This has been an exciting year here at Computer Ed Radio. We have undergone a number of expansions which have resulted in a some amazing things. We have a new home at Monster Radio AM 1150 WGGH and with that new home comes a fairly large increase in the range the live radio transmission travels. However even bigger for us, this move has put us in a place where for the first time we feel we have a true home and family that has our back as we grow.
With the move we have been able to expand from our one hour format to a full three hours and have moved from Sundays to Saturdays. This means we get to cover more computing each show and can put more depth into our segments. The result has been a massive outpouring from our audience that has been supportive and encouraging. Everyone seems happy with this move and so are we.
Finally though we have not stopped expanding. As we settle into our new three hour home we have begun exploring syndication of Computer Ed Radio and have some encouraging nibbles as we dangle the line out there. This means the future of Computer Ed Radio is bigger and brighter than ever.
However none of this would be possible without all of you, our loyal listeners. It does not matter if you listen live or wait for the recording it is you that makes this show what it is. With this in mind we have been expanding our giveaways and worked to make sure there are a number of ways for live interaction during the show. Because in the end this show is about all of you and helping you enjoy computing as much as Doug and I do. So with that in mind I would like to extend from myself, Doug and our families our thanks for all of you out there and our prayer that you and your families have as much to be thankful for as we do.
Happy Thanksgiving from Computer Ed Radio!
First let me welcome Steelseries to Computer Ed Radio. When we approached them about doing some reviews they sent us a goody pack that was nothing short of amazing. With that in mind I decided to delve right in with their Sensei Mouse. Right on the front of the box it lists the Sensei as, “The worlds most customizable mouse. ” So with a name like Sensei and that kind of proclamation it was like Steelseries was daring us to not like this mouse. Opening the front flap showed them daring us even more with statements like, “Winning is everything” and testimonials from some of the professional gamers that helped designing this mouse. There is a lot of confidence in this packaging.
As I opened the box and started taking out the contents I was a bit skeptical. The mouse has a metallic, shiny looking surface to it that is very smooth, also it has an ambidextrous design. These concerned me because of the way I use mice. You have to understand I have big ole mitts that do not grip a mouse, I maul it. I was concerned the metallic and smooth finish would be slick. My experience with ambidextrous designs have not left me with a good impression as they tend to not fit my hand well. So I was prepared for the worst as I got ready to start using this mouse.
A look at the packages content found a Steelseries sticker for your PC case, a manual and a Steelseries catalog. I was surprised to not find a driver CD in the package. The cable has a nice braided covering which will make it quite strong and a gold plated end for the USB. I must admit to being taken aback by the minimalistic approach to the package contents.
The mouse design is very straight forward with a symmetrical, rounded mouse design, nothing fancy, really a very basic design. The mouse has the left and right buttons, scroll wheel with button as well as 2 buttons on each side. Behind the scroll wheel is a small button for changing the mouse sensitivity on the fly. By default the mouse is set with two levels, 1600 and 3200 CPI.
The mouse has three light zones; the trim along the scroll wheel, a light behind the wheel to indicate which CPI level is selected and then a Steelseries logo on the butt of the mouse. By default these have a yellow lighting with the sensitivity light on when in 1600 mode and off in 3200 mode.
Flipping the mouse over we see the laser sensor that is the business end of the mouse. This does not light up, well at least visibly when in use. Below it is a small LED screen that by default has the words Steelseries on it. THIS is where the fun is, but more on this in a moment.The lack of a driver CD seems to be on purpose as the manual directs you to the Steelseries website to download the latest software for the mouse. This is not really a driver, as drivers are not needed for this mouse to function, rather it is control software for configuring this mouse, remember the claim we mentioned above. The update also includes the latest firmware for the mouse and updates it as you install the software.
I have used a few macro programs in my life and so thought I knew what I would see, man was I wrong. The base screen provides the button configuration for your macros or just basic functions. There are some default profiles loaded with the software as you can see from Evil Geniuses and Fnatic. There are also three basic Sensei modes, plus you can of course create your own profiles as well, as you can see the Computer Ed profile is in place already.
The mouse of course has some default functions for the buttons already set but these can be easily switched out to whatever you choose to use. For example the left keys have function set on them but I found that when I used the mouse I was accidently pressing those left buttons all the time. No problem, it took all of about 30 seconds to go in and turn off those buttons for my profile.
However the claim is that the Sensei is the most customizable mouse. Well setting a few buttons is not that big of a deal. However looking a little deeper into this software shows where the claim comes from. The next screen I am showing is the Settings tab in the software. Here you can change the level of sensitivity to just about any level you want. This allows you to not just set the default level but BOTH levels that you can use with the on the fly setting change button.
We also see control of some of the special features Steelseries has put into this mouse. FreeMove is a technology that helps stop jittery mouse movement. Most mice today use something like this but the Sensei allows you to adjust the aggressiveness, setting this to high will allow some great straight-line movement and lowering it will give you the most precise movement with your hand. This feature is really nice if you are working on picture files and need to be able to move straight, this is not just great for gaming.
ExactAccel is a dynamic CPI system, the faster you move your mouse the more it moves. This means a quick jerk can be used to move over a distance faster. Again increasing the aggressiveness of this setting means the affect is more pronounced.
ExactAim is the opposite of ExactAccel, as you move the mouse slower the CPI dynamically lowers to allow for more precise movement. This is awesome for sniper style players that need the quicker mouse movement for most of their game play but want that slow, deliberate movement for fine tuning their aim.
ExactLift sets the amount of distance the mouse must come up off the surface before it loses tracking. Keeping the value low means that the mouse must be close, this means picking up the mouse to reposition will not move the mouse. Set the number higher allows you to lift the mouse a bit more and still have control.
The Polling Rate is about how often the mouse sends data to the PC for updates. The higher this rate the more of your computer this uses, the lower the rate the less precise the movement translates on screen but it uses less of the computer’s resources to keep track.
Finally we come to the fluff, but fun, stuff. The color settings allow you to change the LED colors of the lights on the mouse. You have independent control of the LEDs for the scroll wheel, LOGO and sensitivity indicator. The pull down has 10 base colors but you have a much bigger selection available. The independent control of the lights mean you can create the look that is all you for the mouse. Last on that fluff list is the ability to create your own text or even image on the LED at the bottom of the mouse. Yeah I know this is not a big deal for using the mouse but it looks really cool. The bitmap has to be 128×32 to work but you would be surprised at what you can make fit in that area and look good. I was able to get Computer Ed Radio to go on like it does on our logo.
Now all this control is really cool, and of course we know you can have a lot of profiles, after all you can store and load them as you need right? But how about being able to have the profiles you use on ANY computer you hook the mouse too? The Sensei has non-volatile memory which allows it to store up to 5 profiles on the mouse. Remember what I said about the mouse not needing drivers, well it doesn’t. The software is for configuring mouse profiles and that is it, the mouse can store profiles on it and switch between them by using the sensitivity switch. Just hold it down for 10 seconds and the profile options appear in the LED and you can pick the one you want.
All of this control is possible because the mouse actually has its own CPU inside. That’s right a 32 bit ARM processor rests at the heart of the Sensei and is what allows for this incredible flexibility. This processor is about as powerful as an old Pentium 75MHz CPU, an awful lot of horsepower for a mouse!
Okay so we have a deep feature set but how does it work? Well you will recall I had some concerns when I first saw the mouse, let me address those first. I was worried the shiny finish on the mouse would be a finger print magnet and slick making it hard to grip. I could not have been more wrong. The surface seems to actually repel dirt with my mouse looking fresh and clean after a few weeks of use. While the surface is very smooth, with no texture on it at all, it is far from slick. My hand has no trouble staying right where it should.
I also expressed some concerns about the ambidextrous design and how it would fit in my hand. I had some issues early on with the mouse buttons on the side. I use the mouse in my right hand and my ring finger would bump the two side buttons fairly often. however this took about 30 seconds to fix with a quick trip into the software and turning off these buttons in my profile. With that problem resolved it only took a couple of days for my hand to adapted to the shape of this mouse. It fills my palm grip well and the side buttons on the left are perfectly placed. My thumbs rests below them so no accidental hits there and a simple lift to my thumb gives me easy access to the buttons.
As for movement the mouse has three large Teflon pads that let the mouse glide across the two moussing surfaces I tested. A really neat feature is that Steelseries has made replacement pads easily available for extending the life of your mouse. The button pressure is spot on with the buttons not being to hard to press or to easy and causing accidental presses.
The level of control you have on the mouse’s function is amazing and with a little effort you can create a truly personalized mouse that is perfect for the way you use it. The ExactAim is a feature FPS players will love. While not playing an FPS I am playing Skyrim in FPS mode and this is amazing to use when sniping with my bow. I have tested against a regular gaming mouse and the difference IS noticeable.
The color change feature might not effect performance but is still really nice. I love the fact I am able to customize the LED look to fit the color scheme of my computer. Add to this the very cool feature of adding a custom graphic to the LED at the bottom and this is a mouse you want to pimp. I still find myself turning over the mouse a few times a day to admire my Computer Ed Radio logo on the bottom.
Finally I am in serious love with the ability to keep the profiles on the mouse and it working where ever I go. I test a lot of software and move between computers more than I like. This way no matter what computer I am at I have my mouse, it truly is my mouse in settings and looks as much as possession.
Steelseries bills the Sensei as the, “worlds most customizable mouse”. I have to say I think they might be safe making that claim. While it may lack the external tweaking that the R.A.T. brings to the table the simple design of the Sensei means it will fit most hands just fine. However they go way over the top with the ability to tweak the way the mouse functions and that in my opinion is a lot more useful at the end of the day.
At the end of the day the best praise I can give the Sensei is to say that is has replaced my Sidewinder mouse. Since the release of the Sidewinder I have used no other mouse for longer than just reviewing it but the Sensei has finally uprooted it from my grip. At this point I have found no other mouse that lets me create as good a mousing experience as the Sensei.
The Sensei mouse is aptly named, it is truly the current master mouse that others can learn from.
Sensei Review Segment as aired live 19 Nov 2011
With the release of the FX processor we and others began taking some serious look sat the 900 series motherboards, they are after all the high end of the AMD board lineup and so it only makes sense. However the FX was not just released at the high end but at the low end as well with the 4100 chip. There where also some lower cost 900 series motherboards released, using the 970 series chipset. Budget oriented solutions may not be as sexy as the high end but lets be real, they represent a more common purchasing choice. For our first look at a 970 based motherboard we turn to our friends at Gigabyte and the 907A-UD3 motherboard.
Price at $109 this board is right in the ball park of a higher quality budget board. While this might be a budget board in pricing thought it is more expensive in it’s features, something we have come to expect with Gigabyte budget boards. This board packs in Gigabyte’s On/Off Charge USB tech which allows the USB ports on the board to be used as a charging station for your portable devices. Add to this an all solid capacitor design, a solid onboard audio solution, SATA and USB 3.0, also an internal USB 3 header as well as Gigabytes traditional extra copper in the board foundation and you have a board that has a rich feature set.
While the board has two full size PCIe slots, only one of them is capable of x16 speeds, the second is limited to x4. This is a limitation of the 970 chipset, as it does not provide as many available PCIe lanes and the 990 chip. This means this board will not support Crossfire or SLI like the 990FX chip, there has to be a reason for some savings in cost after all.
While this board might be light for multi-card solutions it is not coming up short on SATA capabilities with full SATA 3.0 support and six ports to allow for some nice RAID options if you so choose. Thankfully we do not see any standard ATA hookups anymore taking up board space. We do have 4 DDR3 slots allowing form up to 32 Gigs of RAM if you want to pony up for the 8 gig sticks.
While this might be a budget board in price it is far from a budget board in build quality and that shows with the 8+2 Phase power that is onboard. This means the system is going to get a nice clean and stable power flow and well as better overclocking possibilities. To further enhance this we see some consideration for better heat removal from the board with some well placed and designed heat sinks.
Working around to the back of the board we see eight USB 2 connectors as well as two connectors for USB 3.0, meaning your USB devices have plenty of places in the back for your USB devices. You also get a gigabit LAN connector, PS2 port, Firewire and the full range of sound connection options. This is something we have come to expect with gigabyte boards and the 970A delivers, USB connectivity is not an issue. This is further enhanced with 3 connection headers for USB on the motherboard as well as an internal USB 3 header.
So we know we have a solid, feature rich and well constructed board at a reasonable price, but how does it perform? Well after updating to the latest BIOS we drop an FX 8150 into the board and hit the power. Right out of the gate it came up and correctly IDed the 8150, so far so good. We put in 8 gigs of RAM, put a 6850 in for video and began running the same test we ran when we looked at the 8150 on two different 990FX based boards.
At stock speeds the 970A delivered exactly what we have come to expect, the same performance as the more expensive boards. People get caught up in thinking that the more expensive boards deliver better performance. This is NOT true at stock settings. A 970 board with the same CPU, RAM and GPU will perform just like a 990FX. The savings does reduce your options by not allowing multiple GPUs but for more budget oriented users this is not a big deal.
As we move to overclocking we see where the lower costs boards begin to hit their limits. The 970A has some solid options in it’s old school BIOS but at the end of the day it just does not offer the features for the open overclocking that the 990FX boards we have seen offer. I was able to get my 8150 to 4.2 Ghz with little effort but the chip seemed to stall there. I tried a few quick tricks but did not push to hard. This means the the 970A was unable to match the simple overclocking level of the 990FX boards.
What this means in the end is that if you are looking to buy an FX processor, or for that matter any of the Phenom II lineup and running at stock speeds then the 970A-UD3 is a great option that cane saver you some money and deliver performance that the extra money will not buy you with other boards. If you are planning on a budget build then this baord NEEDS to be your first stop on the shopping list. Buying the 970A with an FX 4100 or a Phenom II and a solid single card solution like a 6870 and you will get a good AMD based build that will meet most computing experience needs.
Sure for some extra money you could move to a higher end board but unless you are planning on spending some time tweaking for overclocking and running multiple cards you will not gain ANYTHING that justifies the extra cost. For most people this is the current board they should look at if they are building a budge AMD platform based system. Gigabyte has delivered through the last few generations with the x70 based boards and the 970A continues in this excellent tradition.
Well I might be Computer Ed at the end of the day I am just like the rest of you and crap happens. The SD card in the camera that held all of our review pictures of this board decided to die on us. The 970A is currently in use with a Noctua cooler on it for testing and rather than disassemble it and get you fresh pictures I am using the stock pictures provided by Gigabyte.
970A-UD3 Review as aired 12 November 2011
It ha been almost a month since the launch of the FX processors from AMD. During that time AMD has been taking a beating on the review sites and even here we found the chip less than inspiring in it’s performance. But looking back at our review I realized we had strayed from our normal review formula. Rather than taking a more subjective look at the performance of the FX we had instead gone with a traditional benchmarking approach. Now the reason for this was time limitations on getting the review done as well as this being a totally new chip designing and my desire to a comparison of the new design to the old. With this in mind shortly after the first review was completed I began our normal subjective batter of tests.
First a quick refresher, the FX processor is AMDs new “Bulldozer” based chip that uses a modular core design putting two cores on a module. The modules share various resources including the FPU. This design is aimed squarely at heavy multithreaded applications an multitasking usage.
Okay now to the testing, the first thing we look at at was what to make the comparison against in our subjective testing. The chip we have in the lab is the FX 8150, while this was supposed to go for a lower cost the current cost of this chip is near $280. This puts it from a cost view point very close to the 2600K. The FX 8120 which is the same chip with a lower clock speed is going for $219 and is from a cost view point the direct competition to the 2500K. With that in mind I spoke to some people and AMD and was assured that I could adjust the speeds down to equal those of the 8120 and get results that would be identical to buying an 8120 chip.
For testing I wanted to put the systems on equal footing and so I chose for both systems to use a 6850 video card, 8 gigs of Kingston Hyper X 1600, and both systems ran at stock speeds. For desktop settings I choice 1080 as the working resolution and both systems had a clean install of Windows 7 Professional x64 with the latest drivers and updates.
For the first round of subjective comparison I chose the most common usage of a computer, I played with internet browsing. I did everything from Hulu and Netflix to watch video to Pandora for music and even pushed things by using Office Live and Photoshop Online. The idea was to spend some time on each system, essentially doing the same tasks and seeing what the results would be. Using a few other people to do this same test as well with them having no idea which system was which I compared the findings and drew my conclusions. Round one was a solid tie with neither system leaping out and showing us anything outstanding. Even when pushed with heavy multitasking, i.e. several instances of IE running as well as Office applications in the back both systems delivered smooth and strong performance.
For round two we did some more advanced work with photo editing and resizing as well as file compression, opening and creating various compressed files. For purposes of this test we used the built in Windows compression tool for zip files and opened other compression formats using 7-Zip. Now I left the other testers to their own personal methods to replicate a true real world usage for this testing. I also added some batch picture editing, 10 at a time as well as some larger compression jobs, 750 meg of files. The results where identical to the first test with no one being able to really see a difference in everyday usage of the systems. Even my harsher testing which is still closer to everyday use than benchmarks typically are could not reveal any difference in actual use.
I threw in another round here that was purely me but then again I do not know many people that do a lot of audio editing. Using Adobe Audition I did a series of file conversions and editing on some of the show archives. This ranged from changing the audio format to applying various filters and adjustments to the entire hour long archived files. The 8120 clocked FX was again in almost a dead heat with the 2500K.
The final round of subjective testing was gaming, for this we used Champions-Online, Supreme Commander, Demi-God, Dirt 3, Dragon Age and a game that is in beta and cannot be named. All of the games where set to 1080 resolution and then to high on their detail settings in game. With the games all setup we fire them up and went to playing. Again with all the games the game play was smooth, no stutter, and the experience very enjoyable.
Now reading this you might think, god this is the most boring review I have ever read, I do not blame you. However I think there is a solid point to be made from these findings. The FX processor may not win any races but it does not completely crap our. For a bonus round I bumped the FX speed back to those of the 8150 and redid some of the testing and found the same results, so these results are not all good for the FX lineup. In actual use, the way most people will use a PC the FX lineup is just middle of the road, it does not deliver any BANG.
I wanted to try and get more insights into AMDs direction with the FX processor so I request on interview be taped where we could discuss the chip and what the target was for todays show. I was greeted with an enthusiastic response early in my request and waited for the for the scheduling of the interview to get done. After over a week of waiting I was surprised to be told that AMD was declining my offer for an interview. I was however allowed to email in some questions to get answers. I put together four base questions to get the conversation started. I am tempted to post the responses here but I am not going to, the reason is they where none responsive responses.
You see the questions I posed where about the target the chip was aimed at for sale, what needed to happen for the FX chips potential to be seen, why pushing overclocking and not actually support it and finally the fate of the Phenom II. The responses I got where boiler plate PR BULLSHIT! Yes I said the word! I had asked for a chance to do a candid interview and they declined that and then offered a written one and instead of candid I got the typical PR crap. I did some follow up questions but a week later those have gone unanswered. So I will not insult my listeners and readers with the answers given, you deserve better.
That I think sums up the entire FX lineup at this point. We have had a lot of PR hype and promises of the moon but what we got was a decent chip. This is a shame because if AMD had not put the hype machine into full gear I think the reviewers would have been a little less harsh but the hype builds expectation and when you purposefully build expectation and cannot deliver then people are going to call you on it.
Based on the results of my subjective testing as well as our initial testing I stand by my original positions. If you already have a Phenom II X4 based system, say a 955 or better, or you have an Intel i5 first generation or better then this chip is NOT an upgrade, it is a sideways step into the future AMD hopes will come to pass. It is NOT worth the cost to move from what you already have. However the good news is that there really is no reason even from Intel to move from what you already have. While the newer chips show great in benchmarks in real life usage they are not getting the big gains people crave, save your money and hold tight, see what the future brings for now your computing experience should still be outstanding.
If you are using an older system or want to build a new system the waters are a bit muddier. AMD historically has done a solid job of not throwing out the baby with the bath water every time they make a new chip. This means the AM3+ platform may have another generation of potential in it. I have tried to get AMD to discuss if this platform was going to move as others have through a generation or two at least but cannot get a response. While the Intel offerings look awful attractive against the FX they carry with them the burden of the Intel toss the whole thing, buy again marketing strategy. These waters are further muddied by the fact that AMD is still making the Phenom II processors, which have some very attractive price offerings and still deliver a great computing experience.
At the end of the day we are left with an FX chip that looks to the future but is lackluster in the present having to fight against a solid champion of the present, the i5 and a solid value of the present the Phenom II. The gamble is will the future that the FX is designed for be coming soon? If you are worried about benchmarks and saying you have the biggest and baddest then the i5s from Intel are the way to go. If you want the best value then the Phenom II still rocks the house. If you want to buy an FX then you can get a solid computing experience and a decent machine but for right now I would look in other directions if today is your focus.