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    In Brief: Updated Backblaze Hard Drive Reliability Report

    Backblaze just updated its failure report for the 46,038 hard drives in its storage cluster at the time of the report, adding data for 4TB drives and reconfirming some of the conclusions from previous reports. The big takeaways are to avoid 3TB Seagate drives, while 4TB drives are at the sweet spot for performance and reliability now. It's definitely worth a read if you're in the market for a hard drive, and if you have a 3TB Seagate drive, I'd strongly suggest replacing it ASAP.

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    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Windows 10

    Microsoft's Windows 10 is finally here! We've been testing the beta for months as part of the Insider's Program, and sit down with the latest build right before public release to talk about our experience. We show off the new features, compare it with Windows 7 and 8, and give our thoughts as to whether you should install it. What are your thoughts on Microsoft's latest OS?

    Testing: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Laptop

    A few months ago, Lenovo sent me their ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop to test. While I ran it through our usual suite of benchmarks at the office, I've been waiting for a proper place to test it in the field. That opportunity came during Comic-Con, where I brought the ThinkPad along to complement my 12-inch MacBook. The MacBook, which has been my travel computer for the past few months, has been serviceable for most daily activities--web browsing, writing, and image editing. But I knew its Core-M processor would slog over more intensive tasks like exporting hundreds of photos at once or rendering video clips. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Broadwell-U processor--a Core i7-5600U in this loaner unit--was more suited for the job. And what a difference it made. After months of working on low-powered systems like the Core-M MacBook, UX305, and even the Atom-based Surface 3, this laptop reminded me of the joys of computing on a workhorse laptop.

    And a workhorse is exactly what a ThinkPad is supposed to be. The ThinkPad X1 line, which we first tested in 2011, has been in a awkward and elongated transitional period where it's straddled the line between Ultrabook and workhorse. What's the difference? A workhorse laptop is designed around performance and battery life, with ports galore and business-friendly features like fingerprint readers. They're no-compromise laptops--essentially the anti-2015 MacBook. Ultrabooks, though, are an Intel classification, denoting the use of a low-wattage Core CPU along with a thin-and-light chassis. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon line, with its tapered unibody design and non-removeable battery, has been more Ultrabook than workhorse--at least in the eyes of some ThinkPad enthusiasts. That was definitely the case with the previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon generation, which had a controversial keyboard redesign and touch function key strip.

    This year's generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a return to form, at least for the Carbon line (Wirecutter still recommends the ThinkPad T450s for business users). It's still very Ultrabook-y, with no replaceable battery and a intentionally slim 3-pound chassis. And while the laptop is equipped with HDMI and DP video output and two USB 3.0 ports, there's no internet SD card slot. Ports like Ethernet and VGA are reserved for adapters that plug into the wide power+I/O jack. The 14-inch 2560x1440 screen may not be as overkill as the 3200x1800 QHD+ screen found in Lenovo's Yoga Pro line, though I still think 1080p is a sweet spot for a laptop this size. This X1 Carbon also has a fantastic backlit chiclet keyboard with ample travel and a smooth glass trackpad. The trackpoint nub is still around, too, which complements the touchscreen for precision cursor control. Elements of ThinkPad remain, balanced between the design constraints of Ultrabooks. But what tips the X1 Carbon more toward the workhorse category is its performance. This laptop is fast.

    The Best Windows Ultrabook Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

    The $1,100 Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows ultrabook for most people because it has a big, beautiful screen, the longest battery life of any Windows ultrabook, a great keyboard, and a decent trackpad. Above all, it's the smallest, lightest, best-designed ultrabook we've tested. We came to this conclusion after 70 hours of research and testing with seven different ultrabooks.

    The Dell XPS 13 (non-touch) is the best Windows ultrabook for most people.

    Who is this product for?

    Ultrabooks are best for people who need a super-portable, long-lasting laptop and don't mind paying a premium for it. They're overkill if you just want something you can leave on a desk and use for a couple of hours after work. The ideal ultrabook has enough processing power to get work done and sufficient battery life to survive a cross-country flight, while still being slim and light enough to go anywhere.

    In Brief: AMD Fury X Reviews and Benchmarks

    Reviews for AMD's latest flagship GPU are out, and the benchmarks reveal a card capable of solid for 1080p and 1440p gaming, and really excelling at 4K resolution. We don't have a R9 Fury X card in the office to test, but I would direct you to Tom's Hardware, Tech Report, PC Gamer, and PC World for benchmark binging. The upshot: the $650 card is about equal to Nvidia's GTX 980 Ti, with some room for overclocking.

    Norman 3
    Hands-On: Microsoft HoloLens Project X-Ray

    Norm gets his first demo of Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset! At this year's E3, we went behind closed doors to playtest Project X-Ray, a "mixed reality" first-person shooter demo using HoloLens. Microsoft wouldn't let us film or take photos inside the room, so we describe and evaluate the experience after the demo.

    Hands-On: StarVR Virtual Reality Headset

    A new challenger appears! Starbreeze Studios surprised us by announcing the StarVR headset at this year's E3, along with a Walking Dead demo. We go hands-on with this virtual reality prototype that boasts a wide field-of-view and positionally tracked accessories. Even though this isn't a consumer-ready product, there's a lot to learn from its design decisions.

    Hands-On: Oculus Rift CV1 + Oculus Touch Controller at E3 2015

    This is it: The Oculus Rift specs are finalized, and we go hands-on with the engineering sample of the consumer virtual reality headset at this year's E3. We also demo the new Half Moon prototypes of the Oculus Touch controller in an amazing multi-player VR demo. Oculus' Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey answer our questions about the headset and controllers, and we share our impressions of the hardware and game demos. It's happening!

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface 3 Review

    We loved using the Surface Pro 3 as a primary laptop, though it was a little too big to use with the stylus as a portable digital notepad. The new Surface 3, though, hits a lot of sweet spots for power and portability. We sit down to discuss its use of Intel's latest Atom processor, the new form factor, and how it stacks up against dedicated laptops and tablets.

    Show and Tell: Living Room Couch Keyboard

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his pick for a keyboard to use with a living room media PC. The Microsoft Wireless All-in-One Media Keyboard has a built-in trackpad and it's the best of all the couch keyboards Will's tested, and it's not expensive to boot.

    In Brief: Steam Controller and Link Hardware Pre-Orders

    Valve has launched pre-orders for its Steam Hardware, including the Steam Controller, the Steam Link streaming box, and stand-alone Steam Machines from their partners. Both the Controller and Link are $50, and people who pre-order will get their units ahead of the general release by October 16th. We just ordered ours for testing!

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    The Best Gaming Laptop Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After looking at all the gaming laptops out there and testing a few ourselves, we concluded that the $1,790 Asus ROG G751JT is the best gaming laptop for most people.

    The Asus has the best combination of raw gaming power and build quality that you can get for less than $2,000. It will play the vast majority of modern graphics-intensive games on high settings at full resolution, plus it has a great cooling system, keyboard, and trackpad. It isn't perfect, but no other gaming laptop can match the Asus ROG G751JT right now.

    The best gaming laptop for most people, the Asus ROG G751JT-DH72.

    Who's this for?

    Gaming laptops definitely aren't for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Gaming laptops are a good fit for students, deployed soldiers, and other road warriors who want to play demanding PC games at LAN parties or when traveling.

    How did we pick this laptop?

    We spent a lot of time researching components to come up with an ideal configuration that would play most current games well without being prohibitively expensive. We decided that the "ideal" gaming laptop would cost less than $2,000 and have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M or better GPU, an Intel Core i7-4710HQ CPU or higher to avoid bottlenecking the graphics card's performance, 8GB to 16GB of RAM (anything more is serious overkill), and at least a 256GB solid state drive and a 750GB hard drive.

    Testing: GeForce GTX 980 Ti 4K Benchmarks

    In terms of high-end PC gaming, two technologies are really pushing the need for gamers to spend $500 or more on a video card: 4K gaming and virtual reality. People who are playing games on 1080p or even 1440p displays should be satisfied with the performance of cards in the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 or GTX 970 range, even with graphics turned up. The increase in pixels needed to be rendered for 4K and upcoming VR headsets are more demanding, but we're only starting to see cards that can run games at smooth framerates at those native resolutions. Nvidia's Titan X, which was only released two months ago, was the first card I tested that could run 4K at close to 60 frames per second on the latest games. But maxed-out Maxwell costs $1000. Today's announcement and release of the GeForce GTX 980 Ti fills in the gap between the 980 and Titan X, and the good thing is that its price is closer to the former while its performance is closer to the latter.

    From a technical specifications perspective, there's actually not a lot to say about the GTX 980Ti. Based on the same Nvidia GM200 GPU found in the Titan X, it's actually a very close sibling to that flagship--almost a twin. They both share the same 1GHz core clock (1075MHz boost), 7GHz memory clock, 96 ROPs, and 250W TDP. The differences lie in two areas: CUDA cores and VRAM. For this release of GM200, Nvidia simply turned off 2 of the chip's 24 streaming multiprocessors (SMM), so the GTX 980Ti has 8% fewer CUDA cores and Texture Units (2816 and 176, respectively). RAM is also cut in half from the Titan X's future-proofing (read: ridiculous) 12GB of GDDR5 to 6GB, still 2GB more than the GTX 980. No game today needs 12GB of VRAM, but games like GTA V, Shadow of Modor, and the Witcher III will guzzle up video memory if you want to enable supersampling on high-resolution displays. Theoretically, the technical delta means performance should just be scaled down by 8% from a Titan X. But in my tests, the framerate differences are even smaller.

    I've been benchmarking the GTX 980Ti for the past few days, running it specifically at the UHD resolution of 3840x2160. Here's what you should know about the this new card, and my recommendations for what you should get if you need to buy a video card today vs. if you want to get a card for 4K and VR.

    Testing: Microsoft Surface 3 Laptop

    Microsoft's long-standing sales pitch for its Surface computer is that it's the "tablet that can replace your laptop." That tagline is based on the premise that the Surface is to be bought and used as a tablet first, with full "productivity" capabilities enabled with the use of an x86 processor (allowing full Windows 8.1), type keyboard cover, and digitizer pen accessory. But I think it's the other way around: the Surface line--especially the Surface Pro 3--are really competent laptops that can also be used in as tablet alternatives. And with the new Surface 3, which gets rid of the limited RT operating system, that laptop-first positioning is more true than ever. After using it for a while, I've been impressed with the Surface 3's formfactor and performance as a mid-range and travel computer.

    Surface 3 is a departure from the ARM-based original Surface and Surface 2, and actually has more in common with the Surface Pro 3 (one of my favorite devices of last year). Instead of running the limited Windows RT, Surface 3 now uses an x86 processor and runs the full version of Windows 8.1. That means it can install Desktop applications like Photoshop, Handbrake, and other productivity tools.

    Physically, its design has also been rethought. It's actually lighter than Surface 2 (1.37 pounds from 1.5 pounds), yet has more screen real estate. That's because its now equipped with a 3:2 aspect ratio display, like the Surface Pro 3. Surface 3 also adopts the new Type Keyboard cover design from the Pro 3, with two magnetic contact strips for increased sturdiness and usability. No more debates about "lapability"--this is definitely a device you can use comfortably on a desk, lap, or even on an airplane tray. Another thing it's inherited from the Pro line--the active N-Trig digitizer pen, which makes it a really great digital notebook, if not Wacom tablet alternative. Surface 3 is essentially a lightweight version of the Surface Pro 3, both in terms of formfactor and performance. That's a really good thing.

    There are some other notable differences, though. The kickstand only locks in three positions, unlike the Pro 3's versatile hinge. That's perhaps a space-saving choice, but more likely a cost-saving measure for Microsoft. But on the plus side, charging is now done over a microUSB port instead of a proprietary connector. That's a net-positive, though charging does take longer on the Surface 3 than other laptops.

    Testing the Surface 3 was an interesting exercise in trying to understand Microsoft's design decisions for the product. They seemingly spared no expense with some aspects of the devicethe build quality and display, for example. But they also seemed to have made some cost-cutting choices in other areas that affect performance. We'll start with the good stuff, and then talk about the tradeoffs.

    Tested In-Depth: PCIe Solid State Storage

    How fast do you need your desktop storage device to be? We sit down this week to discuss the state of PCIe solid state drives, like Intel's new 750 Series with the NVMe controller. This 1.2TB drive delivered incredible bandwidth and benchmark performance, but you should know a few things about this technology before thinking about upgrading.

    Testing: Asus Zenbook UX305 Laptop

    Intel's Core-M laptop processor has been getting a lot of attention of late, and not under the best light. Even though these ultra-low power CPUs were released late last year in a bunch of Windows notebooks, the platform got a ton of attention when Apple put it in the controversial new MacBook line. As we've found in our tests, Core-M effective made the MacBook Apple's slowest Mac device--mid-range performance at a high-end price. And on the PC side, our experience with Core-M hasn't been much better. Performance throttling of Core-M on the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 made it a step backward for that series of laptops. Manufacturers clearly get the appeal of a fanless laptop design, but they're putting Intel's chip in premium systems that tax it too far.

    It's not until the Asus Zenbook UX305 that I've finally found what looks like the most appropriate use of Core-M: a fantastic mid-range system that costs just $700. After using the UX305 for a few weeks, I'm convinced that this is the best laptop you can buy for the price.

    In discussing my testing of the UX305, I have to acknowledge that it was research into the MacBook that lead me to this laptop. Many Windows users in tech forums pointed to it as a counterpoint to Apple's new laptop, citing its use of Core-M. But aside from that shared CPU architecture, these are actually very different systems, made for very different users. In fact, the more apt comparison would be with Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air.

    Just look at the size and dimensions of the Zenbook. It's not a design that was whittled away to be as thin and light as possible--and that's totally OK. The generous bezel space around the screen and keyboard areas makes this more a traditionally designed ultrabook than a Dell XPS 13. And with its 13.3-inch screen, the Zenbook is still thinner and lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air at half an inch (12.5mm) thick and 2.64 pounds. I've never lived with a 13-inch MacBook Air long-term, but the UX305 is a very comfortable size for a daily carry or walking around with at the office.

    Under the hood, the UX305 uses Intel's Core-M 5Y10 processor, which is actually clocked at .8GHz and turbo boosts to 2.0GHz when needed. The CPU is supported by the standard Intel HD5300 integrated graphics chip, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SATA-based solid state storage. I'll talk about real-world performance in a bit, but want to note that the amount of stock SSD storage is exceptional for a laptop of this price. It's not a PCIe-based storage system, but that's totally fine for a laptop that's not meant for heavy photo or video work. Storage was also divided into two partitions, but it's easy to merge the two when first setting the Zenbook up.

    On the sides of the laptop are three USB 3.0 ports (one that supports fast charging for smartphones), headphone jack, power port, micro-HDMI, and an SD card reader. The USB ports were as fast as any I've tested, but the SD card reader transferred files from my Sandisk Extreme Pro card at around 40MB/s, which is on the low side of built-in readers.

    The Best SSDs Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were buying an SSD to replace a mechanical hard drive or an SSD that's running out of room, I'd get the 500GB Samsung 850 EVO. It has one of the best combinations of price, performance, and capacity of any drive you can get, plus easy-to-use software and a long warranty, and it comes from a company that makes excellent SSDs (and all their components).

    Who's This For?

    Replacing your boot drive with an SSD is one of the easiest ways to make an older computer feel newer and faster. If you've never used one before, you'll be amazed.

    Solid-state drives are three to four times faster than mechanical drives when reading or writing large files, and hundreds of times faster for the small random read and write operations your computer makes most during normal use. Since SSDs don't have any moving parts, they use less power, put out less heat, and don't vibrate. The one downside is that they're more expensive than traditional hard drives, but that price gap is dropping fast.

    You should get an SSD like the 500GB Samsung 850 EVO if you have a laptop or desktop that boots from a mechanical hard drive or a cramped, outdated SSD. It's also a good way to save money on a new laptop. You can usually save several hundred dollars by buying a laptop configured with a mechanical hard drive or small SSD and replacing or augmenting it with a high-capacity SSD. Most people should get the highest-capacity SSD they can afford. Right now 500GB is the sweet spot.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple 12-Inch MacBook (2015)

    We've been living with Apple's new MacBook for a few weeks, and sit down to discuss in-depth its technical merits and interesting design choices. Even if you're not interested in Macs, the use of Intel's Core-M chip and USB Type-C give insights into the future of mobile computing. Here's how the retina MacBook fits into Apple's laptop lineup, and how this pricey device compares to other Core M-based computers.

    Testing: Apple's 12-Inch MacBook (2015)

    We'll be shooting and publishing our MacBook (2015) review later this week, but I wanted to jot down some thoughts from my testing and experience living with it for the past week and a half. Consider these testing notes a preview of my impressions on the laptop, and an opportunity for you to ask specific questions about it.

    For context, prior to the MacBook, I've been using Macs as my primary work computers since 2008, starting with a 15-inch MacBook Pro. In 2011, I switched to the 11-inch Air, which was a maxed-out Core-i7 model. I really loved that formfactor and a balance between portability and performance--it was lightweight and yet had near performance parity with the 13-inch Air and even the entry-level MacBook Pros. At the office, I would plug it into a 24-inch 1080p display and peripherals, while also able to use it while traveling as a full-fledged work computer for writing and photography.

    In 2013, I upgraded to the first Haswell model of the 11-inch Air, which had longer battery life and a zippy PCI-E SSD. Performance on that machine has been very satisfactory over the past two years, and I've even edited a few short videos on it in Adobe Premiere. The speed and usability of that stalwart machine is what I'm primarily basing the new MacBook on today. Just in terms of portability, the new MacBook and the refreshed 11-inch Air are the nearest competitors. Whether or not the differentiating factors warrant the significant price delta is what we'll be discussing in-depth in our review video. We'll talk about price last.

    So in terms of that differentiating factors, the features I'm most interested in are as follows: screen, performance, battery life, keyboard, and the single-port form factor. We'll start off with the display, since that's the one area where I think the new MacBook has a clear-cut advantage over its Air counterpart.

    How I Turned Raspberry Pi 2 into an Audiophile Music Streamer

    I was all set for for a Raspberry Pi Model 2 server experiment until somebody asked me if HRT's dSp would work with a Raspberry Pi. Good question. The dSp is a DAC: a Digital to Analog converter. It turns the zeros and ones that make up a digital audio file into the analog signal a pair of headphones or speakers pump into your ears. A good DAC is a critical step in making your audio files sound amazing, and some third-party DACs are much better than the ones built into your smartphone or even your PC.

    That's when I remembered the cable hanging off the back of the amp and speakers in the warehouse. Nothing wrong with plugging that ⅛" jack from the amp directly into a phone or audio player, especially if it meant not using the cheap Bluetooth adapter that's usually plugged in there. But hey, what about turning the Pi 2 into a badass audio box that anybody on the network could use to stream their tune to the big speakers?

    Suddenly, I had a project! A D-I-Y SONOS, if you will. (I love the SONOS system, we run three of 'em at home, I'm just not ready to buy one for the office speakers!)

    And I have DAC issues. Or at least I could spare a DAC for a while. Within arms reach I've got a HeadRoom Micro DAC and Amp ($650) I used for headphone testing for several years, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for recording podcasts, the AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2 ($150) that replaced the HeadRoom DAC for testing, along with the headphone jack on my laptop. I've also, as of late, received that HRT dSp for testing, and, because I was curious, ordered a $42 HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC to see how it compared to the DragonFly, which, rumor has it, features a Saber DAC.

    The differences from a the headphone jack on your PC and one of these USB DACs can be subtle. Beat-up earbuds that came with your phone, low quality streaming audio (or those 128 Kbps MP3s you got off your uncle's old laptop), the sound of the bus engine coming through your feet--all of these things make it difficult to hear the goodness that an excellent DAC can bring. But when you can actually hear it, it's like being in the room where the recording engineer placed the microphones. That's a good thing.

    The audio built into the Raspberry Pi model 2 (or 1) is not that impressive. The hot ticket for serious Pi audio geeks is an i2s card that plugs into the pins on the Pi, but I figured USB DACs I already had (and could use for something other than a Pi) would have to work.