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Review: ROCCAT Isku FX

Jan 25 // Alex Bout
In a nutshell, the ROCCAT Isku FX is no different than the Isku except for the multi-colored keys. To be honest, when I finally saw the box, it seemed like the keyboard was split into three different "zones" that you could pick to change the color as shown in the image below. Sadly, that was not the case, and I found that out pretty quickly after browsing through the familiar-looking control interface. Overview Similar to the Isku, the FX sadly isn't a mechanical keyboard and falls with the rest of those high-quality dome keyboards we love so much. Just like the Isku though, the FX also has a pretty awesome wrist rest, five programmable macro keys, on-the-fly macro recording, EasyShift, and ROCCAT Talk technology to boot. I also want to mention just a small feature that I thank every day: there's a small bump (like the F and J keys) on the W key for your WASD games or QWER, if you play a lot of League of Legends. Being able to find your key orientation instantly without having to look down is a stroke of brilliance that's saved me countless times. Yes, I know ROCCAT isn't the first company to implement this, but it's still appreciated by this gamer nevertheless. ROCCAT Isku price: $89.99 ROCCAT Isku FX price: $99.99 Let's talk more about the keys So the biggest difference between the Isku and the FX is definitely the keys, and might actually almost justify the ten-dollar increase in price. One of the problems I had with the Isku's keys originally was that when the key illumination was turned off, you had some serious trouble seeing the letters on the keyboard since they were made transparent in order to let the light through. Here's where the FX really shines (or doesn't). When the illumination is set to "off," the letters are just as visible as a keyboard without illumination. I don't really ever take advantage of this, but it's still an improvement over the old design. Moving onto the multi-color function of the keys! ROCCAT claims there are something like 16.8 million colors you can choose between to light your keys. While it's true that you can change the shade by a little bit depending on what color you're going for, it often just snaps to another color when it gets to the "sweet spot." If we're talking about the more realistic amount of colors, I would say there are maybe twenty distinct colors to choose from -- not a bad selection, if I may say so myself. The keys are beautifully lit, given that some of the colors look better than others. One thing that does bother me is that the profile, thumbster, and num-lock lights are the default blue and don't change with the rest of the lights. This sometimes creates some color conflicts depending on what color is currently on the main keys. Software is simple, nice, and familiar The software has the same layout as most of the other ROCCAT products we've looked at so far. It's extremely good software that thoroughly goes through every part of the customization in a clean-cut way. I do have to mention a new addition they recently added, however: a trophy system. It seems to give you trophies when you reach different objectives like a certain amount of keystrokes or whatnot. It has potential in theory, but in practice, the ROCCAT voice seems to randomly turn up, shouting random things at you. It certainly freaked me out, and isn't something you want when you're in a clutch moment in a game. You can, as always, turn it off. It's just the matter of remembering to do so for every profile you make, which tends to be annoying (especially if you make a new profile for every game you play). Bottom Line Is the FX worth the extra $10 over the Isku (or even other keyboards)? I'm going to have to say no, because the new keys simply aren't worth the additional cost. Even beyond the fact that both keyboards are oddly expensive for not being mechanical, I feel that it might have been smarter to just re-release the Isku to include multicolored key lighting instead of making an even more expensive version. That being said, the new keys are pretty nice and might be worth it for you if you like the power of the rainbow enough. As for me? If I didn't already have this keyboard, I would probably wait for the new Ryos coming out.
Isku FX review photo
Needs to offer more than just colorful keys
Remember when I reviewed the ROCCAT Isku? Well, the company has turned out another model, the Isku FX, which is essentially the same keyboard, except the keys can now change colors. While there are some other small things included for the slightly increased price, I set out to see if the FX was worth it over the regular Isku.

Review: Digital Storm Marauder

Oct 25 // Alex Bout
First off, let's go over the specs of the Marauder. For this review, we'll be taking a closer look at the "Level 3" version of the system. Processor: Intel i5-3570K 3.4GHzMotherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V LXRAM: 8GB Corsair Vengeance (Low profile)Power Supply: 600W Corsair GSHard Drive: 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPMVideo Card: XFX Radeon HD 7850 2GB Overview Right up front, I have to say that I'm a real big fan of this computer. The components used are pretty solid and made by reputable companies, unlike some of the other companies who offer services similar to Digital Storm. The case of the Marauder is military themed, giving it more of a rugged look than some cases out there nowadays. Designed to look like an ammunition case, the entire case is cammo green with easy-to-open clasps on the top, which really only take a few seconds to undo (hurray for quick access!). The left side panel has transparent plastic allowing you to see through to the interior of the computer with two vents where you can install two extra fans if you'd like. In addition to two fans in the front and one in the back, the Marauder comes with three removable air filters (two on the bottom and a jumbo one in the front). I'm not a big fan of how the filters are placed, but they seem to be relatively high quality filters (well, as high quality as filters can get, I suppose). To top the military theme off, the buttons resemble missile launch buttons, where the big red button is power and the yellow/black striped button is protected by a flip-up plastic cover. Going into more detail on the case... As I was saying before, the case has a very militaristic theme, which makes it interesting to look at. The first thing I noticed when I saw the computer were the two handles on top; they make it extremely easy to carry around. Of course, this doesn't make much of a difference if you don't really move your computer around frequently. The sides come off extremely easy, which is a plus if you're like me and open your computer up all the time for no good reason. They're attached by two latches (two per each door) and you just need to unbuckle them to take the cover off. No tools, no time needed at all -- props, Digital Storm. The front panel has the usual ports you would expect out of a computer: audio and microphone jacks along with two USB 3.0 ports. The DVD-RW drive is sadly not a Blu-ray player, but I can definitely get over that. However, it bothers my OCD side a little that the color of the drive does not match the color of the case.  The inside of the Marauder is nice, clean, and has plenty of space As expected of a company that builds computers for a living, the inside of the Marauder is very clean. There are no PSU cables sticking out or any real mess to worry about, for that matter. As I was saying before, there are three fans (two in front, one in back), but the thing that I got the most kick out of were the easily removable hard drive bays. They're remarkably intuitive to use -- all it takes is squeezing the two pinch things in the front and a pull. Let's get down to the PC components So what really makes any computer worth it are the components inside, and what really makes or breaks a company that sells these computers is how they compare to their competition and those who choose to build themselves. Here's the price you can get just by buying the components yourself: Part: Price: Corsair Vengeance 8GB $39.99 XFX HD 7850 $224.99 Intel i5-3570K $224.98 ASUS P8Z77 LX $139.99 Corsair 600W PSU $89.71 Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 1TB $69.99 NZXT Phantom 410 Case $99.99 Windows 7 Home Premium $119.99 Lite-On Optical Drive $22.99 Total: $1032.62 So with the Marauder's base price starting at $1199, that's a $166.38 difference just to put some parts together for you. With that kind of money, you might as well buy a decent monitor! Though, there's some justification for the extra $166 that may tip the scales in Digital Storm's favor. Along with the computer, you're going to get lifetime support and three years of hardware warranty. To top it off, Digital Storm's customer service is very good. I called them as if the Marauder was having major issues (it wasn't, but I wanted to test out their service) and they immediately offered to send me a replacement computer, no questions asked. The representative just went straight there. For the investment you're putting into your computer, I would definitely consider paying a little extra for service like that. Component discussion For the most part, I agree with the selection of parts used in the Marauder. I might have chosen a higher wattage on the power supply in case I wanted to overclock it in the future, but it's definitely going to be fine at 600W. Additionally, I'm personally partial to Western Digital hard drives, as I've had some problems with Seagate's reliability, but that's not a big deal at all -- Seagate is still a reputable company. Obviously, the case I chose isn't the same case that comes with the Marauder, but it's a decent case with plenty of room for a mid tower, and the price range is around the price I would estimate the case on the Marauder would cost anyway. Moving on to the operating system, I chose to go with Windows 7 Home Premium despite Windows 8 coming out simply because it's more reliable and you'll be safe running all of your games/programs on it right off the bat. That being said, Windows 8 does only cost $40 for an upgrade (so you can grab an old Windows disc and install it as a trial, then install Windows 8, etc.) and that can knock off a bit off the price. Again, it's up to you -- install Ubuntu if that's what makes you happy. How it runs games While I'm not going to go into too much detail on this because it's not quite needed -- there are extensive analyses to be found elsewhere -- as expected from a high end computer, it runs essentially everything on max settings. I averaged about 40 frames per second while playing World vs. World in Guild Wars 2, and 60 FPS in Battlefield 3. I also ranged above 60 FPS on League of Legends and StarCraft II, but those weren't much of a surprise considering that I can run them on my laptop just fine. Bottom line As with every other review in the world on things like this, the big question is whether or not I think you should buy it. As always, I'm going to say it's conditional. If you have any knowledge when it comes to building computers, then I'd say that it's not worth it. Save yourself the money and buy something personalized with the money you saved. Don't forget that most of these components come with warranties of their own and you can utilize them at any time -- Digital Storm just makes it pathetically easy. If you don't have experience building computers, then it's probably best to go with the Marauder. It's an excellent machine and the warranty will make your life easier. However, there's a lot to be said about learning to custom build your own computer. You get to know a lot about your setup and eventually become your own IT support along with being able to help others! I wouldn't necessarily experiment with such expensive parts like this, but it's definitely worth a try if you're in the market for your first time.
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Ammo not included
For some people, putting together their own custom computer isn't worth the time and effort. Thankfully, companies like Digital Storm exist to fill that void by providing excellent desktops at reasonable prices that are alrea...

Review: ROCCAT Kone[+]

Jul 31 // Alex Bout
Here are the specs for the ROCCAT Kone[+]. For the purposes of this review, I will just call the Kone[+] the Kone, as I'm going to get tired of typing [+] over and over. Yes, I know there's a regular Kone -- let's pretend there's not. ROCCAT Kone[+] specifications Features: 6000DPI PRO-AIM LASER SENSOR for maximum precision EASY-SHIFT[+]™ BUTTON DUPLICATOR for 22 directly accessible mouse functions 4-LED LIGHT SYSTEM for individual colors + effects TRACKING & DISTANCE CONTROL UNIT ultimate tracking; minimizes pick-up-flight ROCCAT™ DRIVER + MACRO MANAGER incl. Macro Presets for games & apps  ONBOARD MEMORY (576KB) store 5 Game Profiles with macros 4 EASY-TO-CLIP-IN WEIGHTS (4X5G) for individual weight adjustment 8 MOUSE BUTTONS programmable + solid 4D mouse wheel ULTRA QUIET low friction mouse feet Tech specs: Pro-Aim Laser Sensor R2 with up to 6000dpi 1000Hz polling rate 1ms response time 11750fps, 10.5megapixel 30G acceleration 3.8-5m/s (150-200ips) 16-bit data channel Tracking & Distance Control Unit  72MHz TurboCore processor 576kB onboard memory 2m USB cable Weight: 126g Price: $69.99 Overview Right off the bat, you can tell the Kone is a pretty sweet mouse. The four LEDs create two "lanes" that flash through all the colors by default, creating a cool effect. The mouse itself is a bit on the larger side, but not so large that it becomes cumbersome. The scroll wheel was quite a bit stiffer than my Logitech G500, but it wasn't a problem as I got used to the mouse on the whole. Appearance-wise, the Kone is a matte black with the ROCCAT logo in silver on the back end of the mouse, with the two "color lanes" down the sides. Unlike the Razer Naga, this mouse only has the basic buttons (whether that's good or bad for you), but comes equipped with a technology called EasyShift, which we'll cover a bit more later in the review.  General usability For general use, just like most other gaming mice, you aren't going to see or feel anything special about this mouse other than the pretty lights. The clicking is a bit stiffer than I was used to coming from the G500 I had before, but not by much. The mouse itself is rather quiet, as it comes with low-friction mouse feet. Compared to other mice I've used previously, it makes some noise, but not quite as much, which is is impressive because I use the Titan aluminum mouse pad and that tends to create noise no matter which mouse you're using. The Kone actually is a little taller than most mice I've used; my pinky finger doesn't drag on the mouse pad as a result, which makes use of the peripheral a pleasurable experience. Precision gaming When the mouse actually works, it runs like a dream and almost feels like an extension of your hand. The 1ms delay time isn't very noticeable, and most people won't even see it. (I had to look extremely closely to even notice it in the first place. It had no effect on my gaming whatsoever.) The 5g weights the mouse comes with are extremely handy. When I first got the mouse, I found that I didn't like that it seemed too front heavy, but a couple of the 5g weights easily balanced it out and now when I pick up the mouse for something, it doesn't tip forward. Awesome driver software Just like the ROCCAT Isku I reviewed earlier, the Kone comes with excellent driver software, which allows you to customize almost anything about the mouse. The first tab houses the main control of the mouse, where you can adjust the sensitivity, vertical and horizontal scroll speed, and the DPI settings of five different levels. The second tab deals with button assignment and the EasyShift function we talked about before. Not only can you customize every button on the mouse, but you can also use the EasyShift button (either the forward or backward button on the left side of the mouse) to change the function of the buttons to anything else you might want. Along with EasyShift, there are also two functions called EasyWheel and EasyAim. EasyWheel essentially allows you to change a variety of things by pressing the EasyWheel button and scrolling through your five DPI profiles. EasyAim, on the other hand -- my favorite function of the three -- allows you to press the button and temporarily change the DPI of your mouse to, let's say, 400 DPI when you go in to snipe someone or something along those lines. Then all you have to do to go back to normal is release the button -- pretty useful, right? Paired with the ROCCAT Isku, the Kone has a unique feature called ROCCAT Talk. This feature allows the Isku and the Kone to communicate with each other using the EasyShift function. So if you were to press the EasyShift key on the Isku keyboard, it would activate EasyShift on the Kone as well. This includes activating the EasyAim system mentioned before (though it's not directly paired with EasyShift, so you can assign EasyAim to a separate key if you want). Next up is the control panel for the "color lanes" I mentioned earlier. The Kone is able to be adjusted such that both the lighting effect and the direction of the lights are both able to be changed along with picking the color family you want each of the four lights to have. For each of the lights, you pick one color, and the Kone flashes through all related colors within that range. The advanced control comes with some terrific features, if I do say so myself. The first is the X Y sensitivity. If you want your horizontal movements to be registered more than the vertical, you can do that or whatever combination of the two you prefer. The Kone also comes with sound feedback, which says what you changed your settings to whenever you change them using the mouse buttons. It can get kind of annoying sometimes, so I usually end up turning the voice overs off when I change settings on the fly a lot. The next three are pretty standard. There's the Windows pointer speed, which is more or less a shortcut to the mouse control panel built into Windows, polling rate, and a driver reset. Saving the best for last, the Kone has two features which really make the mouse for me. I always get frustrated whenever I pick up a mouse to readjust my hand and find my cursor on the other side of the screen. The Kone's distance control eliminates that problem completely. In addition to that, the Kone is able to optimize itself to your mouse pad, allowing for greater precision. It's a noticeable change in that with the TCU off, I could see the mouse flickering a little bit when I moved it slowly. With the TCU enabled, I have no problems whatsoever. Remaining is the update tab, which just allows you to download the current driver and access to help support. Nice to have, but redundant -- it just points you to their website. Below all the tabs are the profiles, just like the Isku had. I'm sure you can figure it out for yourself, but you can store five different sets of settings for the mouse, all of which are stored in the on-board memory of the device; it's an excellent feature that I wish more mice had. Reliability problems Although this mouse is amazing, I did find that it had some minor reliability problems. During the review process, I actually went through two Kones. The first I had sent back because it wouldn't register the scroll wheel moving sometimes, which became a serious issue. ROCCAT has said that this is an isolated problem, but through some research, it seems as though it's not as isolated as they may have liked. That being said, the replacement mouse they sent me has not experienced this problem at all. The second problem has occurred in both mice, however, it's not as big of an issue in my opinion. Occasionally, the cursor will fly over to the very right side of the screen, which can be mildly annoying, even causing a pretty bad miss-click in some cases. Computer specifications To review the ROCCAT Isku, I used the following test system, provided by NVIDIA: Power supply: Silverstone Strider Gold 1200W PSU Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z Motherboard Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K @4.6GHz (overclocked) Memory: 2x Crucial 4GB D3 PC3-10600 1333MHz RAM Video card: 2x EVGA Geforce GTX580 1536MB in SLI Configuration Hard drives:128GB Crucial M4 SSD120GB OCZ Vertex 3120GB OCZ Solid 32TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM Operating system: Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium Case: Falcon Northwest Mach V Bottom Line The Kone is an excellent mouse with the exception of its minor flaws. The software the Kone comes with is one of the best programs I've seen for a mouse, and is able to be customized in almost any way. Combined with the two-year warranty that comes with every ROCCAT product, I feel the mouse is definitely something I would buy again. ROCCAT Talk, on the other hand, is another story. Considering that both the Isku and Kone are excellent products, I recommend them both separately. However, it's not worth having both just so they can communicate with each other via EasyShift simply because while it's a good idea in theory, I found I rarely used the functionality.
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Arguably one of the most important components in PC gaming is the mouse. To play at your max, you've got to have the precision and control for your favorite first-person shooter, MMO, or whatever game you play, so it only mak...


Review: ROCCAT Isku

Jul 10 // Alex Bout
For some added context, I will be comparing the Isku with another keyboard I reviewed for Destructoid, the Razer BlackWidow. While there are differences between the two -- the Isku isn't mechanical, for starters -- it's always nice to have something else to relate to. Also, the price of the BlackWidow Ultimate edition is very close. Anyway, getting on to the review! The ROCCAT Isku comes fully stocked with tons of settings -- probably more than you will ever end up using, in fact -- and stacks up so many little things that makes this an awesome keyboard. Glossing a bit over the specs (I'll go into more detail on each later), the Isku comes with blue backlighting, Easy Shift[+], 36 macro keys, on-the-fly macro recording, media keys, and a built-in wrist rest. ROCCAT Isku price: $89.99 Razer BlackWidow Ultimate price: $91.99 Blue backlit keys are addictive In case you didn't read my review on the Razer BlackWidow, I opted against getting the Ultimate version of the keyboard and missed out on the backlighting it offered, so when I got the Isku, I became quickly addicted to the nice glow and how easy it was to glance down at my keyboard and see what I was looking for immediately. I had previously looked at backlit keys as a waste of money, but I can totally understand why people enjoy them so much. In addition to this, the Isku has six levels of illumination to choose from -- including one that has no lighting at all -- which is pretty sweet. I especially like that I can set the illumination to dim or turn off after a set amount of inactivity, since I keep my computer on at night. The illumination does have some setbacks. I tend to sit pretty low in my chair sometimes, so I don't have a direct angle on the keyboard (probably a 45 degree angle to the table) and it cuts the key illumination off at the top. I know this is just from the lights for the keys being lower in the keyboard, but it's a bit of a bummer that the only time I can see the entire key is when I'm looking directly on to it. Additionally, the illumination key (the key you use to change light levels) and the macro recording button don't light up and there's no real way to tell which lighting level you are on quickly. This creates a problem when you're trying to change it from level five to level three (the button only makes it go up), since you have to count how many times you press the button or end up passing it and having to keep going back through the levels. In an ideal world, the illumination key would light bars up to show which level the keyboard was at at any given time. This is more of a nitpick; all in all, the keys make the keyboard look sleek and sharp while allowing for easy key viewing. Easy Shift[+] is a cool idea, but... Easy Shift[+] is more or less a function on the keyboard that doubles the uses of each key in the Easy Shift Zone. Pretty much when you press the Easy Shift key (they replaced the caps lock key), it changes all the functions of the keys in the three zones to another preset function. Cool idea in theory, right? It works pretty well, but I always forget to use it! This may not be a problem for all of you guys, but it ended up being a feature that sadly went unused in much of my gameplay. ROCCAT split the buttons that are Easy Shift compatible into three "zones." The first of these being the set of five macro-dedicated keys on the left, the second zone consists of the three "Thumbster" keys on the bottom, and the third and largest containing much of the left side of the keyboard, as shown above. It's a good function if you can learn to use it, and even better if you are able to use ROCCAT Talk, but I'll cover more about that in my upcoming ROCCAT Kone[+] review. It's not mechanical! The thing that I think really would have made this keyboard perfect would be mechanical keys, but they aren't there! Instead, you're stuck with your dome key, which is a little disappointing after you're used to using a mechanical keyboard (in my case, the BlackWidow). Either way, the keys are still fairly high quality in that I haven't had any issues with the keys sticking, popping off, or malfunctioning in any way. Had the keys been mechanical and still had all the features the Isku already has, I would have cried and never used another keyboard again. The little things matter the most The best thing about this keyboard are the small features, and it's those small things that I curse every time I have to game on another keyboard than my Isku. The first being the built-in wrist rest; I hadn't previously used one on my BlackWidow, and thought it would just get in the way when I typed. This didn't turn out to be the case -- although it adds a bit of space to the keyboard, it's not intrusive, is pretty comfortable, and in general nice to have so my hands aren't scraping up against the shiny plastic bits like they were with the BlackWidow. Speaking of comparing with the BlackWidow, a big problem (at least for me) was that the shiny plastic covering on the BlackWidow was was incredibly easy to leave finger prints on. So after a good big of gaming, the bottom of the keyboard would have a ton of prints on it from my wrists and looks pretty messy; with the Isku, that's not a problem because of the wrist guard. Moving onto the feature I enjoy the most about this keyboard: the raised bump on the W key. Yes, I know this is a small thing and can probably be found on other keyboards, but it is a difference that I think really makes gaming easier, especially when you're switching between typing and a WASD finger position. The driver software is top notch A lot of gaming keyboards are often brought down by their software, whether it's hard to use or simply not very useful. The Isku driver does not have this problem. Even from a glance, you can tell that the software has plenty of functions but is also pretty straightforward to use. The Main Control tab houses the functions for the five macro and thumbster keys along with their respective Easy Shift functions. To change the function of a key or Easy Shift key, all you have to do is use the drop down menu to either create your own macro or use one of the preset macros. You can pretty much do anything in these macros, as to be expected with a high-quality keyboard, so you can open programs and such along with your basic key combination functionality. Moving onto the EasyZone Control panel, it's essentially the same thing as the Main Control, except it focuses on the main part of the keyboard. In case you can't see the picture, connect the dots with me; the EasyZone starts at the 1 key, goes to 5, down to B, over to Z, and back up to 1. Next up is the Media Keys/F-Key's macro tab. Again, more of the same. I'm not really one to use the media keys too much, but they're always nice to have when you decide you want to actually use them. I have to say though, I really enjoy the "My Computer" key and use it quite a bit instead of bringing it up manually. I would also use the IE Browser (it actually just goes off your default browser, so in my case, Chrome) key more, but if you have Chrome as your active window, it takes your current tab to a new tab page or whatever your home page is. I would have much preferred it simply open a new tab. Otherwise, it's okay -- it opens up a new window. Again, I would have been much more in favor of simply adding a tab to an existing window. The Advanced Control panel is pretty cool. You can change how fast it repeats a letter if you hold down a key, change the key illumination (note: you can just do this with the illumination key. You can't make it illuminate at say, 95% -- misleading, I know), and choose to make it dim after a certain period of inactivity. The Update/Support tab is nothing special. Instead of downloading the latest driver at the push of the button, it simply links you to the driver page. It also doesn't tell you when a new driver is available, as far as I can tell. As I'm sure you've been able to see from the other screenshots, the game profiles are at the bottom of every tab, and they're pretty handy, if I do say so myself. You can choose to switch profiles using one of the many macro keys or have it automatically switch on launch of a program. Computer specifications To review the ROCCAT Isku, I used the following test system, provided by NVIDIA: Power supply: Silverstone Strider Gold 1200W PSU Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z Motherboard Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K @4.6GHz (overclocked) Memory: 2x Crucial 4GB D3 PC3-10600 1333MHz RAM Video card: 2x EVGA Geforce GTX580 1536MB in SLI Configuration Hard drives:128GB Crucial M4 SSD120GB OCZ Vertex 3120GB OCZ Solid 32TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM Operating system: Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium Case: Falcon Northwest Mach V Bottom line The ROCCAT Isku is an excellent keyboard, and really has some nice features. There are a few things that would make it a must have, like mechanical keys and a detachable wrist guard, but all in all, the lack of those features doesn't detract from it being a very good keyboard. The Isku is definitely more comfortable to use than the BlackWidow, and the Isku's software blows Razer's out of the water. However, I often find myself missing the feel of mechanical keys and bust the BlackWidow out once in a while (though I've made the Isku my main keyboard for the time being). I feel the price is a little high for the Isku, considering it is just a regular dome-keyed keyboard and the mechanical BlackWidow Ultimate is nearly the same price. If the price were $15-20 cheaper (especially since the standard edition of the BlackWidow is only $60.99), I would tell you to drop what you were doing and get this keyboard. That being said, I would still tell you to get this keyboard if mechanical keys don't do it for you. Otherwise, I'd probably go with the BlackWidow standard over the Isku, between the two -- it's an incredibly close call.
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We're going to take a closer look at the ROCCAT Isku today. With a backlit keyboard, built-in wrist rest, tons of customization, and awesome software, what's not to love?

Review: Li Lian Li PC-B25F case

Jun 13 // Alex Bout
Here are the specs for the Lian Li PC-B25FB: Model: PC-B25F Size: Mid-tower Dimensions: (W) 210mm x (H) 507mm x (D) 490mm Front bezel Material: Aluminum Color: Black Side Panel: Aluminum Body Material: Aluminum Net Weight: 24~ kg 5.25" drive bay (External): 3 3.5" drive bay: 1 (use one 5.25 to 3.5 converter) HDD bay: 3.5" HDD x 6 Expansion Slot: 8 Motherboard: ATX/Micro-ATX System Fan (Front): 12 cm Fan x 2 System Fan (Top): 14 cm Fan x 2 System Fan (Rear): 12 cm x 1 I/O Ports: e-SATA/USB 2.0 x 2/HD+AC97 Audio Price: $149.99 First Impressions After taking the case out of the box, I thought the case looked nice, but it didn't look like anything special. To be honest, it looked painfully plain. However, I couldn't deny it had that "classic" Lian Li touch to it: minimalistic and light. The case I was transferring my computer from was approximately 3/4 the size of the Lian Li case, but the two weighed about the same, which was nice to feel. However, the weight of a case normally doesn't matter much to me, as whenever I am transporting my computer, it is short distances, like to my car. Otherwise, it sits on my desk -- why should I care about the weight? Of course, one of the first things you look (or in this case listen) for in a new case is the amount of sound it creates when the computer is turned on, and I was pleasantly surprised when I switched the PC-B25F on for the first time. Despite having five case fans, the CPU fan, and the GPU fan, the computer was barely louder than my full tower with liquid cooling. As quiet as it was though, I feel like they could have improved upon this by adding some foam insulation on the inside of at least one of the side panels to absorb some of the sound, but pickers can't be choosers and I couldn't possibly knock Lian Li on the small amount of sound the case is making. Aesthetic Overview Looks can be deceiving, so let's go into a little more in depth on how this case looks and what comes included in this seemingly simple case. As I stated before, the case looked very plain coming out of the box; made of brushed aluminum, it comes in only one color: black. The material looks and feels very nice to the touch, though when I first picked up the case, it left finger prints that I can't seem to wash off. I'm not sure what it was, as it hasn't happened since. Additionally, when I had a CD drive installed on the case, the traditional black plastic that came with the drive didn't match the case, which eventually drove me crazy. If this kind of thing bothers you, I would advise not having a CD drive installed and using USB instead. The case comes with no side ventilation, but it does come with two 140mm fans on top in addition to the two 120mm fans in the front and another 120mm fan in the back. Contrary to most cases where the front fans are exposed through the front panel, the PC-B25F features a solid front cover, with the intake coming from small vents in the front of the side panel. The case comes with two USB 2.0 ports, one e-SATA port, and your typical power and reset buttons on the top. Below them is the Lian Li logo in silver. Below even the logo on the lower half of the front panel lies the true beauty of this case. It's a plain and simple blue ring that really ties the minimalistic theme of the case together. Sadly, pictures don't do it justice and the only thing I can think to relate it to is Iron Man's miniature arc reactor in his chest. Tool-less Design Moving on, the biggest advantage of this case over other cases is the unique tool-less design the case features. I've worked with other cases that claimed to be tool-less, but it didn't seem to work out one way or another. The B25F really took "tool-less" to a T in that everything could be put together by hand; from the more mundane things like hard drives to even the power supply and motherboard. Although I said tool-less hard drive installation is nothing new, I found the way Lian Li went about doing it differently from how other companies chose to look at it. Using thumb screws to screw into the normal holes, the drive bay acts similarly to a train track in that you slide it in. When you get all of your hard drives completely installed into their respective bays, you can simply slide a lever on the side up to lock them all in place at once. I'm going to lump the video card and DVD drive installation into one simply because they really aren't that unique from other cases. Both work in a lever system that secures them just like any other case that features a tool-less design. Not that impressive, to be frank. The motherboard was installed through the use of thumb screws that were actually a lot harder than I had anticipated to get in. Between me having to move the board into place and my fat fingers, I got in the first few without a screwdriver, but just ended up putting in the last few screws with one (although it was definitely possible without one -- I was just being lazy). Lastly, I found the power supply to be the coolest thing, because I haven't used a case that didn't require a screwdriver to install the PSU. The device consists of a simple clamp that secures the PSU down pretty tightly. Even with some effort, I was unable to move the PSU once the clamp was in place, though I would still screw it in if you are intending on traveling with it. Okay, so I lied, the power supply wasn't the last thing I wanted to talk about. This case also comes with three removable dust filters, which are extremely easy to remove and clean. No more having to buy aftermarket filters with these things; they definitely get the job done and are nice and manageable. There are two located in front of the two front fans (you have to remove the front panel to access them), and the last is located on the bottom on the outside of the case, which would be useful if you had a power supply that has a fan on the bottom.   Is it worth the money? It goes without saying that this is the question at the top of everyone's mind, and I'm going to have to go with a big "no" on this one. I know my review of this product was largely positive, because I really do love the case. However, it's the price that really kills it for me. For a $150 mid-sized tower, the thing better install the computer components itself. While the tool-less design and materials in this case are indeed top notch, I can't think of any reason why someone would need this case other than for bragging rights or they have entirely way too much money. That said, if you do have the nasty predicament of having too much money (yeah, right) or just want the case to say that you own a Lian Li, I full-heartedly recommend this one. While the PC-B25F lacks the flashiness that other cases have, the simplistic beauty of the case shines in its own way. Between the smooth brushed aluminum and the blue ring of power (one ring to conquer them all), I truly do love this case -- I would just love it a lot more if it were $50 cheaper.
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Anyone who's heard of Lian Li knows they produce some of the most expensive computer cases. Seriously, they're crazy expensive. Though with all the cool features and chic designs Lian Li brings to the table, some would argue ...

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Razer's Project Fiona set to be revealed January 10th


Jan 04
// Alex Bout
Turns out the Razer Blade isn't the only thing set to be paraded around CES this winter, as Razer's website pcgamingisnotdead.com features a brand new video titled "Project Fiona." With Razer promising an all new form fa...

Review: iBuyPower HS11 tears down negative expectations

Dec 17 // Alex Bout
These are the system specs I received from iBuyPower: NZXT Source 210 Intel Core i5-2500k 120mm Liquid Cooling Gigabyte Z68 Chipset Motherboard Corsair XMS3 8GB DDR3-1600 NVIDIA GTX 570 DVDRW 1TB Sata3 HDD 800W PSU Win7 home Premium 64bit 6-Port internal USB hub with Bluetooth and Wifi Starting $999 One problem that often occurs when dealing with computer companies of this nature is that while they do include quality components -- the i5-2500K, for example -- there can be a distinct lack of brand names on some of the other components. This lack of exact model allows the company to use cheap components that don't necessarily have the best quality track record, which can leave you potentially with a blown power supply or a leak in the liquid cooling system (Okay, unlikely, but still possible). Not a bad case, but it's not a good case either... At first glance, you can tell it's a pretty cheap case, but it is more or less standard for a midtower. There are three USB ports on the front, including ports for SD cards, along with your typical 5 1/4" drive bay. There are four thumb screws attaching the side panels to the rest of the chassis and a total of five ventilation grates on various parts of the case. To begin, let's take a look at the front. The entire front is on a somewhat raised platform, which under closer inspection, is a front ventilation panel. However, it's more or less useless, as the air circulation is poor to begin with and the front ventilation just ends up being another way for dust to get into the system and gunk things up. The ports are all in convenient places, except for the top audio/mic and USB ports. While it's not a big deal, cords from headsets, USB devices, and the like are liable to be in the way when you open up the DVD drive. All in all, though, good placement on ports. One thing that really kills this case for me is the lack of a good power button; I actually thought it was the circle the plastic mold leaves on cheap toys upon first glance. When the computer is off, it's not very obvious that it's the power button, as it has no visible marking. In fact, the only difference between the power button and the reset button is a small change in size. When the computer is on, the power button is lit up by a small white light that shines around the outside of the circle, and the hard drive light is a small dot in the middle of the reset button. I feel like some more thought should have gone into the power button, or at least some impression on it with a power signal; I've seen better layouts on ten-dollar cases. Although it doesn't matter as much to people who won't be tinkering around inside, this case does have decent room to move around in compared to other midtower cases, but it still suffers from a distinct lack of space compared to a full tower (This may be obvious to some, but it needs to be said. People's fingers only come so small). You can't go wrong with the Intel Core i5-2500K I've said this before and I'll say it again: the i5-2500K is one of the best deals out there for a processor in terms of balance between power and price. While there are good AMD solutions available, I would venture to say that for your average gamer, this is really the only Intel processor you should consider unless you have an extra hundred bucks to blow on the i7-2600K, which is the next level up. Of course, everyone's situation is different and if you do need the extra processor power, I am in no way saying you shouldn't get a more powerful one. In case you aren't caught up with your computer hardware, the i5-2500K is a quad-core processor that is priced a little over $200 on most sites. Although this processor doesn't support hyper-threading, many gamers do not necessarily need the power supplied by hyper-threaded machines. Powerful graphics card, but a bit on the noisy end of things... This computer comes with an NVIDIA GTX 570 that holds not one, but two fans. With the extra fan comes added cooling as well as noise output. When idling, it is relatively quiet, as it should be, but when you load a game such as Battlefield 3 or Skyrim, it sounds like a small plane is taking off. Despite the noise, this card is quite powerful and is able to take all the games I tested (Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution) all on the highest settings -- but more on that later. I have mixed feelings about this card, because while it is superior to the GTX 560 Ti, I'm not sure as to whether or not the extra $200 is worth the performance increase. Personally, I would go with the GTX 560 Ti over the GTX 570 because it's not worth it to me, or I would go all the way and get the GTX 580 if I wanted to step the performance up from the 560. This is an overall powerful graphics card, but not necessarily the most price efficient (Not to say the GTX 580 is, but it does offer a decent performance boost over the 570, and a sizable one over the 560). For someone looking for more power, I would recommend using two GTX 560 Tis in SLI, which would offer as much power as the GTX 580 for slightly less money. A little iffy on the Seagate from personal experience The IBP computer I got came with a 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM hard drive, which is relatively fast for an HDD. It's hard for me to treat this drive without bias based on past experience and that my current computer runs on a RAID array of SSD, but as far as I can tell from the short time I've used the drive, it's perfectly fine. As I said in the last paragraph, I'm not very fond of Seagate drives, and with reason. Out of six Seagate drives I've had in my life, all six have died within a year (if not within the first six months). I understand other people may have experienced better results, but I have not and have lost faith in the company. Again, that is not to say that Seagate isn't a good company, it's just saying that I've had the bad luck of receiving six faulty drives in a row. 8GB of Corsair XMS3? Sounds good to me! When it comes down to RAM, Corsair is one of the best companies to buy from. Although you can change the speed, the increase isn't very noticeable, which leaves quality measure up to the longevity and the consistency of the RAM. Corsair has both, and if you happen to get the bad unit of the bunch, it can be exchanged without a second thought. Coonix's website doesn't even publicly sell an 800W power supply... This computer comes with a Coonix 800W power supply, which is all fine and dandy, but I couldn't find anywhere that sold the same model power supply. In fact, Coonix's website doesn't even have it on their product list! You have to wonder why that is, and if it's a quality product or not being that there's no documentation. Even though it's a phantom power supply, it seems to be of at least decent quality on the surface. The power cords have sleeves on them, which is a big plus in my book because it keeps the computer clean looking, and there's a nicely sized fan on the bottom of the unit. However, the fan placement does bother me somewhat. Because the fan is on the bottom, it doesn't allow very good air circulation from the power supply. It would be more understandable if the case had longer legs to allow for more air to get underneath the unit, but the case's legs are only about a centimeter high. If for some reason you put your computer on a carpeted floor, it could cause heat problems. I haven't tested this myself, but just be warned. And now for the mysterious liquid-cooling device with a cheesy blue light... I seriously have no clue what brand or model the liquid cooling is. There's no markings on either the fan or the socket that would say what brand name or give any hint. However, you can't argue with the results. It idles around a balmy 30 degrees Celsius in a cool room, and hovers around 50-60 degrees Celsius depending on the temperature of the room at the time. The cooling system didn't come fully filled (meaning there was air in it) and made a constant gurgling sound as the liquid and air traveled through the pipes. So, right from the start, I needed to fill it up with more distilled water to get rid of the noise. To be honest, I don't know what exactly is inside the liquid cooling, and just assumed it was water because I didn't want to buy anything else. Yet another reason why having no documentation on the liquid cooling is a bad decision! As for the blue LED light in the liquid cooling, it seems random that it's located there, as the only way you would see the light is through the small ventilation grating on the side or from above; the case clearly isn't designed to show off the innards. To top it off, the light is covered by a cloudy plastic cover, which makes it look muddy and sloppy. I'm all for LED lights on the inside of cases, but this doesn't even look good. Benchmarks I ran a few games to see how this machine performed as a gaming system, but I decided not to go through the trouble of running individual benchmarks for each component as I normally would because this review is over how the system works together as a whole instead of many separate components. As I mentioned before, I decided to test the frame rate of three games running at 1920x1080: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Battlefield 3. The IBP system held up well against both Human Revolution and Skyrim on the highest settings at around 50-60 FPS and 40-50 FPS, respectively, depending on what was going on in the game. In Battlefield 3, however, I began to see some irregularities: while the gameplay ran smoothly at around 30-40 FPS, some clipping started occurring in the cut scenes. I noticed that parts of faces and scenes would begin to artifact (distort) when on ultra settings, which was a big heads up that things were not going as well as the FPS counter showed. As iBuyPower.com suggests, high settings are probably the highest you want to take Battlefield 3 without some noticeable artifacting, though it should be noted that gameplay was perfectly fine on ultra. Cut scenes were the only place where this happened to me. Price Comparison Here's what I assume a lot of you are reading for: whether or not building the same computer on your own is cheaper, or if buying from iBuyPower makes more sense. Looking elsewhere for individual components, this is what I came up with. NZXT Source 210 Case $39.99 Intel Core i5-2500K Processor $233.95 Mysterious Liquid Cooling $40.00(?) Gigabyte Z68 Motherboard $99.99 Corsair XMS3 8GB RAM $39.99 EVGA GTX 570 Double Shot $364.99 Miscellaneous DVD/CD Drive $19.99(?) Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 1TB HDD $121.95 Coonix (Undocumented) 800W Power Supply $41.99(?) NZXT USB Hub $19.28 Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $99.99 Total: $1122.11 So, in the end, it seems as though the iBuyPower computer does indeed come out on top in terms of price by $122 based off my estimated prices for the parts I didn't have exact models for. Let's take some more things into consideration. For instance, given the current power consumption of this computer, an 800W power supply is unnecessary. Instead, a 700W or 650W would cut it, so you can cut off about $10 right there or more depending on which power supply you look at (assuming they are equal quality and brand-name units). There are also a few other things that could be changed with little to no effect on the system: one being the liquid cooling. Unless you intend on heavily overclocking, an air cooler will be more than enough, which takes off another $20 from the price tag. Adding to that, getting a normal (one-fan, non-superclocked) EVGA GTX 570 will knock off another $25, making the total discount $55, which is obviously not enough to make it an even game. The iBuyPower computer wins this one, hands down. Sorry to all you computer builders out there! Bottom Line You can't argue with the price iBuyPower offers. For $999, you get the i5-2500K, EVGA GTX 570 Double Shot, 8GB of Corsair XMS3 RAM, and the rest of the components discussed earlier in the article. To top it off, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and a cheap keyboard/mouse are both thrown into the mix. Despite my typical distaste towards pre-made computers, it is undeniable that iBuyPower offers a superior deal -- due to their bulk ordering and ability to obtain components cheaply -- and, therefore, deserves a positive review. I recommend iBuyPower's holiday special computer if you are in search of a new computer, because it is one of the best deals you will find out there. Be it for yourself, or a (really, really nice) present for someone else, this is a good buy and worth the money. Along with being a good deal to begin with, you also get some free games with the computer: Batman: Arkham City and Just Cause 2. Paired up with the deal the computer is already, this makes it a complete steal. If you are looking for a new computer in this price range, I would not pass up the offer. UPDATE: 5/28/12 Remember when I told you guys about the sketchy unmarked liquid cooling? Sadly, as it turns out, it ended up being a bad unit. After about 5 months of owning the machine, I found that the liquid cooling had leaked onto the GTX 560 and ultimately fried it. While it was definitely a really irritating experience, customer service wasn't a bad experience at all. Although I didn't end up getting the parts back (because of a situation completely unrelated to this review), I would have had the replacement parts within the week. The person I talked to spoke very good English (yes, it does matter to me. When they can't understand me, it's a problem) and understood what went wrong. Just because it took them a while to get around to agreeing to send me the replacement parts, I give them an 8/10 for customer service. However in retrospect if I were to buy this computer, I would buy another cooler to replace the sub-par one they put in my machine. All in all, still a good deal, just watch out for the bad parts they sneak in.
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Lately, we've been doing a lot of articles covering PC hardware that require basic knowledge on how to build your own computer. However, one option I often overlook is pre-built computers by companies such as iBuyPower. Today, I'm going to review the iBuyPower HS11: a holiday special made for gamers who want a good deal, but at the same time, are not interested in building the computer themselves.

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StarCraft II goes 50% off for Black Friday


Nov 22
// Alex Bout
Ever want to get into StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, but never had an excuse to start? Well for Black Friday, Blizzard is selling it for 50% off, bringing it down to a grand total of $29.99 -- pretty cheap in my opinion for an awesome game. Don't delay in taking advantage of this deal, as it expires November 28th!
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Two Razer Blade laptop prototypes stolen


Nov 14
// Alex Bout
In case you don't know, the Razer Blade is Razer's (overpriced) solution to breathing new life into PC gaming. Two of these monsters were stolen from the company's Bay area R&D labs over the weekend and Razer clearly does...

Behind the scenes of Battlefield 3's graphics

Oct 25 // Alex Bout
Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 graphics engine (Battlefield 2: Bad Company used Frostbite 1.5), which offers pretty noticeable advances in graphics quality. Please note that Battlefield 3 does require that DirectX 11 is installed on your computer, and won’t run without it. While it will run on DX10, there will be a significant difference in graphics rendering speed, as I will go on to talk about later. My suggestion: run it on DX11. If you can’t, go buy a card that can. The Frostbite 2 engine is essentially broken up into five parts: objects, lighting, effects, terrain, and post-processing. To kick it off, Johan starts off with the object parts, which includes well ... everything. Each level has over 10,000 objects in it, which requires efficient and scalable handling as well as the ability to render the simulations in parallel with each other to take advantage of multi-core PCs. Mesh and texture streaming is something new to the Battlefield stage, which allows for more variation, better quality, reduced memory requirements, and shorter loading times. Johan then goes on to talk about the improved lighting engine in Battlefield 3, and how it has drastically improved from previous games. Out of the five engine components I mentioned earlier, I feel that the increased lighting quality plays the largest quality boost in the gameplay. Whether it’s the indoor lighting from spotlights, fires, or lens flares or outdoor with the sun; both environments are extremely well done and will hopefully not only make Battlefield 3 shine (no pun intended), but also pave the road to future games as well. DICE took the less-beaten path when it comes to how shading is handled. Instead of using forward rendering like the majority of games in circulation now, DICE decided to use deferred shading (Killzone uses deferred shading as well). While the entire process is completely different, it pretty much allows more flexibility with how the designers can handle the light sources (making them destructible, having hundreds of them, or just one giant one). While it does use quite a bit of memory, like 160MB of memory (keep in mind most GPUs these days have 1000MB of memory), the the team has alleviated this by using the fun tools in DX11. Until Johan broke down the light sources, it didn’t occur to me how much detail comes from the light sources, and I found this particularly interesting, as even indirect light made a huge difference in graphics quality. While effects are a major in all games, they play a particularly strong role in all the Battlefield games because of the explosions and such. Most of the effects consist of thousands of both big and small particles that fit and interact with the environment, which consists of playing around with the lighting angles. In previous games, you wouldn’t see shadows for smoke rising from a burning tank. With the increased effect patterns however, you can actively see shadows from both the smoke and flying debris. The days are gone when you would see a uniformly colored cloud of dust, despite its surroundings. Now, you’ll see surroundings casting shadows or lighting up the effect particles mentioned earlier. Moving onto terrains, the team faced a lot of challenges integrating huge terrains while at the same time having the same high quality the rest of the game has up close. Once again, those of you trying to run this on DX10 will be in for a disappointment. While DX10 may render the terrain on say 1,000 triangles, DX11 will render the surrounding terrain on 1,000,000 triangles allowing for an awesome increase in quality (especially noticeable in mountain areas). What exactly is post-processing? It’s more or less the final effects that show up on your field of vision. For instance, it’s the blurry screen you get when you’re dying, the other blur that happens when you’re moving, or the screen glare you get when some annoying prick decides to shine that flashlight in your eyes (yeah, I hold grudges like that), and also plays a part in not being able to see things very well if there’s a big difference in light levels (for instance, looking out from the metro into the bright light. You can’t see very well, just like you wouldn’t be able to in real life). One big thing Johan details on is the increase in ambient occlusion technologies. For low and medium settings on PC and for all console versions, they went with SSAO, which is a super cheap AO effect. It has no extra memory cost, and is very fast. For high and ultra settings however, they went with HBAO. While they had this technology in BF2, they have vastly improved it. You can see pretty clearly that it darkens parts, while keeps others bright as they should be, and adds even more detail to the picture. To close up the fourth part of the video, Johan breaks down a construction of a scene from the ground up, quite literally. Starting from the terrain and slowly adding everything in, you can actively see how Battlefield 3 goes from looking kind of dull to a beautiful game. At the final section of the video series, Johan takes a quick overview of what kind of system you’ll need to play Battlefield 3 on its various settings (taken directly from the video): LOW = lowest possible Similar visuals to consoles, lots of stuff disabled Still contains the essential visuals to not be unfair to multiplayer Minimum: Geforce 8800 GT 512 MB RAM MEDIUM = good performance Most important visual features enabled HIGH = what the game is designed for All major features on except for MSAA (if you have DX11 card) Recommended: Geforce 560 TI or better ULTRA = highest possible Intended primarily for multi-GPU machines for 60+ FPS As you can see, ultra is not for the faint of heart, system-wise. Unless you have a pretty kick-ass machine, don't think you're going to be able to pull off ultra without a hitch. For all you AMD fans out there, I suggest the Radeon HD 4770 for the minimum spec requirement and the Radeon HD 6950 for the high spec recommendation. Battlefield 3 comes with a few nifty tools for those of us who benchmark and track our performance with various games, with an in-game console (accessible through pressing TAB), a built-in FPS meter (Render.DrawFPS 1 in the console), and a performance overlay that shows CPU/GPU graph over time (Render.PerfOverlayVisible 1 in the console). Personally, I really enjoy this feature, as it will make my life quite easier. Wrapping it up, Johan briefly covers the 3D Vision capabilities of Battlefield 3. I don't know how many of you game in 3D, but it's pretty sweet, albeit a little tiring on the eyes. Sadly, while Battlefield 3 does not have 3D Vision support upon release, we expect EA to add 3D support in the upcoming patch. Also, check out NVIDIA'S latest GeForce 285.62 drivers here. These drivers are compatible with and support 3D Vision for Battlefield 3.
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To help usher in Battlefield 3, NVIDIA has released some behind-the-scenes footage from GeForce LAN 6 detailing how DICE made the game the gorgeous masterpiece it is. The video series features rendering architect Johan A...

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Lots of NVIDIA toys to play with at BlizzCon


Oct 20
// Alex Bout
NVIDIA has shared a little of what's in store for BlizzCon this year. Just about everywhere you look at the convention, you'll find GeForce GTX-equipped PCs powering all the Blizzard games you love such as World of Warcraft&n...

Review: OCZ Vertex 3 vs. Crucial M4 solid-state drive

Oct 19 // Alex Bout
EDIT: I've updated the Crucial M4's firmware from 0002 to 0009. I sincerely apologize for this mix up. Because I received my test system from NVIDIA, I made the (careless) assumption that the latest firmware was installed. It was a mistake I do not intend on making again, and I thank you all for your understanding. Overview: solid-state drives vs. hard disk drives If you aren't familiar with the difference between solid state drives and hard disk drives, here's a quick catch up. Hard disk drives consist of several magnetic "platters" that spin around and record data by changing the magnetic signature on each platter. Because of this method, the speed at which the drive can store and retrieve information is dependent on the velocity those platters spin (normal "gaming"-grade hard drives rotate at 7200RPM or faster), so retrieval is still relatively slow. Solid-state drives work more similarly to the RAM in your computer than a HDD. The biggest difference is that unlike HDDs, SSDs do not contain any moving parts (so no rotating platters), meaning they are completely silent. In addition to that, they have lower access times and latency as well as being much more resistant to physical shock. However, this comes at a price: SSD memory is much more expensive per GB than the HDD alternative. A little more bad news: in general, hard drive speed has no bearing on online play, and users will see little to no improvement in gameplay other than perhaps faster load times (if the change is even noticeable). OCZ Vertex 3 Specifications OCZ's third round of SSDs consists of three drives: the Vertex 3, Agility 3, and the Solid 3. Out of these, the Vertex 3 reigns supreme in performance, and as a result, has a higher price. [Click the image for a larger version] The OCZ Vertex 3 ($209.99) comes in several different capacities (60GB, 90GB, 120GB, 240GB, and 480GB). It also boasts multiple awards, including "recommended buy" in 2011 from Tom's Hardware and StorageReview.com's Editor's Choice award. While the Vertex 3 is sold in multiple sizes, we will be taking a closer look at the 120GB drive in particular today. Crucial M4 128GB Specifications In the other corner, we have the Crucial M4 128GB ($197.99) drive, which boasts a maximum read and write speed of 415 MB/s and 175 MB/s: Sadly, I couldn't find a fancy picture that has all the in-depth specs like I could with the Vertex 3. Although the M4 isn't as fast as the Vertex 3, it has a much higher IOPS count for 4kb files. Just like the Vertex 3, the M4 was also awarded by Tom's Hardware as a 2011 recommended buy, as well as claimed to be the best 2.5" SSD on the market by SSD Review. Benchmarks For this review, I used four different benchmarking tools: AS SSD, ATTO, CrystalMark, and HD Tune Pro. Each of these benchmarks were run ten times each for consistency, and the results were averaged together. All tests and games used for this review were done on the following system, which was provided by NVIDIA: Power supply: Silverstone Strider Gold 1200W PSU Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z Motherboard Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K @4.6GHz (overclocked) Memory: 2x Crucial 4GB D3 PC3-10600 1333MHz RAM Video card: 2x EVGA Geforce GTX580 1536MB in SLI Configuration Hard drives:128GB Crucial M4 SSD120GB OCZ Vertex 3120GB Solid 32TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM Operating system: Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium Case: Falcon Northwest Mach V So after the retest, it's pretty clear which won here. Even though the read speeds are similar (M4 is 10MB/s faster still), the write speeds are an entire 85MB/s higher than the Vertex 3. With the write speed just as fast as the Solid 3's read speed, it sadly outstrips both the Solid 3 and the WD Black by a landslide. 4k files are really where the solid-state drives begin to shine, and where the Crucial M4 goes supernova. To clarify what the second graph represents, 64Thrd are 64 simultaneous requests for 4k of data, and 4k QD32 means 4k 32 queue depth meaning there are 32 requests one-by-one for 4k of data. Both of these stats contribute toward load times, and perhaps take one of the largest roles in deciding how well a hard drive stores and retrieves information. This area is, again, where the solid-state drives really stand out. Because HDDs work on a system of rotating platters, this is where that disadvantage truly begins to kick in. As the read/write function is dependent on the speed of the moving parts, the IOPS (Input Output Per Second) and the access time have to wait for the next revolution. It's almost like the firmware strapped a rocket to the M4. Although the score was higher than the Vertex 3's before (575), it's an entire 200 points higher, which is no small feat! Real-life tests For my "real-life" tests, I used five different trials: the start-up time for Adobe Photoshop CS5, Starcraft II, Windows 7, and the load times for Portal 2 and Arma 2. For CS5, Starcraft II, Portal 2, and Arma 2, each trial was started from the execution of the program until it was done loading. Windows 7, on the other hand, was timed based off when the splash screen appeared until the log-in screen finished loading. Similar to the benchmarks above, each test was run ten times each and the result shown in the graphs is the average of them all. In contrary to my previous review, the Solid 3 didn't lose out to the WD Black in this test. However, it didn't win either, coming in a tie. Moving on to the Vertex 3 and Crucial M4 though, the M4 is starting to shake things up and sneaked ahead of the Vertex 3 by a mere .08 seconds. Based off our earlier results, I was honestly expecting the M4 to completely destroy the Vertex 3 in this and the rest of the real life tests. Don't get me wrong, it was still a five second improvement from before, but it still drags behind the Vertex 3 by a little over two seconds. Based off a recommendation comment I received in my review for the OCZ Solid 3, I decided to give Arma 2 a shot, since it's supposed to be hard-drive intensive. For this test in particular, I decided to gauge the launch time of the Benchmark 1 scenario. Turns out, it was pretty close, except for the WD Black which trailed behind, as anticipated. Even after the retest, the Crucial M4 didn't budge from this mark, which left me pretty shocked. Now that's what I'm talking about! Even if it's just .26 seconds faster than the Vertex 3, the Crucial ended up launching Starcraft II the fastest. Stability While I had some stability issues with with the OCZ Solid 3, I've had no problems or horror stories with the Vertex 3. That said, when directly compared with the track record of the M4, I decided to look into the stability of the two a little closer. To do this, I decided to examine the speed consistency that each drive had through HD Tune Pro: OCZ Vertex 3 Crucial M4 As you can see from looking at the graphs, the Crucial M4 makes a much lower rating on the Richter scale than the Vertex 3, showing much more stability and increased drive consistency overall. After checking my Vertex 3 for any errors or partial hardware failure, it was determined that its health was fine, and there were no detectable problems with the drive. Between the speed and the reliability the Crucial M4 offers, it's pretty clear which is the best choice between the two. Bottom line While the Vertex 3 does offer great speed, it simply just doesn't stand up to the Crucial M4 in the benchmarks. However, when taking the real life tests into account, the Vertex 3 does in fact have some merit, as it beat the M4 in several of the tests. However overall, my recommendation has to go with the Crucial M4. It offers greater speed, reliability, and eight more gigabytes to top it off for the OS! Even though the WD Black didn't hold a candle to the SSDs in the benchmarks, it should be noted that it wasn't that far behind launching applications and load times. So if you are in the market for a storage drive (and you should at least have one if you are in the market for a SSD), the Western Digital Caviar Black is an excellent choice. Another option I didn't discuss before is the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS ($248.99) drive. While I haven't personally reviewed this drive, it increases Random Write IOPS for 4KB from 60,000 IOPS to 75,000 IOPS for a $40 price increase. If you have some extra money to drop on it, it would be an excellent (and relatively cheap) performance increase from the regular Vertex 3. Link round-up OCZ Vertex 3 120GB SATA III MAX IOPS Solid State Drive ($248.99)OCZ Vertex 3 120Gb SATA III Solid State Drive ($209.99)Crucial Mr 128GB SATA III Solid State Drive ($197.99)OCZ Solid 3 120GB SATA III Solid State Drive ($167.49)Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB SATA III 7200RPM 64MB Cache ($149.99)
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Even among solid state drives, there is a wide range of performance despite the large improvement over traditional hard disk drives. A couple weeks ago, I reviewed the OCZ Solid 3 ($167.49) and it turned out to not be th...

Review: OCZ Solid 3 solid-state drive

Sep 28 // Alex Bout
Overview: solid-state drives vs. hard disk drives In case you aren't familiar with the difference between solid-state drives and hard disk drives, here's a brief overview. A normal HDD is made of several magnetic disks that spin around and record data by changing the surface of those disks, and capacity increases as disks, or platters, are added to the drive. Because of the method by which the HDD stores information, retrieval of said information is dependent on the speed at which those disks are spinning (normal "gaming"-grade hard drives spin at 7200RPM or higher), so retrieval isn't instantaneous. Solid-state drives are completely different in that they behave somewhat more like the RAM in your computer. These drives have no moving parts (no rotating platters), which means they are completely silent. In addition, they have lower access times and latency and are more resistant to physical shock, but this comes at a price: they're typically much more expensive per gigabyte than a hard drive. Nowadays, SSDs use NAND-based flash memory, which uses transistors that closely resemble a NAND gate used in many circuits. This unique architecture allows SSDs to have seemingly instantaneous access times and has allowed gamers to relieve the common hard drive bottleneck. OCZ Solid 3 Specifications OCZ's third generation of SSDs consists of three premier drives in descending order of performance (and price): the Vertex 3, the Agility 3, and the Solid 3, which we will be covering today. The Solid 3 comes in two sizes, 60GB ($99.99) and 120 GB ($171.44). With a blazing-fast max read/write speed of 500MB/s and 450MB/s respectively, the drive seems to dust any other HDD out there. However, you will rarely (if ever) reach the max speeds, so it is generally better to gauge performance off the regular speeds, which are quite lower than the max speeds. Although the sequential read speed is about 40MB/s higher than my Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM HDD, the Solid 3 actually lost in terms of sequential write speed, which surprised me a little. OCZ Solid 3 and WD Caviar Black Benchmarks Here are the benchmark scores I got for both the OCZ Solid 3 and the Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM 1TB Hard Drive ($79.99). Both hard drives have 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate installed on them along with multiple programs, with the OCZ Solid 3 on a SATA 6GB/s interface and the WD Black on a SATA 3GB/s interface. OCZ Solid 3 WD Caviar Black I AS SSD Benchmark. Here's where I was really shocked that the Western Digital actually beat out OCZ in sequential write speed. Upon buying the SSD, I was under the impression it would be substantially faster than any HDD. I guess I was slightly wrong. However, the race was only close in sequential read speeds. In all others, the Solid 3 simply annihilated the Western Digital HDD, ending with a final score over seven times greater than the Caviar Black.  Next up is the ATTO Disk Benchmark. Although the graphs look similar at a glance, you have to remember to look at the numbers. They were at least in the same ballpark until it got to around 4KB transfer size, and then the SSD strapped a rocket to itself and took it to another level. In HD Tune Pro, we see similar cases yet again. While the SSD wasn't as constant as I would have liked, it was still significantly faster than the HDD, which actually slowed down over the course of the test. While access time was more or less constant with the SSD, access time increased for the HDD.  Real-life tests For some real-life performance tests, I decided to evaluate start-up times for Windows, Photoshop CS5, and StarCraft II, and load times for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Portal 2. All these times are averages of ten trials each and results vary somewhat due to human error. It should also be noted that each record was taken starting from when the splash screen appeared on the screen until the application was done loading. Of course, lower numbers are better in all of these boot and load times, so don't get confused. Average OCZ Solid 3 Photoshop CS5 startup time: 1.37 secAverage WD Caviar Black Photoshop CS5 startup time: 1.06 sec Upon seeing the Photoshop CS5 results, I was stymied. Seriously, I ran both tests twice just to make sure I wasn't screwing something up. As it defies every other test, I do not have a clear-cut explanation as to why this happened. However, there are two possibilities that come to mind. First, SSDs are known to have poor, random read/write times, though a lot of this has been fixed in newer versions such as the Solid 3. Second, my SSD is over 50% capacity, which may be slowing down performance slightly. Again though, I was under the impression this rule does not apply to SSDs. Both possibilities should be noted, but are not concrete answers as to why this happened. Average OCZ Solid 3 Windows 7 boot time: 17.66 secAverage WD Caviar Black Windows 7 boot time: 35.94 sec On the other hand, the Windows 7 results do follow the trend that the Solid 3 outperforms the WD Caviar Black. By over halving the Windows boot time, it is actually a true example of how the SSD dominates over the HDD. For the next test, I decided to try StarCraft II, and while the difference was minimal in my opinion, it was a decent gap. Average OCZ Solid 3 StarCraft II start-up time: 7.09 secAverage WD Caviar Black StarCraft II start-up time: 7.63 sec  While it was only about a half-second difference in launch times, the OCZ Solid 3 did come out ahead. However, as I will discuss later, hard-drive access time plays little to no part in the speed of online games, other than the time it takes to launch the game or load new maps. Next up are load times for Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Average OCZ Solid 3 Portal 2 load time: 7.87 secAverage WD Caviar Black Portal 2 load time: 8.89 sec Average OCZ Solid 3 Deus Ex: Human Revolution load time: 24.49 secAverage WD Caviar Black Deus Ex: Human Revolution load time: 25.82 sec The OCZ Solid 3 beat the WD Caviar Black by at least a full second in both cases. While this may not seem a lot, the small amount of time adds up pretty quickly (especially if you suck at DXHR and die a lot like me). The HDD's times were really sporadic as well, with times deviating by about a half second from the average in both games, while the SSD was much more consistent, hovering within .01 seconds of the average. However, I have to note that the time difference wasn't very noticeable in general. So while the SSD was faster in the end, it didn't drastically change my game experience. Stability I dealt with a lot of frustrating stability issues when working with the OCZ Solid 3. The drive would blue-screen my computer five to seven times a week, and initially had some trouble installing Windows 7. After speaking with customer service, they advised me to install new firmware. Unfortunately, you could not install the firmware if you were using the SSD as your primary drive; this turned out to be not as much of an issue for me, as I could switch over to the WD Caviar Black. After running their "toolbox" software on the HDD, the computer would BSOD whenever it started downloading the patch. So yet again, I went off to customer service, and they directed me to a post on their forums where I could make a bootable disk to install the software. It worked, and my BSODs became somewhat of a thing of the past. This entire process took me about two weeks to get through because of their slow responses, and I wondered why they didn't just include the solution that worked for me on the actual website, since it was pretty simple. Bottom line The OCZ Solid 3 SSD offers a huge increase in performance in most aspects of computer performance over most, if not all, HDDs currently out there. For gaming, however, it should be mentioned that a hard drive (or solid-state drive) has no bearing on online play. The only thing it may improve is load times between maps, which will be negligible on games that use an Internet connection. While you will see an improvement in single-player games, I don't believe the increase in performance necessarily justifies the price tag for most gamers. Even if you are looking into getting a solid-state drive for that extra boost anyway, I do not recommend the Solid 3 for multiple reasons: stability, performance, and competition. While the stability issues I encountered may have just been bad luck, they did leave me with a bad impression. In terms of performance, the Solid 3 vastly outperformed my HDD in a lot of ways. That said, the HDD and SSD's scores for sequential read weren't so different that I believe it's worth the price difference. For $30 more, you can get the OCZ Vertex 3 ($199.99), which offers even better performance and stability than what I experienced with the Solid 3. My review for the OCZ Vertex 3 will be up relatively soon, so stay tuned! EDIT: Sorry!!! I definitely meant to include my system specs, but they just slipped my mind. I apologize. And without further ado... Processor: Intel i7-860 @3.36GHzMotherboard: ASUS P7P55D-LXVideo Card: EVGA Geforce GTX 460Hard Drives: OCZ Solid 3 120GB, Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM 1TB 
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A lot of people have been asking whether solid-state drives (SSD) are up to par, if they're worth your money when compared to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). Some critics will even go as far as saying that an SSD is the ...

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Official Battlefield 3 PC requirements released


Sep 20
// Alex Bout
The official PC requirements for Battlefield 3 were finally posted today! Minimum System RequirementsOS: Windows Vista (Service Pack 2) 32-BitProcessor: 2 GHz Dual Core (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHZ or Althon X2 2.7 GHz)Memory: 2 GBHar...

While AMD goes for brains, NVIDIA goes for brawn

Sep 10 // Alex Bout
Brains over brawn? Think again. NVIDIA's overwhelming power wins over AMD's ingenuity. One of the biggest differences between AMD and NVIDIA cards is they way they organize their stream processors. To begin with the basics, a stream processor is just one of hundreds of processing units that work in parallel, and are a major part of modern graphics processors. These stream processors work to continuously render millions of pixels and polygons that create the graphics which appear on your screen. The big difference between the way NVIDIA and AMD create their GPU architecture is how they implement the stream processors. As you might have seen while looking through GPU specs, NVIDIA cards have significantly fewer amounts of stream processors (SP), where each is identical to the ones near it. Going into more detail, there are eight identical SP and one special unit that more or less oversees the other eight. For example, if you take a look at the NVIDIA GTX 460, it actually only uses about 88% of the stream processors (every one in nine SP are used as overseers). However, despite this blatant lack of efficiency, it is easier for software developers to create programs for this type of architecture due to its simplicity. Because of this simplicity though, it gives NVIDIA cards the ability to use sheer brute force to power through difficult graphic situations. AMD takes a slightly more clever way of doing things in that not every SP is the same as the ones around it. AMD organizes the stream processors into blocks of six; four identical processors, one that carries different FP/INT arithmetic functions, and an overseer. While it isn't as simple as this, you can more or less look at five AMD stream processors as one NVIDIA stream processor. With this more complicated structure comes a potential for increased power over its NVIDIA counterpart due to the extra flexibility this architecture allows. However, it is easier for developers to create applications for NVIDIA cards due to the simplistic setup, which more or less puts AMD's ingenuity to waste unless a developer decides to write the application to take full advantage of all the SPs AMD has. The downside to this is that most developers decide not to bother with taking advantage of the extra power AMD (potentially) has, which gives NVIDIA cards a leg up on optimization of their cards. AMD's die are significantly smaller than Nvidia's, which allows for cheaper cards. When we compare the Radeon HD 6850 to the GTX 460 in terms of die size, you'll see a 111mm difference between surface areas (the Radeon HD 6850 having a 255mm^2 surface area and the GTX 460 boasting a 366mm^2 die size), which simply means that NVIDIA isn't able to make as many cards as AMD can for the same amount of money. With Silicon prices hovering around one to two dollars a pound, that (pretty sizable) difference in die sizes adds up pretty quickly. The second reason AMD is able to charge less than NVIDIA is because AMD is a part of AMD. This helps because AMD not only receives profits from AMD products, but it also gets the same deals and technological advances AMD gets. It's just a matter of having some variety in the mix. There is, of course, the more obvious reason NVIDIA cards are more expensive than AMD's cards: brand name. It's the basic idea that NVIDIA prices their cards so high because they can get away with it. Although AMD sells at a lower price to be competitive with rival NVIDIA cards, AMD likely still turns a pretty hefty profit off their cards; just think how much NVIDIA is making off it all. Bottom Line While NVIDIA graphics cards may have a little more power to them, AMD graphics cards will (most likely) always be a half step behind them for a fraction of the price. Also keep in mind that because AMD are serious competition for NVIDIA, they have been a major factor in driving NVIDIA prices down. So overall, NVIDIA will carry the title in performance for a higher price tag over AMD. Going into slightly more detail, both brands have their pros and cons, and the one that is best for you is generally going to vary depending on what you intend to use the computer for and what your budget looks like. Typically, if you are going for a performance or gaming rig with a budget of around $700 or more, I would suggest getting an NVIDIA card. Anything below that and I would look into the cheaper alternative, AMD. However, all cases vary from card to card so take the time to look at both brands in that price range and decide if you'd like a slightly lower price or slightly higher performance. EDIT: Swapped ATI for AMD. I apologize, it was a careless mistake on my part.
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If you have looked into building your own computer, you'll know that shopping for a video card can be a daunting experience to say the least. With tons of specs to look at, things tend to get a little confusing when comparing...

Review: The Titan aluminum mouse pad

Aug 30 // Alex Bout
The Titan aluminum mouse pad is made by a relatively new and unknown company called GEARED Gaming Surfaces. Although they have been gaming for over 15 years, they've only released two products into the industry. However, if you consider that they spent over one year developing this 10"x12"x1/8" sheet of metal, it may be a little more understandable why they only have those two products. A lot of people don't seem to know what use a mouse pad is anymore. While it used to be something that helped the little ball on the bottom of the mouse move, people don't use ball mice anymore. (And if you do, you should stop reading now and go get a new mouse. I mean come on! Have some standards.) Nowadays, mouse pads are mainly used for a moderate boost in mouse accuracy. If you don't have a good mouse pad, the mouse will occasionally skip across the screen (one of the most annoying things EVER, in my opinion). They are also helpful in slowing the wear and tear of your mouse (and desk). As you continuously move your mouse across your desk, it will begin to leave scratches on both your mouse and the desk itself, eventually wearing both down. A mouse pad helps helps protect by placing a (usually) softer material in between the two so it wears away at the pad rather than the important things. The Titan aluminum mouse pad specs Ultra smooth (anodized aluminum) surface Poly diamond grip on the back 10"x12" surface area 12 Teflon Mouse feet included 1/8" thickness Comes in 4 colors: Flat black, Natural Aluminum, Galactic Blue, Crimson Red Price: $32.95 Lots of friction! The first thing I noticed when I switched from my SteelSeries QcK Mouse Pad was that there was a substantial increase in the amount of friction between the mouse and the pad. At first, I could not stand this difference at all -- it seemed like five pounds were added to the weight of my mouse -- but first impressions are not everything. As some of my Outer Heaven homies know, I decided to take the mouse pad out for a test drive by playing some Starcraft II. As I played, I gradually got used to the friction. In fact, I actually began to enjoy it there; it was kind of like having a second recognition that you moved your mouse. In addition to that, if you have your mouse set to a high DPI, the added friction gives you a new level of control, since one little twitch of your wrist can send the mouse flying across the entire screen. However, I should mention that the mouse pad did come with some of their Teflon Mouse Feet, and it did decrease the friction by a somewhat minimal amount. What's that scratching sound? Now, I can't attest for other aluminum mouse pads (as I've never used another), but when I started using this mouse pad (without the Teflon feet), it seemed extremely loud compared to my cloth mouse pad. Understandable, being that this is made of metal, but it definitely took some time to get used to hearing my mouse move across a metal slab. When I stuck on the new Teflon feet, though, the sound was reduced by a little bit, so that it was within a range that I got used to during my Starcraft II session. Ahhh, it feels so nice. First of all, get your mind of the gutter. One of the perks of having an aluminum mouse pad is that it's nice and cool, even when you use the mouse pad continuously for a long time. I can't tell you how nice it feels to have the cool pad under my wrist (though I can't say it does anything to help my carpal tunnel). It feels so nice in fact, that I sometimes put both my hands on the pad just to cool them down. I think it's a pretty cool feature they probably didn't intend on including. Yes, the pun was intended. Using a sheet of metal for a mouse pad has its advantages... So as (probably) most of you know, the rubber and cloth mouse pads tend to have a few problems with appearance over time. With the fraying edges, miscellaneous junk getting stuck to them, and random discolorations appearing over time, you just have to either clean the mouse pad regularly or simply replace it whenever it gets too disgusting for your tastes. This is not a problem for the Titan. No matter how much you use it, the edges won't fray, and any dust that may settle on it can easily be wiped off with your hand or a cloth. If any of you read my review on the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Keyboard, you'll know that I hated the fact that it was a fingerprint magnet. I'm staring disgustedly at it right now, as I type this. Short of dipping my hands in some sort of oil, I was unable to leave any fingerprints on the Titan. However, I was determined to see what it took to dirty this mouse pad, so I ate some potato chips and rubbed my greasy hands all over it. As expected, it did leave marks, but they were only visible in direct light, and were pretty easy to remove with a bit of Windex. There's more wear and tear than usual. So remember when I said that not using a mouse pad wears down your desk and mouse? Well, you likely won't have to really worry about it wearing down the mouse pad because the aluminum is harder than the material your mouse is made of, but that also means that the mouse will still be worn down. But fear not! The Teflon mouse feet included alleviate that by wearing down the Teflon feet instead of your mouse. Handy, right? This way, neither your desk, mouse pad, or mouse are damaged. The Teflon mouse feet will wear away with time, but as the mouse pad includes 12, you shouldn't run out anytime soon (and replacement feet are only $3.50).  It sticks to the desk like glue! With other mouse pads (namely the cloth ones), you can often push on them and they move relatively easily or they kind of bunch up and wrinkle if you have a thin one. With the Titan, it really sticks to the desk; I've never seen anything like it. With any downward force whatsoever, the mouse pad won't move. Even when I placed my stapler on the mouse pad and pushed horizontally, the traction was increased dramatically. Also, if the bottom gets dirty, it's pretty easily washed off with a wet cloth. Bottom Line I think the GEARED Titan aluminum mouse pad is a decent buy, but I think it might be a little pricey considering it's just a mouse pad. Although if you consider that this mouse pad will last you a while, never fray, show discolorations, and add a clean, sharp look to your battle station, I recommend it. So to all you people who are using book covers, notebooks, pads of paper, worn down rubber/cloth mouse pads, or no mouse pad at all: look into this one, I think it's worth the buy.
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I don't know how many of you use aluminum mouse pads, but this is the first one I've ever tried out. Unlike your typical rubber mouse pad, these are rigid. It freaked me a little out at first, but it's pretty cool. You won't get those annoying frayed ends on the edges of the mouse pad, it stays clean, and my mouse has excellent accuracy with it.

Review: Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Aug 25 // Alex Bout
In case you don't know how a mechanical keyboard is different from a typical keyboard, I'll give you the key differences in a nutshell. There are three main types of keyboards: membrane, scissor switch, and mechanical. Membrane keyboards are the most commonly used, with each key positioned over a rubber dome, one for each key. However, every single one of these domes aren't always uniform thickness, which changes the endurance and springiness of each key. Because of that, the feel of each key will not be uniform across the entire board. These are the cheapest keyboards, and you can expect them to last for about ten million keystrokes. The second type of key, which is commonly used in laptop keyboards, is the scissor switch key. These are a little pricier than membrane keyboards, but are a slightly more springy to facilitate faster typing. In addition to having that extra pop, these keyboards also have faster response times, are quieter, and have double the life expectancy of a membrane keyboard, rated at about twenty million keystrokes. As good as scissor switch keyboards may sound, mechanical keyboards really hit it out of the ballpark. Each of the keys on these boards have their own mechanical switch that quickly snap back into position after being actuated, which allows for even faster typing than a scissor switch keyboard. In addition to this, the mechanical switches make a very distinct clicking when pressed, and have a very solid feel to them because of their weight. However, because each key is its own individual part, it really jacks up the price. On the other hand, the price is more or less negligible when you consider the massive 50 million keystroke life expectancy; over double a scissor switch, and five times greater than a membrane keyboard. Do the math and you'll see you save a ton of money by investing in one of these instead of buying multiple of the other types. Today, we're going to focus on one mechanical keyboard in particular: the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical gaming keyboard. While this review is about the regular edition of the keyboard, the Ultimate edition is more or less the same, just with a back light for the keys, and a USB and audio jack on the keyboard (also note that the Ultimate edition takes up two USB jacks instead of the one that the regular edition requires). I have pictures from the unboxing that I will post in the gallery, but I think it's kind of silly and a waste of time to talk about it, so I'll just skip straight to what I think about the keyboard itself. Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Gaming Keyboard specs Keyboard type: Gaming Connection type: USB 2.0 Colors: Black Operating Systems supported: Windows XP, Vista, 7 (Though there is a mac version) Full mechanical keys with 50g actuation force Response time: 1ms Programmable keys with on the fly macro recording Ten separate macro profiles with on the fly switching Five dedicated macro keys Multimedia controls (requires use of the function key) Braided cord What I noticed immediately is the really bright gloss they used to coat the keyboard. It looks nice, but it's a real finger print magnet. Honestly, I would have much preferred it if they left the gloss out. I'm getting tired of wiping my keyboard off to keep it looking nice. The first thing I had to try out, of course, were the keys. Because it's a mechanical keyboard, the keys actually register mid way through the actuation, which can be both a good and a bad thing. Good because it allows for faster typing, but bad if you are switching between several keys (WASD movement) because that means you have to go a little farther up than you would with a scissor switch key, or both keys will end up being pressed. It was also very loud! Compared to the scissor switch keyboard I had been using before, it was almost imposingly loud, and almost unbearable. However, after a few days of use, I came to get used to the noise, and it's nice to hear that you pressed the key instead of maybe not being so sure. As a side note, the font they used for the keys is laser engraved, giving it a nice permanent feeling to it. You won't have any issues with the letters wearing off after a while. However, they used a non-conventional font, which is a little more difficult to read at a glance compared to most keyboards. Honestly, I would have preferred if they had just used the regular font, even though the font they used looks sleek and cool. Another thing I noticed early on was that it was heavy! Much heavier than any keyboard I had owned before, weighing around five pounds. When you pick it up, you can feel that the keyboard is durable and made of some quality stuff. A combination of the weight and rubber track on the bottom makes sure it won't slide around on your desk. The macro program that the keyboard utilizes is pretty easy to use once you get used to where things are, and the on-the-fly macros are extremely handy. It should be noted that the keyboard itself does not have any on-board memory, so any macros you make will not be carried with the keyboard. It's a little annoying, but I don't move around much, so this isn't a huge deal to me. Another thing that kind of bugs me a little is the altered key placement, the first being the placement of the F keys. There's a seemingly huge gap between the esc key and the f1 key, which really throws me off, because I use all of the F keys pretty frequently, and I often miss both the esc and f1 keys with this keyboard. I think this is more of a "me getting used to this keyboard" situation instead of it being a flaw, though the schizophrenic side me of me says that while there's nothing wrong with breaking the mold, there are some things you just have to conform to. As well as the esc and f1 key issue, I often find myself pressing the m5 key instead of ctrl, because I glance down to look for the corner key, and hit the wrong key by accident. Again, I believe this is something I just need to get used to rather than a flaw. There is an issue that I've heard of many people having with this keyboard, but I have yet to experience it myself. Several customers have reported that the space bar will sometimes somehow shift and end up touching the alt key, which makes the space bar (and the alt key I assume) extremely hard to press. I don't really know if this is a common manufacturing defect, or if these people are just throwing their keyboards against a wall; all I know is that for the majority of keyboards sold, this is not a problem. If it is a problem, however, the keyboard does come with a one-year warranty that should clear that right up. In addition to this, I think the shift key is a little more difficult to press than the rest of the keys. It's pretty subtle for me, but it makes capitalizing a bit of a pain sometimes. I believe this has to do with the angle I press the shift key, and it is only slightly noticeable, just thought it should at least be mentioned. All in all, this is a great keyboard. The design is sleek and smooth, the key presses are sharp and accurate, the macros are fairly fast and simple to use, and it's priced relatively cheaply at $79.99. Also keep in mind that if you would like the back lighting and USB/Audio jack plug ins, you can pay $30 more for the Ultimate edition, but I don't think it's worth the money. Turn on the lights and plug your stuff into the front of your tower; save your hard earned money for something more worthwhile. Despite the drawbacks I talked about in this article, I still think the pros outweigh the cons, and the keyboard is worth every penny. I really enjoy the keys, macros, and the ungodly 50 million keystroke life. If you're looking into getting a keyboard that will last you a long time, I highly recommend you add the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Gaming Keyboard to your gaming arsenal.
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Everyone thinks of taking their game to the next level, and many times, the brain goes straight to replacing the video card or some other internal computer part. However, one of the easiest improvements you might be able to m...

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Amazing new Guild Wars 2 trailer for gamescom!


Aug 18
// Alex Bout
To all you Guild Wars 2 fans, if you haven't seen this trailer for gamescom yet, crank up your speakers and start buffering this video! For those who aren't into MMOs or haven't heard of Guild Wars 2, please check it ou...

Top five computer monitors for under $200

Aug 16 // Alex Bout
Before we begin, one thing that is commonly misunderstood by a lot of people is the difference between an LCD screen and a LED screen. In a nutshell, the big difference is how they're lit (thank you, Captain Obvious). LCD has one white light in the back that shines through different filters, creating the colors you see on the screen. LED. on the other hand, has different colored lights with no filters. This allows the LED screen to actually dim parts of the screen and create a pure black instead of that really dark gray we're all used to (LCD screens can't do that). In addition to the increased color accuracy, LED screens also offer increased viewing angles and thinner screens, and they use 40% less power than LCD screens. However, the downside is that they cost about 50% more than a similar LCD screen. Click here to read more about this. In addition to the LED/LCD misconception, there is also a specification that a lot of manufacturers use to really mislead their customers: contrast ratio. There's no set standard of measure for contrast ratio, which makes it exceedingly difficult to tell how good a ratio is. My best suggestion is to look at the monitors side by side in person if you can. If not, just look at reviews of each product and decide for yourself. Anyway, if you take a look in the table below, you'll see both DC and ASCR along with DiC. First off, DC stands for Dynamic Contrast -- it's somewhat of a standard that companies use, but that's not always the case. ASCR stands for ASUS Smart Contrast Ratio, and is pretty much something ASUS made up to more or less hide the real dynamic contrast their screens have. However, they've gotten decent reviews, so I would peg them to be about average. It's something really hard to tell, and it's a little sketchy that they don't release these numbers -- it suggests they have something to hide. One thing I found pretty odd on the LG monitor was that their DC didn't mean dynamic contrast like the rest did, but digital contrast instead which means that we have yet another bogus term to worry about, which is why I labeled it DiC instead of DC. Finally, the number in parenthesis is the static contrast ratio, which seems to be more or less standard from what I've seen at 1000:1. What worries me is that this statistic couldn't be found on some of the monitors, which is what makes me the most suspicious that they might be hiding something. I guess the bottom line is, ignore this statistic, and judge what you can from the rest of the specs given. For all of you who don't really know the different video inputs, I figured it would be nice to have some quick information on it. VGA and D-Sub are both analog signals, which are becoming rarer and rarer in a digital age, and are generally thrown onto a monitor just for those people who still cling to the Stone Age. DVI and HDMI are the real powerhouses that are taking the stage at the moment. They both have the same video quality, but the difference is that HDMI has sound included. So if your monitor has speakers built in, you don't have to worry about plugging in a separate auxiliary audio cable to plug in. These inputs are digital and can carry much more information to the monitor, in addition to not making it convert the digital signal that your computer sends out into an analog signal like a VGA or D-sub cable must do. Now, let's move on to the rankings! 1. Asus VK246H ($196) I picked the VK246H as my first choice for a couple of different reasons. Not only does it sport a nice, large 24" screen, but it's also pretty inexpensive at only $196, considering what it comes with. In addition to the phenomenal pricing, it is 1080p, sports two built-in 2W speakers, and a built-in webcam. Don't like the idea that it has a webcam attached? Buy the camera-less variant for about the same price. Oh, did I also mention that it has a 2ms response time? This will reduce any ghosting you might experience, which is a big deal for gamers. However, because these values aren't absolute, you should probably expect to see a slightly higher response time. There are some things that could be better about this monitor, however. For one, it's an LCD screen, so you'll lose some of the contrast that comes with LED. That also means that you're only really going to get mediocre color accuracy with this monitor. Fortunately, the average eye probably won't be able to tell the difference. 2. Asus VH238H LED ($175) I picked this one after the VK246H mainly because of the reduction in size and brightness, though I don't think the difference would be very noticeable. This monitor is LED instead of LCD, so it was a pretty close call in my eyes. For all of you who don't want a built-in webcam, I'd go with this option; I could see someone going either way, especially considering the overwhelmingly better color contrast. I'll admit that I had a hard time deciding and only picked the other monitor because of the size and webcam. 3. Viewsonic VA2431wm ($170) The Viewsonic VA2431wm is actually better than the ASUS VH238H that I mentioned above in some respects such as size and brightness, except that it loses a little in terms of response time and that it lacks the HDMI port. In addition to this, it is only a LCD screen, where as the ASUS is an LED. However for five dollars less, it might be worth your money to take the hit for those nice perks.   4. Asus VH222H-P ($139) With a smaller screen and a 5ms response time, the VH222H-P is my third choice only because of its relatively attractive price. The response time pretty much rules it out for any serious gamers. However, for all of the more casual gaming, home, and office users, this monitor will do fine. Honestly, I don't know a lot of people who can really tell a huge difference in 3ms. 5. LG E2350V-SN ($194) EDIT: I apologize so much! I don't know how I goofed up on the previous link here, and the image above. I would replace the image above, but I don't have the source code from the table that I have above with me (it's an image right now), because I'm on vacation right now. Either way, the specs are as follows...23" LED backlight screen, 1920x1080 resolution, 250 cd/m2 brightness, DC 5,000,000:1 contrast, response time of 5ms, D-Sub, DVI, and HDMI video inputs, and no built-in speakers. While it is a good monitor, the price really put me off because I feel you could get better deal on another monitor. However, it does have a good screen size, resolution, contrast, and decent brightness as long as looking quite sharp. Again, I apologize for the goof-up with the table and such. Bottom Line All of the top three choices are excellent monitors and I highly recommend all three. You will have to decide for yourself which is the best for you personally. I'd probably buy the Asus VH222H-P for a home or office computer because of the slower response time and the low price. I would only recommend LG W2486L if you really want a nice LED screen. Still, it was ranked above the Acer S201HL because of the Acer's low resolution and small screen size. P.S. Special thanks to those that contributed to my research in my community blog. What other kinds of PC hardware coverage would you like to see on Destructoid? Let us know!
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As good of a gaming computer as you might have, whether you spent $400 or $2000, its visual output will more or less look like crap unless you have a good monitor to show off what it can do. Today, I'm going to rank the top f...

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It's Sylvari week on Guild Wars 2!


Aug 08
// Alex Bout
You may or may not have heard about Guild Wars 2 depending on how much you're into MMOs, but you're going to at least want to check it out, whether you like them or not. Even though Guild Wars 2 isn't released yet, ArenaNet c...

How to build a $480 gaming PC to take on Battlefield 3

Jul 30 // Alex Bout
Our handy-dandy game retailer, GameStop, has made some speculations about the level of hardware you're going to need to really own this game. While they aren't the official specs, I'd say they're pretty spot-on. Minimum PC requirements for Battlefield 3: Hard Drive Space: 15 GB for disc version or 10 GB for digital version Operating System: Windows Vista or Windows 7 Processor: Core 2 Duo @ 2.0GHz RAM: 2 GB Video Card: DirectX 10 or 11 compatible Nvidia or AMD ATI card Recommended PC requirements for Battlefield 3: Hard Drive Space: 15 GB for disc version or 10 GB for digital version Operating System: Windows 7 64-bit Processor: Quad-core Intel or AMD CPU RAM: 4 GB Video Card: DirectX 11 Nvidia or AMD ATI card, GeForce GTX 460, Radeon HD 6850 Because nobody's got unlimited money (excluding you retail buyers), I'm going to put together a computer rig that will be able to run Battlefield 3 well on moderate settings. So without further ado, take a look! Click here to view this computer build Intel Core i5-2500K 3.33Ghz Quad-Core Processor ($219.99) -- or Intel i3-530 ($109.99) The Intel Core i5-2500K, nicely priced at $219.99, is a good choice for this game because of its clock speed and its quad-core capabilities. However, I don't think it's completely necessary to have a quad-core processor, because most games are graphics card dependent instead of processor dependent. I stand behind this so much, in fact, that I think an Intel Core i3 would do the deed of running Battlefield 3 on moderate settings if you're looking for a decent price cut (about $110 cheaper than the i5). The processor manages the different things your computer does at once (this is a tag-team with your RAM). So since you're only going to be running one main program or game at a time, you have no need for an overly powerful CPU. Cooler Master DP6-9EDSA-0L-GP CPU Cooler ($9.99) -- or use the stock fan for free ($0.00) Moving down the list, the CPU cooler is just one that I picked out because anything's better than the crappy one that comes with the processor. However, if you want to save another ten dollars, you can probably just knock it off completely. The stock fan does a decent job, but it just keeps things a little too toasty for my tastes. ASRock H61M-VS Intel H61 Micro ATX Motherboard ($59.99) The motherboard has the Intel H61 chipset, which is a pretty powerful chip for the money. You can load a maximum of 16 gigabytes of RAM into this board (which we'll talk about in a second) and four SATA 3GB/s slots, which allow you to connect your hard drives and CD drives and such. Best part about this board: it's only $65. It's got all you need for the PC you're building. Corsair XMS3 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($29.99) -- or only 2GB of RAM ($17.99) I picked Corsair memory because it's real quality for only 30 bucks. I suggest getting four gigabytes of RAM just so you can comfortably run other programs in the background while you play (e.g., Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Skype, Steam), but if you really need the price drop, you can probably skate by with only two gigabytes of RAM for just $18. If you'd like to keep the four gigabytes but still want the price cut, PNY might be a better choice. Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard drive ($59.99) -- or 320GB ($39.99) You can't go wrong with this hard drive, especially for $60. With excellent quality and even better customer service, they're the best choice, in my book. However, you may not require the full terabyte of storage, so you can just cut it down to 320GB, but you'll only be putting maximum of $20 back into your pocket. Asus Radeon HD 6670 1GB Video Card ($94.98) -- or Radeon HD 6570 ($74.98) Honestly, if you're going to skimp on anything in this computer build, I wouldn't recommend cutting from the video card department. Go with the Radeon HD 6670 ($94.98) or higher. Because Battlefield 3 is such a graphics-intensive game, your video card is effectively the most important part of the computer for gamers because it renders all of the pretty things you see on the screen. If you must cut back, however, I suggest swinging with the Radeon HD 6570 to get the job done for $20 less. Antec 500W ATX12V Power Supply ($54.09) -- 500W or more recommended The rest of the stuff is pretty much up to you. I just chose the parts because they were nice, cheap options that you're going to need. I wouldn't go below a 500W power supply, because I was lowballing it in the first place. To be safe, I suggest getting a 600W or 650W power supply instead. Arctic Silver ($6.41) -- or use the gray paste on the stock fan As with all computers, you'll also need a thermal compound such as Arctic Silver ($6), which is used to transfer heat from your processor to its heat sink. Unless you're planning on using the miscellaneous gray goop that's already on the stock fan, I highly recommend Arctic Silver for your thermal compound. As I stated in the beginning, you should be able to run Battlefield 3 on moderate settings, and maybe a little higher if you overclock the processor. If you're looking to upgrade this computer, start with the video card; it will provide the most immediate boost to gameplay performance. (This also applies to overclocking: GPU overclocking will often improve performance by 15-30% when done correctly). Save $560: Original computer comes to $698, economy computer comes to $539.48 So let's do the math: On top of saving $400 from buying from a computer retailer, you can save about $160 more if you want to take a hit in performance, which comes to a grand total of $560 in savings. You might as well slap a 50% discount sticker on retail computers and throw in some free computer training as well. Adding it all together without the price cuts brings us to a slim total of $698, while the cost-reduction build comes to a mind-blowing total of only $539.48. If you've never built a computer before or need some reminders on how to do it and which parts to pick, check out this tutorial or any of the many other guides online. Battlefield 3 is scheduled to hit stores on October 25, 2011. Will your computer be ready? edited: 8/1/11 1:45AM EST
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Battlefield 3 is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated games of the year. With tons of buildings to blow up, explosions that put the Fourth of July to shame, intense competition, and graphics that make your eyes bleed, how ...


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