Here on the Computer Ed Show we define various pieces of hardware based on what they offer and their price. To make it easier we catalog items using the following labels:
- Budget: These are items that tend to be purchased purely for price alone, keep the cost low no matter what type things.
- Value: These are items that are bought based on what they bring to the table but at a very reasonable price point. A balance of price and performance.
- Performance: Items falling into this category tend to be a bit more costly but there are solid gains in what you get.
When you look at the above three imagine a scale with price on one side and features on another. The Budget items tend to tilt the scale to the price side, the Value tend to balance the scale and the Performance tilts the scale to the features side.
This brings us however to our last category, Luxury, which we define as items where cost is not a determining factor in any way. These are the crème of the crème as it where that are more about bragging rights than anything.
So with this in mind let me introduce you to the Level 10 GT case. Thermaltake had wanted to create a new case that was the personification of a luxury case so with this in mind they went to the BMW Design Group. Now despite the car on this box they did not work with BMW the automaker as so many mistakenly report. The BMW Design Group was actually an independent design studio founded 35 years ago and acquired by BMW. They do designs for everything you can imagine from blenders, to corporate jets and yachts.
The Original result of that collaboration was the Thermaltake Level 10. A truly beautiful case that was unique in it’s design in every way, including it’s $700 price tag. Once the design was established Thermaltake wanted to taker that design and make it more affordable. So with this in mind was born the case we are looking at today, the Level 10 GT. Priced at $260 it still falls within what we would define as a luxury case, so it has the pricing and the pedigree but does it live up to a luxury category, lets find out.
The GT is a full tower case, this means it is BIG and thus will sit on the floor beside or under your desk. The case has a solid wall design for the back side that incorporates a carry handle. This handle is fully functional, easily allowing the case to be carried even with a full system build inside. The front panel is along the back wall’s leading edge and has your power and reset, power and HD LEDS as well as 4 USB 2.0 ports and the headphone/mic jacks.
The exterior of the front and left side of the case are designed to give the appearance of compartmentalization, create a sort of automotive theme impression. They hit this design pretty solidly and have created a unique look that is very similar to this cases big brother. There are key locks at the front and side of the case. The front key will unlock the 5 HD bays. These can be accessed without opening the entire case. Once unlocked just press the button for the bay you want to open at the front, grab the handle on the side and pull out.
Also in this front area is a 200mm fan for air intake. The intake area is filtered and actually pretty easy to get to, the entire front panel can be pulled off without opening the case to access the filter..
In the side we see the handle ends for the HD bays as well as a mesh area at the top front where the optical drives go. This is actually mesh so there is additional air flow for the design. A small section has a rubber tab in it. This removes to allow a headphone holder to be mounted.
The bottom rear compartment box holds a 200mm fan for air intake and has a slide lever on the panel in front of it. These control louvers inside the case allowing you to direct the airflow of the side fine to the area that needs it most.This intake is also filtered with an easy to access slide at the rear of the panel to pull out the filter again without opening the case.
The top of the case has another 200mm fan that is used to exhaust hot air from the case as well as a small tray area at the front, 2 USB 3.0 ports and and ESATA port. There is also a switch that allows the 3x 200mm fans to change color. As well as a switch to choose between high and low speeds on those same three fans.
The bottom of the case has 4 feet with rubber inserts that can be turned out for greater stability or left in for size limitations. There is also a filter for a bottom 120mm intake fan as well as for a PSU. This single filter can be easily removed from the rear of the case, again without opening the case.
The back of the case is pretty standard fair with a 140mm exhaust fan that can be replaced with a 120mm fan, expansion slots for a full size motherboard, three water cooling holes pre-made and the bottom mount power supply hole. The expansion slots however attach from the outside rather than the inside. There is a small cover bracket that must be removed and then the slots are held in place with thumb screws. The design is a bit awkward to me as the thumbscrew area for the slots are very narrow and it was difficult for my fat fingers to get in there correctly.
Okay so lets open the side panel and see the inside, wait a second, there are no screws to open the left panel. Instead there is a button under the case on the left side you push and then the panel swings, open, that’s right swings, not slide. A closer looks at the latch system reveals a spring loaded all metal system for securing the door shut. The door is then mounted on a steel hinge and swings open and closed. If you need to remove the door, once it is open you can with a slight lift, take the door from the hinges and set it out of the way. As this was not enough to make this a great side panel, remember that 200mm fan in the side panel? Well it does not drape wires into the case but instead uses a point contact system that Thermaltake has used on other cases. I do not think a side panel every got me excited before.
Inside the main work area we can see there is a large, and I mean large cutout for a CPU cooler back plate, rubber grommet cable management everywhere and a ton of room. The USB3 connector for this version of the case has an internal connector, meaning no cable draping out the back. The 120mm fan at the back of the case connections to a 3 pin header on your motherboard so no cables draping around. The front panel headers for this case are very long and easily can be hidden and brought out where needed. There is a lot of attention to detail on the inside of this case and the quality of the build shows everywhere. The grommets are thick enough to be sturdy but not so thick as to be hard to work with and they fit tight, I had none fall out when I built up a system in the case.
The right panel is more traditional with thumb screws and a slide off panel. The HD bays are designed to be plug and play without opening the case and so there is a set of connectors built in with a special power splitter in place allowing all 5 bays to get power from a single connection. Just plug in SATA connections and you should be set. In the outside of the case each bay is numbered so with some forethought you can easily keep track of which bay connects where. On this side is also the tool less mounting system for the optical bays. These actually work really well and hold the drive in securely. There is plenty of room for cable management and even spring metal clips to help hold everything in place.
Now anyone that knows me is waiting for the first ding on this case to hit and here it comes, my pet peeve, mounting HDs across the axis of the case. The reason I do not like this is that it restricts the airflow from the front intake fan. By only using 5 drives in the HD area Thermaltake has tried to take this into account and minimize the restriction. In this design, based on the look and specific functions they where going for I understand the design decision but I am still not a proponent of this. This was however corrected in some ways by the addition of the large 200 mm side fan. While the front fan may not reach it’s full potential in moving air into the main hardware compartment, the side fan easily makes sure that the air flow is more than adequate.
For my build to actually test the case I used an Intel platform and a Thermaltake Frio cooler along with a Sapphire 6950 video card. In the extras that came with the case is an eight pin power extension for the motherboard, this show the level of detail that went into this cases design. This made it easy to hide all the cabling.
To say this case is roomy is an understatement. Everything fits well in the case and is still easy to work around. The massive cutout in the CPU tray allowed me to easily remove and install the Frio while everything was in the case. To often these cutouts leave a part of the back plate hidden this one is big enough that no motherboard I set in the case had any blockage, Intel or AMD.
With the case fans on low the system does an incredible job of cooling and is very quiet; all but the most serious overclockers will have no need to up the fan speeds. If however you do need the fan speed kicked up the convenient front access makes it easy to fire them up and pull them back as you need. Even on high the 200mm fans did not produce enough noise for me to complain.
Speaking of the fans the ability to change the colors is really cool, plus you can turn off the lights entirely, a great idea. However the implementation needs some work. The fans can be easily switched with a single button at the top front of the case. You get the three primary colors, two different cycle patters and then off. The issue I have with this is the color selection is not persistent. This means if the computer goes into sleep mode or turn off the fans go back to the default blue color. This is purely an aesthetic thing and does not effect the cases performance in any way but it is a gripe I have.
At the end of the day however it is the ONLY gripe I can really find. Doug and I spent more time in our initial examination of this case than of ANY other case we have looked at. The reason for this was we where trying to find something to complain about. I am not joking, after about 90 minutes of examining the case Doug sat down, sighed and said, “This is the first case we have looked at and could not find obvious dings.” This speaks volumes for the attention to detail we have seen with this case. I mean solid steel construction of the hinge latch system, intake filters on every intake and all EASILY accessible without opening the case. Lots of cable management with the near perfect grommet setup on them. From look, to form and function this case hits on every mark dead center. The only gripes are very minor and really not worth mentioning.
With a price tag north of $250 this is not a case that everyone will use. However if you are looking for a case to last for a lot of builds then sometimes cost is less of an issue. The Level 10 GT is feature packed and quality abounds in it’s construction. If you wanted a case with a unique look and a ton of features then you need look no further. This case not only fits our luxury category in price but in features, style and quality.
The Thermaltake Level 10 GT is a a case build on champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
Review as Aired Live on 31 July 2011
When it comes to computer cases every shoots for the same two things, great air flow and silent operation. I mean after all who wants to sit next to a box that sounds like a 747 revving up for take-off? So when Fractal Design asked me if I was interested in a case that would help with a silent PC build, I of course said yes.
The Define R3 line up comes in 4 models, Pearl Black, Silver Arrow, Titanium Grey and Artic White. We where given our choice and for this review I chose Artic White. It seems white is the trend this year and lets face it the darker colors have been done to death.
As you can see from the pictures the R3 uses a very simple outside design, a classic look used over the years by a few other cases in their efforts to achieve silent cooling. This simple design has an elegance about it derived from it’s simplicity, making it equally at home in a living room or office space. The lines are very clean and professional looking.
The front of the case is a blank white front door broken at the top to see the power LED. Big kudos to Fractal for not doing a traditional, boring, blue LED but choosing red for the power light. The white finish is amazing with the color being uniform throughout the case and the finish flawless.
The front door as an indent on the upper right side for opening. As you open the door you will notice that the construction is pretty heavy duty, this is not a flimsy door. The door is held closed with magnets and these are not weaklings, the door will close with a nice snap.
Inside the door we see the first of a lot of sound suppressing foam that is all over the entire inside of the case. Our first test at sound suppression took place soon after we opened the box. If you take an empty case and knock on it you will hear the hollow ring from the case. With the R3 that same knock produced a very dull and deadened sound, it was immediately obvious this case had made some effort to dampen noise.
Inside the front we also find two easy to remove from 5.25” covers and two doors covering the the dual 120mm intake fan/filter slots. The slot covers on the front are a very nice design and super easy to take out. NO prying or pushing just lift the latch to unlock and pull out. The dual fan positions (the bottom fan is included stock) are filtered but the filter is screwed into the case with 4 screws. While these might be easy to get to they are NOT easy to get out. The 120 mm fans clip inside the filters for mounting.
The top of the case sports two 120mm fan opening or the ability to mount a 240mm radiator, the stock configuration however has these openings covered with a piece of sound proofing foam. The design for this is actually pretty neat and is called ModuVent, the panels are made specifically to cover the fan holes at the top and the right side panel. They are held in place by the 4 screws used to hold in fans. If you want the quietest operation then leave the panels in place, if you want better air flow take out the panels and install fans.
The front/top panel has the Power Switch, Headset jacks, ESATA and two USB3 connections. The reset button is hidden behind the front door, I like this because it keeps it from being accidently pressed but also because I think it is high time we get rid of them. The case does not however have an HD Activity light. I do appreciate the fact that the USB ports are USB3, I mean seriously why bother with USB 2 ports in the front since the USB are slot compatible. To make this even nicer the USB3 uses the internal header connection. No silly cable draping out the back.
The bottom of the case has nice chrome feet that give the case good lift into the air. This is to allow the optional bottom mounted fan and the PSU to properly take in cool air. The PSU filer is easily accessible from the rear of the case and slides in and out for easy cleaning. The back of the case is pretty standard fair with 4 grommetted holes for liquid cooling and a 120mm fan for exhaust.
Now we come to the money maker of any case, the inside. For a mid tower case this is actually pretty rooming, The CPU Cooler cutout is very large and there are numerous grommetted holes for cable management. You can see at the bottom of the case the mount for an options 120mm intake fan with filter just like the front, sadly just like the front the filter is screwed in, this time from the bottom.
The two external drive bays at the top have one setup for a 5.25” drive and the others has a 3.5” bracket in it that can be removed if needed. The HD mounts are easy slide out with rubber grommets for quieter operation, also all of the trays are 2.5” drive ready. Thank god we are seeing more companies realize SSDs are here and doing this so we do not need adapters. The HD mounting system however makes use of one of my major pet peeves, the mounting of the HDs across the cases axis results in the support structure reducing the air flow potential of the front intake fans. The R3 makes some concession to this however by trying to make as large of holes as possible in the support structure.
The case comes with the usually assortment of mounting screws and tie downs for cable management. It does come with an extra, a 3 fan speed controller. The fans that come pre-installed with the case all use the 3 pin connectors for use with motherboard headers. This means if your motherboard does not have enough fan headers you either have to use the fan controller or find adapters for the fans, none are included. The controller is just a knob attached to a slot over panel.
For purposes of our testing we will being using a Gigabyte P67 motherboard with an Intel I5 2400, I wanted to use a full size board to get a feel of how the case is laid out. The case has pretty good room overall, you will not fitting monster video cards in here but you can fit a fairly well equipped system easily.
When I installed the PSU I noticed an irritating issue right away, the larger of the two routing holes at the case bottom became blocked and could not get the PSU cables through it. I was forced to route everything through the smaller hole. The grommet’s themselves are a bit thin and easily tear, as well as the fact they are not tightly fit, making them way to easy to accidently push out.
With silent cases there is usually a trade off in the area of air flow, the quieter the case the less air flow you get. However this case design also boasts great air flow potential so Fractal sent us a full set of fans for the case. While the front intake fans use 120mm fans the rest of the case is able to make use of 140mm fans. For our testing Fractal sent us the needed fans to fill out the case using their silent series. This way we should be able to balance noise with silent operation.
Due to the fact that this case lends itself easily to a similar fan design as the Antec Three Hundred, that is the case we used for comparisons. The Antec Three Hundred in this comparison is using two tri-cool fans in the front for intake and all the cases fans are set on low. We added an EVGA Superclocked GTX 460 for video to give the case a little more heat and let fly.
Before we get to cooling lets look at the R3’s claim to fame, silent operation. I could give you a lot of numbers I gathered using a sound meter on my Android phone but let me break this down quickly and easily, this is the MOST quiet case I have ever used and I have seen a lot of case claiming to be silent. In the stock configuration, in a quiet room at 5 AM the only way I knew the system was on was the red LED at the top of the case. The case was well below ambient noise at regular usage levels. Come on though, that’s net a test, lets fire this puppy up. So I slapped some load on the GPU and CPU, the results where the same, the case was so close to ambient room noise levels that it was for all intents and purposes silent.
Now using stock cooling I got my baseline and then compared it to the same setup in an Antec Three Hundred. As was to be expected the Three Hundred delivered better temperatures by a pretty good margin, however that does not mean the R3 did poorly. The i5 never had it’s performance throttled under heavy load and the GTX 460 stayed well within specs. This was BTW in a room with an ambient temperature of 28c/83f.
Well the R3 at stock configuration delivered but what about when we open it up a bit? Next I put in a 140mm top fan and added the second 120mm fan, this simulated the basic fan configuration of the Three Hundred. Again the Three Hundreds more open design wins for cooling, being about 5c cooler averaging everything out, however it was not as quiet. Even with the extra fans the case was near silent. Oh if I tried I could detect an audible noise but it was much quieter than the similarly equipped Three Hundred.
Okay now it was time to open this case up, we put in the second 140mm at the top, a 140 on the side and at the bottom. The temperatures fell even further, matching the Three Hundred with all of it’s fans on high in temperature control. The noise level of course came up but only making the case a little louder than the Three Hundred with it’s case fans on LOW!
The Define R3 lives up to it’s claims about silent operation. Even with the case fully open and using Fractals Silent series fans the case was near silent. There is, as expected a trade-off for that silent cooling but not as much as you would think. With a stock configuration using an processor at stock speeds a solid mid range video card you can achieve a very solid system and not risk an over heat. If you want to push harder the case offers some great options to expand the cooling potential.
Aesthetically the case is attractive, the white finish is flawless and the the design has an elegance of simplicity. However I feel it is missing something. The white color is a nice change of pace but the case, by being all white felt a bit washed out. Some trim color, something to offset the white would have made this case pop. It is a shame that the inside of the case is actually sexier than the outside thanks to the black contrast.
From a construction viewpoint I have a few dings that need to be mentioned. The grommets used do not fit well and are two thin, I tore one trying to pass cables through it and had issues with two others falling out during the build. The screw in fan filters is just not a cool idea. I mean sure you can clean the filters without removing them but part of the idea behind a washable filter is that it comes out easy to wash. The bottom mount fan filter being screwed in from the bottom makes this even worse. When you realize an effort was made to make sure the PSU filter was easy in removing the other filters feel like an after thought. The side mounting HDs restrict the air flow of the front intake fans, however there is an effort being made to counter this. Considering that in this case design the side mounted system does not really offer a benefit, I think the traditional pass through would have helped air flow.
Overall this is a good solid case and a great buy if you are going for silent operations. The simple design is perfect for an office of living room where you do not want the case to draw attention to itself. The silent operation makes this great for the same reasons plus works well for a PC that will be in a bedroom. The extra cooling potential gives this case some versatility, I would suggest adding the second front fan for sure but your options are open depending on your cooling needs.
At around $110 this is a solid case choice for the professional PC build and home PC build where bling is not your thing. While silence is typically golden, Fractal has also made sure it is Artic White, Black Pearl, Silver Arrow and Titanium Grey.
Segment as aired 24 July 2011
When Intel released the Sandybridge platform users had a choice of two different motherboard chipsets for their build. They could choose a platform that made use of the onboard graphics but was lacking in overclocking options and go with the H series or they could be forced to use discrete GPUs and gain better options with the P series. This choice BTW has been something we have seen for some time from both AMD and Intel with the user being forced to choose between these two levels of motherboards.
Intel however finally seemed to get a clue when it had this amazing epiphany, all of our new chips have graphics onboard! OMG how did they miss that!? Seriously folks if all your chips have graphics onboard does it not make sense to make sure that feature can come into play?
Thus, with this amazing realization in hand, enter the Z68 series. The idea is simple and one that I wish Intel would FULLY adopt and AMD would consider. Essentially you take the ability to use onboard graphics and then add the performance oriented features plus give the board maker the tools to add the luxury level features and now you have a single, full purpose platform for your PC.
Intel however, god bless them, was not content with just putting these features together, no they wanted this new breed to be more than the sum of it’s parts so they added a couple of extra.
First up we have Virtu, basically a system to allow the user to make full use of their powerful gaming video card when gaming but using the integrated graphics when not. There is a two fold purpose for this, the first was to allow the multimedia functions Intel built into the Sandybridge chips to continue to be used even with an add-on card in place. The second is the idea that when the user is not gaming the higher power usage of the discrete video card could be reduced and the integrated card used in it’s place.
Now I could show you a long list of benchmarks and give you lengthy explanations of the technology as so many have but lets face it, waiting through that crap is even more boring than watching Baseball or Golf. The simple breakdown is that this feature does not work as advertised. From a gamer perspective the Virtu system gives a performance hit, not a huge one mind you but a hit none the less, meaning less FPS during game play. From the “green”, power consumption perspective the effect is useless. Intel must not be paying attention to the discrete GPU world because these monsters already power themselves down to mere trickles of what they do under load and can work all day like this in basic tasks. The only area where this feature works as it claims is in allowing the use of the media functions on the Intel chip. This is nice if you use transcoding software a lot but seriously, NO ONE uses transcoding software a lot.
The second new feature is Intel Smart Response. The idea is simple, you take a smaller SSD, anything up to 64 Gig, and pair it with a regular HD, spay a nice 1 TB drive. Smart Response will use that SSD as a large cache for the most frequently used files to give your system a massive speed boost in everyday use. This sounds very neat and promises in the hype to give an experience similar to that of just using an SSD. Well lets not get carried away just yet.
For testing I used a Caviar Blue 320 Gig and a Kingston (Thank you Kingston for the drive) V100 64 Gig. I did an install of the system on the Caviar and did some work as well as run a few simple benchmarks. After a day of use I put in the Kingston and enabled Smart Response. Now this is not a plug and play operation, I mean seriously why would this be simple right? You have to go into the BIOS and enable the controllers to RAID and then use the Intel software to setup the Smart Response.
However this is where Gigabyte shines, making things easier. The EZ Smart Response that Gigabyte has included with the UD3H takes out all the work that you need to do and automates the process. I did my original testing doing the setup manually and then rebooted as it where and let Gigabyte do it for me the second go around, it was flawless and painless.
Now since this is in effect a massive system cache I did not test the performance right away, the cache needs time to fill. So I let the system get used normally for 24 hours and then started to take a look at performance.
Good news, the Intel Smart Response feature works as advertised, but I suggest reading the fine print. The system is a cache and so the speed up for operation will come into play with software you use a lot. For example IE opened instantly as did my email software. Champions Online, my current game of choice also opened much faster. However there was no speed increases for apps I opened less often. In fact in some cases it felt slower.
The reason for this is simple, some apps do not use all their features all the time. The cache does not cache everything, just what you use. So if a feature is seldom used but the program is often used what will happen is that during general use the program will have that hyper snappy feel that comes with using an SSD until that specific seldom used feature is put into play and then the system will seems to stall. For most users this will not be an issue but this does mean that while offering a huge system boost this does not match up to just using an SSD as a drive and not as cache.
This is billeted as an inexpensive way to get a performance boost similar to that of using an SSD. A quick look on Newegg shows that 30/32 Gig SSDs are going for around $80 and yet a 60 Gig can be had for about $100 and a 64 Gig for about $110. Anything smaller would not give enough room for any but the most basic user to get a meaningful level of cache and at these prices why by a 30/32 gig? So we are looking at about a $100 cost for using this feature over and above traditional costs. However for a lot of people a 60 Gig SSD will provide enough room to function as a primary drive. I refer you back to my article on SSDs in Laptops. I found in that article that a 60 Gig actually holds a lot of data, easily enough for most apps people use regularly as well as a few games.
In the end the 60 Gig drive provides a better performance boost used as a primary drive than as a disk cache system. Anyone with enough apps that 60 gigs will not hold them likely would not get the full effect of the Smart response anyway. This is NOT to say however this is a bad feature. This offers the ability to use the SSDs as an upgrade without the need to move the OS or do a complete system build again on the SSD.
Enough however about what features the Z69 offers, what about what Gigabyte brings to the table with this board. A full sized ATX board this product is prized at the high end of the “performance” line-up as we judge items here on the show. Like the P68 we reviewed before Gigabyte has forsaken the ugly light blue and gone with the sexy black board, trimming it with dark metallic grey heatsinks. The board has two PCIe full slots and is able to support Crossfire or SLI.
The boards construction is what we have come to expect from Gigabyte with full solid capacitor design as well as some great real world features, such as their On/Off USB power. There is the usual assortment back panel connections with 4x USB2 and 2x USB3 as well as a Firewire and ESATA. The driver CD includes the usual set of Gigabyte utilities for monitoring the hardware and software based overclocking. Overall just a well featured and build motherboard but then we have come to expect nothing less from Gigabyte.
Other companies have begun to move their BIOS interfaces over to a more graphical design, Gigabyte has not done this yet. The reason I have heard actually makes sense. Gigabyte feels that the people that use the BIOS are so used to and comfortable with the current design they should not play with it. However that does not mean Gigabyte is going to be left behind. In an effort to leave our comfortable text BIOS in place for us old school folks and still offer the graphical option for those who want it, Gigabyte has created their Touch BIOS.
This is a functional BIOS control interface that runs within Windows. You can make the BIOS adjustments you want while in Windows and then tell the system to reboot. It is not quite as full featured as the regular method of getting into the BIOS but the basic functions are there, even for some overclocking. You can even access the Hardware Monitoring section of the BIOS to get temperatures and fan speeds.
I am personally torn on this matter. As an old school tech I will admit to being comfortable with the old BIOS layout however I like new whiz-bang features like the graphic interface. However lets be real, NO ONE spends a lot of time in their BIOS. I mean once you get the system up and running you use it. Oh sure a few tweakers might think of the BIOS as a game but they are a minority. At the end of the day for me this is a who cares matter. I do however like the fact that Gigabyte has given me the ability to check a BIOS setting from within Windows.
Okay lets sum all this up. If I am building an Intel system I think there is no reason to use any other platform than the Z68 right now. Z68 based boards are going for as little as $90 and as much as $350. Gigabyte, as always is offering a huge range of boards with models ranging in price from $110 to $350 and all manner of features. The UD3H fits right in the middle of that pack with a price tag right now of $169. The board has a great feature set, is well made and looks nice to boot. If the Z68 is the only chip I will use for building an Intel system, the UD3H is currently at the top of my list for boards to choose.
Segment Aired 17 July 2011
If you have not listened to the show’s recording then shame on you. Sunday we announced that the Computer Ed Radio Show had finally gotten around to creating a Facebook page. You all know how I feel about Facebook but lets face it I was only going to avoid assimilation for so long. so with that in mind we now have the:
Now here is where the free stuff comes in. As with last year we are starting to gear up for some Christmas give-away and maybe one or two before that. What this has to do with the Facebook page is simple. Click the LIKE button on the Computer Ed Radio Show page linked above and you are automatically entered into every contest between now and the end of the year. However that is not all, not only are you entered but you gain a double entry, meaning twice the chances to win.
There is a catch however, you MUST do this before August 1st, 2011. Any likes coming after that date, while appreciated are not eligible for the automatic entry.
You know I usually do not post press releases but this one is just way to cool to not put out there. Sapphire and AMD are teaming up to offer you a chance to learn Rally Race driving from a professional driver. The press release and link to the contest are below.
Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center!
Please help to make your readers to know this event.
Contest open to residents of Canada and the USA only. Contest closes at 11:59PM EDT on August 15, 2011. Some states and provinces are excluded, please read the terms and conditions carefully.
I am gonna enter this myself, just looks like it would be a ton of fun.
That’s a whole lot of computer gaming.
Over the years I have seen a lot in this industry overall as well as my love of computer gaming. I recall doing beta testing for some of the King’s Quest series, typing in code from magazines to play a Star Trek game made up of Xs and Os and working on small circuit boards to do hardware upgrades to Atari and Commodore computers. I remember the first time I ever saw a full color computer display and the joys of the first color printers. I can tell you about the days when we though 300 baud modems where fantastic and the sudden realization of just how much that phone call to the Texas based BBS cost.
I remember gaming when we did not have 3D anything, I also recall when we first started seeing 3D. Back then we had four companies all trying to make the best video cards, now we only have two. I can remember a day when nVidia was telling people SLI was a fad and did not work or when we actually cared about the 2D performance of the card.
I could on with stories of the good old days except looking back they were not “good”. We dealt with an operating system that did nothing more than power on the PC meaning we had to worry about what printer our word processor would support before we bought one. I recall tweaking my “autoexec.bat” file before I played each game to get just the right configuration of low memory to make the game run well. Oh god and who could forget storing everything on floppies and have a program require 4 disks, god forbid one went bad. This was still better than when we stored the programs we typed in on cassette drives ( the same tapes we used for albums).
I look back to those days and the effort we went through to make everything work right and realize that today is heaven by comparison. Oh the users of today do not think that. They complain about the size of programs and minor compatibility issues waiting for patches. We did not know what patches where and even the largest programs of today load faster than just about any program worth loading back then.
Yes I am feeling my age, all of the years are sitting on me hard today as I watch my youngest run around at the tender age of 20. I mean I sat in the backyard tonight with my middle child, best friend and brother enjoying a cigar and a drink.
We posted a couple of items earlier in the week this week and have a number of reviews we are working on for the next few weeks. We have some plans for expanding the show online this fall that you will hear about in the coming weeks and it seems the show gets more stuff to do every day. So with that in mind I took Saturday, my birthday, off. This is all the blog entry you will get today.
I would however like to say a big thank you to all of you reading this or listening to the show this week. This show and blog are here for you and your support over the years has been something I value beyond words. So sit back and relax this week and enjoy our show, I hope. Keep watching the blog, there is a lot more to come, and hopefully many years!
Hey everyone, for the last month of so I have received a lot of emails asking when I was going to get Daniel Stahl back on the show to talk about the summer upgrades to STO, also know as Season 4; Crossfire. We tried to arrange to have him on before the release but his busy schedule made it hard to find time with him. However we where able to pull him away from his desk for a little bit Friday afternoon and so I decided to post this up for all you STO fans chomping at the bit.
Daniel Stahl Interview, Recorded 8 July 2011
I have for some time been a big advocate of SSD drives. In fact 2 years ago literally was when I first reviewed an SSD, so I guess it is fitting on the anniversary of that show we do a review of an SSD again. Over the last two years I have had some time to really play around with SSDs and reach the conclusion that normal benchmarking does not apply. You see normal drive benchmarking is about data throughput, how much data can be moved between the PC and the drive in a period of time. While this may seem important it is not the most important part of drive performance.
You see in day to day computer use, be you a light basic user to an advanced gamer the data moved is not one big file but rather a ton of small files constantly being changed. This means that the single big pipeline that is so often shown as the speed of a drive is not used. What is important is the access time, the time it takes for the drive the find the particular file and then send the data to the computer. THIS is where SSDs rule the world because they are nearly instantaneous in access time when compared to spindle or standard hard drives.
Since SSDs are so amazingly fast at this particular function of a drive by the vary nature of the basic construction they all share the result is in every day use there is little distinction between expensive, so called fast SSDs and less expensive ones. We have seen this from the various models that I have seen over the last two years. So with the move of so many SSDs to SATA3 I was skeptical of how much of a performance boost the real world would see. OCZ however stepped up to that challenge and send me the Agility 3 to let me see for myself if the next generation SSD was just more of the same in the real world.
This testing actually works out well for me as I have access to all three generations of the Agility drive. So with all three drives in hand I fired up my Sandybridge system, for testing I am using an i5 2400 overclocked to 3.9 Ghz with 8 gigs of RAM on a Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H motherboard. I did a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64 and used the base Microsoft ACHI drivers. I reversed the normal testing process this time around and had the Agility 3 be the first system that was used and then moved to the Agility and then the Agility 2.
Now I have to tell you that I did not expect anyone to really tell this difference. The move between various drives before had produced a computing experience so close to being the same that no one could really see a difference. Remember the comment I made above, the king of SSD speed is the access time and all SSDs have pretty much the same access time. I had to change my expectations however once the testing began.
The Agility 3, when running on an SATA III connection delivered a much snappier system, so much so that just everyday computer use made it noticeable. The difference I think comes in to play because of the speed capabilities of SATA III. You see the Agility in it original form was delivering around 190 MB/s and the Agility 2 was hitting around 220, so it should be pretty clear why these two drives did not have big differences. In fact even looking at other drives we have looked at I have seen speeds for slower SSDs of around 170 so it is easy to understand why the throughput did not come in with each new generations.
Now fast forward to SATA III and we see the Agility 3 throw throughput numbers in the area of 500 MB/s. This is a better than 200% jump in throughput and it showed. It seems the interface, well and the controller chips to make use of it where what was holding back the SSD speeds.
Now we could not let this theory go without confirmation so we dropped the drives down to a SATA II connection and sure enough all three drives performed so close to the same that it was impossible to tell the difference.
What this means for consumers is this, if you are upgrading a laptop the good news is that you find the cheapest drive in the size you need for a reliable company. (OCZ is one of the best in the SSD market) If you are upgrade a system without SATA III the same applies. However if you are putting together a new system and have access to SATA III then you should make sure you get an SATA III enabled drive and the Agility leads the way.
For those of you still on the fence about getting an SSD, I cannot stress enough how much they change the computing experience. It is easily one of the single most significant upgrades you can do and the OCZ Agility 3 has taken that performance boost to whole new levels.
OCZ is one of the leaders when to comes to SSDs today. In fact they are so excited about the future of SSDs that they dropped their RAM division and put more focus on creating SSDs. This shows in the quality and performance of the SSDs they have produced. If you are looking for an SSD today I personally would put OCZ at the top of my list and the Agility series as my first choice.
Agiliy 3 Review Aired Live 10 July 2011
Well the wait is over the AMD has finally released their long awaited Fusion platform for the basic PC. The principle is simple, take a quad core CPU/FPU and add a DX 11 GPU to it. At least the principle seems that simple when you look at all the reviews around the net. I held off this review for two reasons, first I wanted more time for the testing we where performing and second I wanted a chance to see if the other reviewers would miss the points I expected them too, well they did. Oh they made a great show of breaking down the chip into it’s two base components, the CPU and GPU and testing each but where they failed was accepting this was not a CPU with a GPU onboard, this was an APU, a single chip.
Now I covered this a lot more back at the first of the year in my article “The Future Is Fusion”, however I want to quickly hit a point I made there again. Back in the olden days the CPU was only able to do integer mathematics in hardware. It could do floating point calculations but they where emulated and thus slower to perform. Since a lot of scientific and business software needed solid and fast integer math the FPU was born. For a while this was a separate chip and only used in machines that actually needed the functionality it provided. In the 486 era Intel decided that this could be included on the chip with the CPU and so a combined CPU/FPU processor was born. Now for the users at the time this meant nothing with a few exceptions however it made some nice changes that we have benefited from down the road. You see by making sure every CPU had an FPU the way was opened for programmers to create their software using integer math calls because now most everyone had the FPU to allow this functionality without a performance hit.
End the new era, the era of the GPU. Now while todays article is all about the AMD there needs to be a footnote here giving nVidia credit. You see nVidia paved the way for the use of the GPU as more than a way to throw graphics on the screen, their efforts led to the full realization of the GPU as a parallel processor. THIS is where the future of Fusion comes in. You see standard CPUs work in a very linear manner, take an instruction and move to the next. Programs however can be made to do more than one function at once. The early method of doing this was a time share of sorts with the CPU and each function making a small call and waiting for it’s next chance. This worked okay but limited the way it could be done to performance issues, after all to big a line and to slow a program. The next solution was to use multiple cores on the CPU but there limits exist with heat and power. A GPU uses the multiple core approach but each of these cores are very small and individually very slow and not very powerful. However taken as a whole they can do an amazing number of calculations in a single setting. The A series processors take that potential and add it, much as the FPU before to the CPU to create the APU. The future of this is amazing because programmers will now have the ability to use parallel coding more effectively in the future as more people will now have this capability built into their PC by default.
For our testing AMD and MSI got together and sent us an AMD A8-3850 and MSI’s A75MA-G55 motherboard. The A8-3850 is a quad core linear processor with a 400 core parallel co-processor. The co-processor of course also doubles in duty as a GPU. With full DX11 compliancy this chip is able to run applications that take full advantage of Directcompute and OpenCL as well as the various DX11 3D rendering functions.
Priced at a suggested price retail of around $135 the 3850 is aimed squarely at two specific markets. The first is the mainstream DIYer, someone that wants to build a solid basic system without spending a lot of money. This could be an HTPC or a general use family machine. The second market and the bigger target are the OEMs, the people that build PCs for others. The 3850 is the top of the line for these processors currently with the others due to be released coming in at lower price points. With this in mind these chips offer the lower cost CPUs that the big OEMS use all the time.
For our testing we used the E350N-USB3 from MSI and put on 4 Gigs of Kingston DDR3 (1333 speed), in a NSK case from Antec and used a stock cooler from an AMD Athlon II. The NSK series is a solid OEM choice and offers similar cooling characteristics to most OEM builds. For our comparison we used my daughter as our base test subject. You will recall a while back that I build her a very basic system to enjoy her MMO play time. She is also heavy into digital photography, enjoys her Facebook and email usage as well as Skype with her best friend and loves to play music as well as watch movies on her PC. In other words a great candidate for the versatile family user.
Replacing the guts of the system while she was out for the day was easy and I was able to keep her OS intact so she would have no clue anything was changed. She had not been playing more than about 5 minutes when we got a comment about her system was different. Champions was actually playing better for her. Now in fairness she did move from a dual to a quad core processor and from 2 gig to 4 gig but remember this was using integrated graphics and sharing off some of that memory.
As we delved further we found that at 1440×900 the graphics capabilities that where built in where adequate to play pretty much everything we threw at it with middle of road settings, IMPRESSIVE. We where left with no doubt that for a basic home PC capable from gaming to photo editing and just email this chip delivered.
Equally impressive to use was the MSI A75MA-G55 motherboard. With an all solid capacitors and a feature rich design it made the perfect compliment to the 3850. Six USB ports on the back (2 of them USB3) gives a lot of connection options. There are two USB headers for front panel USB connections as well as a USB3 header for a case with the appropriate front panel connectivity or using the included USB3 rear slot expansion. This is a nice addition of the type usually found on more expensive boards. (The G55 is suggested retailing for $99) However this little detailing does not stop there. Rather than generic SATA cables, they included some attractive black SATA cables with white heads. These are much nicer looking than the stock red or blue most companies put with lower cost boards. They nicely compliment the black board and white SATA headers. Finally we also get front panel connection pieces. These allow you to easily attach the front panel cables and then just slide the whole unit on the header.
This motherboard also has a hybrid BIOS or sorts. While not graphical as others have done it does allow you to use the mouse to move around. It has solid feature selections and the overclocking options are in one easy to find place.
With this information under our belt and our impressions for an initial blind comparison we set out to find out how the new crossfire options worked. AMD has tried a crossfire option with integrated graphics before without stellar results so I was curious to see if they could pull it off this time. For those that do not know what I mean the crossfire option is designed to allow you to use a discrete graphics card and use the integrated graphics to boost performance. For this chip a HD6570 or HD6670 are the two cards designed to work well in crossfire with the integrated graphics. While our normal subjective testing would serve just fine we where a bit curious at how much of a horsepower difference this would deliver so for statistic information we relied on 3DMark11 at the Performance preset.
We began our testing with the baseline of the integrated graphics alone and then added a 6570 to the mix to see what would happen. I had to run the test three times before I would accept the results. The 6570 in crossfire with the integrated graphics achieved a performance increase of 92% over our baseline, it almost doubled the potential graphical power. We next pulled the 6570 and put in a 6670. Armed with our earlier test I was more prepared for these results but still ran them 3 times to verify, an increase of 126% over baseline. We needed some more numbers to get a feel for what we where talking about so we turned off crossfire and ran the 6670 without the integrated graphics and achieved a score that was only 54% above the baseline scores we had set. This means even the lowly 6570 was outrunning the 6670.
As for gaming we started our testing at 1440×900. Remember we are not talking high end stuff here and while 1080 is the current mainstream resolution I wanted to see if this setup could max out detail at 1440×900. Every game we sent at this from Civilization to Crysis was playable in various detail levels with just the integrated graphics, add the 6570 and most would play at full detail and with the 6670 everything looked awesome and was smooth. With the addition of just an inexpensive 6570 the system was able to game decent at 1080 resolutions and with the 6670 the detail levels began to rise.
For our competition comparative we choose the i5 2440. Yes I know most people are comparing it to the i3 but if you have a Microcenter near you the i5 is priced close enough I felt it was worth a look. When it came to stock performance on both using the integrated graphics of each the difference was noticeable right away. Intel’s integrated graphics just could not keep up. Throwing the 6570 and 6670 on and the AMD system was able to run a little higher detail level and keep the same level of playability.
While everyone else on the net looked at this chip from a DIY perspective I am going to change the ending here and look at it from the perspective of the OEM. This chip is a great idea for the OEMs as it allows them to create some really solid low cost, think $500 to $650, PCs that will be more versatile than anything Intel current offers. In fact as someone the builds PCs and is always looking for the best value for my customers in the parts I select I can tell you that in my opinion if the OEMs do not jump on this and make the A series the backbone of their budget and mainstream lineups they are STUPID!
Out of the box the A series is able to create a more versatile computer than anything Intel has in the price point. This means to create the same level of versatility with an Intel system the consumer must spend more. In this economy it makes no sense to spend more for the same experience. It’s just good marketing on the part of the EOMs to make heavy use of this chip.
If you are a consumer looking for a new system in the next few months I would make sure than an AMD A series build was the first choice on your list. If you are a DIYer building for family and want a low cost versatile system or building an HTPC then this is the platform of choice. AMD was likely hoping for a solid hit with this platform rerelease and what they got was a triple with two runs batted in. It is not the perfect chip and could use a little more CPU power but it is a great starting point and shows the future is bright at AMD.
As for the MSI A75MA-G55, I have not yet had a chance to see other boards on this platform but I can say MSI has set the mark high for other companies trying to impress me.
The future is fusion, the FUTURE is NOW!
AMD A8-3850 Review Aired 3 July 2011
MSI A75MA-G55 Review Aired 3 July 2011