ThermalTake has launched some bold designs (and some rather gaudy ones too). Some of these have been successful while others have received ridicule from the online community and gamers (even coining the phrase “Friends don’t let Friends use ThermalTake” at one point. However, over the last few years they have moved forward with their products and are now putting out some solid work. One of the products that I have been very interested in is the Level 10 series. This new case line-up is less like a PC enclosure and more like a piece of art. Of course the original Level 10 enclosure will also set you back around $750. This price tag puts it out of the reach of most gamers and also off of our RADAR for now. Instead we are going to take a look at the much more reasonably priced Level 10 GT. This uniquely designed PC case comes in two colors (black and white) and will run you $255 and $290 respectively. As we have grown bored of shooting cases in our lab we also decided to move our initial coverage to a different location. With that said, let’s take a look at the Thermaltake Level 10 GT (VN10006W2N) Snow Edition shot on location in Bahia Honda State Park, Florida. Snow at the beach anyone?
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.
Cooler Master is celebrating 20 years of life (we got to celebrate with them at CES 2012), but it has only been in the last five or so that we have really watched them take off. With the launch of the HAF line and their push into the enthusiast level of hardware (and the CM Storm line) Cooler Master has simply bloomed. Over the years we have tested many products from Cooler Master and still have more to go through. Today we are finally able to show you their newest edition to the HAF line up; the HAF XM. The HAF XM is a mid-tower case that has plenty of room for your three-way SLI or Crossfire plus all of the hard drives you could want. You get all of this for around $130 so let’s take a look and see if the HAF XM is worth the price of admission.
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.
As we demand more and more from our mobile devices manufacturers are forced to try and stuff higher power CPU and GPUs inside ever-shrinking laptop and tablet shells. This leaves them in tricky position; they have to either put in tons of fans or make the materials for their products. Some have tried to split the difference with a combination of fans, materials and also components that react to the demands of the user. However, (you knew there was a however didn’t you) there are times when these are not enough and where the ergonomics of modern laptops (to include thin and light). Due to this unfortunate fact cooling companies have managed to open up a market for coolers which are intended to keep your high-performance laptop cool. Many of these are ungainly (in terms of ergonomic) despite bringing better cooling to the table. They also tend to be bulky and difficult to transport making their use limited. Thermaltake has a novel design that aims to deal with both portability and ergonomics, the GOrb II. Let’s take a look at this interesting device and see if it really does help bring something new to the table.
With all the hoopla over the GTX 460 going on we are taking the time to look at a GPU that is not really new, but is still worthy of some headlines. Although the AMD Radeon HD5870 is fast approaching its first birthday it is no surprise that it is still a big seller. But we wondered if it is the reference GPUs that are making the 5870 fly off the shelves or if it is products like the Asus EAH5870 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat edition (which we will just call Stalker COP moving forward) This is Asus’ V2 HD5870 with a voltage tweak option for great overclocking potential. As you might have guessed the box also contains the Stalker COP game as part of the bundle. So let’s try out this bundle and see if it is worth the $500 or so you will shell out for it.
AMD is a company that not too long ago was on top. They had done something that no one thought possible; they were able to outperform Intel clock for clock. But they had a problem; they had a winning CPU but had to rely on others for a solid platform to run on. This prompted AMD to buy ATi (one of the companies that had a good chipset for AMD) which gave them a GPU business and a chipset business. The problem has been paying the bill on that particular purchase. This has prevented them from putting a lot of money into R&D and has also led to some, well unimpressive products (on the CPU side not the GPU). We have worked through several CPUs and chipsets; each one improving a little over the other but never really catching up to what Intel has on the market. Now things could be different; nVidia has allowed SLI on an AMD chipset and AMD is making good strides in terms of what their chipsets can do (with limitations from the CPU and IMC). We have their latest chipset in the form of the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5. This is a Three-Way SLI AMD motherboard with lots to offer. We are going to look at the design, layout, and cover some design philosophy and features along the way.
Overclocking is a big deal these days. I can remember when it was just a bunch of crazed guys with too much money and free time on their hands. We used to do things like solder new resistors onto CPUs (the Slot A Athlons), swap out caps and resistors on motherboards to get more voltage through the boards and to the CPU. I vividly remember building water cooling kits with pool pumps and tubing bought from Home Depot. Once I even pulled a radiator from a Coke vending machine (old and broken) for a rig I was building. Well thankfully those days are over (but it would still be fun to do some of this). Motherboard makers are now designing and building motherboards with top of the line components voltage regulation systems and tracing that is laid out for business. Many have world class overclockers that work for them to get the most performance out of each and every motherboard. Every now and then they get to build something special from the ground up. We are taking a look at one of these boards that has been built for speed. The one we have in-house was designed by HiCookie; the resident overclocker at Gigabyte. This is the X58A-OC (the OC is for Overclocking as if you could not guess).
PC enclosure reviews are not exactly the most exciting things on the internet. In far too many cases (no pun intended… ok well maybe) we find that the differences between one company and another is wholly cosmetic and are not much more than fancy side panels and extra plastic to give the case a different shape. This is not to say that there is no innovation in the market, just that really innovative features and designs are not all that common. One company that has recently stood out is In Win. Over the last few months In Win has released some very novel and innovative cases. These have not been your standard “hey I have more HDD bays and fans” type of innovations, but actually new and innovative designs and even materials (like a glass case). Today we are taking a look at one of them, the In Win 901. This is a very interesting SFF case that just might be one of the coolest enclosure designs we have seen in a very long time.
In the world of boutique computer builders Maingear is a name that really does stand out. Their Shift line of custom-built, high-performance systems are some of the best you can get on the market. The reason for this is that they are not content with using the stock hardware that you get in many other “custom” builds. Yes, there are going to be parts that are the same as Maingear does not make its own CPUs, Motherboards or Video cards… yet. However many of the other components that are taken for granted have been customized not only to provide a better look, but also to improve the overall performance of the system.