Latest StoriesPCs
    Building a New Gaming and VR PC for 2020

    We wrap up this week with a fun project, as Norm puts on a topical cosplay to build his new editing, gaming, and VR PC. Follow along the assembly as we talk through the component choices, order of operations, and what we liked about this configuration of parts. How would you spec out a new PC today?

    Configuring a Gaming Laptop for VR and Content Creation

    With a shelter-in-place policy in effect in California, the Tested team is working from home sharing their current projects. Norm checks in with his recent testing and research into gaming laptops powerful enough for VR headsets and video editing, using HP's Omen 15 as an example of a system that uses Intel's Coffee Lake H processor and Nvidia's mobile RTX graphics card.

    Intel Responds to AMD’s Ryzen with 8th Generation Core CPUs

    Intel's previous generation processors, code named Kaby Lake, weren't much of an improvement on the desktop side compared to Skylake before it. In fact, Kaby Lake desktop CPUs were essentially factory overclocked Skylake chips. Now Intel is introducing the latest generation of their Core processors for desktops, Coffee Lake, featuring more cores and launching October 5th.

    Leading the pack of these new processors is of course the i7-8700K (bulk order price: $359). The new flagship i7 now has 6 cores and 12 threads, up from the 4/8 it's been for many years. It's now a 95W TDP part, but even with a 4W TDP bump Intel had to make another trade off for the additional cores by dropping the base clock to 3.7GHz from the 4.2GHz of the i7-7700K. The new i7 is able to boost up to 4.7GHz, and has 12MB of L3 cache. Intel claims it'll provide up to 25% more frames per second in games compared to the 7700K, and be up to 2x faster than a three year old PC (so Broadwell) when "mega-tasking" (gaming+streaming+recording). The non-overclockable 65W i7-8700 ($303) is a little slower with a base clock of 3.2GHz and a boost of 4.6GHz.

    The mid-range i5-8600K ($257) is also getting two more cores, bringing it up to 6, but still lacks hyperthreading. Base clock speed drops only 200MHz from Kaby Lake, now 3.6GHz and boosts up to 4.3GHz. This 95W CPU as well as the 65W i5-8400 ($182) have 9MB of cache. The later's clock speed is much slower at only 2.8GHz base frequency and a 4GHz boost.

    The i3-8350K ($168) might be the most interesting of them all, believe it or not. This desktop i3 part now has 4 cores and a clock speed of 4GHz. It doesn't have Intel's Turbo Boost feature, nor is it hyperthreaded like its Kaby Lake predecessor. That being said, 4 cores at 4GHz is just right for playing AAA games at higher settings these days. With a 91W TDP and being unlocked by Intel, it should overclock decently for anyone that wants to squeeze out a little more power. The i3-8100 ($117) 65W variant's clock speed it locked at 3.6GHz, and both i3s have 6MB of cache.

    Building an AMD Ryzen PC for Video Editing!

    Time to build a new PC! Our latest system build tests AMD's Ryzen series of CPUs, putting 8 core and 16 threads toward our video editing workloads. The 1700X processor impressed us for its $300 street price. Norm and Tested's video producer Gunther assemble the PC and put it to work at this year's Comic-Con.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 20: Lone Echo Review and VR Cover

    Jeremy and Norm review what we think is the first killer app for VR: Lone Echo and its multiplayer game Echo Arena. We discuss the narrative and gameplay mechanics that make this game so memorable, and its locomotion could be applied to other game genres. Plus, a review of VR Covers that make the Rift more comfortable to wear.

    Microsoft's New Surface Pro: What You Should Know

    The fifth generation Surface Pro is finally here. After waiting for over a year and a half Microsoft has refreshed their most popular Surface device. They've dropped the number scheme, made a few tweaks, and the new Surface Pro will go on sale worldwide on June 15th. Been waiting for this refresh? Here's what you should know about it.

    The Surface Pro 2017

    Upon first inspection the new Surface Pro is nearly identical to the Pro 4. It has a 12.3 inch screen with a resolution of 2736x1824. And for better or worse it has all of the same ports in the same spots, including a USB 3.0 A port, mini DisplayPort, a microSD card slot, and the magnetic Surface Connect port.

    Inside of course are the latest Intel Kaby Lake processors with a Core m3-7Y30, i5-7300U, and i7-7660U. Now not only is the m3 model fanless, but the i5 one is as well. The 1866Mhz LPDDR3 RAM ranges from 4GB to 16GB, and SSD options from 128GB to 512GB. It still has a front facing camera for Windows Hello facial recognition, and the speakers have been upgraded too. There will also be an LTE option available later this year.

    The new Surface Pro features a next generation kickstand, and now moves up to a 165 degree angle. The new Surface Pen has seen a huge upgrade, now sporting 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity (up from 1,024), latency has been cut in half down to 21ms thanks to a new Pen coprocessor, and it can even recognize tilting. Microsoft is claiming this is the best digital pen ever, so we'll have to see how it stacks up against Apple's Pencil. The new Surface Pro will also work with the Surface Dial on screen. Finally, the new Type Cover is made out of alcantara, just like the previous Signature Type Cover and the Surface Laptop, and comes in burgundy, cobalt blue, and platinum.

    The Surface Pro now has more hidden costs than ever before.

    Microsoft says that the new Surface Pro starts at $800, back down from the price hike that the entry level Pro 4 saw. However, the Surface Pro now has more hidden costs than ever before. It still doesn't come with a Type Cover and the new version costs $160. (You can use the slightly cheaper Pro 4 cover at $130 if you wish.) Microsoft has also made the decision to take the Pen out of the box, costing you an additional $60 if you want that. That makes the "real" cost of a Surface Pro starting at $1020. A new Pro with an i5, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD is $1300, but after tacking on a new Type Cover and Pen it really comes out to $1520. That's more than the Surface Laptop with identical specs. Sure, the Pro is more difficult to engineer, but the average person won't know that.

    The Best Gaming Mouse for Most Gamers

    The right mouse can make the difference between a won or lost game where valuable skill points are on the line.

    After spending over 15 hours scouring the internet for gaming mouse reviews and with over a decade of competitive gaming experience, we feel comfortable recommending the Logitech G403 as the best gaming mouse for most people.

    The mouse has the best sensor on the market, solid buttons suited for MOBAs and FPS, a wired and an actually good wireless version, and a size and shape that will fit most hands. At $62 bucks for the wired and $80 for wireless, we feel the mouse is worth the higher-end price.

    Another great mouse that works for a large variety of games is the Razer DeathAdder Elite. The DeathAdder features an iconic ergonomic design, a responsive sensor and buttons also suited for MOBAs and FPS.

    The DeathAdder isn't the pick for a couple of reasons. The mouse is a little too large for the average hands and Razer has had a few build quality issues. Those two things put it just short of a recommendation in comparison to the solid Logitech G403.

    We felt comfortable picking a right handed mouse when factoring that 90% of the population is right-handed. A lot of left-handers use right handed mice anyway.

    No mouse is perfect — there's no such thing as one mouse fits all, so we've written a guide on what to look for and provided some alternatives for different priorities.

    Tested: Thermal Imaging CPU and GPU

    To visualize how a gaming PC's CPU and graphics card ramp up under load and dissipate heat, Sean and Norm open up a computer case and put its components under the lens of a high-resolution FLIR thermal camera. We're able to visualize throttling when a processor gets too hot!

    What You Should Know about Microsoft's Surface Laptop

    With the Surface Pro, Microsoft designed a tablet that they argued could replace a laptop. Then, they released the Surface Book, which was a high-end laptop that could double as a tablet. And now Microsoft has announced… the Surface Laptop. We've come full circle. And this may be the gimmick-free computer that people have been asking for Microsoft to make for years.

    The Surface Laptop is a 13.5 inch (2256x1504, 3:2 aspect ratio) ultrabook starting at $1000, coming June 15th with pre-orders available now. The base model has an Intel core i5 U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Configurations currently go up to a core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD for $2200. Microsoft also stated that a 1TB version would be made available. Those specs are pretty run of the mill for ultrabooks, but Microsoft is also claiming 14.5 hours of battery life, and that no charge will be lost when the device is sleeping. Impressive if true.

    This thin laptop weighs 2.76 pounds, but it's also slim on ports sporting only a USB-A port, a Mini DisplayPort, a headphone jack, and the usual Surface connector port. The Laptop has a touchscreen using Microsoft's Pixelsense tech, a Windows Hello camera system, and supports both the Surface Pen and Dial accessories. It comes in four colors; Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold. For some reason, only the higher of the two i5 models is available in all of the colors, and all other models are only available in Platinum (for now?). It's made out of Aluminum, which is a departure from the Surface line's signature Magnesium. And the Laptop even has an Alcantara fabric finish on the entire keyboard/palmrest area.

    The build quality was exquisite and it felt very sturdy, despite being so light.

    I managed to see the Surface Laptop for myself at my local Microsoft Store. Wow. When Panos Panay said his team poured everything they had into all of the little details, he wasn't exaggerating. The build quality was exquisite and it felt very sturdy, despite the fact that it's so light. It felt about the same weight and thickness as my Surface Pro 3 (with a Pro 4 Type Cover), which is a tablet with a 12 inch screen. The keyboard quality was about on par with the Pro 4, so fairly decent, and the trackpad was similar as well, albeit noticeably larger.

    The Alcantara finish looked great, and felt smoother than the keyboard side of a normal Type Cover. There are actually no perforations in it for speakers either. Microsoft used new technology to put the speakers underneath the keyboard. A public space obviously isn't the best place to judge laptop speaker quality, but from what I could hear there was no muffling of the sound.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 9: Meta's Augmented Reality Glasses

    We visit the headquarters of Meta, the company making augmented reality glasses and already shipping their second product. The Meta 2 is a tethered HMD that can track and display holograms in any environment--we go hands-on with the developer kit and chat with Meta VP Ryan Pamplin about how their AR technology differs from the Hololens and other products. Plus, in-depth impressions!

    Everything You Need to Know About Custom Mechanical Keyboards

    Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, many of which you can find on Amazon or via some other retailer. If you need a new board, buying a pre-built one is the cheapest and easiest way. However, building a custom keyboard gives you the chance to choose everything from the case material, to the switches, to the keycaps.

    A WhiteFox with GMK Hyperfuse caps

    The popularity of custom keyboards has exploded in the last few years, making it a confusing and intimidating hobby to pick up. Let's break it all down.

    Layouts and firmware

    One of the things you'll notice about custom keyboards rather quickly is they tend to have unusual layouts, and they're often tiny compared to the standard full-sized 104-key layout. There are tenkeyless (80%) boards that lack a number pad, but also 65%, 60%, and smaller. A 60% is fairly common these days—these boards have only the main alphas, number row, and modifiers. The arrows and other keys are accessible via a function layer. A 65% board adds back the arrows and a few extra keys, but 40% boards go the other way with the alpha keys and a just a few modifiers. Then there are various split and ergonomic boards, like the Ergodox.

    Some of these are available as niche pre-built keyboards, but there's one main difference between those and a truly custom board. A custom board is programmable, meaning you can have any of the keys do whatever you want. This is extremely important when you're dealing with fewer physical keys because you will need at least one robust function layer to fit in all the standard keyboard commands.

    A RedScarf II with DSA Overwatch caps

    The firmware on a custom keyboard offers much more power than the desktop clients many fancy "gamer" keyboards use. After a board is programmed with your preferred layout, it doesn't rely on any software on a computer. It works exactly the same no matter which device you plug it into. The things you can do are also much more advanced. Some boards include advanced macro support or the option to control the mouse cursor.

    A smaller keyboard layout can be much more efficient than a full sized one. By relegating some commands to a function layer, your hands don't have to move as far while typing, and your mouse stays closer to your hands. True, some people can't get by without a full layout and number pad, but most people who think they do are wrong. It's much easier to scale back the size of your board than you think.

    Testing: The Windows 10 Creators Update

    Microsoft's new service model for Windows is now in full swing. The Creators Update is the third major update to Windows 10 since it launched a little under two years ago. Beginning April 11th users of Windows 10 devices will find themselves with a few new features to play with and improvements all around. While not as substantial as last year's Anniversary Update, there are still some things worth checking out.

    Paint 3D

    The biggest addition without a doubt is the new Paint 3D app. At first glance it seems familiar with various tools at your disposal like a pen, brush, spray can, and the trusty ol' paint bucket. The next tool tab over however opens up an entirely new world: 3D objects. Here you're granted the ability to place in a few pre-made 3D models like a man, a woman, or a dog. There are some simple shapes, including a cube, a sphere and a doughnut. You can also free draw 3D shapes with either sharp or smooth edges.

    Like with the old drawing tools, once you learn the limitations of the 3D objects is when you can start creating real nightmares masterpieces. Aside from stretching in the x or y direction, there's no way to modify an object once it is created. In order to make complex shapes you'll have to think about how to combine the simple shapes and 3D doodles, the later of which will have some depth to it, but not much.

    The one aspect that I feel really gets in my way is that while doing any drawing or editing your view is fixed to the "front". You can click a button to view your creation from all sides, but you can't interact with them from different perspectives. Objects can be rotated in three planes, moved around in the X-Y plane, or shifted forward and back in the Z plane. This makes for combining objects in just the right way to be grouped immensely frustrating.

    For example, I struggle greatly with rotating objects. I found myself constantly rotating an object to the point that I thought was what I wanted, changed my perspective to see that I went too far, and repeated this process for a few minutes. I can understand the constraint of creating only in a fixed place, but not being able to move objects at any time from any angle feels like an oversimplification of an otherwise decent toolset in a free, packed in 3D modeling program.

    AMD's CPUs You Should Consider For Your Next PC Build

    After floundering for the last five years with their Bulldozer architecture and its derivatives, AMD is releasing processors based on a new architecture called Zen. The Ryzen CPUs, starting with the high end chips launching this March, have been made to tackle Intel head on.

    On March 2nd AMD is releasing three high end CPUs aimed at gamers, content creators, and enthusiasts, all with 8 cores and 16 threads. The Ryzen 7 1800X is the flagship with a base clock of 3.6GHz, a boost speed of 4.0GHz, a TDP of 95W, and retails for $500. AMD is claiming that this chip will outperform Intel's core i7 6900K by 9% in multi threaded work and is dead even in single thread performance. The 6900K is also an 8 core/16 thread CPU, has a clock speed of 3.2GHz and a turbo of 3.7GHz. It'll also run you about $1050.

    In the middle is the 1700X with a base clock speed of 3.4GHz and a 3.8GHz boost clock. This is also a 95W TDP chip. AMD claims this will significantly outperform the core i7 6800K, which has 2 fewer cores, in multi threaded workloads by 39%. The 1700X will cost slightly less at $400 compared to about $425 for the 6800K.

    Finally, the 1700 rounds out the high end. For $330 you're getting a CPU with a base clock of 3.0GHz, a boost speed of 3.7GHz, and a TDP of only 65W. Intel's core i7 7700K ($350), which AMD is choosing to compare to, only has 4 cores and a TDP of 91W. The i7's 4.2GHz clock and 4.5GHz turbo will be faster in single threaded performance, but AMD is claiming up to 46% better performance in multi threaded applications.

    Later this year AMD will also release chips for the Ryzen 5 class, which sits in the middle, and the Ryzen 3 class, which will be more budget oriented. Leaked benchmarks of the Ryzen 5 1600X, a 6 core/12 thread CPU, show it outperforming many i7 processors, so that's definitely something to look out for in a few months.

    First Look at Dell's Canvas 27-Inch Display

    We get up close to Dell's Canvas, a 27-inch touchscreen and Wacom-pen enabled display that's meant to be used in place of your desktop keyboard. Here's how Dell expects artists to use the device in Windows 10, how it works with their rotating dial, and why they think it's different than a Wacom Cintiq.

    Hands-On: HTC Vive Tracker and Deluxe Audio Strap

    We go hands-on with HTC's new Vive Tracker, which allows developers to make positionally-tracked wireless accessories for Virtual Reality. We test tracked rifles, baseball bats, and even a firehose. Plus, we put on HTC's new Deluxe Audio Strap, which makes the Vive much more comfortable to wear.

    Razer's "Project Valerie" 3-Screen Gaming Laptop Prototype

    We check out Razer's Project Valerie, a concept gaming laptop that has three 17-inch 4K screens built into its chassis. Running an Nvidia GTX 1080, we see Battlefield One running across all three displays and chat with Razer about why they built this insane prototype.

    Tested: HP Omen 17 Gaming Laptop

    We've been testing the HP Omen 17, the first laptop we've tested running on Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1070--a full powered Pascal GPU. That means this is truly a desktop replacement: a portable powerhouse that can run full roomscale virtual reality off of just one AC power outlet. But there are some tradeoffs that allow this fast gaming PC to be priced at just $1500.

    Tested: Microsoft Surface Studio Review

    We test and review Microsoft's new Surface Studio all-in-one PC, putting it front of cartoonists and graphic designers to see how the 28-inch touchscreen compares with digitizers like Wacom's Cintiq. Here's what we think about the Surface Studio's display, compact computer hardware, and unique hinge that connects them.

    Tested: Microsoft Surface Book Performance Base Review

    While Microsoft didn't announce a proper successor to its Surface Book for this holiday, they released an update to the laptop with a Performance Base model. We test the Surface Book with increased battery capacity and a new discrete GPU, as well as update you on what the past year has been like using the Surface Book as a primary work laptop.