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What happened in hardware - May 29 to June 4 edition

GPU wars heat up, awesome case mods, and more!

Nvidia's been dominating the headlines as of late with its newest graphics cards based on Pascal, but lest anyone forget, there's a company called AMD that designs GPUs as well. To remind everyone of its presence, AMD announced its first Polaris part, the Radeon RX 480, at a tantalizing price point. Let the GPU wars commence.

Outside of graphics, this past week saw a bevy of product announcements at Computex, along with some awesome case mods, including one with a cotton candy machine attached to it. Talk about a sweet mod!

If you missed any or all of the happenings in the wonderful world of hardware, don't fret, just sit back and click through the highlights.

 AMD Radeon RX 480 shoots for value at $200

Nvidia is clearly going after the high-end GPU market with Pascal GP104 cards, with GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 both delivering better than Titan X levels of performance in our testing. AMD's response with Polaris 10/11 won't be direct competition, but instead AMD is going after the mainstream market. We can't talk about everything we've been told right now, but much like what Nvidia did with the GTX 1070, AMD has released a few key details. 

Right off the bat, we see plenty of things that tell us about positioning. AMD lists 36 Compute Units, and unless they're changing things with Polaris, they've used 64 'shader cores' in every GCN CU to date, that would be 2304 cores. That's fewer CUs than the R9 390, but almost 30 percent more than the R9 380. The price is perhaps the most important aspect, however: RX 480 models will start at $199. Presumably that will be the 4GB model, with 8GB models carrying a moderate price premium—somewhere between $20 and $50 would be about right, given current 2GB vs. 4GB pricing. 

Digital Storm crams a 10-core CPU and GTX 1080 inside an all-in-one

Digital Storm just went into full-on beast mode for the all-in-one category. Provided you're willing to pony up the requisite funds, Digital Storm's new Aura is a killer AIO with a curved 34-inch display that's packed with the latest hardware options.

"We're excited to announce the Aura, it's unlike anything we've offered," said Harjit Chana, Digital Storm's Chief Operating Officer. "You can now truly have an immersive gaming experience in a slim AIO form factor."

Chana isn't kidding. There are four starting configurations to choose from—Good ($1,999), Better ($2,748), Best ($3,127), and Ultimate ($4,998). All four sport the aforementioned 34-inch monitor with a 3440x1440 (WQHD) resolution, but it's not just the size of the monitor that delivers an immersive experience, it's the hardware inside. 

Gigabyte's Aero 14 is an ultrabook for gamers

There's no hard and fast rule that says gaming laptops have to be thick and heavy. Lest there be any doubt, meet Gigabyte's new Aero 14, a 14-inch ultrabook-like system with gaming chops.

The Aero 14 measures 335mm x 250mm by 19.9mm (WxDxH) and weighs 1.89kg. If that's all we told you about it, you might assume it's a thin and light business laptop. And it is, albeit a colorful one that might be a little more attention getting than what you're comfortable lugging into a board room. But it's also equipped with discrete graphics—GeForce GTX 965M or 970M—for gaming once you've clocked out of work.

Gigabyte's Aero 14 features a QHD 2560x1440 IPS display powered by Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU options. There are two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of 2133MHz memory, and room for two M.2 PCI Express Gen3 x4 SSDs. 

Asus shows off spectacularly modular gaming PC

Asus today announced what it calls Project Avalon, a gaming PC designed with ease of upgradeability in mind and genuinely sharp looks. But according to the company, Project Avalon goes beyond just appearances. In fact, the entire innards of the system have been completely rethought.

Instead of using any of the existing motherboard form factors, Asus has developed a modular board system that allows users to swap out actual components of the motherboard. Say you want more PCIe slots. Sure; just pop out the expansion daughterboard and swap in another.

Need more IO ports in the rear? Pop out the module for another.Asus developed Project Avalon in conjunction with InWin, which has been making some stellar case designs lately. 

Broadwell-E i7-6950X performance preview

'Wow.' That was the word that came out of my mouth when I saw the launch information for Intel's latest enthusiast platform processors, codename Broadwell-E. Going back to the Bloomfield days and LGA1366, Intel has bifurcated their consumer desktop processors into two platforms, one for mainstream users and one for 'enthusiasts.' But when Intel says enthusiasts, what they often seem to be saying is "people that have a lot of disposable income." The first LGA1366 processors (and going back further, the Core 2 and Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processors) defined a new price point for the top-of-the-line parts: $999. That price has basically held steady for more than a decade, all the way to the previous king of the hill, the Core i7-5960X.

If you haven't guessed yet, Broadwell-E kicks that previous price to the curb, with the new i7-6950X halo part rocking a price tag of $1723—and that's for bulk 1000 unit orders from Intel. And what exactly does this new monster CPU get you? It gets you 10 cores, two more than the already impressive eight cores on the i7-5960X. It seems Nvidia isn't the only company going after the magical number 10 these days. Three additional parts round out the Broadwell-E offerings, the 8-core i7-6900K, and the 6-core i7-6850K and i7-6800K. Here's the quick overview 

RAM makers: Samsung makes the best DRAM chips

All major enthusiast memory module makers came out in full force this week at Computex. Corsair, G.Skill, GeiL, and Avexir. I spent a good deal of time talking to all the players and discovered a commonality: all of them indicated that Samsung makes the best memory chips.

I also made the rounds with motherboard manufacturers asking them the same question. Since motherboard makers do compatibility testing with all major memory modules, they also have a good understanding of what works best. Their answer? The same as the module makers.

Samsung, of course, is the leading maker of DRAM chips. But modules can use a variety of different chip makes: Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron, etc. 

This cotton candy-making PC is the sweetest case mod

Once upon a time, if you wanted to play PC games and eat cotton candy, you needed two very separate things: a gaming PC and a traveling carnival conveniently passing through town. I guess there are other places you can get cotton candy, but that’s the one I know best. So most of us have gone through life never being able to enjoy these two pleasures at the same time. Leave it to Computex, the best show of the year for elaborate and creative case mods, to come up with the solution: a cotton candy maker PC. 

The best case mods from Computex 2016

Computex. The final frontier. The case modder's mission: to explore strange new methods of water cooling. To seek out new color schemes and new LED components. To boldly go where no modder has gone before. 

Ahem. The Enterprise just brings it out in us, you know? 

Computex, meanwhile, brings out the best in case modders. All the big component companies sponsor modders to build extravagant systems, which in turn draw awed visitors into their booths to snap pictures and check out the products. It worked on us! We scoured the show floor to find the coolest custom rigs, most of which sport elaborate water cooling systems with intricate hard piping and some equisite lighting and cable management work. The pressure is even higher when you have to build in an open air frame, or fit your parts in the cramped space of a unique shape, like the Enterprise or R2-D2. 

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 and 1080 coming to gaming notebooks

Speaking with some of our insider contacts at Computex got us some clues for gaming notebooks. Essentially, if you're in the market for a new gaming notebook, you might want to consider waiting a few months (think August/September). That shouldn't be too much of a surprise if you follow the gaming notebook industry, but there's more.

According to our contacts, Nvidia is readying the release of its new 10-series chips for notebooks. The kick is, they won't be M versions of desktop GPUs. They will be the same chips used on the desktops, just operating at a lower TDP—we're told there will be the same number of shader units, etc. 

Patriot announces 2TB Ignite and budget-friendly Spark SSDs

Patriot has a couple of new solid state drive options, including one that's aimed at users who want more capacity out of single drive setups, and another that's intended for budget buyers.

Starting with the former, Patriot added a 2TB capacity option to its Ignite line of SSDs. This is Patriot's performance family of SATA 6Gbps SSDs, which prior to this new addition topped out at 960GB. Now there's a model more than twice as big to accommodate growing libraries of games. 

Asus launches record breaking ROG Rampage V Edition 10 motherboard

Asus is celebrating the 10th year of its Republic of Gamers (ROG) division with a new flagship motherboard based on Intel's X99 chipset. It's the ROG Rampage V Edition 10, a decked board for Haswell-E and Broadwell-E processors that's already set three world records and 14 global first place finishes in 2D and 3D benchmarks, Asus says.

If it's bling you're after, the ROG Rampage V Edition 10 brings it by way of a sleek layout and Aura RGB illumination. There are five independently controlled LED areas on the motherboard, plus a 4-pin RGB header for add-on RGB strips if you want to crank the light show up a notch.

Behind the bling are plenty of high end features, including eight DIMM slots supporting up to 128GB of DDR4-3333 (OC) RAM and four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots for up to four-way SLI or CrossFireX setups. 

Avexir updates its flashy plasma-topped RAM to DDR4

One of my favorite spots at Computex 2015 was Avexir’s colorful RAM, some outfitted with LEDs, others crowned by a tube of flickering plasma. Unfortunately, this time last year most of Avexir’s memory output was still DDR3. When I stopped by Avexir’s booth at Computex this year, I was happy to see the company has been busy updating its memory to DDR4, with fancy LEDs intact.

The Raiden memory with its blue plasma tube is now available in DDR4-2666, 2800 and 3000 speeds. The Blitz series memory, which has glowy LED tracings around its body and looks like the RAM equivalent of a Transformer, goes up to DDR4-3600 speeds. It comes in red, gold, and white. Avexir’s Core RAM has a more conservative series of LEDs mounted to the top of the stick and also comes in blue. 

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