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Last Updated November 19, 2017

Orbs And Scrolls In Path Of Exile Currency

For gaming enthusiasts who are looking for a simple introduction to the Path of Exile Currency, as well as orbs and scrolls, in particular, you have landed at the right place!

An Old Concept Rehashed

One of the most unique aspects of getting some hardcore gaming action with Path of Exile is that there is no currency in the game. The concept of bartering has been introduced, which is an uncommon path trodden by a role-playing action game.

So whether you are on the lookout for upgrading your equipment, enhancing your weapons or sprucing up your skill-tree specifically within the Orb of Regret, the concept is to barter currency. It is what makes the path of exile currency unique when compared with a majority of action role-playing video games in the genre. To do so, you compulsorily need to be familiar with the concept of orbs and scrolls.

What is an Orb?

Well, the simplest definition of an Orb in the Path of Exile would be a rare form of Path of Exile Currency that you can trade for getting your hands at a special list of equipment, one which is more powerful than the regular fare. Some orbs, however, are utilized during crafting. The different types of Orbs include:-

  • Blessed Orb
  • Chaos Orb
  • Exalted Orb
  • Divine Orb
  • Chromatic Orb
  • Orb of Using
  • Orb of Alteration
  • Orb of Alchemy
  • Orb of Scouring
  • Orb of Transmutation
  • Orb of Chance
  • Orb of Regret
  • Unshaping Orb
  • Vaal Orb

Here, it is important to remember that each of the above special orbs has its drop level, stack size and help text which tells you how exactly to use the orb as you deem fit. The best thing about this form of the path of exile currency is that there are different variations that can be bartered and utilized in multiple ways to strengthen your character.

What is a Scroll?

To talk in complete terms, a scroll is the most common path of exile currency. While orbs are rare, scrolls are much more commonly encountered during the game. The purpose of these scrolls varies from identifying rare items such as strongboxes or even enchanted ones and magic.

Here is a look at the various scrolls you would come across during your game. Remember, just like different orbs had their unique drop levels, stack sizes and help texts, exactly same is the case with the scroll types enlisted below:-

  • Portal Scroll
  • Scroll of Wisdom
  • Scroll Fragment

Apart from understanding all about orbs and scrolls, acquiring mastery over the path of exile currency and bartering has several other aspects. These include wise spending habits, divination cards and so on. This basic knowledge should be more than enough to get you started!

  • viki
  • November 19, 2017
  • PC

All You Need To Know About Old School Runescape Gold

For those who prefer playing the older school version of Runescape, here is a brief yet informative piece on everything that you should know about Old School Runescape Gold.

Abbreviated to OSRS Gold, you can basically mine gold ore anywhere below level 40 in the game. Always remember, the time taken for the gold to reappear would always be 60 seconds post-mining, the mining experience being at 65-level of course.

OSRS Gold Trivia

Always remember that selling gold ore is extremely profitable and this would help you gain instant points, even more than when you sell regular bars. As far as gaining smith experience is concerned, gold bar smelting is an easy process once you have it mined, and you can put it to good use for upping your experience. Based on whether you possess the goldsmith gauntlet or not, the points you gain for smelting will be 56.2 in case of the former and 22.5 in case of the latter. Therefore Old School Runescape Gold or OSRS Gold is a much-coveted ore and asset for players.

Choices, Locations and More

While there are detailed maps available online, the most important location to remember would be Al Kharid.  This is the Scorpion Mine to be specific, and as the name suggests, you will have to beware of combating scorpions in your quest for OSRS Gold.

As far as other choices and locations for Old School Runescape Gold go, the Rimmington mine with 2 rocks, Lunar Isle Mine with 6 rocks, North Crandor Mine with 3 rocks, Agility Pyramid Mine with 5 rocks and Grand Tree Mine with 4 rocks, are some of the most popular mining sites. And most importantly, the list of dreaded monsters that you would need to be prepared for combat include the Marble Gargoyle, Skeleton Brute, Insatiable Bloodveld, Angry Barbarian Spirit, Thermonuclear Smoke Devil and several more. Proceed with caution!

  • viki
  • November 16, 2017
  • PC
boost your fps text header

Improving FPS Without Upgrading Hardware

Game consoles have the advantage of forcing game developers to optimize their creations to meet stringent criteria. With PCs though, the variety in hardware and configuration plus software makes it an impossible task to truly optimize a game to run on all settings. Nevertheless, if you have a gaming PC that is reaching its expiry date, the first thing to do is not to upgrade your graphics card or other hardware.

Granted the graphics card is what mostly causes bottlenecks in PC gaming but it isn’t always the culprit. Before you go and install a brand new graphics card, you may want to boost fps using these five strategies first and if nothing works then maybe your hardware does need a serious upgrade.

Latest Graphics Card Drivers

It is astonishing just how many negative reviews for games come from folks who do not actively upgrade their graphics card drivers. This is probably the first area you want to investigate if you are having fps issues. Old drivers are never really a good idea if you want the best performance but people tend to forget these things. Thankfully, Nvidia makes driver update easy by prompting the user whenever a new version is available for their graphics card.

First thing to do therefore is to find out what graphics card you have and then check the Windows version running on your PC. To do this you can navigate to the Device Manager in the Control Panel and find Display adapters. It should list your graphics card model under here.

Next step is to figure out Windows version and to do this simply right click on My Computer. Then select Properties or go via the System setting in Control Panel. This tells you if you have a 32 bit or 64 bit OS of Windows.

The final step is to visit your graphics card website. This does not mean Sapphire, Gigabyte, MSI or Asus. No, instead visit the chipset maker’s website such as Nvidia, ATI or Intel. Download the drivers for your graphics card directly from the chipset maker website by selecting your card’s model number plus the operating system.

Once you have the drivers, install them and reboot your PC if you are asked to do so. In some games, simply updating from old drivers to the latest edition tends to provide a sudden 30% boost to gaming performance!

Another useful check is to see if your game has any new updates that you haven’t installed. For games that you download through Steam or Origin, this is an easy task as updates are automatically applied to the games. For any third party games that do not rely on such applications, you may have to see the game developer’s website for update details. And finally, do not forget to update Windows as this too can cause fps drops.

Optimizing In Game To Better FPS

Drivers do play a major role in game optimization but they don’t provide the greatest fps gains. This comes from proper tweaking of graphics settings within the game.

Ideally you want to run all your games at the native resolution of your monitor. For most modern age PC monitors this is 1920 by 1080 but for laptops it can be 1366 by 768 too. The simplest way to figure out what resolution your monitor works on is to simply right click anywhere on the desktop and choose screen resolution. Under the dropdown for resolutions, the highest often is what your monitor is designed to operate at. Additionally, it can have recommended written against it too.

Remember that with resolutions, lower settings will provide better frames per second but do not adjust the settings from the desktop options. Instead, enter your game and search around under the graphics settings for resolution and tweak it there.

Another in-game setting that often drains the graphics card is Anti-aliasing. AA is a handy feature that helps remove jagged lines but it is a resource hog too. Usually, you should see sliders or numbers like 2x, 4x and so on. Try with AA completely disabled and then gradually move it up. Find the sweet spot where the AA helps smoothen frames but doesn’t drastically drop the fps. Your sole objective is to maintain a fps of around 25 or more.

This particular tweak applies to every other graphics setting too such as shadows, lighting and draw distance. All of these features look great but can use a lot of resources. Unless you are adamant of a graphical show, reducing some of these options can help improve the fps to a great extent. Just make sure you spend some time tweaking the settings around.

In our experience, this is mostly a case of trial and error.

Use Benchmark Tools

Without some sort of fps readout, it can be hard tweaking your gaming experience. Most modern age PC games offer in-game FPS simulations but for those that do not come with such add-ons you can download free third-party utilities such as FRAPS. This will tell you the minimum, maximum and average fps you get. Your target again is to maintain a steady 25 fps.

Do you know why 25 fps is the standard minimum necessary frames for fluid gaming? It is because our eyes process the real world in terms of snapshots that are refreshed every few milliseconds. Anything above 25 frames per second appears as moving images to us and that’s why 25 and above is as good as 125 fps and above. Remember, fps depends a lot on what’s happening in the game. In some situations, it can drastically drop and in others it will shoot up.

Overclocking Hardware To Improve FPS

While this isn’t something you should be doing, if you know what overclocking is and how to do it, then by all means push your hardware to provide you that additional clock speed. With nearly outdated hardware, this is the last resort to squeeze some extra life out of it. The faster your graphics card, RAM and CPU operate, the more fps you can receive in-game.

The first item to overclock, if you ever decide to do so is the graphics card. It has the most direct impact on fps. Unfortunately, the option to overclock may not be evident. To overclock GPU, visit the driver utility in Windows. If you don’t find anything there then get a third-party software for the same. Most graphics card makers offer their own software for this purpose.

As for RAM and CPU, overclocking is easy as it is done through the BIOS settings. Just press Delete when your system reboots and you will be taken to the BIOS screen.

Optimization Software

Windows continues to run several programs in the background as you game and all these programs, applications eat up resources such as CPU time and memory. Using PC optimization utilities, you can cut down on resource hungry background programs when you game and thus free up resources that might help increase FPS. This however, won’t produce any significant improvement unless you truly run a lot of resource hungry background apps.

While Windows has its own optimization utilities, you could try Razer Cortex – a popular third party Windows optimization software.

  • Jonas
  • March 11, 2017
  • PC
budget gaming pc header

Gaming PC On A Budget – The Essential Cheat-Sheet

If you’re looking for specific product recommendations after reading this piece, feel free to check out our reviews section!

A modern motherboard is like a Lego board, made easier by the labels that take up every square inch of its silicon real-estate. So, as you collect the right Lego bricks (read processor, GFX card, RAM kit and so on) and plug them into their respective places on the board, you got yourself a working system. It is that simple!

The problem however is the plethora of hardware choices and combinations out there fighting for your attention. To add to that, there is the ever-lasting argument between Intel vs. AMD processor and graphics cards. This is just the tip of the iceberg for someone wanting to build a budget gaming PC.

But, don’t fret, this cheat sheet shall give the right perspective to builds, components and much more on a budget. In other words, if you are okay with playing the latest PC games at ultra-settings (and some at high) on a 1900 x 1080 resolution HD monitor, then you’ll find this article helpful. If not, then this will seem pretty rudimentary for your liking.

Processor And Cooling Unit

From a purely gaming perspective, you shall need a discrete graphics card in any case, so features like ‘integrated graphics’ on your processor shouldn’t matter. However, the processor goes into overdrive for RTS (XCom 2), simulation (Grid Autosport), or games with adaptive utilization of computation such as Deus Ex 2: Mankind Divided. Also, multiplayer games will take more processing power.

That said, all current gen, quad core CPUs can handle modern gaming challenges. Intel core i3-7100 is a good starting point with its dual core, quad thread processing capability and 3.9GHz base clock. Its not power hungry and provides optimum cover for your affordable gaming needs.

Going up the processing-to-price scale, AMD FX-8300 is a capable processor at $105. Its an octa-core processor with 3.3Ghz base clock that ramps up to 4.2GHz on turbo. We suggest you spend on a proper cooling unit like Cooler Master’s HX-212 fan to keep this beast under control.

Motherboards

If you decide on Intel’s i3 processor, then you’ll should be looking for LGA 1151 socket type motherboards, in which case the likes of Asus H110M-A/M.2; MSI H110M Gaming and Gigabyte GA-H110M-A come into play. We like the MSI variant but that is more of a personal rather than a professional choice.

All three motherboards fall within the $60-$80 price band, and offer similar features like two DIMM slots with support for DDR4 RAMs; single slot for graphics card; one processor fan and one case fan connection. Depending on your budget, you could ramp up the motherboard selection to avail more bells and whistles.

As for AMD FX-8300, any good quality, AM3+ socket type motherboard will do the job. Here again, you could choose between Asus, Gigabyte and ASRock for budget motherboards in the $60-$90 range. They offer all the basic connections.

However, if longevity is in your plans, then we suggest you spend a bit more and choose between either MSI Gaming 970 or ASRock AM3 970A-G/3.1. Both gall within $90-$100 and will not wilt under heavy gaming, thanks to their build and pre-installed heat dissipation solutions.

Memory

8GB of RAM should be sufficient for most gaming requirements. So, depending on your choice of motherboard, you could either go for two 4GB sticks or a single 8GB memory module. There is a lot of choice when it comes to RAM manufacturers. So, its really a matter of preference and price ($50-$60).

However, your choice of RAM stick(s) should match your motherboard’s specs. For example, AMD based motherboards accept DDR3 RAMs whereas their Intel counterparts accept DDR4.

Another aspect is the latency if you’re employing two RAM sticks. Make sure the latency of both sticks match exactly.

Power Supply

For a budget PC build, 500-600 watts power supply should be enough. But not all PSUs are built the same and what you really ought to look for is one that gives you constant efficiency at 20, 50 and 100 percent loads. Thus, any PSU with an 80 Plus Bronze certification will cater to your budget gaming rig’s power needs effortlessly.

In the 500 to 600-watt range, EVGA 500B and Seasonic S12II 520W are two excellent choices for sub $50 PSUs. However, we like EVGA 500 W1 for builds with NVidia GTX 1050 and 1060 GFX cards, whereas Corsair’s CX600 600-watts PSU is our favorite for AMD GFX based PCs.

Graphics Card

In terms of sheer price to performance ratio, its hard to ignore the tug-of-war between Nvidia’s GTX-1060 and AMD’s Radeon RX480. Both cards come in two different GPU RAM variants. The 1060 offers a choice between 3GB and 6GB version. Similarly, RX480 comes in 4GB and 8GB variants. The pricing too varies between $200-$250.

Nevertheless, our budget winner in GFX card category has to be the GTX-1050Ti. It hits the sweet spot with its $150 price point; 4GB RAM and 1354Mhz base clock speed (EVGA model). It is just about perfect for playing classic and modern games at 1080p at high settings.

Hard Drive

As a gaming machine, 1 TB SATA hard drive running at 7200rpm will do just fine. But if you are keen upon faster load times, then you could choose a 480GB SATA-3 SSD, in which case Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 and SanDisk SSD Plus become choices worth looking at.

For a better match between speed and affordability, a combination of 128GB M.2 SSD (ADATA or Transcend) and 1TB hard-drive (WB Caviar Blue) would serve your needs and your pocket better ($100 combined).

Final Words

Discussed above are the fundamental purchases but not the only ones. There is the aspect of CPU cases, computer peripherals, monitors and the likes. We decided to leave them out because quite honestly, that discussion deserves content space of its own.

Its also worth repeating that PCs assembled with these combinations would cost between $450-$750 and cater to the 1080p gaming audience. Therefore, expecting these builds to take on 1440p, 4K or VR with style would be sheer naivety.

 

  • Jonas
  • March 9, 2017
  • PC
hdr computer monitors text header

HDR Monitors – The Future Of PC Displays Is Finally Upon Us!

CES 2017 will be remembered for many things but more so for having introduced the public to the brave new world of HDR monitors. If you know how seriously we take our gaming monitor reviews, you can see why this is such a big deal over here at Armchair Empire. After years of talk, it seems like PC display makers have finally worked out the formula to offering ultra-high dynamism to images for computers.

While the sheer pixel density of 4K might have caught on as a PC display trend, the real dream has always remained HDR quality for enthusiasts, both from the development as well as gaming community.

So, why is HDR such a big deal? Well one needs only look at an HDR TV to understand the technology with its expansive range of color and contrast – vibrant, accurate reproduction of colors that dovetail beautifully with precise and darker blacks of HDR.

Moreover, most if not all upcoming HDR monitors shall have 4K resolutions, thus closing the gap between a TV and monitor, at least in terms of visuals. But before we get to sharing our thoughts on future HDR monitors for PC, lets first try and understand the software side of this HDR technology and how it has finally made its way into the PC world.

Paving The Way For True HDR Monitors

HDR TVs have been around for some time now, which is understandable given that the industry while competitive is also quite closely integrated. However, for the technology to come into the chaotic world of PCs where standardization is a pipe dream; now that required some groundwork.

It started with GPU giants; AMD and NVidia showcasing their latest Radeon 400 series and NVidia GTX 10-series respectively in the summer of 2016. A common takeaway from that exercise – HDR rendering ability of the new line of GFX cards.

Subsequently, the release of Shadow Warrior 2, which apart from showcasing the multi-res technology of NVidia, was the also the first ever HDR PC game. AMD too followed suit when both HDR-10 and Dolby Vision standards got integrated into its Radeon software, Crimson ReLive.

Even though GFX cards were out with HDR support, and a game too that could exploit the feature, there still remained challenges, and none more so than the current HDMI interface standards. While HDMI 2.0a supports HDR, it does so in a somewhat one-size-fits-all manner.

The true essence of HDR is realized when the signal is not boxed into a single grade of output, but rather allows an HDR display to customize scenes and still images according to the capability of the rendering hardware and/or the quality of the movie or game engine.

So, theoretically speaking, playing Shadow Warrior 2 on a PC with GTX-1080 card won’t give that visual oomph over an HDMI interface. However, switching to DisplayPort should let loose all that extra color gamut, brightness, contrast and what have you.

How so?! Well, that’s because DisplayPort1.4 already comes with dynamic HDR support. Thankfully, HDMI Forum’s recent announcement of the new HDMI 2.1 specs should be a welcome gesture for all us vivid image nuts since the new standard, among other things, shall support dynamic HDR.

Even then, complications regarding dynamic HDR for the industry are far from over. As of now, only Dolby Vision supports dynamic HDR, and it’s a proprietary standard whereas the open standard, HDR-10 has yet to integrate dynamic HDR into its framework.

FreeSync 2, slated to come out for multiple monitor manufacturers later this year, is another step in the right direction to realizing vivid HDR. If its predecessor, FreeSync killed stutter and unwanted frame overlays in games on your monitor, AMD’s FreeSync 2 takes it a step further.

Instead of having the GPU churn out gameplay and display data in separate passes, the technology picks up on an HDR monitor’s capabilities beforehand, and accordingly instructs the GFX card to push through all relevant HDR level graphic rendering output for the display in one shot.

Plus, dynamic brightness and color ranges are made mandatory by FreeSync 2. In other words, if the game offers true HDR content and the monitor is equipped to handle it, then there shall be no bottlenecks so long as you’re running the latest AMD graphics card.

HDR Monitors – The Latest

Where there’s FreeSync, G-Sync can’t be far behind. True to its word, NVidia showed off its G-Sync capabilities on two third-party HDR PC displays at CES 2017. The 32-inch models do look the part with their 4K res, G-Sync powered super-fast 144Hz refresh rates, 1000 nits brightness and Quantum dot technology.

The aforementioned HDR G-Sync bearers are Acer’s Predator XB272-HDR and ROG Swift PG27UQ from Asus, both expected to hit the markets sometime in the second quarter of 2017.

LG too has jumped into the HDR waters with its 32UD99. Apart from the expected 4K resolution and HDR support, the monitor’s USP has to be its multitasking capability, in that it can charge a laptop; deliver stunning 4K display and transfer data simultaneously over a single USB-C cable.

Taking cue from the superb display of XPS 13 laptops, Dell’s S2718D takes the same super-thin bezel approach and blows it up in glorious 1440p over a 27-inch screen. Additionally, the 178-degree viewing angle of this HDR-enabled monitor produces a mind-boggling 99% sRGB gamut that’s ably supported by 400-nits of brightness and 1000:1 contrast ratio. Dell’s projected price for the S2718D when it releases in March 2017 is $700.

While most monitor brands haven’t released their price points for HDR models, expect it to be pretty expensive, typically in the $700-$1500 range. So, while early adopters have to be extremely brave (not to mention extremely easy with their wallets), this much is there that the technology shows far more promise than the 3DTV hype could ever muster.

More HDR Games Please!

Now that PCs have all but geared up for HDR and video game consoles too will showcase this capability in times to come (both Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro will offer 4K and HDR support), the only thing missing are game titles with the mind-blowing visual graphics that can exploit the full spectrum of HDR on super high resolution.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is at the forefront of upcoming games that will embrace HDR. According to experts, the game will not only offer off the shelf support for HDR but also inculcate NVidia’s all new Ansel screenshot tool. Moreover, HDR integration into the Bioware game was a seamless process since EA’s in-house engine, Frostbite always left room for the technology.

Other engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine 4 too have put their weight behind HDR, meaning we could see upcoming PC games that shall test the high dynamic range of monitors discussed in the preceding section. The age of HDR gaming is finally upon us!

  • Jonas
  • March 8, 2017
  • PC
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Intel Chips – Finally Taking The Leap Through Its Kaby Lake Processors

After the launch of dual-core Kaby Lake Y-series processors for ultra-thin laptops in August 2016, things seemed a little slow on that front. But that was only the calm before the storm, because at CES 2017, company executives declared nearly 40 different processor configs for the 7th generation processor family that would enter the market to serve a wide range of products.

As with any successive generation, the central point of evaluation is performance. And not surprisingly, Kaby Lake chips are expected to show a 20% increase in performance with respect to Broadwell quad core chips.

There is also tremendous improvement expected on the graphical and video processing front. Compared to last gen Skylake, these 7th gen chips are expected to have better 4K video creation and playback abilities.

According to Intel’s director of mobile platform marketing, Karen Regis, however, Kaby Lake’s strong suit lay in their ability to support ‘Optane’, Intel’s super SSD tech, a topic that we shall discuss at length. But first, lets look at the speeds and feeds of their chips.

The Kaby Lake Overview

The initial Kaby Lake launch in August 2016 saw the launch of low-power, dual-core, Y-series (4.5W) and U-series (15W) processors meant for 2-in-1 detachables and clamshell ultrabooks respectively. The recent rollout is wide ranging (more than 40 models) and covers a whole host of dual and quad core processor families.

Let’s start with the H-series – base clock ranging from 2.5GHz to 3.1GHz, turbo boost readings go all the way up to 4.1GHz. The series features both dual-core and quad-core type chips with TDP of 45-watts, and are designed for performance laptops and VR-ready notebooks. Both unlocked as well as the business-centric Intel vPro models can be found in the family.

For the mainstream desktop configurations, AIO and mini PCs, there is the S-series of dual-core and quad-core processors, available in TDP slabs of 35W, 65W and 95W with base clock speeds starting from 2.4GHz going all the way up to 4.2GHz with turbo boost frequency readings of 4.5GHz.

The 65W and 95W chips being high wattage are ideal for gaming and enthusiast PC builds, whereas the 35-watt chips shall be better suited to mini PCs and AOIs. Available in overclocked and vPro versions, price for the S-series is expected in the region of $117-$339.

A total of eight new chipsets have also been announced. Of these, five (B250, H270, Z270, Q250 and Q270) are designated for desktops whereas three (HM175, QM175 and CM238) shall cater to mobile computers.

Integrated Graphics And Overclocking

One notable omission is Iris and Iris Pro integrated graphics, which had relegated Intel HD graphics to denote the lower rung of graphics integration into Intel processors. The new entrant this time is Iris Plus, which in comparison to integrated HD Graphics shows a 65% uptick in 3D Graphics rendering and close to 40% improvement when converting video files from one format to the other.

According to Intel, Iris Plus along with the increased clock speeds across single, dual and quad core performance in Kaby Lake chips could finally run games at 1080p albeit at lower settings.

The other notable change is with regards to overclocking. The 7th gen chips from S-series will have an overclockable model for the i5(7600K), i7(7700K) and also their i3 chips (7560K). Furthermore, there are two different ways in which these chips could be overclocked.

The first is via an automated tool through which both base clock as well as clock multiplier can be manipulated. The other, which Intel calls AVX offset ratio, is an automatic reduction in clock speed when the processor experiences high degree of computationally complex instructions. This shall prevent the overclocked chip from overheating and thus increase its average lifespan.

Additional Technologies And Optane

There are two big takeaways in terms of other technologies incorporated, either directly or indirectly with Intel’s Kaby Bridge. First in line has to be the integrated video engine which was discussed at length during Intel’s August presentation. The engine supports popular 4K codecs and has its dedicated video block which in turn shall reduce the overall load on the processor.

Intel’s hope is that as more and more 4K videos are made, it shall be lapped by the likes of 4K content creators and resellers such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Not to forget that 4K service providers like FandangoNow, ULTRA from Sony Pictures or iQIYI could stand to make great gains from Intel’s video engine.

The second is Intel’s Authenticate, an in-house authentication technology that combines different factors like PINs, biometrics and even phone based authentication over BlueTooth. An idea that chip making giant shared at the beginning of 2016 is ready to become a reality, and Intel looks all set to incorporate it into business PCs.

Finally, we come to the hot topic of Optane, Intel’s 3D Xpoint technology that blows conventional NAND based SSDs out of the water, both in terms of read and write speeds. Developed in collaboration with Micron, the Optane module is basically a unique SSD replacement that slots into the DRAM slot.

Kaby Bridge processors weren’t built keeping Optane in mind, they are nevertheless the first generation of Intel chips to support this 3D XPoint technology. While there is no clarity on release dates and price point, this much is clear that all 200-series chipsets from Intel shall be optimized for Optane.

The Competition Landscape

For the time-being, Kaby Lake processors can enjoy a lot of breathing space but that is until AMD’s Ryzen gets introduced to customers and finally hits the market. And from the looks of it Intel is either readying itself to battle AMD’s onslaught with its Kaby Lake and Optane combination.

Nevertheless, Intel’s mid-level processor pricing will stay high until AMD bring out their trump cards. Also, there has been no talk of extreme level processors from Intel for Kaby Lake, so we’ll need to wait and see if and when they decide to bring that out.

So, all eyes will be on both processing giants on how they go about marketing their respective products when the two finally square off against each other with their own version of processors.

  • Jonas
  • March 7, 2017
  • PC
samsung all in one artpc

New Samsung All-In-One PC – An Innovation That’s Slipped Under The Radar

CES 2017 was a sight to behold – spread over 2.6 million square-feet of floor space and thousands of exhibitors showcasing their consumer technology products to a dizzying populace of visitors. From gaming drones to dishwashers and everything in between, if it involved daily life, then there was a gadget being showcased for it.

Where most products had the full force of promotional elements thrown behind them, there were some that remained hidden in the background, away from plain sight. Why? Because, manufacturers weren’t too sure what to do with them or for that matter, how to introduce them to the public.

One such product that caught our eye was Samsung’s All-In-One PC, which to be honest looked like a big monitor with an attached sound bar at first glance. It was only upon further enquiry that we understood what it really was. Dubbed the ArtPC (albeit hastily), the All-In-One (AIO) did peak our interest, but for different reasons altogether. Let’s take them up one by one.

The DNA Of AIOs

The headspace for AIOs is really quite simple. When you start feeling cramped working for hours on your 15-inch laptop, the other alternatives include connecting it to a bigger monitor or simply switching over to a desktop (provided you have one).

In that respect, an AIO sits comfortably between laptop and a full-scale desktop. On the one hand, its bigger screen size and performance outdo a laptop in a home environment. On the other hand, an AIO’s compact and clutter-free nature is so unlike a traditional desktop and for all the good reasons.

Not surprisingly, it’s the display of AIOs that makes them good or great. While inexpensive ones have those 20-inch screens, the better, more successful models rock a display-size that’s 23-inches or more on the diagonal. It gets better if the resolution is 1080p or higher (1440p and 4K) with an ultra-wide screen, the latter exploiting Windows 10 feature of viewing and working on multiple desktop instances opened side by side to the fullest.

Also, since the screen affords more brightness than laptop displays, choosing an All-In-One with IPS display panel brings off-axis viewing (not having to sit bang in front of the monitor) into play. There’s the added benefit if it’s a touch screen especially since this is another feature that Windows 10 was built to serve whole-heartedly. However, it’s absence isn’t exactly such a loss.

Add to that the hardware features such as SSD storage, more RAM (8GB and higher) and powerful processor with graphic rendering ability, you got a powerful system that’s easy to work on and becomes your entertainment outlet for when you want to take a break.

Attributes like USB connectivity, HDMI port, Ethernet LAN port are a necessity since they extend the operational spectrum of the AIO by letting you connect to your laptop, phone, tablet etcetera. A wireless keyboard and mouse combo complete the AIO circle making it a better, more organized alternative to a traditional desktop.

The Mysterious ArtPC From Samsung

From what we observed from the two promotional videos at the Samsung stall, the ArtPC comes in two variants, one with the touchscreen and the other without it. Also, Windows Hello (a feature that lets you to login quickly via scans of fingerprint, iris or face) is only available on the touchscreen version. Other than that, the rest of the specifications between the two models are pretty much identical.

The Exterior

Externally, the AIO sports a 24-inch HD display and a hefty 10-watt RMS sound-bar towards the bottom. In fact, the first impressions we got from the weird design was that of the display trying to protrude from the sound-bar, much like an over-grown iPod docking station. The cool thing about the sound-bar however, is that it can be connected via Bluetooth even when the AIO was turned off.

Additionally, there’s a wireless mouse and keyboard combo. We were particularly impressed by the curved shape of the keycaps. For one, it made depressing the keys easy thereby allowing for the fingers to glide across the keyboard faster. But more importantly, the shape is highly conducive for typing; a priceless attribute for anyone who spends a lot of time thrashing out write-ups.

The Interior

Go deeper into the ArtPC models, and at the center, you’ll find a 7th Generation Intel core i5-7400T processor, with a base clock speed of 2.4Ghz. For all graphic-intensive work (includes playing certain game titles), the built-in Intel HD Graphics 630 should handle them all without any fuss.

For storage, Samsung has provided a 1TB, 5400RPM SATA hard disk whereas its memory can be extended up to 16GB. All in all, satisfactory specs although we would have loved to see either a full 240GB SSD version or at the very least, a 32GB ‘cache SSD’ to speed up load time for OS as well as frequently used apps.

Connectivity

Thankfully, connectivity options are aplenty on the ArtPC. From USB 3.0 ports, SD card slot, HDMI interface and Gigabit Ethernet port, its got all the necessary connection requirements for a modern PC covered.

Furthermore, we were told that the two ArtPCs shall have some special applications installed including SideSync, an app that promotes interconnectivity and therefore seamless data transfer between the AIO, and smartphones, tablets and other devices.

The Future Remains Uncertain

Despite the new All-In-One PC having made its appearance in CES 2017, the simple fact is that neither many people gave it much attention; nor did Samsung seem interested in peddling it to visitors.

In fact, according to one representative’s candid confession, there are no immediate plans to bring the AIO into mainstream production and it is perhaps for this reason that it’s pricing too hasn’t been revealed. That in itself should put into perspective the mysterious nature of the ArtPC.

Both Microsoft (Surface Studio) and Dell (XPS 27) have come out with their respective gadgets to occupy the largely unattended Windows 10 AIO segment. So, if Samsung’s new AIO were to become available in the near future, it can be sure to have a battle on its hands.

 

  • Jonas
  • March 6, 2017
  • PC
nvidia pc revival kit in box

NVidia’s PC Revival Kit – A Complete Overview

NVidia has recently launched a PC Revival Kit, which is essentially a collection of hardware to transform your run-of-the-mill PC into a gaming machine. Price wise, if someone in Europe were to order the package directly, it would cost him/her roughly 399 EUR (or $425), and that’s including postage and custom fee.

Contrast this against buying the same parts individually in Europe, there is hardly any substantial difference in price. If anything, there’s higher chance of getting a better deal with the latter option whether be it in terms of quality, warranty or price.

But then, different markets require different strategies. And the concept of PC Revival Kit, the brainchild of NVidia’s Latin America division, is only available to certain countries in the region, Chile being one of them. That said, we’ve examined each piece of this puzzle independently to get a pragmatic perspective of who the ‘Revival Kit’ shall profit.

What’s Inside The PC Revival Kit?

Based on first-hand information from sources in South America, the PC Revival Kit shall contain:

  • 1 x Corsair CX450M power supply unit
  • 1 x Corsair Force Series LE 240GB SSD storage
  • 1 x MSI GeForce GTX 1060 3GB graphics card
  • 1x NVidia T-shirt
  • 1 x game code for Gears of War 4

There are certain base criteria that an existing system should fulfil for the upgrades to even be possible. For starters, the motherboard should have at least one PCI-Express 16x slot to accommodate the GTX 1060 GFX card. Similarly, the SSD drive shall need SATA port(s).

Whereas Intel’s second-generation i5 or an equivalent AMD A8 APU belonging to the same period is the bare minimum requirement for possessor, the existing PC should also have 8GB of RAM. Any lower specs and the system won’t be able to handle games like Witcher 3 and Gears of War 4 even with the Revival bundle installed.

How Well Does The Kit Fare?

Given a desktop computer meets or betters the base requirements mentioned in the preceding section, then this kit can provide a significant albeit budget gaming solution. Here is a look at the included hardware components individually, which should shed some light on the true extent of the upgrade on offer.

Graphics Card

The GTX 1060 was NVidia’s thumping response to AMD’s mid-range GFX card, the Radeon RX 480. And MSI’s version of GTX 1060 isn’t all that different from the ‘Founder’s Edition’ except for the extra overclocking that’s done on it.

This however is the 3GB version of the card. On an average, it has 2-10% lower performance ratings when compared to the 6GB version of GTX 1060. But then, the 3GB model is also 22% cheaper; a trade-off worth considering for some.

While many would call it the ‘poorer brother’ of the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, the GTX 1060 dominates the FHD spectrum of game resolution (1080p) and can play most if not all games at high settings on 1440p resolutions. It is also the least expensive GPU that’s VR-ready.

Being the first affordable Pascal architecture based GPU, GTX 1060 packs performance with power-efficiency. In fact, this card matches the past generation’s flagship GTX 980 pound for pound in frame rate for most graphic-intensive games played at 1080p resolution and at the highest possible settings.

Moreover, MSI’s GTX 1060 does all of the above while consuming less power – 135 watts TDP to GTX 980’s 178 watts when tested on identical PC configurations. This aspect has serious implications on the choice of PSU, given that you no longer have to go for high-wattage units to be on the safe side of things.

Power Supply

Positioned carefully between entry-level VS series and high-end TX series, Corsair’s CX450M provides that sweet spot of a power solution for budget and mid-level gaming systems. The M denotes the PSU’s modular nature, which in turn affords better space management.

Despite being a relatively inexpensive PSU option from Corsair’s stables, the CX450M is ‘80 Plus Bronze certified. Thus, this particular PSU model consistently offers 80-85% efficiency over the rated wattage of 450W across different loads.

So, apart from serious savings on electricity units, CX450M ensures that different PC hardware components receive constant power; an attribute that perfectly fits into the requirements of the aforementioned GFX card.

SSD Storage

SSD(s) greatly improves the time it takes to load the OS, applications or games. In that respect, Corsair’s Force LE series, and particularly the 240GB variant provides the all-important sweet-spot between reliability, cost-effectiveness and fast paced data storage and transfer needs.

This is mainly due to Toshiba’s 15-nanometer TLC flash for the memory and Phison’s PS3110-S10 to produce those lightning quick read-write operations that sit inside the LE 240GB model. The read and write speeds for LE series is rated at 560MB/sec and 530MB/sec for sequential operations. Its only in the non-sequential category that one notices a step up between say a 240GB and 480GB.

What’s NVidia’s Endgame With The PC Revival Kit?

From a strategic perspective, this is more of a one-stone-many-birds move by Nvidia with respect to the South American PC hardware market, where the demand for PC gameplay is ever-present, provided it is an affordable proposition.

Secondly, with NVidia’s 10 series of graphics cards offering an exponential rise in gaming performance and graphics rendering across the board, there’s no reason why today’s budget gaming PCs can’t compete with the likes of Xbox One and Playstation-4 over a prolonged period.

Granted upgrading a PC with NVidia’s ‘bundle’ might require more than just cost considerations. But once completed, that machine despite a mid-level graphics card shall produce far better gaming and visual experience than any present video-game console connected to a Full HD TV (1080p resolution).

Finally, there are those who are either new to the culture of PC upgrades or haven’t kept up with latest hardware developments for some time. For such people, NVidia’s PC Revival kit removes the learning curve associated with gaming PC components. Instead, it gives them a reliable yet ready-made option to realize their desire to play the latest PC games.

  • Jonas
  • March 5, 2017
  • PC
gabe newell head shot

Gabe Newell AMA And All The Major Talking Points

Reddit’s AMA or Ask Me Anything is a popular online Q&A session where personalities from different walks of life answer. Typically, Reddit users post their questions by replying to an AMA thread, to which the celebrity can then choose to answer.

Recently, Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve ventured into the subreddit, The_Gaben – a virtual veneration chamber dedicated to him. While there, he answered many questions, dodged a fair bit and even participated in some light-hearted banter regarding the lack of part-3 releases of Valve’s game titles. Here is a look at some of the major takeaways from the Gabe Newell AMA discussion thread.

Portal 2 Is Gabe’s Personal Favorite

When asked about his favorite single-player game developed by Valve Corporation, Newell’s reply was Portal-2 and not Half-Life. This was surprising for many given that Half-Life is by far one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time. So, when he was pressed to talk about regrets that he may have had with Half-Life, his answer was understandable.

According to Gabe, the reason for him to rate Portal 2 over Half-Life had to do with the level of his involvement with both of them. Given that Half-Life was first released in 1998, the amount of personal involvement for Newell was too high for him to actually sit back and enjoy the game for what it was – a game.

Thus, its hard for him to look at HL series in any other way than him regretting not having incorporated all the ideas that should have been. There are always trade-offs that one has to bear when developing anything and with Half-Life series, those trade-offs seem to have had a big impact on Newell.

In comparison, he was less directive with the Portal series, and Portal 2 in particular that released in 2011. As such, it’s easier for him to be a fan of the game. It wasn’t surprising to see him rate Dota 2 as his favorite in the multiplayer category.

Why Valve Doesn’t Talk Of Upcoming Developments So Freely?

A common gripe of the Valve community is the lack of communication from the company on subjects such as upcoming games and apps. This becomes especially evident when other game studios provide constant updates on every little aspect of every game they are currently working on.

Newell’s response to the question was that decision making at Valve Corporation is way more conditional than what it is at other companies. What he meant by that is the amount of changes and modifications they do on their previous decisions regarding a certain game can get annoying and outright frustrating for a normal reader if they decided to share every little development with the valve community.

In fact, according to Newell they have never been afraid of changing or canceling some portion of game at latter stages of development, primarily because they have the customer’s interest in mind. Unlike other companies, they do not think it wise to waste customer’s time and money on a game title that is glitchy or worse without the necessary updates as and when required.

Another point of view offered by Newel was that they preferred to communicate with the community through their final products and updates, rather than talk about how well the developments were going with an upcoming title. But that in no way should mean that Valve doesn’t value the community’s feedback. On the contrary, reading and listening to the most ardent fans of their games has helped the company provide better gaming experience.

Moreover, Valve generally chooses to respond almost always through Steam, especially when it concerns updates that either add functionality to the game or address in-game glitches. But Newel did concede that this form of response instead of the conventional blogposts can give the impression to some that Valve isn’t interested in talking to them.

He did however assuage concerns citing that this feeling is nothing more than latency imposed by way of choosing to take the longer route of listening and providing updates as opposed to getting on a forum and discussing them ever so frequently.

Source Engine 2

There has been a lot of chatter regarding Valve’s latest game engine, Source 2. And not surprisingly, redditers were interested to know how its going to the shape the games that are currently running as well as those that are to come in the future.

The first bit of information Newel gave on the Source 2 was that it has now become their primary environment for game development. As of now, Dota 2 is being moved on to Source 2 and the engine shall serve as a bedrock for future unannounced games. The aim, according to Gabe is to have everyone working at Valve on game creation to incorporate Source 2, so that certain foundational consistencies are achieved.

This could mean better things in the future, since multiple games developed over a single engine generally leads to faster debugging and better cross platform solutions. Moreover, the fact that Valve wants more of the game developing community to make use of their free to use engine bodes well not just for the company but also for independent developers.

Case in point being Counter Strike, which was developed independently using the Valve engine at the time and went on to open a whole new genre of multiplayer online battles, not to forget the amount of sales it garnered since it got released more than a decade ago.

Valve’s Direction For The Future

From what we gathered from the Gabe Newell AMA, the company is looking at enhancing the range of options so as to create better experiences for the gamer. In that respect, Valve has begun investing in hardware; the knuckles controller being a prime example.

The other area that Valve seems interested in is Virtual Reality. And Gabe actually went ahead to confirm that they are indeed working on a VR based game of their own.

Furthermore, AI work and environments for machine learning are of great interest to the company. For Newell though, brain- computer interface seems to have captured his fascination.

 

  • Jonas
  • March 3, 2017
  • PC
february releases

Most Anticipated Games Of 2017 – Our Top Five Picks

The year 2016 is past us and quite honestly it wasn’t the best, be it world events or video game releases. Apart from ‘Gears of War 4’ and ‘Uncharted 4’, there weren’t many that evoked the interest to play them. Thankfully, indie titles did a solid job (Superhot, Inside, Firewatch…) but they too were few and far in between.

Then there were the big disasters. ‘The Division’ takes pole position and who can forget ‘No Man’s Sky’ – so much promise but delivered very little in terms of immersive gameplay.

That said, the year 2017 looks promising with some of the best titles coming out in as early as March. While there are too many upcoming games worth mentioning, we focussed on five and for good reasons too. Read ahead to find out why.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This PlayStation 4 exclusive title certainly has us on the edge of our seats brimming with anticipation ever since we got a taste of it’s gameplay in E3 2016. Set in our world 1,000 years from now, robotic creatures and not the humans have moved up the ladder to become the dominant species of the planet. With much of the human population wiped out, there are but a handful of surviving colonies that have to constantly fight the odds.

You get to play the role of Aloy, the female protagonist of the Horizon Zero Dawn plot, she has been outcast from her tribe and over time, has learnt to hunt these creatures making her way through an open world. Her sole weapon from the first looks, is a bow and a quiver of arrows. The arrows themselves seem to be of different grades, some explode, whereas others pierce armours and discharge electricity.

The part that’s intrigued us is what Aloy does once she runs out of ammo (read arrows). It seems she has this special ability to construct weapons through a combination of machine parts from downed robotic animals and earth-based natural minerals. Oh, and did we mention it has giant metallic dinosaurs, because it does!

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The Mass Effect series has taken single-player space hoping and exploration missions to the next level. And we are guardedly confident that Andromeda shall not disappoint us on that front when its available in March and playable on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

The Andromeda plot begins in 2185, somewhere between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3. The Citadel has identified the galaxy Andromeda as the next best bet to find and populate new home worlds by letting each race send a group of its finest on a one way, 600-year journey to the new galaxy. Each ship appoints a leader who’s called the Pathfinder.

In the game, there is a choice between human protagonists Scott and Sarah Ryder who serve under their father Alec Ryder, who happens to be humanity’s pathfinder. Much like the other Mass Effect games, here too we expect lots of space explorations, interactions with other alien species, alliances, wars, negotiations, decisions, break-ups and make-ups and a kickass storyline to thread all of these individual gameplay aspects together.

Although there will no cross-platform feature for multiplayer, like Mass Effect 3, Andromeda will support peer-to-peer gameplay. And quite frankly, we did enjoy playing it this way on the last one.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

The eighteenth in the list of Zelda family of games released by Nintendo over the years, Breath Of The Wild is among the rare few to incorporate HD graphics that’s set to release in March 2017. What makes this game even more exciting is that it can be played on the all new Nintendo Switch console as well as the Wii U.

Set in an open world, players can finally explore the lands either on foot or by riding Epona, the protagonist’s horse. That in itself should be reason to rejoice as the earlier titles had constricted gameplay decision making by pipelining entry and exit points in the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption was such a hit that its 13-million players (that includes us too) were praying that the game studio releases a sequel to it. And those prayers have been answered! Red Dead Redemption 2 is officially a thing and should be released for consoles sometime in autumn 2017.

Like its predecessor, this too will be open world but whether it clings tightly to the Western action adventure genre is something that we need to wait and watch. Chatter on the forums suggests that sequel will take American history as its central point, and offer a big sprawling gameplay to match.

Also, there just might a rethink to release Red Dead Redemption 2 for PC platform following the massive online petition sent to Rockstar with more than 47,000 signatures (and counting). The other being a multiplayer game play for the title, about which Rockstar has remained characteristically tight lipped.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

Set in Bolivia, a few years into the future, you take on the role of an elite Special Forces team, The Ghosts who are sent behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on the Santa Blanca cartel and neutralise their drug peddling operations for good.

As per Ubisoft, Ghost Recon Wildlands will be set in an open world that’s not just massive but extremely responsive. In fact, this could be the first game to offer nine varying types of topography, terrain and atmospheric combinations, from arid deserts to mountainous regions, each with their own rendition of day-night cycle.

Open world means more travelling and that means vehicles to do the job. And the rumor is that we could get to a do smash and grab ops on cars and trucks much in a GTA style. As for main gameplay, the weapons, tactical planning shall no doubt be improved, but a welcome addition are side-missions that you could do while on a mission.

Releasing in March 2017 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC , Ubisoft is offering a lucky few the chance to beta test the game between 23rd -27th February. The beta will have both single and multiplayer modes. It shall include two out of the twenty-one provinces from the actual game for players to test the open world nature and provide feedback.

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