Hardware

AMD didn’t claim that its R7 2700X Gold Edition would be special in any frequency or binning sense of the word, but exposure to the Intel i7-8086K has obviously led us to project our hopes onto AMD that it would be binned. This is, of course, a fault of our own and not of AMD’s, as it’s not like the company claimed binning, but we still wanted to try and see if we could get a golden Gold Edition sample. In this content, we’ll be establishing that the special 50th anniversary edition 2700X doesn’t come with higher clocks than stock (but it’s not like AMD claimed otherwise), then attempting to find more overclocking headroom than our 2700X and 2700 original samples.

For the most part, this CPU was released as a commemorative item. It has a laser engraving of CEO Lisa Su’s signature (not an actual signature), which clearly illustrates its purpose as more of one for display than some special bin. Despite the 50th Anniversary gift being gold, it would seem the 2700X Gold Edition is named more for its bundling with The Division 2 Gold Edition and a 1-year season pass, alongside World War Z. If you were buying these anyway, it’s not a bad deal. If not, you’d still be better off buying a 2700 and overclocking it – purely from a financial standpoint – than spending the extra money on the Gold Edition. That said, you wouldn’t get the box or laser-etched name, so once again, this is very obviously priced higher for AMD purists and fans.

We saw the yet-unnamed ASUS ROG Strix Helios at Computex 2018, where it landed a spot on our Most Room For Improvement list alongside the other two cases ASUS showed. ASUS doesn’t make cases--the company’s been around for 30 years, so we won’t say it’s never happened, but it’s definitely a rare occurrence. They worked with In Win to create the concept shown off at Computex, but the ASUS x In Win branding has disappeared from the production version and it’s our understanding that In Win is not involved in manufacturing. The Helios has to stand up to extra scrutiny as part of ASUS’ first foray into the case market. The ROG line has a reputation for solid hardware despite the over-the-top gamer branding, so it has big shoes to fill.The case is packed with as many features as possible, necessary or otherwise. The most distinctive is the velcro strap laced over the top panel, ostensibly an “ergonomic and stylish” handle for carrying the system to LAN parties. It helps a little for hoisting the case up on to a table, but this is not the enclosure to bring to a LAN party, even for the rare person that attends more than one per decade. Most of the case’s surface is glass and it weighs 18kg empty. At least the straps and the rails that they’re looped through are massive overkill, tested up to 50kg according to ASUS, so the most likely point of failure is the person lugging it around. The strap is fastened with velcro and can easily be removed before it gets dusty and gross, and we’d recommend doing so, since the case looks perfectly normal without it.

When we first received our sample, the “multifunction cover” over the cutouts to the side of the motherboard was knocked sideways in a way that looked like serious damage, but it was just loose. There was also a mysterious loose screw wedged into it, which we later discovered was from the front panel. The cover slides backwards and forwards to allow room for E-ATX motherboards, and it contains a 2.5” drive mount and built-in GPU braces. The braces are of limited usefulness since they mostly support the edge of the GPU closest to the motherboard, which is already held up by the PCIe slot. The rails for the supports are unpainted to allow the supports to slide up and down and stand out harshly against the black interior. GPU sag is a problem, but one without an elegant solution. The cover functions normally otherwise but offers very little clearance for plugs on the edge of the motherboard, and connecting the SATA cable for our boot drive was difficult.

NVIDIA’s GTX 1650 was sworn to secrecy, with drivers held for “unification” reasons up until actual launch date. The GTX 1650 comes in variants ranging from 75W to 90W and above, meaning that some options will run without a power connector while others will focus on boosted clocks, power target, and require a 6-pin connector. GTX 1650s start at $150, with this model costing $170 and running a higher power target, more overclocking headroom, and potentially better challenging some of NVIDIA’s past-generation products. We’ll see how far we can push the 1650 in today’s benchmarks, including overclock testing to look at maximum potential versus a GTX 1660. We’re using the official, unmodified GTX 1650 430.39 public driver from NVIDIA for this review.

We got our card two hours before product launch and got the drivers at launch, but noticed that NVIDIA tried to push drivers heavily through GeForce Experience. We pulled them standalone instead.

Cooler Master sent over its NR600 enclosure at the same time as the Q500L, but we judged it a little less time sensitive since there wasn’t any melting candy inside of it. The NR600 is a budget mesh-fronted mid tower moving in on the market segment that the RL06 used to occupy, back when it was around $70.

At first glance, the Cooler Master MasterBox NR600 bears a strong resemblance to the NZXT H500, mostly thanks to the partial glass panel that cuts off at the level of the PSU shroud, but also the flat, unadorned exterior. Cooler Master has gone increasingly minimalist with their branding, which is limited to a logo-shaped power button and an embossed hexagon on the side of the PSU shroud. We went so far as to put the NR600 side-by-side with the H500 for comparison, but their glass panels are in fact slightly different sizes.

The Cooler Master Q500L is an ATX retrofit of the micro-ATX Q300L, designed to fit full-sized ATX motherboards and components. All of this is done entirely within the footprint of the existing SFF case, which is the gimmick of Cooler Master’s Q series: multiple different cases, one (small) external size. That’s good, because Cooler Master decided to fill the entire thing with Reese’s Cups before they sent it to us, and if they’d done that with something from the Cosmos line we’d be in serious trouble. We have been well-fed, though, and we’ve learned that freezing them makes them much better. Seriously.

We’re definitely losing money on this review, and it’s not just because we had to hire an intern to eat the 18 pounds of Reese’s cups that Cooler Master included in the case. We tried hard to make the Q500L perform well in testing – we tried to force it, with Patrick spending a week longer working on this case testing than we typically spend. This is Cooler Master’s Q500L mini case for full ATX motherboards, re-using the Q300 tooling from a micro-ATX case design, but shifting the power supply around to accommodate ATX motherboards. It’s a unique approach to an enclosure and, at $60, we can overlook a lot of limitations in favor of affordability.

Asetek has a stranglehold on most of the closed-loop liquid cooler market for PC hardware, easily holding majority placement in all CLCs sold in the US. CoolIT has long been a contender of Asetek’s, with the two having battled legally over Asetek’s patents on pump-in-block design, and has also been one of Corsair’s two liquid cooling partners. Both Asetek and CoolIT make the Corsair liquid coolers, though the latter fell out of popularity for a number of years. Finally, with the Platinum line, Corsair is working with CoolIT in a mainstream product. The H115i Platinum uses a new pump and block design, and that’s something we’ll show off thoroughly in our upcoming liquid cooler internals comparison video. For today, we’re focusing on reviewing the $160 H115i Platinum for thermals, acoustics, and overall value at the price point.

Asetek has previously received settlements in legal disputes against CoolIT, the other supplier of Corsair’s closed-loop liquid coolers, and has also won legal battles against Cooler Master for its Seidon series. Asetek, it seems, has a patent on the pump-in-block design approach, and has had judges rule in its favor. This has led to an exodus of non-Asetek coolers in the US market, with companies like Swiftech and Be Quiet! pulling their similarly-made (but non-Asetek) coolers out of the US market. We’re left with a few braver souls, like those using Apaltek-made designs, and some companies that have worked around the patents. DeepCool would be an example, which uses a three-chamber, very complicated approach to its pump manufacturing.

CaseLabs Revisit: What We Lost, Ft. Magnum SMA-8

By Published April 02, 2019 at 11:06 pm

CaseLabs was a small manufacturer of high-end PC cases that went out of business in August of last year, bankrupted by a combination of new (American) tariffs and the loss of a major account, not to mention an ongoing legal battle with Thermaltake. We’d been in contact with CaseLabs in the months leading to the company’s demise and received one of the SMA8-A Magnum enclosures for review. With about a month to spare before the company shuttered, we knew no better that it’d soon be over for CaseLabs, and as we were in the middle of a move into our office, we shelved the review until the dust settled. By the time that dust settled, the company was done for. It stopped being a priority after that (since reviews of products that nobody can buy aren’t especially helpful), and it’s been sitting in storage ever since, unopened. Now that even more time has passed, it’s worth a revisit to see what everyone is missing out on with CaseLabs gone.

For this “review,” we’re really focusing more on build quality, some basic history, and looking at what we lost from CaseLabs’ unique approach to cases. We typically focus case reviews on thermals and acoustics, not on boutique, ultra-expensive cases, and so our review process is not well-suited for the CaseLabs SMA8. This case is meant for servers (we’re building one in the case now) or for dual-loop liquid setups, so our standard review test bench really doesn’t work here -- it fits, technically, and we did do some thermal tests for posterity, but that’s not at all the focus of what we’re doing.

We’re still in China for our factory and lab tours, but we managed to coordinate with home base to get enough testing on the GTX 1660 done that a review became possible. Patrick ran the tests this time, then we just put the charts and script together from Dongguan, China.

This is a partner launch, so no NVIDIA direct sampling was done and, to our knowledge, no Founders Edition board will exist. Reference PCBs will exist, as always, but partners have control over most of the cooler design for this launch.

Our review will look at the EVGA GTX 1660 dual-fan model, which has an MSRP of $250 and lands $30 cheaper than the baseline GTX 1660 Ti pricing. The cheapest GTX 1660s will sell for about $220, but our $250 unit today has a higher power target allowance for overclocking and a better cooler. The higher power target is the most interesting, as overclocking performance can stretch upwards toward a GTX 1660 Ti at the $280 price-point.

We’ll get straight to the review today. Our focus will be on games, with some additional thermal and power tests toward the end. Again, as a reminder, we’re doing this remotely, so we don’t have as many non-gaming charts as normally, but we still have a complete review.

The Corsair Crystal 680X is the newer, larger sibling to the 280X, a micro-ATX case that we reviewed back in June. The similarity in appearance is obvious, but Corsair has used the past year to make many changes, and the result is something more than just a scaled-up 280X and perhaps closer to a Lian Li O11 Dynamic.

First is the door, which is a step up from the old version. Instead of four thumbscrews, the panel is set on hinges and held shut with a magnet. This is a better-looking and better-functioning option. It’d be nice to have a way to lock the door in place even more securely during transportation, but that’s a minor issue and systems of this size rarely move.

Removing the front panel is a more elaborate process than usual, but it’s also unnecessary. The filter and fans are both mounted on a removable tray, and everything else is easily accessible through the side of the case. Fan trays (or radiator brackets, or whatever you want to call them) are always an improvement. If for some reason the panel does need to be removed, it involves removing three screws from inside the case, popping the plastic section off, and removing a further four screws from outside. The plastic half is held on by metal clips that function the same way as the plastic clips in the 280X, but are easier to release. Despite appearances, the glass pane is still not intended to be slid out, although it could be freed from its frame by removing many more screws.

Today, we’re reviewing the GTX 1660 Ti, whose name is going to trip us up for the entirety of its existence. The GTX 1660 Ti is NVIDIA’s mid-step between Pascal and Turing, keeping most of the Turing architectural changes to the SMs and memory subsystem, but dropping the official RTX support and RT cores in favor of a lower price. The EVGA GTX 1660 Ti XC that we’re reviewing today should have a list price of $280, sticking it between the $350 baseline of the RTX 2060 and the rough $200 price-point of modern 1060s, although sometimes that’s higher. For further reference, Vega 56 should now sell closer to $280, with the RX 590 still around the $260 range.

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