FreshTech Solutions Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

FreshTech Solutions is one of the leading system integrators in the UK and forged an impressive reputation for their huge range of pre-configured PCs. Whether you’re on a tight budget looking to try out PC gaming for the first time, or a content creator seeking the absolute best performance, there’s something to suit your requirements. Each PC is backed by generous warranty period and it’s even possible to purchase additional cover for further peace-of-mind. For example, on systems costing £1000 and above, you can increase the warranty length from 3 years to 5 years for £25. If you’re opting for a cheaper rig under the £1000 mark, then it’s possible to select three years cover for £25 and five years support at a cost of £50. This level of flexibility allows you to protect your investment for a period which you expect to use the system for.

When selecting a custom PC, the number of configurations and pricing variation means it’s extraordinarily difficult for novices to judge which model to go for. It’s not always a sensible approach to spend more if you’re unlikely to reap the benefits. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of custom PCs from FreshTech Solutions that we are happy to recommend at various price points. Hopefully, our readers will find this useful and those without technical knowledge can make an informed decision about which unit suits their usage scenario.


£529.00

Specification:

  • Skylake i5 6400
  • 8gb Crucial DDR4 2133MHz
  • 120gb Kingston V300 SSD
  • 24x DVDRW
  • EVGA 500w 80Plus White PSU
  • Nvidia GTX 950 2GB
  • Gigabyte H110M-S2H
  • Falcon Blue Case With Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 1 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 1 Year Parts, 1 Year Labour)

The first machine we’re taking a look at targets consumers on a very tight budget who want to enter into the Intel ecosystem. While you could compile a cheaper build using an AMD CPU and AM3+ motherboard, it doesn’t offer much headroom in the future if you suddenly demand additional horsepower. The majority of games are GPU bound but there’s some examples including ARMA III and more recently, Black Desert Online which rely heavily on a system’s CPU performance. This particular build features a large enough capacity boot SSD to install the operating system and enjoy a snappier feel in Windows.

Also, the GTX 950 2GB graphics card is a great choice for 1080P gaming providing you turn down a few settings. On another note, the lack of overclocking isn’t an issue at this price and won’t impact on the user experience during graphically intensive games. Ideally, I’d recommend paying extra for the next tier, but this is a great choice for beginners moving away from consoles for the very first time.


£699.00

Specification:

  • Skylake i5 6600K
  • 8GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz
  • Samsung EVO 250GB SSD
  • 24x DVDRW
  • EVGA 500w 80Plus White PSU
  • NVIDIA GTX 960 2GB
  • Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3
  • Titan Blue Case with Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 1 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 1 Year Parts, 1 Year Labour )

The next system which retails for £699.00 offers overclocking functionality due to the unlocked K processor and Z170 chipset. Furthermore, the Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3 contains an illuminated LED strip on the PCB to create a more ostentatious appearance. This higher end model includes the GTX 960 2GB GPU to maintain improved frame-rates at higher settings. It’s a significant boost over the GTX 950 and worth considering given the constant influx of modern titles requiring additional graphical grunt. Of course, it’ s still a budget option and pales in comparison to higher end graphics cards, but it should provide an enjoyable user-experience with a 1920×1080 display. Also, the boot SSD’s higher capacity allows you to store your favourites games and benefit from faster load times.


£899.00

Specification:

  • Skylake i5 6600K
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz
  • Samsung EVO 250GB SSD
  • WD 1TB WD10EZEX HDD
  • 24x DVDRW
  • Corsair CX600 80Plus Bronze PSU
  • NVIDIA GTX 970 4GB
  • Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3
  • Titan Red Case with Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 1 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 1 Year Parts, 1 Year Labour )

The next tier’s system costs £899.99 and has a number of key improvements including a secondary mechanical hard disk, 16GB RAM and GTX 970 graphics card. When discussing the previous systems it’s important to remember that I’d recommend adding a mechanical drive to store large sums of data. This allows you to easily install various games while ensuring the boot SSD doesn’t fill up rather quickly. Thankfully, this doesn’t increase the asking price by an exponential amount. On another note, the 16GB memory is useful when working with video, photo editing and other complex workloads. It’s not really necessary in games just yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if 16GB becomes the standard in the next few years.

NVIDIA’s GTX 970 offers absolutely stunning performance even with a 2560×1440 monitor and can exceed 60 frames-per-second in various titles including the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. It’s unquestionably one of the best price to performance GPUs on the market and a suitable choice for a powerful gaming system.


£1049.00

 

Specification:

  • Skylake i5 6600K Tested Overclock to 4.6GHz
  • Corsair H80I V2 Water Cooler
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz
  • Samsung EVO 250GB SSD
  • Seagate 1TB HDD
  • 24x DVDRW
  • Corsair RM750x 80Plus Gold PSU
  • NVIDIA GTX 970 4GB
  • Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3
  • Falcon Gaming Case With Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 3 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 2 Years Parts, 3 Years Labour )

Moving towards the higher end market is a system which retails for £1049.00. This model contains a higher wattage power supply and Corsair water cooling unit to attain better temperatures. Furthermore, FreshTech Solutions guarantees the system will reach 4.6GHz and tests each overclock extremely carefully. This will be incredibly useful to consumers who feel apprehensive about overclocking their CPU and haven’t got any experience in this field. They really shouldn’t be concerned because the process is ridiculous simple. However, whenever anything goes awry, it’s important to have an excellent level of after-care support.


£1599.00

Specification:

  • Skylake i7 6700K Tested Overclock to 4.5GHz
  • Corsair H80I V2 Water Cooler
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz
  • Samsung EVO 500GB SSD
  • Seagate 2TB HDD
  • 24x DVDRW
  • Corsair RM750x 80Plus Gold PSU
  • NVIDIA GTX 980TI 6GB
  • Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 5
  • Fractal Design R5 With Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 3 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 2 Years Parts, 3 Years Labour )

The £1599.00 system swaps out the i5 6600K for Intel’s enthusiast flagship i7-6700K on the LGA1151 chipset. Once again, FreshTech Solutions guarantees an impressive minimum overclock to reach significant gains compared to stock values. Also, the 500GB SSD is a great addition which allows you to install various applications without constantly checking on the remaining capacity. The system is housed in the highly regard Fractal Design R5 chassis which creates a more premium feel. Clearly, the main improvement revolves around the GTX 980Ti and is a major step up when compared to the GTX 970.

Even though the GPU isn’t capable of running games at maximum details on a 4K display, it’s able to really reach high figures on a 2560×1440 or 3440×1440 monitor. If you want to improve the performance even further, it’s possible to add a second GTX 980Ti due to the power supply’s 750 watts rating. The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 5 motherboard supports USB 3.1, SATA Express, multi-GPU configurations and opts for a superb audio solution. Once combined, this offers an absolutely staggering user-experience.


£1938.00

Specification:

  • Intel Core i7 5930K 3.50GHz
  • Corsair H80I V2 Water Cooler
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000MHz
  • 512GB Samsung 950 Pro M.2 Solid State Drive
  • Seagate 2TB Hard Drive
  • 24x DVDRW
  • Corsair RM750x 80Plus Gold PSU
  • NVIDIA GTX 980TI 6GB
  • Gigabyte X99-SLI
  • Fractal Design R5 With Side Window
  • Windows 10 Home 64bit
  • 3 Year Collect and Return Warranty ( 1 Year Collect, 2 Years Parts, 3 Years Labour )

Up to this point, we’ve focussed on the consumer LGA1151 chipset which offers great value for typical desktop tasks. Unfortunately, the platform only supports up to a 4-core 8-thread CPU. This severely limits the computational power during multi-threaded workloads. As a result, many professionals opt for 2011-v3 powered systems because they can leverage extra performance using 6-core or even 8-core processors. The next system totalling £1938.00 utilises a hex core processor with 40 PCI-E lanes and a 2TB hard disk.

Not only that, the Samsung 950 Pro NVMe boot drive is capable of an astounding maximum read of 2500MB/s and maximum write reaching 1500MB/s. This allows games to load faster and helps to process huge 4K video projects in a more efficient manner. Of course, this elite-grade PC opts for the best possible hardware including the GTX 980Ti and Gigabyte X99-SLI motherboard. This means you can have a powerful workstation and play demanding games in your leisure time.

If you’d like us to review any of the systems mentioned above, please let us know in the comments section below.

EK Releases Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti XTREME GAMING Water Block

EK is one of the most prestigious names when it comes to water cooling hardware and evokes a sense of confidence whenever you purchase any of their products. Some time ago, Gigabyte unleashed the GTX 980 Ti XTREME GAMING featuring a superb cooling solution, OC BIOS mode, striking RGB illumination and much more. It’s arguably one of the best custom designed GTX 980 Ti cards on the market and geared towards overclocking. However, if you want to leverage extra performance or simply prefer a slimmer design, EK has released a full water block for this particular GPU. The EK-FC980 GTX Ti XG is a high performance water block which actively cools the GPU, VRAM and voltage regulation module as the water flows over essential components. The water block covers the entire PCB to create a visually stunning appearance and there’s also a stylish backplate from EK’s web shop.

The EK-FC980 GTX Ti XG water block features EK’s unique central inlet split-flow cooling engine design for best possible cooling performance, which also works flawlessly with reversed water flow without adversely affecting the cooling performance. Moreover, such design offers great hydraulic performance, allowing this product to be used in liquid cooling systems using weaker water pumps. On another note, the base is constructed from nickel-plated electrolytic copper while the top section is made of premium POM Acetal or acrylic depending on which model you choose. By default, screw-in brass standoffs are installed to allow for a safe and painless install.

To simplify the search for suitable and compatible water blocks, EK is adding newly released products from various manufacturers to their Cooling Configurator database. This allows you to see if there are any blocks for motherboards, memory or graphics cards right now. In terms of pricing, the Nickel model will retail for 119.95 Euros. This is also the price for the unit sporting both Acetal and Nickel. If you just want the blackplate, it can be purchased for 29.95 Euros.

Gigabyte Joins 75W Party With Latest GTX 950

Even with pascal so close, Nvidia and their partners are still pushing out new Maxwell based cards. Over the course of the last month or so, ASUS, MSI, and EVGA have all come out with new 75W TDP GTX 950 graphics cards. These new cards delete the PCIe 6 pin power connector, making them a more flexible option. Today, Gigabyte has quietly joined the party with their own 75W GTX 950 offering.

The GIGABYTE GV-N950D5-2GD graphics card is based on the same old GTX 950 GM206 core with 768 stream processors, 48 texture units, 32 ROPs,  and a 128-bit GDDR5 memory interface. Somehow, Nvidia has been able to reduce the TDP from 90W to 75W without reducing base performance. Unlike the versions with power, the new card features a tamer factory overclock, with only 1051 Mhz base and 1228 MHz boost clocks respectively. The cooler is a relatively standard slot with 1 fan. Without the need for a PCIe power connector, it allows the card to be used to upgrade systems that feature a weaker PSU. The value of such a card is diminished though with Pascal being so close. In my view this suggests that Nvidia may leave the low end untouched for a while, with only GP104 launching anytime soon. This may leave AMD with the Polaris 11 relatively unchallenged, only doing battle with older Maxwell cards.

Gigabyte Releases World’s First Thunderbolt 3 X99 Motherboard

Gigabyte is one of the leading motherboard vendors with a large X99 range including the X99-Gaming-5P, X99-UD4P and more. The 2011-3 platform is designed for professionals requiring additional multi-threaded processing power in complex workloads. Intel’s mainstream Z170 chipset only supports up to 4-core, 8-thread CPUs. While the current X99 platform is older than Skylake, current offerings such as the 5820K and 5960X are better options when working with large video editing projects or heavy rendering tasks. Of course, Intel is poised to launch their brand new X99 based processors, codenamed “Broadwell-E” relatively soon. Vendors including MSI and ASRock have already released widespread BIOS updates to allow the current models to support Broadwell-E CPUs.

Today, Gigabyte unveiled a brand new motherboard, entitled the X99P-SLI. This particular product supports Broadwell-E out-of-the-box and utilizes the ATX form factor. More importantly, it’s the world’s first X99 motherboard with Thunderbolt 3 certification. This connector is currently the fastest connectivity protocol offering speeds up to 40 Gb/s, twice that of the previous generation. In practical terms, Thunderbolt allows you connect discrete GPU boxes, external quad M.2 devices or U.2 expansion drives. X99-based CPUs don’t have an iGPU which means you have to use a discrete graphics card to utilize the Thunderbolt controller. Thankfully, an included cable connects between an integrated DisplayPort connector and monitor with Type-C functionality. This allows you to daisy-chain up to 6 devices via Thunderbolt 3 and offers unparalleled flexibility.

As you might expect, the motherboard supports up to 128GB DDR4 memory, 4-way SLI and 4-way CrossfireX. The expansion slots include two PCI-E x16 running at x16, two PCI-E running at x8, and two PCI-E x1 slots. The Realtek ALC1151 115dB SNR HD audio is a great addition as many X99 motherboards ignore gaming focussed features. The motherboard deploys an all digital power design with IR digital PWM & IR PowIRstage ICs, premium 10k black capacitors and audio noise isolation.

SilverStone EP03 USB 3.0 Charging Hub with Display Review

Introduction


USB hubs are nothing new and an essential tool for port multiplying which allows you to connect more devices to your system than you have ports available. This is particularly useful for mobile systems that come with very few ports on their own, but a stationary system can benefit equally from a good USB hub. In today’s review, I am taking a closer look at SilverStone’s EP03 USB 3.0 hub with built-in supercharger function and an integrated display for monitoring voltage and current on all ports.

At heart, SilverStone’s EP03 is a 4-port USB 3.0 hub capable of 5 Gbps transfer speeds. It is naturally also compatible with both USB 2.0 and 1.1 devices on both the host port and the individual connectors. That in itself is nothing new, but everything else is. In fact, this is a pretty smart hub.

When you pick the EP03 hub up and hold it in your hands, you have no doubt that this is a quality built hub. It feels sturdy and it also looks pretty good with its simple plastic case and top plate made of brushed aluminium.

The top is also what instantly reveals one of the features that make this USB hub unique, the built-in display. You can watch the current and voltage in real-time on the display for each of the four ports. Port selection is handled by the small button next to the display which lets you cycle the four ports.

As the display already indicates, this isn’t just a USB hub for peripheral and drive connection, it is also an intelligent charging station that can satisfy users’ increasing demand for fast charging of power-hungry mobile devices. It can deliver 2A to each of the four ports simultaneously and is fully compliant with the USB power delivery specifications 1.2 (BC 1.2).

In addition, the built-in protection mechanism ensures the EP03 can deliver power evenly and safely according to the number or the state of battery charge of connected devices. All these features can also be used to check if a new/replacement charging cable is up to the task and comes with the proper specifications compared to your original cable.

The SilverStone EP03 comes with an AC adapter included which both ensures that you have enough current to all ports, but also allows you to use it as charging station with the use of a host system. It comes with built-in over current and over voltage protections too, so all your connected devices should be safe.

The hub is built around a Genesys Logic GL3522 chipset which actually is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 controller, but that just leaves internal headroom and ensures the best possible connection.

Feature Highlights

  • Integrated display for monitoring voltage and current
  • Supports current up to 2A for each USB port
  • Provides four 5Gbps Super Speed USB 3.0 USB ports
  • High quality brushed aluminum design
  • Supports over voltage and over current protection
  • Includes AC adapter for stable power delivery
  • Compliant with USB power delivery specification 1.2

Package and Accessories

SilverStone always has some great looking packages for their devices and it’s no different for this USB 3.0 hub with fast charging and power meter. It presents itself colourful to the user and begs to be taken home. I know I wouldn’t walk past it.

The rear of the box explains the features in multiple languages.

One of the sides has more details on the product itself in the form of images and text.

And the other side has all the detailed specifications. Overall, a box that tells us everything there is to know about the product inside.

Inside the box, we find a USB 3.0 cable, an AC/DC power adapter, a user guide, and the USB hub itself.

Lexar 512GB Portable SSD D512 USB 3.0 Solid State Drive Review

Introduction


Today we are taking a closer look at fast external storage, more specifically Lexar’s newest portable SSD called the D512. Lexar also offers the drive in a smaller D256 version with 256GB capacity, but I have the pleasure to have to big 512GB model on the test bench today.

Right away we see that we have a small and compact drive which is perfect for a portable unit. On top of that, it is also a very light drive that you barely will notice when you have it packed next to the rest of your items. So we have a strong portable drive right of the start, but what about the performance. Performance has to match and that’s where a portable SSD shines over a flash drive. Both types of drives use NAND technology, but other than that there are big differences.

Lexar’s portable SSD is capable of sequential transfer speeds up to 450MB/s when reading and 245MB/s writing which is pretty nice for a portable storage solution that is as small and light as the D512. The is no official rating for random performance, but we’ll naturally have a look at that once we get the benchmarks rolling.

The tiny D512 provides plenty of space for you while you are on the go and travel about. Whether you want to take along you movie collect, music library, and photos, you’re covered with plenty of storage. It is also an optimal drive to unload all your vacation photos onto from memory cards and portable capture devices.

One of the unique things that come with the D512 is the capacity meter on the front. The first five LEDs act as such and will light up as the drive gets filled with data. This allows you an instant view on the drive fillage as soon as you plug it into your system. The second unique feature works in conjunction with Lexar’s other Workflow products. The new portable SSD uses the same form factor and connector which makes it compatible with the Workflow drive hubs. Just plug the drive in and you are good to go. I love the Workflow system so much and use it almost every day for my work here at eTeknix.

The drive is also highly compatible when it comes to volume setup as it supports both NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT. On its own, the drive is fully plug-and-play and doesn’t require any drivers or tools of any sort. This naturally originates from USB standard that is plug-and-play by definition.

Lexar is part of the Micron Group which also means that the drive is equipped with some of the best NAND flash on the market and that has undergone high-grade quality checks before assembly.

Feature Highlights

  • SSD-level performance — up to 450MB/s read and 245MB/s write speeds
  • Sleek and compact design
  • Available in 256GB and 512GB capacity options
  • LED capacity meter displays available storage space
  • Great for use with Lexar Professional Workflow line products
  • Two-year limited warranty

Package and Accessories

Lexar packed the 512GB Portable SSD in a neat white box that shows the drive’s look and basic specifications on the top.

The bottom of the box also has the system requirements, which is a USB port, as well as the basic specification again, but in several languages.

Inside the box, you will find the portable SSD itself as well as a USB 3.0 cable.

Both sides of the drive are covered with a protective plastic film to make sure it arrives scratch-free in your hands. It also gives you that little bit of joy it is to remove the film from your brand new device.

GIGABYTE Reveals a Special GTX 960 with RGB Lighting

The Xtreme Gaming graphics card line by Gigabyte has recently received a new member in the form of a special GeForce GTX 960 code-named GV-N960XTREME-4GD. What makes this graphics card stand out among its peers is the fact that it boasts customizable RGB lighting on its top decal and fans, which should appeal to those of you who enjoy colorful builds. This unique GTX 960 is based on a custom-design PCB, and it is factory-overclocked to 1304 MHz core and 1367 MHz GPU Boost. By comparison, NVIDIA’s reference clocks for these cards are 1127 MHz core and 1178 MHz GPU Boost, so as you can see for yourself, the 0verclock on this Gigabyte product is respectable.When it comes to the cooling solution, it looks like this GTX 960 comes with a new-generation WindForce 2X, which includes two 90 mm fans that spin in opposite directions while blowing cool air onto the GPU heatsink. The fans and the GIGABYTE Xtreme Gaming logo flaunt a series of RGB LEDs that can be customized by the user via a special software. The card’s VRM  gets its juice from a mix of 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe power connectors. No word on pricing just yet, but we shouldn’t expect this product to be cheap, especially considering its WindForce cooling solution and RGB lighting features.

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 Reveals X170-Extreme ECC Motherboard

Featuring an eye-catching military camouflage color scheme, the new Gigabyte X170 Extreme ECC motherboard was designed for high-end desktops powered by Intel’s Xeon E3-1200 V5 processors or 6th generation Core “Skylake” processors. This LGA1151 motherboard is based on the Intel C236 chipset, and it offers support for DDR4 ECC memory, which is always a big plus. It features an ATX form factor and draws its power from a mix of 24-pin ATX and 8-pin EPS power connectors while its expansion slot lineup includes a pair of PCI-Express 3.0 x16, a third PCI-Express 3.0 x16 (electrical gen 3.0 x4) and a trio of PCIe 3.0 x1 slots.

As far as storage connectivity is concerned, the X170-Extreme ECC comes with four SATA-Express 16 Gb/s connectors that form eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports, but there are also two 32 Gb/s M.2 slots available. The ethernet interfaces are represented by a Killer E2400 and an Intel I219-V controller while the onboard audio solution impresses with a Creative SoundCore 3D processor, ground-layer isolation and a TI Burr Brown OPA2134 OPAMP that can be replaced by the user, should the need arise. It looks like one of the motherboard’s main highlights comes in the form of an Intel-made 2-port USB 3.1 controller that links to the PCH through PCI-Express 3.0 x4. This controller is connected to one Type-A and one Type-C port, but we should also mention the 4 regular USB 3.0 ports and the 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 port.

No word on pricing just yet, but we can probably expect this Gigabyte motherboard to be quite expensive. What do you think about it so far?

SilverStone TS11-C USB 3.1 Docking Station Review

Introduction


We have tested quite a few of SilverStone’s storage solutions in the past and while the new TS11-C external hard drive docking station might look like previous models, it is special as it comes with the newest technologies. In the past, we have been limited by the USB 3.0 protocol and its maximum 5Gbps transfer speeds even though we connect a 6Gbps capable drive to the docking station. SilverStone’s new TS11-C should make up for this as it uses the USB 3.1 connector for a transfer speed of up to 10Gbps.

SilverStone’s TS11-C is an external hard drive docking station that is made to accommodate either a 2.5-inch or a 3.5-inch drive at speeds up to 10Gb/s with its USB 3.1 Gen2 capability and it also features the new Type-C connector. Since USB is plug and play, as long as you have your USB drivers installed, which also means that this docking station is plug and play. You don’t need any additional drivers to get going, just plug it in, add a drive and turn it on. It is almost a given with a docking station like this, but it’s still worth highlighting that the TS11-C supports USB Attached SCSI protocol (UASP) which allows much better transfer rates in systems that support this compared to those who don’t.

The body itself is gold coloured and made of aluminium. This aids the passive unit itself to stay cool, but it also helps the inserted drive to dispose of its heat. This isn’t as much an issue when used with solid state drives, but mechanical drives need quite a bit of cooling. The cover itself is made of plastic to prevent your drives from being scratched. The top slot cover is a two-piece item that automatically folds back as you insert a drive. The small gap for 2.5-inch drives also helps with the positioning on top of the connector.

The docking station is built around an ASMedia ASM1351 chipset that provides this unit with its USB 3.1 Gen2 capability with speeds up to 10Gbps through the Type-C connector. The included USB cable uses a normal type USB connector which also makes it easy backward compatible with USB 3.0, 2.0 and 1.1. The internal SATA3 interface is also backward compatible with SATA2 and SATA1 drives, as it should be.

With an external device like this that is highly portable, you might want to take it on the road with you too in order to connect extra storage to your mobile devices such as laptops and modern smartphones. SilverStone thought of this too and added a power adapter with exchangeable plugs to be used in pretty much every place on earth no matter what plug type or voltage available.

Feature Highlights

  • USB 3.1 type-C connector with Gen2 up to 10Gb/s super speed transfer rate
  • Supports UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) function for even faster performance
  • Aluminum body with tool-free and tray-less design
  • Supports all 2.5 and 3.5-inch SATA drives up to any capacity
  • Plug & play with support for hot-swapping
  • Multinational adapter socket included

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers information and might as such be subject to changes in possible future revisions of the product.

Package and Accessories

The box uses the same gold colour as the device and is overall a great looking product packaging. The front shows how the docking station looks and tells you what it is.

The rear of the box contains the specifications and a few more details about the docking station and what drives it can take.

Inside the box, we find a USB 3.1 Type-C to Type-A connector, a user manual, and the multi-regional power adapter next to the docking station itself.

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.

ASUS Travelair N Wireless 1TB Hard Disk Review

Introduction


When it comes to storage you can either go the ordinary and boring route, or you can opt for something that breaks with the norm with more features than you would expect. I’m taking a closer look at ASUS’ Travelair N today which is a portable USB 3.0 hard disk drive that also works wirelessly with a built-in access point, comes with an SD card reader built-in, and has One-Touch NFC capabilities on top of the 1TB storage capacity.

The ASUS Travelair N ‏(WHD-A2) is a 1TB portable USB 3.0 hard disk drive at heart and that in itself isn’t without. You can easily carry 500 movies, thousands of photos, songs, and files with you where ever you go. An ordinary portable drive has some limitations on the road, mainly the connection interface. What if you would like to access the drive from your mobile phone or tablet? What if you are far from a power outlet? Well, that is no problem with the Travelair N that comes with built-in wireless network capabilities and a battery.

Using the 2.4GHz band, the Travelair N can connect to pretty much any wireless devices available. It is compatible with IEEE 802.11b, g, and n-style connections which cover the entire spectrum of the wireless band. The antennas are internal, so you don’t need to worry about connecting them or breaking them off either. The Travelair N uses enterprise-level WPA2 wireless security to connect with your smart phone or tablet, ensuring all of your content is kept private and secure.

Not only does it come with built-in wireless capabilities, the drive also features a built-in 3300 mAh battery that is rated for up to 8-hours usage. This should be plenty of time until you’re near a charging ability again.

And no, ASUS didn’t stop here and added more features to this drive. The Travelair N supports NFC technology for instant one-touch connection to supported devices without any configuration needs. Simply touch your NFC-supported smart phone or tablet to the drive and you can browse your media library and files straight away.

The final feature of the drive itself is the built-in SD card slot that lets you back up your data from memory cards with simple steps. This is the perfect solution to empty the memory cards onto a larger storage medium and keep shooting those photos while you got the opportunity.

ASUS created the AiDrive companion app which is available on almost any platform: iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, or Android devices. The app features an intuitive user interface to let you quickly and easily view and share your photos, videos, and files.

The Travelair N can connect with up to five devices simultaneously when transferring files and up to three devices when streaming movies in HD quality. This allows you to easily share a single drive between multiple systems, devices, and people.

A portable drive needs to have a better resistance to environmental hazards and the Travelair N features an IP43-rated water-resistant design. This should guarantee a protection from accidental splashes and spills onto the drive.

With all the talk about USB 3.0 for PC connections and wireless for mobile devices, we shouldn’t forget that we also can connect a drive like this to all our other smart devices with USB or wireless capabilities, may they be gaming consoles, smart TVs, or something else.

Feature Highlights

  • One-Touch NFC for easy connection
  • Integrated SD Card reader expands storage capacity
  • Connect up to five devices simultaneously
  • Splash-proof design with IP43 water resistance
  • Intuitive, easy-to-use companion app

Package and Accessories

ASUS packed the Travelair N in a horizontal shaped box which is unlike most that come more square. That’s very fitting for a drive like this that is anything but ordinary. The front will let you know what you purchase in a simplistic design including features and capacity.

On the rear of the box, you find a lot more details to the different functions such as environmental protection, wifi, and NFC.

Inside the box was a USB 3.0 cable, a warranty card and safety notice as well as the quick start guide. Normally there would also be an AD/DC power adapter for charging purposes, but that was missing in my review sample.

SilverStone MMS01 Military-Grade USB 3.0 Enclosure Review

Introduction


If you are living an active lifestyle and still want to carry around your storage while keeping it protected the best way possible, then you need something other than a normal portable storage device. There are many rugged portable drives on the market by now and we’ve had a look at several of them already. But what if you already have a drive and want to turn that into a safe portable storage drive? Then you need something like SilverStone’s MMS01 military-grade USB 3.0 portable enclosure. Today I’m taking a closer look at how this works and how well it works.

SilverStone’s MMS01 is a thick protective enclosure that has been IP65 certified which makes it dust proof and water-resistant. The enclosure doesn’t stop there, it has been tested and proven to be immune or resistant to rapid temperature change, vibration, 1.2-meter drop, salt spray, sand, and fungal growth. You shouldn’t fully submerge a setup like this, but other than that your data’s drive is well secured.

Durability doesn’t mean that we need to sacrifice performance and the MMS01 is bound to show us some great numbers. Powered by the USB 3.0 bus and with UASP support, the only limitation is the 5 Gbps of the USB bus. The enclosure is equipped with a USB 3.0 type B port and the drive is backward compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1. Thanks to the USB interface, we don’t require any extra drivers or anything and it will work as plug-and-play with both Windows and Mac OS systems.

Inside the enclosure there is room for a drive with a height of up to 9.5mm, allowing you to mount most 2.5-inch hard disk drives. Solid state drives with the thinner 7mm height aren’t a problem either and that is what I’ll be using in my tests today.

With a weight of just 280 gram, the MMS01 is a lightweight unit despite its great protection. This is an important factor when we deal with mobile drives as no one wants to carry unnecessary weight with them. If you are looking for an enclosure that can protect your drive in the harshest environment possible, the MMS01 might be the one to get.

Feature Highlights

  • Super speed USB 3.0 and SATA 6G interface
  • Supports 7mm or 9.5mm thick 2.5” SATA hard drives or SSD
  • Supports UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) for additional performance
  • Unique anti-vibration silicone sleeve over ABS shell for complete protection
  • Adheres to US military standard (MIL-STD-810G) for thermal, drop, shock, humidity, sand, dust, and fungus resistance
  • Certified IP65 for dustproof and water resistance

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers information and might as such be subject to changes in possible future revisions of the product.

Package and Accessories

The colour scheme on the package fits the military theme originating from the certifications and presents the enclosure well. The front has all the vital features presented for a quick and easy view.

The rear of the package contains more details information about the specifications and a multilanguage description.

Next to the enclosure itself, we find a USB cable, an Allen key to take the enclosure apart and mount the drive as well as a manual inside the package.

GIGABYTE Announces the Z170 March OC Madness Competition

Gigabyte is one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world and they are no strangers to the overclocking scene either. Many records have already been set using their brand of motherboards and now it can be your chance to set the next as Gigabyte announced the March OC Madness competition for the overclocking community and hosted by HWBOT.org

Whether you are a beginner in the area of one of the world leading overclockers, there is fun to be had, records to be set, and prizes to be won in this competition. The fun is starting on March the 12th and will run until April the 10th where people are encouraged to push their Gigabyte Z170 motherboards and 6th generation Intel processors to the limit.

There are two category main categories to enter, each with three stages to complete. Category one is for Enthusiast, Rookie, and Novice overclockers while the second category is for Elite and Extreme overclockers who take hardware to the next level with sub-zero cooling equipment.

The category one stages consist of XTU, HWBOT x265 1080p, and SPI 32M while the second category mixes it up a little bit with XTU, Maxxmem Read Bandwidth, and Geekbench Single Core stages.

So what can you win? Well, there are a number of cash and hardware prizes for the winners this time. The winner for each category will be awarded a $500 USD cash prize. In addition, participants that submit a score in all stages of their respective categories are eligible to enter a lucky draw for one of three GA-Z170X-Gaming 3 motherboards as the grand prize.

Should want to enter the fun, then you can check out the full details on the official contest page where you also can follow the rest of the overclockers during the event. So, shoot for high scores this March and maybe you’ll walk away with some cash or a new motherboard.

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.

Gigabyte Unveils EL-20-3700-32GB IoT Gateway Solution

Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is the next big thing in the digital revolution. To say it as simple as possible, IoT basically connects devices with each other and the internet in order to provide the data where it’s needed. We see a lot of new hardware being released in this sector and while some are completely new and independent, others bridge the gap between old-school legacy devices and the new IoT devices.

Gigabyte’s new EL-20-3700-32GB Intel Bear Ridge IoT Gateway Solution is just such a device as it will allow companies to connect sense, filters, process, analyzing and actuation while securing and managing machines and data. It supports onboarding, monitoring, diagnostics, and remote control of devices that otherwise would be unconnected.

It is built with an Intel Pentium N3700 Processor that is based on the Airmont microarchitecture and it’s Intel’s leading tri-gate 14nm process. The System on a Chip quad-core processor is designed to be very power effective and can drive both computing and graphics performance with a maximum power envelope of just 6W.

Besides the N3700 CPU, the EL-20-3700-32GB offers 32GB eMMC flash memory and two SO-DIMM DDR3 slots for up to 8GB 1600MHz memory. It sports two Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 ports powered by a Realtek RTL8111HS controller and four USB 3.0 ports. The two HDMI ports can handle resolutions up to 4K and the unit also features surround sound via a Realtek ALC255 controller.

Other options include one Full-size Mini-PCIe slot for 3G module or mSATA storage and one Half-size Mini-PCIe slot for the pre-installed WiFi+BT module. Speaking of which, the module is an Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 3160 which supports IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Further, you’ll find an SDXC card slot and three user-configurable LEDs, and a micro-USB connector with OTG support. The full unit will be unveiled and presented at the Embedded World in Nuremberg in a couple of weeks.

Feature Highlights

  • Intel Pentium processor N3700
  • 2 x SO-DIMM DDR3L slots
  • 2 x GbE LAN ports (Realtek RTL8111HS)
  • 32GB onboard eMMC memory
  • 1 x mSATA slot
  • 1 x SDCX card slot
  • 1 x SIM card slot

Should you want to build the unit into a more enclosed space and not have it as a standalone unit, then Gigabyte also offers the motherboard on its own and the IoT board can be found under the product name MZBSWFP.

The Gigabyte EL-20-3700-32GB will be available at AVnet after it has been officially launched at Embedded World.

Gigabyte Announces F2A88X-D3HP FM2+ Motherboard

AMD’s upcoming Zen architecture is predicted to offer a very competitive alternative to enthusiast Intel CPUs and could instigate a pricing war. This is great news for the consumer, as Intel currently dominates the higher-end CPU market, and is in need of some strong competition. That’s not to say the current AMD offerings aren’t a suitable choice, but they struggle to match Intel’s performance across the board. This is expected though given AMD’s current ageing sockets with both AM3+ and FM2+. Even though most hardware aficionados are waiting for AMD’s new CPUs which bring DDR4 support and a new socket, it doesn’t mean the older products are suddenly worthless. Perhaps, you want to build a HTPC or on a tight budget. It is quite strange to see new FM2+ motherboards being released in 2016, but at least it provides a better selection of features for those with a FM2+ based processor.

Gigabyte’s latest foray into the FM2+ scene is based on AMD’s A88X chipset and designed as a mid-range motherboard. The F2A88X-D3HP features the standard 24-pin ATX, 8-pin EPS, and includes a 6-phase VRM design. Additionally, there’s a single PCI-E 3.0 X16 expansion slot, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 (electrical x4), two legacy PCI to house older cards and three PCI-E 2.0 x1. The motherboard also supports up to 64GB of dual channel DDR3-2400 memory, and incorporates eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports.

Gigabyte integrated a total of two USB 3.1 ports, with one adopting the Type-A connector and the other uses Type-C. There’s another four USB 3.0 ports (two on the rear, and two more via internal headers). In terms of display options, you can choose from HDMI 1.4a, dual-link DVI, and D-Sub. As you might expect, the motherboard has 8-channel HD audio with an isolated section of the PCB and electrolytic capacitors. When it comes to networking, there is a Gigabit RJ45 port, and the motherboard utilizes Gigabyte dual UEFI BIOS technology.

GIGABYTE Server Lineup First To Be Tesla M40 Certified

Deep learning is redefining what is possible for a computer to do with the information that is provided. This is however a very compute intensive task and it requires specialized hardware to get the optimal performance. This is also the technology that one day will make an AI possible. Nvidia’s Tesla M40 is the fastest deep learning accelerator and it significantly reduces the training time. GIGABYTE is the first server maker to have its lineup certified for just these new NVIDIA cards. While a certification isn’t a thing that is necessarily needed, it is one of those guidelines that you shouldn’t look past.

 

Right now you are most likely wondering what deep learning is and I could go into a lot of details about its start, progress, and details – but I doubt anyone would read all that here. Wikipedia’s definition probably sums it up best. With very basic words, it allows the software to draw its own conclusions based on what it already knows.

The Wikipedia definition reads: “Deep learning (deep structured learning, hierarchical learning or deep machine learning) is a branch of machine learning based on a set of algorithms that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using multiple processing layers with complex structures, or otherwise composed of multiple non-linear transformations.”

NVIDIA’s Tesla M40 is a quite impressive card with its 3072 CUDA cores, 12GB GDDR5 memory with a bandwidth of 288GB/s, and a single precision peak performance of 7 TFLOPS. That is just from one card and we need to keep in mind that some of GIGABYTE’s servers can handle up to 8 graphics cards each. That adds up to a lot of performance.

If you already have a GIGABYTE server or plan to purchase one, then you’ll most likely also know the model number already. I’ve added a screenshot from the official compatibility list below which in that case will save you the trip to the official compatibility list. We see that it’s only the R280-G20 that isn’t certified for the M40, but that is because the system has a different field of operation than the rest.

So GIGABYTE has you well covered in regards to NVIDIA’s impressive Tesla M40 Deep Learning GPU.

Intel Broadwell-E Release Coming Soon – Includes 10 Core 6950X

For those of you waiting for Intel Broadwell-E, they may still be a bit ways away but it looks like they will be right on time. According to early leaks, Intel’s roadmaps pointed to an early Q2 launch the Haswell-E successor. It looks like those leaked roadmaps are right on target as Gigabyte has released a new BIOS update for their X99 series of motherboards. According to the release notes the update is meant to “Support 2016 Q2 coming new CPU” which is likely Broadwell-E.

As the replacement for Haswell-E, the new lineup will continue to use the same X99 and LGA2011-3 platform, meaning an in place upgrade for current users. The new chips will be based on the Broadwell architecture, coming in 4 variants, the 6800K, 6850K, 6900K and 6950X. These will range from the usual 6 cores up to the new monster 10 core 6950X. Don’t expect pricing to change from Haswell-E though as the 6950X is expected to cost 50% more than the 5960X.

With a Q2 launch, Intel has a good chance to lap in some sales before Zen arrives with its rumoured 16-cores. On the flip side, some users may also choose to wait and see what AMD will be offering before sinking their hard-earned cash into some shiny new hardware. On a final note, the new BIOS also notes that “This BIOS prohibits updating to earlier version BIOS” so there will be no turning back.

GIGABYTE Launches Two AMD Socket AM3+ Motherboards With A Twist

It came as quite a surprise when GIGABYTE first mentioned their new AMD socket AM3+ based motherboards about a month ago and quite a few people were shocked by this news. But there can be a lot of benefits in these two new AM3+ based GIGABYTE motherboards, benefits that some people might not have considered.

The most likely scenario for these new motherboards is probably one where the old motherboard has died or generally just starts to bug around. It is time for a replacement despite that the user might originally have intended to wait for one of the new CPU architectures such as Intel’s upcoming Extreme series or AMD’s own Zen-based series. You could buy an up to six years old motherboard and gain nothing, or you could get one of GIGABYTE’s new ones and get a lot of benefits from modern technology and advancements that have been made since the AM3+ socket was introduced in 2009.

The two new motherboards are the GA-990FX-Gaming and GA-970-Gaming that both got the GIGABYTE G1 Gaming treatment. They come with an M.2 connectors that can transfer with up to 10Gb/s on the 970-based board and 20Gb/s on the 990FX-based.

Both can utilize NVMe and SATA drives, but you naturally you won’t reap the full benefits of an NVMe drive with 10Gb/s speeds. It would still be great and the board is able to use these modern drives with the result being a much faster systems and one that takes less CPU usage than an equivalent SATA version.

GIGABYTE also added USB 3.1 and USB Type-C connectors to these motherboards, allowing you to use the newest peripherals too. This again allows you to move forward with all other aspects of your system while you wait for one of the new hot platforms to be released.

The bigger of the two boards comes with three PCI-Express x16 slots and the smaller only has two, but both support dual-graphics solutions and you can add up to 32GB DDR3 memory to both. Another nice touch on the PCI-Express slots is the use of the exclusive ultra durable metal shielding that will give the slots more durability.

Being boards in the G1 Gaming series, these boards also come with great network and audio solutions. The Audio is taken care of by an 115dBB SNR HD Audio system with built-in rear audio amplifier and high-quality audio capacitors as well as the Audio Noise Guard with Ambient LED Trace Path Lighting to prevent interference. The network connection is provided by a KillerNIC E2200 network controller.

GIGABYTE didn’t reveal any pricing or availability, but considering that they are launched now they should be available soon and the pricing should be close to the predecessors.

GIGABYTE Launches 5 New Greenlow-Based HEDT Motherboards

GIGABYTE launched a complete new series of High-End Desktop (HEDT) motherboards with the new X170 and X150 series motherboards that are based on Intel’s C236 and C232 chipsets and with support for Intel’s Xeon E3-1200 v5 processors as well as ECC memory. Besides the Xeon compatibility, you can also use 6th generation Core, Pentium, and Celeron processors in these new boards.

The Xeon CPUs come with quite a bit more power than the ordinary desktop CPUs and they are perfect for photographers, designers, and video editors where the software can take a real advantage of the underlying architecture. GIGABYTE is so sure of these products that Henry Kao, the Vice President of GIGABYTE’s motherboard business commented it as “the best HEDT experience” [sic]. The new Intel generation brings some great improvements. Not only are the new Skylake based Xeon’s built on the 14nm technology, the new C230 series chipsets bring along support for faster, better, and more memory. The boards support up to 64GB DDR4 memory with 2133MHz compared to the max of 32GB at 1866MHz on the previous generation. There are also the added bonuses of improved manageability, increased I/O bandwidth, and enhanced processor graphics to name a few.

In the new GIGABYTE series are boards with ECC support and some without, depending on what you need. The X170-Extreme ECC, X150-PRO ECC, and X150M-PRO ECC boards all support it and it can be a useful feature as it can eliminate small data discrepancies and prevent data corruption to ensure reliability for critical applications while also helping to reduce system crashes. Another thing that can help your productivity a lot is how GIGABYTE designed the motherboard. The first PCIe lane on these motherboards is a direct x16 Gen.3 lane to the processor that offers 128Gb/s unrestricted bandwidth to your graphics card.

The new boards also come with all other modern features such as USB 3.1, M.2, and PCI-Express connections. U.2 drives can also be used through an M.2 adapter to give you the fastest possible storage solutions available. On the flagship X170-Extreme ECC motherboard, you’ll also find the Killer E2400 Gigabit Ethernet Controller which is classified as the world’s most advanced networking detection and prioritization technology for consumer and enthusiast users. The adapter delivers industry-leading latency performance, offering more powerful network control, improved latency, reduced jitter and virtually eliminates video freezes so users can play, watch and stream games all at the same time. At least on the paper.

At the time of writing, not all product pages have gone online yet, so we can’t provide details on all of the boards. The X170-Extreme ECC and X150-PRO ECC are still missing. The X150-Plus WS, X150M-Plus WS, and X150M-PRO ECC are online and you can find the highlights for those below.

X150-Plus WS

  • Supports the Intel® Xeon® E3-1200 v5 processor and 6th Gen. Intel® Core i3/ Pentium®/ Celeron® Processor
  • Dual Channel DDR4, 4 DIMMs
  • 2-Way Graphics with Premium PCIe Lane
  • PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 Connector with up to 32Gb/s Data Transfer (PCIe & SATA SSD support)
  • SATA Express Connector for up to 16Gb/s Data Transfer
  • 8-channel HD Audio with High-Quality Audio Capacitors
  • Audio Noise Guard with LED Trace Path Lighting
  • Intel® GbE LAN with cFosSpeed Internet Accelerator Software
  • APP Center Including EasyTune and Cloud Station Utilities
  • GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS Technology

X150M-PRO ECC

  • Supports Intel® Xeon E3-1200 v5 and 6th Generation Intel® Core i3 Processors
  • Dual Channel DDR4, 4 DIMMs with ECC support
  • 2-Way Graphics with Premium PCIe Lane
  • PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 Connector with up to 32Gb/s Data Transfer (PCIe NVMe & SATA SSD support)
  • SATA Express Connectors for up to 16Gb/s Data Transfer
  • Intel® GbE LAN with cFosSpeed Internet Accelerator Software
  • 8-channel HD Audio with High Quality Audio Capacitors
  • Audio Noise Guard with LED Trace Path Lighting
  • APP Center Including EasyTune and Cloud Station Utilities
  • GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS Technology

X150M-PLUS WS

  • Supports the Intel® Xeon® E3-1200 v5 processor and 6th Gen. Intel® Core i3/ Pentium®/ Celeron® Processor
  • Dual Channel DDR4, 2 DIMMs
  • 8-channel HD Audio with High Quality Audio Capacitors
  • Audio Noise Guard with LED Trace Path Lighting
  • Realtek® GbE LAN with cFosSpeed Internet Accelerator Software
  • APP Center Including EasyTune and Cloud Station Utilities
  • Support Intel® Small Business Basics

SilverStone PTS01 USB 3.0 Enclosure for NUC Review

Introduction


Intel’s NUC series of mini PCs as well as SilverStone’s lineup of Petit series are amazing and bring a lot of great hardware in a very tiny box. They do however have one problem for some people and that is the lack of storage upgradeability. A few of the NUCs have a 2.5-inch bay, but most only feature mSATA, M.2, and similar next generation form factors. That sets some limitations, but limitations are meant to be broken and SilverStone did that with their PTS01 external USB 3.0 storage enclosure that fits the NUC and Petit cases like a glove.

SilverStone designed the PTS01 specifically for the Intel NUC as the majority of the NUC motherboards only support mSATA in order to reduce the dimensions. Where basic and small is great for the one, the other wants a little more. The PTS01 easily stacks with the NUC and Petit series chassis and it can even be placed between the NUCs and their mounting positions such as behind monitors. That way you don’t increase the footprint of your system, at least if you got a little more space behind your monitor.

You can mount a 2.5-inch hard disk or solid state drive with a maximum height of 9mm in the SilverStone PTS01. It is fully SATA III and USB 3.0 compatible with backward compatibility on both sectors. This could truly be the perfect and most convenient way to expand the storage of your NUC system.

The PTS01 is made from aluminum and steel which makes it sturdy and also helps with the cooling of the drive you mount inside. The tiny chassis measures just 122mm by 108mm by 15mm and it weighs just 125-gram thanks to the choice of material.

The SilverStone PTS01 storage enclosure is very simple on its own as it’s just a two-piece enclosure held together by eight screws and containing a small PCB at one end. On the PCB, you can see the USB 3.0 port and the activity LED to the right and we also spot the ASMedia ASM1153E USB 3.0 to Serial SATA bridge chip. The ASM1153E supports UASP for even better transfer speeds and a larger command queue. The enclosure did however not register as UASP device on my Windows 8 Pro system.

Feature Highlights

  • SuperSpeed USB 3.0 with 5Gbps
  • Supports Intel NUC cases
  • Supports SATA3 2.5” SSD/HDD x 1
  • Robust aluminum and steel body construction

Specifications

Package and Accessories

The simple black box has a premium feel over it thanks to the full-colour print, although you probably won’t look much at the box after you unpacked the enclosure. It also showcases the product itself and the main features right on the front.

The rear of the box has all the specifications themselves and a small image showcasing the usage directly connected to a Petit case.

Inside the box you find the enclosure itself along with a USB connection cable and all the screws you need to mount a drive inside as well as mount it to the NUC or Petit chassis.

GIGABYTE Launches Intel Xeon D-1500 Server Motherboards

Intel launched the very impressive Intel Xeon D-1500 System on Chip (SoC) last year and now GIGABYTE is ready with four new server boards based on this tiny wonder chip. The Xeon D-1500 family is a series aimed at low power and high-density server applications and it great at that as we’ve seen in our review section.

While I said that there are four new motherboards in this line-up, that’s both true and false at the same time. A better way to say it would probably be that there are two new motherboards that each come in two versions. The difference between the two versions is the SoC that has been used. Two of the motherboards use an Intel Xeon D-1521 processor while the other two use the faster Intel Xeon D-1541 processors. The motherboards are identical on all the other parts than the SoC.

The MB10-DS4 and MB10-DS3 server motherboards come with four cores/eight threads and eight cores/sixteen threads respectively from the SoC and are equally well packed on connectivity. Despite the small mITX form factor, these motherboards still pack dual 10GbE SFP+ LAN ports as well as dual 1GbE LAN ports for optimal connectivity. There’s also a dedicated IPMI 2.0 remote management port with iKVM support. With four DIMM slots, these motherboards can take up to 128GB ECC DDR4 memory and run it at 2133MHz.

Being server motherboards, these come with a rear IO ID button as well as a power button and LEDs for quick diagnostics. There’s also a D-Sub VGA port and two USB 3.0 ports. You can connect two more USB 3.0 ports via the onboard header, but we don’t find any USB 2.0 at all. There are six SATA ports for your drives and you also get a single PCI Express x16 Gen3 slot on the motherboard. The integrated display option is powered by the well-known Aspeed AST2400.

We find the same setup as on the above motherboards when we look at the MB10-DS1 and MB10-DS0 server motherboards, except for one difference. These motherboards don’t have the two 10GbE LAN ports that the above two come with. The faster network connection is something that will increase the price slightly per system which in return quickly runs up when a lot of systems have to be deployed. If you don’t need it, then don’t pay for it and get the versions without. It’s great to see so many options for what’s basically one motherboard with a few changes each time.

Overclocking World Records Set @ Gigabyte CES 2016 Booth

CES 2016: Overclocking via liquid nitrogen can appear like a very daunting process requiring vast amounts of technical knowledge and first-hand experience. While this is certainly true to reach the top scores, there’s always an entry into this area via demonstration videos and helpful tutorials. During CES 2016, Professional overclockers Hicookie and Boris_sdk streamed their world record attempts and provided a great insight into the process. If you’re interested in seeing the footage, it’s available via the Twitch Archive.

The duo successfully overclocked a Core i3 6100 to just over 6.2GHz using BCLK adjustments on a Gigabyte Z170X-SOC Force LN2. This resulted in 4 new global records in Wprime 32M (6.224sec), Wprime 1024M (3min 19.24sec), HWBOT Prime (5442.34 pps) and GPUPI for CPU 1B (8min 34sec 889m).

Gigabyte Unveils AORUS Laptop Range @ CES 2016

CES 2016: AORUS is name given to Gigabyte’s extreme level of hardware which spans across gaming laptops, peripherals, backpacks and more! The range often receives a great deal of critical acclaim and implements groundbreaking exclusives features such as the AORUS Fusion Keyboard, AORUS Audio, and Hardware Live Stream Engine.

Here we can see the X5, which is the world’s first gaming laptop with per-key backlighting. This makes it possible to add special effects, choose individual key illumination and create a custom setup. This level of flexibility is unbelievable and not what you would expect from a gaming laptop.

The software allows you to choose from a wide array of effects including breathing, fade on keypress and more. After using the software briefly, I can confidently say, it’s intuitive and has enough settings to create something which feels personal to your specific needs.

Another unique technology is entitled, Gameplay Now which acts as a video capture tool to stream or record footage without any impact on game performance. This works via an M.2 card from AverMedia and provides up to 30% extra frames-per-second while capturing gameplay. There’s also an overlay which outlines the frame-rate and CPU utilization.

The AORUS team also showcased the limited edition camouflage X5 design which looks spectacular. Notice how the vinyl cover extends into the speaker grill and doesn’t have any abnormalities in the finish. The rep at CES told me that they are gauging the popularity of the skin, and if the response is good, will make other lavish designs in the future.

Gigabyte Announces New Motherboards @ CES 2016

CES 2016: Intel’s Xeon CPUs have a reputation for being extremely expensive and designed for the most demanding professional workloads. However, since the release of Skylake, Intel has outlined their plans to bring the Xeon name back to affordable consumer-grade motherboards. In theory, consumers can purchase the E3 1230 v5 CPU which offers the same core/thread count and L3 cache compared to the i7-6700. The only real downsize is a slight 0.2GHz turbo deficit, 20W higher TDP and lack of onboard graphics. Although this isn’t an issue as most high end users will be using a discrete GPU.

After speaking at length with Gigabyte about this, it seems they feel the consumer Xeon range provides great value, and could become a popular choice. However, I’m pretty sceptical as marketing the Xeon name as an affordable proposition will be a difficult task.  During CES, Gigabyte unveiled the X170 Gaming 3 WS, X170-Gaming 7 WS, X170-Extreme ECC, X150-Plus WS and X150M Plus WM.

As you can see the motherboards adopt a stylish camo design which looks phenomenal and should suit various colour schemes. Rather surprisingly, the majority of these do not have ECC support although this might be revised in time for the official release. These C232/C236 workstation products aren’t as barren as you might expect and include gaming features like an isolated audio PCB section, USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity, 32Gb/s M.2 support 115dB SNR, DualBIOS and more!

This is only a brief overview of the range, and we should be taking a more in-depth look when the motherboards arrive for review purposes.

Gigabyte Updates BRIX Line-Up @ CES 2016

CES 2016: The Gigabyte BRIX series exemplifies how compact barebone systems can be and created a new small form factor which seemed impossible at the time. Recently, Gigabyte decided to update the range to add support for Intel’s latest 6th generation processors. More specifically, models come in a number of i3, i5 and i7 variants to give users the flexibility to purchase the SKU which suits their specific requirements. As expected, the many of BRIX units support for a 2.5″ SSD/HDD as well as a copious supply of USB connectors.

During CES this year, Gigabyte showcased the new BRIX units which feature Thunderbolt 3 connectivity which is available over USB 3.1 Type-C. This 40Gb/s connector can daisy chain up to 12 devices and supports Display 1.2 to cope with 4K setups. On another note, Thunderbolt 3’s Power Delivery 2.0 is so useful to quickly charge smartphones, tablets and other essential equipment.