Ashes of the Singularity DirectX 12 Graphics Performance Analysis

Introduction


Ashes of the Singularity is a futuristic real-time strategy game offering frenetic contests on a large-scale. The huge amount of units scattered across a number of varied environments creates an enthralling experience built around complex strategic decisions. Throughout the game, you will explore unique planets and engage in enthralling air battles. This bitter war revolves around an invaluable resource known as Turinium between the human race and masterful artificial intelligence. If you’re into the RTS genre, Ashes of the Singularity should provide hours of entertainment. While the game itself is worthy of widespread media attention, the engine’s support for DirectX 12 and asynchronous compute has become a hot topic among hardware enthusiasts.

DirectX 12 is a low-level API with reduced CPU overheads and has the potential to revolutionise the way games are optimised for numerous hardware configurations. In contrast to this, DirectX 11 isn’t that efficient and many mainstream titles suffered from poor scaling which didn’t properly utilise the potential of current graphics technology. On another note, DirectX 12 allows users to pair GPUs from competing vendors and utilise multi graphics solutions without relying on driver profiles. It’s theoretically possible to achieve widespread optimization and leverage extra performance using the latest version of DirectX 12.

Of course, Vulkan is another alternative which works on various operating systems and adopts an open-source ideology. Although, the focus will likely remain on DirectX 12 for the foreseeable future unless there’s a sudden reluctance from users to upgrade to Windows 10. Even though the adoption rate is impressive, there’s a large number of PC gamers currently using Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. Therefore, it seems prudent for developers to continue with DirectX 11 and offer a DirectX 12 render as an optional extra. Arguably, the real gains from DirectX 12 will occur when its predecessor is disregarded completely. This will probably take a considerable amount of time which suggests the first DirectX 12 games might have reduced performance benefits compared to later titles.

Asynchronous compute allows graphics cards to simultaneously calculate multiple workloads and reach extra performance figures. AMD’s GCN architecture has extensive support for this technology. In contrast to this, there’s a heated debate questioning if NVIDIA products can even utilise asynchronous compute in an effective manner. Technically, AMD GCN graphics cards contain 2-8 asynchronous compute cores with 8 queues per core which varies on the model to provide single cycle latencies. Maxwell revolves around two pipelines, one designed for high-priority workloads and another with 31 queues. Most importantly, NVIDIA cards can only “switch contexts at draw call boundaries”. This means the switching process is slower and gives AMD and a major advantage. NVIDIA has dismissed the early performance numbers from Ashes of the Singularity due to its current development phase. Finally, the game’s release has exited the beta stage which allows us to determine the performance numbers after optimizations were completed.

ASUS MG24UQ and MG28UQ Monitor Review

Introduction


ASUS has rapidly become a dominant force in the gaming monitor sector due to the popularity of its ROG range. According to Digitimes, the company has seen a staggering growth rate of 30 percent throughout Europe in 2015. Models such as the PG278Q, commonly referred to the ROG Swift beautifully catered towards users requiring a high refresh monitor and G-Sync functionality. This combination proved to be extraordinarily successful and inspired future products such as the PG279Q. The advent of responsive IPS panels featuring enhanced viewing angles and colour reproduction compared to their TN counterparts, forged a new audience for the ROG series.

Today, we’re taking a look at the company’s latest gaming monitors which opt for FreeSync technology instead of the NVIDIA’s proprietary alternative. As a result, these products provide a fluid user experience at a more digestible price point. The MG24UQ utilizes a 4K IPS panel, 4ms response time and 178 degree viewing angles. This is targeted towards consumers who enjoy stunning image quality and yearn for a high pixels per inch display. In contrast to this, the MG28UQ is based on TN technology and has a 1ms response time. While the colour gamut isn’t as impressive on TN monitors, they have a quicker response time and better suited towards professional gamers. Of course, it’s all about your individual priorities and whether you care more about image quality or responsiveness.

Packaging and Features

ASUS MG24UQ

Firstly, it’s important to note that the press samples I received contain the MG24U and MG28U branding. After performing extensive research, I discovered these are now known under the UQ title instead for retail channels so please disregard the box’s naming scheme. As you can see, the packaging adopts a really bold, stylish design and lists the monitor’s key features.

The monitor’s base and cables are housed within the top section to allow for easy access. On another note, the hardened polystyrene inserts offer superb protection and ensures the display arrives in perfect condition.

ASUS gaming monitors incorporate a number of unique features including:

Rather bizarrely, the information here is incorrect and the PPI rate should read 185.


ASUS MG28UQ

The 28-inch model utilises identical packaging apart from the 1ms response time icon.

Here we can see the larger variant has a lower ppi rate, 1ms response time and USB 3.0 hub.

Gladiator Computers BATTALION 800 Gaming PC Review

Introduction


Gladiator Computers is the name given to Aria’s custom PC division and provides consumers with a wide range of options to suit various budgets. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with Aria, they’re one of the leading PC hardware stores and have an excellent reputation among customers. Currently, the company’s TrustPilot rating is scored at nine out of ten which evokes a sense of confidence when investing in a pre-configured PC. Of course, you can customize each model and select between various cases, memory configurations, CPU coolers and lots more! As a result, it’s incredibly easy to make savings on various components if you’re not overly concerned about colour coordination. On the other hand, consumers who demand a visually appealing system can add LED lighting or other extravagant extras.

Today, we’re taking a detailed look at the BATTALION 800 featuring an Intel i5-6500 processor, 16GB DDR4 2133MHz memory, Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3 motherboard, 120GB Samsung 850 Evo boot drive and the Zotac GTX 970 Gaming Edition graphics card. Furthermore, Gladiator Computers have employed a very reputable air cooler to find a great balance between thermal dissipation and noise output. There’s also a quality non-modular power supply with an efficiency rating of 80+ White. I’m interested to see how this will impact on cable management especially given the budget chassis in the basic bundle. Priced at £889.99, the system is targeted towards mainstream consumers utilizing a single 1920×1080 display. Let’s see how it performs compared to other machines sporting a similar specification.

Specifications

  • Name: Gladiator Computers BATTALION 800
  • Case: Game Max Destroyer Windowed
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3
  • Processor: Intel i5 6500 3.20GHz Base, 3.60GHz Turbo Quad Core CPU
  • Processor Cooler: Raijintek Aidos Direct Contact CPU Cooler
  • System Memory: Corsair 16GB DDR4 Vengeance LPX 2133MHz
  • Main Boot Drive: 120GB Samsung 850 EVO Series Solid State Drive
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): 1TB Seagate Barracuda Hard Drive 3.5″ SATA III
  • Graphics card: Zotac GeForce® GTX 970 Gaming Edition 4GB
  • Power Supply: Corsair VS550 550 Watt 80+ White Rated ATX
  • Peripherals: N/A
  • Monitor: N/A
  • Optical Drive24x LiteOn Internal DVD-RW Drive
  • Wireless: N/A
  • OS: N/A
  • Warranty: 4 Year Standard Warranty (2 Month Collect/Returns, 1 Year Parts, 4 Year Labour)
  • Price: £889.99

Packing and Accessories

The system is dispatched in an extremely large outer box which offers superb protection against damage during delivery. On the top, fragile tape has been used to instruct the courier about the item’s delicate nature. This should reduce the possibility of the delivery driver throwing the package around. I do think there needs to be side handles because the box’s large surface area is difficult to lift from an angle.

Inside the package is a huge collection of packing peanuts to prevent the chassis box from moving around. While these inserts can be irritating if they manage to scatter all over the floor, this is a small price to pay for the superb level of protection.

The chassis box utilizes thick cardboard which feels pretty sturdy and provides an additional layer of cushioning.

Despite the case’s budget focus, there’s been a great deal of attention paid to the packaging including durable foam supports. The top cover also ensures that there’s very little chance of cosmetic damage occurring during the unboxing processing.

Gladiator Computers have positioned a sticker over the power supply’s AC connector to prevent you from booting up the system with the foam pack still installed.

The foam insert is absolutely essential because it prevents each component from becoming dislodged. Furthermore the cushioning should allow fan headers and other cables to remain in their optimal position. When it comes to packaging, foam packs are possibly the most important safety aspect and it’s great to see them used in this custom configuration.

In terms of accessories, the system is bundled with a thank you note, installation guide, driver/software disks, a funky door hanger and loads of documentation.

Other notable mentions include a power adapter, retail component packaging, CPU cover (required for warranty purposes), front bay cover where the optical drive is positioned, tasty Haribo sweets, various adapters and an assortment of fittings.

 

CPU-Z

GPU-Z

BIOSTAR RACING H170GT3 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


BIOSTAR might not be the most recognizable motherboard brand in western markets but their pedigree for creating reliable products is worthy of praise. When compared to MSI, Gigabyte and ASUS, the company struggles to entice consumers with unique aesthetic designs. Furthermore, the BIOS and software package has been sorely lacking and in dire need of change. Thankfully, BIOSTAR have acknowledged these criticisms and decided to forge a brand new range based upon a racing theme to please petrolheads with an avid interest in enthusiast hardware. Each RACING motherboard sports a chequered flag PCB and stylish LED illumination while introducing a new BIOS layout. Clearly, this is a major departure from BIOSTAR’s previous products which evoked a fairly mundane appearance.

The BIOSTAR RACING H170GT3 is based on the mATX form factor and supports up to 64GB DDR4 with a maximum speed of 2133MHz. Intel’s H170 chipset blocks multiplier overclocking which means you have to resort to your processor’s default turbo frequency. Of course, there’s been some controversy surrounding BCLK overclocking on H170 and B150 motherboards to unofficially achieve boosts fairly close to traditional multiplier overclocking. Sadly, Intel has voiced their displeasure regarding this phenomenon and pressurized manufacturers to disable BCLK overclocking via a BIOS update. As a result, we have to rely on stock figures to determine the motherboard’s performance. Previously, I’ve seen some astounding results when it comes to storage with BIOSTAR products, and I’m interested to see if this trend continues.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

Here we can see the absolutely stunning packaging which contains a carbon fibre inspired cover and vibrant text. This coincides with the RACING focus and feels quite reminiscent of a luxury sports car’s interior.

On the opposite side, there’s a detailed diagram showing the motherboard’s layout and explanation of its unique selling features. Once again, this is presented a superb manner and makes you inquisitive about the product’s specification.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard includes a user’s manual, Vivid LED DJ instructions guide, SATA cables, driver disk, and I/O shield.

First AMD Zen Benchmarks Were an April Fools Prank

UPDATE: We have now been informed from a kind reader that this was an April Fools joke, so please disregard the benchmark images below

AMD has been lingering behind in the enthusiast CPU market and really struggled to compete with Intel’s flagship products. This isn’t a shocking revelation when you consider AMD is still using the FM2+ socket to house its current processor line-up. Thankfully, Zen is upon us and the first major socket change in a considerable amount of time. We’re all hoping that AMD can become competitive again and Zen really helps bring innovation forward in the stagnant CPU market. AMD’s President and CEO, Lisa Su provided a small insight into Zen’s performance numbers and suggested they will bring a 40 percent IPC boost over the current line-up. Up to this point, all performance benchmarks have been kept under wraps and any numbers revolved around pure speculation.

However, images provided by Bits&Chips clearly illustrate the performance differences between a Octacore AMD Zen CPU and competing products. The CPU’s FP32 Ray-Trace score outperforms the i7-4930K but it’s not as impressive as the CPU hash results. This means the architecture might implement a weaker FMA.

On a more positive note, DDR4 bandwidth performance is impressive and competes with the i7-6700K. The CPU Hash is significantly better than the i7-5820K and even surpasses a 20-core Xeon. Only time will tell if AMD’s latest processors can offer similar performance to Intel products and instigate a pricing war. Currently, the i7-6700K is extremely expensive for a 4-core CPU and there needs to be some competition to drive innovation. I cannot wait to get my hands on AMD’s AM4 motherboards and finally see if they’ve come up with the goods. The basic data we have so far and information from AMD is promising but it’s always unclear until the testing has been completed from independent sources.

Do you think AMD will be able to have a much stronger foothold in the CPU market once Zen releases?

MSI Z170A GAMING M5 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

Since the release of Intel’s Z170 chipset, MSI has unveiled a fantastic, feature-rich motherboard range which caters to contrasting user demands. For example, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is an excellent choice for consumers wanting a stylish black colour scheme and great reliability at an affordable price point. In contrast to this, the MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM Edition‘s gorgeous aesthetic design makes it one of the most innovative LGA1151 motherboards on the market. Of course, the iconic dragon styling on many MSI products have become a popular choice among the core gaming demographic. This red and black theme compliments mainstream hardware and retails at very competitive prices across various performance tiers.

The MSI Z170A GAMING M5 is a mid-range motherboard sporting an attractive design and impressive specification. More specifically, the product is capable of housing two PCI-E M.2 storage devices and has support for USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity. Not only that, the motherboard includes a one year premium XSplit license and Nahimic audio enhancements. As you might expect, many of MSI’s leading technologies are incorporated such as DDR4 Boost, Game Boost and much more. Given this particular model’s astonishing software suite and military class components, I expect to see it rival higher priced offerings rather well. Could this be the best value Z170 motherboard thus far for high-end users? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

MSI always does a phenomenal job when it comes to packaging design and the Z170 GAMING M5 is no different. The bold colours and stunning product snapshot contrasts extremely well. This is one of the most eye-catching motherboard boxes I’ve seen and showcases the motherboard’s beautiful appearance.

On the opposite side, there’s a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s key selling points such as support for 3-way crossfire, 2-way SLI and Audio Boost 3.0. This is presented in a slick manner and doesn’t alienate the end-user with technical jargon.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a user’s guide, driver’s disk, metal case badge, I/O shield, SLI bridge, registration details, basic installation guide and four SATA cables. Please note, the press sample I received was previously used by another media so there’s only 3 SATA cables displayed in the photograph. Rest assured, the retail version will include four and be packaged without the need for an elastic band.

ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

ASUS have compiled a comprehensive Z170 motherboard range which caters to different sections of the consumer market. For example, the GAMING PRO line-up offers superb functionality and impeccable stability at an affordable price point. ROG products evoke a more premium feel and includes a stunning software suite for power users. The Sabertooth brand revolves around a stringent testing procedure to ensure each motherboard exhibits unprecedented reliability. The extreme thermal testing and deployment of TUF components prioritizes long-term durability. As a result, it’s a great option for consumers who demand a very high-end motherboard and have no intentions of upgrading in the near future.

Typically, motherboards opt for a red and black colour scheme because it’s the most popular option among the core gaming audience. Some time ago, ASUS unleashed the limited edition Z97 Sabertooth Mark S which utilizes an innovative white PCB and military camouflage. It’s quite rare to see motherboard sporting a white theme and while there is some competition from the MSI Krait series, ASUS is the only manufacturer to offer a pure white PCB.

The Sabertooth Z170 S is the spiritual successor to the Z97 Sabertooth Mark S and features a very unusual design philosophy. When adopting such a wacky colour scheme, it’s bound to have a polarizing reception and I’m fascinated to hear feedback on ASUS’ aesthetic choices. Looking beyond the visual aspects, I’m expecting to see some very impressive numbers given the premium electronics and DIGI+ Power Control.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard’s box is characterized by a white finish and contains camouflage highlights. This provides a great insight into the product’s unconventional styling and creates a web of intrigue. On the front, information regarding the 5 year warranty is displayed in a clear manner.

Moving onto the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the product’s thermal radar monitoring made possible by the TUF ICe processor. On another note, the packaging outlines the rear I/O connectivity and basic motherboard layout.

Included in the package is a user’s guide, M.2 screws, driver’s disk, case badge, certificate of reliability, stickers and a gorgeous white I/O shield. As someone who loves the technical details of motherboards, it’s fantastic to read the reliability assessment document. Here, you can browse information regarding a huge array of tests such as moisture resistance, thermal shock, solder bath, salt spray and more!

There’s also four SATA cables, a Q Connector, CPU installation tool, back I/O dust cover and SLI bridge. The Q Connector is a really handy tool which eliminates the frustration factor when attaching front panel headers. Furthermore, the CPU installation tool is designed to minimize the contact time and pressure between your fingers and the CPU. While it’s not necessary for veteran builders, it could prevent beginners from causing damage during the build process.

Gigabyte P35W v5 Gaming Laptop Review

Introduction


Consumers typically purchase gaming laptops over their desktop counterparts due to portability and requiring hefty processing power on the move. Saying that, it’s exceedingly difficult to offer adequate thermal dissipation in a slim form factor which limits the convenience factor of many flagship gaming laptops. These tend to be rather bulky and difficult to carry around on public transportation where space is quite restricted. Thankfully, efficiency improvements on mobile graphics chipsets and CPUs have enabled manufacturers to create a better balance between performance and size. Granted, the top-tier options with dual GPUs still feel heavy but less extreme alternatives can be surprising portable. For example, the Gigabyte P34W v3 provides a superb gaming experience and weighs a mere 1.81Kg. Back when I reviewed this, the performance to size ratio astounded me. Although, the system’s load temperatures were higher than I hoped and felt like a concession too far.

The latest gaming laptop to prioritize a thin design from Gigabyte is the P35W v5 sporting an Intel i7-6700HQ, ultra fast 128GB NVMe boot drive, and GTX 970M. Unlike the P34W v3, Gigabyte has opted for a 6GB variant of this graphics chip but I can’t see the increased video memory making a substantial difference. On the other hand, some games with high memory utilization might fare better with an improved minimum frame-rate. Another key benefit is the inclusion of DDR4 memory, and a greatly improved battery. As always, you can customize the specification to suit your needs and the standard package utilizes a 1920×1080 display. If this seems a little underwhelming, you can select a 4K panel for an additional fee but this has some drawbacks when it comes to performance. Given the P35W v5’s marvellously thin design, I’m interested to see the thermals under stress and determine if the cooling hardware is up to scratch.

Specifications

  • Name: Gigabyte P35W v5
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz base frequency, 3.5GHz turbo)
  • System Memory: 16GB Dual Channel DDR4 2133MHz
  • Main Boot Drive: Samsung NVMe MZVPV128 M.2 128GB SSD
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): HGST 1TB 7200RPM HDD
  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M 6GB
  • Peripherals: N/A
  • Display: 15.6-inch 3840×2160 IPS LCD
  • Optical Drive: MATSHITA DVD-RAM UJ8G2
  • Wireless: Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8260
  • Battery: Li-Polymer 11.1V, 75.81Wh
  • Weight: 2.3Kg with Battery
  • Dimensions: 385(W) x 270(D) x 20.9(H) mm
  • OS: Windows 10 Home
  • Warranty: 2 Year
  • Price: £1399

Packing and Accessories

Gigabyte has adopted a fairly understated theme to the packaging which showcases the beautiful display and professional aesthetic design. Furthermore, there’s a brief description about the laptop’s unique selling features but I have to say the translation is confusing and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps, this is because the press sample originates from the factory and I’m sure Gigabyte will update the message for western markets.

The opposite side is almost identical barring another stunning snapshot of the product’s thin profile. This level of uniformity works well and evokes a premium feel. The packaging’s durable cardboard shell and soft inserts protect the item during transit meaning you shouldn’t encounter any cosmetic imperfections.

Included with the laptop is a power adapter, user’s guide, warranty card, driver disk, PowerDVD 12 software, swappable storage bay and light stickers. The swappable storage bay is an ingenious extra which allows you to remove the optical drive and fit an internal 9.5mm SSD instead. This is a great idea because many people use flash storage devices instead of optical media and the ability to easily house a traditional SATA SSD greatly enhances the laptop’s flexibility.

The 4K model contains a removable orange sticker near the lid which can be replaced with either a green or turquoise colour. Gigabyte even provides a complimentary pair of tweezers to obtain a neat finish and customize the theme to your own personal taste. Small touches like this creates the perception every customer’s needs have been attended to.

CPU-Z


GPU-Z

Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s current iteration of enthusiast processors offering impressive overclocking headroom incurs a fairly hefty premium compared to the previous generation especially if you’re opting for the i7-6700K. Unfortunately, the retail version of this CPU sporting a 3 year warranty still teeters around the £300 mark, and falls into a similar budget to the 6-core 5820K. The real savings when selecting the Z170 chipset revolve around cheaper motherboards which usually cater towards the gaming demographic with LED illumination, unusual colour schemes and a comprehensive software suite. It’s astonishing to see the kind of performance and bundled list of features on products under £100. At this price, there’s fierce competition and some manufacturers have struggled to outline the value of H170/B150 alternatives due to the narrow difference to affordable Z170 options.

The latest motherboard from Gigabyte targets the mainstream audience utilizing a single discrete graphics card, and overclocked Skylake processor. While it does technically support Crossfire, the lack of x8/x8 functionality might be a deal breaker for users wanting the absolute maximum bandwidth. There’s also no support for SLI setups either which may be a contentious issue. To be honest, I don’t see this as a huge problem because the motherboard retails for approximately £95 and dual card configurations are fairly niche in today’s market. Despite the very low price, Gigabyte has still implemented 32Gb/s M.2 storage, a great audio solution and USB 3.1. From the outset, it seems Gigabyte managed to achieve this excellent specification on a budget by removing SLI support. I’m interested to see the stock performance numbers though compared to high-end solutions and determine the motherboard’s credentials. Could this be the best value gaming Z170 motherboard ever released? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The Z170-Gaming K3 is packaged in a visually appealing box showcasing the attractive dual tone PCB design. This draws you into the product and evokes a sense of excitement prior to the unboxing process.

On the rear, there’s a huge description regarding the motherboard’s high-speed connectivity, premium audio hardware and networking with traffic prioritization for gaming purposes. This is presented in an easy to understand manner, and the clear pictures do a great job of relaying technical information without bamboozling the end-user.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with an I/O shield, user’s guide, G Connector, case badge and SATA cables opting for a very stylish metallic look. This is the first time I’ve seen a color of this ilk but I have to admit it’s a nice touch and looks fantastic. The G Connector is really useful when connecting those fiddly front panel connectors and improves the user-experience when building a new system. Other additions include a rather fetching door hanger, drivers disk, and World of Warships content code.

Inno3D GTX 980Ti iChill Black Graphics Card Review

Introduction


Closed-loop liquid coolers have become extremely popular in the CPU market due to the cleaner build, and greater space around the CPU socket compared to traditional air cooling hardware. This means you can install an all in one liquid cooler without having to make concessions in terms of memory compatibility or worry too much about your motherboard’s PCI-E arrangement. As you might expect, all in one liquid coolers have progressively moved into the GPU sector to offer improved overclocking headroom and a lower noise output. There are some interesting parallels between CPU and GPU all in one liquid cooling though which needs to be addressed.

Firstly, many air coolers like the Noctua NH-D15 can outperform Asetek units, while being much quieter. It’s a similar picture with graphics cards because proficient air cooling setups including the Gigabyte Windforce X3 and Sapphire Tri-X provide a superb noise to performance ratio. Liquid cooled graphics cards have a price premium and involve a more complicated installation process. It’s important to remember that Maxwell is a very mature and efficient architecture which allows vendors to enable a 0dB idle fan mode. Despite my own qualms about closed-loop liquid cooling, it’s fantastic to see products which cater to a different target market. There’s clearly a demand for pre-assembled liquid cooled graphics cards, and their appeal is bound to grow in the next few years.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Inno3D GTX 980Ti iChill Black which utilizes a very powerful hybrid cooling solution. The GPU incorporates a traditional fan which only switches on during heavy load, in addition to a 120mm fan/radiator combination. The Arctic Cooling radiator fan is constantly on but has a very low RPM curve to maintain silent running. This impeccable hardware allows for an impressive core clock of 1203MHz and default boost reaching 1304MHz. The memory has also been increased to 7280MHz. As you can see from the chart below, this isn’t the greatest configuration we’ve encountered from the factory, but it’s exceedingly fast and should be a top performer. It will be fascinating to contrast this graphics card with the marvellous Inno3D GTX 980Ti X3 Ultra DHS which opts for a hefty air cooling design.

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The Inno3D GTX 980 Ti iChill Black comes in a huge box to properly house the closed loop cooler’s tubing and protect against leaks during shipping. Honestly, the picture doesn’t provide an accurate depiction of the packaging’s size. I have to commend Inno3D because they have taken the precautionary steps to reduce the possibility of damage occurring and utilized strong foam inserts as cushioning materials. The box itself features an attractive render of the GPU, and outlines its specification.

On the rear portion, there’s a brief synopsis of NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture. I’m a bit surprised to see the back doesn’t contain any information about the liquid cooling solution and the acoustical benefits compared to NVIDIA’s reference cooler.

In terms of accessories, the graphics card is bundled with mounting screws, 6-pin PCI-E to molex adapter, case badge, DVI-D to VGA adapter and installation guide. There’s also a driver’s disk which you should disregard, a copy of 3DMark, and other documentation. This is a great selection of items and provides everything you need to get started! The mouse mat is surprisingly high-quality and relatively thick.

Mushkin Redline DDR4 3000MHz 16GB (4x4GB) Quad Channel Memory Kit Review

Introduction


The Mushkin Redline series is engineered to provide magnificent reliability and low latency while utilizing impressive memory speeds well beyond the DDR4 standard. Each Mushkin kit undergoes a rigorous testing procedure to reduce the possibility of hardware failure and backed by a generous lifetime warranty. This gives the purchaser peace-of-mind and ensures their investment is protected. On another note, Mushkin use high-quality ICs to maximize performance by finding the perfect balance between frequency and latency.

Today we’re taking a detailed look at a 3000MHz 16GB quad channel kit which adopts Mushkin’s FrostByte heatsink design and features timings of 15-15-15-35. The memory’s impressive memory speed to latency ratio should result in exceptional numbers, and I expect to see it compare favourably against rival offerings.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The modules come in a stylish cardboard box which enhances the level of protection compared to traditional blister packs. Additionally, the small cut out allows you to see the memory in all its glory and increases your excitement during the unboxing process. It’s always great to see something a little unusual with memory packaging because the majority of kits take a fairly mundane approach to box design.

On the rear section, there’s a brief synopsis about the product’s reliability, and Mushkin’s commitment to providing excellent customer service.

A Closer Look

The memory’s primary colour is difficult to pinpoint as the red finish tends to lighten at certain angles. It’s really a cross between a dark red and pink, but once the modules are exposed to low-medium light conditions, they look like a typical red design. This unusual shading effect works superbly and makes the modules have a sense of character. I also really like the silver accent and subtle Mushkin branding which adds a sophisticated feel.

On another note, the distinctive shape on the heatspreaders stands out without detracting from the understated construction. Sadly, the green PCB doesn’t help matters and I’d much prefer to see a black PCB instead. Granted, this isn’t a major problem when the modules are installed, but it might irk some users wanting the perfect colour scheme, or using hefty LED illumination. Overall, the aesthetic design is excellent and should cater towards the mainstream gaming market rather nicely.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980Ti Xtreme Gaming Graphics Card Review

Introduction


NVIDIA’s cogent strategy to launch the Titan X at $999 and subsequently release the GTX 980Ti with similar performance at a significantly reduced price was a master stroke. This made the 980Ti compelling value and a great choice for high-end consumers wanting the best possible experience at demanding resolutions. Admittedly, there isn’t a GPU on the market capable of driving a 4K panel at maximum details but you can attain 60 frames-per-second with reduced settings. Evidently, the 980Ti has proved to be a popular choice especially when you take into consideration that factory overclocked models can easily pull away from NVIDIA’s flagship graphics card. While there is some competition from the Fury X, it’s not enough to dethrone custom-cooled 980Ti models.

Some users might argue that the upcoming Pascal architecture built on the 16nm manufacturing process and utilizing HBM2 ultra fast memory is reason enough to hold off buying a top-tier Maxwell solution. However, the current estimate suggests Pascal won’t launch until Q2 this year, and there’s no indication regarding pricing. As always, any new product has a price premium and I expect enthusiast Pascal cards to retail at a high price point. This means purchasing a Maxwell-based GPU right now isn’t a terrible option unless you require additional power to enjoy 4K gaming and have deep pockets. One of the best custom-designed GTX 980Ti cards on the market is the Gigabyte G1 Gaming. This particular GPU rapidly gained a reputation for its overclocking ability and superb Windforce triple fan cooling hardware.

The latest addition to Gigabyte’s graphics range is the GTX 980Ti Xtreme Gaming sporting a 1216MHz core clock, 1317MHz boost, and memory running at 7200MHz. One major improvement is the use of illuminated RGB rings behind the fans which creates a very unusual, and stylish appearance. Gigabyte’s GPU Gauntlet is a binning process which selects the best performing chips with impressive overclocking headroom. Once discovered, the top chips are incorporated into the Xtreme Gaming series, and G1 Gaming. By default, the Xtreme Gaming is bundled with a hefty overclock and should offer sensational performance. Although I expect to see some further gains due to the excellent cooling and stringent binning procedure. Could this be the best 980Ti on the market thus far?

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The product comes in a visually appealing box which outlines the extreme performance and gaming focus. I really like the sharp, dynamic logo with bright colours which draws you into the packaging.

On the rear side, there’s a brief description of the Windforce X3 cooling system, RGB illumination, GPU Gauntlet, and premium components. The clear pictures provide a great insight into the GPU’s main attributes and it’s presented in such a slick way.

In terms of accessories, the graphics card includes a driver disk, quick start guide, case badge, sweat band and PCI-E power adapter. It’s quite unusual to see a sweat band, but I’m sure it could come in handy during a trip to the gym or intense eSports contest.

Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury Graphics Card Review

Introduction


The initial unveiling of AMD’s Fury X was eagerly anticipated due to the advent of high bandwidth memory, and potential to revolutionize the size to performance ratio of modern graphics cards. This new form of stackable video RAM provided a glimpse into the future and departure from the current GDDR5 standard. Although, this isn’t going to happen overnight as production costs and sourcing HBM on a mass scale has to be taken into consideration. On another note, JEDEC recently announced GDD5X with memory speeds up to 14 Gbps which helps to enhance non-HBM GPUs while catering to the lower-mid range market. The Fury X and Fury utilizes the first iteration of high bandwidth memory which features a maximum capacity of 4GB.

There’s some discussion regarding the effect of this limitation at high resolutions but I personally haven’t seen it cause a noticeable bottleneck. If anything, the Fury range is capable of outperforming the 980 Ti during 4K benchmarks while it tends to linger behind at lower resolutions. AMD’s flagship opts for a closed-loop liquid cooler to reduce temperatures and minimize operating noise. In theory, you can argue this level of cooling prowess was required to tame the GPU’s core. However, there are some air-cooled variants which allow us to directly compare between each form of heat dissipation.

Clearly, the Fury X’s water cooling apparatus adds a premium and isn’t suitable for certain chassis configurations. To be fair, most modern case layouts can accommodate a CLC graphics card without any problems, but there’s also concerns regarding reliability and the possibility of leaks. That’s why air-cooled alternatives which drop the X branding offer great performance at a more enticing price point. For example, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is around £60 cheaper than the XFX R9 Fury X. This particular card has a factory overclocked core of 1050MHz, and astounding cooling solution. The question is, how does it compare to the Fury X and GTX 980 Ti? Let’s find out!

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury comes in a visually appealing box which outlines the Tri-X cooling system, factory overclocked core, and extremely fast memory. I’m really fond of the striking robot front cover and small cut out which provides a sneak peek at the GPU’s colour scheme.

On the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the R9 Fury range and award-winning Tri-X cooling. Furthermore, the packaging outlines information regarding LiquidVR, FreeSync, and other essential AMD features. This is displayed in an easy-to-read manner and helps inform the buyer about the graphics card’s functionality.

In terms of accessories, Sapphire includes a user’s guide, driver disk, Select Club registration code, and relatively thick HDMI cable.

Gladiator Computers APOCALYPSE Gaming PC Review

Introduction


Aria is one of the leading technology retailers in the UK and stocks a huge range of components from luxury 21:9 3440×1440 monitors to extremely affordable pre-assembled gaming PCs. Their custom PC range falls under the GLADIATOR brand and aims to provide an enthralling gaming experience while offering superb customer satisfaction. Clearly, any system is a considered purchase, and it’s vital to have your initial investment backed by a comprehensive warranty. Thankfully, Gladiator supports their builds with a 4-year labour and 1-year parts guarantee. This level of service is often a key selling point for consumers without any hardware experience and feel overwhelmed by the almost endless combination of component choices.

Today, we’re taking a look at the GLADIATOR APOCALYPSE which targets a very reasonable price of £749.99. I’d describe this as a mid-range system and caters to someone with expectations of a fluid framerate at 1920×1080. Around the £800 mark, it’s essential to prioritize the graphics card and make concessions on the CPU without it becoming a bottleneck. This is because the majority of modern game engines are GPU bound, and the benefits from enhanced CPU performance is fairly minimal in comparison. NVIDIA’s GTX 970 is currently the most popular graphics card among Steam users, and for good reasons. For example, the GPU offers a fantastic price to performance ratio and remains exceptionally cool under extreme load. As a result, I’m pleased to see this particular graphics card in the GLADIATOR APOCALYPSE and expect it to perform superbly on a 1080P display.

Specifications

  • Name: GLADIATOR APOCALYPSE
  • Case: AeroCool Aero-800 Windowed Midi Tower
  • Motherboard: ASUS Z170-E
  • Processor: Intel i5-6400 2.70GHz Quad Core Skylake CPU
  • Processor Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper TX3 Evo
  • System Memory: 8GB DDR4 3000MHz – Corsair Vengeance LPX
  • Main Boot Drive: 1TB Seagate Barracuda SATA III Hard Drive
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): N/A
  • Graphics card: ASUS STRIX NVIDIA GTX 970 4GB GDDR5
  • Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 Challenger 600W 80+ Certified
  • Peripherals: N/A
  • Monitor: N/A
  • Optical Drive24x LiteOn DVD Re-Writer
  • Wireless: N/A
  • OS: Not Included
  • Warranty: 4 Years Labour, 1 Year Parts
  • Price: £749.99

Packing and Accessories

The system is delivered in a humongous outer box which offers outstanding protection against accidental damage. On the top, some durable fragile tape is used to instruct the courier to adopt a gentle approach when handling the item. One slight area for improvement revolves around the lack of side handles. This makes it quite difficult to lift especially in tight spaces.

Once opened, there’s an ample supply of packing peanuts to cushion the chassis box and prevent it from moving around during shipment. I was thoroughly impressed with the quantity of packaging materials, as it emphasizes the company’s attentive approach.

Here we can see the main chassis box containing a plastic cover and two thick polystyrene supports. As a result, the chance of cosmetic damage occurring is exponentially reduced.

The secure foam insert surrounds key components and keeps them firmly in position. I cannot emphasize enough how important these foam packs are because without them it’s possible for cables to become dislodged. Furthermore, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that a heavy GPU could droop and snap during transit. Thankfully, the foam pack holds up it upright and adds a great deal of structural support.

In terms of accessories, the system comes with the original packaging and documentation for each component. There’s also driver disks, a setup leaflet, attractive lanyard and UK power cable. The setup leaflet is fantastic and instructs beginners to remove the supportive foam before connecting the power cord.

That’s not all though because the package includes a CPU installation tool, spare parts, and screws to connect an M.2 SSD.

CPU-Z

GPU-Z

Mushkin Blackline Ridgeback DDR4 2400MHz 16GB Memory Kit Review

Introduction


The latest memory kit to arrive for review purposes is part of Muskin’s Blackline Ridgeback range. The sample we received opts for a 16GB capacity, 2400MHz speed and timings of 15-15-15-35. This is achieved with a very respectable voltage rating of 1.2V and showcases the modules’ efficiency. Mushkin is a pioneering memory manufacturer formed in 1994 and continues to release new DIMMs sporting unique designs at a very competitive price point. Unlike their competitors, Mushkin assembles and hand tests each memory kit in the USA while strictly monitoring their production line.

This results in exceptional reliability and minimizes the potential for customer returns. The company also selects low latency modules to find a suitable balance between raw frequency and operating latency. On another note, every Mushkin memory kit is backed with a lifetime warranty and approachable customer service team. Given their reputation in the industry, I expect the memory kit to perform admirably at stock values and have some good overclocking headroom. Let’s see how it compares to other dual channel alternatives!

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The product comes in a traditional blister pack, and adopts the slogan, “Gamers take notice, rivals take notes.” I quite like the background design which looks rather striking and adds a dash of colour.

On the rear, there’s a very detailed installation guide containing extremely clear diagrams. Inserting the modules into position is a very simple process, but it’s always good to include instructions for newcomers without any previous system building experience.

A Closer Look

The DIMMs convey a professional look via the neutral colour scheme and should suit a wide range of system builds. Additionally, the angled heat spreaders provide a distinctive appearance without straying too far from the sophisticated, understated design. I’m also really keen on the silver accents, which adds some visual flair. Sadly, the green PCB spoils the black theme somewhat and ruins the overall level of synergy. Although once the modules are installed, you shouldn’t notice the green PCB from a distance. Thankfully, there are some SKUs which already have the same heat spreader design and black PCB to complement it perfectly. Overall, Mushkin has done a commendable job in the product’s aesthetics and ensured it appeals to the core gaming demographic.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance Analysis

Introduction


Rise of the Tomb Raider originally launched on November 10th and received widespread critical acclaim from various press outlets. Unfortunately, the game went under the radar because Fallout 4 released on the same day. This was a strategic error which hindered the game’s sales and prevented consumers from giving it their undivided attention. It’s such a shame because Rise of the Tomb Raider is a technical marvel when you consider the Xbox One’s limited horsepower. Even though it’s not technically an exclusive, PC players had to wait until after the Christmas period to enjoy the latest exploits of everyone’s favourite heroine.

The PC version was created by Nixxes Software who worked on the previous Tomb Raider reboot as well as a number of other graphically diverse PC games. The studio is renowned for creating highly polished and well-optimized PC versions featuring an astonishing level of graphical fidelity. Prior to release, NVIDIA recommended a GTX 970 for the optimal 1080p experience and 980 Ti for 1440P. Since then, there have been some performance patches from the developer and driver updates to help with scaling across various hardware configuration. This means it will be fascinating to see the performance numbers now that the game has matured and gone through a large number of post-release hot fixes.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is an action-adventure video game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2013 video game Tomb Raider, which was itself, the second reboot to its series. It was released for Xbox One and Xbox 360 in November 2015 and for Microsoft Windows in January 2016. It is set to release for PlayStation 4 in late 2016.

The game’s storyline follows Lara Croft as she ventures into Siberia in search of the legendary city of Kitezh, whilst battling a paramilitary organization that intends on beating her to the city’s promise of immortality. Presented from a third-person perspective, the game primarily focuses on survival and combat, while the player may also explore its landscape and various optional tombs. Camilla Luddington returns to voice and perform her role as Lara.” From Wikipedia.

So, let’s get to it and see how some of the latest graphics cards on the market hold up with the latest from Crystal Dynamics!

MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


MSI has rapidly established itself as one of the most reputable motherboard manufacturers and constantly strives to enhance the user experience through an intuitive BIOS interface and marvellous reliability. Additionally, the company offers a huge range of products to suit various colour schemes and often creates extremely-unique designs as demonstrated by the gorgeous, Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM motherboard. Some time ago, MSI released the Z170A GAMING PRO which adopted a fantastic red and black theme to please the core gaming demographic. Although, it’s difficult to stand out when using this colour scheme because manufacturers tend to fixate on a safe, popular design. That’s not to say there’s anything particular wrong with utilizing these colours, but I’d prefer to see more vendors breaking the mould through truly unusual aesthetic choices.

Since the Z170A GAMING PRO’s release, MSI has listened intently to user feedback and decided to construct a brand new model entitled, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON. At first glance, the only difference appears to be the new carbon fibre skin. However, this isn’t the case because MSI has made a raft of changes to enhance the motherboard’s connectivity. More specifically, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON features two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, one being type-A while the other is type-C. Furthermore, the redundant PCI slot has been dropped in favour of a fourth PCI-E x1 slot. Thankfully, the 180-degree angle SATA ports have been removed and replaced with a more suitable arrangement using right-angled connectors. Finally, the USB 3.1 Gen 1 layout features two on the rear and four via an internal header while USB 2.0 options now contain a total of 8 ports through a front four rear four setup.

With a recommended retail price of £119.99, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is destined to compete alongside the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING. As a result, it will be fascinating to see how the different products compare and I expect the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON to remain very competitive in synthetic testing.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes is a visually appealing box which outlines the RGB functionality, and gaming focus. I particularly like the neon design from the background vehicle which corresponds with the sort of lighting embedded onto the motherboard’s PCB.

The rear portion is packed full of information regarding the motherboard’s layout, impressive software package and premium-grade hardware. This is presented in a really clean, and concise manner with statistics to help quantify the importance of each unique feature.

In terms of accessories, there’s a detailed user’s guide, product registration card, cable labels, CPU installation guide and driver disk. It’s great to see the inclusion of cable labels because they help with diagnostics if you have multiple drives in a RAID configuration and struggle to determine which is the boot device.

Here we can see the bundled I/O shield, SLI bridge and SATA cables. The I/O shield’s red lettering and MSI dragon logo evokes a luxury feel and emphasizes the motherboard’s target audience.

ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Since the official reveal of Intel’s latest mainstream LGA1151 platform, we’ve analysed the performance numbers of various Z170 motherboards and even taken an analytical look at the non-overclocking H170 offerings. However, there’s another chipset available to consumers even though it’s primarily marketed towards business users. More specifically, the B150 chipset includes Intel’s Small Business Advantage software package to manage a small network of PCs using fairly rudimentary desktop applications. As a result, it seems quite a bizarre choice to release a B150 motherboard which adopts a lavish visual design, although it might be suitable for business clients wanting to play games during their downtime.

In a similar vein to the H170 chipset, there are some technical limitations when opting for the more budget friendly options. For example, B150 motherboards support a maximum of 18 HSIO lanes (in addition to 16 PCI-E from the CPU) compared to 26 on Z170. Additionally, overclocking is disabled even with an unlocked multiplier CPU, the PCI-E lanes are reduced from 20 to 8, and there’s a small dip in USB 3.0 ports down from 14 to 12. Despite these cutbacks, there’s still more than enough connectivity, and features to please a large quantity of consumers. The ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA is a fascinating motherboard because it brings many of the high-end components from the Z170 range and comes with an excellent array of gaming focussed software. This means, it’s possibly the most ostentatious and impressive B150 motherboard I’ve encountered thus far, and I expect to see some impressive performance numbers in our typical benchmark procedure.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard is packaged in an attractive box which outlines the RGB sections and high-speed M.2 support. Additionally, there’s a promotional 15-day code to access a premium account in the free-to-play title, War of Warships.

On the rear, there’s a basic overview of the board layout, a technical synopsis and details about the AURA RGB lighting system. Furthermore, ASUS also provides information on the Digi+ VRM, USB 3.1 connectivity, premium audio hardware and gaming software.

In terms of accessories, the B150 PRO GAMING/AURA includes a user’s guide, cable labels, zip ties to help with cable management and drivers disk.

As you might expect, the motherboard comes with an I/O shield, SATA cables and M.2 fixing screws.

SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction



SuperMicro is one of the most respected names in the server industry and synonymous with unparalleled reliability. Whether you’re after a rackmount, blade server system or workstation motherboard, there’s nothing on the market which manages to enthuse such a sense of rock solid stability. Recently, the company has taken their server roots and impeccable reputation into enthusiast consumer motherboards. This allows them to retain the server framework while offering more ostentatious motherboard designs. Additionally, SuperMicro’s highly refined production line results in a low RMA rate and each product evokes such a premium feel. While their previous attempts have been a little rough around the edges, it’s clear to see the rapid progress in terms of motherboard layout and visual exuberance. Typically, motherboard manufacturers opt for the gaming themed red and black colour scheme because it caters towards the core demographic and maximize sales.

However, they have adopted a very different approach and launched the SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE, which utilizes a very striking green colour scheme. Not only that, the motherboard incorporates an impressive array of overclocking buttons to make manual tweaks without entering the BIOS. There’s also a high-quality speaker, and LED post readout to help with system diagnostics. The C7Z170-OCE’s electrical circuitry is designed with extreme overclocking in mind and able to push any Skylake CPU to its absolute limit. Yes, that means BCLK overclocking is possible even on a locked multiplier CPU. Although, given the Z170 chipset, this wouldn’t be a sensible choice.

Another key selling point is the embedded PLX PEX8747 chip capable of supporting 3-way SLI in a x16/x8/x8 configuration. If you require a 2-way setup, then the motherboard can easily accommodate this via a x16/x0/x16. Other notable features include a Realtek ALC1150 audio solution with dedicated PCB isolation, USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity, ample supply of fan headers and much more! As you can see, the motherboard sports an incredible specification and I expect it to perform superbly across CPU intensive tasks. In the past, I’ve experienced a few issues with our DDR4-2666MHz bench memory kit on SuperMicro products, so it will be interesting to see if compatibility has improved on this latest model.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes in SuperMicro’s iconic box design which looks fantastic and creates a sense of luxury.

On the rear, there’s a detailed description of SuperMicro’s philosophy to bring server quality to the gaming market. Furthermore, this section outlines the key specification in an easy-to-understand manner.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard is packaged with a driver disk, I/O shield, M.2 screws and a quick reference guide. Unlike the majority of other vendors, the SuperMicro guide is fairly brief and provides a technical rundown of the motherboard layout. While I find the included diagram quite useful, some users might prefer a more comprehensive set of instructions to help with troubleshooting. For example, the user’s guide directs you to URL to find the meaning of each BIOS debug code instead of printing them. This is important because when the system fails to post, you cannot access the online documentation. Although, I guess it’s easy enough to check on a phone or tablet for the meaning of each error code.

There’s also six SATA connectors in a red finish. Ideally, I’d like to see three of these with a right-angled end, and the red colour doesn’t really match the motherboard’s theme. Perhaps, swapping the red for green, or a jet black tone would enhance the overall level of synergy.

Patriot Viper 4 DDR4 3200MHz 16GB (2x8GB) Dual Channel Memory Kit Review

Introduction


DDR4 memory kits are steadily superseding DDR3 DIMMs due to competitive pricing and the advent of Intel’s LGA1151 chipset which supports speeds in excess of 3200MHz. Furthermore, DDR4 modules require less voltage to remain stable despite the typical increase in memory bandwidth. Recently, professional overclocker Shamino set an astounding world record and overclocked the G.Skill Ripjaws 4 to 4255MHz using a mere 1.3 volts. Clearly, this is an extreme case and the majority of DDR4 kits available to consumers range between 2400MHz and 4000MHz. Plus, the performance difference in gaming tasks primarily revolves around your system’s graphics card, and CPU. Nevertheless, it’s still important to select high-quality DIMMs to keep your PC perfectly stable and compliment the other components.

The Patriot Viper series is synonymous for offering excellent memory speeds at an affordable price point. Here’s a brief description of the product directly from the manufacturer:

“Patriot Memory’s Viper 4 Series memory modules are designed with true performance in mind. Built for the latest Intel® Skylake processor utilizing the 100 series platform, the Viper 4 series provides the best performance and stability for the most demanding computer environments.

The Viper 4 series utilizes a custom designed high performance heat shield for superior heat dissipation to ensure rock solid performance even when using the most taxing applications. Built from the highest quality Build of Materials, Patriot Memory’s Viper 4 Series memory modules are hand tested and validated for system compatibility.

Available in dual kits, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB kits, Patriot Memory’s Viper 4 Series will be offered at speeds from 2400MHz up to 3600MHz and XMP 2.0 ready. Hand tested for quality assurance the Viper 4 series is backed by a lifetime warranty.”

As you can see, the latest version of the Viper range comes in a variety of capacities and memory speeds to suit a wide range of user requirements. Given the impressive 3200MHz speed, 16-16-16 timings and respectable voltage, I expect to see some superb numbers which legitimately rival the best dual channel kits we’ve tested!

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

Patriot have adopted a clean, bold design to the memory’s packaging which makes it easy to read the key specifications while admiring the DIMM’s colour scheme. Here we can see a visual run down of the memory’s speed, capacity, XMP version and other essential statistics. Many kits on the market utilize pretty plain blister packs which don’t enthuse a luxury feel. In this case, the packaging draws you in and leaves a very positive initial impression.

On the rear section, there’s information about Patriot’s lifetime warranty, a brief synopsis of the product, and links to the company’s presence across various social media platforms.

A Closer Look

From an aesthetics standpoint, the DIMMs have a rather understated look and targets the mainstream gaming audience. Any red and black heatspreader combination is going to become a popular choice, and the different shades combine quite nicely. Another striking touch is the contrast between the textured black finish and matte section towards the PCB. I’m also quite fond of the sophisticated Viper logo and small gap between the main heatspreader which creates an impressive visual effect. Sadly, the green PCB is difficult to overlook and detracts from the attractive design. If a black PCB was used instead, the memory would be the perfect choice for a high-end build. Despite these qualms, once the RAM is installed, you’re not going to notice the PCB colour in an enclosed chassis.

Inno3D GeForce GTX 980Ti X3 Ultra DHS Graphics Card Review

Introduction


NVIDIA’s GTX 980Ti has proved to be a very popular choice among hardware enthusiasts requiring extreme performance at demanding resolutions. Whether you’re opting for a 21:9 3440×1440 60Hz panel, 4K display or high refresh rate 1440P monitor, there’s very few single card configurations on the market capable of dealing with advanced AA, complex tessellation and other visually taxing effects while driving a large number of pixels. Technically, the Titan X is NVIDIA’s flagship product and its 12GB frame buffer initially appears like an enticing proposition. However, the price to performance ratio is quite poor especially when you consider the 980Ti is based on the same GM200 silicone and only exhibits a few cost saving measures. Most notably, the video memory is reduced from 12GB to 6GB and the shader units have been slightly scaled back from 3072 to 2816.

Barring a few exceptions, the majority of Titan X models utilize a reference design which results in reduced overclocking headroom and higher temperatures. In contrast to this, custom cooled GTX 980Ti SKUs feature very impressive factory overclocks and enable users to access a higher power limit percentage when tackling manual core and memory boosts. As a result, it’s not uncommon for 980Ti GPUs to outperform the Titan X in certain scenarios despite costing £300-400 less. This means it is the perfect choice for the higher end demographic and also provides an improved price to performance ratio.

Today we’re looking at one of the fastest GTX 980 Ti models on the market incorporating a pre-overclocked core of 1216MHz and boost reaching 1317MHz. Additionally, the memory is set at 7280MHz compared to 7010MHz on the reference design. Given the impeccable 3-fan cooling solution, and impressive factory overclock, I expect the graphics card to perform superbly and pull away from the reference 980Ti by a noticeable margin.

Specifications:

Packing and Accessories

The Inno3D 980Ti X3 Ultra DHS is packaged in a hefty box which does an excellent job of protecting the GPU, and bundled accessories. On another note, the box adopts a really striking design which emphasizes the extreme level of performance on offer.

The opposite side includes a brief synopsis of the GPU’s capabilities and outlines the modern features incorporated into this particular model such as High Dynamic Range (HDR).

In terms of accessories, the product comes with interchangeable cover plates, an installation guide, 3DMark digital code, power supply guidelines, driver disk, and the usual array of adapters. Please note, the 3DMark code is not pictured to prevent the serial from being used.

Another highlight is the extremely high quality elongated mouse pad. I love extended mouse pads because they allow you to neatly position your keyboard and mouse while opting for a clean, sophisticated appearance. Despite being a free addition, the mouse pad is remarkably thick and should last a long time without becoming too frayed.

Crucial Ballistix Sport LT DDR4 2400MHz 16GB (2x8GB) Dual Channel Memory Kit Review

Introduction


The overwhelming majority of gaming builds revolve around a red and black colour scheme which makes it relatively difficult for hardware manufacturers to produce other colours in large numbers. Any niche section of the market isn’t prioritized as companies attempt to maximize sales and cater to the mainstream customer. On the other hand, white components have become more popular in recent years and look absolutely stunning. For example, the ASUS Sabertooth Mark S compliments the Avexir Sabranco memory in a beautiful way. Sadly, it’s pretty rare to see memory kits with a white PCB especially on the DDR4 platform.

One of the more affordable DDR4 memory kits comes from Crucial and even implements a gorgeous white PCB! Crucial’s LT branding is slightly confusing as the DIMMs utilize an identical specification to the standard Sport range. The only difference is the revised heatspreader design. This particular memory kit operates at 2400MHz, and requires 1.2V. Additionally, the timings are fairly tight for DDR4 at 16-16-16-39 but this is to be expected compared to higher frequency alternatives.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The memory kit comes in a traditional blister pack and outlines the key specification. I also found it quite easy to remove the modules without applying too much force.

A Closer Look

Here we can see the aesthetically pleasing heatspreaders which adopt a low profile design to enhance compatibility with large air coolers. More specifically, the modules measure 40mm in height and you shouldn’t experience any clearance issues. From a visual standpoint, the white PCB, central Ballistix logo and retro-inspired decal looks phenomenal. Additionally, the edges feature a textured finish which enhances the memory’s unique appearance. I’m also quite fond of the stylish cutouts which are easily visible once the DIMMs have been installed.

BIOSTAR GAMING H170T (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


BIOSTAR’s retail presence in the western market is rather small as stockists focus on the more recognizable vendors among consumers. Despite this, BIOSTAR is one of the leading Taiwanese global brands and produces a huge range of affordable hardware. Back in 2013, the company launched the first motherboard with an integrated Wireless LAN module which shows their commitment to innovation. Granted, BIOSTAR’s aesthetic design is an acquired taste and I strongly believe this is an area which needs fine tuning especially if they want to appeal to enthusiasts. While some users don’t really care about a motherboard’s appearance, it’s becoming quite common for system builders to have colour coordinated builds. Nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to test any BIOSTAR product and determine how well it stacks up against the competition.

As its name suggests, the BIOSTAR GAMING H170T is built on Intel’s H170 chipset, which supports the latest Skylake processors. Unlike the more expensive Z170 platform, overclocking is theoretically disabled on H170. However, BCLK overclocking is possible on H170 motherboards with the correct BIOS and even allows non-K CPUs to reach an impressive frequency boost. On another note, it’s essential to check every H170 motherboard’s specification as some models opt for DDR3L compatibility while others use DDR4 DIMMs up to 2133MHz. This particular example caters to the lower-end audience and features a maximum capacity of 32GB DDR3 memory, dual Gigabit LAN, 32Gb/s M.2 connector, and Realtek ALC892 audio codec. As a result, the GAMING H170T offers an attractive package for the budget-conscience user and I expect it to master the price to performance ratio.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard comes in an attractive box which clearly displays the model name on a leatherette background. This evokes a premium feel and reminds me of the Logitech G27’s leather rim. The overall design is understated but striking enough to appeal to the gaming clientèle.

On the rear, there is a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s connectivity options, power phases and other essential features. Furthermore, graphical diagrams are used to explain the benefits of high-end components such 10K rated capacitors and durable ferrite chokes.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a basic guide to use the Smart Ear 3D Utility, product catalogue and user’s manual. Unlike many booklets these days, the product catalogue is in colour which encourages the end-user to browse BIOSTAR’s extensive product range.

Other additions include a driver disk, I/O shield, SATA cables, and M.2 screws.

Vibox Defcon 3 Red Gaming PC Review

Introduction


Selecting any pre-configured PC can be a daunting experience especially if the end-user feels overwhelmed by the huge array of options. Thankfully, Vibox is one of the leading system builders in the industry and adopts a basic scoring system to help novices gauge the suitability of each configuration. More specifically, the company even outlines typical gaming performance and quantifies the difference between each specification in a transparent manner. This is an essential tool to put people at ease and ensure they purchase the right system for their personal requirements.

Recently, we reviewed the Vibox Element X Green and couldn’t believe how well it performed in a number of demanding games for the price point. Out of all the systems so far, it’s probably the best value proposition I’ve seen and the perfect choice for a console gamer trying out PC gaming for the first time. However, the system’s CPU performance was inhibited somewhat by its AMD FX-6300 processor and wasn’t ideal for non-gaming workloads. The beauty of PC hardware means you can prioritize CPU performance, memory capacity, or graphical grunt. Although, it’s important to create a balanced system and eliminate any bottlenecks.

Vibox decided to send out for review purposes the Defcon 3, which features an Intel 6500 quad-core processor, 8GB DDR4 2800MHz memory and GTX 950 2GB. This basic setup is accompanied by an Aerocool 500 watt 80+ Bronze power supply, 120GB solid state drive, Thermaltake closed-looped liquid cooler, and 1TB data drive. The package is housed in the highly acclaimed, Corsair Carbide Spec-01 chassis and backed by a lifetime support service. As you can see, this particular build opts for a better CPU and lower-end graphics solution. As a result, it will be fascinating to see how it compares to the Element X, and I expect it to perform much better in synthetic benchmarking tasks.

Specifications

  • Name: Vibox Defcon 3
  • Case: Corsair Carbide Spec-01 Red LED
  • Motherboard: MSI Z170A PC Mate Motherboard
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 6500 Quad Core CPU @ 3.2GHz
  • Processor Cooler: Thermaltake Water 3.0 Performer
  • System Memory:  8GB Patriot Viper Xtreme DDR4 2800MHz
  • Main Boot Drive: Patriot Blast 120GB SSD
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): 1TB Seagate ST1000DM003 Barracuda SATA 6Gb/s 7200rpm 64MB Cache 8ms
  • Graphics card: MSI GeForce GTX 950 Gaming 2GB
  • Power Supply: Aerocool Integrator 500W 80+ Bronze
  • Peripherals: None
  • Monitor: None
  • Optical Drive24x DVD-RW Optical Drive
  • Wireless: None
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Warranty: Lifetime Evolution Warranty – Build Charge, Shock-Proof Packaging, Express Delivery, 2 Year Parts Cover, Lifetime Labour & Tech Support
  • Price: £699.92

Packing and Accessories

The system is packaged in a 15Kg box containing precautionary fragile labels and two handles to make the carrying process remarkably easy. Additionally, the cardboard is relatively thick and helps to reduce any impact during shipping.

Once opened, there is a UK power lead, Vibox leaflet and ample supply of padding. Underneath this section, is the main chassis box.

It’s always recommended to reinforce the main chassis with an external box as this holds it in position and stops the chassis’ edges from scraping against anything. As a result, this should reduce the probability of cosmetic damage occurring during transit.

In terms of accessories, the Defcon 3 comes with a user’s guide, hardware manuals, driver disks, DVI to VGA adapter, fan adapter, and standard UK power cable. The user’s guide is superb and walks you through the installation in simple English without using technical jargon. Additionally, it also includes all the contact details you need in case of any system faults.

CPU-Z


GPU-Z

G.Skill TridentZ 3200MHz DDR4 16GB Memory Kit Review

Introduction


G.Skill is one of the most respected memory vendors in the technology industry and synonymous for selecting premium ICs to set world records. For example, back in August, Chi-Kui Lam overclocked G.Skill’s Ripjaws 4 memory made from Samsung ICs to attain an astonishing world record of 4795.8MHz. Additionally, the data from HWBOT in August shows 7 Skylake world records were set on Ripjaws 4 memory kits. This exemplifies the overclocking potential of G.Skill modules and strict binning process. In most scenarios, consumers simply enable Intel’s Extreme Memory Profile and avoid manual overclocks to maximize compatibility. Additionally, in gaming tasks, the difference between 2400MHz and higher frequencies is minimal. Nevertheless, if the price difference between 2400MHz and 3000MHz+ is small, there’s no reason not to pay the extra for higher bandwidth modules out of the box.

The G.Skill TridentZ series is available in a number of configurations from 2800MHz all the way up to 4000MHz. As you can see, this is an extraordinarily high specification and designed for consumers wanting the ultimate in memory speeds. Today, we’re taking a look at the 3200MHz kit which utilizes 1.35v, and 16-18-18 timings. It’s quite important to note that G.Skill have conducted thorough testing on Intel’s Z170 platform to check compatibility and stability with XMP. Unfortunately, our testing procedure revolves around X99, and every other DDR4 memory review has been conducted via the professional platform. Theoretically, we could have reviewed this particular memory kit on a Z170 motherboard but there wouldn’t be any fair comparison to previous reviews and too many variables. This is why the X99 test bench is still being used for DDR4 reviews.

Despite this lengthy clarification, I expect the TridentZ kit to perform superbly given G.Skill’s heritage and commitment to providing the fastest memory on the planet!

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The memory kit comes in a visually appealing box which creates a sense of luxury and outlines the product’s magnificent aesthetic design.

On the opposite side, there is a brief synopsis about the TridentZ series and G.Skill’s lifetime support service.

A Closer Look

Here we can see the gorgeous memory in all its glory and I honestly believe this is some of the best-looking RAM I’ve ever seen. The metallic silver finish, and dynamic edges contrast in a beautiful manner. Furthermore, the G.Skill and TridentZ logos are positioned perfectly and it enhances the aesthetic design without being too overbearing. Additionally, the red strip on the top looks fantastic and really stands out compared to the silver heat spreader and white lettering. On another note, the black PCB accentuates the memory’s sharp, sophisticated tone.

Even more astounding, G.Skill utilized a dark brushed metallic finish on the reverse side to proficiently suit red and black gaming motherboards. From this angle, it’s evidently clear how much time has been taken designing the memory which makes each module look very expensive.

PNY AnarchyX 2800MHz DDR4 16GB Memory Kit Review

Introduction


Prior to the release of Intel’s Z170 platform, DDR4 memory prices remained extremely high compared to DDR3 equivalents and required the use of other expensive components designed primarily for professionals. Thankfully, DDR4 prices have plummeted and usually cost the same as DDR3 capacities or slightly less in some cases. So why consider DDR4? Firstly, the latest standard in computer memory operates using lower voltages and capable of reaching frequencies in excess of 3200MHz. Granted, this doesn’t make a difference in most gaming tasks, but it’s useful for rendering, video editing and other workloads. Additionally, the price variation between 2400MHz and 3000MHz is still relatively small and well worth your consideration.

For the mainstream market, most consumers buy memory kits on the basis of aesthetics. One particular example which looks absolutely fantastic is the PNY AnarchyX series and comes in a variety of speeds from 2400MHz up to 2800MHz. Today, we’ve decided to take a look at their highest frequency model and compare it to other premium kits. From a technical standpoint, the sample we received operates at 1.2V, and CAS16 which makes it an excellent choice. Given the memory’s impressive visual design, and specification, I expect it to perform rather well during our rigorous benchmarking procedure.

Specifications


Packaging and Accessories

Unlike many RAM kits, the PNY AnarchyX doesn’t come in a relatively plain blister pack. The box contains an attractive render of the memory modules and outlines the key specifications. On another note, each module is sealed in an anti-static bag to eliminate any chance of electrical surges from occurring. This is a great addition which adds a premium feel.

The rear section is fairly plain and provides a more detailed look at the kit’s specifications. There’s also a number of images to inform the user of PNY’s entire product range.

A Closer Look

PNY have done a splendid job designing the heat spreaders which look unique without being too ostentatious. More specifically, the subtle PNY logo contrasts superbly with the domineering AnarchyX branding and makes for a wonderful finish. On another note, the vibrant edges and understated crossed pattern enhances the overall aesthetic design. I’m also really fond of the central red accent which adds a hint of colour to the modules. Once combined with the black PCB, this results in one of the best DDR4 visual designs I’ve seen to date!

AMD Crimson Performance Gains on Linux are Disappointing

AMD recently overhauled the Catalyst Control Center software suite and created a more visually appealing design entitled, “Crimson”.  Furthermore, the latest driver includes a whole host of new features and optimization enhancements. If you’d like to know more, feel free to check out our full review here. While Crimson is receiving an overwhelmingly positive reception from Windows users, it appears the performance gains on Linux are minimal. The highly revered Linux-based site, Phoronix decided to test the driver’s performance using a number of GPUs. As you can see from the image, Linux users still have to use the outdated user-interface but this was expected:

The original press slides from AMD proclaimed there would be “Linux performance improvements” from “112% to 155%”. However, Phoronix’s testing shows a complete lack of progress and in some cases the update driver actually performs worse. Here we can see the performance differences between the 15.9 and 15.11 drivers. Honestly, the results are within a margin of error and nowhere near the 112% to 155% percent gains AMD promised. Obviously, this can improve via future driver revisions but this doesn’t look promising for Linux users on AMD hardware. Please note, this just one example, and Phoronix’s benchmarks show a similar pattern throughout various games.

I hope this is just an isolated incident due to AMD’s completely reworked driver package. Whatever the case, it seems like you’re not going to see huge fps boosts at this current time.

Have you upgraded to the Crimson Radeon software yet? If so, let us know what you think of it.