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    In Brief: Dell's Two New 4K Monitors Look Decent

    We've been telling people that they should hold off on buying a 4K desktop monitor for a while. The first of these high-resolution monitors that went on sale over a year ago weren't great--they were inferior TN panels that ran at 30Hz at native resolution. But OEMs like Dell, Asus, and even Monoprice are iterating fast. Dell even has a 5K panel that's similar to the one in Apple's new iMac. This week, Dell announced two new 4K panels that are the first ones I'd consider getting. They're both 3840x2160 resolution panels, one at 24-inch and one at 27-inch, both priced under $700 (plus 10% off with a holiday promotion). And these monitors are 60Hz IPS displays with what Dell claims to be a wide color gamut (99% sRGB). $700 is still a lot to pay for a desktop monitor, but it's a lot less than the days when a 30-inch 1600p panel cost well over $1000. What's holding me back is how Windows would look on these screens at 100% DPI, or even scaled to 150%. Plus, physical screen size is a consideration, depending on how far your place your monitor from your face. Is this something you'd like to see us test?

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    Tested In-Depth: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss the new Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, which is the first laptop we've seen to utilize Intel's Broadwell chipset. While more power efficient than the processor used in last year's Yoga and even the Surface Pro 3, the Core-M CPU here isn't without its compromises. Thinner and lighter doesn't always mean better!

    Testing: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Laptop

    We're at a bit of a crossroads for Windows-based laptops. With Windows 10 coming out next year, the laptops on sale this holiday may be the last new generation to be designed with Windows 8.1 in mind, with all of the OS's quirks and shortcomings (touch on the Desktop and high DPI screen management still not perfected). My hope is that laptops like Lenovo's new Yoga Pro 3 to thrive in Windows 10--I can't wait for that virtual desktop manager--but you don't buy a laptop today to unlock its potential in a year. And what Lenovo has done with its popular Yoga line this year is pretty interesting. I've been testing one as my Windows PC for the past week and a half, and wanted to share some notes with you before we shoot our in-depth review.

    If you recall, I was a fan of the original Yoga when it debuted as one of the first Windows 8 laptops. It was a full x86 machine with a unique folding hinge that gave it novel (and practical) use opportunities. I never liked using it as a tablet, but it worked well as a laptop and in its "stand" mode for watching video. The second generation Yoga Pro brought a ridiculous 3200x1800 screen resolution--a pentile Samsung panel that suffered from a color problem in displaying yellows. Because of the RGBW matrix of the panel, certain power settings on the Yoga 2 Pro made yellows appear greenish in hue. Users had to fix this with a BIOS update. The high resolution display also didn't work well in Windows 8, with DPI scaling behaving inconsistently between applications and even within the Windows desktop UI.

    The Yoga 3 Pro still uses the same 3200x1800 display, but the color issues seem to be gone and Windows 8.1 is slightly better at dealing with high DPI scaling. The big changes this year are linked: a new ultra-low power CPU from Intel and a new formfactor that's significantly thinner than the past Yoga laptops, while also increasing connectivity options.

    Tested In-Depth: Windows 10 Technical Preview

    The next release of Windows is going to be...Windows 10. We install the Technical Preview and show off the its new features, including refined touch on the Desktop, new multiple Desktop management, and the return of the Start Menu! This is software we don't recommend running on production systems, but we like what we see so far!

    Testing Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Video Card

    The final piece of Norm's new Haswell-E system build is the graphics card, and as it turns out, Nvidia has just released its new GeForce 900 series of GPUs. We run through what's new in the high-end Maxwell architecture, how the GTX 980 performs, and give recommendations for practical upgrades. What graphics card are you currently using, what screen resolution do you run at, and do you play games with AA turned on?

    USB Type-C Will Carry Power, Data, and DisplayPort Video

    If you're the kind of person that gets excited about new cable technologies, you're in good company. Although it'll be a while before we actually see the next spec of USB 3.1 cables in circulation, I'm genuinely giddy about the potential of the impending USB Type-C connector. Late last year, we heard that it was going to be a reversible design, which was confirmed in the USB Promoter Group and USB Implementer Forum's final specs for the next-gen plug. Today, VESA--the standards group in charge of video connector standards--announced that USB Type-C will also be able to carry native DisplayPort signals through a "DisplayPort Alternate Mode". Through this spec, DisplayPort signals on compatible monitors and accessories will be able to use up to four of the Type-C connector's high-speed data paths for video, alongside data and power already being channelled. This won't be a pared down version of DisplayPort, either, meaning Type-C will be able to work with DisplayPort conversion adapters as well, such as for HDMI 2.0 and DVI. This means that future laptops may not need separate USB, HDMI, DP, or even VGA ports, and could just use a slew of thin USB Type-C ports for all inputs and outputs. Anandtech has more technical details about how this spec works, and what it may mean for the future of mobile PCs.

    Photo credit: Flickr user taylor90 via Creative Commons

    Of course, all these design specs and certifications mean nothing if hardware manufacturers don't begin to support them in both accessory devices and computer systems. That's where Apple has a leg-up on USB--its Lightning cable is ubiquitous in the iOS and Mac ecosystem, and Apple computers are still the only place you can find native support for Intel's Thunderbolt. Let's get on it, PC OEMs!

    Hands-On with Oculus Rift "Crescent Bay" Prototype Virtual Reality Headset

    Norm goes to Oculus Connect to get a hands-on demo of the new "Crescent Bay" feature prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. We interview Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey of Oculus VR to talk about what's new in the headset, reveal some technical specifications, and then walk through the entire demo experience--with 1080p video from the private demo room!

    Nvidia Announces GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 Video Cards

    The next generation of Nvidia graphics cards has arrived. We first saw Nvidia's Maxwell architecture--the follow-up to Keplar--in the GTX 750 GPU. That $150 card was an entry-level introduction to Nvidia's new approach to desktop GPU design, incorporating power efficiencies learned from generations of Tegra development. From Loyd's GTX 750 review:

    "Kepler has a monolithic control logic unit that managed scheduling for up to 192 cores. Maxwell now allocates a smaller, more efficient control logic unit for each block of 32 cores. This change in the scheduler, a larger L2 cache (2048MB versus 25K in the Kepler-based GTX 650) and a large number of smaller improvements allowed Nvidia to build 640 shader cores on a die, versus 384 on the GK107-based GTX 650."

    More shaders, more transistors, and a larger die, all using less power than the last generation. That's what Maxwell now brings to the high-end, in the form of the just-announced GTX 980 and GTX 970 videocards ($550 and $330, respectively). They replace the GTX 780, GTX 780 Ti, and GTX 770.

    GTX 980 has 2048 shader cores running at a base clock of 1126MHz (1216 MHz with GPU boost). But all that runs on a chip with a TDP of just 165 watts. That's compared to 250W on the GTX 780 and 195W on the GTX 680--the card that many users will be upgrading from, I suspect. The GTX 970, with 1664 CUDA cores, is even more power efficient at 145W TDP. We're talking about high-end GPUs that now only use two six-pin PCIe power connectors. SLI now starts to look a lot more attractive. And there's plenty of headroom for overclocking, if you're into that.

    High-end Maxwell also brings three new features for gaming. First is a new anti-aliasing technology, called MFAA. Multi-frame sampled AA supposedly produces the effect of 4XMSAA with the performance hit of only 2XMSAA. Dynamic Super Resolution is a new feature that is essentially resolution downsampling--you can now tell the GPU to render games at 4K resolution for a 1080p screen. Screenshots and Shadowplay video recording spits out 4K resolution files in this mode, too. And finally, Nvidia is especially proud of a new lighting engine called Voxel Global Illumination. This is the first step in real-time light tracing, with fully dynamic illumination for one light source. Unreal Engine 4 will support VXGI in the fall, and Nvidia has produced a Apollo 11-themed render demo to show off the lighting feature.

    Performance-wise, Nvidia is claiming 1.5 to 2X the performance of the GTX 680 (their choice for point of comparison) in the GTX 980. They're also claiming that the GTX 980 will be better for VR, with built-in optimizations to minimize rendering latency--taking 10ms out of OS overhead and built-in asynchronous warp. Nvidia is calling this VR support "VR Direct", and it's something I'll be asking Oculus about this Saturday at the Oculus Connect conference. As for real-world performance and evaluating Nvidia's claims, I'm getting a review unit in and will be testing it next week on my new Haswell-E system.

    Testing: Building a Haswell-E Desktop PC

    We published our Haswell-E discussion video today, but ran through a lot of technical stuff in the 40 minutes we spent talking about desktop PC technologies. I wanted to distill some of that information for you with the salient takeaways from my time building and testing this new system. It's not a system I expect most (or even any) of you to actually buy and build yourself, but testing and researching these components gave me a better understanding of the state of the high-end PC market, which uses new tech like DDR4 and PCI-e storage that will hopefully trickle down into the mid-range over the next year.

    I'm going to run through each component of this build, and make some prescriptions for practical alternatives in each category.

    Haswell-E Core i7 5960X CPU

    This is the piece that kicked off the entire build. Haswell-E is Intel's top-of-the-line desktop processor series. With each generational release (Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell), Intel segments its desktop CPU releases. There's the low-end i3 processors that only have two cores and consume very low power, the mid-range i5 processors that have four cores but no hyperthreading, and i7 processors that have four cores and hyperthreading for 8 threads of computing--only useful if applications support it. In the i5 and i7 line, Intel also has 'K' moniker processors that are unlocked, meaning you can overclock them by bumping up the base clock or multiplier ratio in your motherboard BIOS. On the ultra high-end Intel has i7 "Extreme" processors that add even more cores. That's what Haswell-E is.

    Past Extreme processors for Intel topped out at 6 cores (hexacore). In the past this was sometimes done by disabling two cores on an 8-core server part, which also took away some L3 cache available. Haswell-E is Intel's first desktop CPU with eight actual cores (in the high end model), meaning 16 threads with hyperthreading. It also has a whopping 20MB of L3 cache.

    There are actually three Haswell-E processors, each speced slightly differently. The i7 5960X I tested is the only model with eight cores. The i7 5930K and 5820K are both six core parts, and significantly cheaper. The pricing for the three models from high to low are pegged at $1000, $580, and $390, respectively. But you'll also note that the two six core parts are actually clocked higher than the 5960X. That's because the additional two cores makes this a really power hungry and hot chip. Intel specs it at 3GHz with a 3.5Ghz Turbo (auto clocking up to hit the 140W TDP), but the other two clock in at 3.5GHz and 3.3GHz respectively. The other difference between the two lower ends is how any lanes of PCIe they support. 40 for the high end, 28 for the $390 part. 28 PCIe lanes is actually plenty for most people, even if they're running dual-GPU setups. 40 lanes is only really needed for tri-SLI or future-proofing with thunderbolt and PCIe storage like SATA Express.

    If you're building a Haswell-E system, I would recommend the $390 i7 5820K, clocked at 3.3GHz. This chip will comfortably and easily overclock past 4GHz as long as you have a decent cooler.

    Tested In-Depth: Building a PC with Haswell-E, X99, DDR4

    We sit down to discuss some of the latest new technologies available to desktop PC building, including Intel's eight core Haswell-E CPU, X99 motherboards, DDR4 memory, and PCIe storage. While most of these high-end components are impractical for home PC builds and even gaming, we prescribe some picks for what upgrades make the most sense for PC builders.

    In Brief: Microsoft Buys Minecraft for $2.5 Billion

    Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Mojang, the Stockholm-based game developer that created and publishes Minecraft. The deal is valued at $2.5 Billion. To date, Minecraft has sold more than 54 million copies across multiple gaming platforms, and Microsoft says that it intends to keep to keep developing and supporting the game in platforms outside of the Windows and PC ecosystem. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division, reassures Minecraft fans in a public statement, and Mojang's post about the acquisition answers some looming questions. The founders of Mojang, including Notch, are leaving the company, and the status of Mojang's other project, Scrolls, is up in the air. Plenty of editorial opinions on the deal all over the internet.

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    Haswell-E PC Build and Testing Preview

    Will's gone this week to Portland's XOXO conference, so no Mystery 3D Print this week. Instead, Norm invites you back to his home office to preview a new PC build he's working on for testing. It's a system based on Intel's new high-end Haswell-E processor, which introduces a new chipset and our first encounter with DDR4 RAM!

    This Is the Best Budget Laptop You Can Buy

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After considering all the major laptops in its price range, I decided that if I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I’d get the ~$580 version of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14.

    It’s not perfect—because all budget laptops have trade offs—but it’s the best of its kind. And for its price it succeeds in a lot of the most important areas: it’ll easily handle day-to-day tasks, it’s light enough to carry around, and it has enough battery to last you an entire work day.

    Our Pick

    For $580 you get a dual-core Haswell Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive with 8GB of cache, which is to say that it is fast enough for most tasks that don’t involve gaming or heavy photo or video editing.

    As we configured it, the Flex 2 14 also has a 14-inch multitouch panel with a decent 1366x768 resolution, 7.5 hours of battery life, a good enough keyboard and trackpad, and all the ports you’ll want: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports, a card reader, and an audio jack. The cache will make it feel a little speedier than a regular hard drive, but not as fast as an computer with a solid state drive (otherwise known as an SSD).

    At 0.8 inches thick and 4.4 pounds, it’s lighter and slimmer than most 14-inch laptops in its price range. It's possible (but not easy) to upgrade the hard drive and RAM (if you’re into that kind of thing) so you can squeeze more life out of the machine later.

    It’s a great basic machine that we settled on after a lot of consideration and testing.

    In Brief: Intel Launches Haswell-E CPU, X99 Chipset

    Late last week, Intel officially launched Haswell-E, its ultra high-end Desktop CPU based on its Haswell architecture. The follow-up to Ivy Bridge-E is Intel's first eight-core desktop CPU, as previous Extreme Edition desktop CPUs topped out at six cores while eight and more cores were reserved for the server market. To run the Core i7-5960X, Intel also launched the X99 chipset, which is its first to support DDR4 memory. Yep, DDR4 is finally here to desktops. Built on the same 22nm process that existing Haswell chips use, Intel's new $1000 CPU has a modest base clock of 3GHz and turbos up to 3.5GHz, though overclocking well into 4GHz is possible. We met with Intel on Friday at PAX to learn about the new CPU and chipset and will be testing it in the near future, with a specific interest on video encoding performance as compared to GPU-accelerated video processing.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3. We compare it to previous Surface Pro devices and how it fares as both a laptop and tablet alternative. The one thing we like the most about it: note-taking with the pen digitizer is a lovely experience.

    In Brief: USB Promoter Group Finalizes Design of Next USB Connector

    Arstechnica reports that the USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers Forum have completed the design and spec for the next-generation of microUSB connector. Dubbed the Type-C, the plug will be similar in size to the current MicroUSB 2.0 connector, but will support the USB 3.1 spec with speeds up to 10GBps and power delivery up to 100W. The design is also reversible, much like Apple's Lightning plug, and is designed to be upgradable and scale with future USB spec changes. The USB Promoter Group promises that adapters for existing Type-B plugs will be readily available. And there's no word of changes to the venerable "standard" A plug--the end on desktops and laptops--which is really the one that needs to support reversibility.

    Norman
    The Best SSD Today

    If I bought a solid-state drive (SSD) today, I'd get the 512GB Crucial MX100 for about $220. It's not the fastest SSD you can get, but it's close. More importantly, it has the best combination of price, performance, and capacity. Additionally, Crucial makes its own NAND flash memory and its SSDs have a history of reliability. It's about $30 cheaper than the 500GB Samsung 840 EVO and has the best price per gigabyte of all those we looked at, so it's the best choice for most people who are upgrading a laptop or desktop today.

    If anything goes wrong, the MX100 has a three-year warranty. And it includes TCG/Opal full-disk self-encryption, if that matters to you. There’s no shortage of great SSDs these days, but some are better values than others, as we learned after spending more than 30 hours of research coming to this conclusion.

    The MX100 is one of the best, but if you can’t get the MX100, the Samsung 840 EVO is still good and is our overall runner-up. (It is, after all, our previous pick for this guide.) It’s cheap and fast, just not as cheap or fast as the MX100. It’s also still your best choice for a 1TB drive, since the MX100 only goes up to 512GB.

    If you’re a video and photo editor or 3D modeler, consider a step-up option like the Samsung 850 Pro. It has a 10-year warranty and higher write endurance rating. Its quoted speeds aren’t much different than the Crucial’s, but it can be nearly twice as fast (373 MB/s vs 190 MB/s) in some high-intensity benchmarks like AnandTech’s “Destroyer.” It’s the fastest SATA SSD you can get, but it’s not worth the price increase for most people.

    The Best 4K Monitor Doesn't Exist Yet

    Like 1080p before it, 4K is the new, ultra-high-resolution format that promises better detail and greater image clarity due to the huge number of pixels packed into your screen. “Buttery-smooth text rendering and wonderfully detailed photos,” promises MakeUseOf. Just consider the quality differences between Apple’s Retina Display MacBooks and its standard MacBooks: it's the same pixel-increasing principle.

    That said, we don’t think it’s the right time to buy one.

    While most 4K monitors are still very expensive, we’re starting to see a growing number priced under $1,000: Samsung’s $700 U28D590D, Dell’s $700 P2815Q, and Asus’ $650 PB287Q are already available. Intel and Samsung even recently announced a partnership where they’ve pledged to try and push high-quality, 23-inch 4K monitors to a super-low price of $399. We think it’s worth waiting for some of that to pan out rather than pushing for an expensive early-adopter monitor right now (though you’d be foolish to buy a 24-inch 4K display, we can only hope that Intel and Samsung’s ambitions can push down prices on larger displays).

    Even expensive 4K monitors struggle with the same major weaknesses right now: outdated display connections, beefy hardware requirements, and lack of OS/application support. Cheap 4K monitors can have all those problems and more, sacrificing image quality in order to cut costs.

    In Brief: How Long Should a Consumer SSD Last?

    The computer you're using now will not last forever. The most you can hope is that by the time you're ready to replace it or swap out parts for upgrades, those components won't have already failed. But some components have longer expected lifespan than other. We know that hard drives, with regular use, are guaranteed to eventually fail--a Backblaze study pinned median lifespan for a modern spinning drive to six years. But what about SSDs? TechReport has been running an endurance test on six SSDs since last August, continuously writing to those drives until the NAND cells wear out. 10 months later, three of those drives are still running, having processed over a petabyte of data. That's far beyond the manufacturer-rated lifespans of these drives (Intel rates its drives for 20GB of writes per day for three years). TechReport's analysis of their endurance test explains why SSDs will inevitably die, and why most consumers shouldn't have to worry about abrupt failures. In fact, the three drives that did die didn't even significantly slow down near their end-of-life. (h/t Arstechnica)

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