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.

Mach Xtreme MX-LX 128GB USB3.0 Flash Drive Review

Introduction


Over the last few months the price of flash storage has been on a steady downhill curve and this drop in price has effected multiple sectors of the storage market. On one front, SSDs on the upper end of the capacity scale have been coming more and more affordable and as a result users have been able to get faster and larger drives instead. On another front and one which affects the product that I’m looking at today, the cost of producing larger flash drives, or ‘memory sticks’ as they are commonly known, has plummeted and high-capacity drives are more than within the budget of most of us out there who need them.

The way to look at this drop in price is to look at how expensive flash drives used to be only a few years ago. When you went online or into your high street retailer to get a flash drive, the cost of getting a 2GB drive for example was very costly and typically you saw 1GB and even 512MB drives commonly being used. Today we laugh at the cost of a 2GB drive and now we are literally being given 4GB and 8GB drives for free and this leads us back round to the statement above about how the price of storage drops over time to a more affordable level.

Putting the cost of storage to the side for a moment and taking a little trip down memory lane, we are no strangers to Mach Xtreme and the drives that they have to offer with this being the fourth drive that I’ve had to look at. Not only is this the fourth drive, but it is also the biggest, yet smallest drive that I’ve had in to review, which once again ties in with the points made above. Typically the drives that I’ve seen before now have featured SLC NAND inside and to bring this down to earth, this meant that the cost of producing the drives was a little higher in order to offer up the faster write speeds that early USB3.0 drives failed to provide. SLC NAND at the same time doesn’t suffer from the same high rates of wear over time when compared to the more affordable MLC NAND, but with advances in technology, MLC NAND now offers the best of both worlds with faster speeds and greater storage density. The end result is a drive that is faster, smaller and cheaper than before – just what everyone wants to hear in this day in age!


Like every other Mach Xtreme drive that I’ve seen, the MX-LX comes on a card back with a plastic shell holding the drive in place. On the front and rear of the card we get the usual array of information with the drives capacity clearly stated, a note highlighting the drives optimisation for Asus motherboards and on the back a run-down on the drives specifications and features.

Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB Solid State Drive Review

Introduction


Over the last couple of years I’ve had a look at numerous SSDs from many of the leading manufacturers in the world of SSDs and storage in general, however there has been one vendor that I have not worked with up to this point. This is of course Plextor and as things go, This company is said to be right up there in the rankings with the likes of Kingston, OCZ, Corsair, Sandisk and many more; but flash-based storage is not where this company has its roots buried. Since the formation of the company way back in 1985, Plextor have been making their name well-known in the world of optical storage with their name being made synonymous with high quality optical drives and media that performed way above that of OEM grade drives and media.Back when optical based storage was much more popular than it is today, Plextor’s drives typically demanded a far greater price tag over white box products, however the end-user was prepared to pay the premium due to the fact that Plextor’s products were far less susceptible to errors when burning media, which would otherwise leave you with a pile of coffee mug ‘coasters’ as they were known. As the market has moved on and the popularity of optical media fallen, Plextor branched out to the solid state market with their first SSD, the M1, coming to market in 2009. Since then we have seen the M series of SSDs grow and mature through the M2, 3 and 4 series and on to the current generation M5 drives with all the leading technologies and performance figures that the end-user looks for and demands in today’s performance driven market.

The M5 Pro Xtreme is the pinnacle of Plextor’s SSD design today and over its little brother, the M5 Pro, the Xtreme on paper doesn’t seem to be different, but there have been one or two subtle changes made to give slightly better performance figures over the M5 Pro when handling smaller file sizes (~4K). Considering both use the same third-gen dual core Marvell controller and 19nm Toshiba toggle flash MLC NAND, the performance differences are purely down to the use of sixteen NAND packages on the Xtreme over eight on the Pro and lower level drives.

Inside the box we find a typical set of SSD accessories with two sets of screws and a 2.5″ to 3.5″ drive bay adaptor, installation and warranty leaflets and a copy of NTI’s SSD Solution for drive cloning and migration to Plextor SSDs.

Mach Xtreme MX-ES SLC 32GB Flash Drive Review

Introduction


Late last year I had a look at one of the latest flash drives to roll off the Mach Xtreme production line, featuring 16GB of SLC NAND within its slim read body and a suitably reasonable price tag to go along with it. Now, nearly a year on, I’m going to be taking a look at the 32GB SKU of the same MX-ES SLC drive that I looked at last year.

As a brief re-run over the history of Mach Xtreme, they are one of the leading storage manufacturers for flash products and over the last couple of years, they have been focussing on the MX-ES line of drives with its SLC NAND design.For a few people out there, SLC is common knowledge, but for those that do not know, this refers to the build up of the NAND flash, in this case with a Single Level Cell in instead of a Multi Level Cell design that we typically see in flash drives. Over the MLC design, SLC does not suffer from the same high wear rates and at the same time offers up a better write performance. The downside of this is that SLC NAND takes up a greater space over the much denser MLC and also the production costs are also higher.

As we’ve seen before, the MX-ES drive comes attached to a card with a plastic cover. The front side of the card is packed with information of the drive, including its five year warranty, SLC flash design and that it is ‘optimised’ for Asus motherboards – although the latter we showed to be inconclusive last time round with our testing.

Aerocool Strike-X Xtreme Black Edition Mid-Tower Chassis Review

Today I will be taking a look at one of the latest budget chassis designs from Aerocool, a brand who might not have the biggest reputation here in the UK but one that we have seen produce some truly impressive products in the past, especially those from the PGS (pro gamer series) range such as the BX500 and the incredible Xpredator which we reviewed last year. Of course the PGS series were focused on high end performance and were nearly twice as expensive as the Strike-X, so it would be unfair to compare them. The Strike-X will set you back around £40 from most major retailers and that puts it right at the heart of the budget market.

The budget market is doing better than ever in terms of choice for the consumer and these days you often have to go out of your way to find a product that is rubbish as many of the top brands in the business offer something impressive for around £30-50, so it will be interesting to see what Aerocool have to offer as we already know they can do high-end chassis very well, but can they make a competitive budget solution?

The chassis comes in a brightly coloured box with a nice clear image of the chassis on the front as well as a run down of the major features and component compatibility.

In the box I found a 5.25″ front panel adaptor, user’s manual, a collection of screws, standoffs and a few cable ties.