, substantially reduced thermals, and improved overclocking headroom. We've previously talked about the EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid and AMD R9 Fury X, both of which exhibited substantially bolstered performance over previous top-of-line models. More manufacturers have seen the potential for liquid-cooled graphics, with MSI and Corsair now joining forces to produce their own 980 Ti + CLC combination.

This joint venture by MSI and Corsair sees the creation of a liquid-cooled GTX 980 Ti, using the existing Corsair H55 CLC ($60), an Asetek-supplied CLC. Depending on which company you're asking, the graphics card is named either the “MSI Sea Hawk GTX 980 Ti” ($750) or “Corsair Hydro HFX 980 Ti.” Both will have independent listings on retail websites. The cards are identical aside from the branding initiatives. The MSI & Corsair solution sees employment of what is typically a CPU liquid cooler, bracketing the H55 CLC to the GPU using a Corsair HG10 GPU CLC mount. EVGA's solution, meanwhile, uses a CLC with an extruded coldplate for GPU-specific package sizes, which could impact cooling. We'll look into that below.

For purposes of this review, we'll refer to the card interchangeably between the Hydro GFX and Sea Hawk. Our MSI Sea Hawk GTX 980 Ti review benchmarks gaming (FPS) performance vs. the EVGA 980 Ti Hybrid, temperatures, overclocking, power consumption, and value. The liquid-cooled 980 Ti cards are in a class of their own, exceeding base 980 Ti price by a minimum of $50 across all manufacturers. We're pitting the EVGA 980 Ti Hybrid against the MSI Sea Hawk in a head-to-head comparison within this benchmark.

The commonality of RGB lighting in PC components seems to be ever increasing. Despite its rise to ubiquity, RGB LED lighting is still a feature that isn’t included in budget products; for this reason, products that incorporate RGB lighting at a reasonable price point are particularly interesting.

The Thermaltake Poseidon Z RGB is a programmable RGB keyboard currently available for a little under $100 at Amazon and Newegg, making it one of the cheapest programmable RGB keyboards available. And today, we’re reviewing the Poseidon Z RGB mechanical keyboard, following our previous acclaim for Tt eSports’ non-RGB predecessor.

Logitech G633 Artemis Spectrum RGB Headset Review

By Published October 01, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Logitech's newest headsets run the high-end of the gaming market, priced at $150 and $200 for the respective wired and wireless variants. We showed the engineering and “making of” behind the company's G633 ($150) and wireless G933 ($200) headsets last month, briefly explaining the Logitech Pro G driver.

The two headsets are boasted by Logitech as the company's return to gaming audio, further claimed to exceed the usual “good for a gaming headset” quotation. Logitech wants its “Artemis Spectrum” headsets – the G633 and G933 – to be recognized for performance across various use cases, primarily including gaming, music, and movie / entertainment categories. Our favored audio solutions specialize in single categories, so the attempt at versatility requires more comprehensive testing and analysis.

This Logitech G633 gaming headset review looks at the RGB LEDs, 7.1 surround sound setup through DTS & Dolby, comfort, build quality, and mic quality.

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