eTeknix 2015 Christmas Buying Guide – Treat Yourself or Someone Else!

The time for holiday festivities is almost upon us and as the modern tradition of consumerism continues to grow, it becomes harder and harder to pick the right gifts for people every year, or perhaps it’s just me who struggles? Either way, we’ve sat around a Christmas fire, or just a general fire in November and December, getting into the gift buying state of mind and picked a range of our favourite products which we’ve reviewed here at eTeknix throughout 2015, as what better products to recommend than the ones we’ve had in our own hands and tested!

We’ve got a huge range of budgets covered here today, although I think it’s fair to assume that given we play around with graphics cards and a lot of enthusiast friendly products, there are some real wallet busters here too. Of course, you can use this guide to find some of the best products of the year to treat your family, friends and more, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t just spoil yourself too!


Rock Band 4 Band in a Box

Get ready to rock out this Christmas and no doubt many other days. Pick up the guitar, drum sticks, or just butcher your favourite song on the microphone. Rock Band 4 – Band in a Box is a fantastic gift and it’s a great thing to deploy at parties too, certainly beats the usual Karaoke chaos! It comes with the guitar, microphone, drums and the game for $249.99. To save costs, the standalone game with the guitar is just $129.99. In the UK, the Band in a Box is £219.99, while the guitar and game is just £109.99.

Check out the full review here.


Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Chassis

The Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Mid-Tower chassis is by far my favourite chassis of 2015, it just oozes high quality inside and out, with capabilities for high-end water and air cooling and so much more. It is available from Overclockers UK for £139.99 and is available in both Gun Metal and black.

Check out the full review here.


Raijintek Styx Micro-ATX Aluminium Chassis

What a fantastic little chassis this is! Built from beautifully finished brushed aluminium and available in a wide range of colours, this would make a great gift for someone building a new gaming system this Christmas. The Raijintek Styx chassis is available from Overclockers UK for just £64.99.

Check out the full review here.


be quiet! Silent Base 800 Chassis

Another expensive chassis on our list, but one of the best we’ve seen this year. If you’re wanting to build someone, or yourself, a gaming PC that not only looks great but is as silent as you could ever hope for, the Silent Base 800 Window is the way to go. It is available from most popular retailers for 149,90EUR/119 GBP/149,90 USD ex. VAT.

Check out the full review here.


Corsair Strafe RGB MX Silent Red Mechanical Keyboard

Featuring the innovative Cherry MX Silent Switches, the Corsair Strafe RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is simply amazing to use. It’s packed full of features and is by far the quietest mech we’ve ever tested. A little expensive, but I’m sure anyone would be happy to unwrap this at Christmas. The Strafe is available for £139.99 from Overclockers UK, while the MX Red and the MX Brown are priced at £129.95. If you want the non-RGB version, you can find the MX Red and the MX Brown at £99.95 each.

Check out the full review here.


Thermaltake Commander Gaming Gear Keyboard and Mouse Combo

The TteSports by Thermaltake Commander Keyboard and Mouse Combo is a great gift for Christmas, it’s affordable, has a nice range of features and you get a keyboard and a mouse in a single nice and tidy (and easy to wrap) box! With prices around £23.99 it’s hard to say no to such a great deal! Readers in the US can pick one of from Newegg for an equally impressive $29.99.

Check out the full review here.


CM Storm Quick Fire XTi Mechanical Keyboard

RGB mechanical keyboards are everywhere this year, but the XTi from Cooler Master is my personal favourite so far. It’s no-fuss and bold design is great for home and office, gaming or work, with the added bonus that it’s incredibly durable and has some of the nicest lighting tones I’ve seen so far, even if it does only allow for a mixture of red and blue! You can pick up the XTi from Box for just £134, although there’s also a deal that includes a free mouse here!

Check out the full review here.


Corsair Scimitar RGB MOBA/MMO Gaming Mouse

The Gaming Scimitar RGB MOBA/MMO Gaming Mouse is packed full of features that will put a smile on any PC gamers face. With RGB lighting, excellent performance and a customisable keypad on the side, it’s one of the best mice we’ve ever tested. better yet, it’s only £69.95 from Overclockers UK.

Check out the full review here.


Logitech G502 Proteus Core Gaming Mouse

The Logitech G502 is a prime example of how great a gaming mouse can truly be. This is without a doubt the best mouse sensor we’ve ever tested and the rest of the mouse isn’t exactly lacking in features either. I’d be tempted to buy this one for myself this Christmas, but you could always treat someone else with it too. It’s available directly from the Logitech website (with free shipping) for just £69.99.

Check out the full review here.


G.Skill MX780

A relatively new entry on the peripherals market, the G.Skills MX780 is a fantastic gaming mouse, with a switchable left or right handed grip that makes it ideal for a wide range of gamers. With a retail price of just $59.99 it is exceptional value for a Christmas gift, and given its spec, it’ll go head to head with many of the best mice on the market.

Check out the full review here.


Corsair Void Headset

We were absolutely blown away by the Corsair Void series, some of the best sounding, most comfortable and best-looking headsets we’ve ever seen! They would make a great gift, but be careful, if you try them out before you give them away, you may want to keep them. The Corsair Void USB 7.1 RGB Headset is available from Overclockers UK for just £79.99. This is £10 cheaper than the Wireless headset which is £89.99, I prefer the wireless and think it’s not much more to pay for the extra tech, but you’re own preferences will obviously determine which model you prefer.

Check out the reviews for the USB 7.1, Wireless 7.1 and 2.0 headsets here.


Astro A40 TR + Mix Amp Pro

Eager to get the best of the best gaming headset for you or your loved one? Then make no exception, the Astro A40 TR Headset with Mix Amp Pro is the way to go. This is one that’s sure to leave a dent in your wallet, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Available from the Astro store for £200, plus around £48 for the optional Mod Kit, the Astro is expensive, but the sound quality, features and comfortable fit are priceless.

Check out the full review here.


Crucial BX200 SSD

SSD prices are dropping constantly and there really has never been a better time to invest. If it’s for your own system, you can give yourself a great upgrade without spending a fortune, but the smaller drive sizes make excellent gifts to those who could do with a performance upgrade on their system. The Crucial BX200 comes with an MSRP of £234.49 ($299.99) for the 960GB model and £66.49 ($84.99) and £116.99 ($149.99) for the smaller 240GB and 480GB models, plus the small boxes are super easy to wrap up as a gift.

Check out the full review here.


QNAP TS-251 2-Bay NAS

Give the gift of a connected home this Christmas, from streaming your movies around the house, to backing up those important files, there are a lot of benefits to owning a NAS. Not the cheapest of gifts, but it’s one of those products where if you buy cheap, you’ll likely regret it in the long run. The QNAP’s TS-251 Turbo NAS can be found at NewEgg for $384.99, at Scan UK for £295.32, or through Geizhals starting at €284.

Check out the full review here.


Sapphire Nitro R9 380X 4GB Graphics Card

AMD have created a mighty powerhouse with the R9 380X and the Sapphire Nitro is one of the finest examples. It’s fast, sleek and affordable, more than enough power for 1080P ultra gaming, or 1440p high gaming, making it a great addition to anyone who wants the latest PC games for Christmas. The Sapphire Nitro R9 380X is currently available from OverclockersUK for £199.99. NeweggUS currently has this card listed for $229.99.

Check out the full review here.


Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 Graphics Card

Spend a little more, get a lot more, the GTX 970 is a superb card, but one that may be getting a little expensive for those looking for a Christmas gift. With enough power to play anything on the market and even delve into high-end resolutions, it’s a strong contender for something to put under the Christmas tree, or even put on your own wish list. The Gainward Phoenix GTX 970 is currently available in the UK from SCAN for £273.56 and for an estimated $360 in the US.

Check out the full review here.


Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti 6GB Graphics Card

It wouldn’t be Christmas if we couldn’t all hope and dream, but the Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980Ti is currently one of the best cards on the market and we would be crazy not to suggest the best of the best. Available in the UK for the £599.99 it’s certainly not cheap, although we’ve seen some great deals bringing it down below £500, so it’s best to shop around. Just imagine the look on your partners face when they unwrap this monster on Christmas day!

Check out the full review here.


DDR4

Getting a little more back to reality and reasonable prices, DDR4 memory is dropping in price quite nicely now. It was super expensive at launch, but now you’ll often find DDR4 kits at equal or lower prices to their DDR3 equivalents. That makes them a great upgrade for Christmas, but make sure you have a DDR4 motherboard to go with it!

Check out our latest memory reviews here.


Shield Android TV

Snapped up a 4K TV in the Black Friday deals? The Nvidia Shield Console is the most powerful Android device on the market, and it’s the perfect media player for Plex, 4K content on Netflix and more. Even better, it’s also a very powerful gaming system, with many AAA games available to play, as well as game streaming features that will leave you wondering why this device doesn’t cost more than £149.99! You can buy the Shield TV and accessories directly from Nvidia here.

Check out the full review here.


Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S

Think someone could do with a cooling upgrade for their system, or perhaps even parts towards a new system build this Christmas? Treat them to an AIO water cooler and they’ll be able to reduce the noise from their system and unlock its overclocking potential! The Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S is a little expensive, but it’s still a competitively priced AIO at just £81.98 and would make a great gift, especially if you’re just going to treat yourself.

Check out the full review here.


Alpenfohn Atlas

The Atlas is one of the coolest coolers we’ve seen this year, a tiny form factor with big performance and virtually silent acoustics. Building a system for someone or upgrading your own, this is one cooler you’ll want to consider and given that it’s available from Overclockers UK for a very reasonable £42.95, it’s another great addition to our buying guide.

Check out the full review here.


be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim

Need a premium cooler but don’t want to pay a premium price this Christmas? The be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim is more affordable, but still packs some impressive performance figures. It’s available from Scan.co.uk for just £30.52 + shipping here in the UK and from Amazon.com for $49.90 + $9.80 shipping in the US.

Check out the full review here.


Inateck Mercury Box Bluetooth Speaker

Love your music on the go, when you’re out at the park, or anywhere for that matter? The Mercury box offers up a huge sound from such a tiny box. Built from aluminium and featuring a waterproof design, it’s one of the best mobile speakers on the market, great for listening to music wherever you are! Available from Amazon.com for just $48.99 and readers in the UK can get it from Amazon.co.uk for £49.99.

Check out the full review here.


OnePlus 10,000mAh Mobile USB Power Bank

The perfect stocking filler, a 10,000 mAh mobile battery. This has enough juice to charge most mobiles several times, and it’ll even recharge high-end devices such as iPads with ease too. Perfect for travelling, and best of all, it’s super lightweight and affordable. The power bank is £13.99/$14.99/€15.99 and you can order it directly from OnePlus.

Check out the full review here.


Gaming Systems

Nothing says I love you like a kick-ass gaming PC. Of course, budgets vary wildly from hundreds to even thousands of pounds/dollars, but that’s the joy of buying a PC, or building your own, there’s so much to choose from! With so many awesome system integrators around these days, you can’t go far wrong. Chillblast, CyberPower, PC Specialist, Vibox, Freshtech or Overclockers UK.

Gaming in the living room? Why not invest in a CyberPower Syber Steambox! Prices start at £485 and go right up to £1905, giving you a great choice to suit your needs, and your budget.

A whole lot of gaming for not a lot of money from Chillblast, with their very competitive Fusion NightHawk, a great option for those looking for their first gaming PC at just £599.

Got a little more budget to play around with this Christmas? The super fast gaming systems from PC Specialist that feature ASUS Maximus VIII hardware also come with the gorgeous Gladius mouse! Systems in this category start at £890 for the i5 and GTX 960 model, all the way up to £1670 for the i7 and GTX 980 Ti.

Another mid-budget powerhouse, this time from Vibox with their Element X. At just £649, this MSI R9 380 and AMD FX-6300 powered computer is great for gaming and would make a great gift this Christmas.

Time to bring out the big gun’s and really treat yourself? Or perhaps you just want your friend or family member to open a present they’ll never forget? The FreshTech Solutions Stealth Gaming PC is an absolute beast, powered by some of today’s latest and greatest hardware. Of course, it’s not cheap at £1412, but this is not your run of the mill gaming PC.

Overclockers UK offer a range of gaming systems, and general day-to-day PC’s just like another other, but with the big advantage that they’re also a normal PC component retailer. If you want to build your own system, customise a build or pick a pre-built system, you’ll find lots to play around with here.

Check out our full range of system reviews here.

The Hilarious Relationship Movies and TV Have With Technology

We live in a world full of technology, that much is obvious, but when it comes to movies and TV, the actors live in a completely different dimension to conventional technology, one where almost none of it makes any sense. Obviously, sitting and clicking a mouse is a little boring to watch, so movie and TV producers, writers, directors, etc, come up with more and more imaginative ways to make it more involving, often with hilarious consequences. Just look at the image above, flip a PC chassis on its side, stick a microscope on top, instant science equipment!

Take this iconic scene from NCIS for example, and wow are there are lot of NCIS examples I could pick from. There’s so much wrong with this scene it’s hard to even quantify. Two people sharing a single keyboard, windows flying all over on the screen and let’s not forget that they stopped the hacker by pulling the plug… like the entire database that was being hacked was only on that one PC? Effectively they cut themselves off and left the hacker to carry on, or at least that’s what would have been the case in real life.

Why bother to get appropriate props to fit the scene when you can pull a power supply out of your bag and call it a hard drive. This one really makes my brain hurt, but it’s also one that makes me laugh my ass off every time I see it.

Why use a keyboard when you can use VR and gloves. This is futuristic as hell, but imagine holding your arms out and about 1-foot above your desk for extended periods of time just to use a computer! That’s a future I don’t want to live in.

The whole “zoom and enhance” thing has been played out a lot, but CSI really pushed things to ridiculous levels. Zooming into insane levels of detail from some crappy security camera footage. OH COME ON! And pay close attention to the sound effects, computers don’t do that? It would be incredibly irritating after about… five minutes?

It seems to be a fascination of TV and movies to make everything a computer does “beep”, from typing, moving a cursor, copying a file, deleting something, you get that constant *beep boop beep boop* and I have yet to see a real PC that does anything like this, with the exception of a kids V-Tech toy.

Need to hack something? Don’t worry, all it takes is some dancing, a lot of screens, furious typing and the smarts to solve a digital Rubix cube. Hacking is boring in real life, it’s just code and commands, so movies add visuals to make it look interesting, but it’s still completely absurd.

Don’t even get me started on the whole Hackers movie. I loved it, but this scene is far more interesting than it should be, without even getting started on how they were generating cool text graphics on the TV network in real time.

There’s little I need to say here, “Is that a 12-core!?” is possibly the funniest “tech” moment in TV history. One that I feel won’t be topped for a long time, or until the next season of NCIS.

Not even the mighty Batman can escape the absurdity, using mobile phones to feed vast amounts of information like this. I’ve no idea why they need so many odd looking displays with huge gaps, even a 1cm bezel is distracting on multi-monitor setups, so this is a terrible configuration. Also, how did they stream so much data to his HUD? I don’t recall seeing a super-power Wi-Fi antenna sticking out his butt.

Buzz words are a great way of making it sound like you did something technical, or really anything at all.

Then again, we’re saved by the IT Crowd who know how silly tech can be on TV, but embrace it to give us comedy gold such as this.

Got a favorite movie or TV tech moment you want to share with us? Feel free to leave it in the comments section below.

Are These the Best Video Game Remakes Ever?

Classic games are great, but just like so many movies that have been remade, although often not the better for it, gaming is no stranger to remakes of older titles either. Every now and then, we’ll get a remake that is actually better than the original and while I must admit that a large part of this may be that the older versions were great, but haven’t stood the test of time due to graphics or their original systems being hard to get hold of, and plenty of other issues beyond that.

Sure, we get a lot of “HD remakes” but for the sake of it, they’re the exact same game in new clothes. What I’m looking for are retellings of the same game that were made from scratch, rather than given a fresh coat of textures. Here is what I think are some of the greatest remakes ever made.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary


The original Tomb Raider was a smash hit when it launched in 1996. It helped propel Lara and the PlayStation 1 to epic heights, but these days, the wobbly mess of jaggy polygons is far from enjoyable to play through. Skip forward to recent years, however, and you’ll find Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The general theme, exploration, and story are all pretty close to the original, with a few bells and whistles added to suit a modern system and audience. This is a fantastic way to get back to basics and see where the story began.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma


OK, time for some remak-ception here, as Sigma was a remake of Ninja Gaiden for Xbox, which was a remake of original Ninja Gaiden for the NES! Widely regarded as one of the hardest games ever, the most recent retelling is no walk in the park either, but with 60fps gameplay and some stunning 3D environments, Ninja Gaiden has never played or looks so good. This was and still is a testament to what the developers at Team Ninja are capable of.

Counter Strike: Source


For something that started life as a fan-made project, Counter Strike has continued to reinvent its self over the years. Source certainly stands out for many gamers, as it launched alongside the much-loved Half Life 2 and it was from this point onwards that CS became a staple of many people’s PC gaming diet and continues to be now that we have CS:GO. Who knows, perhaps in another few years we’ll have Half Life 3 and a brand new refresh of this frantic and fast-paced FPS.

Super Mario 64 DS


Mario is no stranger to remakes, the plucky little plumber can’t go a year without something being spun out by Nintendo, be that a new game or a port of an older one. The one that stands out for me, however, is the DS release of the Nintendo 64 classic Super Mario 64. New playable characters, even more of those tricky to find stars to collect and even a new multiplay component breathed new life into this game, but at the same time left everything we still love about the original in place.

Final Fantasy


The original Final Fantasy was obviously a popular game, noticeably so since it spawned so many other games in the series since and there are many more on their way. When the game came to mobile devices (iOS and Android) it would have been fine with a simple emulated port, but the developers went above and beyond this time around. Fully redesigned graphics and a new soundtrack added a lot to this game, but with new areas to explore on top of everything you could find in the original, there’s no doubt that this version is definitive. If you can get it on the PSP, it’s even better, as you’ll also find some slick CGI cutscenes added for good measure.

https://youtu.be/a93PDfkdFX4

Resident Evil


The PlayStation 1 classic will forever be one of my all-time favorite games, but it was the Gamecube that really took this game to the next level. The graphics were boosted substantially, the atmosphere was greatly improved, new cutscenes help set the pace and to make it even more enjoyable, new modes, endings, and even new areas were added. When I want to replay the original story, I go straight to the Gamecube, as it is home to one of the best puzzle/horror games ever made.

Where to Find the Best PC Gaming Deals!

Tired of paying full retail price for your games or waiting for the Steam Sale to roll around, only to find that most of the games that are on offer were the same games as the last sale? Well then, we’ve got a great guide to PC games deals for you, which could save you a small fortune and help you enjoy the latest games much sooner and for much less. Of course, there’s Steam, Origin and uPlay to pick from, but surely there are even more alternatives?


CD Keys

CD Keys are one of the most popular key reselling websites around and one of my own personal favourites having picked up a few great deals there over the last few months alone. Even better, the site lists more than just PC games and often has a 5% discount code available for liking their Facebook Page. Their stock updates quite a lot, so if your game isn’t on there, check back every day or so to see if it has become available. They even provide codes from various platforms such as Steam, Battle.net, GOG and uPlay, to name a few.

cdkeys


Humble Bundle

If you haven’t heard of this one, you’ve had your head under a rock for quite some time. Humble Bundle offers up some great gaming bundles, some lasting days, weeks and some that as just a few hours via their Humble Bundles pages, as well as the ever-growing Humble Store. Most of the keys are steam, but often you’ll also find mobile and other platform keys too. The bundles are mostly pay what you want, allowing for some seriously cheap deals, while their store relies on fixed prices, with regular discounts on popular titles.

Humble Bundle / Humble Store


Bundle Stars

That’s right, another bundle store, one that has been quickly growing on my radar and offering up better and better games at increasingly tempting prices. Humble Bundle may get a lot of the fame, but this one is certainly worth keeping on your bookmarks, as it offers some very wallet friendly gaming deals.

bundlestars


GOG (Good Old Games)

Don’t be fooled by the name, Good Old Games may offer a huge range of classic PC gaming titles, re-tweaked to ensure they run on modern operating systems, but they’re no stranger to new games either, such as The Witcher 3 which is proud to call GOG its home. The prices aren’t always the best on new games, but the older titles are an absolute steal and worth digging through. The best feature of GOG, however, is that all the games they sell there are DRM free, something that’s not to be sniffed at in today’s often heavily DRM-focused market.

GOG


Gamersgate

Gamesgate has years of history behind them, offering a wide range of gaming deals. It’s rarely the best-priced store, but when you’re shopping around, it’s always worth checking all the big deal sites as this one may be the winner for you. there’s plenty of regular discounts, as well as a range of games new and old that you may not find on other sites.

Gamersgate


Green Man Gaming

This is easily one of the most popular key reselling websites, with a solid reputation behind their name that’s made them one of the best-known game sites around. The thing that makes them the most attractive, is their regular deals, massive discounts and sales, often seeing titles reduced by as much as 95%. They also tend to do great deals around the time of Steam Sales, helping taking some of the wind out of Valve in those busy game buying periods.

Green Man Gaming


What’s your favourite gaming deals website? Let us know in the comments section below!

Should You Build Your Own Steambox?

Introduction


Steambox has been a topic of much debate in the PC gaming community, promising a more gamer-centric PC experience, removing the need for the Windows operating system by providing you with a free alternative, while also bringing PC gaming into the casual mainstream, much like consoles, only a lot better.

It’s been an ambition of mine to buy a Steambox, simply because “why not” and while that’s all good and well, there’s not really a lot of options out there that I’m happy with. A few system integrators have released beta-systems, but what I would like to call a “final product” still seems to be sitting on the horizon. What if we could simply do it ourselves? A Steambox is just a PC with a fancy Linux Distro installed on it anyway…

I’ve picked out a few choice components to build my own Steambox, nothing crazy expensive or overly powerful, but more than enough to provide good 1080p gaming performance. I’m sure many of you love to bash consoles from time to time, so we’ll just round that up with “it’s going to be more powerful than consoles.”

Graphics Card Buying Guide Spring 2015

Introduction


Graphic outputs are the most important output of the computer no matter what someone tells you about how an Intel i7-5960x is the best CPU there is, you still require a graphical output to see the magic. When purchasing your computers, it is most likely that the graphics options are the most scrutinised part of all the components; however, choosing the right graphics card for you can be daunting with so many to choose from. Graphics cards come from two major manufacturers, AMD and NVIDIA; both are extremely good at what they do and can offer the consumer amazing graphical performance. From there, each manufacturer then has vendors; some cover both parties such as Gigabyte, others only cover one such as Sapphire for AMD and Zotac for NVIDIA. When considering graphics cards to choose from, you have to consider the following hardware factors:

  • System case size
    • It’s all well and good buying a Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 970 because you have the money, but when you find it won’t fit in your Shuttle PC case; jokes on you for not measuring
  • Processor
    • This factor only really comes into play when considering high power graphics cards and pairing with older generations of processors. The likes of an AMD Phenom X3 710 won’t give you the full benefit of an AMD R9 295×2 graphics card like an Intel i7 processor could.
  • Screen sizes, quantity and resolutions
    • You tend to find a lot of people will buy the highest powered graphics card and pair it with a standard 23″ 1080p monitor. That’s OK for achieving constantly high FPS, but pointless considering the cards power. The same goes for users who buy a low-powered graphics card and wonders why they can’t play Crisis on 3 screens.
  • Power Supply
    • This is where things get confusing for a lot of people. Imagine you just went into a local computer shop and bought a 600w power supply for £15, 9/10 times that 600w is only a burst value; meaning it cannot sustain 600w for more than a few seconds. This is one area of your computer that you should never do on the budget end, a general rule of thumb is £10 per 100w, but with components becoming cheaper; prices are falling.

OverclockersUK is one of the largest specialised computer component resellers in the UK, they are highly regarded in the computer enthusiast world and can offer some of the best deals in the UK, EU and sometimes the world. This buying guide will use the pricing and product range displayed on the OCUK website without offers and shipping. For the purpose of this buying guide, I will be concentrating on the consumer-grade discrete desktop single graphics cards; the offerings from integrated processor graphics will not be covered in great detail.

So let us do all of the legwork for you and show you what is best to buy at what budget.

This guide is updated quarterly/immediately after major releases. Last updated: 06/05/2015

Get Your Old Rig Gaming Ready on a Tight Budget

Introduction


Have you been looking at the latest graphics cards, then looking at your own PC and thinking you’ve got a gutless gaming rig? I know the feeling, the new cards can be very tempting, at least until you check your bank balance and remember you’re not rich. High-end hardware is great, but do you really need a $1000 Titan X to enjoy your favourite games? Nope. If you’re thinking that your current system is a little outdated, that you need to upgrade the whole thing to be able to enjoy the latest games, you’re wrong and I’m going to prove it.

Now I will admit, if you have a good bit of money saved up to replace your entire rig, go for it, it’ll be awesome. However, if your budget is limited and your system needs a new lease of life, we’re going to see how much improvement you can get for a modest investment of just £300 (approx $440 US)!

I’ll be starting out with a rather humble system, which features the hardware listed below, which I think you’ll agree is pretty unremarkable by today’s standards. The motherboard is an overclocking board, but we’ll be running at stock clocks to help better simulate an under powered system, it just happens to be the most suitable board I had at the time.

  • Dual-core i3 4330 3.5GHz
  • MSI GTX 560 Ti 1GB graphics card
  • ADATA 8GB 1600Mhz Memory 11-11-11-28
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97N Motherboard
  • Western Digital 500GB Hard Drive 7200RPM
  • Silverstone Kublai KL06 Chassis
  • Seasonic 600W 80+ Bronze PSU
  • CoolerMaster Gemini Low-Profile CPU cooler

I’ll be upgrading the system with the following components, then benchmarking it in some popular applications to compare how much the performance improves.

All prices correct at the time of writing.

As you can see, there’s nothing exciting about this system. Perhaps a couple of years ago, a system of this specification may have raised an eyebrow a little, but perhaps not so much today.

No SSD here, just a standard and rather well aged mechanical hard drive, so expect boot times to be enough to go and make a coffee.

The GPU has had a hard life, it’s actually the one we used to use for chassis reviews, so there’s are a few bumps and scrapes, but it’s still in perfect working order.

I’ve already benchmarked the system with this setup and we’ll get to the scores for that very soon, so let’s install our new Ballistix Sport memory, which has tighter timings than the old kit, it won’t be much, but it should give us that extra edge for very little investment.

The Crucial BX100, an absolutely incredible bargain at under £60 ($88 US); this will no doubt have a huge impact on the systems performance.

I’ll be using the new ASUS GTX 960 STRIX 2GB card for my upgrade.

It’s certainly one of the nicest GTX 960’s on the market right now and while I’m expecting great performance gains, it’s also aesthetically pleasing, so should provide a nice visual upgrade too!

The card also features more video outputs than the 560 Ti, giving you greater connectivity options.

It also features a nice back plate and only required a single 6-pin power connector vs the dual 6-in required by the GTX 560 Ti.

 

New components all installed, which only took about ten minutes to get them out of their respective boxes and plugged in.

The GTX 960 looking great!

Our new BX100 SSD.

Finally, the new Ballistix Sport memory.

Essential Road Trip Gadgets: CES 2015

CES 2015 is always an incredible show, bringing many, if not all, of the world’s major technology companies into one place, ready to show off their latest and greatest products. This year was a little different for us here at eTeknix. After the show, we took to the roads to visit San Francisco and Los Angeles. On our trip, we stopped by the offices of Thermaltake, Patriot, Corsair, NZXT and more! A trip like CES is a big undertaking, for me personally it requires a four-hour train journey, a ten-hour flight and we clocked up over 20 hours driving over 1500 miles. All that is before the return journey of another ten-hour flight and another four-hour train journey home. All this traveling is enough to make you tired. Fortunately, there were a few luxuries that helped make the journey just that little bit easier for us; without which, we would have struggled.

LUXA2 Phone Dock

First up we have one of the simplest gadgets of them all, but by far the one that helped us out the most on our journey from Las Vegas to San Francisco, then again on our journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the LUXA2 Mobile Phone Mount.

The car we used, a Ford Mustang, has a cigarette lighter high up on the dashboard, perfect for keeping your Sat Nav or mobile phone charged when mounted in a cradle or dock of some format. Even better is how the LUXA2 mount works, as the mount fits directly into the cigarette lighter, giving you a powered USB port directly from the mount to connect your phone, while also providing a sturdy mount that doesn’t have to stick onto your windscreen, or hang from the air conditioning vents. The mount was universal and proved more than capable of housing our iPhone 6 Plus.

Ultra Short Patriot iPhone Lightning Cable

The only downside with this kind of mount is that the normal iPhone cable trails all over the place. Given the phone mount we had, we found the standard cable got caught on the dashboard controls, wrapped around the gear stick and more; not what I would call ideal. Patriot, perhaps better known for their high-end memory products, also make mobile products and quickly came to our rescue. Their new Lightning USB cable is just 6 inches long, perfect for going from dock to phone. This is the perfect cable to keep in the car and it saves you having to bring your full cable with you.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Sitting on a plane for hours on end is a tedious and often boring affair. Sure you’ve got some in-flight entertainment (on some flights), but the easiest solution is to bring your own entertainment with you. Bringing your smartphone is one solution, but the small screens aren’t really ideal for watching movies and TV shows, and battery life isn’t always enough for a long haul flight; especially so if you’re gaming on it. The Shield Tablet solves a lot of these problems, not only did the battery life hold up for the full ten-hour flight, it also provided us with a unique experience that made us the envy of other passengers; Playing Mario Kart 64 on an emulator with two controllers was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a flight! As an added bonus, the Nvidia Shield Cover provided the perfect viewing angle for gaming, watching movies and reading articles during the flight.

MEElectronics Wireless Headphones

No journey would be survivable without my music with me, but when I’m carrying around a heavy backpack full of camera and a laptop equipment, as well as pulling along a 25KG suitcase, the last thing I need is a cable getting wrapped around my neck. I love my wired headphones, but the strap from my backpack pulls them out of my ears and it’s simply impractical unless I’m sitting still. A set of high-quality Bluetooth headphones was the perfect fix and while they were excellent to wear while walking around, leaving my tablet in my backpack to stream my music, I found them to be even better on the long flight. Being able to fall asleep on a plane is no easy task, but a light set of headphones and some music certainly helped block out the engine noise; plus I didn’t have a headphone wire getting tangled up in my arms, so that’s always a bonus. MEElectronics promised a 14-hour battery life, so our 10-hour flight proved to be easy work for them on a single charge.

The Best Oculus Rift Experiences You Can Enjoy Right Now

Introduction


Oculus Rift is easily one of the coolest pieces of technology that I’ve ever owned. I personally own their DK2 headset, which is certainly not ready for general consumer consumption, but that doesn’t mean to say it can’t still be a lot of fun. I’m not the only early adopter out there and I’m sure I won’t be the last, especially given that the consumer model could be another year away from release.

Oculus demos, games and other types of software are steadily streaming onto the internet, many of them completely free of charge. Most developers haven’t even had their DK2 headset any longer than I have, but many of them have already produced some truly stunning experiences.

This article is obviously best suited for those who already own an Oculus Rift, or at least those who have ordered one and are eagerly awaiting its delivery. If you would love to know more about the technology, then you can check out our featured review here, or our game review/DK2 setup guide here.

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.

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.