Tuesday, November 27, 2012

GIGABYTE GA-Z77N-WiFi


Why You'll Dig it:

THE GA-Z77N-WIFI is a Mini-ITX motherboard with a packed specification. It’s a socket LGA1155 board, so it works with both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors, but if you’re buying an up-to-date Z77 Express chipset you should really get one of Intel’s latest chips.

At the rear are four USB and two USB3 ports, and there’s a USB3 header on the board, so you can either connect the front panel USB3 ports in a compatible case or use a bracket to add USB3 ports to the rear.

You also get two HDMI and a DVI output to take advantage of Ivy Bridge processors’ integrated graphics, but you can only run two monitors at once. If you want a three-monitor setup, or you want to play games at higher resolutions, you’ll need to plug a graphics card into the spare PCI Express x16 slot.

There’s not much room on the 170x170mm board’s surface for expansion slots; the PCI-E x16 slot is all you get. However, the board has pretty much everything you need built in. There’s 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Intel’s WiDi wireless display technology, and the sound chipset gives you an optical S/PDIF output and 7.1 surround sound. The two memory slots hold a maximum of 16GB of RAM, and you’re well served for storage, with two SATA3 and two SATA2 ports, plus support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.

Video Review (Newegg TV)


It’s expensive, but the GA-Z77N-WiFi has the performance and specification to match its price. If you want a tiny PC but don’t want to scrimp on features, it’s a great buy.


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Product Details and Features


PROCESSOR SOCKET LGA1155
CHIPSET Intel Z77 Express/Intel Z77 Express
MEMORY SLOTS 2x DDR3 800, 1066, 1333, 1600
EXPANSION 1x PCI Express x16 slots, 2x SATA2 ports, 2x SATA3 ports
WARRANTY Three-year RTB warranty
PART CODE GA-Z77N-WiFi

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FUJITSU ScanSnap S1300i


Why You'll Dig it:

THE SCANSNAP S1300i is a minor update to Fujitsu’s impressive S1300 document scanner. The chief differences are a refreshed software bundle and quicker scan speeds, up from eight pages per minute (ppm) to 12ppm.

The S1300i seems rugged. Its lid clips shut, and opening it switches on the scanner and forms a robust 10-page automatic document feeder (ADF) with adjustable paper guides. Unlike bigger scanners, there’s no output tray so preserving the order and tidiness of longer documents can be a challenge.

Fujitsu’s comprehensive software bundle includes bespoke management software and optical character recognition (OCR). It also has plug-ins for Microsoft SharePoint and the cloud storage services Evernote, DropBox and SugarSync. There’s no TWAIN or ISIS driver, though, so you can’t capture images from within an image-editing program as you can with most other scanners.

The scanner has a single button on the right of the paper feed. When a job has finished, ScanSnap Manager asks what you want to do with the scanned image, with options ranging from emailing and printing to simply saving to disk.

Video Review (Unboxing)



Where To Get it?

Documents are scanned on both sides by default, with the pages automatically rotated to match the orientation of any text, and any blank sides discarded. You can change the settings by opening the ScanSnap icon in Windows’ Notification Area, but the options are spread over several tabs and could be easier to follow.

The S1300i is quite fast, capturing one side of A4 in six seconds at 150 dots per inch (dpi), and taking only one minute and five seconds to capture and process 16 sides from 10 A4 pages. The image quality was ample for office applications, and OCR was accurate. It even did a good job of capturing photos at 600dpi, although 10 prints took over six minutes.

This is a great choice for mobile workers or anyone else who needs to capture documents quickly and lacks the space for a bigger desktop device. While it’s easy to use, however, we prefer the software that Canon provides with its ImageFormula P-215. The latter also comes with TWAIN drivers, so it remains our choice in this class.

Product Details and Features


SCANNER TYPE CIS
OPTICAL RESOLUTION 600dpi
COLOR OUTPUT 24-bit
INTERFACES USB
DIMENSIONS 77x284x99mm
POWER CONSUMPTION 1W standby, 5W active
WARRANTY One-year RTB
PART CODE PA03643-B001

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CORSAIR Vengeance M60


Why You'll Dig it:

Corsair’s first gaming mouse comes in two varieties: the MMO-friendly Vengeance M90 and the shooter-specific M60 reviewed here. It’s a tough mouse built around an aluminum chassis, unlike the mostly plastic competition, so it feels incredibly robust in the hand.

As well as the usual buttons, including two side buttons and two dedicated to changing cursor sensitivity, it has a sniper button that temporarily lowers the mouse’s DPI for those crucial zoomed-in headshots.

The keyboard may be small, but we were pleased to find that it’s comfortable to use and allowed us to touch-type quickly and accurately. The keys are flat, but the wide space between them makes it easy to strike the right letter. There’s no numeric keypad, but there are cursor keys at the bottom-right of the keyboard and a full set of function keys. The keyboard is backlit for ease of use in dark environments.

It’s not as adjustable as the Mad Catz R.A.T. series – the only other mouse we know that’s built around a metal frame – but its build quality is outstanding and we like the blue LED lighting. At US$60, it’s reasonably priced for a top-end gaming mouse, and is built to last.

Video Review (Unboxing)



Where To Get it?

Product Details and Features

Key Features
Ergonomic Fit: Right and Left Handed (Mouse)
Input Interface Type: Mouse
Motion Device Type: Laser
Connectivity: Cable
Interface: USB (Mouse)
Platform: PC
Other Features
Brand: Corsair
Keyboard Special Features: Ergonomic Design
Form Factor: Integrated
Buttons: 8 Buttons + Scroll Wheel

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SONY Vaio Duo 11


Why You'll Dig it:

WINDOWS 8 is designed to work equally well on tablets as on laptop or desktop PCs, so it’s perfect for Sony’s new Vaio Duo 11 ultraportable tablet hybrid. In its closed form, the Duo is a 21mm-thick tablet. Its sensitive, glossy 11in IPS touchscreen picks up fingerprints a little too easily, but its color reproduction is brilliant and the 1,920x1,080 display can play video in glorious HD. Move a tab on one side of the tablet and the screen hinges open on a plastic support to reveal a narrow keyboard with small, widely spaced keys.

Whether it’s in tablet or laptop configuration, the screen rotates its contents freely, using a combination of accelerometer and gyro sensors to work out the correct orientation for the screen at any point. This sometimes meant the screen switched to portrait mode when we were using it with the keyboard open. Fortunately, Sony has anticipated the problem and includes a small button on the back of the Duo that enables and disables autorotation. You can also disable rotation manually in the Screen Resolution settings.

The keyboard may be small, but we were pleased to find that it’s comfortable to use and allowed us to touch-type quickly and accurately. The keys are flat, but the wide space between them makes it easy to strike the right letter. There’s no numeric keypad, but there are cursor keys at the bottom-right of the keyboard and a full set of function keys. The keyboard is backlit for ease of use in dark environments.

Video Review (MobilTechReview)



Finer Details

There’s no trackpad, but there are plenty of other options for controlling your pointer. The capacitive touchscreen responds readily to multitouch gestures with your fingers, but Sony has also provided a double-ended conductive stylus complete with buttons. This is better for fine control on the small, high-resolution display, making it easier to complete delicate tasks such as selecting and dragging folders within a directory tree.

Where To Get it?

If you’re uncomfortable with touch controls or you’d rather not lift your hands from the keyboard while typing, you can use the touchstick controller, which is nestled amid the B, G and H keys, along with three rudimentary mouse buttons beneath the space bar. You can use these to right-, left- and middle-click just as you would with a more traditional input device. On the back of the Duo, behind the keyboard, is a pair of volume control buttons, which rest next to one of the integrated stereo speakers. These sound far richer than you’d have any right to expect from their size, although they’re still a little tinny.

If you demand more from your audio than these speakers can provide, you can use the stereo line output to connect headphones or a pair of speakers. The Duo isn’t exactly overburdened with ports, but those it has are useful. There’s a memory card slot that can handle high-capacity SDXC and Memory Stick HG Duo cards, as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port. HDMI and VGA video outputs make it easy to connect a projector, TV or a second screen, and there are two USB3 ports for high-speed external storage devices.

This is particularly handy as the Duo’s SSD provides a little less storage space than you’d expect from a hard disk in a comparatively priced laptop, although it’s significantly faster and more robust. Once you’ve accounted for the space occupied by the operating system restore partition, there’s 208GB of disk space. That’s enough for a fair number of programs and a decent amount of data, and because it’s an SSD it boots exceptionally quickly.

The rest of the specification is also pretty impressive, as you’d expect at this price. The processor is a dual-core mobile Core i7-3517U that runs at 1.9GHz. It has integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics processing capabilities, which means it can play most 3D games if you reduce the quality settings enough. It managed around 30fps in Dirt 3 at 720p and High Quality with anti-aliasing disabled, but we could only squeeze 20fps out of Crysis 2 at high quality.

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Crunching Gear


When it comes to raw processing power, our application benchmarks gave us plenty to be pleased about. An overall score of 59 makes this one of the most powerful Ultrabooks you’re likely to find. Despite its massive power (we’re used to more modest Core i5 processors in our ultraportable laptops), the Duo ran for around seven hours in our battery tests, and it’s remarkably quiet, with a fan that you can only hear if you press your ear to the bottom of the chassis. It didn’t get very warm, either, even after hours of constant use.

As a tablet, the Duo isn’t as light, stylish or comfortable to hold as Apple’s iPad, for example, but it’s a lot more powerful, has a bigger screen and runs a proper desktop operating system. It’s still reasonably comfortable to hold as you read the paper, watch a film or pass it around at a meeting, but its tablet features feel secondary to its capabilities as a laptop. Transforming it from tablet to laptop is awkward and the stand that hinges out to support the screen in its upright position feels a little fragile. The Duo benefits from the new touchscreen applications and features in Windows 8, making it feel far less awkward than previous Windows tablets. Dual-band Wi-Fi, an integrated GPS receiver and Bluetooth support round out the portable-friendly side of the specification.

Taken purely on its merits as a powerful ultra-portable laptop, the Vaio Duo 11 matches Asus’s award-winning 13in ZenBook Prime UX31A. However, its 11in screen, awkward unfolding mechanism and slightly bulky feel in tablet mode mean that, although it’s a good piece of kit for power users on the move, it’s not quite slick enough to win an award.

SPECIFICATIONS


PROCESSOR 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U
RAM 8GB
STORAGE 256GB SSD
GRAPHICS Intel HD Graphics 4000
OPTICAL DRIVE None
DISPLAY 11.6in widescreen LCD touchscreen (1,920x1,080)
OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 8
DIMENSIONS 21x322x200mm, 1.3kg
POWER CONSUMPTION 1W standby, 12W idle, 42W active
WARRANTY One-year collect and return
PART CODE SVD11215CX B

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Friday, November 23, 2012

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690


Why You'll Dig it:

The GeForce GTX 680 beat every other graphics card into submission when it was first released, but even that wasn't enough for Nvidia. It has now released an even more powerful card, the GTX 690, which teams two 680 GPUs on one 280mm-long board for a truly ridiculous amount of gaming grunt.

As is usual with dual-GPU cards, the cores have been clocked down a little, from the 1006MHz stock to 915MHz. Aside from this, little has changed. Nvidia's Turbo Boast technology remains, so that core clock adjusts every millisecond, hitting a peak of 967MHz at full load. Each GPU still has 2GB of 6008MHz GDDR5 RAM. There have been no architectural changes either, with the card packing a total of 3072 stream processors and just over seven billion transistors.

That power translated to ridiculous benchmark results. At Full HD, it clearly isn't pushed; its 73 fps the 1920x1080 Very High quality Crysis test isn't as far ahead as you might expect over the GTX 680's 57fps.

Crank up the resolution and detail, however, and the two cores get to work. At 2560x1600 its core barely dropped to 70fpsl the GTX680 and HD7970 ran through the same test at a significantly lower 42 fps.

Where To Get it?

  

Crysis 2 at 1920x1080 and Ultra settings saw the GTX 690 average 57fps, the same score as a single GTX 680. Again, though, at 2560x1600 the GTX 690 averaged 55fps, to its single-core stablemate's 33fps.

Given the luxury and speed, it's no surprise that the GTX 690 costs around US$1599. That's a ridiculous sum, and we can't recommend you pay it unless you're planning to game on three screens at the highest quality levels - that's the only real-world scenario where this card makes sense. Still, as an exercise designed to cement Nvidia's status as top dog in the graphics world, it does the trick. Your move, AMD.

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Product Details:


915 MHz GPU with 1019 MHz Boost Clock
4096 MB, 512 bit GDDR5 memory, 6008 MHz (effective)
3072 CUDA Cores
PCI-E 3.0 16x, DVI-I, DVI-I, DVI-D, Mini Display-Port interfaces
Requires minimum of a 650 Watt power supply, plus 2 available 8-pin PCI-E power dongles
Product Dimensions: 11 x 2 x 4.4 inches ; 4 pounds
Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds
Graphics Coprocessor: GeForce GTX 600 Series


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BITFENIX PRODIGY


Why You'll Dig it:

Mini-ITX is a curious form factor. Both motherboards and cases have traditionally been designed around low power consumption, establishing a niche that has hardly set the world on fire. However with the evolution of the modern PC, mini-ITX is becoming a viable platform for building full power systems, and it is this market that Bitfenix is tackling with the Prodigy.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that this case only costs around US$80 - US$99, and is designed to work with off the shelf parts. You'll need a Mini-ITX motherboard but the Prodigy will then take a normal Power Supply, CPU, RAM, Graphics card and hard drives. It has been built with enough room to take up to a large tower cooler, or even on integrated water cooling system if you are so inclined.

Where To Get it?

Bitfenix has managed to allow the use of normal parts through a few tricks. Firstly, the motherboard sits horizontally, on top of the power supply cage. This makes the case a bit wider than normal ATX designs, but not significantly so. Secondly, a lot of the case internals are removable, which does limit the combinations of hardware that you can place inside, but not majorly. For example, if you want to use a full length graphics card (a front-mount radiator), then you'll need to remove one of the hard drive cages. This cuts the number of bays from five to two, but two bays are still enough to build a powerful PC with. If you wan to get even fancier the Prodigy can even fit a dual radiator integrated cooler if you remove the 5.25in optical drive bay.

While there are going to be limitations imposed by just what features you can find on a Mini-ITX motherboard, there is no reason why you can't build a top of the range system inside the Prodigy. Despite the fact that you'll be limited in the number of hard drives you can use, you can still put many terabytes worth of storage into the case.

Not only does the Prodigy offer great system flexibility in a small package, but it does so with an excellent build quality and attention to detail. Bitfenixhas even combined its soft-touch plastic finish with a new material dubbed "Plastic Steel" to make the handles on the case, which double as mild shock resistors if you are moving it around. By combining good engineering with a truly excellent pricetag, Bitfenix has created a case that has us re-evaluating Mini-ITX computing.

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Product Details:


Motherboard Form Factor: Mini ITX
Brand: bitfenix
Exterior Color: White


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MOTOROLA XOOM 2


Why You'll Dig it:

Motorola built the very first Android tablet back at the beginning of 2011, but despite being in the in the game longer than anyone else, it's yet to move either of its new tablets to Android 4.

As with Android 3.2 tablets, this means certain aspects of its performance - general responsiveness, panning and scrolling - don't feel 100% smooth. iOS on the new iPad, OS 2 on the BlackBerry PlayBook, and Android 4 tablets are generally much smoother.

Yet despite this shortcoming, the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition noses in front of tough competition to win the accolade of best compact tablet. There are many reasons for this, not least its physical design.

This tablet has an 8.2in screen - the largest of all the models in the compact section of this guide - but it doesn't look or feel that big. The rubberised edges of the tablet make it easy to grip and comfortable to hold, and it's slim and sleek, measuring 9.5mm from front to rear, with a weight of 388g.

Where To Get it?

  

It impressed us in other core areas too. Despite having a larger screen than the MediaPad and the PlayBook, the Motorola Xoom 2 pixel density is still high. The resolution of 800x1280 stretched across 8.2 in gives a density of 184ppi - higher than most 10in tablets. The display's IPS technology, meanwhile, ensures a colorful picture and exceptional viewing angles. Contrast and punch aren't up to the standards of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7's gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display, but it's excellent nonetheless.

Other pluses include a decent camera, capable of producing sharp 5-megapixel images in good light, and a good performance. If that all sounds great, it's the Xoom 2's extras that push it over the line in the race for top honours. As with its larger sibling, this tablet has been treated with a special water-resistant "nano" coating - on both the outside and inside - so a sprinkling of water or a dousing in hot coffee shouldn't mean a trip to the repair factory. There's also the small matter of an infrared emitter, embedded in the top short edge, which allows the tablet to function in tandem with the bundled Dijit app as a universal remote control for your TV, hi-fi and set-top box.

If there's one disappointment it's battery life. In a looping video test, it lasted only 4hrs 19mins, which puts it at the bottom of the tablet this month. There's no microSD slot for storage expansion either.

Even with these factors taken into account, however, the Motorola Xoom 2 is worth to buy. Its combination of innovative extras, a quality screen and sumptuous design makes it one of the best tablet on the market.

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Product Details:


Screen Size: 10.1 inches
Screen Resolution: 1280 x 800
Max Screen Resolution: 1280x800 pixels
Processor: 1 GHz
RAM: 1 GB DRAM
Hard Drive: 32 GB
Graphics Coprocessor: Integrated NVIDIA
Chipset Brand: NVIDIA
Wireless Type: 802.11bgn
Number of USB 2.0 Ports: 1
Average Battery Life (in hours): 4 to 6 hours

Other Technical Details
Brand Name: Motorola
Series: Xoom
Item model number: XOOM Wi-Fi
Hardware Platform: Android
Operating System: Android 3.0 Honeycomb
Item Weight: 1.6 pounds
Item Dimensions: L x W x H 9.80 x 0.50 x 6.60 inches
Color: Black
Rear Webcam Resolution: 5 MP
Processor Brand: ARM
Processor Count: 2
Computer Memory Type: DDR DRAM
Flash Memory Size: 32
Hard Drive Interface: PC Card
Hard Drive Rotational Speed: 1000 RPM
Audio-out Ports (#): 1
Battery Type: lithium_ion


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