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Archive for Richard Swinburne

80Plus Gold - this year's fad in the PSU industry

Posted on 12th Mar 2009 at 15:09 by Richard Swinburne with 2 comments

Richard Swinburne
Last year we had 12V DC-DC at CeBIT and then 80Plus Silver at Computex, but this year CeBIT is awash with companies showing off 80Plus Gold parts due out in the next few months. Gold is an efficiency standard of 87 to 91 percent, with a 0.9 PFC across the whole range, whereas Silver was only a few stops shorter at 85 to 87 percent.

We have spoken to almost every major PSU manufacturer to discuss what they see in 80Plus Gold: if it’s important or just a marketing fad for the industry.

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Some Things Microsoft Can't Fix in Windows 7: Catch 22

Posted on 11th Mar 2009 at 10:31 by Richard Swinburne with 37 comments

Richard Swinburne
Having used the Windows 7 beta for our first look article, I was reading about a few of the tweaks last week on MSDN Blogs. Most are all good, logical choices, however I found one in particular unappealing:

Another nice little tweak is to make "needy windows" -- windows demanding your attention, such as an IM program with new messages -- more visible. Many users complained that the taskbar button flashing was too subtle and they were missing events. [my emphasis] Microsoft has changed the flashing to a "bolder orange color" and the flash pattern to a more jarring saw tooth wave, as well as increasing the flash rate -- all of which should help get your attention when a window needs it.

The obsessive compulsive in me hates the flashing taskbar - I notice it instantly and must click it to go away. I already find it too intrusive and easily visible, yet, people are complaining they don't notice it?? My instant reaction was "ARE THEY BLIND?! IT'S ALREADY A BRIGHT ORANGE!!"

Then I realised I was just the same as everyone else and we reached a point long ago where for every feature Microsoft changes, there will be a lot more people that hate that change.

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When one hour turns into three

Posted on 5th Mar 2009 at 09:28 by Richard Swinburne with 7 comments

Richard Swinburne
Every day we push PCs to their limit, but there are some computers in this world that you simply never want to crash.

It had to be my flight. It had to be this morning. The one hour short hop from London’s new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport has turned into three as I get to spend at least two of them on the runway while my efficient friends in Europe are fixing their air traffic computers. Try the reset button?

Secretly I’m hoping that day 7 of TV series 24 hasn’t mirrored real life as I quickly flick through The Times newspaper looking for African wars recently broken out. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to be the case, although 192 dolphins seem to have taken a wrong turn at Tasmania, and are having an even worse day than I am.

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Cooler Master Hyper N520 - New CPU cooler

Posted on 25th Feb 2009 at 08:38 by Richard Swinburne with 2 comments

Cooler Master dropped in to show off its latest N520 CPU cooler yesterday afternoon. Priced at around £25, it's certainly affordable and sports a slightly new dual fan centre off-set style that covers any potential dead zones that would otherwise exist in a single fan set up.

Cooler Master Hyper N520 - New CPU cooler

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RIP: Asus M3A-H/HDMI bursts into flames

Posted on 20th Feb 2009 at 14:26 by Richard Swinburne with 9 comments

All right, so the title sounds quite dramatic and I know the rule, "pics or it never happened" but unfortunately we were more concerned about yanking the power switch and reaching for the fire extinguisher before grabbing a camera. Sorry.

RIP: Asus M3A-H/HDMI bursts into flames

So we swapped out an Athlon 64 FX-62 dual-core for a Phenom X4 9600 B2 stepping chip in Harry's machine. Both have a similar TDP and Harry needs the two more cores that the Phenom has for his work.

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2009: The year of the rebrand

Posted on 17th Feb 2009 at 18:42 by Richard Swinburne with 1 comments

Richard Swinburne
I'm going to forgo the continually depressing reiteration of "economic downturn" or whatever you want to call it. But since quite a few large companies are posting massive demand drops and insolvency is the latest craze these days, there's no doubt we're seeing an unfortunate trend of re-branding take an ever present role in "new" product lines.

Of the companies that we spend the majority of our time covering, Intel, Nvidia and AMD are getting in on the act.

Despite the billions of dollars of investment Intel is ploughing into its 32nm facilities, the chip giant still feels the need to rename its ICH7 southbridge (first released in 2005) to something different for the next release of its popular Atom product: Pineview. Inside the "new" southbridge, there's still the same set of features but, on the outside, there's a fresh coat of paint as it'll now be known as Tigerpoint.

Rawr!

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What else do we need?

Posted on 10th Feb 2009 at 16:18 by Richard Swinburne with 19 comments

Richard Swinburne
What else can motherboard manufacturers do to increase the features and sell us new things?

We've got plenty of everything these days: SATA, USB, Gigabit Ethernet, HD sound - it's all "good enough". Motherboard manufacturers are stretching to include energy efficiency wherever they can, and more recently, extreme overclocking and cool designs to draw people into upgrading but for the most part the core hardware levels have remained the same for several years. We're still looking at six to eight USB on the rear I/O, six SATA (sometimes more) on the board and a couple of Gigabit Ethernet sockets.

What have northbridges become? Nothing much - what more can you do with PCI-Express? We've hit two/three/four lanes of x16 or x8 at a squillion MT/s and it's now all pretty normal.

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Boxee - the outsider bringing media centres to the mainstream?

Posted on 3rd Feb 2009 at 10:21 by Richard Swinburne with 4 comments

Richard Swinburne
While I mull over the hardware for our inagural home theatre PC (HTPC) buying guide, I'm back thinking about all sorts of (self induced) overly-complicated logic to do with total energy efficiency, GPU versus CPU acceleration, and inevitably, the software driving it.

You see, as much as ATI, Nvidia and even Intel have built in their respective video accelerators for MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (DivX/Xvid AVI) and h.264, (most of) the software still needs to be coded to take advantage of it. Apart from paid-for software like PowerDVD or WinDVD, there is only Media Player Classic - Home Cinema edition that enables this option. The usual home theatre interfaces like Windows MCE and an all manor of other popular ones, do not. So we're still left with the CPU taking most of the grunt and that's not a bad thing until you get into super high bitrate 1080p.

One of these software packages I covered last year was the early alpha version of Boxee. To be honest I still feel like I don't get it but I'm willing to give kudos to these guys because they keep getting award after award, especially at CES.

Boxee still commands itself as the "social media centre," which I still think is wrong, but its advantage lies in the fact that it's been particularly tuned to be a one stop shop for online viewing of major networks. Simply being able to watch all your favourite shows through one portal is a huge advantage, especially as it's been designed for our American friends.

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Epic Fail: ECS X58B-A motherboard

Posted on 30th Jan 2009 at 11:05 by Richard Swinburne with 4 comments

We've tried and tried and tried over the last few months to get this motherboard to work, and eventually we sometimes just have to call it a day. And that's often one of the hardest things to accept because we've ploughed so much time into it.

One of the benefits of our new blog is that there's now a medium for us to forewarn you about those products that come into our labs but don't make it through the review process after many, many man hours trying - for example, this board has been on and off the test bench for nearly three months now. It gives us a chance to name and shame products that really don't meet the grade at all - we hope it won't happen too often but you never know... this could become more regular than we'd expect.

Epic Fail: ECS X58B-A motherboard Hardware Fail #1: ECS X58B-A Motherboard

To cut a long story short, our first board was sent back to ECS in Taiwan after our initial failed attempts to get it working. The company claimed it was faulty and sent another they guaranteed as working - it even came with a nice "It works!" sticker on the box.

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RIP: DFI motherboards don't like photography

Posted on 27th Jan 2009 at 17:38 by Richard Swinburne with 5 comments

Urgh, another day, another hardware failure. I was aiming to have a review of DFI's LANParty 790FX-B M2RSH done this week - it's all tested (albeit slower in every-single-benchmark compared to the MSI DK 790GX Platinum), and I literally only unplugged everything for some photography, before putting it back on the test bench again for some more stress testing.

RIP: DFI motherboards don't like photography Hardware Death #1: DFI motherboards don't like photography

Sadly, the LED readout says only 88 and the fans spin up to their full flow without a hint of relent. Changing every piece of hardware later has no impact - something static must have hit it, which is surprising considering I passed on wearing nylon underwear today.

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