There's a big showdown happening in the world of affordable graphics cards this week. AMD and Nvidia are releasing the latest editions in their £100 / $150 range, an important battleground, given that cards at that range easily outsell their flashy flagship $1000 tech. AMD are bringing some rebranded and boosted versions of their last-gen GPUs to compete with Nvidia's GTX 750Ti and GTX 750, which will give us our first look at their new Maxwell GPU architecture.
Chassis builders, Silverstone, have just announced the release today of their new Raven RVZ01 PC case. And it bears more than a passing resemblance to Valve’s Steam Machine prototype. The Raven RVZ01 is the follow up to the RV01 Silverstone released some six years ago, and shows how times and aesthetics have changed. Gone are the overly-angular edges of the original, instead gone for a simpler, smoother chassis design.
Personally I’ve been waiting for third-party manufacturers to start creating small form factor, mini-ITX chassis capable of housing a horizontally-mounted graphics card - a la the Steam Machine prototype. That’s the only way to get the height of a machine with a discrete GPU down and make it look less like a hefty traditional PC.
Nvidia is launching a couple of brand new graphics cards in the entry-level arena. Normally that wouldn’t be a particularly exciting event, but this is going to be our first taste of Nvidia’s new Maxwell GPU architecture. It'll be the first time Nvidia have launched new graphics architecture without housing it in a top-end graphics card. You could argue that’s because they simply don’t need to with the likes of the GTX 780 Ti delivering the goods against the hot and hungry Radeon 290X.
AMD’s latest processor design is probably the most interesting new chip from the Texan silicon giant since they released their Bulldozer FX chips on the world. And, on first glance at the performance metrics, it would be just as easy to dismiss the new APU as a bit of a failure.
But there is more to the A10-7850K - the APU formerly known as Kaveri - than meets the eye, though it might be a while before its promise is completely realised. Let’s talk about the actual processor performance first though. It’s pretty unspectacular.
It’s finally happened. AMD have launched their new graphics API, Mantle, to the public and you can pick it up right now in the new Catalyst 14.1 beta driver update. Obviously there are caveats. The first is that it’s a beta driver so don’t expect it to be rock-solid no matter what the situation - I’ve already encountered some glitches in a CrossFireX rig that I didn’t see in a single GPU setup.
The biggest caveat though is that only AMD GPU-owners need apply, and then only those with Graphics Core Next architecture in their cards. That means all HD 77XX and above, and all R7 and above, will be able to support the new API.
It was a muted January for Steam's hardware stats, perhaps due to all of December's lovingly gifted Christmas RAM. There were minor gains in expected areas, and minor losses that chipped away at the lead configurations. So where last month, 19.97% of polled users ran Windows 8, this month, it's 21.31%. But while the numbers aren't earth shattering, there are plenty of trends to mull over.
This is what I’ve been waiting for. And actually also cements in my mind exactly what a waste of time those $499 and up third-party Steam Machines are for many PC gamers. The beta version of In-Home Streaming (IHS) is up and running on my Steam account and I've had a big grin all over my face since I started playing with it.
It looks like the anticipated 2015 Windows 8 update, code-named ‘Threshold’, is actually going to be released as a whole new iteration of the operating system. By calling it Windows 9 it looks like Microsoft are hoping to draw a line under Win8 like they did with Vista.
We will still be getting an update to Windows 8.1 this year sometime around April. According to ZDNet the update will be free and there are some indications that they are looking for ways to “make Windows 8.1 friendlier for mouse and keyboard users.”
Back at the beginning of December I got excited about the prospect of actually affordable Ultra High Definition (UHD) screens coming to our desktops in the very near future. As well as announcing the 24-inch UP2414Q - a lovely IPS IGZO panel with a hefty price-tag - Dell also hinted at a sub-$1,000 28-inch 4K screen.
That sounded perfect for PC gamers hoping for affordable 4K screens in future. Sadly it looks like this particular screen was a little too good to be true.
If PC gaming is a romance, then DirectX represents the high-school era. It's the thing that's passing notes between your games and your graphics cards, possibly while getting a bit bashful and giggling. Cute as this image is, it's hardly the most efficient way to foster a relationship. Step in AMD's new low-level API, Mantle, which has been designed to allow games to directly access GPUs. That sounds like a good thing, although it's going to be awkward when Battlefield 4 realises that your graphics card has been seeing other games behind its back.
At AMD's CES conference, Battlefield 4 was demoed on-stage running the Mantle API. It was presented alongside the claim that it could run "up to 45% faster than the original version on this same hardware." Meaning, up to 45% faster than the DirectX equivalent.
Buying a Steam Machine right now—if they were available—would be a curious decision. You'd have an attractive, compact gaming PC meant to go under your TV—a good thing, but pricey—with a Steam-modded version of Linux that you'd be best off uninstalling. SteamOS might be better-designed than Windows for your TV, but a GTX 780 is a bit overkill for the small portion of Steam's library that runs natively on Linux. That's Valve's challenge, and expanding Steam's native Linux library is its priority, says Product Designer Greg Coomer, who spoke with PC Gamer at CES 2014 today.
The Oculus Rift does a neat job of putting your head inside a game, but what about the rest of your body? YEI Technology’s first stab at Kickstarting their PrioVR mo-cap suit fell short, gathering 49% of its $225K goal, but with the first consumer-ready prototypes being shown off at a packed CES preview event YEI are gearing up to start a new funding drive on Valentine’s Day.
This is an absolutely tiny solid state drive. Not in capacity terms - nope, it packs 500GB into that frame - but in build size. It’s tough to really get across just how wee the new Samsung 840 EVO mSATA drive is. Even when I tell you it measures some 5 x 3cm that hardly seems to do it justice. The fact is you’d probably miss the drive even once it’s embedded in a mini-ITX motherboard.
The most impressive thing about this little mSATA 840 EVO though is the fact that it has exactly the same performance as it’s chunkier 2.5-inch brethren. In case you’d forgotten, they’re pretty epic when it comes to SSD performance themselves. The 840 EVO mSATA is pure Samsung from top to bottom. It’s got a smattering of 19nm 3-bit MLC NAND Flash attached to that wee slice of PCB, and Samsung’s own MEX memory controller helps shunt data around at excellent speed.
Asus are planning to expand their Republic of Gamers line-up with two new high-end Nvidia cards - The Poseidon GTX 780 and the GTX 780 Ti DirectCU II. The Poseidon will add a hybrid cooling solution to the GK 110 GPU at the core of the standard GTX 780.
The Kühler H20 1250 is the latest in Antec's run of liquid-cooling setups. It’s a bulky, 240mm, closed-loop water cooler with a single water pump sitting atop each of the radiator’s fans. They reckon that doubling the water pumps should boost the cooling performance and increase the efficiency of that radiator.
I checked out the predecessor to the Kühler 1250 earlier this year in the paper edition of PC Gamer. The Kühler 920 suffered from a combination of issues, including awkward CPU mounts, buggy software and weak cooling performance. The biggest problem for the 920 was the length of time it took to return the CPU to its idle temperature - four minutes instead of the five seconds of the impressive Cooler Master Seidon 240.
Remember the excellent 1TB Samsung EVO drive I checked out back in the Summer? No matter, Sammy have trumped their own SSD by now releasing one that’s about one third the size of a standard solid state drive. Ladies and gentlefolk, here’s the Samsung 840 EVO mSATA sliver of SSD loveliness.
At 5cm x 3cm the new range of mSATA SSDs is certainly space-conscious and is primarily designed so that those laptop folk have access to the same sort of speedy SSD capacity that we’ve become so used to on the desktop side.
Good news, everyone! Soon 4K monitors are going to start being actually affordable. Dell have just announced details of their new UltraSharp UHD range of monitors with price tags that might not give you a heart attack. It's hardly cheap, but we could soon be seeing a proper 28-inch 4K 3840 x 2160 Ultra High Def monitor for less than $1,000. That's cause to celebrate when When you consider that the only 4K monitor I’ve actually been able to get into the labs is Asus’ 31.5-inch PQ321Q, which costs around £3,000 in the UK, that’s a pretty hefty saving.
Running Battlefield 4 at 1440p is impressive, but the Large Pixel Collider doesn't merely seek to impress. It seeks to destroy all humans (maybe, we don't know what it's thinking about) and destroy all things less than miraculous. With a gurgle from its coolant tank, it commanded us to instead span three 2560x1440 displays and submerse our eyeballs in a gallon of 7680x1440 levelution.
Here's a trick that'll stop opponents stealing sneaky glances at your screen during LAN matches. Instructables have a funky little monitor hack that'll make it show an apparently blank white screen, unless you're wearing polarised glasses, in which case the real image is suddenly revealed. If you want maximum privacy for your desktop screen, you will need a spare LCD monitor, one that you don’t mind never having working normally again, and some sharp tools for some rather invasive screen surgery.
The big problem with solid state drives, even with prices dropping on an almost daily basis, is that getting the storage capacity you really need is often prohibitively expensive. Western Digital are looking to solve the problem with the WD Black2 Dual Drive by pairing a 120GB SSD with a 1TB HDD in a single 2.5-inch package. Basically it looks like any other 120GB SSD, but comes with another 1,000GB of data storage behind it. It's an interesting upgrade option for any system with limited storage options, like a laptop or a small form-factor PC. It means you don’t have to make a compromise between quicker performance with an SSD and the increased capacity, but slower speed, of a standard hard drive.