Hardware

Our old coverage of the NZXT H700i included a lengthy section on what we deemed a bug-filled fusion of hardware and software that would be a waste of money even if it worked perfectly, with that device finding its way into a trashcan during the review. That was the “Smart Device” version 1, which was reclaimed from the trashcan for exactly this content piece. The intended function of this little black box was to automatically modulate fan speeds to find an optimal balance between noise and thermal performance, relying on internal microphones to gauge the noise-to-thermal response. In practice, its function is to raise the MSRP of the H700 and H710 by an average of $30. We didn’t actually get any performance numbers for the original smart device because we could never successfully coach it through the software calibration phase, something NZXT claims to have fixed in the two years since. Today, we’re testing to see if the smart device is still a net negative for the intelligence of the H-series cases.

It’s been a couple years now since we reviewed the H700i, and to NZXT’s credit, they do sell a cheaper version of the case without the device, so we’ll pause our diatribe there for now. Upon review of the H700i, we asked for an H700d -- or dumb, as dubbed by our Patreon community -- that would rid of the smart device and allow a lower price-point. This was eventually granted across the case family, and we’ve been happy to recommend the H700 as an option in the $130 to $150 category ever since.

As we alluded to in our NZXT H510 Elite review and H710 review, though, the Smart Device version 2 is here, and we’ve finally gotten around to testing it. The PCB inside the new Smart Device is visibly different, but the aim of this review is to see whether different is also better. Also, to actually review the Smart Device, since the software was too broken to test last time.

The NZXT H710 is a slight refresh of the H700 that we reviewed two years ago. To be precise, we reviewed the Smart Device-equipped H700i, but NZXT did us the favor of sending us the base version this time. The appearance and features of the case are almost identical to the original H700, so we’ll focus on cataloguing any minor changes and seeing how the H700 case design holds up in 2019.

XFX RX 5700 XT THICC II Ultra Review: Hard Pass

By Published September 25, 2019 at 1:50 pm

XFX’s highest-end RX 5700 XT might be called the THICC Ultra, but our review will look into whether it’s THICC in name only or if this meme-ified card can take cooling seriously. With all the plastic embellishments, the meme of a name, and the $450 price-point, this entire card’s existence seems mismatched and dichotomous. It’s got the professional look and high-end price-point, but the name of something you’d expect to find on AliExpress. As the most expensive 5700 XT we’ve bought or received yet, today we’ll tear into the XFX THICC for thermal performance, cooler quality, build quality, and positioning versus competition.

XFX has the RX 5700 XT THICC listed at $430 and $450, with our option being the more expensive of the two. By the listings, the only difference is the frequency, where the RX 5700 XT THICC II Ultra is clocked at an alleged 1730MHz to the THICC II non-Ultra’s 1605MHz base clock. If the cooler works well on the more expensive, higher-clocked model, it’ll work well on the lower-clocked one; that said, certain design failures can’t be overcome simply by lowering clocks, and we’ll be talking about that today.

Most closed-loop liquid coolers are unexciting, but that’s not true for today’s Swiftech H360X3 that we’re reviewing. When the vast majority of CLCs on the market are made by Asetek or CoolIT, it immediately makes companies like Swiftech interesting for their clever solutions to bypass Asetek patents or attempt to improve upon long-standing cooling designs. Most companies buy their CLCs from Asetek and CoolIT, including every single CLC made by NZXT, EVGA, Thermaltake, and Corsair, but some make their own or find alternative suppliers. The Swiftech H360X3 is a semi-open loop that’s easily expandable for water cooling, but also includes clear tubing with dyes for more custom-tuning without venturing into full open loop territory. Today, we’re testing the H360X3 to see how it does versus plainer solutions.

For the basics, the Swiftech H360X3 AIO – or CLC, as we continue insisting – should be priced at around $165 for the 360 variant, or $140 for the H240X3. The series includes three dyes (red, green, blue) to accompany its pastel white coolant that’s pre-filled.

We never reviewed the Corsair 460X, but now we are reviewing the Corsair iCUE 465X. It's good that we never reviewed the first case, because we’re thoroughly tired of trying to find new things to say about case revisions when we’ve just gotten through looking at the prior one. The 465X is a familiar design with a full-length PSU shroud and tempered glass side and front panels, but with open-air gaps on either side that so many case manufacturers seem afraid to commit to. Corsair's 465X is priced similarly to the NZXT H700 non-i, Cooler Master H500P Mesh, and Lian Li O11 Dynamic after fan purchases. Pricing is supposed to be in the $150-$160 range, with some impact assuredly from tariffs and the rest from the RGB LEDs, three fans, and cut-down Node internally.

We’ve reviewed an onslaught of cards from the RX 5700 series, including the RX 5700 and XT reference models, the Sapphire Pulse XT, MSI Evoke XT, and RX 5700 Red Dragon by PowerColor. Today, we’re looking at another non-XT model: The Sapphire RX 5700 Pulse is going head-to-head with the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, with the AMD Reference card tagging along to provide some much-needed perspective that, although there will only be one winner between these two AIB cards, both are a massive upgrade over AMD’s blower design.

As a reminder that’s hopefully unnecessary, the real difference from one board partner card to the next hinges upon thermals and acoustics, not necessarily gaming performance. There certainly can be a gaming performance impact, but this is typically limited to less than 2% change in performance from baseline for the RX 5700 series cards. AMD already maxed the silicon as much as it could and boosting isn’t as sensitive as NVIDIA cards; further still, the AMD RX 5700 non-XT model is artificially limited (without modifications, which are possible) to a SET frequency of 1850MHz (not necessarily GET). This, along with maxing the silicon, relegates most changes from cards to what we call “quality of life” features, like significantly reduced noise levels, PCB designs that might be more accommodating to one case or another, and reduced thermals. VBIOS power limitations are also at play, where VBIOS changes can allow cards to draw more power than reference, but won’t necessarily yield performance benefits as a result. Finally, another useful feature present on both the Sapphire and PowerColor models is dual VBIOS, which allows a backup if the user botches a flash.

We’re finally looking at a non-XT version of the RX 5700, and the first one we received is the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, which comes with dual-VBIOS to match its dual-axial cooler. The card is a proper 2-slot design with a more muted, less gamer-y aesthetic, but more importantly, it should serve as a competitive alternative to the reference model and its cursed blower fan. The RX 5700 Red Dragon is priced at $360, about $10 over MSRP for the 5700 reference card, and comes in about $50-$60 under the 5700 XT partner models that we’ve recommended so far. Today, we’re looking at thermals, acoustics, and some gaming performance for the Red Dragon.

As we dive into this, a few notes: Like the RX 5700 XT reviews we’ve posted (Sapphire Pulse, MSI Evoke, Gigabyte Gaming OC), this will focus most heavily on thermals and noise. Because it’s the first non-XT that we’re reviewing, we’ll also look briefly at gaming impact versus reference, alongside overclocking differences. For the most part, though, we already know where the silicon performs (and you can check our Pulse review for the most up-to-date full suite of data), and so we just need to see how the cooler changes things. That’ll primarily be in noise, noise-normalized thermals, ands tock thermals.

The Phanteks P400A gave us tentative hope at Computex when we saw its move to a fine mesh front panel, similar to what Cooler Master did with the NR600. The P400A follows-up on the original Eclipse P400, but while keeping the base tooling, it massively overhauls the panel design to move away from a closed-off, suffocated front and toward a more open mesh. Phanteks also avoids the trap that many fall into by eliminating a dust filter, instead relying on the fine mesh as a filter and keeping airflow as open as possible. In today’s testing, we’ll look at the Phanteks P400A RGB for thermals and acoustics, but we’ll also test the white panel versus black panel to see if the paint thickness matters, then throw the original P400 panel on for comparison.

The original Phanteks Eclipse P400 released circa 2016. The P400 is a case that launched during the initial explosion of S340-esque cases with sealed front panels, full-length PSU shrouds, and no optical drive support. Phanteks has gotten an impressive amount of use out of that tooling over the years, most recently with the case we’re reviewing today: the mesh-fronted P400A that comes as a $70 base model with two fans and a fan controller or a $90 RGB model with three fans and an LED controller. We’ll be covering the $70 model in a separate piece, since this review is already full to the brim with testing of the P400A’s front panel.

We’ve already reviewed the reference RX 5700 XT, the Sapphire Pulse model that we received as a frontrunner for board partners, and the MSI Evoke OC, which was overall poor value when compared to cheaper solutions on the market. Now, we’re looking at the Gigabyte Gaming OC card, the first triple-axial fan contender in our RX 5700 series benchmarks. It all comes down to thermals and noise with these, as gaming performance is functionally the same between each card when stock, and so we’ll focus-down on if Gigabyte can achieve competitive thermals at equivalent noise to the Sapphire and MSI cards. At $420 MSRP, the Gigabyte Gaming OC is priced around the Pulse and just below the Evoke.

For this testing, we’re focusing most heavily on thermals and noise. As a reminder, and we’ll say this in the conclusion as well, board partner cards ultimately come down to thermal and acoustic differences. There are a few that have extreme impact on XOC capabilities, like a KINGPIN or HOF card, but none of the 5700 XTs that we’ve yet looked at focus on that market. Gaming benchmarks become unimportant, as performance remains unchanged in nearly all partner designs. The one exception is the Evoke OC, which posted roughly a +2% performance advantage over baseline reference/Pulse performance, but otherwise, expect no meaningful or even measurable performance impact in gaming from these cards. The biggest gain is in massive quality of life improvements, such as reduced noise levels (in a noticeable way), reduced thermals, features like extra VBIOS on-board (the Pulse has this), or fitment advantages.

Lian Li O11 Dynamic XL Case Review & Benchmarks

By Published August 30, 2019 at 9:30 am

The O11 Dynamic was a case we liked enough to keep around for housing one of our work PCs. The layout is nonstandard, from the side intake vents to the placement of the PSU and storage, but it works. It may be the only case we’ve ever tested with a completely sealed-off glass front panel that still managed to perform actually well in testing. The O11 Air variant impressed us somewhat less, but improved substantially when the dust filtration was removed. Now, in 2019, Lian Li is introducing the O11 XL, a larger version of the original case, still bearing the Der8auer badge for his initial work on the O11 Dynamic. 

Like the Dynamic, this case is meant to be used for water cooling builds, but our standardized test bench is used for air testing. This is still useful to determine the performance capabilities of the case, as it’ll all scale when comparing one case to the next, but note that water cooling can obviously brute-force its way past a lot of thermal issues. Still, the O11 Dynamic made an actually good air-cooled case thanks to the bottom intake and side intake options, so even though it looks best as an aquarium, it didn’t have to be one.

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