We’ve noticed that one of the important factors in team game coordination and success is the extent of communication. That’s no big surprise for anyone, but it’s especially true for faster-paced games such as shooters and MOBAs. Oftentimes, text wheels and typing are decent, but in the heat of the moment nothing beats using a mic to communicate.
Unfortunately, many users may not have much desk space for a desk mic or might have a lot of background noise, making it less than ideal to grab a broadcast mic. Further, for folks who already own high-end headphones that they don’t want to replace with a headset (which oftentimes have mediocre mics and speakers), it’d be nice to keep using those headphones just with a mic attachment. This leaves few options except for clip-on mics (which are easy to hit, annoying to use, and sometimes require amps) or something like the Antlion ModMic. We previously reviewed the ModMic 4 and found it to be a reliable product, with some minor issues that were largely overlooked at its price tag.
We just received Antlion’s new version of the ModMic for review: the ModMic 5. This new version features more robust build quality, omni- and uni-directional mics, and a removable mute switch, but it also has a higher price tag of $70.
Gigabyte’s Z270X Aorus Gaming 7 motherboard was the first to host our Intel i7-7700K Kaby Lake CPU that we reviewed. The board also forced us to try a few different motherboards for our Kaby Lake CPU thermal benchmarking, because the initial numbers were astronomically high. We’ll get to that later.
Gigabyte’s newest rendition of its Gaming 7 line places the Z270 7th Gen chipset on the motherboard, alongside the RGB LEDs expected of the company’s “Aorus” brand. The board bills itself a rather high-end solution – at least, before venturing into extreme OC territory – and does so under a $240 banner. Also on our bench the next two weeks, the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon (Z270) and MSI Tomahawk (Z270) were used as a point of comparison against the Gaming 7. As Kaby Lake and the i7-7700K are brand new, the three boards are all we’ve used from the 200-series chipsets thus far.
(UPDATE: We talk about Auto vCore issues in this review. Please note that Gigabyte has since updated its BIOS to fix these problems. Learn more here.)
Intel’s i7-7700K Kaby Lake CPU follows-up on Skylake with a microarchitecture that is largely identical, but with key improvements to the process technology. Through what Intel has dubbed “14nm+,” the new process technology has heightened fins and widened the gate pitch, both serving as key contributors to the increased frequency headroom on the 7th Generation Intel Core CPUs. Other key changes, like enablement of finer-tuned frequency switching and AVX settings, theoretically offer better responsiveness to current demand on the CPU. As with most active frequency tuning, the idea is that there’s some power efficiency benefit that is coupled with better overall performance by way of reduced latency between changes.
Kaby Lake CPUs are capable of switching the clock speed at a 1000Hz rate (or once per millisecond), and though we’ve asked for the minimum frequency adjustment per change, we have not yet received a response. AMD recently made similar mentions of this sort of clock adjustment on Ryzen, using the upcoming Zen architecture. More on that later this week.
Today’s focus is on the Intel i7-7700K flagship Kaby Lake CPU, for which we’ve deployed the new MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon ($165) and Gigabyte Z270 Gaming 7 ($240) motherboards. For this Intel i7-7700K review, we’ll be looking at thermal challenges, blender rendering performance, gaming performance, and synthetic applications. Among those, FireStrike, TimeSpy, and Cinebench are included.
The thermal results should be among the most interesting, for once, though we’ve also found Blender performance to be of noteworthy discussion.
Product availability should begin on January 5, with the official launch today (January 3) for the Intel 7th Gen Core CPU products. Note that some products will not be available until later, like the i3-7350K, which is expected for late January. The i7-7700K will be here once it's available.
There are more than 40 SKUs for the 7th Generation Kaby Lake CPUs, when counting Y-, H-, S-, and U-class CPUs. Starting with the specifications for the 7700K, 7600K, and 7350K CPUs (i7, i5, i3, respectively):
The RGB illumination of the 805 Infinity first mounted its pedestal at CES 2016, where we showed that the then-prototype case would be adorned with an ‘infinity mirror’ effect for the front panel. The case didn’t even have a name, and In Win asked us to pass along the message to our readers and viewers that they needed to see interest to make the product a reality.
There was interest – a lot of it, actually. The 805 Infinity was eventually introduced to the production line (which we toured), and is now available for a staggering $250. The enclosure is based on the normal In Win 805, a case which vacillates between $150 and $200, depending on how retailers feel that day, but exchanges the front panel for the LEDs.
The In Win 805 is available in four options: Black, for $180, or about $150 after rebates and discounts; gold, which has a gold strip on the front and is priced the same; red, again the same, but with a red strip; and Infinity, which is a name that I actually came up with at CES – to be fair, it’s also not all that unique.
Building-up a semi-custom liquid cooling loop is a bit of a new trend, spawned from a surge in AIO dominance over the market. The ease of installation for AIOs greatly exceeds what’s possible with an open loop, with the obvious loss of some customization and uniqueness. The cooling loss, although present, isn’t necessarily a big factor for the types of buyers interested in AIO CLCs rather than open-loop alternatives. Ever since we saw PNY’s solution years ago, though, and then more recently EVGA’s quick disconnect solution, the market has begun to burgeon with semi-custom loop “CLCs.”
An example of these semi-custom CLCs would be the EK Waterblocks Predator XLC 280 that we benchmarked in our Kraken X62 review. Today’s review also focuses on one of these semi-custom liquid cooling solutions, featuring benchmarks of the Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro on a GTX 1080. Our testing looks into thermal performance under baseline conditions (versus a GN Hybrid DIY option), frequency stability and performance, overclocking, and FPS impact. We’ve got a few noise and CPU tests too, though this will primarily focus on the GPU aspect of the cooling. The Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro does not work as an out-of-box product, necessitating our purchase of the Alphacool Eisbaer to hook into the system (CPU cooler + radiator). The Eiswolf GPX Pro is a $130 unit, and the Eisbaer cost us ~$145.
This unit was provided by viewer and reader ‘Eric’ on loan for review. Thanks, Eric!
NZXT’s S340 Elite builds upon the S340, but has retooled a couple of components. Most apparent, its inclusion of tempered glass means the S340 Elite now aims to adopt an industry trend, with NZXT already invested in 2016’s other trend (RGB) through the HUE+.
The refreshed S340 Elite is priced at around $100, with the S340 non-Elite still at ~$70. This makes the Elite one of the cheaper tempered glass cases on the market, coming under the new Corsair 570X by $80, the 460X by $40, and under the Cullinan by $30. Three color options are available for the S340 Elite: Flat black, black with red accents on the cable management bar, and white and black. This is a place where NZXT excels; its designers know how and where to apply accents, and they help differentiate the options so that users can feel more unique in their system builds.
In this review of the NZXT S340 Elite, we’ll be looking at thermal performance, acoustics (noise levels), cable management, and overall quality.
MSI’s Trident claims to be the “smallest VR-ready PC,” and measures 346 x 72 x 232mm in size. The box is about the size of a DVR and can lie flat or stand, using an angled bottom and angled base to create a more artistic means of presenting itself. It’s a little unstable if you’ve got pets or kids, as there’s no locking mechanism for the stand and the unit to click together, but flat positioning is an alternative. You do lose some cooling potential when going that route, given the ventilation.
We’re reviewing MSI’s Trident 010, as equipped with the i7-6700 and GTX 1060 3GB and bundled with a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD. The unit is marked at $1100 on Newegg, and retains the same diminutive form factor found in the entire Trident line.
Our benchmarks have gotten increasingly detailed for systems, and we’re now benchmarking more of the thermals (PCH, drives), noise levels, power draw, and gaming performance. Heuristic VR testing was performed on the Trident, but we still require some time to get VR benchmarking right.
Corsair today launched two new cases: The Corsair 570X RGB case, which uses tempered glass on three sides and costs $180, and the Corsair 270R, a $60-$70 budget-oriented solution to the S340 problem. The product page for the 570X is here (Newegg), and the 270R is here (Newegg).
Both cases are in for review. This Corsair 570X and 270R case review demonstrates thermal performance for both enclosures, including CPU, GPU, and case ambient thermals, and noise (dBA) testing versus nearby competitors. The S340 Elite, Rosewill Cullinan, and In Win 303 are included against the new Corsair products. We're building-out this new test bench and still need to add the 400C, 600C, N450, and a few SilverStone/Be Quiet cases.
The 570X was preempted by Corsair's 460X ($140)—yet another tempered glass and RGB enclosure—released just after PAX Prime. The 460X was preempted by the Computex announcement and later launch of the Be Quiet! Dark Base 900 and Rosewill Cullinan (which we reviewed here vs. the Anidees Crystal -- the same case, both by OEM Jonsbo).
All of these cases use tempered glass. That's the theme we predicted back in June, and it seems to have been dead-on. It's all RGB, all glass, all day for 2016 case design. The previous trend was PSU shrouds, and we can't say that wasn't a welcomed change of pace for an industry that had otherwise stagnated. Cases are alive and well this year, it's just a matter of figuring out whose alphabet soup of features is worthwhile and worth the spend.
The video review is below, but the article -- as always -- is published in its entirety in the following pages. If you normally favor the articles, note that we've got a custom animation in this one that's worth a view. It pops-up within the first few minutes, and shows an explosion of the 570X and its tooled components.
Teamwork is vitally important in current leading games: Dota 2, Overwatch, Rocket League, League of Legends, Battlefield 1’s new squad system -- the industry has been trending toward team-heavy play for a few years now. Voice chat is the only real solution to communication in anything faster paced, and so we normally look toward headsets for an easy plug-and-play solution. Unfortunately, bad microphones plague even the most expensive headsets.
Headsets will often bundle together a mediocre quality mic and headphones and price it above what each would be worth individually. On top of that, for folks already in possession of higher quality standalone headphones, replacing them with a headset with worse sound quality isn’t that appealing. Clip-on and desk (see: Yeti, Snowball) mics are convenient for PC gamers who already have nice headphones (or for some other reason don’t want a headset), and can provide higher quality input. Not always -- but it’s not hard to beat the average headset.
Another unique option other than a clip-on or desktop mic is the Antlion ModMic. Antlion’s ModMic has a magnet on an adjustable mic which sticks to another base (which also has a magnet), and all of this is placed onto the side of the headphones using adhesive. This allows for users to attach a headset style/boom mic to the side of their already-good headphones. Currently, both the ModMic 4.0 Uni-directional and Omni-directional versions (with mute) both are $50 on Antlion’s site and $55 on Amazon. Overall, it achieves its goal well by allowing users to use their own headphones while also having a decent quality adjustable mic. In this review of Antlion’s ModMic 4.0, we’ll look at mic quality, usability, and build/sound quality.
Logitech's latest obsession seems to be weight reduction. The G502 didn't make as much noise about weight as its top-tier predecessors, sequentially the G303 ($42), G900 ($135), and now G403 ($70) (and G Pro). The company has fine-tuned its tooling to allow for manufacturing of ultra-thin plastic shells, making for a lighter weight mouse chassis that can seemingly still withstand the usual wear-and-tear imposed on a mouse. In previous efforts, Logitech has boasted sensor optimization through firmware or other collaborative efforts with its sensor suppliers, has boasted lights, and has moved to implement keyplates with more consistent "clickiness" as governed by spring-tensioned switches.
But again, the latest trends have been to reduce weight and improve wireless functionality -- two efforts that seemingly go hand-in-hand. We talked about these moves heavily in our G900 review, and will leave most of the technical discussion (radiation patterns, wireless strength and reliability, etc.) to that content.
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