Mechanical keyboards come in all kinds of flavors these days. Just about every PC peripheral maker has one in its arsenal, and most offer multiple variants. Some are loaded with extras, while others offer a more basic approach. There are also numerous switch options, each one with noticeably different characteristics.
Despite this variety, most mechanical keyboards are slight variations on the same theme. The majority of them mirror the standard, 104-key U.S. layout that's been around since the early days of Windows. There's a numpad on the right and lettering on the tops of the keys. That's great, but it's also a little bit boring, which is why the Cooler Master QuickFire Stealth caught my eye. This compact contender ditches the numpad in favor of a tenkeyless design with space-saving and ergonomic benefits. It also trades traditional lettering for a uniquely stealthy approach.
So, yeah, ...
The TR System Guide has been around for a little over eight years. Starting with the original edition in November 2005 and ending with the Christmas 2013 guide, which went up last December , we followed roughly the same ...
Intel's X25-M solid-state drive was a special piece of hardware back in the day. The SSD market was still in its infancy, and the X25-M represented the chip-maker's initial entry into an exciting new arena. It was a pretty good first offering, too. The drive had wicked-fast performance, and it was reasonably affordable for its day. Intel's chip-making prowess, combined with its expertise in designing storage and memory controllers, seemed perfectly suited to tackling solid-state storage.
The X25-M's flash controller anchored three generations of desktop SSDs before it was finally retired. Instead of using another in-house chip, Intel started ...
Six weeks have passed since our last SSD endurance update. When we last visited our heroes, they had just crossed the half-petabyte threshold—no small feat for a collection of consumer-grade drives that includes the Corsair Neutron GTX, Intel 335 Series, Kingston HyperX 3K, and Samsung 840 Series and 840 Pro. Those drives have now left the 600TB mark in the rear-view mirror, so it's time for another update.
If you think it's taken longer than usual to add 100TB to the total, you're right. The truth is, the SSDs have been on hiatus, and so have I. The drives hit the 600TB mark about a week before I was scheduled to escape to Thailand for a two-week ...
So this is different. I don't recall the last time a new GPU architecture made its worldwide debut in a lower-end graphics card—or if I do, I'm not about to admit I've been around that long. In my book, then, Nvidia's "Maxwell" architecture is breaking new ground by hitting the market first in a relatively affordable graphics card, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti, and its slightly gimpy twin, the GeForce GTX 750.
Don't let the "750" in those names confuse you. Maxwell is the honest-to-goodness successor to the Kepler architecture that's been the basis of other GeForce GTX 600 and 700 series graphics cards, and it's ...
It was on the morning of Monday, November 11 that AMD showed Battlefield 4 running on its Kaveri APU for the first time. The chip was just over two months from release, and AMD promised that its integrated graphics would deliver playable performance in the new shooter. In addition, the company told of future performance improvements that Mantle, its close-to-the-metal graphics programming interface, would bring to Kaveri in BF4.
Now, three months hence, Kaveri is here. After multiple delays and setbacks, so ...
I haven't done a ton of gaming on my PC lately. It's not for a lack of games—I have access to a lot of new releases for testing purposes—or for a lack of hardware—there are literally crates full of graphics cards in my office. It's not even for a lack of free time, so long as I'm not crunching away on another time-sensitive TR review.
No. My problem is that, these days, ...
Since it was first announced last fall, we've been waiting with anticipation for our first up-close look at Mantle, the new graphics programming layer being produced by AMD in collaboration with the folks at DICE. Mantle's aim is to offer game developers access to graphics hardware in a way that fits with how today's GPUs really work. Mantle promises to reduce the overhead involved in producing each frame of animation, potentially unlocking higher performance and smoother gameplay than the standard PC graphics API, Microsoft's Direct3D. If you're unfamiliar with Mantle and the hype around it, the best starting place is Cyril's intro to the topic.
Taking up the . . .
I think it's safe to say Mantle has incited an unusual amount of interest for a programming interface. PC gamers and game developers alike are intrigued to see progress on this front, ...
Jason Fox, our resident Mac blogger, spends his days in the advertising business, and he has a tradition of rating the Superbowl commercials each year. We've made a tradition of running his post here at TR, because why not? Read on to see what a true professional thinks of this year's crop of Superbowl ads.
Oh, and please forgive the slow page loading. Pulling ...
Mechanical keyboards have enjoyed quite the renaissance over the past few years. As someone who logs tens of thousands of keystrokes a day, I'm quite pleased with the trend. The smooth, precise feel of mechanical key switches is far superior to the mushy, lifeless response of the rubber domes typically found in desktop keyboards. Once you've used a high-quality keyboard, it's hard to go back to inferior switches.
Just about every peripheral maker seems to have a few mechanical models in its arsenal. The latest one to pass through our labs is the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, which is sold under the CM Storm brand. This entry combines adjustable backlighting with a range of Cherry MX switch types. It's a relatively straightforward example of the breed and a particularly beastly one at that.
The QuickFire Ultimate doesn't have an imposing footprint, but it tips the scales at a relatively heavy 3 lbs (1.4 kg). Much of the weight comes from a ...
We've reviewed quite a few keyboards here at TR, but nothing quite like this one. The Logitech K400 doesn't have mechanical key switches, glow-in-the-dark backlighting, wicked-fast USB 3.0 ports, or powerful macro functionality. It's a basic wireless keyboard with an integrated touchpad. But it's also only $40, and as far as I can tell, it's an excellent fit for home-theater PCs.
Well, the black one is, anyway. Logitech sent us the white version of the K400, whose overwhelming whiteness is a little much for the living room. The pristine aesthetic is especially prone to being stained by Cheeto dust and other snack residue.
I've seen the black version of the K400 in person, and it's a lot more understated despite having a graphic on the touchpad. That variant is well worth the ...
Over the past little while, Corsair seems to have developed a taste for small form factors. The company introduced its first microATX enclosure, the Obsidian Series 350D, back in August. That chassis wasn't tiny by any means—indeed, it was somewhat large by microATX standards—but it was as small as Corsair had gone.
Well, now, Corsair ...
Update — Faulty memory appears to be behind the crashing we experienced with the A8-7600T. The AMD-branded DIMMs provided with the Kaveri test system produce errors when running Prime95 alongside the Unigine Valley graphics benchmark. These errors occur with the memory clocked at 2133MHz, the maximum speed officially supported by both the DIMMs and the processor. Dialing back the modules to 1866MHz eliminates the errors, and so does swapping in a pair of Corsair Vengeance DIMMs. The Corsair modules passed a 12-hour stress test at 2133MHz without so much as a single error.
Kaveri is AMD's first APU to feature integrated graphics based on the latest generation of Radeon graphics cards. As we learned in our review of the A8-7600, even a cut-down version of this DirectX 11-class GPU can keep up with the latest blockbuster games. Battlefield 4, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Tomb Raider are all playable at a 1080p resolution. The frame rates aren't great—around 25-30 FPS—and the in-game detail settings need to be turned down to get the games running that well. But the action is smooth enough and the graphics are good enough to deliver an enjoyable experience, especially for so-called casual gamers with less refined tastes. Not bad for a $120 processor that can fit inside small-form-factor and all-in-one systems.
Our deadline for the Kaveri review was extremely tight, so there was no time to test the A8-7600 in additional games. However, I wanted to see how the chip handled a broader collection of titles, specifically the older, less demanding games so frequently discounted on Steam. These games may not be the latest and greatest, but they're still a lot of fun, and they're very cheap to buy. Perhaps the A8-7600 could run them with fewer compromises.
Since I was pretty much zombified the day after the review went up, I decided to find out. Installing and playing games was my only real hope of productivity in that state. The following are my subjective impressions and some accompanying screenshots. Clicking the screenshots will bring up a larger, full-resolution image that provides a better sense of how things look.
First, here are some shots from the games we tested in the review. (Our full, inside-the-second analysis begins here.)
I didn't include the full-sized images in the initial article, but they're worth perusing. All three games look better than one might expect from integrated graphics, especially given the display resolution. That said, Batman and Tomb Raider both crashed to the desktop multiple times during testing, and they weren't the only games to have issues.
Speaking of other games, let's look at batch of first-person shooters.
Borderlands 2 ran reasonably smoothly with only depth of field, ambient occlusion, and antialiasing disabled. The frame rate stuck to around 30 FPS, and I didn't perceive any obvious stuttering. This game is definitely playable, though it did crash to the desktop twice.
Serious Sam also crashed a couple of times. Otherwise, the game ran pretty well with high details and only ambient occlusion and antialiasing disabled. Frame rates bounced around within the 25-50 FPS range depending on how many baddies there were on the screen. The occasional slowdown was noticeable during the heaviest action, but it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the game.
Fraps' frame rate counter showed 30-45 FPS during my Dishonored session. The action felt smooth, with no apparent interruptions to fluid frame delivery. And the game looked decent, too. All the graphical settings were maxed with the exception of the model detail, which was set to normal rather than high, and antialiasing, which was disabled.
Next on the shooter front: Mirror's Edge and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Both of these games ran well on the A8-7600. Counter-Strike regularly hit 60 FPS with the details maxed and FXAA turned on. It felt noticeably silkier than the other shooters, which is exactly what you want in a game that relies on quick reactions.
Mirror's Edge had slightly lower frame rates than Counter-Strike, and I had to disable antialiasing and PhysX effects to make the action stutter-free. After those adjustments, Fraps' FPS counter never dropped below 35 FPS, and Faith's free running felt fluid. Or it did until the game crashed. Twice. Noticing a pattern yet?
Dirt: Showdown crashed to the desktop multiple times, too. It was actually part of the original test suite for the A8-7600 review, but I switched to Tomb Raider after encountering a couple of early crashes on the Kaveri setup. After getting another shot, Dirt: Showdown ran pretty well, at least between subsequent crashes. With high details and antialiasing disabled, the frame rate hovered around 30-35 FPS. There were no obvious stutters or slowdowns.
The only crashing problem in Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed was hitting other cars, and I can't blame the game or the APU for that. With high in-game detail settings, the A8-7600 cranked out 25-30 FPS. The frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range when there were more cars in front of me, but that didn't make the gameplay feel sluggish.
More game crashes hit when I tackled Sleeping Dogs. One of them even hosed part of the Windows install, forcing me to re-image the system. Ugh.
When it wasn't crashing, Sleeping Dogs was too choppy with high details. The game ran at 30-45 FPS with medium details, though. Scaling back the eye candy sacrificed the slickness of the environment, but it was necessary to even out the frame delivery and eliminate stuttering. And the graphics still looked all right.
Just Cause 2 is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance thanks to a free multiplayer mod. The mod crashed on me several times, but the standard, single-player version of the game ran without issue. And it ran very well, too. With high details and everything but antialiasing and ambient occlusion disabled, there were no noticeable slowdowns in the frame rate. Fraps reported 30-45 FPS for the duration of my test session.
A couple of more casual games, Dyad and Trials Evolution Gold, performed impeccably with all their in-game detail settings turned up. Not that we should be surprised. These titles are much simpler than the other games we've looked at so far.
Dyad and Trials Evolution Gold were immune to crashes, and the Kaveri system was perfectly stable in all our non-gaming tests, including those that tapped the integrated Radeon via OpenCL. The A8-7600 still had problems with exactly half of the games we played, though. That's a lot, especially since these aren't overly obscure titles. (I'm not counting Just Cause 2 multiplayer, which could probably use more polish.)
AMD's OverDrive utility showed no evidence that the APU was overheating. Also, there were no problems with Richland-based APUs running in the same test system and with the same drivers. Those chips have an older integrated graphics architecture that may use a separate driver code path, so perhaps this is just a software issue that can be ironed out with a future Catalyst driver release. Fingers crossed.
In between crashes, the A8-7600's gaming chops impressed me. This APU is fast enough to run lots of really good titles at 1080p resolution, and it can handle older games without too much sacrifice. That said, there are still some compromises involved. Even in older games, it's rare to be able to turn the detail settings all the way up, and antialiasing often causes slowdowns. Some visual fidelity is inevitably lost versus what can be achieved with a more powerful GPU.
Some smoothness is lost, as well. Although the A8-7600 was largely stutter-free in the games we tested, the lower frame rates we experienced in more recent titles didn't feel as fluid as the 60 FPS we got in Counter-Strike. The APU was fast enough to run the games we played at the settings we used, but the performance definitely wasn't ideal for most of those titles.
For casual audiences with less refined appetites, the A8-7600 is probably fast enough. Connoisseurs are unlikely to be satisfied, though, and I question how well future titles will run on the chip. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have a lot more GPU grunt than Kaveri's integrated Radeon, and developers are likely to target those platforms as their new baseline. Perhaps Kaveri can serve as a sort of gateway drug by giving people a taste of PC gaming without all the trimmings.
The other day, my friend and fellow PC enthusiast Andy Brown pinged me and told me I needed to come over to his house to see his new toy: a 39" 4K display that he ordered from Amazon for 500 bucks. Coming from anybody else, I'd have been deeply skeptical of this purchase, but Andy is actually the co-founder of TR and has impeccable taste in such matters.
The product he purchased is this Seiki Digital 39" 4K 120Hz LED television . I started asking him more questions and looking into it. The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. Soon, I was at Andy's place peering into this large and ...
The absolute highlight of last year's CES was getting a first look at an Oculus Rift prototype. Strapping on a Rift for the first time is a mind-blowing experience. It will change your view of what's possible in gaming in the next 5-10 years. Naturally, then, when it came time to plan for CES 2014, I made sure to schedule some time with the folks at Oculus to see what they—and especially new Oculus CTO John Carmack—have been doing.
As you may have heard, the new "Crystal Cove" prototype that Oculus brought to the show this year captured a major award: Best in Show for CES 2014. The news came to the ...
For several generations, since Llano, AMD has been slowly but methodically marching toward its vision of accelerated computing, where traditional CPU cores and graphics share space on a chip and work together to process data. This vision was called "fusion" back when the process began, although you won't hear that term coming from AMD these days. Regardless, AMD's latest processor, or APU (short for "accelerated processing unit"), is a major milestone on the path toward fused computing—and AMD is taking the wraps off of it today.
Compared to AMD's current APUs, the chip code-named Kaveri is packed with sweeping changes, including enhanced "Steamroller" CPU cores, updated Radeon graphics, and a first-of-its-kind ability for the onboard CPU ...