2011 will go down as an interesting year to say the least. Perhaps the biggest news of this year has been the lose of Steve Jobs. I do not care if you love or hate Apple, there is no way any sane person can say Steve Jobs did not have a major impact on computing as we know it today. His lose is a lose to all of us that love computing as a hobby.
When it comes to computer hardware we have arguably had one of the slowest years we have seen in a long time. The high point of the year was AMD finally getting their Fusion processor out in the wild. While it may not be the powerhouse of CPUs, it does bring the best integrated graphics we have yet seen and does it with a solid CPU backing it at a very economical price. This chip will not win any benchmarks are even tug at the strings of the hardcore computing crowd but the true enthusiast understands the importance of this chip and what it potentially represents to the future.
On the other end of the scale AMDs FX launch was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. After a long wait full of AMD hype we where treated to the first 8 core processor which happened to be slower in some cases than AMDs Phenom II 6 core. The FX is an entirely new design and while AMD might have been looking to the future they overlooked the present and the FX launch was far from anything exciting.
The video card market looked to be dry for the year until AMD pulled a last minute paper launch of their 7970 video card. While it has the muscle to propel it into the lead as the fastest single GPU card out it has the distinction of also being the most expensive single GPU card and by a margin that makes it much less attractive. The 7000 series design looks promising but until we see the performance and cost of the chip as it works into mainstream cards it is to early to call this new GPU design a hit. Now people are going to point out the 560 launches as well as the 6900 launches but these where in effect more of the same with existing designs.
Intel was not silent this year, gracing us with the release of their Extreme processors. The two chips introduced are essentially i7 processors with a new memory controller and 6 cores. The speed advantage they offer is minor compared the the existing i7 2600 or even the i5 2500 for 99% of users. But then again these are One Percenter chips targeted at the people that will pay $100 for the high end chip and $500 for the next tier chip. These chips look great in benchmarks but real world performance for most users the chips are not worth the cost.
We did see the SSD gain ground as a more mainstream solution, aided by a flood that cause spindle drive prices to spike. While the release of a new SATAIII controller might have been the tech advancement, the real gain for SSDs this year was watching their price fall. We are getting close to that $1 per gig price point that could open the SSD flood gates.
Software saw F2P gaming move fully into the mainstream with a number of triple A titles making to move to the F2P model. This move was something we have been saying to expect on this show for some time and the MMO world has really made the move to embrace it full tilt. Add in the depth of games now being added to social sites that use the F2P model as well we are seeing the true power of this pricing model come to light.
Gaming this year has seen some of the best releases in a long time. The RPG world had a number of titles worthy of anyone’s gaming money release, all led by Skyrim and Witcher 2. Batman and Assassin’s Creed both came back with strong sequels for the action gamer and proved that a sequel can be great. FPS game play saw the two heavy weights in the industry, Modern Warfare and Call of Duty square off in a death match for the best of the year.
Finally we will look back on 2011 as the year the entertainment industry made a real grab at political power. Using their heavy lobby and clout they where able to by pass due process and force ISPs to punish subscribers based on the word of the industry watchdogs alone, doing this with White House backing. As the year closes there is a bill up that the entertainment industry basically wrote that will take these tactics to a new level allowing them to use the power of not just ISPs, but the federal government to bypass the due process system and take punitive actions against anyone they want to claim is a pirate.
I have been around computing a long time and to be honest this has been one of the quieter years I can recall. However the high points have been great and the low points dismal. One can only begin to wonder what 2012 will bring.
Be sure to tune into our show this week as we discuss our thoughts on the best of 2011 as well as take our look at were we think things will go in 2012.
From all of us at Computer Ed Radio and our families we wish you and your families the best in this new year!
Well maybe not night but it is the day before Christmas and all through the station, people are running and … Okay you know I was going to go for some witty prose but I am honestly too tired. This week has been crazy with preparations for Christmas, fight the first cold of the season and setting up all the interviews we have arranged for CES. To say I have had my hands full is an understatement.
I looked at various reviews we have on the burner ready to post, various editorial ideas I have as well that are ready to be published and I could find nothing I was happy with posting for Christmas Eve. So with that in mind this simple blog entry is all you will get. I am not going to give some deep thoughts or comments here but instead wish that each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas day.
As geeks we can get caught up in our hobby, as anyone can to be sure. So take some time this Christmas away from the PC and whatever tech gifts you are given. Instead play a board game with the kids, curl up with the wife or husband and talk or watch a movie. Enjoy some time with the family, give them the gift they want most, your time. It’s okay, the next adventure in Skyrim will be waiting for you when you get back to it.
So from myself, Doug and our families we wish you the most Merry Christmas you have ever had.
I leave you with the video of my all time favorite Christmas song.
Headsets hold a place near and dear to me, I mean with my being in radio and all a comfortable, good sounding headset is a must. However it goes farther, not everyone likes my music selections or wants to hear my late night games of Skyrim while they try to sleep. Headsets are just a great option for a gamer, music buff or just wanting to cut out the world and enjoy a moment.
When Steelseries sent us our goody bag for reviews they included their Siberia v2 headsets. While this is listed as a pro gaming headset poor Steelseries did not know that we never limit product testing to just it’s intended use, especially headsets. Since headsets are such an important part of my computing experience and just general life I tore into these like a Nord into a fresh batch of mead. (Had to get in a Skyrim reference somewhere).
This headset is pricing at around $85 from various online sources right now and comes in seven different color options ranging from the sexy black and gold or blue and white to single color options that include orange and a nice lime green. For our sample we were sent the red headset, I guess they wanted us to think these are fast.
Opening the package you get the headset with a short cable, the model we got uses the analog connectors, this can also be purchased for USB. The cable has a small volume control unit as well as a mute for the built in microphone. You get a Steelseries sticker, a basic manual and product catalog as well as an extension cable if you need more cable length.
The headset itself is made of a lightweight plastic construction with a leatherette material for the ear cuffs. Instead of the all to common clamping style this headset uses the adjustable slide band system that old style headsets use. I am a big fan of this style as it just seems to give a more comfortable fit.
The overall feel of the headset is very light and this left me a bit concerned about durability. I will admit it, I am a bull elephant when it comes to how I handle my stuff daily. That is shy I need durable products, else they will be destroyed in fairly short order. I am however pleased to tell you that despite the light weight the Siberia is a very durable headset.
The cable from the headset is pretty short, only about 3.5’ in length. However when you think about using this with the Steelseries 7G keyboard we tested and it’s audio pass through this length is not that big of a deal. The cable has a fairly thick vinyl coating until right before the cable end and then it splits into the mic and headphone jacks. The inline volume control is a simple box with a small volume scroll and a simple switch for muting the mic.
The short cable could be a problem for a lot of people however Steelseries thought of this and included a very generous cable extension. How generous you ask, well look at the picture I have included here. That is the extension cable hanging down the door and my 7 year old son in frame for a reference, this is a nice long extension cable. It has the same vinyl construction as the main cable so is very durable. If you cannot reach your hookups with this in place you need to move where your PC is, like into the same room.
I keep mentioning a mic and yet looking at these pictures I am sure you have notice that you do not see one. Well the reason is that Steelseries has a really innovative design that allows the mic to hide in the headset when not in use.
This is a really cool features because it means that you do not need to deal with pushing the boom out of the way or feeling like you look weird when sitting listening to music with a mic book in the face. I cannot express how neat I find this feature, the mic literally disappears when you do not want it and slides right out when you do.
However enough with all the cool features, how does it work? Well as you all know we put headphones through the ringer hear with testing being done in music ranging from rock and country to blues and accapella to get the most possible range. We also test with movies, specifically stuff with lots of booms, in this case Ironman and then of course we take it though a gaming run as well. Finally since this is a full headset we put the microphone to the test with our audio input and editing test.
For comparison we will be pitting the Siberia v2 against our current general purpose champion and the Plantronic Gamecon and our pure listening champion the Thermaltake Shock Spin. Let the competition begin!
Round one will put music to the test, for this round of testing we chose some more seasonable music with some Transiberian Christmas Jam and then fell back to Sawyer Brown with the Race is One and Posion for Unskinny Bop. For our Accapella listening I chose the song Get to the Point. All three headsets delivered solid playback with good sound reproduction but the Shock Spin still holds the crown delivering a noticeably better sound reproduction, especially in the base tones. The Siberia however comes in a solid second producing a nice improvement over the Gamecon.
Next we fire up Ironman and jump right into one of my favorite scenes. The one I chose is where Ironman comes into the native village to beat back the terrorists. It is full of some great sound and gives a great place to see if you can get all the minor sounds from it. Again the sound reproduction of the Shock Spin is just to tough to overcome but as with the music the Siberia takes the second place crown topping over the Plantronics. I see a trend building.
Round three is gaming, for this we chose Batman Arkham Asylum and Champions Online, plus of course I had to throw in some Skyrim. Again we see the Shock Spin win in pure sound with the Siberia being a solid second beating out Plantronics for sound reproduction.
Okay but now we move out of how these sound, remember this is a headset built for professional gaming this means the mic input is important as well. After all you want your teammates to hear you clearly. For testing of the input we use a comparison of recorded input. For a baseline I have my exit phrase from each segment during the show. The reason I chose this is that over the years I have said it so often that my cadence and inflection is nearly identical every time I say it. This means we can get a solid sample for comparison. We take a pristine copy made at the studio, which is using an amazing mic for input and then compare the wave forms when created from the microphones we are testing to see how close we can get.
When we fire up this test the Siberia said second place was not good enough anymore and the folks at Steelseries should be applauded with the Siberia actually beating the current input champion, the Gamecon. The race was close but the Siberia took it with just a little better reproduction across the board, giving a nice, clean sound. The noise cancelling worked well to with testing being done in a noisy room and them comparing the actual recorded sound. Here the Siberia tied the Gamecon, but there is no shame in this, after all this is all Plantronics does, so matching the standard is a great place to be.
In the area of comfort the Siberia is nothing short of amazing. The headset is so light weight that I have wore it for hours on end in Skyrim and forgotten they where on my head. This lighter weight allows them to take the comfort crown from the Spins and is a world of difference from the Gamecons.
At the end of all this testing the Steelseries has supplanted the Gamecons as my preferred all purpose headset. They offer a better sound quality and equal or even a little better quality at the mic, plus the mic can be made to hide completely out of the way if I do not need it. For comfort they just blow away the Gamecon for long term use.
At the current price point the Siberia v2 is a bit on the high end, however if you are like me then you make serious use of a headset over it’s life. I am in a headset roughly 40 to 50 hours ever week, MINIMUM! Comfort is a big deal and this is were the Siberia has a solid win with its’ light weight. With good sound production, a great mic and comfort the Steelseries Siberia v2 is a great headset for anyone that needs a full purpose headset.
Now if only I could get this set in the Blue or White to match my case. Hey Steelseries, Christmas is almost here; hint, hint.
Steelseries Siberia v2 Review as aired live 17 December 2011
Buying for the geek in your life can be hard and we all know it. The typical geek gets what he wants when he wants it and the only things left on his Christmas list are usually items that are way outside our Christmas budgets. Our current economy has people being forced to cut spending costs so these items are even less possible to buy, but fear not Computer Ed is on the case. I have put together a list of a few items that can fit most budgets and will make any geek happy.
Mousing Surface: We have talked about these on the show and while they may not seem sexy they are something that geeks appreciate when it comes to getting the most out of their computing experience. There are a lot of them out there but only one that I would want under my tree. The WoW!Pad is ultrathin and made of the PVC material making it super durable. It is available in a few different sizes and ranges in price from $10 to $6 on Amazon. The WoW!Pad comes in a few different sizes and round as well as the normal squared look. Personally I have used the largest pad for a long time now and still love it. The WoW!Pad also comes in some interesting styles with the Master’s Series which have a number of great paintings on the pads. No cloth or thick bulking pad here, just clean durable mousing goodness.
USB Keys: No self respecting geek can ever have to many USB keys and my choice for years has been the Corsair Voyager line. This USB key is unique in that it has a rubber housing. This makes these drives incredibly durable. How durable you ask? In our initial testing of these drives on release the test drive worked perfectly after be dropped 12 stories, run over by a car, stepped on by your truly, washed three times in a row and chewed on by a dog. All of these tests where done to the save drive, so it was a cumulative effect and it still kept working. Currently you can pick up a USB 2.0 model with 16 gig for under $20 on Newegg. Eight gig models are consistently below $20 and up to 32 gig which can be had below $50. The entire lineup of Corsair Flash Voyager models can be found on Newegg, check them out.
Warming the Heart: I do not know anyone that does not have a person in their lives that is not always cold. You know the people I am talking about, they keep a space heater under their desk and even have it on low sometimes in the summer. They might be warm of heart but their hands and feet are always cold. Well we have something here to help the hands at least, USB Heating Gloves. These nifty little mitts have two heaters in each glove and are powered by the USB ports on your PC. The ends turn up to allow the fingers to type or can be turned down to allow for maximum hand warming. At a reasonable price of $22 these are a great gift that can be fun and practical for the female geek in house. However do not feel left out guys, there is a model for men as well. You can find these at usb.brando.com.
Boys Just Want To Have Fun: Yeah I know the song says girls but the truth is so do boys and nothing can be as fun for a guys as something wacky and militarily oriented. With that in mind bring to his desk his very own USB Rocket Launcher.
I know this gets talked about every year but seriously these are cool. Priced at under $20, you can find these at Think Geek and make the little boy in your geek really happy this year. The device needs batteries which is a bit of a bummer but can be controlled from the computer to rotate, aim and launch it’s foam warheads of fun across the room. These are great fun and your guy will love it, that is until mom gets hit in the head and then a disarmament is forced on you.
Light Up Their Life: Most geeks, especially gamers, seem to have this affinity to using their computers in darkened rooms. I know I have it and others I know prefer it as well. For me it stems from the fact that the screen pops more and lets me see my games details easier. Whatever the reason this is just a fact of life. The overhead lights of a room are just to much and often finding a small desk lamp is okay but difficult to get it to light just the area you want it. The good news is that there are a ton of USB lighting system out there from traditional desk lamps to flexible neck devices. These flexible lamps are great for laptops but I like them for some of the new mechanical keyboards. These can plug into the USB hub on something like a Steelseries or Thermaltake mechanical keyboard and give good lighting for those dark gaming sessions. USB lighting can be priced anywhere from $10 to around $30 but it comes in quite a few different styles, check out usb.bando.com for a wide selection.
Game On: Speaking of those dark night gaming sessions, lets face it we all have a gamer in our life. With our budgets like they are right now, many of the gamers we know out there have moved to the F2P models of gaming. While the game is free to play there are however always little items in game that the person might want to buy and getting the points for those items requires spending a little real cash. With this in mind a great gift for those gamers can be purchasing some of the game store points for them. These store point bundles can come in various price packages ranging from $10 to around $30. Some of the games will require you to do it through their site but some games like Wizard 101 have point cards available in stores.
Protecting the Smart Phone: Can you seriously say you know a geek that does not have a smart phone on their hip? If so you have found a species of geek that will be extinct in a few years. Today smart phones are the craze and we all seem to have them, we also all seem to drop them sooner or later as well. These are not just phones for us, they can often be our business or even more important our portable internet connection! With this in mind we should protect these investments and nothing says safe to your smart phone user like an Otterbox phone case.
These are the premier portable devices cases and while they are not the most inexpensive, they are the best protection your devices can have. Pricing can range from as low as $20 to as high as $75 depending on the device you want to protect and the level of protection you want to have. I have used these, and tested a few, they really are the best protection your phone can have bar none.
Check for these at your local cell service store, or if they do not have them then head over to the Otter Box site to look at their selection.
Gaming at the Next Level: Okay we have kept the budget under control a bit but sometimes it is better to get one uber gift than a lot of cool ones. If you have a budding gamer in your life there is a chance he is suffering from video card envy. The problem is modern PC games need some umph in their video card to really enjoy them and most budget cost PCs do not come with that umph. The good news is the video cards of today often pack some nice gaming power in a reasonably priced package. Video cards based on the AMD 6670 or the nVidia 550Ti can be had for the $100 to $130 price range. These will take a budget PC to a whole new world when it comes to gaming, allow for good gaming performance without breaking the bank. While you can get these cards locally I would suggest looking at sites like Amazon and Newegg first to get the best prices.
I could keep going, listed all sorts of other devices for the geek in your life but we only have so much time before Christmas and I do not want you to spend all that time reading a wall of text. The good news though is that you can make your geek happy this year without spending a lot of money. If you have geek gift questions be sure to email them in or call into the live show. Also listen to our show for more gift ideas over the next week. Of course be sure to keep listening and enter our holiday giveaway to maybe win something cool for your geek or like our Facebook page for a chance to win all year long.
Remember, the family geek is one of the most under appreciated people in the family, at least we feel that way often, take some time this Christmas to show you how much he means to you. Let him enjoy the new toys he gets this year before you ask him to make your work for you.
When I first looked at mechanical keyboards I almost fell out of my chair. I mean why would anyone drop over $100 on a keyboard. Well once you have used one a few weeks you no longer need to ask that question. Mechanical keyboards have a great feel to them, a nice tactile response that lets you feel what you are typing. They are super durable as well, I am not just talking the longer life of the switches, the general construction seems more rugged. Now I will not use a membrane keyboard, I am spoilt to mechanical.
When Steelseries sent us their little review care package I insisted that we get a keyboard to look at. They did not disappoint and sent us their top of the line 7G. Priced at $150 this is not a keyboard for the budget meek. Armed with Cherry Black switches the keyboard has a solid metal backplate and laser etched keycaps. This results in a very durable, heavy duty feel to this keyboard. This is further enhanced by a very solid braided cable that comes out the back. The overall construction gives the impression of strength, but that strength is very real and not just cosmetic.
The 7G does not come with a lot of frills, it is all business. You get a manual, sticker, Steelseries catalog and a PS2 to USB adapter. Yes you read that right, most adapters are for going from USB to PS2 but the 7G has a stock PS2 adapter on it and comes with an adapter to use USB.
The reason for this is in the way the keyboard gets the key presses to the computer. Remember this is geared toward professional gamers so the key is to get the data in fast. USB devices require a polling to take place, this requires some CPU cycles to be used to read the keyboards data. The PS2 port does not poll, you press a key and it is in the system, no middle man.
The rest of the cabling includes a USB connection and the headphone and mic jack. The USB connector is not for running the keyboard itself but is used to provide data connections for the two USB ports on the back of the keyboard. The headphone and mic jack are there as well. This offers the option for a close set of connections if your case is not near enough to make the front access ports of the case a viable choice.
Wrapped around the keyboard is an entire wrist support bracket. Remember what we said about solid, heavy construction, well it did not stop at the keyboard. This hefty frame gives the most solid wrist rest I have ever used. At the bottom of the keyboard we do not have the tractable legs to give the keyboard a lift, instead there is a molded ramp that gives the keyboard a nice angle and lift. This ramp also has a design that makes it really easy to set the keyboard on your lap and use.
If you want to work with a smaller keyboard the wrist rest comes off with no tools, in fact it does not even snap on. The entire assembly is just a large piece that sits around the keyboard, lift it off and away to get a smaller more streamlined unit.
Steelseries makes no qualms about what they where trying to achieve with the 7G. They were shooting for a heavy duty keyboard that would take abuse and keep coming back for more. It is no frills, just solid construction ready for a gamer to abuse it. After using this keyboard for a while I can safely say they hit their mark.
The attention to detail shows not just in the construction but some neat extras. You know that hated Windows key on the left side of the keyboard, well Steelseries killed that sucker dead and replaced it with a special function key that is used to make use of their multimedia control keys. This means when you accidently hit the key in gaming your game does not vanish to be replaced by the desktop. Steelseries also made sure the key switch and the connectors are all gold plated, helping add another level of durability to this beast.
When you read the literature on this keyboard you will see that Steelseries is proud of the fact that they did not backlight the keyboard. I understand the reasoning, they wanted the 7G to be about the substance of the keyboard and not any glitz. They achieved this in spades. The 7G has a classic elegance that is refreshing in the gaming world. Underneath that simple look is a brute of a keyboard that will take any abuse you throw at it and comeback for more. The laser etching and the fill in paint is very crisp and neat, resulting in easy to read keys.
The 7G has a lot going for it and is an amazing keyboard however at the end of the day when I consider the price the lose of the backlit keys to be is a ding. In fact I will go so far as to say I would gladly lose the USB and headset ports to get the backlighting instead. For me the backlit keys are not about glitz. I like playing my games in a dark room to let the screen pop more at me and thus increase my immersion, this means a backlit keyboard is a big deal for me. Especially since I do not touch type and need to look at the keys. The good news on this front however is the USB ports I mentioned. You can buy small LED reading lights on flexible mounts that you can use to get the keyboard light you might desire.
With the exception of the backlighting I absolutely loved this keyboard. The simple design is something I really like. I never understood all the various extra keys that so many keyboards use. The multimedia keys are nice but they larger go ignored after a few days when the novelty wears off. Since macro-keys are not permitted in professional gaming the lack of them here makes sense. Personally I never use the macro-keys so again the lose does not hurt me at all and in fact I prefer having the smaller design that results from not having the extra keys. The large wrist rest design is a great idea and well executed. This is just one of many small thoughts that where put in the design I really appreciate.
The $150 price tag however at the end of the day just seems a little steep, however good news, the 6G is the same keyboard without the USB/headset hookups and the large wrist rest, coming in at $100.
What I take away from the 7G is the design philosophy of Steelseries. They set out to build a part and they do it to make the part functionally at the top level with a durability to match and then cut out the flashy looks for that solid construction. At the end of the day the 7G impresses me and shows me what the people at Steelseries are all about. This is a great keyboard that is worth of the title, Heavyweight.
Review Segment Aired Live 3 December 2011