Cooling of the CPU has evolved a lot over the years, we have moved from a simple heatsink sitting on a fan to large towers of fins with heatpipes rising from the cooler plate resting on our CPU. The need for this was driven by the ever increasing temperatures of CPUs as we asked for more speed.
While the smaller, basic coolers are still in use you will be hard pressed to find a DIYer that will build a system using the stock cooler. They tend to be noisy and do not provide much besides the most basic of heat removal from the system. They get the job done, but lets face it, if we take the time to build our PC we do not want to settle for just good enough.
The tower style heatsink, as seen in the picture is pretty much the standard design now in use today for traditional air cooling. The method is simple, the heat pipes transfer the heat from the CPU up into the heatsink where fans blow air across the cooling fins, removing the heat from the heat pipes.
This style of cooler comes in many sizes and shapes with setups having anywhere from one to three fans on some of the higher performance models. The basic design however remains the same throughout with only minor modifications based on the shape of the heatsink, number of heatpipes and so on.
Because the basic design remains the same they all share the same limitation as well, the size and shape can make these difficult to install and the scan interfere with the ability to add RAM on some boards. The size also creates issues with some smaller cases forcing you to be very particular on the models you can select from. Another draw back is the fact that the heat removed from the heatsink is re-introduced into the cases air. This can potentially cause a small temperature rise within the case and thus could contribute to heat of other components.
On the plus side these units are usually very cost effective for the more basic models, cool much more effectively than stock coolers and despite having more fans they can actually be much quieter than a stock CPU cooler.
The new kid on the block is the self contained liquid cooler. The principles for this are based off the same principles that cool your cars motor. A small pump moves fluid through a cooling block that is on the CPU, the heated liquid is pumped into a radiator and air is forced through the radiator by a fan, cooling the fluid.
While the use of a liquid cooling system for a computer has been around for a while now the original method was to put together a kit with a number of parts. This was a scary task for many people as you where introducing a liquid into a system and assembling the various fluid path connections on the spot. You had to learn how to bleed the system of air as well as monitor the system for low fluid or leaks.
The new self contained units come preassembled and filled. The unit is completely sealed from the factory and the only assembly is the mounting of the unit. You do not have to worry about bleeding the air or the fluid levels and these units come with guarantees against leakages.
While the traditional air cooler has only a single mounting point, at the CPU, the liquid system must be mounted at the CPU and the back or top of the case for the radiator. While this might sound like more work it is often a much easier install than many of the more advanced air cooler. The smaller area on the CPU means the cooler is easier to work with and opens the space on the motherboard meaning there is no interference with RAM. The radiator traditionally replaces the rear exhaust fan on your case and is easy to mount, requiring just 4 screws to hold it and the exhaust fan in place.
These coolers provide really good cooling and do so with less fans, which means less noise. Now the less fans is something people overlook but think about it for a moment. A single fan tower heatsink cooler adds a second fan to the case, the fan for the cooler and you still have the exhaust fan. The liquid model replaces the rear exhaust fan with one of it’s own and adds no other fan. This means the liquid cooler will normally be quieter than the air cooling methods. The down side is that while the liquid cooler is very effective it will often not quite match the pure cooling potential of the larger, multi-fan, air coolers.
The radiator design however offers a neat benefit, the system evacuates all of the CPU heat from the case directly. By locating it as an exhaust from the case, all of the heat it has pulled from the CPU actually leaves the case straight from the radiator. This has the benefit of actually helping to lower the overall air temperature within the case. The amount this will help the air temperature is dependent on the cases air flow and your results will vary with different case designs.
The real drawback to the liquid solution is the cost. You can often find air coolers that can provide as much cooler for the CPU for less money. A good air cooler can often be found for as little as $30 but the liquid solutions are seldom seen on sales for less than $50.
When looking at these two coolers it is easy to get caught up purely in the idea of the CPU temperatures, that is their job after all. However I personally feel that this is a limited view. True the higher end air coolers can run the CPU cooler than liquid cooling solutions for less cost. However the difference we are talking about is usually only 2C to 5C in the extreme cases. These numbers might sound like a lot to some DIYers but they are not. In even the extreme case we are not talking about numbers where the CPU is going to have an issue. While the air coolers might offer a better temp to cost ratio, both systems are more than capable of adequately cooling the CPU.
Once we get over that pure CPU temp hump the differences become more apparent. The liquid solution offers easier installation, does not potentially limit RAM choices and is quieter. Add to this the fact that it could even provide a cooler overall environment to the PC and you can see why liquid is the choice I use in my personal builds.
Is one choice truly better than the other, I would say in the end no. Both have their pros and their cons. However I can say that I have found I am much happier with my builds using the liquid solutions.
When Curt Schlling announced to the world at large he was a gamer they all kind of laughed at him. Okay not all, those of us that are gaming stood up and cheered. It was really cool to find another of us coming out of the closet and talking about our love of gaming. Curt however did not just talk about it, he put his money were his mouth is. Upon retirement from baseball he moved swiftly to form 38 Studios, a company dedicated to making an new MMO. To help him, Curt assembled an all-star level group of people and the process began.
When an opportunity opened for 38 Studios to acquire Big Huge Games Curt was all over it like a base running stealing home from a wild pitch. The acquisition meant they could produce a solo play game based on their MMOs game world, Amalur and do it with an experienced team that was ready to roll. So was born Kingdoms of Amular: The Reckoning.
The Reckoning is the gateway product to the world 38 Studios is producing, called Amalur. in Amalur the Fae, specifically the Winter Fae have gone mad and are killing all of the mortal races. The war goes badly for the mortals because the Fae are immortal and when you kill them they are reborn., the mortal races do not share this luxury. However a Gnome has created the answer, the Well of Souls. The Well has reconstructed your body and pulled your soul at the moment of death into this new form, you have been reborn. However there is a small problem, your memory was not reborn with you. From this beginning you venture forth into the world of Amalur to try and find your Fate.
It is from this beginning that you find yourself thrust into the Kingdoms of Amalur. The graphics are inspired by original art work done by Todd McFarlane and my sources say he actually played a pretty big role in the actual games graphics creation. The graphics range from dark and foreboding the bright and vibrant. Reckoning bucks the current trend in the gaming market of striving for “realistic” graphics and remembers that this is game. The graphics however are beautiful to look at and crafting to put into the scenery is obvious after only a few minutes.
The games combat system is fast and fluid, when tied to the graphics it is beautiful to watch. The interface has a very console inspired feel but works really well on a keyboard and mouse. It has a very simple but effective design that essentially makes use of the two mouse buttons for attacks with the number keys and the scroll wheel allow for some quick action shifting.
The games uses a third person, behind perspective for movement and the mouse does not have a free roam feature. However the camera angle is easy to work from and once you enter combat the camera frees up. What I mean by that is once you are engaged you can move the camera around to get better angles on watching the combat and you WANT to watch the combat. If you think the game world is fun to look at then you will love watching combat take place. The easy flow of the combat with the broad weapon movements and great special effects makes combat mesmerizing. I found myself wanting to get into fights, not to gain experience or reach a goal but just because it was fun to do and watch. While still images might give you an idea to really see how amazing this looks I suggest looking on you tube at the numerous videos of in game action.
The backstory for Amalur was crated by R.A Salvatore, bringing his style into the creation of an entirely new gaming world. We have been told that he has already created a history that spans 10,000 years within the game world giving it a deep frame work and the work to flesh out this framework has only just begun. The storyline as it applies to Reckoning is classic RPG storytelling, this is good and bad. The bad of it is that it has a very generic feel to it, the story hooks are tried and true standards within the industry. The good is that this game has a very familiar feel out of the gate the story is one you can wrap yourself in like an old worn blanket. There are some great cut scenes and the voice acting is overall very well done. The base storyline can be followed and the game completed in 35 hours at a none rushing play rate, however there are a ton of side quests that draw you off the main storyline. The people at 38 Studios are claiming near 200 hours of game play, I would say closer to 170 but that is still a lot of game play packed into one game.
Now with releases over the last year like Witcher 2 and Skyrim, the Kingdoms of Amalur are facing some stiff competition out of the gate or are they? You see people make the mistake of thinking every RPG is the same and that is not the case. You have basically three RPG styles for what we call the Western RPG. The first is the story teller style, in this you are effectively taking part in an interactive book and the game guides you through the whole thing, Witcher 2 and various Bioware releases are good examples. The second is the exploration style, this game is wide open and you have to find your own way. The story is there but it is less important than the journey and so is not as implanted within the game play, Skyrim is a classic of this style. The third style is the action RPG, these are about fast moving, fast combat and lost of treasure, this style is best known for Diablo and Dungeon Siege.
Reckoning would seem to fit firmly in the action RPG style at first glance but as you play the game you find other elements. The action genre is represented by the quick combat and loot heavy system that involves the classic break boxes system. The storyline has a definite pull on the game and you feel a guiding hand as you move forward however the side quests pull you off in new directions and the size of this game world lends itself to exploration.
The release is a scare time for a game company but with Reckoning the people at 38 Studios had a lot more pressure on them than just an normal game release. This is the first release of a new studio and that brings a lot of pressure, this is also the first release of a new IP upping the pressure even more. To help with this pressure 38 Studios brought in Big Huge Games to do this solo play release they used a team with some experience. They then took in my opinion, a very conservative approach to the game falling back on some tried and true game play systems that we have seen over the years. They put some polish on them and tweaked them to give us this game.
The result is a game with a really familiar feel to it that is easy to jump right into. The combat system is fast and furious and has enough options to let the players get a play style they like while at the same time being simple enough to allow the more casual gamer to enjoy the game play. The back story has enough new in it to make you interested but the style has a very familiar feel to it as it too seems to draw off established sources.
The best testimony to this balanced style can be found in my home. My wife is a casual gamer that enjoys a simple RPG and I am a hard core RPG gamer that has been sucked into the gaming vortex of Skyrim. Yet walk around our house on a slow day and you will see both of us playing Reckoning. We both have elements of the game we really enjoy and the game has taken over our free time.
Kingdoms of Amalur is a great first release of a game and an IP, the people at 38 Studios should stand proud. Or to put it in Curt’s language, this release was a standup double, the runner has speed and is eying third. Not a bad place to be after the first pitch on opening day. Now is the time to see what 38 Studios has coming to the plate.
Seriously I am excited to see what 38 Studios has next for us, in the mean time Reckoning is a great game and worthy of being in any RPG enthusiasts collection.
Reckoning Interview, Review and Followup as aired live 18 February 2012
While out at CES we had a chance to speak with the folks at Intel and they asked us if we would be interested in looking at one of their Extreme Edition processors, now we did not get the either of the six core processors, but instead they gave us a chance to look at the quad core i7 3820. Clocked at 3.6Ghz stock with a turbo boost up to 3.9Ghz, this also has full hyper threading and makes use of a quad channel memory controller. Unlike the other two Extreme processors the 3820 is only partially unlocked, with the multiplier limit to x43, or a 4.3Ghz max.
Now before we get started I want to make clear this review will be of the entire Extreme (Socket 2011) platform as well as the CPU. We were provided a motherboard by the folks at Sapphire, a Pure Black X79N, Kingston gave us a quad channel RAM kit, 16 gig HyperX DDR3 1600 and Intel gave us the chip and cooler. We will look at the individual components in later reviews.
The Extreme processors and platform are meant to be just that, extreme. With quad channel memory access the design should allow applications that make intense use of the memory to roar compared to a dual channel system. Intel lists the Extreme as the ultimate desktop processor and says you will use it to dominate in your gaming, well lets put that to the test.
We begin our testing with the basic setup, using the Pure Black board we put in Kingston’s 16 gig of RAM. With this platform using 4 sticks at a time it makes no sense to run less than 16 gigs of RAM. The Sapphire board we have allows for 4 sticks to be used but some of the higher end boards allow for 8 sticks and make it simple to run at much as 32 gig if the memory demand is there. We round out the build with a Sapphire 6950 Flex card for our video and fire up some games.
For our game testing we chose some games that we have seen push harder at the CPU; Skyrim, Supreme Commander, Champions Online, Civilization V and Star Trek Online. I chose these games based on the fact I know each of them intimately and so can tell when a hitch in smooth playback hits. Also these games have shown processors make a difference in their performance, much more so than games most places use in testing which are of the FPS style and really focus more on the GPU.
The pricing for the 3820 is supposed to come in under $300, so this actually makes the chip less expensive than the 2600K. However for purposes of our testing I do not have a 2600K and so had to use the closest thing I have, the 2500K. With this chip lacks the hyper threading of the i7 chips it is still a gaming brute and has proven to be a great value chip for a gaming system build. We set all of the games at 1080 resolutions and then maxed out the in game graphics settings and let her fly.
From a pure experience point of view there was zero difference between the two systems. Both systems ran everything I threw at it butter smooth, with no glitches or hitches. This does show that moving from 8 gig on the 2500K to 16 gig on the 3280 along with dual vs. quad channel memory was making little to no difference in the game play experience, or does it. With the experience being a dead tie we next move to some frame rate counts to see how the 3820 is really doing against the 2500K.
Now at this point I could put up a bunch of numbers but to be honest the numbers do not mean that much. What I mean is both chips where within about 4% of each other in every test. At no point in ANY test did the 3820 draw out a clear lead, in fact in couple of tests the 2500K was able to tie the 3820. The conclusions we can draw are pretty clear in most of the games on the market right now the 3820 does not give a significant advantage.
However when you step outside of gaming the 3820 and the entire platform can get it’s chance to shine. You see the key to the Extreme platform is that quad channel brute of a memory setup. To use it however you have to saturate the memory channel, you need really memory intense applications to make use of this. With that in mind this little chip could be a serious brute when it comes to CAD, heavy rendering and video operations. However in gaming there just not seem to be enough pressure put on the memory system to allow the quad channel controller to shine.
However the Extreme platform does excel in one area of gaming over the 1155 platform and that is in PCIe lanes. The 1155 cannot get above 2 lanes at X8 in performance but the 2011 (extreme) can handle 2 lanes at x16, this means in theory high end Crossfire/SLI setups should gain a performance boost.
The 3820 is a solid chip and a value for an i7 processor, however the chip is held back as a value due to it needing the X79 boards and quad channel memory kits. This pushes the cost above an i7 build. In addition the 3820 faces stiff competition, not from AMD but within Intel. The 2500K can deliver a similar gaming and everyday computing experience for a lot less money.
When it comes to overclocking, as I mentioned the 3820 is a limited model. For our overclock testing we did as we always do and looked to see how far we could take the chip with no tweaking, just raise the speed at otherwise stock settings and see what we can get. The 3820 was able to get to 4.0Ghz before it would go no farther without tweaking. Our 2500K was able to hit 4.2Ghz making the 2500K come even closer to the 3820 in performance numbers.
What this is showing us is first that most of todays games are still fine on a quad core processor, this means that hyper threading or even adding more cores is not really something most of us need to worry about. Additionally while having 16 gigs of RAM is nice and quad channel on the memory in theory means you will get great performance, the reality is that you need to have software the pushes the memory enough to make this really have an impact and that is something again most of us will never hit, even most hard core gamers.
I know this might not be what Intel wants to hear but what I got from reviewing the 3820 is what a great chip the 2500K is. Now that being said do not take my position to mean I think the 3820 is a bad chip. With a reasonable, sub $300 price the 3820 is a great chip to allow a professional using memory intense software, a way to get into the 2011 platform at a more reasonable price. You get the performance of a solid quad core processor with hyper threading and the power of quad channel memory plus the ability to really put in massive amounts of RAM. However the claim by Intel of a platform that will let you dominate gaming is just not there. Sure it can be a brute of a gaming platform but at the end of the day the 1155 platform can deliver the same gaming experience for less money and you can use the savings to boost other areas of the gaming PC and actually get a more powerful system for the same money for your games.
A special thanks BTW to Kingston and Sapphire for getting us the RAM and motherboard quickly so we could do these tests. Also a special thanks to Intel for letting us test this platform but also for sending us their cooling solution so we could get on our testing right away.
Review as aired live 11 February 2012
By Doug Berner
A few months ago the folks at Steelseries were kind enough to send us several of their products to look at. Generally speaking we have been very impressed with the entire lot and you have heard Ed and I talk about our experiences with the Sibeira V2 headsets, the series 7G keyboards, and the Sensei mouse. One item yet remained, the Steelseries Ikari Optical mouse. Never fear I have been putting it through its paces over these past few months and the time has come to talk about the experience.
I’m not going to get heavily into an “unboxing” description here, those who listen or read here regularly know what we think of those long droning descriptions of opening a box. Suffice to say Steelseries never skimps on packaging. A few pictures are included here which should tell you all you need to know about that.
Included in the box are a manual and setup guide and a book showing you other Steelseries products, and of course the Ikari itself.
The product information tells us that the Ikari is a five button mouse that features driverless plug and play operation handy for those who may need to move between computers. Also the Ikari has a fast toggle switch to change between two CPI settings on the fly.
Upon first glance I was intrigued by the glossy finish on the body of the Ikari. The center of the body, including the primary and secondary buttons positively glowed with a high gloss finish. Easy on the eye I thought but I bet its to slick to hold onto. The cord is a respectably heavy weight braided specimen two meters in length so I should never need an extension. Two thumb buttons ride high up on the thumb side of the mouse. It appears to be a right hand only item. Sorry lefties you will have to adapt or get left out on this one. The wheel of course accounts for the fifth button. Ok so let’s plug this thing in and see what she can do!
The Plug-and-Play instillation was perfect and I found the Ikari to be very responsive right out of the box. But I went ahead and downloaded the latest software so I could configure the CPI settings. Two things struck me right away in comparison to my previous mouse.
First: The travel distance on the primary left and right mouse keys seemed to be shorter. This threw me off for a while as I found myself accidentally double clicking a lot. It was not an error of the mouse but a reflexive reaction from my fingers. They were used to traveling farther and when I bottomed the mouse out I seemed to reflexively click again. It took me a few days of constant use to get past this and retrain myself.
Second: Though the Ikari sports a high gloss finish on the main part of the body and buttons it was not slick at all. In addition each side of the Ikari is coated in a black rubberized finish that insured a solid grip during my entire experience.
Installing the software I was struck by how simple it was and at first glance I was concerned that it seemed a bit limited. A photo here shows just how simple the configuration is. Three settings are available each with a low and high setting. 400-800, 400-1600, and 800-1600. Now for some folks this may not seem like enough customization and I admit that at first glance I was looking for more options. Finding none, I settled on the 400-1600 and began to put the Ikari through its paces.
I soon found that for everything I do which is a everyday blend of office work, browsing and MMO and RPG style gaming the 400-1600 setting did everything I needed when I needed it. The on the fly switching was instant and flawless. I played around with the higher and lower settings but found that my initial choice was what I kept coming back to.
Overall with hundreds of hours of work and gamming the Ikari performed perfectly. The shorter travel distance on the buttons took me a bit to get used to but ended up being more comfortable to me once I did. Those of you who are shooters out there will understand what I mean when I say its like a firearm with a good trigger job to get rid of the creep in the trigger pull. As a product designed not just for gaming but competitive gaming I can see where this would be an advantage over the competition. I tested the Ikari on several different moussing surfaces both conventional and unconventional and it track smooth as glass on everything from a basic cloth mouse pad to desktop to wood to leather.
It is obvious to me that a lot of thought went in to the physical design of the Ikari. It is large enough to fill most large handed palm gripper’s needs, while still being contoured in the right spots for a claw grip or a smaller hand to be comfortable.
In fact the only shortcoming I found in my use of the Ikari is its weight. The Ikari is fairly large as mice go and so I picked it up expecting to feel some heft to it. It is in fact lighter that many other gaming mice I have used. I double checked on a digital scale and while two of the other gaming mice in my office weight in at 4 ounces the Ikari tips the scale at only 3.5 ounces. I know that does not sound like much but it is noticeable and I was a bit let down by the fact that it was not a bit heftier. It does not reflect on the quality of the Ikari at all because in fairness those other mice get some of that heft from weights added in for just that reason. Now in fairness this is a subjective thing and others may like the lighter feel to the ikari, I for one would like to have that extra half ounce.
And finally I am pleased to report that high gloss finish which I liked so much has proven to not only be durable but it does not show smudges and finger prints!
- Nice size and shape to be comfortable for many users with different grips
- Flawless performance over months of use on many surfaces for business and gaming
- Fast response time on the buttons improves game performance
- Beautiful high gloss finish is not slick and does not show finger prints
- Some may wish for a higher and more versatile CPI range or other setup features
- Too light for some. The ability to add some weight for a more solid feel would be welcome
The Ikari Optical Gaming Mouse from SteelSeries is a solid performer. It is versatile, dependable, fast, light and durable. At 50.00 it is right in line with the competition and offers enough features for most gamers and non-gamers alike. Its unique design is comfortable in nearly any size hand with any grip which is a monumental achievement in itself. The Ikari is definitely worth checking out and will be near the top of my recommended list when someone asks me what mouse they should be looking at.