A show floor crawling with tens of thousands of people is an interesting environment for a PC tear-down – certainly more chaotic than in our labs. Still, whenever we've got an opportunity to take something apart during an unveil, we take it. MSI's recently unveiled Aegis (video below) fancies itself a barebones machine that borders on a display unit, mounted atop a power-supply enshrining pedestal that resembles Hermes' winged shoes.
While at PAX East, we weaponized our camera toolkit to disassemble MSI's Aegis barebones gaming PC, which includes a custom case, motherboard, and unique CPU cooler. Side panels came off, the video card was removed, and we more closely examined the custom cooler that MSI's packed into its compact enclosure.
To Broadwell-E or not to Broadwell-E. That is the question!
If you're an enthusiast and that Nehalem or Sandy Bridge setup you built years ago is ready for a replacement, you might be considering an X99 motherboard build. The operative question then becomes, "should I wait for Broadwell-E or just buy Haswell-E and be done with it?" After a weekend at PAX East talking to several SIs, Intel employees, and all the other hardware vendors, we were able to get a few bits and pieces of information that may help you make your decision, but first, let's look at some numbers.
One of our most commonly received Ask GN questions is “which video card manufacturer is 'the best?'” (scare quotes added). The truth of the matter is, as we've often said, they're all similar in the most critical matter – the GPU is the same. If MSI sells an R9 380X and PowerColor sells an R9 380X, they're both using the same GPU (Tonga) and silicon; core performance will be nearly identical. The same is true for the GTX cards – EVGA and PNY both sell GTX 960 video cards, and all of their models implement the same GM206 GPU. The differences are generally rooted in pre-overclocking, cooling units, support and warranties, and aesthetics.
All our content combined, we've spent hours and tens of thousands of words talking about which video cards perform the best in various categories. That's great -- but sometimes it's fun to do something different. This video allows each GPU manufacturer one minute to explain who makes the best graphics cards for gaming. It's a speed-round, to be sure.
U.2 (pronounced Udot2, lest Bono exercise legal force) has made a major appearance on PC platform updates from motherboard vendors, including Gigabyte with new X99 and Z170X motherboards at PAX. The form factor used to be called SFF-8639 (SSD Form Factor) and was targeted almost entirely at server and enterprise markets. In a move toward greater user-friendliness, the interface has rebranded as “U.2,” easier to remember with the M.2 interface also proliferating across the market.
This “TLDR” article explains the U.2 vs. M.2 vs. SATA Express differences, with a focus on PCI-e lane assignment and speeds or throughputs.
PAX is always surprisingly full of PC gaming hardware, and we’ve run across a couple more items that aren’t yet available – but will be soon. PNY brought the newest addition to their red-and-black gaming suite, an overclocked Nvidia GTX 960, and OCZ came with an M.2 SSD, the RD400 NVME. Both devices are set to release sometime in May.
Gigabyte pleasantly surprised us at PAX East 2016 with a small set of unreleased motherboards. These boards will likely surface about the time that Broadwell-E is released – keep an eye out over the next month – so that means these are all prototypes and that everything here is subject to change. What we were shown appears to be a refresh of the Haswell-E and Skylake boards that are already on the market with the addition of U.2 support.
U.2 is a connector that the Small Form Factor Working Group (SFFWG) decided to rename in 2015. It was formerly called “SFF-8639,” and most of the people that were aware of it worked with servers. Part of the reason it’s making its way to desktop boards is that the form factor provides M.2 PCIe speed combined with the drive mounting flexibility of the old SATA cable. This means that you can have as many U.2 drives as your motherboard has U.2 connectors.
"VR is a fad" was the pull-quote which propagated through the internet when Warren Spector made the comment last year, reinforcing it at ECGC a few days ago. The veteran designer indicated a belief that virtual reality could generate "interest among hardcore gamers," but remained cautious to grant too much early praise given personal experience with earlier VR attempts. Spector's decades-long industry experience grants weight to the statement, and made us curious what some long-time colleagues of Spector's might believe. Richard Garriott is one of those – friend and former employer of Spector – and has previously spoken to us about a history of effectively inventing MMOs, new graphics techniques, and more.
Richard Garriott joined us at PAX East 2016 for an impromptu discussion on the viability of virtual reality. The conversation started as small talk – "what do you think of VR?" – but evolved into an in-depth look at the challenges faced by the emergent technology. We rolled with it; you can find the video and some of the transcript below:
Logitech's gaming (“Logitech G”) unit deployed a clicky spectacle at PAX East 2016. The “Great Wall of Logitech G” flanked the booth, a composition of 160 keyboards capable of aggregated video playback across roughly (by eye) ~10 x 15ft of key caps. The display uses Logitech's G810 RGB mechanical keyboard with diffuser keycaps for the underglow. Partnership with Right Brain Electronics' Kent Suzuki made the wall possible on the software side, where video playback was programmed to location-match the appropriate keyboards.
A video explaining the making of the keyboard wall can be found below, along with some footage of the wall itself:
Following its unreasonably high-resolution 4K teaser trailer, Noio & Licorice’s Kingdom made its debut US convention showing at PAX Prime 2015. Kingdom is a side-scrolling, two-dimensional, mono-height kingdom builder game that utilizes a single mechanic for all actions. Players use coins to motivate filthy peasants into building walls, towers, castles, and shops of various types.
We gave Kingdom a short go at PAX 2015, having liked fellow indie game Mekazoo, and paid close attention to the two-button minimalistic input.
CastAR, formerly Technical Illusions, recently got a big boost in the form of a 15-million dollar venture capital investment. The company plans to use that money to deliver on promises to their original Kickstarter backers and push the product into a complete state. GN was able to spend an hour with castAR CEO David Henkel-Wallace and cofounder Rick Johnson to see where things stand and where the company is going.
CastAR is a head-mounted, augmented reality technology that deploys a set of projectors and lenses to cast a 3-dimensional image to a reflective sheet. When we say that castAR is an HMD, we don’t mean in the “expected” sense – it’s not like the Rift or HTC’s impressive Vive, but is more akin to nVidia’s 3D Vision glasses in form factor. CastAR is billed as a solution for multiplayer and singleplayer AR gaming, to include traditional tabletop emulation (D&D, miniatures, Magic, Jenga) and new games.
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