You know graphics are starting to get good when hardware developers and game developers have time to work on hair. Rendering realistic hair has historically put GPUs under tremendous load, and actually we've often used FurMark—literally just a ball of dynamic fur—for stress-testing GPUs and testing for thermals. The obstructions to realistic, real-time hair rendering are mostly expected: In the real world, thousands of little strands of hair will react to every step and movement in the wind; hair can be greasy, wet, dry, and I'm sure if we were stylists, we'd be able to name dozens of other hair afflictions. Oh, and hair doesn't clip in the real-world, either. None of this is easy to render without consuming more system resources than can be allocated to, well, just hair.

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This is why we see polygonal, blocky hair in a lot of games -- it gets covered by hoods or rendered in a bland enough way that it's not something you pay any mind. Artists can apply masks and textures that create hair that looks the part, but that's far away from the realm of hair (I'm getting semantic satiation over here) being realistically responsive to weather and movements. And this is where AMD hopes to enter the ring.

Hot on the heels of their Jaguar integration in the PS4, AMD has announced the development of its TressFX hair rendering technology. The company—in joint-effort with game dev Crystal Dynamics—hopes to bring further realism to Lara Croft's blood-spattered, dirt-covered avatar in the newest Tomb Raider iteration.

Tax refund time is here and there's not much better of a way to reap the benefits of all those hours worked than to build your own gaming PC! I've scoured the interwebs for tax-time sales and, well, let's just say there's a lot out there for us to choose from.

For a little over $600, this DIY budget gaming PC build is spec'd to run most games on high settings (or thereabouts) and is packed with goodies that should equip you to cause fits of rage from all the disemboweled noobs. The system features one of the more powerful mid-range video cards on the market, the GTX 660, an FX-4300 entry-level CPU, 1TB HDD with an SSD suggestion, and the whitest case we've ever recommended. With all that in mind, let's get to the good stuff.

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AMD's APUs have proliferated with ferocity over the past year or so; now making up about 75% of the company's total chip sales, AMD seems to be investing more seriously in what was previously considered a niche market. We don't suspect just APU sales could support a monolithic company like AMD (at least, not in its current form), but the recent launch of the PS4 and impending promise of an AMD APU-driven Steam Box and Xbox could mean good things for the company.

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We were told at CES by AMD representatives that Steam Box would be operating on A6 and A8 APUs and the PS4 has been officially stated to include a semi-custom Jaguar 8-core APU (heavily INT-optimized with a large-width FPU); the Trinity APUs run a bit too hot for console purposes, making Jaguar a reasonable choice for what have effectively become living room PCs. Let's start this PS4 hardware specs analysis with the APU—Jaguar—and the PS4's top-level specs. We'll then talk about what implications these have on PC gaming and console gaming.

NZXT Launches New FZ-200mm Case Fan

By Published February 19, 2013 at 8:13 pm

It's been exciting to follow NZXT's developments over the past few months: The company is vying heavily for an enthusiast market, and thus far, it's impressed us a few times. Today's announcement isn't a crazy Phantom case or tediously-designed PSU, though, it's a fan.

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Although fans tend to be a fairly boring topic, if we're all honest with one another, this year has had some pretty exciting fan designs emerging. Antec's TrueQuiet fans intrigued us at CES with their rotational body (the entire casing rotates, not just the blades), the idea being that this eliminates turbulence between the blades and the outer-rim. SilverStone also put out their AP123 tri-blade design fans, which we discussed in a previous TechRAID episode. And now with somewhat of a more conventional fan design, NZXT's FZ-200mm case fans promise to increase airflow 15% on top of the previous NZXT 200mm model, resulting in 103CFM at 20dBA.

Gaming peripheral manufacturer Razer has announced the re-release of its custom StarCraft II gaming peripherals, now in Heart of the Swarm flair and boasting RTS-specific features and other interesting design elements. Among the company's re-launched peripherals are its Spectre mouse, Marauder keyboard, and Banshee headset, each outfitted with the StarCraft II logo in a default deep purple color, a la the HotS/Zerg origins.

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Perhaps the item of most technical interest is the Marauder keyboard, which hosts what Razer calls "an APM Lighting System [that] offers a fully-integrated gaming experience that responds directly to a player's maneuvers and speed, providing vibrant performance feedback." The same feature was found on the original Marauder, launched some back in 2010, though we haven't personally tested it. The backlit keyboard features a fairly comprehensive color spectrum and manipulates the backlight color in accordance with the player's speed and actions, but is decidedly high-price considering its lack of mechanical switches (MSRP $100).

The legacy left by the original Crysis is one of worldwide renown: Shipping at just around the same time as nVidia's 8800-series GPUs—which were ground-breaking in their own right—the game promised to push PC gaming to new heights. It delivered. Well, graphically, at least; Crytek's CryEngine has famously pushed multi-FPU (floating-point-unit) support to better accommodate multi-core chips, and that trend continues with CryEngine 3.

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Crysis 3's new host engine natively employs up to eight simultaneous threads, though most games (Crysis 3 included) will stick with a three-thread foundation with the possibility of spawning additional concurrent threads when necessary. By default, the engine runs a thread for game logic, one for rendering, and one for computation-intensive software-side physics solutions; this means that, unlike most other sub-optimized games (read: console-inhibited), Crysis 3 should theoretically occupy the CPU cores with relative equilibrium and a more optimized load-distribution methodology than ported games.

Obviously gameplay is an entirely different matter, but speaking entirely to the technical and graphical capacity of the game, we find Crysis 3 to be incredibly promising for hardware benchmarking and for the scenery the engine is capable of rendering. Besides, it's the very same engine that Star Citizen is being built on, so if there's any endorsement of potential - that's it.

This high-end gaming PC build for Crysis 3 takes DIY to the next level, offering overclocking options and potential for running the game on high settings with a smooth framerate. Let's hit the specs before we dive into the build list:

Unigine's Valley GPU Benchmark: Successor to Heaven

By Published February 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Unigine Corp. has announced its successor to the famed Heaven Benchmark GPU stress-testing utility, Valley Benchmark; as we've stated in our "how to benchmark your PC guide," Heaven has been one of the longest-standing, most effective tools for real-world (non-synthetic) graphics hardware stress tests. The utility's primary advantage is that it renders environments similar to what might be found in modern, high-end PC games -- this is unlike synthetic benchmarks, which will focus on number-crunching to put the GPU cores under maximum computational load.

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MMORPGs: Plunging into a world wrought with thousands of heroic warriors, each challenging god-incarnates, courageously marauding across war-ravaged country-sides, donning immaculate armor, and -- who are we kidding? They're killing a pseudo-arbitrary count of orcs; waiting until level 15 to wear the red gloves; and they're delivering letters from one lifeless NPC to another, whose pointlessness is superseded only by that of the courier of said letters. This is what the industry's definition of an MMORPG has become, and part of that is the burgeoning of the market post-EverQuest and post-WoW; comparable to reality TV shows, everyone wants their own money-making machine of questionable quality.

There are dozens of MMOs that violate core game design principles in favor of monetization—especially prevalent in the emerging Chinese MMO market—and quality gameplay is particularly hard to find when faced with the overwhelming amount of MMOs out there.

Neverwinter hopes to be one of those quality MMOs -- one of the visceral, lively, immersive, and purely fun games that breaks the mold and brings immersing adventure to countless gamers.

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The question is whether or not it succeeds.

AMD: No 8000-series GPUs in 2013

By Published February 10, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Japanese publication 4Gamer.net recently interviewed AMD Product Manager of Desktop Graphics Devon Nekechuk, who made an official statement that the company would not be introducing a new line of RADEON HD graphics processors in 2013. That doesn't mean AMD fans (and fans of competition) have nothing to look forward to, though.

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Another weekend has come-and-gone, seeing the addition of many hardware sales/deals out there for us to take advantage of. This week we dug up a great variety of sales, including a large hard drive, laptop, monitor, and a couple of sweet gaming cases.

Let's jump straight into this weekend's best sales we found:

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