ASRock X99 Extreme6 (LGA 2011-3) Motherboard Review

Introduction and Closer Look


During Intel’s X99 launch in early September one motherboard vendor was noticeably absent from the scene – ASRock. While we’re not sure as to the exact reason for ASRock’s delayed entry, they are now out in full force with an extensive top-to-bottom X99 product stack. Their range of products for Intel’s High-End Desktop (HEDT) platform span the usual three product segmentations: the OC, Fatal1ty and Extreme series. Whichever ASRock motherboard series consumers choose they will be greeted with a very high-end system due to the nature of Intel ‘s X99 chipset and Haswell-E processors. However, each series has been tailored for a specific type of user. The OC series, themed black and yellow, targets the performance junkie and enthusiastic overclocker with beefed up power phases and handy overclocking tools and buttons. The Fatal1ty series, themed black and red, targets gamers with improved quality audio hardware and Killer networking. The Extreme series, themed black and blue, is umbrella group within which today’s motherboard rests. The Extreme series doesn’t target any particular type of user: it is ASRock’s solid all-round motherboard. Consumers struggling to grapple with what that means in practice should equate the ASRock Extreme series to ASUS’s Channel series, Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable series and MSI’s Classic series. On the test bench today is ASRock’s X99 Extreme6 which sits above the X99 Extreme3, X99 Extreme4 and X99M Extreme4 but below the X99 Extreme6/ac, X99 WS and X99 Extreme11.

At first glance the X99 Extreme6 offers a very broad feature set that doesn’t stand out for anything specific, which is what you’d expect for the all-round Extreme series. ASRock provide no additional SATA III 6Gbps ports above the ten already integrated into the Intel X99 chipset, they’ve also decided to side-step the inclusion of a SATA Express port, instead opting for an enhanced “Ultra” M.2 port with 32 Gbps capabilities: 320% more than the default 10 Gbps M.2 port. Two areas where the X99 Extreme6 shines are in power componentry and networking. The ASRock Extreme6 features 12K rated capacitors, a 12 phase design and 60 amp rated power chokes, which are of a solid alloy design. On the networking side dual Gigabit LAN is provided by Intel and Qualcomm controllers with optional AC WiFi made available with the X99 Extreme6/ac for those users who desire it. Users who choose the non-AC model will be left with an unpopulated mini PCIe slot that is capable of supporting a wide variety of wireless networking combo cards.

Packaging and Accessories

The ASRock X99 Extreme6 is certified for up to 3-Way SLI so inside the box you will find 2 and 3-way SLI bridges. Other accessories include four SATA 6Gbps cables, two screws (one for securing mPCIe cards and the other for securing M.2 devices), a variety of documentation, a driver & utility DVD, ASRock case sticker and a SATA power adapter for using ASRock’s HDD Saver technology.

A Closer Look

The blue and black colour scheme ASRock use on their Exreme series is a refreshing break from the red and black repetition that is becoming so common. Once upon a time blue was the in-fashion colour scheme used by ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI, for those of you who can remember as far back as Z77. Now, MSI and ASRock are the only vendors equipping Blue.

Moving down to the bottom of the motherboard we find, from left to right, front panel audio, a TPM header, a Thunderbolt header, a COM port, a clear CMOS jumper, a BIOS switch, dual USB 2.0 headers, two system fan headers, a power button, a reset button and the front panel connectors.

Along the right side of the motherboard we find a USB 2.o port, 24 pin power connector, a pair of USB 3.0 headers and a fan header.

Down by the PCH heatsink there’s a block of 10 SATA III 6Gbps ports and a debug LED.

The CPU socket area reveals an impressive 12 phase VRM for enhanced overclocking potential.

The PCIe configuration supports three-way on 40 lane CPUs and two-way on the 28 lane i7 5820K. An “Ultra” M.2 port and mini PCIe slot are provided for extra connectivity options. Helpfully there’s also supplementary molex power and double slot spacing for multi-GPU configs.

ASRock implement the shielded Realtek ALC1150 audio codec onto an isolated PCB with advanced audio capacitors, this forms their Purity Sound 2 package.

At the top of the motherboard we see a nickel plated heatpipe adjoining the two CPU VRM heatsinks. An 8 pin EPS tucks in behind the primary VRM heatsink along with a pair of CPU fan headers, one 3 pin and another 4.

The rear I/O offers a nice balance of connectivity: dual LAN, six USB 3.0 ports, eSATA, two USB 2.0 ports, a keyboard/mouse combo, six audio ports (5 analogue, 1 optical) and a clear CMOS button.

 

On the under-side we find easily serviceable screws which ensure that the heatsinks can easily be removed for water cooling.

Gigabyte X99 Gaming G1 WiFi (LGA 2011-3) Motherboard Review

Introduction and Closer Look


A trend that is observable with higher end “gaming” motherboards is that they tend to be geared primarily towards performance junkies, overclockers and all-round enthusiasts, rather than just pure gamers. Gaming motherboards based on Intel’s X99 chipset are a perfect example of this because the reality is that most gamers would get a better deal by opting for a Z97 motherboard and a Core i7 4790K. As a result a gaming X99 motherboard appeals to a specific type of gamer who has the need for a large amount of CPU horsepower and memory to assist with things like video editing, rendering and streaming. Today we have Gigabyte’s G1 Gaming WiFi motherboard which takes Gigabyte’s “gaming” feature-set of upgraded quality audio and Killer networking and pairs that up with the performance of the X99 platform and various tools for overclockers such as voltage read-off points and onboard buttons. There’s also a shed-load of connectivity such as dual-LAN, AC WiFi, SATA Express, M.2 and more USB ports than you can shake a stick at. In basic terms, the Gaming G1 WiFi is Gigabyte’s flagship motherboard for the X99 Gaming series, but the reality is that any Gigabyte X99 motherboard is going to be “high-end enough” for you to be contented.

Packaging and Accessories

The Gigabyte X99 Gaming G1 WiFi comes in a very large box so we should probably expect to find a ton of things inside.

Accessories galore! In the accessory package Gigabyte provide enough SLI bridges for 2, 3 and 4-way as well as a 2-way CrossFire bridge. There’s six braided SATA cables, a PCIe ribbon power adapter, a WiFi antenna, labelled rear I/O shield and all of the usual documentation and drivers.

A Closer Look

The X99 G1 Gaming WiFi has strikingly similar aesthetics to the X99 Gaming 5 we reviewed a few months ago. A rather over-sized chipset heatsink draws your attention to the red and black colour scheme of the board, which puts the green audio capacitors rather out of place. The main difference between this board and the so called “lower end” X99 models is that the heatsink array is more extensive and offers more heat pipes.

Along the right hand edge of the motherboard we find various buttons (Power, Reset, Clear CMOS, Direct to BIOS) and a couple of BIOS switches for selecting which BIOS you want to use. Voltage read-off points also exist if that’s your thing but we think these are only here because the X99 G1 Gaming WiFi uses a similar PCB to the Gigabyte X99 SOC Force. The included debug LED should come in handy, especially if you’re running multi-GPU configurations.

Near the chipset heatsink we find ten SATA ports, a SATA Express and a SATA power for providing additional power to the motherboard, useful, again, when running multi-GPU configurations.

At the top of the motherboard we can see the various interconnected heatpipes and heatsinks as well as the 8 pin EPS for CPU power. Note there’s no extra 4 pin here which might actually come in useful when overclocking the power-hungry 8 core i7 5960X.

Along the bottom of the board is an abundance of USB 2 and 3 headers, the front panel I/O, the audio I/O, and a system fan header.

The audio area has ground-layer isolation with red LED lighting that clearly shows the PCB separation. A Creative SoundCore 3D chip provides the primary audio codec and is teamed up with a Texas Instruments Operational Amplifier and audio-grade capacitors.

The rear I/O provides eight USB 3.0 ports (one of which is white as that’s the dedicated USB flashback port), two USB 2.0 ports (yellow) and a PS/2 combo. Dual Gigabit LAN is provided, one Intel and one Killer, depending on your preference, and the outputs for the WiFi antenna. The five analogue audio ports are jazzed up with some gold plating to improve contact with your headphones or speakers. The strip of buttons, from top to bottom, includes a CPU OC button, Fast Boot button and Clear CMOS button.

PCIe connectivity is the strength of the X99 platform and with dual spacing between each 16X lane you can easily run a quad-GPU configuration if you have use for it. Two M.2 ports provide support for integrated WiFi and an additional high-speed storage option.

The CPU socket is powered by an 8 phase VRM: perhaps proof that all motherboard vendors have now acknowledged that the quality  of the VRM matters more than quantity of phases used?

From the bottom we can see some additional cooling/stabilisation is provided underneath the primary CPU VRM heatsink. All heatsinks are easily removable with phillips head screwdrivers for those who want to remove them to fit waterblocks.

Thermaltake London 550W Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Naming power supplies after cities of the world is certainly a unique strategy to grab the attention of buyers in an otherwise saturated power supply market: Thermaltake have opted for “Berlin” and “London” name-tags on some of their power supply series. On paper, at least, the Thermaltake London 550W power supply that we are reviewing today does appear to be a new product even though it falls under the existing Toughpower series.

At first glance the similarities between the Thermaltake London 550W and Toughpower Gold 550W seem strong as they are both 80 Plus Gold rated 550W power supplies boasting 5 year warranties and active PFC. But comparing their specifications we see the London 550W PSU features a semi modular design, quieter fan and an increased MTBF over the Toughpower Gold 550W – all of which are improvements. On the negative side the London 550W features a shorter hold up time of 12ms which actually falls below the minimum 16ms allowed by the ATX specification: the Toughpower 550W Gold offered 17ms. The London unit is also slightly bigger featuring an extra 20mm of depth which is what allows it to run a bit cooler and quieter as a 140mm fan can be used instead of a 120mm on the older Toughpower Gold.

Packaging and Contents

The London naming also plays into the branding with a picture of London’s iconic Tower Bridge gracing the box and the power supply unit.

Around the rear, quite ironically, we see that the box’s writing is in German. Maybe they sell the Thermaltake Berlin power supply in English to balance it out?

The accessory package is nothing out of the ordinary with a user manual, warranty guide, power chord, some screws for securing the PSU into your case and a rather stingy 4 zip ties for cable management.

ASUS Crossblade Ranger (FM2+) Motherboard Review

Introduction and Closer Look


The last time ASUS released a Republic of Gamers series motherboard for an AMD platform was way back in late 2011. The motherboard in question was the ASUS Crosshair V Formula which ASUS have since refurbished and re-released as the Crosshair V Formula-Z. The key theme with ASUS ROG motherboards for AMD platforms is that they have never been produced for AMD’s APU platforms, until now. In a somewhat surprising move in August of this year ASUS announced their first ROG motherboard for AMD’s A-Series platform; to be called the Crossblade Ranger.

The Crossblade Ranger’s existence makes sense given the recent speculative report from Digitimes that claims AMD and ASUS have planned stronger cooperation together on APU related matters. Even if such speculation is untrue the Crossblade Ranger is still a welcomed addition to the marketplace as many ASUS ROG fans have been requesting such ROG treatment for the AMD APU platforms. While AMD’s FM2+ platform isn’t the obvious choice for a gaming system, having the flexibility to take advantage of AMD’s latest Steamroller based CPU architecture is only possible on the FM2+ socket. AMD recently released their fastest Steamroller-based CPU the Athlon X4 860K Black Edition. With 4 cores at 3.7-4GHz and a 95W TDP the 860K is identical to the A10-7850K in terms of the CPU component, the only difference is at $90 the 860K is half the price of the $180 7850K making it a great choice for gamers who want to go with a discrete graphics solution.

With all that in mind AMD’s FM2+ A88X platform makes an interesting choice for a budget gaming system; you can pair up AMD’s Athlon X4 860K with a sweet-spot discrete GPU like an R9 280X or GTX 770 and you’ll have no trouble smashing through the latest games at 1080p or 1440p. Where does the ASUS Crossblade Ranger fit in you say? Well the Crossblade Ranger brings all of the coveted gaming motherboard features from the expensive Z97 and X99 ROG boards down to a more attractive price point. By gaming motherboard features we aren’t just talking of “sticking on a Killer NIC and make it red”. I’m referring to things that Gamers can actually notice and make use of like the ASUS KeyBot hardware and software package that allows you to bind macros to your keyboard even if it doesn’t have macro keys. Or the ASUS ROG GameFirst III packet prioritisation software with Intel’s high-spec Gigabit controller that allows you to accelerate and organise your internet connection priorities. There’s also the ASUS SupremeFX audio implementation with automatic headphone impedance detection (Sonic SenseAmp), custom hardware level audio profiles for different game types that are set via an onboard switch (Sonic SoundStage) and a variety of software enhancements for in-game voice chat, bass enhancement and virtual surround sound (Sonic Studio). It doesn’t stop there either, ASUS also offer their Sonic Radar II software which provides positional data on audio signals received in-game as well as a functional RAMDisk package for users who have enough RAM to load one of their favourite games onto.

Packaging and Accessories

Being an ROG series motherboard the accessory bundle for the Crossblade Ranger is well-endowed. Among the usual assortment of documentation we find four SATA cables, a dark metallic rear I/O shield, ASUS Q-Connectors for your front panel connectors, an ASUS ROG mousepad, an ROG door-hanger and some sticky-labels for marking up each of your SATA devices to avoid confusion.

Closer Look

While all motherboard vendors now have a red and black motherboard offering there’s just something special about the ASUS ROG design. The Crossblade Ranger is a stunning looking board for gamers.

Along the right hand edge of the motherboard we find 8 SATA ports, a fan header, USB 3.0 header, the motherboard 24 pin, a MemOK! button, an LN2 mode jumper, a Slow Mode switch, probes for voltage read-offs, a reset button, a power on button and a debug LED.

The bottom starts with premium ELNA audio capacitors on the left, the audio front panel header next to that, the SoundStage button for hardware level audio profiles, a TPM header, ROG_EXT header, clear CMOS button, dual USB 2.0 headers, a KeyBot button and the front panel connectors.

The SupremeFX 2014 audio package comes on its own isolated PCB which is illuminated red. That red illumination can be disabled within the BIOS too.

The rear I/O offers up all of the essentials for any system: plenty of USB, a legacy PS/2 for those who like it, a variety of display connections if you choose to use an APU, Intel Gigabit LAN and a plethora of audio jacks.

At the top of the motherboard we find a pair of CPU fan headers, the first of two stylised CPU VRM heatsinks and an EPS 8 pin CPU power.

The second CPU VRM heatsink holds the Ranger nomenclature. Around the CPU socket ASUS use an 8 phase VRM which equips their newly designed allow chokes, 10K black metallic caps and the NexFETTMMOSFET design.

PCIe connectivity will allow for dual-GPU configurations but being an FM2+ motherboard we can’t imagine many users will be opting for more than a single graphics card. The lack of any M.2 ports is the noticeable omission when comparing this board to an ROG Z97 equivalent like the Maximus VII Ranger.

The back of the motherboard features reinforcement plates for improved stability and cooling: something no other motherboard vendors do.

Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 8GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction and A Closer Look


The R9 290X has led AMD’s single GPU offerings for what seems like quite a long time now. Released in October 2013 the R9 290X is only a year old but it’s ageing process has been accelerated by successive faster Nvidia graphics cards; the GTX 780 Ti and recently the GTX 980. To ensure competitiveness in the market place AMD has maintained the R9 290X at an attractive price point although Nvidia’s GTX 980, being a generation ahead in architectural terms, has thrown a spanner in the works. Many AMD partners have taken it upon themselves to issue price cuts on the R9 290X, independent of AMD’s official pricing guidance. On the wave of  the R9 290X price cuts today we are assessing Sapphire’s newest launch: the R9 290X Vapor-X 8GB graphics card. It uses an identical cooling solution to the 4GB Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X and it’s also visually similar to the Tri-X cooling solution equipped on slightly cheaper Sapphire cards, except with a different colour scheme. The obvious flagship feature of this new card, is the doubling of VRAM, aimed at gamers tackling the newest video-memory-intensive titles like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging and accessory bundle is a much better equipped than most R9 290X’s on the market as it includes a free mouse-mat, HDMI cable and dual power adapters.

A Closer Look

The card itself is a sheer monster: triple fan, triple slot and backplate equipped.

At the bottom we find a rather dense vapour-chamber style heatsink.

At the end of the card we get a glimpse at the five heat-pipes being used. There’s a trio of 8mm heat-pipes at the centre of the contact and a couple of 6mm at the edge of the GPU.

The card nearly takes up three slots in thickness which isn’t surprising given how hot the R9 290X can run: you need a lot of heatsink to tame Hawaii. Along the top we find a pair of 8 pin connectors for power delivery and a BIOS switch for switching between UEFI and legacy BIOS operation modes.

On the rear of the card we find a nice looking backplate and individual heatsinks for the VRM phases: pretty cool!

The I/O offers a pair of DVI, HDMI and a DisplayPort. That’s enough connectivity to power six displays with the help of a DisplayPort MST hub.

Gigabyte Z97N-Gaming 5 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Intel’s Z97 platform is a perfect basis for a mini-ITX system build as it features enough performance to please even the most demanding user while still being power efficient enough to be tamed by small form factor cases and modest cooling solutions. Due to those reasons it isn’t surprising to see Intel’s LGA 1150 platform dominate the mini-ITX landscape. Creating a mini-ITX motherboard from AMD’s AM3+ or Intel’s LGA 2011 platforms is unfeasible from a number of perspectives including heat and for LGA 2011, the size of the socket and number of memory lanes required. We have seen other mini-ITX motherboards emerge for low power platforms like Intel’s Bay Trail, AMD’s Kabini and AMD’s FM2+ APU platform but relatively speaking all three of these platforms cannot rival Intel’s LGA 1150 in terms of raw performance. In short, Intel’s mainstream LGA 1150 platform offers the best balance of features, performance, pricing and power efficiency for the mini-ITX form factor.

On the subject of mini-ITX today we are reviewing Gigabyte’s Z97N-Gaming 5 motherboard to see if it can match the high standards set by other motherboard vendors such as MSI with their Z87I Gaming AC or ASUS with their Z97I-PLUS. Gigabyte’s Z97N-Gaming 5 is part of Gigabyte’s gaming product stack meaning we see the usual audio and networking customisations found across the entire Gigabyte Gaming 9 series. The heart of this “Gaming” status is derived from a combination of Killer networking and advanced audio quality based on Realtek’s flagship ALC1150 codec. Those two things aside the customisation options for mini-ITX motherboards are limited for obvious reasons: space. The new storage form factors for Z97, M.2 and SATA Express, both get ditched due to space constraints. Gigabyte haven’t tried to reverse mount an M.2 port on the bottom of the board like ASUS managed to do with the Z97I-PLUS. Impressively Gigabyte have still managed to use all six SATA ports, offer a heatpipe cooling solution and a pair of fan headers for the CPU socket. The space on the Z97N Gaming 5 is used well, a point of congratulations goes to the decision to ditch the TPM header which ASUS and MSI both put on their mini-ITX boards for reasons unknown to the logical thinker: what gamer needs a TPM device?

Packaging and Accessories

The accessory bundle and packaging for the Z97N- Gaming 5 is as small as the board. With the typical documentation and DVD we get a rear I/O, some stickers and a WiFi antennae.

Corsair HX1000i Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Corsair’s power supply portfolio seems to be constantly evolving with major updates coming all the time as Corsair learn from previous product releases and customer feedback. In late 2013 we saw the introduction of the RM series which was Corsair’s newest range of Gold rated power supplies with all the bells and whistles of a high-end PSU like a fully modular design with black cables, Corsair Link support and a semi-passive fan mode. The Corsair HX1000i that we have with us here today is the second largest wattage of the new HXi series of power supplies. The HXi series builds on the RM series platform in many ways. Channel Well Technology are the OEM producer of both series platforms and the HX1000i is an enhanced version of the RM platform as it features better efficiency, more sophisticated ripple suppression capabilities and extra bells and whistles such as digital monitoring and controls of the rail mode and fan speed. These digital controls are what give this product the “i” moniker that set it apart from previous HX series Corsair power supplies, but it is important to note the HXi series does not have digital circuits like the AXi series has. The HXi series should be thought of as partially-digital whereas the AXi series is fully digital.

With 1000W of continous power Corsair are targeting this particular unit at multi-GPU system owners who need something with proven quality. The HX1000i comes backed with a 7 year warranty as well as being rated for continuous stable power delivery at 50 degrees celsius. That stability under high temperatures is one of the main reasons Corsair are able to deploy a semi-passive fan mode on this unit with an extremely tame fan profile when the fan does finally need to turn on. The HX 1000i seems to be the ultimate power supply to have before making the step up to Corsair’s AXi series which features even more advanced digital controls of voltages and ripple suppression. Strangely Corsair do not offer an AX1000i unit so the HX1000i has no direct competitor, the closest model is arguably the AX1200i.

Packaging and Contents

The HX1000i comes packed in a substantially sized box. The main reason for the large package is that the power supply unit is quite large but also because Corsair include a significant selection of cables to cater to just about every possible use-case scenario of 1000 watts.

The accessory package includes a variety of documentation, black zip-ties, a Corsair case badge, black case screws and a power chord.

PC Specialist Vortex 440 System Review

Introduction


It has been an exciting few months for PC enthusiasts. We’ve seen the arrival of Intel’s new flagship Haswell-E CPUs, high-performance DDR4 memory and Nvidia’s Maxwell GTX 980. Those three things combined have the potential to produce one hell of a system and that’s exactly what we have on our hands today with PC Specialist’s Vortex 440. The basis for this custom PC is Intel’s X99 platform paired up with some truly enthusiast-grade Kingston 3000MHz DDR4 memory, Intel’s six-core i7 5820K with a hefty overclock and Nvidia’s flagship GTX 980 graphics card. NZXT’s H440, which gives this system part of its name, keeps everything looking sleek and tidy. Corsair are in charge of power delivery with their new RM series 850W power supply, and cooling, with their tried-and-trusted H100i liquid CPU cooler. To appeal to gamers and speed-demons alike an SSD and HDD combination provides a good balance between system responsiveness and storage for games and other media. As you might expect the price you have to pay for all that hardware is fairly steep, £1599 to be exact, but as we’ll see later on this is surprisingly good value for money and gives you a lot of performance.

Specifications

  • Name: PC Specialist Vortex 440
  • Case: NZXT H440 Mid-Tower Black/Red
  • Motherboard: ASUS X99-S ATX
  • Processor: Intel “Haswell-E” Core i7 5820K @ 4.375GHz OC
  • Processor Cooler: Corsair H100i 240mm all-in-one liquid cooler
  • System Memory: 16GB Kingston Hyper X Predator DDR4-3000MHz Quad Channel (4 x 4GB)
  • Main Boot Drive: 240GB Kingston HyperX 3K SSD
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): Toshiba 2TB 7200RPM HDD
  • Graphics card: Nvidia “Maxwell” GTX 980 4GB Maxwell
  • Power Supply: Corsair RM850 80 Plus Gold
  • Optical DriveNot included
  • Wireless: Not included
  • Monitor: Not included
  • Peripherals: Not included
  • OS: Windows 8.1 64 Bit
  • Warranty: 3 Year Labour, 1 Year Parts and 1 Month Collect & Return (upgrades available)
  • Price: £1599 as configured

Packaging & Accessories

Packaging may be an after-thought to many buyers but the packaging a system integrator chooses is crucial to the end user experience. Bad packaging equals a broken PC – not something you want to be faced with when buying a new PC. With that said I am pleased to report that PC Specialist’s Vortex 440 comes excellently packaged with soft cell foam and an adequately sized box.

Inside the system expanding foam ensures that the internal components aren’t dislodged during transit. In the past we have been sent a PC (from a system integrator I won’t name) who learnt the hard way that internal expanding foam is essential. When the system arrived the graphics card had ripped the PCIe slot off the motherboard , killing both the motherboard and the graphics card in the process.

The accessory box includes all of the documentation and manuals for all of the system components as well as motherboard, graphics card and PSU accessories. To inform users about their purchase PC Specialist provide a guide with their systems.

A Closer Look

The aesthetic characteristics of the Vortex 440 are dominated by the NZXT H440 which comes in red and black. PC Specialist put their own logo at the top of the front panel to give the case a bit of sneaky customisation.

The entire case is coated in a soft-touch black, the top I/O offers dual USB 2.0 and 3.0, audio ports and power/reset buttons.

The side reveals a beautiful window showing off the internal components. One thing that I noticed was that PC Specialist use a white motherboard when the case is red and black – strange huh? Especially considering the default NZXT H440 comes in black and white – the same colour scheme as the ASUS X99-S motherboard used. Personally I would like to see PC Specialist ship the system with the white H440 or use a red motherboard instead.

The back reveals the plentiful I/O of the ASUS X99-S and the Nvidia GTX 980. The rather large blank space on the rear I/O derives from the fact the ASUS X99-S is a cut-down version of the ASUS X99-A which has a WiFi antennae at that particular location.

The obverse side of the case is plain black lined with the red trim and some ventilation for the front fans.

The bottom of the case helpfully uses four non-slip rubber feet and a removable dust filter for easy system maintenance. Despite being one of the cheapest parts of the build, the case is probably the most important for determining the user-experience.

NZXT’s H440 was praised for its ability to make tidy builds thanks to the bottom PSU shroud and the PC Specialist Vortex 440 makes great use of this. Corsair’s RM850, which has all-black cables, and PC Specialist’s exemplary cable-management job results in a tidy build.

Deepcool DQ1000 Quanta Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Deepcool recently launched their first consumer line of power supply units called the Quanta Series. In this series Deepcool offer a range of wattages that suit mid-range to high-end builds. All the Quanta power supplies boast 80 Plus Gold efficiency, semi-modular cable arrangements, active PFC and large 140mm cooling fans (with some models having LEDs equipped). For their consumer power supply products Deepcool teamed up with cost-effective power supply vendor Channel Well Technology (CWT) who are best known for their work with Corsair on their CX series PSUs. Today we are reviewing Deepcool’s DQ1000 power supply.

Being a new entrant to the power supply market Deepcool have the disadvantage of having to prove their name to consumers who otherwise would not have heard of their products and have no reason to trust them. For Deepcool any mistakes made this early in the game could cost them in the long-term because once you’ve got a reputation for something it’s pretty hard to shake it off. That said Deepcool have already made a decent name for themselves with a selection of cooling products and their novel Steamcastle chassis that seems to have gone down well with consumers.

Packaging and Contents

The packaging Deepcool use is not only simple but also very compact, for a 1000W unit this surprises me a little.

Inside we find some screws, a power cable and a warranty card – very basic indeed.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Intel’s Z97 platform feels like it has been here forever; since its official launch in early May 2014 we’ve ploughed through a sizeable 13 Z97 motherboard reviews here at eTeknix. Yet in the grand-scheme of things that 5 months is barely any time at all:the average PC user will tend to abide to a 2-3 year upgrade cycle meaning they’ll sit through about three new Intel platform launches before choosing to upgrade. With that said Z97 is still as relevant to the PC user today as it was 5 months ago even if Z97 has lost some of its “latest & greatest” status with the recent launch of X99. Today we are examining Z97 motherboard number 14 courtesy of Gigabyte: we have their Z97X-Gaming 5 motherboard in for review.

There is nothing particularly exciting or innovative going on with the Gigabyte Z97X Gaming 5 if I’m being totally honest. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as the old saying goes. We have a very familiar red & black colour scheme which predictably gives this motherboard its “Gaming” denotation. Being a gaming board we also find this motherboard adheres to the usual high quality audio and networking package which makes use of Realtek’s latest and greatest ALC 1150 codec and Qualcomm’s Killer E2201 networking chip. The fact that the Z97X Gaming 5 is based on Intel’s Z97 chipset means we also get all of the new desktop storage interfaces: M.2 and SATA Express, in addition to the tried and trusted SATA III. I won’t pretend you can’t get these specifications anywhere else: ASRock and MSI offer very similar motherboards with virtually identical hardware configurations. The real question is: why should you choose Gigabyte? The simple answer is because of the value for money proposition and the fact Gigabyte do offer some unique features of their own such as their patented dualBIOS and Amp-Up audio package: but we’ll get onto all this later on in the review.

Packaging and Accessories

The Gigabyte Z97X Gaming 5 is a budget board in the wider Z97 market, it starts at £105/$145, so we aren’t surprised to see a modest accessory bundle. Included is the usual documentation, a utility DVD, four SATA cables, a case sticker and an I/O shield which didn’t come with our review sample. An I/O shield does come with the standard retail version and is identical to the I/O shield used with the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 7 for those who are interested.

Enermax Revolution XT 530W Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


It has been a while since we’ve taken a look at a new Enermax power supply here at eTeknix. Despite that Enermax have been busy releasing new products left, right and centre under their own brand name and under their other power supply brand LEPA. Enermax have always targeted a fairly high end user with their power supplies which is probably what has gained them a long-term reputation as being trend-setters in the power supply industry. In this review we are checking out one of their units from the Revolution XT series and we are looking at the popular 530W wattage model.

I remember from reviewing past Enermax PSUs that although their products were stellar quality they often lacked a little something special in the cable design and also in pricing: let’s hope this unit can reverse this trend. Straight away we can see Enermax listened to feedback on the cabling as they now offer all-black ribbon cables on the modular and hard-wired cables. The rest of the key features of the Revolution XT series include 80 Plus Gold efficiency, a semi-modular design, a DC to DC converter design, a 5 year warranty and the promise of “ultra silent” operation thanks to the high quality Enermax fan used. The Revolution XT series is geared for single and dual GPU systems depending on the voltage chosen, the Revolution XT 530W that we are testing is mainly geared for high performance single GPU systems running demanding graphics cards like AMD R9 290(X)s or Nvidia GTX 780(Ti)s.

Users interested in running a pair of video cards will need to pick either the 630 or 730W versions of the Revolution XT as only these have the necessary cables for CrossFire or SLI. All PSUs in the Revolution XT series get the same number of SATA, molex and FDD using the same cable lengths.

Packaging and Contents

The packaging uses a gold colour scheme to reflect the unit’s efficiency certification. We also see the black modular cables paraded around as a flagship feature.

On the back we see a mention of Enermax’s HeatGuard feature which ensures the fan runs for 60 seconds after system shut-down to dissipate any excess heat.

The accessory pack is fairly generous as it includes a power chord, a “power guard” clip to prevent the power chord from being ripped out by accident, a user’s manual, some velcro cable ties, some screws and an Enermax case sticker.

Cooler Master V1200 Platinum 1200W Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Developing a power supply with a wattage as high as 1200W involves a lot of technical expertise; this is why you’ll find the number of OEMs producing power supplies at this wattage level is lower than in the sub 750W market. The market for 1200W power supplies is significantly smaller too with only a handful of desktop PC users needing this much wattage. Furthermore, the build quality and standards of high-wattage power supplies tend to be higher so users in this market segment will upgrade less: especially when 5, 7 and 10 year warranties are becoming the norm.

Cooler Master know all of the aforementioned things which is why they teamed up with veteran power supply vendor Seasonic to produce their Platinum series V1200 unit. On paper this unit is as good as it gets with 80 Plus Platinum efficiency certification, a semi-passive fan operation mode, high quality Japanese capacitors, a fully modular design and a 7 year warranty. In terms of hardware support Cooler Master offer a staggering 12 PCIe connectors and dual EPS 8 pin connectors allowing you to easily run quad GPU systems or even dual CPU socket based motherboards such as the Haswell-EP Xeon platform from Intel.

Packaging and Contents

Cooler Master’s packaging hasn’t changed much over the years and it still sports the plum and black colour scheme with some embossed silver details to accentuate the premium nature of this product.

Around the back of the main box we find specifications, pictures and details about the Hybrid fan technology and efficiency curve. Cooler Master claim significant savings on power bills over 80 Plus Gold and Bronze units but their numbers include a fairly unrealistic use-case scenario of a 1000W system running at 100% load 24 hours a day.

The accessory bundle includes a user’s manual, four black screws. some cable ties, a UK power chord and a PCI bracket which controls the fan between auto and Hybrid mode. The idea with this PCI bracket is to mount it at the back of your case in one of the PCI slot covers so you can easily change the PSU fan operation mode., if desired.

CyberPower PC FANG Battlebox-I 970 System Review

Introduction


The exponential growth of the Insomnia gaming festival over the past few years is proof, if any was needed, that PC gaming has never been stronger. With LAN events like Insomnia becoming more popular so too are portable gaming rigs that can be easily moved around at the owners behest. Today we are taking a closer look at a pre-built system from CyberPower PC that targets that exact market. Their new FANG Battlebox-I 970 system crams an impressive amount of hardware into a portable gaming PC. Nvidia’s power efficient GTX 970 is what makes it possible to pack such a significant gaming punch in a small form factor as it eases the traditional heat and power problems associated with high-end graphics hardware. Intel’s Core i5 4690K provides the brains of the system offering up a strong balance between price and performance, assisted further by the 4.2GHz overclock it ships with. Straight away it has become clear that CyberPower PC have made smart decisions with their component selection: this system offers a solid mixture of hardware that is spot on for a portable gaming PC.

Specifications

  • Name: CyberPower PC FANG Battlebox-I 970
  • Case: CyberPower FANG Battlebox case
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z97N-WiFi mini-ITX
  • Processor: Intel Core i7 4690K @ 4.2GHz
  • Processor Cooler: Cooler Master Seidon 120M All-In-One liquid CPU cooler
  • System Memory: 2 x 4GB Kingston HyperX Fury 1866MHz Dual Channel
  • Main Boot Drive: Kingston V300 240GB SATA III SSD
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): Western Digital Blue 1TB 7200RPM Hard Drive
  • Graphics card: MSI GTX 970 4GB Gaming
  • Power Supply: Cooler Master B600
  • Optical DriveNot included
  • Wireless: Intel 2T2R AC 7260 2.4/5GHz
  • Monitor: Not included
  • Peripherals: Not included
  • OS: Windows 8.1 64 Bit
  • Warranty: 3 Year Labour, 2 Year Parts and 1 Month Collect & Return (upgrades available)
  • Price: £999.99 Including Shipping and VAT

Packaging & Accessories

This compact system comes with a compact shipping box. CyberPower PC ship the FANG Battlebox-I 970 with a durable soft cell foam to prevent shipping damage.

The accessory package includes all of the accessories and adapters for the motherboard, graphics card and power supply. CyberPower PC cram these accessories into the motherboard box and also provide a Windows installation DVD and troubleshooting guide if your system doesn’t work straight away.

A Closer Look

Did someone call Bob the Builder? Okay, a little harsh, but in all fairness this case does appear to resemble a toolbox. You could say it’s an acquired taste, but based on my observations of trends in PC cases over the past 5 years I don’t think that this case will be popular. PC cases have tended towards more classy and understated designs, even for gaming cases, whereas this case has that cheap and plasticky theme to it that I’d associate with budget case brands like Cougar and HEC.

The top is fitted with a carry handle, which doesn’t feel as sturdy as I’d hoped, and a latch to lock the front of the case in place. Dual USB 3.0 ports, a power button, reset button and indicator LEDs make up the usual I/O area. Note how there’s no front panel audio headers for headsets and the like – a strange omission for a gaming PC.

From the front we see a lock is present which a useful feature if you’ll be using this at LAN events. You can also observe the finger print marks everywhere: this case is a finger print magnet and once they are on they are very difficult to get off. That’s not exactly ideal for a case that’s designed to be handled a lot. CyberPower PC’s logo at the front is fairly modest and we see lots of ventilation for the internal components.

The right side offers more ventilation with an aggressive inlet design.

The left side reveals the I/O to the motherboard, graphics card and power supply. The power supply input is a passthrough to the front mounted power supply.

The FANG Battlebox-I 970 has feet on the bottom so you mount it in a way where the handle doesn’t face the top of the case. It really does look quite strange with that orientation.

You can still mount it handle facing upwards, like how CyberPower PC picture this system, but there are no dedicated feet for that.

Internally the CyberPower PC is space constrained as you would expect. As a result cable management was always going to be a challenge and the choice of a non-modular power supply didn’t help either. My concern with the cable management is that when I mounted the system with the handle facing upwards the cables at the bottom of the system were getting chewed up in the graphics card fan. That is not acceptable: cables should always be tied back to prevent conflict with moving parts like fans. Given this is meant to be a portable PC for LAN that will frequently get moved around I am even more shocked that this blunder gets through quality control: there should be extra attention paid to cable management and system durability.

The front of the case has no significant dust filtering which is bad news for maintenance. It also appears that those RED LEDs that CyberPower PC advertise on their website are nowhere to be seen.

Here’s a few more angles of what’s going on inside the case. We didn’t disassemble anything because we didn’t want to significantly alter the system from its shipped state, that would be changing the fairness of the review.

The LEDs

With the system powered on it becomes obvious that the advertised front LEDs are nowhere to be seen, only the logo gets lit up.

Just to confirm here’s a shot of the system in a dark room: definitely no LED strips here.

Thermaltake Toughpower DPS 750W Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


The term “digital power supply” is rarely used in the power supply market at the moment; we have seen digital power supplies before (the Corsair AXi series springs to mind) but they still remain uncommon and unpopular due to their high price. Thermaltake are the latest power supply brand to venture into the digital power supply arena with their Toughpower DPS series units, of which we have their DPS 750W model in for testing today.

On paper the DPS 750W is a direct rival to Corsair’s AX760i offering similarly strong efficiency, the same 7 year warranty, a fully modular design, quiet operation and digitally controlled voltage regulation. Thermaltake’s DPS 750W does benefit from a fairly unique piece of software that is bundled with the power supply but Corsair’s AX760i also has something similar in the form of Corsair Link. Thermaltake’s software allows you to monitor efficiency, voltages, watts, energy costs, the power supply temperature and control the fan speed.

Packaging and Contents

The packaging showcases the digital nature of the power supply as well support for the DPS app. The 7 year warranty is also a flagship feature, only EVGA go one better by offering a 10 year warranty with their high end power supplies.

Accessories include documentation, case screws, a power chord, cable ties, a USB cable for controlling the PSU with the provided app and two anti-vibration pads if your case doesn’t include such a feature.

Fractal Design Newton R3 1000W Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Fractal Design kicked off its brand by making a single type of product: computer cases. However, like many other computer hardware brands Fractal Design made the decision to expand its product portfolio to encompass other things. One of Fractal Design’s new product areas is power supplies and just like with their cases Fractal Design were adamant about making sure they reach the same high level of quality their brand is renowned for. On the topic of high quality it is time for the Newton R3 1000W power supply to enter.

Fractal Design have pulled out all the stops with this new power supply model which features high quality 80 Plus Platinum capable internals, a modular design and a glossy white or black finish to match their computer cases. Fractal Design are also renowned for producing quiet cases; they were one of the first brands to mainstream the use of noise-dampening foam inside cases. Consequently it shouldn’t surprise you that the Newton R3 1000W power supply offers a hybrid fan mode that doesn’t spin up until the fan is needed. Even when the fan does spin up Fractal Design are claiming very low noise output as well as enhanced reliability for a ball-bearing based fan design. Other noteworthy selling points include the use of Japanese capacitors in this power supply’s construction and an impressive 5 year warranty.

Packaging and Contents

The Newton R3 comes in one of the largest retail packages I have ever seen. The packaging uses a sleeve over a plain white box with a carry handle.

The accessories are modest but are exactly what are required: a power cable, users manual, cable ties and some screws.

ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 970 4GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction


In May of this year ASUS decided to introduce a new product series into its graphics card line up, the STRIX line. STRIX first showed up on two ASUS graphics cards sporting the AMD R9 280 and the Nvidia GTX 780 GPUs. The headline feature was a 0dB fan operation mode below 65 degrees celsius operation. Shortly after those releases ASUS expanded the STRIX moniker to a range of gaming peripherals to try and create a comprehensive brand for gaming needs. In the graphics card space the STRIX series has phased out the primacy of the ASUS DirectCU series of graphics cards. Although, the term phased out should be used loosely since ASUS effectively market the STRIX GTX 900 series graphics cards as STRIX and DirectCU products at the same time. While confusing, the duality of the naming pattern allows clear recognition of what these STRIX GTX 900 series cards offer. They offer DirectCU II cooling solutions but also the STRIX 0dB fan mode.

Today we are reviewing the ASUS STRIX GTX 970 graphics card which is inspired by the DirectCU philosophy as we find a direct copper contact cooling solution with a pair of fans. ASUS have improved the power delivery to a DIGI+ 6 phase super alloy power design and to give end users some further benefits ASUS have pushed the clock speed up by about 65MHz too. The much paraded 0 dB fan mode is also equipped and I would also like to point out that other manufacturers have jumped on the passive fan bandwagon. MSI and EVGA are the most recent vendors to offer some mimicked variant of this.

Packaging and Accessories

The ASUS STRIX GTX 970 comes in a dual branded box as we’ve already mentioned: both DirectCU II and STRIX branding sits side-by-side. The accessory package is basic: a driver DVD and generic speed setup guide. No power or display adapters here.

Deepcool DQ750 Quanta Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Deepcool have been making their presence felt in the PC DIY market increasingly more over the last year. They have made a push towards gaming and enthusiast market segments with new cooling solutions, cases and power supplies. Today we have one of Deepcool’s newest power supplies on the test bench: the Deepcool DQ750. As its name suggests, this is a 750 watt power supply and it is very much targeted at PC enthusiasts with 80 Plus Gold certification, a Blue LED fan and a modular design with flat black ribbon cables. Deepcool have opted for a semi-modular design but unlike some power supply vendors they have also ensured that the hard-wired cables conform to an all-black aesthetic just like the modular cables. Deepcool’s expansion into the power supply market for consumer buyers is certainly an interesting one and given that Deepcool have teamed up with Corsair’s preferred OEM Channel Well Technology we could see Deepcool competing for similar buyers with similar features. Let’s see what the DQ750 has to offer.

Packaging and Contents

Packaging is fairly simple for such a high-end unit; a gold colour scheme is used to reflect the unit’s efficiency certification. I’m not so sure about the “Enjoy Your Cool Life” slogan; it seems it was thrown together in just a few moments.

Included with the DQ750 is a power chord, four black case screws and a warranty card. Note there is no manual provided, in physical form or online at the product page, which is a bit strange. Deepcool also do not provide any cable ties.

BitFenix Fury 750G Semi-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


BitFenix are the latest in a long line of brands to make an entry into the power supply market. The story with BitFenix is very similar to that of Fractal Design as both brands started out selling PC cases and expanded to power supplies after experiencing great success. Power supplies and fans are probably the two closest linked components to cases which is why you’ll often find that brands who make cases also sell power supplies (Cooler Master, Corsair, Fractal Design, BitFenix…) and brands who made power supplies expanded to start making cases (be quiet!, XFX…). The BitFenix Fury series of power supplies is actually fairly unique though, they aren’t just “rebadging” a common OEM design and sticking their label on it. BitFenix haven’t produced the power supply themselves, FSP are the OEM provider, but they have worked with FSP above and beyond the normal level of cooperation to create a custom power supply design that they can call their own. The most notable unique feature is that the PSU features custom sleeved cables, even the ones that are hard-wired feature custom sleeving.

Packaging and Contents

The front of the box points out what BitFenix clearly think is the most important feature: custom sleeved cables. A 5 year warranty and 80 Plus Gold certification are the other headline features.

The accessory pack includes a power plug, quick install guide and four silver screws. I think black screws or thumbscrews would have been nice too: this unit isn’t exactly cheap!

Chieftec A-80 Series 650W Non-Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


A little while ago we ran a story about how the brand “Chieftec” were making a return to the UK market: Chieftec had previously been a sizeable player in the UK market selling a variety of cases and power supplies. Since their departure around 8 years ago they’ve been doing well in Asia and North America and now they are looking to get a foothold back in the UK and EU markets. As part of that they have launched a brand new range of power supplies and cases to get things moving. Peter Donnell, one of our senior reviewers, recently took a look at Chieftec’s newest full-tower case offering: the DX-02B. Now I will be taking a look at one of Chieftec’s newest power supply offerings; the CTG-650-80P. The more catchy name for it is the Chieftec A-80 650W power supply and as the “80P” model name suggests it comes with 80 Plus certification, the Bronze one to be exact. Aside from that it isn’t exactly the most exciting power supply in the world: you’ve got 650W of 80 Plus Bronze power with a decent chunk of cables and a fairly plain-Jane OEM style design. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing: Chieftec’s slogan for this product is “Why pay more than necessary?”. I couldn’t agree more, why waste money on painting the power supply, prettying up the cables and adding in loads of accessories when that just adds extra cost. Of course, without all those little extras the price to performance is going to be key here so let’s see exactly how it performs.

Packaging and Contents

Chieftec’s packaging is fairly simple and to the point, there isn’t really anything notable on the box.

The box uses a uniform design and to denote between the model inside a red marker is used, this helps keep the costs down. For more specifications and features the product page is useful.

The accessory pack is also fairly basic, there’s an EU power plug (hopefully UK units will ship with UK power cables or at least adapters), some silver screws and a generic user guide.

Crucial Ballistix Sport XT 32GB 1866MHz Quad Channel DDR3 Memory Kit Review

Introduction


With the arrival of DDR4 it might be easy to forget that DDR3 is still the most popular memory choice for desktop PC platforms of mainstream and high-end varieties. Today we are taking a look at a quad channel memory kit from Crucial, a brand of Micron. We are looking at their Ballistix Sport XT kit but not the dual channel one we’ve reviewed before, today we are testing out the quad channel variety. The best platform to support quad channel is Intel’s X79 Ivy Bridge-E so that’s exactly what we will be using for these tests. Of course being a 4-pack, or quad channel kit, this could also be used with any Intel LGA 115X or AMD AM2/3(+)/FM2(+) system that has 4 DIMM Slots. However, we want to see what Crucial’s 32GB kit can offer for a high-end user, particularly as we have similar DDR4 results for the X99 platform to compare to.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

We received this kit directly from Crucial so the packaging is fairly simple, it arrived in a plain white box sealed by a Ballistix sticker with the product info on.

A Closer Look

Crucial’s Ballistix Sport XT modules aren’t the prettiest looking modules in the world but Crucial have made a decent effort. I think black PCBs would complete the overall package but once installed in a motherboard you barely notice….and on that note let’s see how they look installed in a variety of boards next!

be quiet! SFX Power 2 300W Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


When a compact ATX power supply just isn’t compact enough you have to think outside the box, or use a new form factor. The SFX and TFX form factors are two of the most common small form factor power supplies aside from the standard ATX that is so common in desktops. The SFX form factor measures in at 100×125×63.5 mm compared to TFX at 146×83×64mm. SFX is short and stubby while TFX is long and thin. In that sense TFX is more server orientated when server racks tend to be long and thin. Conversely SFX is more orientated towards compact computer systems that are not so obscurely shaped. Very few power supply vendors produce SFX or TFX units for the consumer market due to the fact demand is so low. However, be quiet! being the smart company they are have seen the trend towards SFX and TFX power supplies in recent years as small form factor builds have become more fashionable.

Today we are looking at the be quiet! SFX Power 2 300W power supply which conforms to that minuscule SFX standard. 300 watts may not sound like a lot but with an Intel Core i7 4770K and GTX 750 Ti based system you could run a complete gaming rig off of 100 watts or so. With an extra 200 watts to spare there is scope for anything up to a GTX 770 in theory, providing you don’t overclock either too hard. Lian Li, Thermaltake, SilverStone and many more case vendors produce compact cases taking advantage of SFX PSUs. Therefore what I am getting at is the fact that building a tiny SFX based system has never been easier to do.

be quiet! offer 300 and 400W SFX power supply units: that 400W model gives you a lot of scope to go for a proper high end system. Sadly when we look at the cable options we see that you are limited by the single PCIe 6+2 pin connector. Determined system builders could make do with funneling the 12 volt amps through molex or SATA to PCIe adapters, the quality of the platform should allow this to be viable. However, the main issue will be whether the 12 volt rail is capable of delivering enough amps for a high end graphics card. My recommendation would be no higher than an R9 270 or GTX 750 Ti but you might be able to squeeze out more.

Packaging and Contents

Small power supply, small box. The SFX Power 2 comes with compact packaging and be quiet! are claiming compact and silent energy. Somehow I don’t think this will be the case; generally small fans on small power supplies end up being noisy.

The included accessories are standard for most be quiet! products: a power cable, user manual, set of cable ties and black screws.

Gainward Phantom GeForce GTX 970 4GB Graphics Card Review

Introduction


Nvidia’s Maxwell GTX 980 arrived into the high-end graphics card market with a thump just a few weeks ago, causing significant whiplash to AMD’s highest end offerings. The GTX 980 holds a notable advantage in terms of performance, price and power efficiency over AMD’s flagship R9 290X. During the GTX 980 launch it has been easy to forget that Nvidia actually launched the GTX 970 too which comes in $230 cheaper with only a marginal decline in raw GPU horsepower over the flagship GTX 980. On paper, at least, the GTX 970 looks to be a performance to price champion in the high-end graphics card market as it offers the best synthesis of price, performance and power consumption.

Today we get our first glimpse at what the Nvidia GTX 970 has to offer as we examine a custom GTX 970 from Gainward under their Phantom line. As the name suggest Gainward equip their infamous Phantom cooling solution as well as a hefty out of the box overclock, from what we can infer this treatment commands a 10~% price premium over Nvidia’s reference MSRP of $329.

Packaging and Accessories

The accessory package that Gainward provide with the Phantom GTX 970 is basic: a power adapter and DVI to VGA adapter with a quick install guide.

Super Flower Leadex Gold 650W Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Super Flower have turned a lot of heads since they have started selling their power supplies branded under their own name. Previously Super Flower had been an OEM producer for brands like EVGA but they made the decision this year to go all-in for establishing themselves as a retail power supply brand. The first power supply we took a look at from them was the beastly Leadex Platinum 1000W power supply which offered class-leading performance for a ground-breaking price. We followed that by looking at their passive Golden Silent 500W power supply which offered incredible performance in a totally silent package – a very innovative product. Today we are looking at something which sits just below the Leadex Platinum series; a Leadex Gold power supply. Super Flower provided us their 650W model which is a sweet spot wattage for anyone building a fairly high-end system.

The Leadex Gold brings with it all the high-end features we saw on the Leadex Platinum series but with a slightly lower efficiency. This means buyers will find a fully modular design, a silent semi-passive fan mode, universal modular connectors and high quality internal components.

Packaging and Contents

The packaging reiterates the gold theme: that’s the main selling point from Super Flower’s perspective.

Moving around the back and we find the other already mentioned key features are detailed.

The accessories are simple: four thumbscrews for securing the PSU into your case, a user’s manual and a power cable.

Silverstone Nightjar 520W Passive Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


One thing that you learn reviewing power supplies is just how big Seasonic are. Seasonic platforms are used by multiple brands due to their exceptional quality, performance and reliability. Silverstone are one of those brands that use Seasonic platforms. In a case of déjà vu I am looking at another Seasonic Platinum rated 520 watt passive power supply. Firstly, I took a look at the XFX XTS 520, then Seasonic’s own Platinum 520 and now Silverstone’s Nightjar 520. The internals are identical to the aforementioned PSUs: we’ve still got 80 Plus Platinum efficiency, Seasonic’s promised +-2% voltage regulation, active PFC and a fully modular design. The best part is of course the passive operation and the “Nightjar” moniker of this Silverstone power supply is supposed to reflect that passive segmentation. To aid with the passive operation the Platinum efficiency is vital for minimising heat but the well ventilated enclosure is also important.

An extensive recap of this unit’s specifications can be found below:

Packaging and Contents

White/silver seems to be the theme of this product as they are the closest to the colour of Platinum. The front of the packaging clearly orchestrates that passive operation is the flagship feature of this product.

Around the back we find Silverstone championing the quality and features of this product; assisted mainly by the Seasonic OEM platform used.

Included with the Nightjar 520 is a power cable, selection of documentation, velcro cable ties, standard cable ties and four silver screws for mounting to your case.

Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB 2800MHz Quad Channel DDR4 Memory Kit Review

Introduction


With every new DDR memory release comes a decline in operating voltage and a decrease in heat output. In the transition from DDR2 to DDR3 and now DDR4 we’ve seen voltages plummet and having memory heatsinks is no longer necessary. This allows memory brands to release high performance memory kits in compact low profile form factors that require minimal cooling. Corsair’s Vegeance LPX 2800MHz 16GB DDR4 kit is a great example of this – it boasts a super-high frequency yet it still has a low profile design making it ideal for use in compact system builds and with large tower heatsinks that are definitely going to be necessary to cool some of Intel’s swanky new Haswell-E Core i7 5XXX processors.

What’s even more interesting about this particular kit is the XMP 2.0 feature. As you may or may not know when you use memory higher than 2666MHz with Haswell-E CPUs the base clock has to be changed from the default 100MHz. Corsair’s Vengeance LPX memory actually has an XMP profile which not only sets the memory frequency, timings and voltage but it also sets the CPU strap and base clock to the correct level. This is ideal because if you’re only a modest PC user having to set all those things yourself is quite daunting, the task even daunted me slightly when overclocking.

2800MHz goes well beyond the sweet spot of high performance DDR3 which was around 2000-2400MHz, we should expect to see some excellent performance from this new Corsair kit but the real question is: how well can most applications take advantage of this extra memory frequency? Let’s find out in today’s review.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

We won’t dwell on the packaging too much as it is very plain and simple: four modules neatly packed into a small rectangular box. This kit is a quad-channel variety so each module is 4GB in size.

A Closer Look

Corsair’s new Vegeance LPX range looks very similar to the DDR4 Vengeance LP range. In this case they actually have metal heat-spreaders not plastic ones but that aside the aesthetic similarities are striking. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either: the design is clean and the fact Corsair offer a variety of colours (black/blue/red) is also a big advantage.

MSI Z97S SLI PLUS (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Something that becomes apparently obvious with the motherboards I review on a regular basis is that most of them have too many features for the average user. That’s too many in the sense that most of them would go unused but mainly it is too many in that it adds unnecessary cost. Let’s face it none of us would say no to extra features if we didn’t have to pay for them, even if they remained unused.

In the Z97 space, MSI appear to have come up with a solution to that problem with their Z97S SLI PLUS motherboard. Sure it isn’t the prettiest motherboard available sporting the Z97 chipset, neither is it the most feature rich but what it does have going for it is a well struck-up balance of pricing and features. For around £100 in the UK, or $135 in the USA, the MSI Z97S SLI PLUS offers you a feature rich platform which includes SATA III, SATA Express, M.2, USB 3.0, SLI and CrossFire support, a UEFI BIOS, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, a decent amount of fan connectivity and solid audio. The colour scheme does seem a little confusing with a combination of a brown PCB and blue/black heatsinks, so this is definitely aimed at being a motherboard for people without side panel windows.

Packaging and Accessories

MSI have pitched the board in a strange way. Despite clearly gearing this board towards SLI users the box draws upon the stability, reliability and protection mechanisms rather than things like the PCIe configurations.

On the back we find MSI pushing their components and protection mechanisms such as circuit protection, EMI protection and ESD protection.

The accessory bundle includes some documentation, a utility DVD, a labelled rear I/O plate, a SLI bridge and four SATA cables. That’s quite a lot for a seemingly budget board.

Seasonic Platinum Fanless 520W Modular Power Supply Review

Introduction & Packaging


Fanless power supplies have become increasingly popular over the past few years as the efficiency of power supplies has risen, meaning they produce less heat, and the efficiency of computer components has increased, meaning they consume less power. The convergence of these two trends makes it possible to run a high end system with a passive power supply. In fact, with the Seasonic Fanless Platinum 520W power supply we have here today it is possible to run a Core i7 4960X based system with an Nvidia GTX Titan Black and still have plenty of capacity left over for other things.

To our regular readers this power supply may look identical to another power supply we reviewed recently; the XFX XTS 520. There’s a reason for that – they are the same units internally. As many of you may known Seasonic produce a lot of power supplies and if they don’t sell them under the Seasonic brand, they sell them to other vendors who resell them, such as XFX, Antec and many more.

Below you can find the full specifications of Seasonic’s Platinum fanless 520W power supply, as the name implies this power supply boasts 80 Plus Platinum certification – this high efficiency is what allows it to operate fanlessly without any heat issues.

Packaging and Contents

Seasonic’s packaging is very tastefully done and plays heavily on the Platinum theme.

The back details the efficiency standards of the PSU as well as the promise of +-2% voltage regulation on all of the rails.

The accessory bundle is fairly generous relative to other PSU vendors; there is a power cable, some screws, a case sticker, normal cable ties, velcro cable ties and some documentation.