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
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
The part that truly makes an ITX build what it is, the motherboard. mITX is a form factor for motherboards that measures 17cmx17cm and was introduced in 2001 by VIA. These small motherboards have over the years evolved from a very basic computer for such things as signage control and simple, low powered computers to what we have today. A motherboard that can support a full featured gaming system.
For this build series we wanted to take a truly broad look at the possible build methods so we approached six different motherboard producers that made boards for the AMD F2 platform as well as the Intel 1155 platform. We had three of those companies promises us 1155 based systems, no one was interested in letting us review their AMD solutions. Of the three that actual told us they would take part only one sent a board, the others have all since stopped returning emails.
Our friends at Gigabyte were the first to express an interested in taking part and literally within a few days of speaking to them an H77N-WiFi board was at my door. We wanted to give you more than one sample so I went shopping at the local Microcenter and bought a Z77 solution so we could look at overclocking as well. While there I was surprised when the associates there steered me away from a more expensive solution to the less expensive board for my Z77 ITX needs, I was however happy to see our friends at Gigabyte are regarded as one of the best options and the most cost effective. So while our review sample may be limited it was not from lack of trying.
The H77N is a solid ITX motherboard to build from. Gigabyte has always taken the more budget oriented chips and delivered them on a board that packs some solid, high end features and this board follows that trend. The board is constructed using their Ultra-Durable design which means the board itself is very well made with a solid capacitor system in place and a great deal of general durability. Our experiences with the Ultra-Durable design over the years has been outstanding with boards that are stable and have never seen a failure to date.
The board is tiny, but that is just a fact of life in the world of ITX building. However, while it might lack some expansion options it is not lacking in features. the H77N allows for up to 16 gig of DDR3 using two sticks in dual channel. Has connections for 4 SATA devices, 2 of which are SATA 3. There is also an internal header for a front USB 3 port as well as USB 2. For video you have the choice of making use of the IGPU on the Intel chips or you have a full PCIe3 expansion slot for adding a more powerful video option or any other PCIe expansion you might want to make use of.
On the rear I/O we have four USB 2.0 ports along with two USB 3.0. We also find a PS2 port that can be used for a mouse or keyboard as well as sound jacks for up to 7.1 surround provided by the Realtek ALC892.
The onboard video comes with an interesting connection setup allowing for DVI and dual HDMI. You also some interesting networking options. The board comes with an Intel wireless solution that provides for B/G/N connectivity as well as makes use of Intel’s WiDi display system. This is a wireless display option to allow you to send your computers signal across the room or across the house. (We will be looking at this more closely in a future article) To this we also have Bluetooth connectivity and dual gigabit LAN that can be used as a team for some really incredible LAN transfer rates.
Of course with the motherboard you get your manuals, drives, SATA cables and so on. You also get a really nice I/O shield that is one of the new padded designs which makes it just nicer at every level to use. For our WiFi connection you get two antenna that connect via a coax connection. These come with some pretty long wires, a little over 3’ in length. This allows for a good size separation of the antenna and results in some strong signal reception ability. I tested in a few rooms in our home, including rooms that do not get good signal with out laptop and found no place that I did not get max signal. These antenna have a rubberized coating and a weighted base so they will not scratch surfaces and stand very stable.
No you are not seeing double, the H77 and Z77 are twins that were separated at birth it would seem. When I looked at the two boxes together I was amazed, they are identical, well with a few letters changed. When I pulled out the board I considered for a second returning it, figuring I got the wrong board in the box. The H77 and Z77 boards have identical feature sets, the same build quality, the same layout and even close to the same price with the Z77 only costing $20 more. The only difference in the two boards is that the Z77 allows for overclocking the H77 does not.
I can tell you that when I first saw this I was confused but after using the two boards I am not disappointed. Both boards have outstanding build quality and provided a very stable platform for our build.
For purposes of our build we used each but at the end of the day we spent a little more time with the Z77 so we could see what overclocking options it would allow. The two boards have solid power subsystems but they are not heavy duty so overclocking on the Z77 seems to top out quicker than most full size Z77 motherboards. This is shown as well in the HIOS which has no way, that I could find to easily overvolt the CPU. This means you will be limited in your overclocking to stock voltages but that is not a big deal as this also limits the heat increase of the overclock, a good thing for the ITX build. My own overclocking experience with a 3570 was getting to 4.3 GHz on stock voltage, I was able to max out a 3450 at 3.9 as well. This might not be sexy to the uber overclocking crowd but for the real world and for a gaming rig this is outstanding.
With a $20 price difference and the Z77N being the lowest priced Z77 ITX solution we could find the competition between these two boards is a bigger deal than anything brought on by another company. If you are not going to overclock then the H77N is the board to buy. It is in every way except overclocking identical to the Z77N and delivers identical performance along with features, stability and build quality. The WiDi offers a great option not found in other H77 based boards or anything close to it’s price point, other than the Z77N of course. In fact the H77N feature set is closer to that of much more expensive boards. So if you do not plan to overclock then save the $20 and invest it elsewhere in your build.
The Z77N comes in with a feature set as good as pretty much any other Z77 based ITX board out there. It is a bit limited in overclocking potential but the ITX form factor makes that less of an issue due to limitations in cooling options. With exactly the same feature set as the H77N it is full featured and well made, the $20 price bump is minor enough that you really wonder if it is not worth the extra money for the overclocking options. This was the thought that kept running through my head as I looked at these two boards.
In the end I think we will be going with the Z77N for our build. The ability to basically get free performance from our CPU is wroth the $20 to me. It allows me to go to a local microcenter and pay $150 for the 3450 and the crank it up to 3.9GHz with minimal effort. Now our own testing has shown that the increase is not really something that will have a heavy impact on our gaming but the geek in me does it because I can.
For anyone building an ITX based system either of these boards show why I have always made use of Gigabyte boards. The outstanding build quality, stability and feature set, even at the lower cost model.
Thank you to the folks at Gigabyte for sending us the H77N-WiFi for review.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of March 30th, 2013
When most people build a PC they get a case with have little regard for the size of the case. I mean lets face it most cases will easily fit a full size motherboard, multiple drives, a large video card and liquid cooling with still having room to spare. However with an ITX build things are not that simple, planning needs to go into how you want to build the system and all that planning starts with the case.
For purposes of our build series we had two cases provided to us, a Lian Li Q25 and a Fractal Node 304. Both cases are very compact in size and are priced around a $100 price point. The two cases, as you can see in the picture, are of similar size. But lets take a moment and look at each.
First up we will look at the Lian Li Q25B. This is our first look at a Lian Li case and to be honest I was excited about this. Lian Li is well known among the enthusiast communities for their simple elegance and all aluminum construction. The Q25 is a traditional styling computer case in that is had a tower style to it, however in a diminutive size. This case only comes in at 11” tall. To put this into perspective, the Level 10 GT, which is a full tower case hits 23”, over double the height. A typical mid tower, like Corsair C70 is almost 20”, so this case is about half the size of a typical case.
Externally the Q25 looks like a simple box, the case has no opening at the front for fans or even an optical drive. The air intake for the front of the case is done through cutouts on the left and right side panel. At the top rear is a 120mm exhaust fan and there are no front panel connectors. In fact the only things on the front of the case is the Lian Li label and a power button that doubles as a power light. The result, along with the smooth brushed aluminum surface is a very clean and elegant look.
The case opens in a very unique manner with the side panels not sliding or swinging off but rather popping off. This means no thumb screws or awkward efforts to put the panels back on. When you look inside the case, it is mostly dominated by the large HD drive bay bracket. This has has a hot swap system in place and allows for 5 hard drives to be mounted in this bay. In front of the HD bay is a single 140mm fan that is used for intake. The fan has a filter mounted to it and the filter requires the fan be removed for cleaning. The mounting system however makes this easy to do with no tools required.
At the bottom of the case there is a bracket that can be used to mount additional HDs is desired and under it is a 120mm opening for air intake. Unlike the main HD bay this lower bracket can be removed. At the back of the case is the motherboard try, this is removable with just taking out 4 screws making motherboard mounting easy.
In the picture to the left you can see the motherboard and video card (this test we used a GTX 660 Ti) in place. The PSU has not yet been installed, it will sit in the case with it’s fan on the side pointed at the motherboard and will draw case air in and through then exhaust out of the case. This position makes picking a PSU very important if this is the case you choose for your build.
Using stock cooling this case was the coolest of the cases we looked at for the CPU but was also the loudest. The case stock fans use a 3 pin header or a molex adapter. The noise is mostly from the 120mm fan at the top of the case. Because of the position of the PSU this case limits your options for cooling the CPU unless you plan to do a lot of modding to the case.
The second case up on the list is the Fractal Node 304. Where the Lian Li took it’s space vertically, the Node took it horizontally. Coming in at only around 8” tall but is wider, coming in at about 10” wide while the Q25 was only 8”.
Like the Q25 the front of the Node is a blank slate of brushed aluminum. There is no optical drive or fan openings and the only markings at the front is a small Fractal logo with a blue power light. Unlike the Q25 the Node does have front port access with 2x USB3 ports, headphone and mic ports as well as a power button on the right side of case.
The air intake for the case is at the top and bottom of the front panel, with a mesh area at the top and an opening at the bottom that is also used for you to pull off the front panel. This gives you access to the cases front intake filter and its two 92mm fans. The side panels on the Node however are not a blank slate. The right side panel has a small grilled area on it and the left a much larger one. The left grill is there to provide a way for a large video card to intake cool air. The one on the right we will talk about in a moment. Speaking of the side panels, there is really only one panel that is taken off by removing 4 thumb screws and then the entire case outer body, the top/left/right panels, slide off.
The case opens to show a large 140mm fan at the rear for exhaust and the motherboard sits flat in the case at the rear. Those large white brackets at the front are for HD mounting and can hold a total of 6 drives if you wanted to have that many. They are removable and the one on the left of the case has to be removed to use a full size video card. The area under the drive bays is where the PSU sits. There is a power cord from the back of the case to this location for the external power plug. The PSU will draw air from a filtered opening at the bottom of the case and exhaust air out the right side of the case using that small opening I spoke of.
This design works really well and allows easy system building and gives some PSU flexibility compared to the Lian Li. At the top rear of the case on the left side is a three position fan controller so you can set the three fans in the case to low, medium and high.
The picture on the right shows the motherboard in the case along with a PSU, as you can see there is actually a decent amount of room to work with. The design means that you have a lot of options when it comes to a CPU cooler. Most tower coolers will fit in the case, on the motherboard is a different story but more on that in a few weeks. You are also able to fit a self contained liquid cooler in this case if you desire.
When it came to using this case with stock cooling it was the worst at CPU temp of the cases we looked at but the quietest when it came to noise. Even at high the Fractal fans were fairly quiet. The difference in cooling between high, medium and low was not enough to really be concerned with and the noise between low and medium was to close to call, this means medium was the optimal setting.
Now while only these two cases were sent to us I did not think we could discuss building an ITX gaming rig without discussing the case the entire ITX community is abuzz about, the Bitfenix Prodigy. So I went out and purchased a Prodigy for us to look at. As you can see the Prodigy case I got was the black model, this comes with a mesh front for better air flow. The Prodigy is a large case compared to the Node of the Q25, measuring 16” tall this makes it almost 50% taller than the Q25. While still smaller than a mid tower case the difference is less dramatic than the Q25 or Node.
The front of the case is a large grill area with a place for an optical drive if you want to add one. The USB, audio jacks and lights are all on the right side panel. The left side panel has a grilled area for a video card to intake cool air. The top opens to allow the use of a 240mm radiator if desired for cooling. The front comes stock with a 120mm fan but can add a second 120mm, a 200mm or a 230mm fan for intake. The rear supports a 120mm or a 140mm fan.
Inside the case had dual HD bays, both of which can be removed, but even removed the case has mounting for 5 SSDs or 2.5” HDs. The optical drive bay at the top of the case is removable and must be taken out to use a radiator at the top for cooling.
At the end of the day all three cases offer a great build for an ITX gaming system. The Prodigy is a very versatile case but I was surprised as I read reviews how no one pointed out the flaws of this case. The size first just makes this a brute compared to other ITX cases and makes it a poor choice for a living room PC. The handles are awesome if you are going to LAN Parties, in fact for that purpose I would say this case is a clear winner. However using the handles as feet for the case, was to me a questionable design decision. The shape of the feet means the case has stability issues left to right, it is easy to rock the case. Also the material and design of the feet means the case slides easily on most surfaces we tested the case on.
The Lian Li case at first glance is the least versatile of the cases we looked at and this assessment is correct. The case offers very limited cooling options but in our testing we found that even with stock cooling we could get an i5 overclocked to 3.9GHz and not have temps get so high as to be an issue. The all aluminum body is drop dead sexy and very light weight. I wish they had however made the HD bracket removable, this would have given extra cooling options and made the case design more versatile.
The Node 304 is a middle ground case when comparing versatility in building. While not able to add the cooling options that Prodigy brings to the table, you can fit a wide range of coolers including some basic liquid cooling. The design of the Node is actually the easiest of the three to work in. The Prodigy has more room but putting in the motherboard screws can be awkward unless you have a short screwdriver. The Lian Li is a close second to the Node in this regard.
The pricing on these cases are actually fairly close, the Prodigy can typically be gotten for around $80, the Node for around $90 and the Q25 for $109. I have built in all three cases and made use of them for a few days to test noise, heat and features. In the end the decision was tough because all three cases have appealing features. I dismissed the Prodigy first due to the wobble in the footing as well as the fact it slides around the desk. What however was the killer for me was the attitude of the people at Bitfenix when I asked tech support about options in regards to this and if they might make a trim kit for those that wanted to remove the handles.
The Lian Li is a case I keep coming back to, it is just a pure sexy case in it’s simplicity and I love the side panel system they used. The cooling options being limited is actually a minor issue as I have been able to find coolers that allow for some really decent temperatures, even with an overclock. However I had to do some work to fix the noise issue. I had two choices, using a step down on the power of the fan to lower the speed or replace the fan.
The Node in the end was able to hold off the Lian Li’s push for the finish. The Node shares the same brushed aluminum look at the front of the case, making it a very attractive piece that can be placed anywhere in a home. Is is wider than the Lian Li and seems a little bit “fat” compared to the Q25 however the this is a minor appearance effect and gives the Node a kind of sub woofer look. The wide stance means the case is shorter and this works in the fact it allows me a number of placement options the Lian did not, such as in my entertainment center or the DVD shelves next to the TV. This in addition to versatile cooling options and having front panel access was to me enough to name this the case we are choosing for this build.
Now you may have noticed that in the Lian Li and the Fractal case, both do not offer an optical drive. For a modern gaming PC this is a none option since gamers will be using STEAM or one of the other digital services to get their games. If you decide you do need an optical drive with one of these cases, there are a number of good USB options.
Compact, versatile cooling, great looks and a reasonable price, the Node is a winner for any ITX build and specifically for this build.
Thank you to the folks at Lian Li and Fractal Design for providing a case for our build.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of March 16th, 2013.
As we have discussed we are going to do a build series this year and we are starting today with why we made the choice of doing an ITX system. When most people think of a computer they thing of a large box sitting next to or under their desk. I look at my wife’s desk right now and see a full tower case sitting under it and I myself had a full tower system sitting on a table next to my desk for the last year. Doug has a full tower sitting on a table next to his desk and both of his boys have mid towers setting next to and under their desks respectively. The tower case is the typical DIYer go do design.
The reasons for that are many but the primary ones are well known to us all. Larger cases are easier to work in. You do not need to squeeze components in, there is a lot of room. This also prevents bumping of knuckles and gives more room for air flow. Larger cases also give us more component options. You can fit in more in the way of multiple video cards, large cooling setups, tons of hard drives and so on. Bigger just means more room to spread out.
However bigger also means more space taken from your work or play area. A quick look under Lisa’s desk shows that she has lost almost 30% of her foot space under the desk. The tower will typically not fit on a desk shelf or the desk itself except in the case of the largest desks. This means losing some of the floor space around the desk and if that is limited can create some interesting issues. The worst is having the computer under the desk and it get inadvertently kicked. Also bigger cases are harder to fit into the rooms décor. Yeah I know some of the hardcore geeks out there are laughing but if you are married and your wife is not a tech head she is not going to want a large computer case with a ton of LEDs setup in any public room.
There are smaller ATX styles (ATX is the basic computer style/size) and you can actually get down to a pretty small system but still bigger than can be easily put anyplace you would like, some thought would have to go into putting the system in, such as a really large shelf, or even again a loot at floor space.
ITX has been around for a while and is actually used more often than people realize. The problem with ITX was that we had to give up a lot for the reduction in size. Well not anymore, there is an ITX build movement working through the enthusiast and DIY crowds and manufacturers are starting to take notice. We now have access to ITX cases ranging from tiny, just a motherboard and hard drive, to being large enough for water cooling. (Still smaller than a typical case) We have motherboards that allow us to make use of high powered gaming video cards, RAIDs and even overclocking.
ITX however also gives us a lot of flexibility, we can now use ITX builds for anything from a basic web browser / work machine to a file server or even a full gamers rig. The small cases allow us a wealth of options on where we can put these computers. They are small enough in most cases to fit on a shelf or even on a desk next to your PC, no more using up floor space or needing to add a table just for the PC. Also many of these cases come with a very subdued look, they look good on that shelf, desk or even in the living room setup in the entertainment center.
It is this flexibility in the space requirements and ability to make use of it in any room environment that drew me to this build style. For purposes of our build we will be focusing on building a full gaming rig. When we are done we will have built a system that can play most games at 1080 resolutions at very high detail levels. This means you will able to enjoy your gaming experience on your computer monitor or your large screen TV and the computers small size will make it fit where ever you need it.
While our build goal is a gaming rig we understand not everyone wants that kind of system. This means we will be talking about other build options as we work through your choices for each component. So even if you are not looking for a gaming rig, there will be something for every level of PC builder. With that in mind we will dive right in next week and begin by taking a look at three ITX cases and talking about picking an ITX case in general.
A few weeks ago I got curious enough about the effects of a CPU’s speed on gaming that I decided to start doing some serious testing. I mean for a long time I have said that it really was not an issue, that even slower CPU speeds could still deliver great gaming but that was in an abstract from disjointed testing. So with a few i5 chips, a Gigabyte Z77 motherboard and an EVGA GTX 660Ti video card I set about to find out if the theory held up.
To begin my journey I needed to set some parameters and so I chose the most common chip comparison I normally use the i5 3450 vs the i5 3570K. I thought we should add a bit more to the mix so I enlisted the help of my i7 3820 so we could add hyper threading and I got all the speed settings for the i5 3470, 3550 and 3330. The testing was all performed on a clean Windows 8 install using the same drivers for the GTX and all games as well as benchmarks set to the same settings in 1080 resolution. The settings were all done to the highest offered in game with no extra or outside tweaking. This was done to reflect a normal user experience level. The base clock speeds were tested along with the 3570 down clocked to allow testing at the base speeds of the other processors. All systems had 8 gig dual channel memory provided by Kingston set at 1600 for speed. The only test performed outside the normal setup was the i7 3820 which was performed on a Sapphire Pure Black X79, however it was limited to dual channel on the memory.
For games I wanted to pull from a board range of games that are popular, again I was aiming for looking at what the typical gamer is going to see. With this in mind I loaded up Skyrim, Borderlands 2, Black Ops II, Planetside 2, League of Legends, Star Trek Online, World of Tanks, Witcher 2 and Hawken. All of the games were benchmarked using Fraps and everything was set to highest in game levels at 1080 resolution. To this mix I added some synthetic benchmarks with 3DMark, Heaven and PCMark, using the presets in the benchmarks for testing.
Now I could give you a,long list of numbers and frame rates here, I have a spreadsheet full of them but that is not how we roll here and everyone that has been a listener over the years knows this. Instead of looking for a bunch of individual numbers I was working through the data to look for a deeper pattern or meaning as to how the various PCU speeds effected the overall gaming and system performance.
Lets begin with the overall experience, using every chip speed I tested, ALL of the games played smooth and delivered a great gaming experience across the board. During all of the game play testing not a single game suffered from any changes to the CPU speed. This is across, in the case of the i5 chips, a pricing delta of $190 to $230, according to current Newegg pricing. Now in fairness this delta is very small and in my opinion Intel can of convoluted the market with the current selection. But that is for a bit later in this discussion. Benchmarks showed the difference but then again we expect them to, however the difference was only seen in the numbers.
Speaking of the numbers, what did the performance numbers show? Well for purposes of this article what I did was measure the performance delta with the i5 3330 at the lowest speed being set as the base. I then took the differences in performance as we worked up the testing in a percentage gain format and once I had all the the tests calculated I took the average of those scores to give an overall performance difference.
The result was within the range I expected but still not what I expected. At the extreme of the delta, the i5 3330 vs the i5 3570 the performance difference was a whapping 4.7%. Now again this is an overall average so this reflects in my opinion the best mix of the benchmarks from the games and the overall scores from the synthetics to give the total system impact of the CPU speed. This test is NOT about pure CPU horsepower, but about the impact on the system as a whole and it appears that impact is not very high.
Now I did not feel that it was fair to stop there, as enthusiasts are all about the overclock. So with that in mind I tested the i5 3450 at 3.9 GHz, the max overclock it can achieve on a Z77 board without effecting bus speeds. I then did the same type of overclock on the 3570 which thanks to it’s unlocked multiplier was able to achieve 4.1 GHz without any tweaking using the same method. Adding these into the mix the delta overall climbed to 6.1%. Again these overclocks were achieved with now real tweaking and on stock cooling. So from an i5 3330 to an i5 3570 @4.1GHz we see a gain in total system performance of about 6%.
Now again let me stress this is an OVERALL view of the performance delta. I did my best by offering a wide range of games to look at not just the CPU performance itself but the TOTAL SYSTEM impact that the various CPU speeds were making. This means that while my testing results are showing this smaller overall system impact in certain areas the impact can be higher, or lower. This is why I averaged out the gains to get the numbers I arrived at. I am not listed all the various speeds and numbers because the delta here is so small that it would not be useful, the differences are next to nothing as you step up.
Now as I mentioned earlier in this piece I did also add testing with an i7 3820, the reason I am not adding it’s numbers into the mix is because the price point on the chip, current $300 on Newegg puts it way outside the the i5’s and the numbers from testing get skewed a bit. Using 3DMark as a prime example, we see a pretty large performance boost due to the addition of the Hyperthreading. this boost however does not reflect within the gaming benchmarks and so skewed the numbers from the i7 pretty bad compared to the others. If I remove the 3DMark score or I turn off hyper threading the 3820 falls right in line with the i5’s.
Now that might seem a bit like I am throwing out test results but that is not an accurate assessment. For the nature of this test I am seeing that the i7 brings nothing to the table for the gamer at this time in any meaningful way that is reflected in real life performance. Now I am NOT saying the i7 does not deliver better performance, it does within software that leverages the Hyperthreading fully. That however does not appear to be something that current crop of games do.
What about if we push the overclock, does the performance keep ramping? Yes it does, if we push the I5 3570K with some voltage tweaks and begin to ramp it up, the performance delta does continue to climb, however my testing has shown that my friend Shannon Robb was accurate when he said the gain begins to tapper off. I was able with some take the 3570 to 4.5 GHz but I stopped there when I started looking at the results. At 4.5GHz the performance delta has only climbed to 7.4%, that is a minor gain and as the speeds climbed I watched the gain fall off. Would higher speeds results in more performance, of course it would but the percentage of gain would continue to decline as the speed climbed and this would mean more effort for less results.
What does this mean however, for me, the gamer that wants to build a new gaming rig? First do not get caught up in the unlocked multiplier craze of today. I see enthusiasts forums actually call builds that do not include an unlocked multiplier dumb and this is not cool. I stand by my position that of the i5 lineup right now the sweet spot if the i5 3450. It is an easy chip to find out in the wild and delivers outstanding gaming performance at stock speeds plus can, if you desire, get a nice little boost to 3.9GHz without fancy cooling or tweaking. In the grand scheme of things that is plenty of performance for a great gaming experience and has some headroom.
Now this does beg the question of what is Intel thinking in it’s marketing? From the i5 3330 to the i5 3570K we have 8 Models and yet only a 5% or so delta overall? What is worse is this chip group is all within that $180 to $230 price range. Now I understand the desire for a high end model that opens up the overclock option, I understand a low power option like the S chip and I understand a middle of the road or mainstream chip to fill out a lineup with options. However the convoluted mess that we see with 8 chips is nothing but confusing for the consumer.
So with this information in hand my recommendations are pretty straight forward and simple. If you want to build a new system the best value right now is the i5 3450. The stock speed is plenty for a great computing experience in everyway, as gamer you just add a good gaming video card to this and you are set. If you like to tinker and want a littler more performance then you can overclock to 3.9 GHz and push this chip to it’s limit. If however you are more than a little into tinkering and you want those bragging rights, then spend the extra money for the i5 3570. While at stock speeds it does make sense over it’s little brother, if you like to push things to the limit it is a great chip for tinkering and seeing just what you can make the system do.
As for the other chips in the Intel i5 lineup? Well I would buy if they are the only choice or the pricing is the same. For example I have seen the i5 3550 for the same price as the i5 34560, well it would be silly not to buy it as you get a little better base speed for free. However as far as paying more for the minor boost up the lineup, they are really not worth extra money that could be sued for a better video card, more RAM, an SSD or or other component changes that would have a bigger overall system impact. What about the lower power chips, the S series? Those I must say I am torn on, the reason is the i5 chip is already a very low TDP chip and the reduction might be nice on paper but I am not sure if worth it at the end of the day for an extra cost.
Next up AMD….
Thank you to the folks at EVGA, Gigabyte, Intel and Kingston for providing the components used in this testing.
Thermaltake is not a name we associate with bashful, simple or plain, so the Level 10 Mouse came as no surprise. Take something as simple as a mouse, mix in Thermaltake and the folks at BMW Design Works and the Level 0 Mouse is what you get.
The box is actually kind of bare in design but it shows a nice side shot of the mouse and immediately makes it clear you are getting something different. Inside the box, we have the mouse, a nice carrying bag as well as the adjustment tool for the mouse. (more on this in a minute) The bag is, as with all the Thermaltake travel bags, a felt like material and is super high quality. The quick start guide has some information in it, but no actual software. You get the software from the Thermaltake site, this means when you load up your mouse you always have the latest software. Not putting the software in the box has an appeal to me as it forces you to be up to date but at the same time if you have internet issues and want to do a quick install it could be a pain. Considering the target audience of this mouse I think it is a safe assumption that they will have internet access.
The mouse itself is without a doubt a very unique design. The model we received for review is White, but the mouse can also be gotten in a military Green and a nice hotrod red. The cable on the mouse has a really well done braided material over it making it very strong and ends in a large USB connection. For travel, as added protection, there is a cap for the USB end.
The mouse is constructed around an aluminum base with some high quality plastic as well, all done in an excellent finish. The top of the mouse as two large buttons as well as the scroll wheel. The left button has a lit square, sort of a power light and the right button has lights to show which of up to 4 profiles is active. The LED colors can be altered to make it easy to notice what profile is in use at a glance. Behind the buttons is a honeycomb cutout area that is fed air by open frame design to allow ventilation to your hand. This is supposed to keep your hand cool and dry over long gaming sessions.
The right and left side of the mouse each sport two thumb buttons with the left side also having a hat-style controller. All of these buttons are mapable to give you a lot of flexibility in the use of various macro options. The on the fly DPI levels are adjusted using the hat switch by default. The downloadable software is what you use to map the various buttons as well as make color changes to the lighting to fit your own preferences.
While the first thing to catch your eye might be the way the mouse looks, it will not take long for the way it feels to be what you are obsessing over. The mouse has very very sleek and elongated shape that creates a very distinctive feel to this mouse. When I first started using this mouse it felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. Even after extended use the shape was not something I could get used to, I felt like my hand was being stretched out. My fingers did not hit the two main buttons at an angle I was comfortable with and the side buttons were a nightmare for me, even more so the hat button. In fact it’s position was so out of place for my grip that I was constantly switching sensitivity in daily use.
After further testing however I found the issue was not with the mouse design but the grip. You see when using a mouse there are actually three different recognized grips. first there is the palm grip which is were the user rests the whole and on the mouse, palming it and in essence making it an extension of their arm. This is the grip I sue and have used for as long as I have used a mouse, it feels natural to me. However what is natural to me might not be to you. The second grip is known as the claw grip, the user has the back of the mouse resting right against the back of the hand but the fingers are curled and the hand does not rest on the mouse. The third grip is the finger tip grip, in this grip only the fingers actually touch the mouse, the hand sits back off the mouse and the fingers do all the work.
Once I stopped using the Level 10 and gave it to Jason, our show engineer, it came alive under his fingertip grip. Thermaltake has never been bashful about designing a product for a set target audience and it appears they did this with the Level 10 M. In the hands of a fingertip mouse user the level 10 has amazing feel and the button placement is almost perfect, according to Jason. His assessment must be spot on because when I used the mouse I could not wait to get back to my old mouse, he on the other hand cannot stand the feel of his old mouse now.
If the fit is close for you but still a bit off the mouse comes with the ability to adjust the tail of the mouse to the left or right a few degrees as well as raise or lower the tail. This is useful for letting you tweak in the feel of the mouse as well as making adjustments to allow the mouse fit better for left handed users. The adjustment is done using a tool, included with the mouse on two different access points. The adjust system is tight and holds it’s adjustment once done. While not as adjustable as some on the market the subtle adjustment it does allow can make a difference in the way the mouse feels in your grip.
The open frame design might sound like a gimmick but I have to tell you that I did notice a small difference. I presumed it was a small fan like the Challenger pro but it is not, this is pure natural airflow achieved by the design. While it might not seem to make a difference at first you will notice it if you stop using it after prolonged use. It is a very subtle effect that you get used to without realizing you have noticed it.
From a pure look point of view this mouse is amazing, it is arguably the best looking mouse I have ever seen. The construction is outstanding, from the solid body construction, to the braided cable and the adjustment system that is tight and holds well. If I had any complaint I wish the software would have been up to the quality of the mouse. Were the mouse is almost a work of art not just in design but quality, the software feels like an after thought that was thrown together in 10 minutes. It is functional but really does so with no style and considering the effort that went into making the mouse have a distinct style, this is disappointing.
Available on NewEgg for around $80, this is an expensive mouse but that is the cost for high style, price seems to vary based on the color you choose and can be as high as $100. If you want a mouse that is specifically designed for a fingertip grip and has a style that is nothing short of beautiful then this is the mouse for you. This is an amazing mouse no doubt and worthy of the Level 10 name. This is a mouse that like the Level 10 GT case we reviewed a while back, is made for gamers with champaign wishes and caviar dreams!
What makes a PC Gamer and what makes a computer part a gaming component? This is question I think the industry needs to take a serious look at, especially after a few recent conversations. You see a I know a lot of PC gamers, they range in age from 70 to 8 and play every type of game you can imagine. In the past few weeks I have noticed something that seems to be underlying in all the conversations I have had, a lot of them feel that the computer world does not truly represent them or know who they are. After taking an objective look around I find I have to agree.
You see back in the early days of the PC, two groups drove PC hardware forward. First we had the hardware geeks, the tinkers that loved to play with new hardware toys and discover it’s limits. The gamers made the second set and included a lot of the first set in their numbers. Early PCs were advancing fast, as was gaming software and they had to learn to tinker in an effort to play the games they desired. The industry was able to cater to both due to the huge overlap, giving us new hardware that was super tweak-able and could push performance limits of their generation.
Now lets look at today, we still have the same two groups but something had happened. As the gamer group has swollen and continues to grow the techie hardware geek group has not. Okay that’s not fair, it has grown in pure numbers but it’s percentage of the gamer crowd has drastically shrunk. Were at one time the techie and gamer overlap was likely as much as 80% for the gamer sphere, the techies now account for only about 15% of the same sphere today. The reason for this is simple, tech has outpaced software to a degree that you no longer need the ability to tweak your PC to have great gaming.
The problem is that when you look online for help with your PC and you are gamer, you find techie sites. Oh there are gamer sites for sure but go ask for help in them and you get the hardware geeks offering the suggestions. They spend time talking about overclocking and the latest high end parts. One gamer I spoke with expressed a though I have had for months. He told me how he is tired of going to tech forums because the build forums are all the same, a bunch of people putting together upper tier system and then asking others to pat them on the back for their part choices. When he looked for gaming help the number of responses were next to none existent and none of them were really about how to solve a minor issue he eventually figured out on his own.
With new perspective in my mind I went exploring forums and was amazed. Part suggestion seemed to mostly be based on what people read someplace else. They consisted of higher cost, higher end components that we have proven on our show make no real difference in day to day use than the next level down. In fact the recommendations tended to float around the same basic mantra for chips and GPUs, only three models were commonly suggested and anyone pointing out other options were generally considered not knowledgeable based on many of the replies I saw. BTW all of the suggestions were based on overclock ability, a trend that pervades the “enthusiast” world despite the fact that more data is constantly appearing that shows it impact is less significant on daily use with each new generation.
Todays gamers do not want to be techies, they do not want to tweak a BIOS or learn advanced overclocking techniques. They want to load up their game of choice and tear through it. When you present this position on a typical tech forum however you are called a name usually based around a console and told to go buy a gaming console. This is a DUMB response. PC gaming needs more gamers, we should be encouraging these new prospects not attacking the fact they want to just use their PC like 99% of the world. The PC is a more versatile platform, offers more horse power and in the end the chance for a richer gaming experience than the console. There is data that shows the trend is for many people to move from consoles to the PC for gaming.
The argument used in the “enthusiast” communities when then people arrive, is that a true PC Gamer learns how their system works. They are falling back on the history that exists between the tweaker and the game. This is laughable to me since a large percentage of todays “tweakers” buy their way to the horsepower they have rather than tweak. I am one of those old school, I was there when we first started overclocking the CPU, I was there for the first 3D cards. I saw the birth and death of 3DFX the god father of all PC gaming as we know it today. Tweakers back then were not a bunch of guys that spent the most money they could to gain bragging rights over others. Back then we worked within limited budgets and needed to find some way to get more performance. When we achieved that extra umph to our system we did not brag, we explained to our compatriots what we did and worked together to see if there was a better way. Overclocking and computer building was not a race to see who had the biggest E-Peen like it is today.
Another area they felt the industry has left them behind in is one that really caught me off guard, it was in aesthetics. Look at the various boutique gaming PCs you can buy. They are full of LEDs, bright colors and aggressive designs. Look in the industry at parts that are labeled as being “for gamers”. Headsets with blinking lights, fans with various light patterns, keyboards with a ton of extra buttons, lights and access ports, mice with enough buttons to build three mice and the list goes on. Somewhere along the way someone in the tech industry decided gamer meant gaudy, flashy or strange looking.
One gamer I spoke with explained to me that he had to rebuild his system because of the looks. The friends would come over and actually spend time staring at his PC build, and not in a good way. The PC became a focal point of the living room. He loves to game and he has a small home, the living room is the only place that has room for the PC. As we talked I offered him some case options that are a bit more subdued and he is in the process of building his first PC just so it does not stand out in the room.
Now lets be fair there are a lot of people of that want the aggressive styling that is so common, on so called gamer components. There is nothing wrong with having a case that makes a fashion statement, but the truth is simpler designs out there are the minority when you look for parts that claim they are designed for gamers.
Now the industry is working to redefine the PC gamer, new PC designs are getting smaller and slowly the DIY community is beginning to embrace these none tweakers. In fact one of the larger trends in DIY right now is the move to mITX systems. These systems are smaller and usually the case design is less gaudy than larger systems. The good news is that a lot of the new designs allow for standard components so that means these do not have to be underpowered, as often happened in the past.
The time has come however for us to stop trying to put square pegs in round holes. The DIY world has diversified and it no longer the sole domain of the uber-tweaker, they are in fact the minority. The gaming world is no longer the fiefdom of hardware geek but today is run by the people, the gamers, the hardware elite have been pushed to the fringes. Hardware geeks still have a lot to offer but they need to stop trying to force every gamer into their mold. The truth is the gamer is becoming the predominate force in the PC world. The hardware geeks are slowly being forced back and take a lesser seat at the PC gaming table every day. No more can the industry think of a PC gamer as just another geek, now they are their own entity and force in the market.
Over the last few weeks I have been looking at a number of games and most of them have one thing in common, they have an open competitive PVP system. Now what I mean by that is that players are dropped into a game world with other players, chosen mostly at random and set at each other. Now on the surface this sounds like it could be really cool, but then reality sets in and for the majority of players it is a time of pure pain.
Now yes I know I am going to soon hear the so called elite players say I am whining but please hear me out because the current system used by these games hurts not just the new players, but the veterans and the game company. I will not however make this a post about my whining about the system but will actually offer a way to fix it at the end.
Of the various types of games that have these issues I will focus on the FPS games mostly but lets do it without names, after all they all use pretty much the same formula.
Here is the scenario we see most often. A player gets attracted to the game because his buddies say it is so much fun. He fires up the game and then proceeds to spend the next 20 hours to play time being killed before he ever gets to really see the game. The reason he is dying so fast is because other players with more time in the game have found a spot to shoot him before he can really react, the term used to be called spawn camping and today it is called tactics. Another term we had for it back in the day was griefing.
Now lets be real this is just not fun for the new player. The so called “elite’ players will tell you to suck it up and learn how to play. That all sounds good but lets be real for a moment, the issue is not learning how to “play” but being willing to suffer through it. I mean seriously how are you not learning when you die within seconds of starting the game? This leads to new player frustration and in the end a lose of a pretty good segment of players. Hence how the current system hurts the new players, by making something that should be fun actually be a lesson in futility and pain.
However the damage does not stop there it also hurts the game companies. If your new player base is not having fun then they do not keep playing. If your game is reliant on a large player base to make money, as games using the F2P model are, then you have hurt your bottom line and lets be real how long before players just do not even try your games if they all start the same?
Finally the so called “elite” get hurt. You see the systems these games all share give a stat that is publically shown but that stat does nothing but give raw numbers. The result is a large group of griefers figure out that if they can kill 100 noobs and never die they will soon be at the top of the stat chart and truly be “l33t”. This means the real players, the ones that work hard and play against others with skill are never rewarded and their frustration level grows and their play numbers shrink. Also hurting these elite players is the fact that with the player base not expanding in the upper levels the game becomes literally the same thing with the same people day after day and boredom sets in.
As you can see everyone is hurt in the end. How do we fix this? The answer to this can actually be found in the very system a lot of the FPS online games use, the server system.
You see to split the load the game systems use different servers to ensure that players have a chance to spread out more and thus keep server overload to a minimum. This same server system could be used to fix the issue I am discussing. We combine the server system with a skill level system using the very stats the games are collecting.
Here is how I envision this working. New players log onto the game and begin play. As they play their stats are examined by the game system using criteria ranging from play stats to play time. Once the criteria feels they have hit a new tier of skill the next time they log in the game will put them on the next “level” server set. By doing this people that try to hunt down noobs will find themselves quickly moving up the server ranks and forced to play skilled players. Skilled players will find themselves facing only other skilled players and new players will have a chance to learn the game in an environment that allows them to actually face people of nearly the same skill level.
This system will work if the game companies do NOT allow backwards progression or cross over. That means once you move up a server you are done. Also once your account moves up a server any new toon you choose to create starts at only one server level lower than your current server level. This keeps griefers from going back to easily grief.
This idea is simple, easy to implement and very workable. It is actually used in a lot of the gaming world. For example you do not see a little league pitcher taking on major leaguers. You see it in Chess, racing and a many other competitive activities.
So while an open competitive PVP system is a great idea the reality of it is not great for gamers, for most it is just not fun. However with a little tweaking we could not only make it more fun but actually make it more competitive as well.
Just a little food for thought.