By Edward “Computer Ed” Crisler
Well with the mouse and keyboard reviews complete we turn our attention to the headset we where supplied to show the new G series gaming peripherals from Logitech. For our shootout Logitech sent us the G230 headset, the budget model of their G lineup.
The G230 is an analog headset, differing from the USB headsets we have looked at from other companies for our peripheral shootout. However when teamed up with the G510S keyboard you get the best of both worlds as you can use the build in sound of the keyboard to provide a USB solution and still use an analog headset. This leaves the impression that this headset and keyboard were designed to work together and they do very well.
The G230 has a very basic plastic construction with a single band clamp design and a swing down bar microphone. The sound is provided by 40mm drivers is a well designed over the ear cup.
The cups and headband are padded using a sports cloth material. These did a surprisingly good job of blocking outside noise during use, better than any other cloth cup padding I have used yet. The design also breathed well, allowing for extended use with no discomfort. A really neat feature is the fact the padding on the cups can be easily removed and washed. A much more useful feature than it sounds, especially with summer upon us.
These are a very light weight headset and this means they sit very conformably on your head however on first impression they are so light they felt flimsy. However do not let that first impression fool you. The G230 comes with the same 3 year warranty that is on the rest of the G lineup and the headphone build quality so far looks like it will hold up well.
A few other features are the inline volume control and mic mute as well as the ability for the headphone cups to turn allowing a flatter profile for travel. The cord is nice and long with a fine cloth braiding for protection. You will be making use of it’s Velcro tie as I found the cord to be a bit long for all but the most extreme uses.
For sound testing I put the G230 through my typical setup of music using Unskinny Bop, Races is On and Get to the Point and then fired up some Ironman for my movie viewing pleasures before moving on to gaming. Because this is an analog headset there is no driver and this means limited tweaking ability for the sound. For this reason Logitech chose to make this headset with a very neutral profile.
What this means is while there is no one sound area where this headset excels at, it does deliver very even sound across the board. This is not really a bad thing as my listening experiences where good in everything. For me the sound was a little flat, I like my driving bass, but for general use the sound was clear and well defined. The microphone as similarly middle of the road. It delivers very good sound and voices comms where clear and easy to hear. In our recording testing the sound was good but pretty much middle of the road when compared to other headset we tested.
Priced at $50 currently on Newegg, this headset is setting solidly in the middle of every aspect. The price is a middle of the road price that offers good value and the headsets offer performance that are equal or above others at the same price point.
- Good value
- comfortable fit
- great warranty
- washable ear cup padding
- clean middle dynamics on sound
While I might not have given the G230 a glowing review that does not mean these are not a solid headset option. For their price point they are an excellent value and a 3 year warranty makes these a great buy for someone looking for a good headset with a reasonable price.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of June 15th, 2013
By Edward “Computer Ed” Crisler
Logitech mice have been a standard for a number of years however their gaming mice, while well respected have seem to only do middle of road in the market place. With the recent revamp of their gaming series Logitech has introduced an entire mouse lineup, ranging from the $40 G100S to the $100 G700S.
When we got the keyboards and headset from Logitech for review the one thing missing was a mouse. Numerous emails to them got limited response so, since I wanted to do a complete peripheral set I purchased a new mouse myself. I wanted to keep the cost within the same grouping as the other peripherals so I chose the G400S. It has a suggested list price of $60 but I was able to find it at Best Buy for $40.
The G400S is a refresh of the G400 model that Logitech already had on the market. The changes include a new look as well as a change in the materials on the outside of the mouse. The surface has a very nice soft feel to it and does not hold any kind of fingerprints. The top has a textured patter but a smooth feel to it. The sides have a softer surface but an almost slick to feel to them.
When I started using the G400S I felt like my grip on the sides on the mouse was slipping. This had the interesting effect however of changing my grip and actually giving me a little more precision in my control. After a day of the use the mouse no longer felt slick in my grip and was very comfortable.
With many modern games heading in the direction of a “click fest” play style, Logitech has made an effort to ensure their mouse can stand up. They have used high quality mechanical switches for the mouse buttons with an estimated life of around 20 million clicks. This means a year for a hard core Diablo III player They have also put on polytetrafluoroethylene glide pads that are rated by Logitech to 250 km of usage, that’s a lot of mousing. All of this points to a very durable design and Logitech backs that up with a 3 year warranty.
The button layout is simple, you have the two primary buttons along with a sensitivity up and down by the scroll wheel. A third button on the top puts the mouse back to it’s default settings no matter what setting you are currently at. The up for the sensitivity is placed at the front of the scroll wheel and the down at the back.
The 400S has a sculpted shape that fits a right hand perfectly, sorry for all you lefties. This design puts no buttons on the right side and only two on the left side. These are well placed and I had no trouble accessing either.
This is a very basic gaming mouse but I think it fills it’s roll well. The sensitivity can be adjusted via the software from 200 to 4000 DPI. This is a large range and I put in 4 different presets using the profile software, which is super simple to use. This ranges means it is easy for anyone to find a DPI setting that is best for them. This level of DPI fine tuning also makes this a great mouse for anyone doing precision work on their PC. The optics on this mouse are outstanding, I tested on numerous surfaces and the mouse tracked perfectly no matter the surface I tried.
With a reasonable price, amazing warranty and build that is geared toward durability the G400S is an incredible value in a gaming mouse. While it lacks the million buttons so many gaming mouse try to throw at you today, for some of us, this simple button setup is perfect. This is a solid gaming mouse and worth consideration in your peripheral purchasing.
- Good price point
- Durable design
- Nice finish
- Great tracking
- 3 year warranty
- Right handed specific design
- Buttons might be short in number for some
Next week I close out our look at the Logitech Gaming peripheral set for our shootout with the G230 headset.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of June 8th, 2013
By Edward “Computer Ed” Crisler
Logitech is a company that needs no introduction to computer users. Founded in 1981 Logitech has been on the leaders of computing peripherals, known mostly for their mice and keyboards. Most people have heard of Logitech in the realm of simple keyboards and mice for general computer use, however Logitech has also had a strong presence in the world of computer gaming. This year Logitech revamped their gaming lineup and sent us a peripheral set for our shootout, so lets begin with their keyboard the G510S.
The 510S is a membrane style keyboard designed with gamers in mind. While we here at Computer Ed radio have become big fans of mechanical keyboards I have to say that the membranes in the 510S surprised me with their firm response and feel while typing. This is a larger keyboard with a full 18 macro keys off to the left side of the keyboard. The design has a very sturdy feel to it, it does not feel light and flimsy like so many membrane boards.
The arrow keys and the W/A/S/D keys are colored a light gray compared to the rest of the black keycaps. This is designed to give a visual queue to make it easier to find these keys. As I said along the left side we see 18 macro keys. Rather than just slamming 18 keys together Logitech was very thoughtful in their design and broke the key placement up into 3 groups of 6 each 3 keys wide and 2 deep. I have used a number of keyboards over the years with a lot of macro keys and I can say this layout has proven the easiest to to use of all of them.
Along the top to the macro keys are three profile keys that allow you to reset the profiles to various needs, this gives you then the option of as many as 54 macro settings. Next to the profile keys is a quick macro record key to allow you to record a macro on the fly. Over a little more to center we have a slider that enables or disables the Windows key on the keyboard. This is a useful features, one I wish all keyboards had.
Still coming across the top we come to what looks like a headphone and mic mute set. Well that is exactly what they are. At the top of the keyboard, above these keys you will find a headphone and mic jack. These analog jacks are not extensions that plug into your sound card. Logitech has put a USB sound system into the keyboard that becomes active when your headphone is plugged in. This is a really cool feature as it allows you the flexibility of a USB headset while still making use of your analog set.
I tested this sound setup using the headset Logitech sent for testing along with a couple of Plantronics and the Dragon Signature headphone we look at last year. The sound was solid with good range and clarity. The software for the keyboard gave no way to adjust the sound but the base profile was a good balanced approach that delivered a good gaming experience.
I am going to skip the middle for a moment and jump to the left side of the keyboard where we have brightness controls for the keyboards back lighting as well as the multimedia keys. For volume control Logitech went with a scroll bar and I am really glad they did. This is just a better volume control solution than a knob or buttons when put on a keyboard. Back to the brightness control, the 510S comes with 16 million options for a single backlight color. The color and brightness can be controlled through the software and the brightness adjusted from this button. The 510S delivers on it’s color with a lot of variations being possible, however I felt the color options left a dim appearance with the backlighting. The light was even and consistent but just a bit dim even at the brightest levels. In the end I found the white to give the best backlight option.
At the center of the top is the feature that Logitech gaming keyboards are known for, their LCD screen. In the 510S this is a mono colored screen with the content being colored based on your choice of keyboard color. The screen is 160×48 pixels, with the button on the left being used to switch between display programs and the 4 buttons under being used by these programs if supported. The concept is that this screen can be used to display real time info ranging from a clock, to CPU usage, CPU temps, in game info and more. One of the games I am playing right now, Neverwinter has this support, the screen displays your characters experience points and hit points. I also found an app uthat allowed me to monitor my CPU temp. While this sounds really cool in the end I was kind of disappointed. It is a neat feature but when you are gaming taking the time to look down at your keyboard makes no sense. Especially when the info is displayed on screen already. As for the CPU temp that sounds great but a good system build will give enough headroom that active monitoring like this is not needed during gaming. Again the concept is neat but the implementation failed to impress me.
Priced at $120 the G510S seems to me a mixed bag of a product. The keyboard has a great feel for a membrane keyboard and the silent operation compared to mechanical could be a real boon to late night gamers. The macro keys are well thought out in design but result in an overly large keyboard. There is a definite curve to getting used to it when you are used to a simpler design, your left hand can get lost looking for the end of the keyboard. The headset feature is a great and innovative idea that worked well. The LCD display is a good idea but just not living up to it’s potential. Overall construction is outstanding and backed by a 3 year warranty, that is very telling of how confident Logitech is in the durability of this keyboard. Overall I enjoyed using this keyboard and would suggest it to anyone looking for the features it has, however the price point makes it hard to make a general recommendation for this keyboard.
- 3 year warranty
- solid feel and construction
- good response on keys
- built in independent sound option
- excellent macro key layout
- Price seems high
- large size
- LCD feature not well implemented.
Next week we continue our look at the new Logitech gaming series with the G400S Gaming Mouse and the week after we dive into the G230 headset.
Thank you to the folks at Genius Logitech for providing us the G510S for review.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of June 1st, 2013
By Doug “Doug Dot Com” Berner
Headsets are another of those peripherals that you have to judge as much by tactile experience as specifications do to the fact that they are one of those human/machine interface devices. Because of that, no matter how well they perform in a lab, if it is not comfortable and easy to interface with you will not get good results.
Out of the box the Cavimanus has a striking angular style to it, add to that a red trimmed black color scheme and you can tell immediately that this headset was meant to match the Gilla mouse we looked at last week. The Cavimanus headset is of a clamp design and has vinyl rimmed squarish large ear cups. Well padded and light, it seems built solidly and with comfort in mind. Indeed, donning the Cavimanus reveals an initial comfort level higher that I have seen with most clamp style headsets.
Visible features of note are a swing down mic boom that in the up position locks into a recess in the left ear cup. Also we see a volume knob on the left ear cup and a button. Button? Hmmm what is this? It is labeled simple “((V))”. A mystery. I like mysteries as long as they don’t involve a creepy guy in a rubber mask. What could ((V)) mean? Volume seems the most obvious answer but there is a volume knob already on the Cavimanus. Vanish, maybe it’s a stealth mode? No not vanish, that would be silly, I think. Hmm, vector, vision, venture, nothing made sense. Oh well it will come to me eventually I’m sure.
As with the other items we have looked at from this set the Cavimanus rocks the cool scorpion logo, again reassuring us that this headset is meant to be part of a GX gaming set. One last observation, the Cavimanus is done up in a brilliant high gloss finish which though beautiful shows finger prints terribly bad. At this point I decided to wash my hands and stop eating Pizza Rolls till I was done handling this thing.
One other thing on initial inspection that did not thrill me was that unlike the other components of this matched set the Cavimanus does not sport a nice braided cord. Unexpected since this is all part of the same line of GX-Gaming items.
Ah well enough on the looks this is a headset and I won’t be able to wear it and look at it at the same time. Time to put this thing on, install the software and see what it can do.
As with the other GX items we have looked at the software is a breeze to install and use. Here you can adjust about anything in the way of performance from equalization to surround effects up to simulated 7.1. So far so good, lets try some music to start. I have a standard set of music that I try on all headphones and headsets that I test so that I am comparing them based on the same set of expectations. Trying to cover a wide spectrum the play list ranges from light flutes in Fisherman’s Dream by Spencer Brewer to light and tight strings of Southwind by Joemy Wilson, to heavier rock like Tom Sawyer and Bastille Day by Rush, and When We Stand Together by Nickleback. The mix includes a lot of others but I like to give an idea of the range of music I use so you understand I am not just looking for volume and base as indications of quality like many others seem to when testing headphones. Imaging and transparency would seem like a given thing when you have speakers one inch from your ear drums but I have seen some headphones that did not pass muster.
The Cavimanus as expected starts out pretty flat with a slight emphasis on the mid bass until you set up the equalization software, then this thing really starts to shine. The 40mm neodymium drivers put out good amounts of volume and little to no noticeable distortion. I started off with about 2 hours of on and off listening and switching back and forth between other headsets for comparison. Overall I found the Cavimanus performed very well on a wide range of music not quite the best but definitely in the top 3. Once I got the equalization set the way I like with a couple of songs I found that I did not need to go tweak it when I switched back to other types of music. Oh that mystery button on the left side? Stands for Vibration. Think of it as a subwoofer that you can engage or disengage at the touch of a button to add a LOT of lower rumbling bass when you want it for your gaming and music. I found that it added a great depth to most of the music I listened to sometimes though it was a distraction and when that was the case a quick touch and it was gone until I wanted it again.
In game the Cavimanus shines, letting me be immersed in my game and greatly cut off from the distractions of my gaming environment. The simulated surround performed admirably adding to the depth of the experience.
Comfort on the Cavimanus as predicted was pretty nice. The set clamps tight enough to stay put and yet light enough to not feel like a vice. The large ear cups provide plenty of room for all but maybe Vulcans and High Elves, though I would like to have seen them trimmed in cloth or better yet a set of each that I could switch depending on what I like. They can become a little sweaty after a couple of hours but much better than most headsets that are this solid and discrete.
The lighting on the Cavimanus is almost non-existent which is not a huge deal since you can’t wear them and look at them at the same time so I’m not going to ding them for that.
The microphone performed admirably, though I have not yet had a chance to let Ed run them through his normal test and when that happens we will do a small follow-up segment on the show to see how it compared to others. I found that it worked good for my voice comm needs. Also the swing down boom has stood up to wear and tear very well and the fact that it clips back into its own recess slot makes it a lot less vulnerable to breakage when not in use.
We will keep you updated from time to time as we do with all the peripherals we test here but for now the Cavimanus seems to be durable and dependable. I personally dropped it three times from a height of three feet onto my chair mat and once onto a tiled floor with no noticeable damage, so that seems to indicate to me that it will stand the test of time.
In the end I have added the Cavimanus headset to my short list of headsets to recommend to anyone looking for a great all around headset that will fit your game, music and voice communications needs at a reasonable price. It performed admirably under all conditions and at a price point of less than 50.00 it is a great value to boot. Check it out if you are in the market or know someone that is.
Many thanks to the good folks at Genius for sending us this set to look at, they have been a joy to test out and I think we will be hearing great things about their gaming line-up in the future.
- Sub-Woofer great for most music and gaming
- Volume knob in convenient
- Comfortable for a clamp system
- Discrete solid build.
- Flip up mic works great, will have to wait and see if it stands the test of time.
- Sound quality is good, volume is good, easy to use equalization software makes it easy to customize and switch between profiles such as gaming and different types of music.
- Shiny finish shows smudges and I’m a messy guy.
- Where is my braided cord?
- Can get sweaty with prolonged wear but that is to be expected from a discrete ear cup which has to hold in the sound.
Notes: The scorpion log rocks. Wish it lit up on all of these items.
Thank you to the folks at Genius for sending us the GX Cavimanus for review.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of May 25th, 2013
By Doug “Doug Dot Com” Berner
Out of the box the first thing to catch my eye was aggressive angular styling. This coupled with a red and black color scheme makes it very eye catching. We have seen aggressive angular styling in the past and it has not always been comfortable in the hand. The Gila however manages to pull off that great angular look without feeling uncomfortable in the hand. This thing turned out to be surprisingly comfortable to myself and anyone else that I had try it out.
The finish on the Gila is a flat black with a very pebbly textured rubber on each side, the result being that the Gila does a great job of not showing finger prints and smudges and also offers a very positive grip in any condition.
More and more we are seeing gaming mice debut with more and more buttons and the Gila is no exception. Besides the three primary buttons the Gila sports a total of eight additional buttons that can be assigned to various tasks. Unlike many other gaming mice they do not clump them all in one spot. Instead the Gila does a great job of placing them in groups of two around various locations that are all pretty easy to reach even with my large and clumsy fingers. From the pictures you can see they have placed them on the front left and right shoulders, in the middle just behind the DPI select button and at the top of the thumb rest. Speaking of DPI, the Gila lets you switch between 5 different setting unlike many other mice of the same or greater cost which limit you to 2 or 3.
As with the keyboard, the software to set the Gila up in very easy to use and understand without having to resort to reading a page of instructions and watching two YouTube videos to make any sense of it.
The Gila offers not only infinite light colors but breaks the lighting up into three groups. Front lights which illuminate the area in front of the mouse, center for the scroll wheel and GX logo and tail lights that follow the contours of the rear of the Gila. Using the setup software each group can be set to its own color and behavior. So each can be the same or different shades of color and can be on, off or pulse. Additionally there is a row of five tiny lights on the left side top which tell you what DPI setting you currently are set to.
Like the keyboard we looked at last week the Gila also sports a braid reinforced cable protecting the wires inside from most normal stress it is likely to encounter. Another benefit I have found in braded cables especial with mice is that they tend to move and slide around on the desk easier than rubber cables which tend to get stuck and hang up on obstacles in my work environment.
Another trend we have seen in recent years for gaming mice is adjustable weight. This is a feature that many of us have come to expect since it adds to the custom feel of a mouse and enhances the experience. Again the Gila does not disappoint in this department. A compartment located in the rear of the Gila will hold up to six weights allowing you to adjust its overall weight from a svelte 140 grams to a portly 172 grams making the Gila at maximum weight the heaviest mouse in our stable by far.
With two months of daily use in gaming and production the Gila has performed flawlessly. I have seen no wear or scratches on the finish, and I have tried it on various moussing surfaces from a cheap mouse pad to denim fabric and vinyl. In every case the Gila tracked perfectly without one twitch or hiccup.
Price on the Gila is about what you would expect in a mouse of this quality, at $70.00 it in fact comes in cheaper than many of its competitors that offer fewer features.
I find it hard to find any real fault in the Genius Gila Gaming mouse. If I had to pick one thing I would change it would be that rather than have the GX logo lit at the rear, I would like to see the scorpion logo lit. The scorpion does make an appearance on the Gila, but it is very subdued unlike the one we saw in holo foil on the keyboard.
All in all if you are looking for a good gaming or all around mouse and if you enjoy aggressive styling and comfort at an affordable price I suggest you add the Gila to your short list of mice to get your hand around and consider for your purchase.
- Adjustable weight can set from feather light to very heavy.
- Multiple light groups separately adjustable gives a huge range of customization.
- Aggressive style but still comfortable in most hands.
- Lots of buttons placed in well thought out locations like on the raised shoulders.
- None of note, but I would like to see the scorpion logo lit up.
Genius is not a brand that Ed or I had heard of until we were given the chance to looks at these peripherals but judging by what we have seen thus far I expect we will be hearing lots about them in the future.
Check back next week as we will be taking a look at the third and final item in the GX gaming lineup from Genius, the Cavimanus headset.
Thank you to the folks at Genius for sending us the GX Gila for review.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of May 18th, 2013
By Doug “Doug Dot Com” Berner
Last year Ed and I took the time to go through a few keyboards, mice and headsets, we needed with a Gaming Peripheral Shootout. While we were grateful to the three companies that took part the truth is we wanted to do more. Well this year we have Steelseries returning but they are joined by Genius and Logitech for our second shootout round, first in our sites, Genius and the Imperator Pro keyboard.
Lets start with the unboxing experience: Well it came in a box that was attractive, informative and protective. What else could you want in a box, or a significant other for that matter? Seriously you all know how I feel about unboxing stuff by now so you were not expecting a full page of glowing words about how much of a joy it was to see the quality of the plastic bags used. I see it as the equivalent of talking about how comfy the airbag cloth is in a car. It works and that is what matters.
On first examination I was impressed with an overall styling that was aggressive but no so aggressive that it looked alien. A nice textured and rather flat finish did not show finger smudges as I pawed looking for faults in the finish. It boasts reinforced cord with two USB plugs indicating that the two USB ports on the upper edge are powered and not passive, which is a plus if you are trying to charge things like your phone with them. A bank of 6 macro keys are located on the left side and there 3 mode buttons which let you quickly switch between pre-defined customized setups and there is a light dimmer button also at the top allowing you to adjust the brightness to any of 4 levels plus a pulse on/off mode. Also a full set of multi-media keys let you adjust volume and playback on the fly.
Immediately after booting up with the GX-Imperator installed I went to the GX gaming website and downloaded the latest and greatest software, installed it and got down to business.
The setup software is easy to understand and use and even a beginner should have no trouble with setup on this keyboard.
Immediately I noticed the keys display a unique font that makes it stand out in a crowd. This adds a nice flare to the appearance that heretofore I have only found in more expensive keyboards.
Another thing I like is that the Imperator’s software allows infinite color choices so matching to you other peripherals is no problem. On the down side the overall lighting is lacking in couple of ways. Even on the brightest setting the best that can be said for it is that it is subdued. Depending on the color you choose it may be bright enough for your needs. For example I found that the lighter blue shades showed up much better than full reds. I have noted in other reviews that I work in a room with both artificial and natural sunlight and being a stickler for a lighted keyboard, I am often more sensitive about this than other reviews. It all depends on your personal preference but since you can dim this keyboard I would rather have seen them go for an overly bright approach that I could then dim down to what works for me.
Also the lighting on the number keys is uneven which results in the symbols at the tops of the keys are only half lit. Well that’s not totally accurate, if you look straight down on the keys they are fully lit but when you put the Imperator out in front of you in a typing position the top half of each symbol is dark. While this does not affect performance it is a tad annoying.
As for performance the Imperator is a membrane keyboard so it does not feel quite like the mechanical that I am used to, but this is not a bad thing. Mechanical keyboards are not for everyone, they are normally heavier, louder and more expensive than membrane keyboards and as such the world needs both if we are all to be happy. The imperator is very firm and responsive and has a comfort level that is among the best I have experienced. Being a membrane design also means that it is very quiet, a handy thing if you are in a room where other people don’t want to listen to your typing or gaming sounding like Woody Woodpecker had one to many Red Bulls. Thus far I have worked and gamed on the Imperator for nearly 2 months without a problem. It easily fills both roles because the easy to set and use macro and mode switches mean I can switch back and forth between looks and tasks with simple a push of a button.
All in all the Imperator Pro performed as well any keyboard I have had the opportunity to test over the last several years.
Aside from the lighting issue I mentioned above, I would recommend the Imperator to anyone looking for a reasonably priced great performing keyboard for gaming and or production.
Oh and did I mention that all of the GX line rocks this cool scorpion logo? Well it does and let’s face it you just can’t put a price on cool. Seriously it is a cool logo and on the Imperator it makes an appearance on both the space bar and in holo-foil form on the wrist wrest.
When you consider that this can be bought on-line for $70 you have a great combination of quality, performance and affordability. If you do not want the inifitie lighting color options or the USB hub then you can get the none Pro model for $50. Whether you are in the market for yourself or a gamer in the family I recommend add the GX-Imperator keyboard by Genius to your list if keyboards to choose from.
- Quiet, but you expect that from a membrane keyboard.
- Six macro keys, which is plenty considering 80% of users never any.
- Infinite adjustable colored backlighting.
- Lockable windows key.
- Powered USB pass-through instead of passive means you can charge and operate a larger range of items.
- Custom font lettering is a nice touch.
- Uneven backlighting when not viewed from straight down.
- Backlighting needs to be brighter even on light blue which seems to show the best it is among the dimmer lighting systems we have seen.
In the coming weeks I will also be sharing my experience with the GX-GILA gaming mouse and the GX- Cavimanus . So stay tuned to learn more about this complete set that the good folks at Genius were kind enough to send to us for review.
Thank you to the folks at Genius for sending us the GX Imperator Pro for review.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of May 11th, 2013
Okay so we have our base components all setup now lets turn to some fine tuning. We will begin with keeping our system cool.
The stock Node 304 (the case for our build) comes with some pretty solid cooling out of the box. It has dual 92mm fans for intake and a 140mm fan for exhaust. Add to this the fact that with a stock Intel cooler we can get our overclock of 3.9 GHz on our 3450, we should be all set right? Well doing good is okay for most but I hate mediocrity so I want to push this a little.
Lets being by addressing our CPU cooler, I HATE stock coolers and am not a huge fan of after market tower coolers. So that leaves me with my cooler of choice, the all in one liquid cooling solutions.
Now because of the size of our case and the fan layouts our choices are limited to a standard 120mm cooler, a 140mm cooler or a double width 120mm cooler. For our build I wanted some decent cooling power but I wanted to keep things small as well so I chose a standard 120mm cooler.
For this build our friends over at Thermaltake sent me a Water 2.0 Performer, a cooler we reviewed in August of last year. This is a very good water cooling solution for anyone not wanting to deal with a full customer water cooling rig. It comes stock with dual 120mm fans for a push/pull configuration meaning at it’s price point it is the best at keep a CPU with an all in one unit. However I was concerned about how thick we move out from the back of the case. As you can see the radiator is direct connected to the case, a fan in between would have pushed the radiator back quite a bit over the board and potentially hindering the air flow on the rest of the motherboard.
With this in mind I elected to go with a single cooling fan in a push configuration, the most efficient setup for a single fan. The stock fans from Thermaltake can get the fan done an using the stock fan generated some good cooling numbers but I wanted something a bit more. To kick things up a notched I turn to the fine folks at Noctua, a company known for making some of the best fans in the world for your PC.
The Noctua fan we chose was the NF-F12 PWM. This fan has a very high static pressure which is a must for work with a radiator. The fan also has a very low operating noise and has PWM control. PWM means the fan is able to receive instructions from the motherboard and control it’s speed based on the temperature of the CPU across a very broad range of speeds.
The result was exactly what I hoped, under gaming loads the overclocked CPU is usually around 55C topping at about 60C, under super stress testing we lock down at 70C and do not move. At low usage and even gaming the system is practically silent and under heavy load the noise is so low as not to matter. Using a second fan or a double width radiator solution we could have gotten the numbers even lower but in the end lower CPU temps would not make any difference in our system and the other solutions would have been louder under load.
Now as I said from the start the Node comes with three good cooling fans and it has in the back a small switch to let you set the fans at low, medium or high speed. I have found the medium setting gave the best balance of noise to cooling. However I HATE switch fan controllers. The computer has a solid, built in, method of telling a fan to speed up or slow down and we should make use of that. So lets look at the front fans.
As we showed in our review of the Node 304, the case comes stock with dual 92mm fans. These fans are great, very quiet and move a good amount of air. However they are speed locked and must use the switch controller on the back of the case to change their speed. YUCK. So again I have turned to Noctua for a solution and found the solution with the NF-B9 PWM. There are actually two Noctua fans that could work, the second is the NF-A9x14 PWM which is a thinner 90mm fan. The low profile design of the A9 really intrigued me but in the end the B9 has the better air flow and so was the fan of choice.
The dual Noctua will allow for complete control of the cases airflow to be handled based on the system needs, no fan in the case will just be always blasting at a set speed. However to do this we need a way to make two of the B9 fans work off a single motherboard fan header. The fan for the CPU cooler has the CPU header and the Z77N only has one additional header. The solution is actually very simple, a PWM splitter. The header can handle two fans easily so we just need to split the power. You can buy these for about $5 easily enough but the good news is the Noctua fans come with the splitter we need.
So with all our little tweaking done what did we gain? The CPU with a stock cooler at stock speeds under gaming conditions and stock case fans set to medium. we saw the CPU hover around 70C to 75C and at idle around 40C. With the new cooling system in place the CPU is overclocked to 3.9GHz. At idle the CPU hovers around 30C under gaming conditions around 55C. Now in fairness the majority of that cooling comes from the water cooling unit but the 92mm change works in other areas. For example at idle with the stock setup the computer room was measuring around 33db and under load around 44db. The new cooler setup drops that idle noise level to 31db and under load to 39db.
The fan replacements and cooler upgrade did a lot to make our system quieter and cooler. Now let me be clear, the system is a gaming brute at stock and the stock cooling setup will easily keep your system running through your marathon gaming sessions. However if you want to up things a notch making a few changes to the cooling setup can give you lower temps and quieter operation.
Thank you to the folks at Thermaltake for providing us the Water 2.0 Performer used in our build and to the folks at Noctua for sending us a number of different fans to look at for this build.
Show segment from show airing the weekend of April 27th, 2013
Okay lets get this out of the way before we get started. Yes, I work for Sapphire and they make AMD based video cards. Yes my final build is using a Sapphire video card. Yes I know the someone will cry that I am not able to be fair in my evaluation of graphics cards, however my advice is get over it. Over the years I have been accused of being a fan boy for both sides. I have always striven to give our audience the best information I have at hand and will not stop now. So now that we have that full disclosure out of the way can we get on with a discussion?
Choosing a graphics card today is tough and the reason why is both nVidia and AMD have given us some GREAT cards to choose from. Okay let me rephrase that, both have given us great chips. Neither company actually makes the cards, that is up to the various partners. If you read or listen to our past shows you know that I have always recommended that if you want an AMD card choose Sapphire and if you want an nVidia card then EVGA is your first choice. The opinion was formed years ago after dealing with many video cards from many venders and it has not changed today. We have a lot of options for our video needs and I am going to try to help you narrow those choices down.
For the purposes of our build we are setting our sights at game play with the resolution of 1080 and details levels in the high to ultra range. With this in mind we can quickly narrow down our choices and walk through them from the lowest cost to the most expensive.
The lowest cost card I would look at is the HD 7790, a relatively new card on the market. Priced at around $150 this card can do a solid job of gaming at 1080 and with most games set on high. A few of the more intense games might require the detail level to be lowered but they are the exception. A little further up the food chain we have the GTX 650Ti Boost. This card offers a nice step up in performance from the 7790 with only a mild cost increase but if you want a little extra umph, it is worth a look.
Next we come HD 7850, our 2012 Golden Mic Winner. If you thought it was an attractive buy when we named it for our award, now it is practically a steal. At under $200 is offers a great gaming experience for the money and many games will run at 1080 with the detail set to ultra, about an even mix will need to back off to high. For an ITX build the card is small, the Sapphire model we award cools amazing and is super silent. A perfect fit for an ITX build. Up the run around the $200 mark is the GTX 660, again, as in the last rung this card gives a bump in performance over the 7850 but that bump comes with a price. From a size point of view the GTX 660 is a little larger physically, but still easily fits in our ITX build.
With the next card up things begin to spread out a bit, priced at around $220 the HD 7870 gives a nice bump over the GTX 660 in performance. Only a tiny bit longer than the HD 7850 this card is a great size for the ITX build and packs a lot of gaming horsepower, chugging through most games at ultra detail and a few needing to step back to high.
The final rung we hit is the top of the cards we will talk about. The reason for this is simple, at the 7870 we have pretty much made every game we play smooth and with great detail, anything after this is gravy.
For our first entry at the top of our ITX build list is the GTX 660ti. This card packs a lot of horsepower into an package costing around $280. It can run any game we threw at it at ultra levels and does so with seeming ease. The top dog card for this build is the HD 7950, tipping the price scale at around $290. The 7950 is physically bigger than it’s actually a little longer than the 660ti however it still fits well in our ITX build. The 7950 brings more horsepower than the 660ti as well as a large memory buffer, 3GB instead of 2GB along with more memory bandwidth. Now at 1080 this is not a big deal as 2GB is plenty and both cards haven enough horse power to push the pixels around with ease. The advantage of the 7950 comes in when you push a ton of HD mods on a game like Skyrim or decide to go for a 1440 display or bigger instead of the 1080.
In this look we have covered a range of $150 and looked at 7 video cards. This is what meant when I said choosing a card was tough. All 7 cards mentioned will give a great gaming experience and each step up gives a little more detail to your games and horsepower for the future. The choice you make is based on balancing your budget against the gaming experience you desire.
The good news is that ANY of the cards mentioned here will give you a great experience, but there can be only one as the saying goes. Based on the cost, performance and our stated goal of 1080, the HD 7870 is the best bang for our buck in this build. It will give you amazing game play as well as being reasonably priced.
Be sure to join us on the March 27th at Rend Lake College, Doug and I will be there to talk to everyone, give some stuff away as well as show off the ITX rig we have been talking about the last few weeks. Come on by and see it in action first hand.
We would like to thank the folks at EVGA and SAPPHIRE for providing the card samples we used in our testing. All discussion of card pricing was based on EVGA and SAPPHIRE cards on Newegg at the date of this article.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 20th, 2013
Alright we have covered a lot of material until now and we begin to get into some areas that are more open in choices. What I mean by that is while in the other areas it was easier for us to give a clear product answer, here the choices vary depending on your own personal needs.
The optical drive is a device, that in the PC world, is beginning to disappear. Over the years it has evolved from the CD to the DVD and today the Blu-Ray but even that is not keeping it’s place in the PC world thanks to digital distribution. When we can get our music, movies, software and well pretty much anything we want via a download off the internet the need to store and have a bunch of CD/DVDs laying around has passed. Installation of your OS even no longer need an optical drive with Microsoft offer a tool to install the OS via USB Flash Drives. The tool you will download says it for Windows 7 but I have used it with Windows 8 as well, all you need is an ISO of your install DVD. Now just copy your latest drivers from the various components websites and put them on a flash drive and you are all set.
Now there are a few people that still use optical drives, okay well they at least have them in their systems. Even Doug has mentioned that he uses his optical drive so seldom that he has trouble recalling the last time. However, as he points at, at around $20 for an optical drive he does not see the harm in buying it. This argument does not work with me because I can see that $20 used to move up to a better motherboard, better cooler, more RAM or any number of uses which will have more of a daily impact on your computer use.
I would be remiss however in having this discussion without pointing out one obvious exception to my position, if you plan to use your ITX gaming system as an HTPC as well. If this is your plan then the addition of a DVD or even a Blu-Ray player to the system makes sense to some degree as you can then play these to your TV without the need for a separate box. Again I would point out that with so many good streaming services the need for this type of drive had diminished. However for the times when the internet is down and you want a movie this is a solid option.
Despite the validity of this argument in the system we are building, our case choice has limited us. The Node 304 does not have an optical bay in it so if we decided to go with an optical drive we would need to use an external model. The external model will cost a bit more than an internal drive but can be added after the fact to any PC without opening the case. Often it is as simple as plugging in the USB and your off. For our build we are suggesting passing on the optical drive and grabbing an external Blu-Ray if you decide later you need an optical drive.
As we move to the hard drive or mass storage for your PC we again hit a choice that will be based on personal preferences. All of you that are regular listeners know my position on the “PC Hoarder Mentality”, if not read the article I linked. I took a lot of negative votes on that article but popularity does not determine my position on this facts do. Without doing the entire article again, I really do recommend reading it if you have not, let me just say that once we take a serious look we can find that we can easily live with smaller hard drives than the community suggests. However some people still want that massive storage space and in the end this is a personal choice.
Larger hard drives are a solid value if you want or need the storage space, however for our ITX build I am going to suggest looking at the smaller 2.5” models over the 3.5”. Now you will pay a premium for making this choice, the smaller form factor tends to run quieter and cooler so they make a great choice for our ITX build, plus they take up little space, leaving more room in the case for air flow and other components. By a premium, what I found was that to achieve the same 7200 RPM speed for the drive you will go from a 1 TB drive to a 750 GB drive when using our friends at Western Digital. To get the full 1 TB drive in the smaller form factor you would move up in price about $30 and go to the slower 5400 RPM models.
The SSD side of this is worse when we consider pricing vs size. as a 240 GIG SSD will set you back around $120 more than the 3.5” drive if we go with one of the major brands. We could go smaller, with a 120 GIG SSD and shave that cost down but I feel the 240 is a near perfect size for a gamer build. You get your OS install and still have room for quite a few games as well as are able to some game streaming and recording if you like. The 120 GIG drive can work but you really need to be a hard core single or possible dual gamer to do this. What I mean is if you have only one or two games you play the 120 can work well.
While SSDs lack the space of a traditional “spindle” style drive, they make up for it with blazing speeds. We have said on this show many times that an SSD is one of the most impressive upgrades you can do to a modern computer when it comes to a notice change in the computing experience. Once you experience an SSD you will find it hard to rely on a traditional HD any more.
The good news is that because we are looking at the smaller drive sizes, the SSDs are 2.5” as well as the laptop style spindle drives, we can fit both in a system if we want to. This means we could get the SSD for our games and OS and then a spindle drive if we wanted more storage space. Of course we have two other options, the first is called a Hybrid Drive. These are essentially a traditional HD with a massive cache that give some speed increases over traditional drives. While these drives are fast for sure, they do not match the performance, or even come close to that of a pure SSD solution. The second option is to use a small 60 gig or under, SSD as a caching drive. For our build this can be done on the Z77N board using Intel’s software or we can buy a caching SSD from OCZ or Corsair. Our own testing has shown that there is a performance boost but again, in my opinion it is not worth the cost. In the end for only a little more money you can move to a full 120 Gig SSD and use it for the OS and most used apps and get a much nicer performance boost.
So with all of this information what are we left with? Well first we will not be using an optical drive in our build. Our case choice precludes it but I just do not see the need for the drive in a gaming machine. For our mass storage I am suggesting we use a 240 GIG SSD. This will give the system a nice snap in everything it does and gives us enough room to spread our wings a bit in gaming. As for what SSD to buy that is not so easy to suggest. The folks at Kingston, OCZ, Corsair and Samsung all make some great SSD drives and while benchmark numbers might show transfer rate difference, the truth is you will never notice the difference while you are using the PC. Right now I would look at these three brands and choose the least expensive at the time of preaches. Kingston has amazing value with their V300 and HyperX 3K but OCZ has always had aggressive pricing and the Vector is the fastest drive we have had in house, then Samsung has built up a reputation for incredible reliability, with Corsair sitting in the middle of this pack with solid options. Any of these will give you a great drive, so look for deals and find the best one.
Thank you to the folks at Kingston, OCZ and Corsair for providing SSDs for us to look at.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 13th, 2013
With our case, PSU and motherboard firmly behind us we turn our attention now to the CPU and RAM for our build. These are actually some of the easiest choices of our build ad in the case of the CPU, the choice is made for us when we choose the motherboard, well at least for the brand.
With the choice of a Z77 based motherboard we are looking at using an Intel for the CPU. We could go down the food chain and pick an i3 or jump to the top and grab an i7 but extremes are something we have sought to avoid and I feel so should you. Extremes in computer hardware carry little in the way of true benefit. The lowest extreme means that you have fewer cores for any multi-threaded work you might be doing and the highest extreme is great performance but no true benefit for 99% of consumers when taking the cost vs. experience into account.
From the i5 processors we get a solid quad core CPU and at a reasonable price point. The question now is which one?
If you look back a bit there is an article I did that explored the i5 processor lineup when we are looking at real world gaming experience and performance. In this article I noted that from top to bottom of the i5 lineup there is only about an average performance boost of 4.7%. Now let me be clear in the world of PC gaming a difference of 5% means ZIP when it comes to your gaming experience.
With this information in hand it should be clear that at stock speeds there is no real advantage at buying at the top of the i5 rack over the bottom. However as some will note, we picked a Z77 motherboard for our build and this gives overclocking options. With this motherboard surely the i5 3570K is the better choice, right?
Well when you consider that we had a professional overclocking , Shannon Robb, explain to use that anything over about 4 GHz is not going to be worth the effort in a single GPU gaming setup. There is really no reason to seek a high end overclocking chip for this build, since gaming is our goal and an ITX build will only be a single card. (Okay technically you can extreme this and get a dual chip card but again that is the extreme)
This information BTW is further muddled with the fact that in our own testing, pushing a CPU to 4.1 GHz only gave us a bump of 6.1% above the low end stock i5. Again 6% is not anything amazing when it comes to the gaming experience. Pushing much past 4.1 we see the increase in performance vs. clock speed begin to fall off, as Shannon said we would.
What this tells me is the upper extreme is not going to offer enough to justify an extra
This chip is near the bottom of the i5 lineup in price. At stock speeds it delivers a great gaming experience and despite being a locked chip, our Z77 board can eek a little more kick out of her, we were able to to push up to 3.9 GHz. Now true this is not going to give us a huge boost but it puts us past the high end of the i5 lineup at stock and puts us very close to a moderate overclock of that higher end i5.
With the CPU choice made we turn our attention toward the RAM. ITX motherboards have a premium on space so gone are the 4 stick options we have with a typical socket 1155 motherboard. With our limit at 2 sticks the amount of memory we choose is also limited. While the system can go up to 16 gig using a 2×8 configuration, none of our testing showed a performance boost over 8 gigs in any games or in day to day use.
Since we are pretty sure we want 8 gig for the RAM, what about the speed. I mean logic would dictate that faster RAM would make a faster system. In our testing the folks at Kingston sent us a set of their HyperX BEAST memory. The particular model they sent is us a 16 gig (2×8) kit with speeds as high as 2133. We also have some Kingston HyperX ram with speeds of 2400.
For our testing I used the RAM at all the speed options I was given by the XMS settings on the motherboard, as well default of no setting which is 1333 on our board of choice. The BEAST had 1600 and 2133 for it’s two XMS settings but we also tested the 2400 speed vs 1600 using an 8 gig kit. The result was not what we expected. It seems that while there is a boost in benchmarking the memory, in the actually gaming the speed difference did not make all that much difference.
Checking with some other people I found that the general consensus is that with the Intel platform anything past 1600 seems to have little real benefit to the user. Our own testing bore this out. With a price premium of roughly $20 for the higher speed RAM at an 8 gig configuration and no real performance boost I think we will suggest that the good 8 gig (2×4) kit of DDR3 1600 is the best choice for our build. As for which specifically, well Kingston has a number of great choices in the HyperX lineup at all roughly the same price point right now on Newegg. I would say find the color that best fits your build style and enjoy. We have never been disappointed with buy ANY Kingston RAM.
So there we have it, we will be using an i5 3450 and Kingston HyperX DDR3 1600 RAM for our build and suggest you do the same.
Thank you to the folks at Intel for the processors they have provided as well as Kingston for our RAM selection.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 6th, 2013