Patrick Stone

Patrick Stone

Gigabyte pleasantly surprised us at PAX East 2016 with a small set of unreleased motherboards. These boards will likely surface about the time that Broadwell-E is released – keep an eye out over the next month – so that means these are all prototypes and that everything here is subject to change. What we were shown appears to be a refresh of the Haswell-E and Skylake boards that are already on the market with the addition of U.2 support.

U.2 is a connector that the Small Form Factor Working Group (SFFWG) decided to rename in 2015. It was formerly called “SFF-8639,” and most of the people that were aware of it worked with servers. Part of the reason it’s making its way to desktop boards is that the form factor provides M.2 PCIe speed combined with the drive mounting flexibility of the old SATA cable. This means that you can have as many U.2 drives as your motherboard has U.2 connectors.

Plextor has been making SSDs since 2008, but their presence in the PC gaming market is nearly unrecognized. They are the third-largest OEM SSD manufacturer behind only Samsung and SanDisk, and Plextor's drives are used in Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, Microsoft, and Samsung computers. The company is working to change its consumer recognition as it continues to manufacture high-throughput PCI-e and SATA SSDs. At CES 2016, Plextor announced the M8Pe on the PCI-e side and the M7V on the SATA side, two drives which we think are of serious note for the consumer and gaming audiences.

The M8Pe is a PCI-e Gen 3 x4 M.2 SSD running the NVMe protocol. The drive will be available in the 2280 form factor or as an M.2 stick, then mounted on an HHHL PCB with a styled heatsink (similar to the HyperX Predator). The new M8Pe uses the Marvell 88SS1093 controller to handle Toshiba 15nm MLC NAND. The M8Pe will have 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of flash memory with up to 1GB of DDR3 for caching, which acts as a sort of pre-buffer to speed-up storage transactions. The drive is a welcomed competitor in a market which consists of a whopping 3 competing companies: Intel (750 SSD), Kingston (HyperX Predator), and Samsung (950 Pro). At the moment, Samsung is king according to published, raw numbers. These numbers aren't really representative of all aspects of drive performance, though, and that's for a number of reasons we define in our SSD Architecture & Anatomy article. There are other discrepancies as well, but we'll look into those in future posts.

Rosewill had a subtle offering at CES 2016. The case & power manufacturer brought along its recently released full-tower, the Nighthawk 117, and announced the release of a new mid-tower case, the Gungnir. There were also a few minor updates with fans and power supplies that we'll mention at the end of the post.

Released 12/14, the Nighthawk 117 ($115) is the full-tower hybrid of the Throne and the Thor v2. The prominent, adjustable ventilation on those two cases is carried over to the Nighthawk 117. On this new case, Rosewill chose to go with two “click-type,” integrated fan controllers versus the rheostat-types after listening to user input. Other measureables include a top-mounted hot-swap drive bay, 4 x 5.25" drive bays, and 8 x 3.5" drive bays. All of the the 3.5" bays are oriented left-to-right for easy access. The top five 3.5" drive bays can be removed via two thumb screws to increase air flow. The Nighthawk 117 fits any ATX form factor motherboard and has the standard bottom-mounted PSU location. For cooling, the Nighthawk comes with 5 x 140mm fans: 2 blue LED fans in the front, 2 non-LED fans in the top, and 1 non-LED in the rear.

Phanteks introduced several new products at CES 2016, additionally implementing a few variations on existing cases. The new gear included a large addition to the Enthoo Primo line-up, a new series of cases for beginning system builders (dubbed 'Eclipse'), and a power product aimed at simplifying multi-PSU installations. The existing product updates came to the Evolv ATX, Pro M, and Primo.

The biggest new product in the Phanteks suite is still a work in progress. At the moment it's being called “Project 916” or, as noted on the back of the name card, the “Primo Pro.” The design has deep channels along the outside that mirror the other Primo series cases, but P916 adds more LED lighting, thick aluminum and steel, and tempered glass that separate it from the others.

Thermaltake greeted us this year with a steel tank packing two mini-guns. It was the winner of the X9 modding competition and was created by Jesse Palacia, a case modder prolific in the Dirty South PC Mods group on Facebook. The Core X9 was hardly recognizable as the top had been cut down at about a 45-degree angle and the side panels had been sawed through and made into hinged, steel covers. Even though the mod wasn't currently powered, it was still eye catching.

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