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    Testing: Logitech G502 Proteus Core Gaming Mouse

    Wait, wasn't it just one year ago that Logitech released the G500s, the rebirth of its venerated G5 line of gaming mice? Hold on for just a second while I check my review. Yep, that was just last March. But here we are, with another new high-end gaming mouse, the G502. And this year, Logitech's given it a fancy moniker: the Proteus Core. I'm not sure if that's meant to evoke a certain StarCraft faction in gamers' minds, or simply a take on the SAT-friendly word 'protean', meaning versatile or adaptable. The latter's likely the case, given the G502's ability to be calibrated for different mousing surfaces (glass and mirrors notwithstanding). Regardless, Logitech's new flagship is an aggressive product, an $80 mouse that not only succeeds last year's G500s, but revamps the design of Logitech's gaming mouse line. That curvy G5 design that I was so hot on last year has once again been retired (at least temporarily).

    I've been testing the G502 for about a week, in first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and lots of desktop imaging work. I'm not a MOBA player, so my perspective may not reflect those playing the dominant PC gaming game type today. And as I've said before, a gaming mouse is an accessory that most people rarely change--they find the one that works for them and stick with it. If you like the Razer DeathAdder, Mad Catz R.A.T., or even Logitech's own previous G-series, mice, there's really not a lot of reason to spend another $80 on a new gaming mouse unless your current one breaks. Gaming mice technology has really reached a point where every new generation of product offers fewer new benefits; product engineers really feel like they're reaching when they push the boundaries of sensor DPI or add more configurable buttons. And the G502 has plenty of those new back-of-box features, for sure. Let's run through them and evaluate whether they truly add any benefit to your gaming experience.

    Arguably the most important component in a gaming mouse is its sensor, and the G502's optical (IR) sensor was apparently designed from the ground up to introduce two notable features. The first is DPI (dots per inch, or technically counts per inch) sensitivity that ranges from 200 to 12000. You read that correctly: this mouse is sensitive to past 10,000 DPI, which I believe is a first for a gaming mouse. (Consider that the G5, circa 2005, topped out at 2000 DPI). At that maximum setting, the tiniest flick of the wrist will send the cursor all the way across a 1080p panel; it's meant for gamers who want to make extremely large movements quickly, or desktop users running multiple monitors spanning many thousands of pixels wide. Of course, high DPI doesn't denote accuracy, just sensitivity. A mouse set to 10,000 DPI isn't useful if it isn't accurate at that "resolution"--the trick is testing the mouse's accuracy at the sensitivities that you find most useful.

    The Best Portable Hard Drive Today

    After 30 hours of research and nearly 40 hours of testing, we determined that the 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is our new favorite portable hard drive. It’s slimmer, lighter, and faster than our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra. However, you should not buy the 4TB version, also known as the Seagate Backup Plus Fast. Though it may seem like a better value, it’s not as reliable (more on this later).

    The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim weighs just 0.33 pounds and is one of the thinnest portable drives out there, measuring .48 inches thick. The Slim also bests our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra, in speed, and the drive’s plastic case doesn’t flex or creak under pressure like the WD’s case. The 2TB model is less expensive per terabyte than the 1TB and 500GB models, making it the best value aside from the 4TB Seagate Backup Plus Fast, which you should avoid.

    Photo credit: Flickr user linsinchen via Creative Commons.

    But the WD My Passport Ultra is still a solid alternative should our new pick go out of stock. If you’re in need of a ruggedized drive, our previous recommendation, theSilicon Power Armor A80, is still the best shockproof and waterproof option available. And for professionals or those who know they need a Thunderbolt connection, we still recommend the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt.

    Who should(n’t) buy this

    If your external hard drive is just going to sit on your desk all the time and never budge, you’re better off with a desktop external because it’s faster and you can get more storage for less money. For example, our desktop pick—which isn’t the fastest desktop hard drive out there—has faster read and write speeds by about 30 megabytes per second and is about $20 cheaper per terabyte than our portable recommendation at the time of writing.

    You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop.

    But if you need an external drive that can be (carefully) tossed in a bag and used on the go, a portable hard drive is just what you’re looking for. You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop or a way to store photos and other data while traveling or commuting.

    Most portable externals use 2.5-inch hard drives, which are powered entirely by the USB or Thunderbolt connection. This means that portable hard drives don’t need an additional power adapter, unlike desktop external drives, and are consequently more convenient to use while traveling. Portable hard drives are usually much smaller and lighter than their desktop counterparts.

    However, most portable hard drives have smaller platters and slower rotation speeds, which translates to slower read and write times and longer waits for file transfers. The 2.5-inch HDDs typically found in portable drives currently max out at 2TB, compared to 3.5-inch desktop external drives that go up to 4TB. So if you need more than 2TB, you’ll be stuck buying multiple portable externals versus a single desktop drive. Again, portable hard drives are also generally more expensive per terabyte than desktop options.

    The Problem with High-PPI Windows Display Scaling

    High-resolution screens are getting more and more common. You can get a pretty good 27-inch 2560x1440 screen for $300, and cheap 4K displays are on the horizon--although you shouldn't actually buy one yet. And of course there's all those 13-, 14-, and 15-inch laptops with high-resolution screens, from 2560x1440 screen available on the Acer Aspire S7 and Toshiba Kirabook, to the 3200x1800 displays on the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. And, of course, the Retina MacBook Pro, the granddaddy of the genre, with its 2560x1600 13-inch and 2880x1800 15-inch form factors.

    These high-res ultrabooks are beautiful when they work properly, but I don't think you should actually buy one. Especially not one to run Windows desktop applications.

    At 27 inches, a 2560x1440 display is amazing, because you can use it without scaling the Windows UI at all. You can comfortably fit two 1280px-wide windows side-by-side, which means you can get the benefit of two smaller monitors in one. Here's what that looks like. There's so much room for activities!

    But that's 2560x1440 at 27 inches, or about 109 pixels per inch. Cramming the same number of pixels (or more!) into a 13.3-inch screen ups your pixel density to 221PPI. It's a much sharper image, but if you leave Windows display scaling at 100%, the desktop user interface becomes unbearably tiny--just look at those taskbar icons.

    10 Things You Should Know about DirectX 12

    It’s about efficiency, not new features

    The new DirectX will add a few new rendering features, but those new features aren’t as important as efficiency. Direct3D 12 has a thinner abstraction layer between the operating system and the hardware. Game developers will have more control over how their code talks to graphics hardware. Overhead is reduced substantially. Time for threads to complete has been reduced by 2-5x in some cases.

    Only Direct3D 12 has been discussed

    Most gamers tend to think of Direct3D when DirectX is mentioned, and the focus of the recent announcement is indeed on D3D. There was no discussion of audio, game controller interfaces, Direct2D or other aspects of DirectX. Part of the reason for this early peak at DirectX 12 is that AMD’s Mantle, a direct-to-metal API with similar ambitions, was starting to get some traction. Microsoft no doubt worried that API fragmentation would return game development to the bad old days, where you wouldn’t be able to run any game on any graphics card.

    DirectX 12 is now a console API

    Direct3D 12 will run on the Xbox One. The execution environment has been described as “console-like,” which probably means the layers are thinner. This makes sense today, since most modern GPUs are really highly parallel and highly programmable. What this means for future versions of Windows is unknown, since Direct3D is the rendering API for Windows 8 and beyond. I hope Microsoft doesn’t “freeze” the Windows API at D3D 8. We’d once again be in a situation where application developers might end up using different APIs than game developers.

    In Brief: Nvidia Announces $3000 Titan Z Video Card

    Wasn't it just one month ago that Nvidia announced its GeForce GTX Titan Black video card? Yes, I'm sure it was, because I was in a meeting with them when they mentioned it while briefing me on Maxwell. Titan Black was supposed to be their new super high-end video card--a GTX Titan that ran at an unfettered 889MHz core clock (boosted to 980MHz), and 7GHz GGDR5 memory. Basically a suped-up GTX 780 Ti, priced at $1000. Well that's only one third the price of the new Titan Z video card, announced today at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference in San Jose. Titan Z is basically two Titan Black cards crammed into one--a total of 5,760 processing cores (two GK110 chips), and 12GB of dedicated frame buffer memory. There's no word about its availability, or other important details like power consumption, but it's clearly a boutique product that's more for prestige than anything. PC Gamer should get one (or two) for their Large Pixel Collider.

    Norman 4
    Testing Maxwell: Nvidia's Six-Inch Hammer

    Nvidia recently unleashed its latest graphics architecture on the world, Maxwell. The first iteration is the GTX 750, a GPU that will be the core of a graphics card whose asking price will typically be under $150. Two variants of the GTX 750 will be shipping, the GTX 750 and the GTX 750 Ti. I’ll get into the differences shortly.

    Once upon a time, the first iteration of a GPU architecture would show up as powerful, power-hungry beasts of a graphics card. That changed a bit when Nvidia introduced its first Kepler card aimed at gamers, the GTX 680. The GTX 680 took the gaming world by surprise, delivering leading edge performance, but was miserly on power consumption and low on fan noise, particularly when compared to Nvidia’s earlier GTX 580s and AMD’s Radeon HD 7970s.

    Still, the GTX 680 was a high end card, even though it broke the mold a bit as to what a high end card should be. The GTX 750 Ti’s typical asking price is $150. The overclocked EVGA GTX 750 I’ll be looking at is $169, but it’s both overclocked and ships with a 2GB frame buffer. You can find GTX 750 Ti cards from several manufacturers running at reference clocks for $149. GTX 750 1GB cards can be had for as little $119. I’ll take a look at performance of the EVGA GTX 750 Ti SC and an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti reference card, which also has a 2GB frame buffer, but runs at standard core clocks.

    But first, let’s look at Maxwell.

    Hands-On: Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 Virtual Reality Headset

    New Oculus VR hardware! We get our hands on the second development kit for the Oculus Rift at GDC 2014 and chat with Oculus VR's Nate Mitchell about the roadmap to the final consumer release (plus their thoughts on Sony's VR efforts). Here's how DK2 differs from past prototypes, our impressions of it with new tech demos, and why you should still hold off until the final product.

    The Best Computer Speakers Today

    If someone asked me what’s the best all-around buy in a 2.0-channel computer or desktop speaker system today, I’d recommend the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. It offers sound that’s competitive with everything we’ve heard under $300, yet it’s readily available for just $119.

    That said, the AV 40s can be a bit large and not very nice to look at, so we have some alternative picks as well. The Audioengine A2+ is sleekly designed, super-compact, and sounds fantastic, although it isn’t real loud and doesn’t have a lot of bass. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth wireless plus a user-friendly design and control layout. The Edifier Spinnaker has a cool, cutting-edge design with a handy wireless remote, Bluetooth, and pretty good sound.

    Photo credit: Flickr user mikeporesky via Creative Commons.

    Unfortunately, while all these speakers have okay bass response, if you want really big bass, you’ll probably want a 2.1 system, which will include a separate subwoofer. (It’s difficult or impossible to add a subwoofer to most 2.0 computer speaker systems.) We expect to test 2.1 systems soon.

    PC Building: Pay More Up Front or Upgrade Regularly?

    Smartphones are essential. Ultrabooks are great. But there's nothing to compare to the handforged desktop computer for power, flexibility, value, and upgradability. You can buy or build a PC with any configuration and upgrade piecemeal as you need to: more RAM, a bigger hard drive, an SSD, better video card, better PSU, even more case fans. But how do you decide how much to spend up front? (Aside from reading my late-2012 guide to that very subject.)

    There are two basic approaches here. The first is to buy the most powerful components you can possibly afford when they're brand new, and then keep using those parts until they become unusable, at which point you repeat the process. We'll call this peak-to-peak mode, since you'll start out with a very good PC, use it until it sucks, and then get a new one that's very good.

    Photo credit: Flickr user vl_33 via Creative Commons.

    The other method is to do smaller upgrades more frequently. By spreading your purchases out over the lifetime of the computer, you never get the top performance of the peak-to-peak buyer, but you also are able to keep more abreast of current technology without blowing thousands of dollars every time. So you don't have the end-of-life blues of a peak-to-peak user with a $3000, five-year-old machine.

    Let's walk through a thought experiment.

    Tested: Intel's 730 Series SSD

    This morning, Intel announced it's latest line of solid state drives designed for use in normal computers and workstations. They sent over a couple for us to test, which I've been doing this week. Unlike Intel's last-generation 530 series SSD, which used a Sandforce controller, the new 730 series drives use a controller that Intel developed in house for use in their datacenter drives. By combining that knowledge with cherry picked controller and flash chips, the 730 series drives run at higher clock speeds than their datacenter equivalents and are effectively able to saturate the SATA 6Gbps bus.The big problem hasn't been performance--even cheap SSDs will blow the doors off of traditional hard drives--it's reliability. But while hard drives are well established technology at this point, some early SSDs suffered serious reliability problems. Drives using the Sandforce controller, in particular, suffered serious problems that lead to blue screens and even data loss. Intel's Sandforce-powered drives managed to avoid most of the problems that plagued other vendors using the same Sandforce controller.

    Even without controller problems, the flash memory used in SSDs has a finite life cycle--the number of times you can write to an individual cell of memory is limited. While drives ship with some cells reserved to replace the cells that die, once enough cells stop working, the drive will be unusable. That's not necessarily a reason to avoid SSDs though. Even with the minimum average daily write ratings of 20GB, the flash memory in most SSDs will last more than five years. And because the price per gigabyte of SSD storage is still dropping quickly, it's unlikely that you'll be using the same SSD five years from now.

    Where does the Intel 730 series of SSDs fit in? The drive comes in capacities of 240GB and 480GB, although Intel hasn't ruled out larger capacities if people want them. I was told to expect MSRP pricing around $1/GB. Both drives use 20nm MLC NAND flash. I was a little disappointed that these are standard 2.5-inch SATA 6Gbps drives. With pretty much every consumer-level SSD able to saturate the SATA 6gbps bus, there just isn't much room to improve performance. We won't see another big leap in SSD performance until you can plug drives directly into the PCI-Express bus, hopefully sometime later this year.

    On paper, it seems like the biggest improvement to this drive is reliability. Both drives come with a 5 year warranty, and both are rated for a very large number of daily writes--the 480GB drive is rated for 70GB of writes a day and the 240GB drive is rated for 50GB of writes a day. That means the 480GB drive is rated for almost 130TB of writes over its lifetime.

    You Should Use A Mechanical Keyboard

    Do you have a computer? Do you have fingers? Do you type or game on that computer using your fingers on a keyboard? You should get a mechanical keyboard.

    Cherry MX Black switch CREDIT: OCN

    The vast majority of mechanical keyboards on the market today (aside from Model M-alikes) use Cherry MX switches. These switches are referred to by color, e.g. Cherry MX Reds. Each color has slightly different action, and this guide at Overclock.net is the canonical reference for such things.

    In my experience, the type of mechanical keyswitches matters less than the fact of mechanical switches--compared to the dome-membrane of cheap desktop keyboards, or scissor switches of most laptop keyboards, they last longer and feel better to type on, and you can press more keys at once. Plus (depending on the type of switch) they're actually easier to use. The only hitch is the cost: you're looking at around $60 minimum for a mechanical keyboard, like one from Monoprice.

    Photo credit: Flickr user ydolon via Creative Commons.

    The difference between typing on a mechanical keyboard and using a standard dome membrane keyboard is like the difference between running on a track in running shoes and running barefoot on sand. And no, I don't want to hear about your minimalist running shoes or your Vibram FiveFingers. But silly metaphors aren't the real reason to buy a mechanical keyboard. Here are the real reasons.

    The Best Budget Laptop Today

    If I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I'd get the ~$550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 or something very similar. But first I'd think long and hard about whether I needed a full-sized Windows laptop at all.

    Who Should(n’t) Buy This?

    If you have regular access to a full Windows or Mac computer and want a secondary machine for web browsing, email, and basic document editing (i.e. something more than a tablet but less than a full-sized Windows computer), don’t buy a $600 Windows laptop as your secondary machine. Consider a $250 Chromebook or a $400 Windows convertible tablet instead. Neither can do quite as much as a full Windows laptop, but they often give a better experience in the things they do than a more expensive general-use machine.

    But if you do need a real computer—if this is your primary, do-everything computer—and you need the best all-around thing you can get for under $600, you should get something like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14.

    Our Pick

    We like the $550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 (listed on Lenovo’s site as the “Flex14-59393810“). It’s not perfect, but for its price it hits “pretty good” levels in a lot of important areas while managing to avoid deal-breaking flaws. It is powerful enough for day-to-day tasks, portable enough to bring with you without breaking your back, and has enough battery power to last all day. It also has a hinge that bends back around 300 degrees, just in case you wanted to use it like that.

    Dude, Don't Get a Dell 4K Monitor

    You've probably seen the news that came out of CES a few weeks ago: 4K ultra-high-definition monitors for under $1000! Dell announced the P2815Q, a 28-inch 3840x2160 panel for just $700, and you can already buy it. Lenovo and Asus both announced their own sub-$1000 4K panels at the show--the Lenovo ThinkVision 2840m and Asus PB287Q, both shipping in spring or summer for $800 and both offering that 28-inch 4K experience. But are any of them good enough to buy?

    Nope. Not yet.

    More like Twisted-No-Thankyou

    All the sub-$1000 4K monitors announced so far--at least the ones we have any panel information on--use twisted-nematic (TN) displays rather than in-plane-switching (IPS) panels. A TN panel can have quicker refresh rates, but everything else about it is inferior to IPS: the viewing angles are bad, the colors are more washed out, and it inherently can't reproduce as wide an array of colors as an IPS panel, so it's not accurate enough to use for photo or video editing. (More on the difference in this previous column.)

    Dell's P2815Q

    TN panels are still popular with twitch gamers because they can have much quicker pixel refresh times than IPS monitors, which can be important in fast multiplayer shooters. And indeed, Dell advertises a 5ms refresh rate, which on the surface seems fast enough for gamers. But that leads us the next problem with Dell's 28-inch 4K monitor, and possibly the other two as well.

    In Brief: This Battlefield is an Incredible PC Case Mod

    I've had this link in an open browser tab for over a month, glancing at it every other day to renew my sense of awe. It's a photo gallery of the most intricate PC case mod I've seen in years--a diorama of a fictional battlefield that shows kitbashing at its best. Japanese designer Hiroto Ikeuchi spent over a year fleshing out this scene with model kits from a variety of companies, using an open (non-functioning) PC chassis as a sort of military base. Soldiers strategize on top of video cards, anti-armor bazooka launchers are powered by a USB hub, and a heliport finds its foundation on top of a weathered keyboard. Clutter is reconstructed into a form of storytelling. Ikeuchi tells Wired that the story isn't done either, as he plans on adding to his "living" sculpture. Many more photos of this awesome build can be found here.

    Norman
    CES 2014: Razer's "Project Christine" Gaming PC Concept

    At almost every CES in recent memory, Razer has intrigued us with interesting gaming hardware prototypes. This year's concept is a modular desktop PC called Project Christine, and we chat with Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan about how it works and why he thinks it'll change the way we think about PC upgrades.

    CES 2014: Hands-On with Oculus VR's New "Crystal Cove" Prototype

    Our in-depth hands-on and impressions of the new Oculus VR virtual reality prototype: Crystal Cove. We chat with Oculus' VP of Product Nate Mitchell about how they're implementing positional tracking and why lowering the persistence of vision is important to prevent nausea. As always, we dig into the technical details and explain how they work together to benefit the user experience.

    In Brief: Vizio and Dell Bring Down the Price of 4K

    There are many barriers to 4K display adoption. For televisions, 4K only makes sense for consumers if four major criteria are met: content needs to be shot in 4K, edited in that resolution, broadcast or delivered in a mainstream format, and finally, the televisions themselves have to be affordable. Content providers like Netflix are working to solve the first of those three criteria--eg. with its House of Cards Season 2--and it'll be a year or two until 4K TVs come down dramatically in price. Or maybe not. This week, both Vizio and Polaroid announced 50-inch 4K televisions for $1000, well below what LG and Samsung have been pricing their Ultra HD sets. From reports, Vizio's 4K TV looks more promising in terms of image quality, though there are many unknowns such as refresh rate and input options.

    On the PC side, desktop operating systems and web content can scale to whatever resolution a monitor supports, so 4K adoption there is a more a factor of price. Dell's 28-inch Ultrasharp P2815Q monitor was just confirmed for $700, well below the sub-$1000 promise that Dell made late last year. That's an incredibly attractive price for a 3840x2160 resolution display, and may get me to trade-up from my current 30-inch 1600p monitor.

    Norman
    Valve Announces Steam Machine Partners at CES

    After Valve's presentation at CES 2014 on Monday, the (not-so-secret) secret of the Steam Machine initiative is fully out in the open: Steam Machines are PCs. Valve's major hardware push into the living room, coupled with Steam OS, is more or less a rebranded PC. More, because each Steam Machine will come with Valve's specially engineer controller, and less, because, at present, the Linux-based Steam OS can play only a small slice of the vast Steam game library.

    Valve used CES as an opportunity to announce 13 hardware partners for the Steam Machine initiative, including some big names like Alienware and Gigabyte. Like regular PCs, the Steam Machines vary enormously in size and price. Falcon Northwest will offer a configurable machine for $1800 - $6000, filling a Steam-branded tower with terabytes of storage and an Nvidia GTX Titan. iBuyPower plans to sell a smaller model starting at $500, with nonspecific AMD Radeon graphics.

    The brochure of Steam Machines, which you can check out here, reinforces that these are just prebuilt PCs that happen to run Steam OS instead of Windows. The hardware configurations are unspecific, because the hardware inside each box may change, as PC hardware tends to, in the months leading up to launch. They're also unspecific because many of the boxes will be customizable, offering gamers the choice between a faster or slower CPU, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, a voluminous hard drive or a speedier SSD or both.

    Valve did not announce when the Steam Machines would go on sale. Based on Valve's current partnerships, the cheapest Steam Machines will cost around $500, inexpensive for a gaming PC but pricey compared to the $400 PlayStation 4 and equal to the $500 Xbox One.

    Valve made no mention of the streaming technology it talked about last year; the SteamOS page on its website vaguely states "You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have - then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!" Presumably the technology isn't ready yet. But the current range of prices is concerning, because $500 is too much money to spend on a living room box that can stream games from an existing PC.

    If you already own a gaming PC, there's no reason to pay attention to Steam Machines. The Steam controller, yes--when Valve has a final version of its controller ready to sell, it may prove an excellent accessory for your PC. Check out our hands-on with the controller from CES.

    If you don't own a gaming PC, and want one, check out the list of announced machines. Just don't expect many (or any) of them to fit quietly and neatly into an entertainment center. Like gaming PCs, most of them are bulkier than a Roku or a PlayStation 4.

    Want a closer look? Ars Technica has a great gallery of the machines.