Quantcast
Latest StoriesPCs
    SteamVR (HTC Vive) Prototype Hands-On + Impressions

    We test the most talked about virtual reality demo at this year's Game Developers Conference: Valve's SteamVR prototype. Made in collaboration with HTC, the Vive VR headset will be released later this year and features an incredible positional tracking system. We chat with Valve's engineers about the technology in the headset and share our demo impressions. This is the real deal.

    How To Build a Home Server Using FreeNAS

    I've been running home servers in one form or another for about a decade. For me, the server has shifted from a convenience--a place to store files that I want to access anywhere and an easy way to stream music to the office for free--to a necessity. Today, my home server is a place to back up my family’s computers and the home for all of my media--a few hundred ripped DVDs and Blu-rays plus my family’s music collection and all of the photos and home videos we’ve shot. Like any other server, it also serves as a good place to store the files I need access to all the time, as well as host any services that work better when they’re always running—stuff like dynamic DNS, streaming servers, and game servers.

    My first home server was simply an old gaming PC that I repurposed by installing Linux and setting up a few shared folders and an FTP server so I had access to files at home when I was at the office or travelling. For the last five or six years, I’ve been running a lightweight Windows Home Server v1 machine packed with hard drives. The WHS box had some real advantages—it’s novel filesystem made it so simple to add storage that I eventually ended up with about 8TB of available space. Unfortunately, its ancient Celeron processor was woefully underpowered to stream 1080p video, and the OS has been effectively abandoned by Microsoft.

    Photo credit: Flickr user kwl via Creative Commons.

    When I decided to build a new server late last year, the first thing I did was figure out what I wanted to use it for. Easy backups for a handful of Macs (and one PC) across the network was a must. I also wanted a machine that would be able to stream all of my media--using Plex Media Server to stream ripped movies and TV shows and Subsonic to stream my music collection. I needed a safe and secure place to store my personal media--photos and home videos I've shot. Finally, I wanted to offload the heavy lifting of DVD and Blu-ray transcoding from my main desktop PC, and the ability to add new stuff to the machine that I haven’t even thought of yet.

    When I was deciding what operating system to use for my next home server, I investigated a handful of Linux options, briefly considered Windows Home Server 2011, and finally settled on FreeNAS, which is a customized version of FreeBSD. FreeNAS makes it relatively simple to set up a multi-purpose machine that can run headless—that is, without a video card or monitor connected. After taking FreeNAS for a test drive in a virtual machine, I was sold. As an added benefit, FreeNAS’s native filesystem, ZFS, makes it easy to add multiple hard drives to a single volume, and even supports using a SSD as a smart cache for the volume. And yes, if you want, you can even add redundancy to the system (I don’t recommend it, but we’ll get into that later).

    Figuring out the hardware for the FreeNAS machine was tricky. While you can buy dedicated network-attached storage devices that come pre-configured with FreeNAS, none of the options in my price range had the kind of high-powered CPU I was hoping for. After spending the last two years wishing my server was faster, my goal is to make this motherboard and CPU last at least five years, maybe more. Knowing that, the option I was left with was to build a machine and install FreeNAS on it myself.

    First, I had to figure out the hardware part.

    Building a Home Server for Backups and Ripping Blu-Rays

    For the past few months, Will has been researching a build for a new home server for personal backups and media streaming. In addition to housing terrabytes of data, the server Will ended up building also doubles as an efficient DVD and Blu-ray ripping machine, automating heavy transcoding tasks. We discuss the build and give software and hardware recommendations for anyone looking to build their own! Read more about the project here.

    RC Transmitter Guide: The Basics of Computer Radio Systems

    Once the RC bug has bitten and you know that you’ll be in the hobby for a while, buying a good quality computer radio system is one of the best investments that you can make. These radios have onboard processors that enrich them with many features not usually found on “dumb” units. The benefits of some of these features are self-evident, such as the ability to use the same transmitter for multiple models. Other features found on computer radios are a bit tougher to grasp. Consequently, many modelers simply ignore them—and forfeit some very useful capabilities.

    A COMPUTER RADIO PROVIDES MANY OPTIONS FOR TAILORING HOW THE SYSTEM PERFORMS. NO MATTER WHICH BRAND YOU CHOOSE, IT IS A WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT FOR SERIOUS MODELERS.

    Today, I will cover a few of the basic features that are afforded by computer transmitters: what they are and how/when they are helpful. I won’t be covering any specifics on how to program these features on your particular radio--that’s what the owner’s manual is for. My focus will be on radios for aircraft, but surface computer radios (for cars and boats) share many of the same features!

    How Many Channels Do You Need?

    Most computer radio systems have six or more channels, with 6-channel models being very popular among rookie hobbyists. Up until recently, I would have endorsed that decision. Now I suggest going with no less than seven channels – preferably eight. The reason for my change of heart is that the average flying model is evolving into an ever more complex machine.

    A 6-CHANNEL RADIO MAY NOT BE ENOUGH IF YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN COMPLEX MODELS SUCH AS THIS WARBIRD. CONSIDER BUYING MORE RADIO THAN YOU NEED NOW TO HEDGE YOUR BETS.

    Powered aircraft need no more than four channels to fly (pitch, roll, yaw, & throttle). Additional operations (retractable landing gear, flaps, lost model alarms, lighting systems, sound systems, gimbals, gyros, bomb releases, etc.) are becoming much more prevalent in off-the-shelf models, and they require additional channels to make them function. These add-ons aren’t necessary to fly, but they sure are fun. So why should your radio keep you from enjoying them? I know several flyers who initially purchased a 6-channel radio, only to upgrade a few months later. Consider where your RC interests might lead and invest in a radio that will accommodate those needs.

    The Best Budget Gaming Laptop (So Far)

    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

    There’s no such thing as a perfect budget gaming laptop, and every one we’ve tested so far has at least one serious flaw. But after 40 hours of research and testing, we determined that the $1,000 Asus ROG GL551JM is the budget gaming laptop we’d recommend for most people because it has the best gaming performance and best build quality among the competition, and for the lowest cost.

    The GL551 has uncommonly good build quality compared to nearly everything else in this category. Plus, it keeps the most important parts of a gaming laptop at a reasonable temperature—which cannot be said for the competition—and has a comfortable keyboard.

    Who’s this for?

    Expensive gaming laptops aren’t for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Budget gaming laptops are a good fit for students and others who want to play games but have a tight budget and need a portable PC.

    How did we pick what to test?

    First, we determined the best possible combination of components that fit in our budget. Our ideal budget gaming laptop costs under $1,200 and has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU or higher, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and at least 500GB of storage. We looked at every gaming laptop currently available, tested three finalists ourselves, and concluded that the Asus ROG GL551-JM DH71 is the best for those on a budget.

    Tested In-Depth: LG Ultra-Widescreen 21:9 Monitor

    Will reviews a new ultra widescreen computer monitor from LG--the first we've tested that's both a 21:9 display and also curved. We discuss what you can do with that extra screen real estate, software that helps manage your desktop, and what movies and games look like at that aspect ratio.

    In Brief: Raspberry Pi 2 Announced and Available Now

    Earlier this morning, the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the second generation of its micro computer platform, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. The $35 computer has the same formfactor and price as the Model B+ released last year, which means it has the same four USB ports, 100mpbs Ethernet port, video I/Os, and microSD storage as the previous generation, but gets a significant boost in processing power and memory. The new Model B runs on a 900MHz Broadcom Cortex A7 SoC, with 1GB of LPDDR2 RAM (shared with video). An update to the Raspbian operation system is also released, which will be backwards compatible with the first-gen Pi. But with the increased processing capability, the new Raspberry Pi will also support versions of Ubuntu and Windows 10. 100,000 units are available at today's launch, but the US distributor's site is hammered and it's sold out at Adafruit. Users hoping for an upgrade to the $25 Model A will have to wait, but Raspberry Pi reps told Ars Technica that it's being worked on, with RAM being the next likely upgrade.

    Norman
    In Brief: Long-Term Testing Hard Drive Failure Rates

    Backblaze, the backup service that I currently use, employs over 40,000 hard drives in its data centers. That's a huge sample size for which to do some analysis about hard drive lifespans and failure rates. Backblaze's previous studies on its petabytes of storage have given us really useful information about drive longevity, and its latest report comes with a useful recommendation about which drives to trust. In 2014, the failure rate of Seagate's 3TB drives jumped to a staggering 43 percent, compared to 7 percent for a WD 3TB drive. Surprisingly, Backblaze still recommends Seagate drives--the company's 4TB model ended up only failing 2.6% of the time, and that was with over 12,000 in use. You can get one for under $140.

    Norman 1
    The Best External Blu-Ray Drive

    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 $80 Samsung SE-506CB is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people—if you need one at all. It’s the best Blu-ray drive you can get for the least amount of money, and it’s the quietest one we tested. The Samsung is well-liked by Amazon buyers, and it’s conveniently thin, light, and compact.

    Who needs this?

    If you have a laptop without a disc drive and want to back up music and movies from discs to your computer, or need a disc drive for work, you should pick up one of our recommendations. If you're trying to backup or transfer files from your computer, you should use a USB hard drive or flash drive instead.

    You shouldn’t buy one of these for a desktop computer that has room for an internal drive, because internal drives are generally faster and cheaper than portable ones. You also shouldn’t buy an external drive to use with a tablet.

    What makes a good Blu-ray drive?

    We surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to find out what people care most about in an external Blu-ray player. Using this information, we came up with a set of criteria to decide which drive is best for most people.

    For starters, it must read and write dual-layer DVDs and Blu-rays. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed use their external drive only at home, but size and weight are still important. A lighter, more compact drive is easier to store when you’re not using it.

    Some older laptops don’t provide enough juice to power the Blu-ray drive. It’s not necessary for most people, but for these older machines you’ll need a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports.

    CES 2015: Hands-On with Razer's OSVR Hacker Dev Kit

    We put on Razer's OSVR prototype, a headset that's part of an open-source initiative to promote virtual reality for PC gaming. Think of it as Android for VR, where not one company controls all the hardware and software. Will and Norm discuss what they learned about OSVR from chatting with Razer's representatives, and share their impressions on the hacker dev kit demo. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    CES 2015: Hands-On with the USB Type-C Connector

    Forgive us while we geek out for a moment over a cable connector. At CES 2015, we saw for the first time the USB Type-C connector, an approved spec that will make its way into phones and PCs this year. The new 24-pin plug is compatible with both USB 2.0 and 3.1, and it's finally reversible. No more USB superposition! (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    CES 2015: Oculus VR's Crescent Bay Demo + Interview

    We go hands-on with Oculus VR's Crescent Bay prototype at CES 2015! Both Will and Norm scrutinize the demo and relay thoughts on the experience of presence, and we chat in-depth about technical details with Oculus' VP of Product, Nate Mitchell. Lots of new hints about what's to come for the consumer release of the Oculus Rift! (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    CES 2015: Hands-On with Tobii Eye Tracking

    At CES 2015, we test out Tobii's new eye tracking system, which is being released as a PC gaming peripheral by SteelSeries. This IR sensor sits below your monitor to track what you're looking at with centimeter accuracy, and can be implemented in games built with Unity or Unreal. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    Testing: Dell P2715Q 4K Monitor

    The first generation of 4K monitors available for desktop use weren't great because they were TN displays that ran at 30Hz. Recently, Dell released a 4K monitor using an IPS panel, running at 60Hz. We review that display to see how it runs in Windows 8.1, test its image quality, and see if gaming is practical at 3840x2160.

    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?

    Norman 3
    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!