Hardware

The hardware industry has been spitting out launches at a rate difficult to follow. Over the last few months, we've reviewed the GTX 980 Ti Hybrid (which won Editor's Choice & Best of Bench awards), the R9 Fury X, the R9 390 & 380, an A10-7870K APU, and Intel's i7-6700K.

We've returned to the world of graphics to look at MSI's take on the AMD Radeon R9 390X, part of the R300 series of refreshed GPUs. The R300 series has adapted existing R200 architecture to the modern era, filling some of the market gap while AMD levies its Fiji platform. R300 video cards are purely targeted at gaming at an affordable price-point, something AMD has clung to for a number of years at this point.

This review of AMD's Radeon R9 390X benchmarks the MSI “Gaming” brand of the card, measuring FPS in the Witcher 3 & more, alongside power and thermal metrics. The MSI Radeon R9 390X Gaming 8G is priced at $430. This video card was provided by iBUYPOWER as a loaner for independent review.

Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel Review

By Published August 15, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Racing wheels are to driving games what HOTAS is to flight sims. Logitech's new G29 racing wheel is undeniably a “premium” gaming input device, priced at $400 and stitched in real leather. Its full name is “G29 Driving Force,” likely named for the attention paid to force feedback, and its counterpart is the G920 for Xbox users.

Racing wheels have likely been experienced by most readers of this review in arcades, if not from previous in-home experience. Most of the arcade racers deploy some similar concepts, like force feedback and vibration, but do so with more simplistic execution than what modern racing wheels market. The G29 is an attempt at bringing high-quality, simulation-ready racing into the home.

In this review of the Logitech G29 Driving Force racing wheel, we'll talk motors, belts and gears, game compatibility, build quality, and playability.

First, some specs:

Skylake is in full production – as is Broadwell. And the Kaveri refresh. And a lot of things, really – it's been a busy summer. With all the simultaneous product launches comes the industry-wide update to system integrator websites and pre-built offerings.

iBUYPOWER is the first SI we're reviewing for its implementation of Intel's Skylake platform. The company's “Gamer Paladin Z980” pre-built machine is now shipping with the Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K, with our deployment hosting an i7, GTX 980 Ti, and 16GB DDR4-2800. The total build cost for our (loaner) review system is priced-out to ~$1824. That's a big sticker.

Our review of the Gamer Paladin Z980 aims to benchmark the system for gaming performance (FPS), thermals, and compare the pre-built option against a DIY approach. We've assembled a part-to-part price comparison and matched that against a GN-recommended build. Not everyone wants to DIY – and that's fair – but it's still important to ensure the prices match up.

Let's get to it.

Enermax, LEPA, and Ecomaster are all confusingly tied together in a web of brands and companies, but they can be effectively thought of as a single entity. We were recently offered the new LEPA “Lenyx” case for review, a $160 E-ATX full-tower unit that uses a rubberized paint aesthetic.

In response to the offer, I warned the company that I may dislike the case based on an initial product overview. From my quick preview, I advised, it looked as if the case made heavy use of plastics, something I've grown to dislike over the years. The Enermax representative assured me that the photos didn't do the enclosure justice, emphasizing the high-quality application of rubberized paint and again offering the unit for review. I accepted.

This review of the LEPA Lenyx full-tower looks at ease-of-installation, build quality, aesthetics, extras, and thermal performance in benchmarking. We'll also go over cable management and design strategy. The LEPA 801 Lenyx case has an MSRP of $160 and is presently sold at $171 via Amazon.

Today marks the public release of Intel's codename “Skylake-S” platform, a new 14nm microarchitecture designated for use in the company's newest line of CPUs. The Core series CPUs see accompaniment from a new Z170 chipset, found on each of the motherboards included in our Skylake Z170 board round-up. Skylake is targeted heavily at the PC gaming userbase, which is currently experiencing a heavy surge in platform adoption.

Intel's platform flagship is the i7-6700K ($350), sticking to the well-known 4-core, 8-thread approach by way of matured hyperthreading technology. Prior to Skylake, Intel shipped its Devil's Canyon update to Haswell, a worthwhile, same-price replacement with slightly bolstered clockrates. The “Haswell Refresh” CPUs have been mostly forgotten at this point, but were released in close proximity to Devil's Canyon. This string of same-generation releases is uncharacteristic of Intel, who generally launch the mainstay i7 and i5 for each architecture before immediately shifting gears to the next platform release.

After an extended period of hardware silence, AMD has recently made its resurgence with updated GPU and CPU lines. The Radeon 300 series refreshed the existing R200 lineup, followed shortly by the architecturally revamped Fiji GPU on the Fury X; we've reviewed both of these launches (R9 390 & 380 review / Fury X review). Back in May, we also posted about the company's promised Kaveri refresh – the A10-7870K – and its market positioning.

Today we're reviewing that APU.

The Fury X has been a challenging video card to review. This is AMD's best attempt at competition and, as it so happens, the card includes two items of critical importance: A new GPU architecture and the world's first implementation of high-bandwidth memory.

Some system builders may recall AMD's HD 4870, a video card that was once a quickly-recommended solution for mid-to-high range builds. The 4870 was the world's first graphics card to incorporate the high-speed GDDR5 memory solution, reinforcing AMD's position of technological jaunts in the memory field. Prior to the AMD acquisition, graphics manufacturer ATI designed the GDDR3 memory that ended up being used all the way through to GDDR5 (GDDR4 had a lifecycle of less than a year, more or less, but was also first instituted on ATI devices).

AMD's most recent video card launch was September of 2014, introducing the R9 285 ($243) on the slightly updated Tonga GPU. Tonga was laterally imposed to take the place of the Tahiti products, namely the HD 7970 and its refresh, the R9 280. The Radeon 7970 video card shipped in late 2011 on the Tahiti GPU, a die using TSMC's still-fabbed 28nm process, and was refreshed as the R9 280, then updated, improved, and refreshed again as the Tonga-equipped R9 285. At its core, the 285 would offer effectively identical on-paper specs (with some changes, like a 256-bit memory bus against the 384-bit predecessor), but introduced a suite of optimization that yielded marginally improved performance over the R9 280.

All of this is to say that it's been a number of years since AMD has introduced truly new architecture. Tahiti's been around four years now, Hawaii shipped in 2013 and was a node refresh of Tahiti (more CUs, ROPs, and geometry / rasterizer processors), and Fiji – the anticipated new GPU – won't ship for a short bit longer. Filling that space is another refresher line, the Radeon 300 series of video cards.

AMD's lull in technological advancement on the hardware side has allowed competitor nVidia to increase competition in some unchallenged market segments, like the high-end with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) and mid-range with the GTX 960 ($200). The long-awaited R9 300 series video cards have finally arrived, though, and while they aren't hosting new GPUs or deploying a smaller fab process, the cards do offer marginally increased clockrates and other small changes.

This review benchmarks the AMD R9 390 and AMD R9 380 graphics cards against the preceding R9 280, R9 290(X), GTX 960, and other devices. The R7 370 and R7 360 also launch today, but won't be reviewed here.

Working with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) proved that nVidia could supplant its own device for lower cost, limiting the use cases of the Titan X primarily to those with excessive memory requirements.

In our GTX 980 Ti overclocking endeavors, it was quickly discovered that the card encountered thermal bounds at higher clockrates. Driver failures and device instability were exhibited at frequencies exceeding ~1444MHz, and although a 40% boost in clockrate is admirable, it's not what we wanted. The outcome of our modest overclocking effort was an approximate ~19% performance gain (measured in FPS) for a selection of our benchmark titles, enough to propel the 980 Ti beyond the Titan X in gaming performance. Most games cared more about raw clock speed of the lower CUDA-count 980 Ti than the memory capacity of the TiX.

AIO computers are a strange thing to us. As system builders, they often feel like artifacts from a distant, alien world. But they've improved in their gaming efficacy of late, and for that, it's worth a thorough review of one of the specs-leading gaming AIOs.

MSI's AG270 AIO computer is equipped with an nVidia GTX 980M and i7-4870HQ CPU, both high-end laptop components, and offers a 27” touchscreen with built-in speakers. The unit is a true all-in-one in this regard, but it does include more standard keyboard / mouse input options in the box. Most importantly, the AG270 is a $2700 gaming computer, making it somewhat intimidatingly priced.

Before jumping into the MSI AG270 all-in-one review and benchmarks, let's look over the system's core specs and features.

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