Reviews and Evaluations done right
Professional, Prosumer, and Enterprise product reviews
Gear reviews for the Enthusiast and Gamer
Home Theater equipment for the PC world
Consumer and Entry Level products
Mobile gear for the geek on the go
All the fun toys that geeks love
Laptops, netbooks, smartphones,... you know the stuff
Mice, Keyboards, etc
802.11ac wireless was introduced at CES 2012. Unfortunately when the devices were launched there were no adapters to support it. This meant that people were buying expensive wireless products without having any way to support the speeds they were capable of. Fortunately at CES 2013 a couple of manufacturers started releasing 802.11ac adapters. However, there are two schools of thought about how to implement these adapters. We will be taking a look at both in the next couple of weeks, but we will kick things off with a look at the USB 2.0 NETGEAR A6200 Dual Band 802.11ac WiFi Adapter. Let’s dive in and take a look.
Mobile devices are great. All of us use them in the form of phones, MP3/4 players, tablets laptops etc. The problem with a large majority of them is that they never seem to have enough storage to do everything you want. To combat this trend some manufacturers have started dropping in large capacity HDDs, but to keep inside the expected power curve these drives are very slow and end up slowing the system down as well. The alternative of dropping in a Solid State Drive can speed things up, but can also leave you with limited storage space unless you spend a ton of money. Kingston came up with an interesting little concept that takes care of the storage problem and also gives you some high-speed storage that you can move between your portable device and your desktop. So let’s take a look at the 512GB Kington HyperX Predator USB 3.0 thumbdrive.
Storage is one of those things that you never seem to have enough of. Just when you think that 2Terabyte drive is going to last you it seems to get full like magic. I can vividly remember buying a 1.2GB drive and thinking that would last me for a very long time. As you might have guessed it did not and the progression only got faster. It was not long before file sizes were getting larger faster than storage makers could keep up, at least in the consumer world. In the professional world we still had large arrays of disks (RAID) to help maintain capacity and performance. Unfortunately, these arrays also had a limit due to the difficulty in expanding them once you reached their capacity. As storage systems evolved this was remedied by adding in more “trays” of disks. The down side here is that these types of systems are very expensive and out of the reach of many (if not most) small and medium sized businesses. In this space the NAS (Network Attached Storage) and not the SAN (Storage Area Network) are the most common products and have the same limitations of direct attached storage. So, what do you do when your NAS runs out of space? Synology has an answer for you in the DX513. Follow along with us as we show you just how easy and even cost effective this handy add on to the DS1512+ is.
First off, let me say that I don’t buy brand new PC games very often. I buy them even less often on release day, and even rarer is the occasion when I find myself actually sitting at the computer watching the clock for the official release time so the game will unlock. Having said that, for some games there really isn’t another option.
In a market full of look-a-like products or flimsy gimmicks it is hard to find a truly interesting device. However, every now and then someone puts something together that is really out of the ordinary. This is what we found when we received a small package from Thermaltake in the mail the other day. Inside the slightly battered box was one of the most interesting gaming peripherals we have ever tested. We are talking about the Level 10 Mouse. This unusual aluminum creation was designed by BMW and using specifications from Thermaltake’s tteSports division. This $90+ dollar mouse comes in a variety of colors and has some impressive features to offer. So let’s see if this unusual design really brings something new to the gaming table or if it is all flash and show.
When Cooler Master Launched their new QuickFire Line of gaming keyboards with Mechanical switched they were very well received. We have had the chance to test out all of the models even though we have not always been able to try out the different Cherry MX Switch types (we have gone through Red, Brown and Blue). Now while all of the models were well received there were complaints about more than a few of the features that were built in. One of the most common complaints that we have heard about the QuickFire line up is that the QuickFire Pro did not have full back lighting. Instead Cooler Master chose to only light up a small selection of keys that they called the gaming cluster. Still this keyboard has been bought by many gamers because it is one of the only mechanical keyboards that supports NKRO over USB. As an added bonus the QuickFire Pro has two modes of NKRO; Full and 6-Key. Well for those of you that have wished for a mechanical keyboard with full NKRO over USB and full back lighting your wait is over. Cooler Master has taken some of the best features of the QuickFire Pro and put them in a smaller version named the QuickFire TK and the best part,… it has full backlighting. Read on to find out all of the nice details.
Military simulation games are nothing new, but their popularity has certainly increased with some of the recent press about US Special Operations Teams including the US Army Special Forces Delta Team and the Navy’s Elite SEALs Of the Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU); or as they are incorrectly called in the media SEAL Team 6. These groups are tasked with convert missions around the globe to execute US policy on a “personal” level. It was members of DEVGRU that put paid to Osama Bin Laden’s account. Medal of Honor Warfighter takes its story line from the exploits of these highly trained men. In fact EA actually consulted both Active Duty and Retired SEALs to finish the game. This cooperation got some of the SEALs in hot water as the Navy now claims they gave up classified information. Does Medal of Honor Warfighter have an edge to it realism that no other game has? We will be loading it up to see in our typical 30-45 minute test. Will it grab our interest, or will it end up on the shelf collecting dust?
Although all-in-one water cooling systems are nothing new, their rise in popularity is something very recent. We have watched as multiple companies have launched products designed bring “enthusiast” level cooling to the masses. This type of move is also nothing new as we have watched it happen with RAID, SLI, and many other items that were once only for gamers and other computer enthusiasts Still what many do not know is that most of these companies all buy their parts from the same place; Asetek. This company makes great water cooling products and they resell the pieces to others. Now, while that represents most of the market there are some that still build their own; one of these is Cooler Master. Back at CES 2011 we were allowed to see a prototype water cooling unit and we knew that they were looking to do something very different. Now in last months of 2012 Cooler Master has released their work. Today we will be taking a look at the Seidon 120M all-in-one water cooling unit to see if all of Cooler Master’s hard work has paid off.
Minecraft is set at a default of around 512 MB of RAM allocated to it, as this is the default set by Java. This is plenty for some activities in the game, but can result in poor performance on certain systems, especially during prolonged play, as the game will attempt to cache data on the hard drive of your computer once the RAM usage hits a certain percent. Entry level laptops now typically come with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM so there is no sense in not using more of it to power the game!
The Empress is dead, her daughter has been taken and a deadly and mysterious plague is slowly consuming the city. As the Empress’ protector it was your job to keep her and her daughter safe, but you stand accused of her murder. It is up to you to find the Empresse’ daughter and bring her killers to justice. The only problem is that you must become an assassin and use dark powers to accomplish your goal. If this sounds like a bad movie or book then you are not far off the mark, but while this type plot might be the makings of a flop in the box office it is great for a video game and that is what you get from Bethesda in this new and dark game from them. The question is; can Bethesda make this new game based on the Unreal Engine work or is it fated to end up like its title?
In 1998 a new company crated from former Microsoft employees launched a game that would change the way we played first person shooters forever. The game was Half Life and although it followed games like Castle Wolfenstien and Doom it brought something new to the genre, thinking and puzzle solving. Instead of just walking into a room and killing all the bad guys you had to solve puzzles and interact with the environment to make it through the game. The enemies you faced were also smarter than what was present in Doom or Wolfenstien. Half Life also introduced one of the iconic characters in gaming: Dr. Gordon Freeman and his trusty crowbar. Now a group called Black Mesa Source has brought the original Half Life to a new generation of gamers. They have taken the original game (up to the Lambda Core) and refreshed it with new graphics and a few surprises for those of us that have played before. So let’s see if this new release of the classic Half Life can recreate the magic that the Valve brought to us with our first meeting with Gordon Freeman and the anomalous materials lab at Black Mesa.
As more and more user accounts are hacked, we still hear about systems that still allow for simple password hints, security questions, and even worse will not allow for complex passwords. We know of at least three banks that will not allow special characters in their passwords and limit them to 14 character maximums. This lack of foresight on the part of the people that are supposed to be protecting our data is shocking to say the least. Even with easy access to items like TFA (Two-Factor Authentication) we still hear about security breaches and account hacks on a daily basis. So what do you do if an online service does not provide any two-factor authentication? Most would say you are out of luck, but there is something that might help keep things a little more safe than just the stock password that you are required to drop into your accounts. This is the Yubikey which provides something like a secure token that you can add to your online accounts to put in a little more protection.
Darksiders II is listed as an action adventure roleplaying game. It is meant to follow the path of Death (yes Death) one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he seeks to prove his brother, War, innocent of crimes that were committed in the first game (Darksiders). In the Darksiders you actually played War and were accused of bringing the end of the world and the death of humanity early. Now it is up to you as Death to find a way to free your bother from imprisonment for this crime. Darksiders II was released by THQ on August 14th 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. It is a console port third person game and in addition to being available in the more typical DVD format can also be downloaded from Steam. We are taking a look at the Steam version but will also cover what you get in the retail version as well.
As technology moves forward we find that the means of connectivity are often changing very rapidly. There are times when you will find that you cannot connect one device to another simply because the ports do not match up. We recently ran into something like this when we needed to attack our Asus EEE Slate EP121 to a projector. Although we had brought our mini-HDMI cable and an HDMI to DVI adapter, the projector did not support either. Fortunately for situations like this we are seeing more companies push out adapters that will allow you to work with older monitors especially as we seeing many newer devices that remove the VGA port and DVI port as well! So let’s take a Accell’s UltraVideo VGA to HDMI adapter and see if it can help bring your use your new hardware even with older displays. .
Two years ago Gigabyte announced their G1.Kille series of motherboards with an interesting event featuring camouflage and tons of military imagery. The concept behind it was that the G1.Killer was meant to be a series of “super-soldiers” for gaming. Each of the products would be tailored after an imaginary persona: The Assassin, The Sniper and the Scout. These would have super sight, hearing, speed, and shield all to assist you in your gaming dominance. We have taken a look at some of these for the X79 lineup and now have one from the Z77 chipset line; the G1.Sniper M3. This $180 board from Gigabyte features a full audio card built into the motherboard, SLI, and a Micro ATX form factor. So let’s take a look at what Gigabyte has stuffed into this little package.
With the big push for everything in the cloud we have been focusing on ways to consumers and businesses to bring their data back into their own control. One of the least expensive methods for this is through the use of a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. These are devices that have a minimum of two drive bays and allow for you to set up RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) Volume for performance and/or redundancy. Today in the Lab we have a five-bay NAS device from Thecus. This is an Atom based system with support for up to 15TB of RAW space and 3GB of memory. So let’s take a look at the Thecus N5550 and see what this $600 (empty) NAS has to offer as we dig deep into its design, build and features.
A few years ago there was a big craze for home media players these devices were intended to make the watching of digital media on a TV much easier. Unfortunately the trend did not catch on all that well due to the heavy integration of many Media Player features into HD TVs. There was also a problem with the unfortunate fact that most media players used the same SoC, Media Playback CODEC and OS. It meant that in many cases there was little to differentiate products other than the brand name. Now things have changed a little as many of the original players have dropped from the market. Now the remaining companies are looking into different processors and also operating systems. Today we are taking a look at one from Patriot, the PBO Alpine. This is an extension of the original Patriot Box Office media player and offers a few improvements to the line. One of the more interesting ones is the use of Android 2.2 as the OS. So let’s check out the PBO Alpine to see what it brings to the table and if it is worth your time and money.
We have our third victim… um test subject in our continuing Network Attached Storage (NAS) device reviews. This time it is from a company with a fair recognizable name in the industry, NETGEAR. For many the name NETGEAR means low cost consumer networking products and maybe a lower reliability rating. We have to agree that some of that reputation was rightfully earned in the past, but they have since changed things around and are now making some fairly solid products for the consumer, SMBs and the enterprise. We have already covered their ProSafe WNDAP360 wireless access point and found it to be a well put together product. Now we are going to dive into their pro line of NAS products with the ReadNAS Pro 6. This is a 6 bay device that can support up to 12TB of RAW storage and has more than its share of features to boot. So let’s take a look at what you get with the ReadyNAS Pro 6 from NETGEAR.
In the world of computer enclosures things can get boring pretty fast; after all how much can you do with a box? For too many companies the way to differentiate their products is to put in a window and extra LEDs and call it a day. There is little that is new to be perfectly honest with you. However, every now and then something comes out that does stand out from the crowd. We have seen it before with some very unique designs and concepts. One company that has done a fairly good job at keeping things interesting is Cooler Master and in particular their CMStorm line. While at CES this year (2012) we were shown a case that caught our eye and imagination. It was the CMStorm Stryker. We called it the Storm Trooper, not only for its connections to the CMStorm Trooper, but also because it reminded me of the Strom Troopers from Star Wars. We have one of these in our lab now and well… let’s dive in to see what you get and how well it performs.
Gaming keyboards have become popular over the past couple of years with multiple manufacturers working to outdo the other with their features and of course performance. The market has become big enough that we have even seen the return of the mechanical switch (something that many were glad to see go away). However, as with many high-end products the demand for these in the general market is not enough to overcome the higher prices. Manufacturers are looking to still offer compelling features and performance, but at a more reasonable price. One of the keyboards in this range is the Thermaltake Tt eSPORTS Challenger Pro Gaming Keyboard. It has many of the features that gamers are looking for (backlighting, multiple profiles, USB hub, replicable keys, etc.) without the high price. So let’s get this $66 gaming keyboard up on the bench and see how it performs.
Water cooling for high-performance cooling has been around for a very long time. It started (as many things do) with super computers and the need to maintain a specific temperature envelope. From there advanced cooling broke into the consumer market (over the course of a few years), in the form of heatsinks with larger fans and even TEC (Thermoelectric coolers) cooling. However, for the most part water was still avoided due to the potential for leakage and damage to components. However all of that changed very quickly once the 1GHz barrier was broken. Companies seemed to come out of the woodwork with pieces and parts for water cooling. Radiators, water blocks, tubing fans, pumps, you name it you could but it. Now that we are well into the 3-4GHz range for stock CPUs the water cooling industry is very strong with components in multiple places in the market. The concept of the self-contained cooling system has also caught on with products produced by multiple companies. Today we will be taking a look at one from Thermaltake called the Water 2.0 Performer. This $63 cooling system is supposed to be able to keep things cool for both AMD and Intel CPUs including the LGA 2011 Core i7. Let’s see how it does.
In the enthusiast world you can never seem to have enough power or enough headroom for your system. Although you might hear rumors of the “post PC” era or that the desktop is dead nothing could be further from the truth with regards to Asus and their Republic of Gamers line up of boards. We have covered a number of these going all the way back to before the ROG line was even established and can tell you that when it comes to this line Asus spares no expense in components or research and development. Today we have the ROG Rampage IV Formula in the lab and will be covering the design, features and component choices that Asus has made with this this board and across the entire ROG line.
Over the years the need for more storage has exploded. I have seen systems with 750GB drive packed with pictures, MP3s and movies not to mention actual work files. It has become borderline ridiculous. Still we need to have better access to more space to store our stuff. To help with this many companies have begun manufacturing network attached storage devices. These are multi-drive products that can be connected to a home or small business network and used as a central spot for file storage. We have covered a couple of them and have a few more to show you in the future. The problem with many of these is that to keep costs down they are often shipped without drives. Many think that they can just buy a bunch of drives of the same size and throw them in. That does not always work though; we have run into a few cases where the NAS device did not work with a single range of drives or need a certain firmware revision to work with the drives. It becomes a frustrating game of finding the right drives to work with your NAS and also to get the best performance out of it. To help with this Western Digital have come up with a line of disk drives that are designed specifically to work with NAS devices. These are their new WD Red Drives. The WD Red Drives will come in 1-3TB sizes and should fall into line between the WD Green and Black Drives in terms of performance and price. Western Digital has sent us three of their WD Red 2TB drives for us to try out in two of the NAS devices we have here, so let’s see how they do.
A rather long time ago (in computer years) when real audio first came out on the computer the market was pretty bare for not only sound cards, but also for anything to use to listen to them. I can vividly remember buying an expensive ISA Soundblaster card and not being able to find any decent speakers to use with it. There simply was not a lot of choice out there to reproduce your audio. Of course before that I can still remember only having 8-bit audio through the motherboard speaker so decent is relative there. Now the market is flood of products many are just plain terrible (bad design, bad quality and bad audio playback). There are a few companies that have been working to break the “good enough” trend in audio. Cooler Master is one of them as we have shown you with their CMStorm Sirus headset. Now Cooler Master has another gaming headset available. This one is called the Sonuz and features a pair of massive 53mm drivers to push the sound deep into your skull. Let’s listen to them shall we?
As we round out our coverage of the Asus Republic of Gamers Rampage IV Gene we are taking a look at both the synthetic and real-world performance of this board. As we have mentioned before the Gene is the gateway into the ROG Line and shows an excellent blending of performance, features and ease of use for those that are new to playing with higher end Motherboards. Of course the Gene also serves a purpose with the enthusiasts as well it offers a very competent motherboard in a small package for gaming, small and quiet systems and even for someone looking for a solid board to build a home server on. Since we have already shown you what the Rampage IV Gene looks like on paper, let’s take the tiem to show you how it looks in the real world.
We have another network storage device in our labs; the Thecus N2800. This is a 2-bay NAS with dual network controllers, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and eSATA connectivity. We have tinkered around with some of Thecus’ products before and found that they usually are looking at getting you solid performance, but you are not going to get a ton of frills with them. This is not to say they do not have their own feature set that is worth talking about, but that in the past we have found them to be very straight forward products. Good performance, good price and they will do what you need them to. We have been told that this has changed at Theucus and they are moving in the direction of adding in a wider feature set with their NAS Products. So let’s take a look and see if there has been any improvement.
As the push for cloud based storage and services becomes greater we have been taking a look at the value of these from not only a monetary view, but also from a privacy and security view. To this end we have been tinkering around with a few Network Attached Storage Devices (NAS). One of our first is the Synology DiskStation DS1512+. We have already dissembled the DS1512+ in the first part of our coverage and now have pounded on it for a good length of time to see how it performs using a few synthetic tests as well as real-world usage. So let’s take a look at our results.
In our continuing coverage of the Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H WB we are moving into the performance side of things. Here is where it becomes difficult to differentiate between companies. The problem is that if you are testing Z77 Express based motherboards you are testing very similar platforms. It is only when you start adding in features to the mix that they separate. So the big deal here is how well do these products perform when you throw in all the advertised features (or at least as many as will work at once)? This is what we try to do with our performances testing. In our feature and design review we showed you what the Z77X-UD5H has to offer, and now we will show you how well it performs when you ask it to give you all of that at once.
Every now and then in the midst of products that are intended to make your system more powerful or impress your friends we get to play with products that are fun. We found this in a pair of external speakers from a company called Accessory Power. The speakers are designed to look like the heads of animals (in a cute way) and can work with PCs, phones, tablets and pretty much anything with a 1/8-inch speaker jack. In addition to their function as a speaker set they are also intended to bring awareness to endangered species. We were lucky enough to receive two different models for our testing and enjoyment. So let’s take you along as we see if the Accessory Power Gogroove Speaker Pals Panda and Koala sets are worth your time and money.
After spending some time working with the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H and all of the features that are packed into this board we are ready to cover the performance and user experience side of this motherboard. For those of you that might have missed it you can catch our Design and Feature coverage here. For the rest of you let’s dive in and see how well this board performs and if it is noteworthy for its price point and place in the market. First up, Gigabyte’s 3D BIOS and some overclocking fun…