Hardware

At the beginning of working on this case round-up, these three selections – the NZXT S340, Antec P70, and Zalman R1 – were all about $60 to $70 max. The price range was perfect, and the cases made for currently-marketed solutions that users may encounter. Over the week that we've worked on the round-up, things have changed a bit: Zalman's R1 and Antec's P70 now sit at $40 after a $20 rebates, shifting the price range to be unintentionally wider. The base price is still $60 for both cases.

These are the three cases we're looking at today:

In this gaming case round-up, we review the performance and build quality of NZXT's S340, Zalman's R1, and Antec's P70, hoping to narrow the selection of budget gaming cases. There are dozens of similarly-priced chassis out there and this is far from a comprehensive list, but it's our start on producing regular component round-ups as a means to more easily compare products for our readers. We'll work on more comparisons shortly following.

Kingston's rebranding effort to build their HyperX line of business has extended beyond memory and SSDs, reaching into gaming peripheral components like headsets (Cloud II reviewed) and mouse pads. Our previous mouse pad reviews have looked at the Thermaltake Draconem and Razer eXactMatX, both of which are hardened, alloy pads offering grip from corner brackets or an under-mat. HyperX's alternative makes use of a softer cloth surface, deploying a rubberized underside for grippiness; the softer solution is something we've grown fond of over the past year, favoring them for their more gentle nature when dealing with teflon feet of high-end mice.

It's been a while since our last card-specific GTX 980 review – and that last one wasn't exactly glowing. Despite the depressing reality that 6 months is “old” in the world of computer hardware, the GTX 980 and its GM204 GPU have both remained near the top of single-GPU benchmarks. The only single-GPU – meaning one GPU on the card – AIC that's managed to outpace the GTX 980 is the Titan X, and that's $1000.

This review looks at PNY's GTX 980 XLR8 Pro ($570) video card, an ironclad-like AIC with pre-overclocked specs. Alongside the XLR8 Pro graphics card, we threw-in the reference GTX 980 (from nVidia) and MSI's Gaming 4G GTX 980 (from CyberPower) when benchmarking.

The performance disparity between same-architecture desktop and mobile GPUs has historically been comparable to multi-generational gaps in desktop components. Recent advancements by GPU manufacturers have closed the mobile performance gap to about 10% of the desktop counterparts, an impressive feat that results in low-TDP, highly performant laptops with longer battery life.

Battery life has long been a joke for gaming laptops. To yield gaming prowess of any measure, notebooks are normally affectionately named “desktop replacements” and never disconnected from the wall. As modern architectures have improved process nodes and reduced power requirements, it's finally become possible for gaming laptops to operate for a moderate amount of time on battery. Battery life is dictated by a few key points: Active power consumption of the components, thermal levels of the system and battery, and power efficiency at other locations in the stack (S0iX on CPUs, DevSleep with SSDs, for instance).

We reported on the Silent Base 800 back in November when Be Quiet! posted its specs, then later revisited the case at CES 2015. Over the past few weeks, we finally had the opportunity to try out the Silent Base 800 for ourselves. It’s pretty clear what its purpose is (silent, “be quiet,” etc.), but the question remains whether the case will fit the niche well enough to merit its price.

NZXT has come a long way. For a company that at one time made some of the most... “interesting” cases on the market, we've transitioned from cautioned observance to ranking recent enclosures among the likes of Corsair. The launch of the H440 ($120) proved that NZXT can design something discreet and functional without venturing into the “gamer” aesthetic that they've historically occupied. Alongside the H440, NZXT's S340 – a case I actually like better, although it's cheaper – and Phantom 530 have fronted a redoubled effort to capitalize on the market's demands for stout, robust build quality.

The Noctis 450 ($140) combines properties of the Phantom- and H-series lineups, something we recently discussed with former NZXT case designer Chung Tai. Today, we're reviewing the build quality, installation, cable management, and airflow of the NZXT Noctis 450 (N450) case.

Following the comparatively bombastic launch of the HyperX Predator SSD, an M.2 SSD fitted to a PCI-e adapter, Kingston this week launched its “Savage” SATA SSD. The Savage SSD assumes the modern branding efforts fronted by HyperX, which has streamlined its product lineup into a hierarchical Fury, Savage, Beast/Predator suite. These efforts eliminate long-standing names like “Genesis” and “Blu,” replacing them with – although sometimes silly – names that are more cohesive in their branding initiative.

The new Savage SSD sees integration of the Phison PS3110-S10 controller, usurping the long-standing HyperX 3K SSD and its SandForce 2nd Gen controller from Kingston's mid-range hot-seat. HyperX's Savage operates on the aging SATA III interface; this ensures claustrophobic post-overhead transfer limitations that can't be bypassed without a faster interface, largely thanks to information transfer protocols that consume substantial bandwidth. 8b/10b encoding, for example, eats into the SATA III 6Gbps spec to the point of reducing its usable throughput to just 4.8Gbps (~600MB/s). This means that, at some point, the argument of SATA SSD selection based upon speed loses merit. Other aspects – endurance and encryption, for two easy ones – should be held in higher regard when conducting the pre-purchase research process.

NVidia and AMD both define the ~$200 price-range as a zone of serious contention among graphics cards. The launch of the 960 held the card to high standards for 1080 gaming, a point nVidia drove home with data showing the prevalence of 1920x1080 as the standard desktop resolution for most gamers.

Our GTX 960 review employed ASUS' Strix 960, a 2GB card with a heavy focus on silence and cooling efficiency, but we've since received several other GTX 960 devices. In this round-up, we'll review the ASUS Strix, EVGA SuperSC 4GB, MSI Gaming 4GB, and PNY XLR8 Elite GTX 960 video cards. The benchmark tests each device for heatsink efficacy, framerate output (FPS) in games, and memory capacity advantages.

For anybody who has read our mechanical keyboard specs dictionary, it’s likely abundantly obvious that we enjoy mechanical keyboards. Despite an avid interest in mechanical keyboards, they don’t lend themselves to every situation. Even “quiet” mechanical switches -- like Cherry MX Reds or Browns -- can be fairly loud in comparison to a rubber dome keyboard; similarly, mechanical keyboards are not for those with stricter budgets in mind, since even the lowest priced mechanical keyboards are $50+, whereas rubber dome keyboards are available all the way to less than $10.

For those unwilling to spend $50+ on a keyboard, options exist in the form of budget-oriented, rubber dome keyboards. The Cougar 200k is one such keyboard, employing scissor switches and setting out with a respectable price-point of $30, promising few large compromises.

The first consumer-priced PCI-e SSDs are finally trickling to market. OCZ's RevoDrive was one of the only consumer-facing PCI-e SSDs, priced out of range for most gamers and facing somewhat widespread endurance and stability issues as the device aged. During a period of SandForce domination, the industry waited for the third-generation refresh of the SF controllers to introduce widespread PCI-e SSDs. The third gen controllers promised what effectively would act as an interface toggle, allowing manufacturers to purchase a single controller supply for all SATA and PCI-e SSDs, then “flip the bit” depending on demand. Such an effort would reduce cost, ultimately passed on to the user. This controller saw unrelenting delays, giving rise to alternatives in the meantime.

Then M.2 became “a thing,” bringing smaller SSDs to notebooks and desktops. The M.2 standard is capable of offering superior throughput to SATA III (6Gbps) by consuming PCI-e lanes. Pushing data through the PCI-e bus, M.2 devices circumnavigate the on-board SATA controller and its abstraction layers, responsible for much of the overhead showcased in peak 550MB/s speeds. The M.2 interface can operate on a four-lane PCI-e 2.0 configuration to afford a maximum throughput of 2GB/s (before overhead), though – as with all interfaces – this speed is only awarded to capable devices. Each PCI-e 2.0 lane pushes 0.5GB/s (GT/s). Some M.2 devices utilize just two PCI-e lanes, restricting themselves to 1GB/s throughput but freeing-up the limited count of PCI-e lanes on Haswell CPUs (16 lanes from the CPU, up to 8 lanes from the chipset).

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