As with any modernized adaptation of an existing technology, closed-loop liquid coolers (CLCs) have become almost fad-like in their adoption. In part, this is because CLCs actually do have very legitimate advantages over traditional air coolers - they are highly noise-to-temperature efficient, for one thing, and have an aesthetic appeal for some users. The other part of this liquid cooling craze, though, I believe is attributable to a general doting of something new.
The thing is, not every liquid cooler is going to be inherently better than similarly-priced air coolers. Just having liquid in tubes (rather than copper-encased capillaries) does not make the units predisposed to superior cooling qualities; this said, a well-constructed liquid-cooling solution can certainly trounce a well-constructed air cooling solution -- it just comes down to the engineering in each product and consideration of other differences (noise). There's a reason we use radiators for large, hot things (cars, for one) in tandem with traditional air-cooling engineering (also found in car cooling systems in the form of air intakes, copper/aluminum sinks, etc.): Both have their place for optimizing maximized potential for thermal dissipation.
There was a recent burst in demand from our community (that's you guys) to cover more gaming peripherals—keyboards, mice, headsets, the works—and start reviewing the options out there. Following-up with our video production rig, which endeavored to detail some great audio peripherals, this review signifies the impending publication of several new mouse & keyboard reviews.
For the past several weeks I've had the opportunity to play around with a couple of high-end gaming mice sent in to GamersNexus, including today's Logitech G600; this Logitech G600 gaming mouse review will look at its features, value for MMO gamers, and talk about serious button enthusiasm.
As I've explained innumerable times this past month, the overwrought enthusiast market has clambered over itself with new hardware for 2013. It's really quite unbelievable: As the mainstream desktop market wanes—due to many factors, like prolonged usable system lifespan and minimized consumer interest—the enthusiast and gaming markets have picked up competitive interest among manufacturers. There's suddenly a much greater incentive to establish and maintain a foothold in enthusiast computing, making for undeniably excellent news for our readers; today's case review of NZXT's Phantom 630 is a testament to that, given its swath of features for a previously unachievable price-point. We originally previewed the Phantom 630 at CES, found here.
This is also evident in other recent cases we've reviewed (or intend to review), like the upcoming Throne, Corsair's 900D (which looks amazing, by the way), SilverStone's entire line-up, and the far more affordable RAIDMAX Cobra and Armor Evolution. Quite simply put, we're seeing more features, more efficiency, and better performance at a lower cost to the consumer -- or as it's affectionately known, competition at its finest.
NZXT's Phantom 630 is the next to be reviewed & benchmarked, a particularly interesting case for its appeal to more budget-conscious gaming hardware enthusiasts. The price scale for gaming enclosures is an interesting one -- it's very heavy in the mid-range (~$100 sector) and top-end, but lightens up toward the bottom of the scale ($50~$70). The Phantom 630 is targeted at around $180, placing it firmly between mid-range full towers and hardcore enthusiast systems (like the Phantom 820 we reviewed, which was $250ish).
As always, let's start with the video review component and the hard specs.
After the thorough lashing we gave Rosewill's Armor Evolution case—even with its claim to the best cooling performance we've ever seen—we immediately benched the next two cases in our queue. Normally I'd impose a delay between case reviews for better (and more interesting) spread of coverage, but this time, we were all eager to see what the stuff we previewed at CES could offer.
From the middle through the end of January each year, it is common for us to get slammed with cases and cooling products to review; SSDs and motherboards often get announced at the tradeshows and Q4 rallies, but tend to be held back until a March launch frame, followed closely by new GPU announcements in April/May. This means that, somewhat advantageously, we're given time to get all the cooling products figured out first, revise our testing methodology for the impending "hi-tech" products, and provide excellent research content in-between (like our SSD Lifecycle post). It's a cumbersome cycle, but it's been working out well so far.
RAIDMAX is a contributor to that cycle. Just before CES, RAIDMAX sent us their new Cobra ATX-502WB case for review, and from its $70 price-point, it's potentially in a position to be recommended in our budget gaming PC builds. Even with the surge toward enthusiast cases this year, we're still seeing as many cheap enclosures as ever: Rosewill's R5 is our long-standing sub-$90 choice, Corsair's 200R brings mid-range quality to the low-end market, and In-Win, Xion, and Zalman are all trying to make a splash in that sector as well. There's always room for good competition, though.
As always, let's hit the specs and video review first:
UPDATE: Rosewill has read our review and is addressing the quality issues in an upcoming "version 2" of the Armor Evolution case. We will review this case once it is complete and in our hands.
As noted in our post-CES case round-up, mid-tower and full tower / enthusiast cases were all the rage this year; in a frighteningly unstable desktop PC market—one which sees Intel's exit from the motherboard market, despite their huge motherboard push to us in 2011—we were taken aback by the fierce competition in the enclosure marketplace, each manufacturer fighting for the rising enthusiast market. As we see a move away from mainstream desktops, the market's direction is becoming clear: There will be mobile devices and there will be high-end machines; the middle-ground, mainstream desktop user is effectively extinct (or very endangered, in the least).
This is traditional of any aging market -- the same goes for cars. We went from hundreds of car companies in the mid-20th century to just a handful, and while all manner of economics plays into the merging and folding of companies, the advancement of technology and consumer demands plays an equally large role. And so as the world of desktop machines goes forward, having now given it some thought, it makes sense that competition for the gaming and high-end DIY markets would embolden itself as manufacturers prepare to grab hold of whatever small foothold they can in a shrinking marketplace. Besides, we have it on good authority that the enthusiast market is growing, even while the mainstream desktop user vanishes; this means good things for all of us.
Adding an aftermarket CPU cooler to your gaming system will undoubtedly tighten thermal differentials to a more predictable range, and while semiconductors do "like" heat to a limited degree, CPUs have trouble operating under intense, fluctuating thermal load. Aftermarket CPU coolers, much like RAM, are a commodity in the mainstream market; they're not necessary to operate at stock frequencies, but are nice to have for decreased noise pollution and decreased room temperatures (I'm only sort of joking - my system easily increases room temps by a degree or two).
For lightweight overclocking, of course, the story is different -- these coolers are necessary to protect the chip and increase core stability when under load. There's a lot of engineering that goes into a quality CPU cooler and, as with any quality engineering, you won't find the best possible designs for entry-level coolers. There are elements to prioritize, though, and we can uncover what differences make the largest impact by benchmarking a wider array of units.
This one's a classic case of "old but good."
The Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme first launched right around the Nehalem days, and despite its age, is still ranked as one of the top CPU coolers presently available. After our recent look at NZXT's brand new Respire series, we figured we'd start building our benchmark database with some stellar performers.
In this Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme review, we'll benchmark the cooling performance, provide a video hands-on, and compare a few CPU coolers/heatsinks against each other. We also plan to bring up heatsink and cooler design philosophy, hopefully helping you make purchasing decisions.
After reviewing the ultra high-end Phantom 820 case, the folks over at NZXT sent us their newest in mid-range computing accessories: The Respire T20 and T40 CPU coolers. These two coolers are marked at $30 and $40 MSRP respectively, fitted with 1300-1800RPM fans (50CFM or 68.8CFM), and have a fairly standard aluminum heatsink design with copper heatpiping.
We benchmarked the Respire T20 vs. the T40 and were able to collect temperature performance data on each, so if you're considering buying either of these new CPU heatsinks, read on! We've also included a video review for those who want a more hands-on look at the product.
NZXT's cases have secured a reputation for their knifelike designs: the cases are sharp and emit an almost preternatural aura, using jagged, cutting elements in unique combination with rounded and beveled-out features. And in that fashion, they're almost very Alienware-like in aesthetic -- astral and radiant.
The company's offerings range from dirt cheap to otherworldly, with build quality scaling immoderately within that spectrum. We had the chance to review the crème-de-la-crème of NZXT's cases recently (including a video review, below): The behemoth Phantom 820, currently marketed at $250 for high-end or enthusiast system builders.
We were impressed.
A recent surge in fascination with integrated graphics processing technology may prove to be healthy for the hardware industry; as AMD (through Trinity) and Intel (through HD X000 IGPs) battle it out, these tiny systems have never been a more viable option for living room PC gamers. Aside from making excellent living room PCs and DIY / home-made consoles, the smaller builds we've worked with tend to be quiet and LAN party-friendly, which is great for the lite gamer who wants a discrete box.
In the coming weeks, we'll cover a wide range of HTPC topics (including video guides on how you can make the most of yours), with the goal of proving the viability of HTPCs as gaming platforms. But in preparation for those posts, we're kicking it all off with this: A review of SilverStone's SGUO SG08 HTPC case, which we'll be using for the ensuing articles. You'll find the video review below.