Hardware

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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

It’s been a months-long journey of GTX 800, then GTX 900 rumors, broken embargoes, questions, and anticipation. The GTX 750 Ti saw the debut of NVidia’s Maxwell architecture almost 7 months ago, making for one of the first times the company has ever unveiled a low-end product before its architecture flagship. Then things went silent. Time passed, and as mobile 800-series GPUs began shipping, we still hadn’t heard about what would eventually become the GTX 900 series.

Then a box showed up.

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“The World’s Most Advanced GPU” was written on the hefty black and green box, a few phone calls were made, and we knew it was time.

Nixeus MODA Gaming Mechanical Keyboard Review

By Published September 04, 2014 at 12:52 am

Cherry has historically made the vast majority of mechanical switches sold in North America, but in recent months, new manufacturer Kailh has entered the market -- no, not the farmers market. Kailh started selling switches in North America after Cherry's patent expired, therefore allowing Kailh's suspiciously similar switches to be sold legally.

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Kailh has rapidly become more popular with companies like Thermaltake and Razer, who have adopted them due to their lower price. Before Cherry's patent expired, Kailh had a reputation for cheap switches in China, both in quality and price. Because some keyboard enthusiasts were less-than-enthusiastic about buying these new switches, Razer has made claims to tighten quality control.

We remarked upon the GTX 750 / 750 Ti reveal that passive cards were a distinct possibility, given the low TDP and ability of the cards to operate solely on motherboard PCI-e power. Hovering at a 55W TDP, nVidia’s GM107-powered GTX 750 doesn’t draw any power from the PSU and has a lower thermal footprint than any of its higher-powered brethren. With the right heatsink design, it’s always been an ideal candidate for a passively-cooled, silent, low-profile HTPC video card.

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ZOTAC announced its “GTX 750 ZONE” passively-cooled solution just a few weeks ago. Standard GTX 750 specs apply, the one exception being that Zotac has nixed the active fan in favor of a larger aluminum and copper heatsink with no active components. Thermals are always a concern when operating a passively-cooled device, and with GPUs, thermals will directly impact the throttling and performance (FPS) output in games.

We benchmarked Zotac’s passive GTX 750 Zone video card for temperatures and framerate (FPS) in Metro, GRID, Battlefield 4, Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, and FurMark. These results can be extrapolated upon for a wider-spectrum understanding of the GPU’s worth for gaming.

There was a time when mouse bungees cost $20 to $30 and were a novel invention. Thankfully, that time's long past. There was also a time when we reviewed Razer's eXactMat X (2009) and remarked that its $40 price-point was the most we'd ever shelled-out for a mouse pad, but followed-up that the purchase was well worth it for sturdy aluminum.

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Razer's pad, by the way, is still in use and now has about 5 years of life on it. Aluminum lasts a lot longer than cloth -- go figure.

Thermaltake's new Tt eSports "Draconem" mouse pad is a 2mm-thick, dual-side mousing surface with detachable cable bungee. The smooth side of the pad is brushed aluminum and anodized, outfitted with decals in opposing corners for the Tt eSports logos; the rougher side is grittier to offer greater traction with the mouse's Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) feet, colored with a red dragon emblem off-center.

The Draconem is somewhat massive, scaling in at 360 x 300 x 5mm (14.1 x 11.8 x 0.2") and taking up significant desk real-estate.

Back in the day, one keyboard reigned supreme -- the IBM Model M. A buckling spring keyboard that informed supervisors how hard their cube-slaves were working due to its loud sound upon actuation. But these wonderful times did not last forever. The membrane switch was developed, which was far cheaper as a result of using a rubber dome instead of springs to register keypresses, and since that day mechanical keyboards grew more scarce.

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Until recently.

The mechanical keyboard industry has been expanding. Fast. Cherry MX mechanical switches are the primary switches sold, but there are competitors in the marketplace. Tesoro has been expanding into the North American market with their mechanical keyboards, adding yet another name to the myriad of brands currently on digital shelves. Interestingly, like some other brands  -- Razer and Thermaltake included -- Tesoro is using Kailh mechanical switches in their keyboards instead of standard Cherry MX or Topre switches.

Thermaltake's "Tt eSports" division has been steadily expanding its arsenal of gaming accessories since the brand's launch. After reviewing the Poseidon Z keyboard -- the first Kailh-equipped board we've tested -- it's fair to say that Tt eSports has potential in the gaming market. The brand has primarily centered its strategy upon affordable products to the competitive and streaming crowd, mainly offering products like LAN backpacks (for keyboards), mouse pads, headsets, eSports team jackets, and now keycaps.

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We're reviewing Thermaltake's "Tt eSports Metal Caps" accessory today, a collection of mechanical keyboard keycaps to provide a sturdier, more resolute feel to key presses.

The advent of a new technology does not necessitate the invalidation of long-standing solutions. Just look at tape drives: Enterprise, archival, and government organizations still use a storage technology established in the 50s. Granted, governments are not necessarily the paramount of competent technological deployment. This sentiment of archaic persistence remains true in the world of cooling, too; CPU air cooling has reigned supreme as the most cost-effective consumer dissipation solution, and even with CLCs dominating the market, air still has its place.

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We've often remarked that high-end air coolers will beat-out low-end liquid coolers any day -- the Corsair H60 comes to mind -- and this is a chance to put the concept to the test.

In this review of Be Quiet!'s Dark Rock Pro 3, we benchmark the performance of the hardware world's most monolithic CPU cooler.

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