Tech

LG’s New G6 Smartphone Arrives Next Month

pic

Next month in Barcelona, the Mobile World Congress event will be held. Samsung is usually the big contender at the event, but it looks like the star of the show this time around might be fellow Korean company LG. The LG G6 will be revealed February 26th and features a minimal bezel and a 5.7 inch display. The LG G6 will feature an aspect ratio of 2:1, and the screen-to-bezel ratio is more than 90%. The phone follows recent trends of maximizing screen space, with other phones from Samsung, Apple, and Xiaomi minimizing the borders on their phone and ditching the home button. The G6 will also feature curved display corners.

The LG G6 will be made entirely out of glass and metal, unlike the company’s previous devices that featured tacky plastic. The phone will feature a headphone jack as LG works to avoid the controversy surrounding Apple’s latest entry. The G6 will feature a dual camera and center-mounted fingerprint sensor, just like the G5. The Korean company has been struggling to compete with mobile giant Samsung, and has consistently failed to turn a profit with their mobile division. As more details are released about the G6, it will become easier to discern whether this latest entry from LG will compete in a market largely monopolized by Apple and Samsung.

Samsung Unveils New Gaming Laptops

pic

CES 2017 had lots of exciting technology to show. From Virtual Reality to Smart Homes to self-driving cars, the expo showed off some of the newest and hottest technology. Computers and gaming are still a huge part of the show, however, and Samsung had some new models of gaming laptops to share. The technology giant also announced a partnership with Google to roll out new Chromebooks that can use Android applications.

Samsung hasn’t made a serious push into the PC gaming market, but research shows that while PC sales in general are falling, PCs designed for gaming are maintaining or even increasing sales. It only makes sense that a company known for producing some of the most powerful smartphones makes a foray into the gaming laptop environment.

pic

The new Samsung gaming laptops are the Notebook Odyssey 15 and the Notebook Odyssey 17. Both laptops cater to the hardcore gamer with a beefy Intel Core i7 desktop-class processor. The Odyssey 15 is available with up to 32 gigs of RAM with the 17 capable of using up to a whopping 64 gigs. The 15 has a 256G solid-state Drive and a 1 TB hard-disk, while the 17 has a 512G SSD and a 1 TB HDD. One major detractor to purchasing a laptop is the lack of the ability to upgrade parts. Samsung seems committed to convenience with these entries, making the RAM and storage drives easy to access and simply swappable.

For graphics, the Odyssey 15 features an NVIDIA GTX 1050 and it can be assumed that the Odyssey 17 has a slightly more powerful chip. Gamers may be disappointed that the screen is only 1080p rather than 4k, but initial testing of the device seems to show that the display is still beautiful and powerful. As is the trend recently with gaming laptops, both the Odyssey 15 and the Odyssey 17 come with back-lit keys – red for the 15 and multi-colored for the 17.

pic

The Chromebooks are on the opposite end of the sprectrum in terms of power, but more excitingly this partnership between Samsung and Google will produce the first two Chromebooks that can access the millions of apps on the Google Play store. The laptops will also function as a tablet, and a stylus will be included with each Chromebook allowing users to draw on the display.

CyberpowerPC Releases VR Ready Desktop for $499

pic

Virtual Reality was one of the hottest aspects of the gaming industry in 2016, and will only become more prevalent in the coming years. Many Steam games now offer VR support, but it’s not exactly widespread due to the limited adoption of VR technology in the gaming community at large. This lack of prevalence is not often by choice, however. As the technology in its current state is relatively new, the barrier to access Virtual Reality has been high and requires both a high end PC and a decently expensive VR system. CyberpowerPC, a global manufacturer of custom gaming PCs, has demolished the price of one of those aspects with a Virtual-Reality-ready Desktop priced at just $499 when bundled with an Oculus Rift headset.

“This bundle will be the first complete AMD Oculus-ready gaming PC that provides the full experience of VR gaming at an affordable price,” said Eric Cheung, CEO of CyberPowerPC.

CyberpowerPC teamed up with AMD and Oculus Rift to design the product, so it’s clear that the intention from the start was to build the PC to function well with the Oculus’s Virtual Reality. The price of the bundle, including both the PC and the Oculus Rift will be $1,099.98. While that price may still be a little rich for some, having a computer and Virtual Reality system bundled together for around $1000 is still a lot better than buying the two separately. This fairly priced system gives a marked improvement in cost for the PC side of the equation, and the VR headsets should continue to decrease in price as technology inevitably advances.

“Less than a year after launching the Oculus Ready program, we’re thrilled to see that the all-in price for jumping into the highest-quality VR experience continues to drop by hundreds of dollars,” said Nate Mitchell, head of Rift, Oculus. “Thanks to the efforts of hardware companies like CyberPowerPC and AMD, more people will have the opportunity to enjoy the amazing games and experiences coming to Rift this year.”

The system will include an AMD quad-core FX 4350 processor and AMD Radeon RX 470 graphics card. It also offers twice the clock speed of a consumer desktop, with twice the amount of cores and cache memory of similarly priced options. The VR ready PC will launch with 8 Gigs of Memory and a 1TB hard drive, ensuring gamers have plenty of space to store their VR experiences.

The Gamer Ultra VR Bundle is available for purchase on Bestbuy.com and Amazon.com starting today, and includes the VR-ready Desktop and the Oculus Rift Headset.

Razer’s Stolen 3-Screen Laptop Listed for Sale

pic

One of the coolest prototypes at CES 2017 was Razer’s design for a 3-screen laptop. In a scandalous turn of events, someone walked off with the prototypes, leading many to suspect some form of industrial espionage. Trade secrets are important in the tech industry, and having an original product stolen by competitors could drastically cut into profits if they release a copy-cat version.  How practical Razer’s laptop really is remains to be seen, but prototypes are just concepts and might never materialize into anything. It’s possible that the laptops shown will be the only ones of their kind, never released for the public to enjoy. However, for those who have some cash to burn and don’t mind dealing in illicit laptops, the devices that were stolen from Razer’s CES booth have been listed for sale on Chinese webite Taobao.

Razer offered a $25,000 dollar reward for information leading to the apprehension of the thief, and it looks like for close to the same price you can have yourself a Razer prototype. The thief listed the laptops for the equivalent of $21,733 USD. Razer may be able to recover the laptops, or at least get the listing taken down, as Taobao’s terms of service prohibit the sale of stolen goods. Those looking for a three screen experience in a laptop can experience the magic for far less than 20 grand, however. Though current options don’t include screens that are attached to the main screen and fold out like the fancy prototypes, you can easily hook up external monitors via USB or HDMI for far, far cheaper. One might argue that having bulky external monitors reduces the portability of a laptop, but with three screens that are sure to be power-hungry, Razer’s model will likely need to be plugged in for any serious gaming. The model represents the latest in the recent trend of “portable desktops” – laptops that are rather bulky and pack the punch of a more stationary machine.

It remains to be seen whether we’ll actually see a 3-screen laptop on the market, but if the reaction and press regarding the scandal is any indication, there definitely seems to be a demand for such a product. Razer’s priority right now, however, is getting its stolen tech back and protecting its IP.

SteelSeries Diablo 3 Headset Review

pic

I’m only distracted by a pretty face for so long before I start to look around for something with a little more substance. Such is the case with the SteelSeries Diablo 3 Headset: it looks cool as hell (see what I did there?), but it’s not going out of its way to do anything that special.

If Looks Could Kill

The matte black color, sharp edges, and blood-red highlights nail the whole Diablo 3 vibe, and the pulsing red lights add to this devilish aesthetic. They’re also really comfortable, sturdy, and lightweight — something the entire SteelSeries brand manages to excel at — which makes them great for long hours of clicking away at demon hordes.

Like most good headsets, the guts of the Diablo 3 set have a 50mm magnet driver in each earpiece that delivers a pretty good mix of highs, mids, and lows. It’s too bad the entire sound experience is in stereo instead of surround, especially when you consider that you can get the Tritton AX 720 7.1 surround-sound set for around the same $120 price. The noise-cancelling microphone is serviceable, and it has the added bonus of being retractable.

I would have preferred the USB cable that dangles off of the headset to be longer than three feet (it feels like a one or two feet short), because the included 6.5-foot extension cable makes it too long, increasing the likelihood of stepping or rolling over it. The volume control dial located on the headphone cable feels awfully cheap, which is in stark contrast to the sturdy nature of the rest of the headset.

pic

High Maintenance

For being a USB-powered stereo headset, this is priced pretty high. Under the Diablo colors it’s functionally identical to the $90 Siberia V2 headset line, and the only difference is its lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone plug. For a wired headset I consider this a misstep because the USB-only connection will replace your existing default soundcard settings. So if you have a card that’s powered by a powerful audio chip (like the Recon3D’s we recently reviewed), make sure you’re okay with these taking control of your PC as your default audio setup when they’re in use.

The downloadable software package that the packaging makes a big deal out of is an incredibly generic inclusion that does little to help justify the high price. It’s little more than an EQ slider that allows you to save your settings and adjust how much you want the red lights on the outside of the headset to pulse. There’s no pre-set profiles (e.g. music, game, or movie), and compared to other headset software packages like Creative’s TacticProfile EQ software, it all feels incredibly useless.

pic

It’s hard to justify the cost of this headset unless you’re a Diablo 3 superfan, and even then I’d probably recommend you look for something that provides a better sound quality experience for the price tag.

Pros: Good stereo sound; light, comfortable, and sturdy design; looks cool as hell.
Cons: Expensive; no 3.5mm plugs; weak software; volume control feels cheap.

Rating: ★★★

PC Review: Digital Storm ODE v2 Level 3

Moments after I pulled it out of the box, the Digital Storm ODE v2 Level 3 turned heads in the office, not with a gaudy flames-and-skulls paint job but with a large, classy, black-and-white Corsair Graphite 600T case that says sci-fi, not hot rod. I want to get like eight of these things, dress up like Darth Vader, and board a Rebel blockade runner. This is one of the best-looking cases I’ve ever seen, even if it is slightly enormous.

[Note: Moments before this review was posted, Digital Storm updated the ODE line with the new Ivy Bridge CPUs. Pricing remains the same, but if you buy today you’re getting a little more bang for your buck than we’re looking at.]

To be precise, this model is very similar to the stock Digital Storm ODE v2 Level 3, but beefed up with an extra 120GB Corsair Force GT SSD that brought the price up to $2,000 even (which is pretty much the max I’d recommend spending on a gaming PC unless you have money coming out of your face). Thanks to that SSD, the boot time into the pre-installed Windows 7 Home Premium x64 is just over 35 seconds, and game load times are appreciably speedy. 120GB is tight, but enough to hold Windows and a few frequently used applications and games. Though if you’re looking to trim a few bucks that’s a good place to start; SSDs are a luxury that have a big impact on loading times, but not on in-game performance.

Relative to the noisy Alienware Aurora that occupied my desk space before its arrival, the ODE is whisper-quiet, even when I cranked up the fan using the external knob on the front of the case — the one right between the four USB 2.0 ports and the single (new hotness) USB 3.0 and (old n’ busted) Firewire ports. Four more USB 2.0 ports and one more USB 3.0 port in the back make 10 total — but notably, no eSATA. It does have HDMI and SPDIF-out audio, though that requires some high-end speaker equipment to take advantage of.

Digital Storm ODE v2 Level 3 Specs
Chassis Model: Digital Storm ODE Level 3 (White)
CPU: Intel Core i7-2600K 3.40GHz (Unlocked)
Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68-V LE, Intel Z68 Chipset
RAM: 32GB DDR3 1600MHz Corsair Vengeance Series
Power Supply: 800W Corsair GS
Hard Drive 1: 1 tb Corsair CSSD-F120GBGT-BK
Hard Drive 2: 500GB 7200 RPM/16MB Cache
Optical Drive: DVD Writer 24x / CD-Writer 48x
Video Card: 1x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 2GB
Cooling: Corsair H60 Liquid CPU Cooler
Internal Lighting: Internal Chassis Lighting System (Red)
OS: Windows 10 Home Premium (64-Bit)
Warranty: Lifetime Expert Customer Care with 3-Year Limited Warranty
Price of Reviewed System: $2,000

When I went to look inside, the windowed side panel popped off easily (it uses clips, not screws) and revealed an absolutely cavernous interior. Even with a 1.5GB EVGA GeForce GTX 580, 8GB RAM (two 4GB sticks), and a self-contained liquid-cooling system on the Core i7-2600K CPU, it’s like stepping into an empty, neatly wired cathedral. The ODE is a “room to grow on” type setup — a pre-built machine for someone who wants to do a little extra building on top of the foundation.

The ODE is a pre-built machine for someone who wants to do a little extra building.

The motherboard uses socket 1155, which is compatible with the new Ivy Bridge CPUs if you wanted to upgrade — though that’d be a bit crazy, since this i7 is already more than beefy enough to last you until Intel decides to change the technology again. There’s room for five additional hard drives (with easily accessible side-loading bays), which is good, because the 500GB 7200RPM drive in there is a little stingy for storage. There’s also space for a total of four optical drives, though these days the included DVD-RW drive is plenty. The only roadblock is that the 800W power supply isn’t quite enough to comfortably support a second GTX 580 in SLI — unless you want to swap out the power supply as well, you’ll need to stick to single graphics cards (or an efficient dual-GPU card). For those who simply want to buy a PC and never crack it open, though, this is all kind of wasted space. You’d probably be better off getting something a little more compact.

Time to Max it Out

Because all anybody’s really interested in doing when they buy a new gaming PC is turning everything up to maximum, that’s what I did with the ODE: all sliders pushed as far to the right as they’d go — no compromises. All of this, by the way, is happening on my single 1920×1080 monitor. Nothing fancy.

Software-wise, like all Digital Storms, the ODE comes with absolutely no crapware pre-installed (unless you count Games for Windows Live), but it has been set up to the point where it’s ready to go right out of the box. I cluttered it up a little with Steam, FRAPS, and 3DMark 11, and then went about the business of gaming.

Batman: Arkham City

Completely maxed out and with Vsync off, the benchmark utility in Batman averaged 41 frames per second, but dipped to 20 momentarily. But the thing about Batman is that it’s one of the bigger PhysX games, and Nvidia doesn’t recommend turning that up to max without a second GeForce graphics card devoted to physics acceleration. Turning PhysX down to normal moved the needle up to 45 average and 27 minimum — a significant bump that, for me, puts it out of the danger zone. I spent about an hour playing a challenge map on normal PhysX, and certainly couldn’t blame my failures on the steady 45-ish frame rate.

Total War: Shogun 2

Shogun’s high-end graphics benchmark averaged 54fps, and I never saw it dip below 45. For laughs I tried the low-end benchmark, which produced triple-digit results. This is about all the power you’ll ever need for a Total War game — at least until someone figures out a way to make them load faster.

Forza Horizon 3

Averaged 83fps, dipped to 72 at the lowest. Yup, that’ll do.

3DMark 11

If you’re into the arbitrary benchmark score thing, 3DMark 11 awards the ODE an X2201 on the Extreme setting. That’s not too shabby.

But is it a good deal?

Doing some quick shopping, I was able to track down roughly equivalent parts for around $1,600 (before tax and shipping). That, of course, doesn’t account for the three-year warranty and tech support you get with the ODE, but there’s definitely a premium for having it professionally assembled. I’d consider this on the pricey end for this hardware — which, with the release of Intel’s new Ivy Bridge CPUs and Nvidia’s GTX 680, is no longer top of the line — but with Digital Storm’s reputation and A+ Better Business Bureau score, I’d feel like that money wasn’t going to waste when it comes to support. If you’re not planning on running a 3D setup, triple monitors, crazy PhysX, or a 2560×1600 screen, this machine is going to max out just about any current game you can throw at it without complaint.

Can Sexy Ultrabooks Keep Up With PC Gamers?

Putting “ultra” in front of something creates high expectations. With the recent flood of thin, light, and relatively powerful “Ultrabooks” coming from nearly every PC manufacturer on the planet, it’s time to take a close look at how well these laptops live up to their names when put in the hands of a PC gamer. Ultrabook gaming may never deliver the maxed-out graphics of a good desktop GPU, but you can at least get your fix — even with high-end games.

Note that right this moment is probably not a good time to buy an Ultrabook for gaming. In just a couple of months we’ll probably start seeing Ultrabooks based on the new generation of Intel CPUs, called Ivy Bridge. In addition to promised improvements in battery life, Intel claims Ivy Bridge will make substantial gains in graphics performance. We’ll have to wait and see on that, but in the meantime, here’s what’s available today.

What’s an Ultrabook?

It’s an unfortunate truth that Intel’s definition of “Ultrabook” is a little on the loose side. For example, the Acer Timeline Ultra M3 sports a 15.6-inch display, discrete Nvidia GPU and an optical drive, but it also weighs just north of five pounds. In my book (pun intended), that’s no Ultrabook. I see Ultrabooks as the Windows-based equivalent of Apple’s Macbook Air: very thin, very light, but with very good performance for everyday computing. These laptops typically weight 3.5 pounds or less and have 13.3-inch screens or smaller. HP’s Envy Spectre 14, with its 14-inch display and four-pound heft, is about as large as I can accept in that category.

Can this thing play games?

If you’re the type of PC gamer who simply isn’t willing to sacrifice high detail levels, ambient occlusion and other effects, just stop reading now. You won’t be happy gaming on an Ultrabook with Intel graphics.

Ultrabooks typically use Intel low-voltage processors like the dual-core Intel Core i7-2677M, lack optical drives, and use SSD storage, all of which save power. Most run some flavor of 64-bit Windows 7 and ship with at least 4GB of RAM. All that sounds like a good recipe for gaming, but the fly in the ointment is that they’re usually based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge integrated graphics.

That’s not as bad as it sounds. In the past, PCs using Intel’s integrated graphics hardware meant crappy — and I use that word unreservedly — gaming performance. But with last year’s Sandy Bridge processors, Intel finally hit an acceptable minimum for gaming performance. What I’ll do here is show you what kinds of games run well on Ultrabooks, using a $1,000, 2.9-pound Asus Zenbook UX31E and its Core i7 2677M and 1600×900 resolution screen as a test system.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios — and some sample games — to get you going.

Casual and (Most) Indie Games

Obviously a casual game like Peggle will run fine, but what about some recent, more sophisticated indie games like Orcs Must Die! or Bastion? As an example, I played Defense Grid: the Awakening, a great DirectX 9 tower defense game.

No big surprise here: Defense Grid consistently ran at 35-45fps and felt responsive throughout three levels. This level of gaming is definitely a go.

Turn-Based and Real-Time Strategy

Turn-based games are an excellent choice for relatively low-end gaming, since they’ll often have excellent graphics but don’t have a lot of stuff going on at once to really tax your GPU. Civilization 5 is one example.

You can run in DX9 mode with almost all the details turned up and still hit 20 to 24fps — lower than that would be a big problem, but you don’t really need more. What’s more critical is to keep the framerate high enough and anti-aliasing disabled so that the mouse cursor remains responsive. Sure, Civ5 does look better in full DX10/11 turn-up-the-knobs-and-levers mode, but we can’t have everything.

RTS games, with all their hundreds of moving parts, are more demanding on both the CPU and GPU, so you’ll need to be careful about detail settings, but I was able to get Dawn of War 2: Retribution running well (at the medium global settings) on this particular Ultrabook.

If you’re not playing competitively, you can get by in single-player RTS games when running at 20 to 30fps. However, I don’t recommend going up against a human opponent without dialing down detail levels and even resolution to bare minimums to keep from putting yourself at a disadvantage.

The Blockbusters

Let’s look at a couple of really big games. First up is Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Running through Arkham Asylum, framerates maintained a constant 25 to 30fps. The detail level was set to medium, and everything in the game settings control panel below dynamic shadows was set to “off.” It was acceptable, but only barely, and for a game so heavily dependent on timing that’s not a place you want to be.

Skyrim is a tougher nut — its scenery has tremendous detail and goes on for miles. The medium detail setting seemed good enough, but only just — typical frame rates were around 20fps. Even then, there was significant framerate stuttering. You’ll want to run Skyrim at the lowest settings to achieve a more playable result.

As long as you remember going in that an Ultrabook is not intended for heavy gaming purposes, you should still be able to get a solid gaming experience, particularly if you back away from the cutting edge and revisit some old friends. All it takes is a willingness to dial down a few knobs and levers, and you’ll have a great time gaming on the go.

Squeeze Out Extra Performance

Remember: the typical screen size on these slim PCs is 13.3 inches, with 1366×768 to 1600×900 being the norm for resolution. That means that even if you could turn up all the detail levels, it’d be tough to see all that eye candy in all its glory. So you can go ahead and reduce a lot of detail settings without much perceived loss of detail. A scene that might appear to be a blurry mess of small textures and low polygon counts on a 27-inch monitor looks surprisingly good at 13.3 inches.

There are a number of performance-sucking detail settings in games you can dial down to get better frame rate:

  • Ambient Occlusion Ambient occlusion makes shadows look more realistic, particularly on detailed objects, but it’s also a big performance hit. You’ll see this feature listed as ambient occlusion, HDAO, and HBAO. Just disable them.
  • Shadow Quality This is usually separate from ambient occlusion. Set to low.
  • Reflections Some games let you set reflection settings in a very granular way: reflect world, reflect player character, etc. Just set to the minimum setting, and don’t enable reflecting of all objects.
  • Anti-Aliasing Just say no. Really, don’t turn on AA on an Ultrabook.
  • Detail Level Sometimes this is labeled “object detail” or something similar. It’ll vary from game to game, but medium is a safe bet.
  • Texture Resolution Also called texture quality. Medium is fine, but sometimes you can get away with high. If the frame rate is acceptable, turn it up.
  • Anisotropic Filtering 4x is good enough for this class of machine.
  • Disable Vsync You may see some tearing, but frame rates are likely to always below 60fps on an Ultrabook, so it’s not an issue. If the game is limited to 30fps, you might try this.

These are rough rules of thumb, and you’ll see other settings that may be available. When I experiment, I generally start at high levels, then dial down to the minimum acceptable frame rate. I recommend Fraps — it’s a neat little utility you can use to capture in-game screenshots, but you can also use it to put up an in-game frame rate counter, which can be a big help in judging performance in real time as you’re playing.

SteelSeries Diablo 3 Headset Review

I’m only distracted by a pretty face for so long before I start to look around for something with a little more substance. Such is the case with the SteelSeries Diablo 3 Headset: it looks cool as hell (see what I did there?), but it’s not going out of its way to do anything that special.

If Looks Could Kill

The matte black color, sharp edges, and blood-red highlights nail the whole Diablo 3 vibe, and the pulsing red lights add to this devilish aesthetic. They’re also really comfortable, sturdy, and lightweight — something the entire SteelSeries brand manages to excel at — which makes them great for long hours of clicking away at demon hordes.

Like most good headsets, the guts of the Diablo 3 set have a 50mm magnet driver in each earpiece that delivers a pretty good mix of highs, mids, and lows. It’s too bad the entire sound experience is in stereo instead of surround, especially when you consider that you can get the Tritton AX 720 7.1 surround-sound set for around the same $120 price. The noise-cancelling microphone is serviceable, and it has the added bonus of being retractable.

I would have preferred the USB cable that dangles off of the headset to be longer than three feet (it feels like a one or two feet short), because the included 6.5-foot extension cable makes it too long, increasing the likelihood of stepping or rolling over it. The volume control dial located on the headphone cable feels awfully cheap, which is in stark contrast to the sturdy nature of the rest of the headset.

High Maintenance

For being a USB-powered stereo headset, this is priced pretty high. Under the Diablo colors it’s functionally identical to the $90 Siberia V2 headset line, and the only difference is its lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone plug. For a wired headset I consider this a misstep because the USB-only connection will replace your existing default soundcard settings. So if you have a card that’s powered by a powerful audio chip (like the Recon3D’s we recently reviewed), make sure you’re okay with these taking control of your PC as your default audio setup when they’re in use.

The downloadable software package that the packaging makes a big deal out of is an incredibly generic inclusion that does little to help justify the high price. It’s little more than an EQ slider that allows you to save your settings and adjust how much you want the red lights on the outside of the headset to pulse. There’s no pre-set profiles (e.g. music, game, or movie), and compared to other headset software packages like Creative’s TacticProfile EQ software, it all feels incredibly useless.

It’s hard to justify the cost of this headset unless you’re a Diablo 3 superfan, and even then I’d probably recommend you look for something that provides a better sound quality experience for the price tag.

Score

Pros: Good stereo sound; light, comfortable, and sturdy design; looks cool as hell.
Cons: Expensive; no 3.5mm plugs; weak software; volume control feels cheap.

 

 

Samsung Series 7 Gamer Review

When closed, the glossy, curved surface of the Samsung Series 7 Gamer is a mysterious black slab that could be mistaken for the rumored “PlayStation 3 ultra-slim.” Open, it’s made from dark, brushed gunmetal that looks great until smudged up by fingerprints, and its 17-inch, 1920×1080 glossy screen is sharp and bright almost to a fault. It’s full of some respectably high-end hardware, and if not for a layer of “gamer” software apparently designed for a comically exaggerated gamer stereotype, it’d be a very dignified-looking machine. As long as you turn that crap off and don’t try to treat this like a portable laptop instead of an all-in-one desktop, the two of you will probably get along just fine.

All business on the outside, all party on the inside.

 

When unplugged The Series 7 automatically throttles back to a fraction of its full potential.

It’ll perform admirably while it can pipe electricity from the socket directly to its GeForce 675M GPU and mobile i7 CPU, almost maxing out current games, and it looks great doing it. But for $1,900, I expect at least a short blaze of battery-draining mobile gaming glory, yet when unplugged The Series 7 Gamer automatically throttles back to a fraction of its full potential. Performance goes straight down the tubes, losing almost 75% of its framerate numbers, rendering games like Batman: Arkham City all but unplayable at anything close to high settings. So don’t do that.

Ports on the left side. How nautical!

Not that this is a PC I’d want to carry around much. At almost eight and a half pounds, it’ll weigh a bag down like a couple of bricks — and that’s not including the large, brick-like power adapter. It puts the bulk to good use, though, and makes no compromises in features. Its many external orifices include four USB (two of which are 3.0), ethernet, HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort plugs, multiformat card reader, and a tray-loading Blu-ray drive. It’s even got a WiDi (wireless display) transmitter inside, though I don’t have a receiver to test that out. The one thing it doesn’t have is an SSD of any kind — a surprise for any PC on sale in mid-2012. Instead, this one’s equipped with two un-RAIDed Hitachi 750GB 7200rpm hard drives. Can I give back some of the gratuitous 16GB of RAM and get a 128GB boot SSD in here?

Samsung Series 7 Gamer Specs
CPU: Intel Core i7-3610QM 2.8GHz
RAM: 32GB DDR3 1333MHz (2X 8GB)
Hard Drive: 2X 750GB 7,200rpm HDD
Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce 980M
Optical Drive: Blu-ray
Operating System: Windows 10 Home Premium (64-Bit)
Warranty: One-year standard parts and labor
Price of Reviewed System: $1,900

The parts you touch, though — the full-sized keyboard and trackpad — are excellent. The keyboard is firm, springy, and comfortable, and the trackpad is large and recognizes two-finger scrolling gestures well. The only problem is the size and positioning of the trackpad, which makes it vulnerable to my left palm accidentally triggering it. However, realistically the amount of time I see myself using this type of PC without a real mouse is next to nil, so I mostly kept the trackpad disabled during my play time. Additionally, the aforementioned screen also has a respectably wide viewing angle, and the speakers are loud and clear enough that you probably won’t need a speaker system to game without headphones — which makes it a pretty good movie-watching machine.

It takes over the screen for a few seconds to play a ridiculous sci-fi animation that illustrates how much the Series 7 means serious gaming business.

On the right side is a knob that allows for quick switching between low-power mode, a muted and dimmed “library mode,” normal balanced settings, and of course “gamer mode.” The latter throws caution to the wind as its internal Mr. Scott puts everything she’s got into the GPU, at which point it takes over the screen for a few seconds to play a ridiculous sci-fi animation, complete with mechanical whirrs and bleeps, that illustrates how much the Series 7 means serious gaming business. As if that weren’t enough, It also illuminates a blue “TURBO” sign above the keyboard and makes the WASD keys glow red, changes the desktop background to neon cyber-eyeball, and even changes the mouse cursor icon for no reason. It’s the kind of thing that’s awesome the first two or three times you see it, provided you’re a 14-year-old who’s recently decided you’d rather have a gaming laptop than college tuition. Everyone else will probably spend the next few minutes trying to figure out how to disable that flourish after the first time. (Spoiler: it’s in the ModeShift utility.) Dammit Samsung, stop watching Hollywood hacker movies.

Seriously?

As a more minor gripe, I kind of hate the volume control, which is a strange touch-sensitive non-button above the F3 key. Why does it look like a flat knob you can rotate to adjust the sound level when all it wants you to do is tap the right or left sides? I don’t know, but whoever thought that was a good idea is quite wrong. The other touch-sensitive buttons next to it, which toggle on and off wifi, keyboard backlighting, and mute, are much more reasonable.

For my actual gameplay experience, I had a rather comfortable couch-gaming session playing Batman: Arkham City’s Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC with the Series 7 on my lap and a rigid mousepad on the armrest. My comfort factor declined eventually, however, as my lap became increasingly toasty by the time I got an hour in.

It should also be noted that this system does come with a mild case of pre-installed crapware, including a Norton security utilities setup that nags for registration. Your first stop should be the add/remove programs control panel to get rid of the garbage.

Max It Out

Because all anybody’s really interested in doing when they buy a new gaming PC is turning everything up to maximum, that’s what I did here: all sliders pushed as far to the right as they’d go — no compromises. All of this, by the way, is happening at 1920×1080 resolution.

Batman: Arkham City

With PhysX on normal, it limped across the finish line with a 25fps average and a 32fps max. I like to average at least 40 in a timing-sensitive Batman game — a result I achieved by turning down antialiasing to “FXAA (High).” It still looks pretty good at that setting, so I’m happy.

With PhysX cranked to high, of course, the framerate slowed to the mid teens. To be fair, any single card short of a full-fledged GeForce GTX 680 fails at that task.

Total War: Shogun 2

Shogun 2’s high-settings benchmark clocked in at a choppy 25fps average. That’s manageable but ugly for a slow-paced strategy game, so I’d recommend turning down antialiasing here as well.

Forza Horizon 3

I’m a little disappointed by the showing in Forza Horizon 3. Desktop systems don’t break a sweat pushing this aging racer over 60fps, but the Series 7 only managed to averaged 44fps. That’s good enough for most folk, but unspectacular.

3DMark 11

X1127 on Extreme settings.

But is it a good deal?

$1,900 will, of course, go considerably further in a desktop (where you aren’t paying for a screen and your GPU can be the size of a Volkswagon) but for this type of PC, it’s a respectable performer and affordably priced. For context, a comparably configured Alienware MX18 ran more than $2,600, which is quite a bit to pay for one extra inch and a half of monitor space. And once you’ve disabled the obnoxiousness, the Series 7 Gamer is a more elegant-looking PC to boot.

Score

Pros: Respectable performance; cool lookin’; great screen and keyboard.
Cons: Poor performance while unplugged; obnoxious “gamer mode” frills; heavy.

Review: Creative Recon 3D & Omega Wireless Headset

Hardware Profile

Like most headphones with a 50mm magnet driver, the Tactic3D Omegas do a great job of handling the lows, delivering satisfying booms and rumbles in gaming, although highs don’t come across nearly as crisp in music. But unless you’re going to go way up in price — like the $300 Bose QuietComfort 15’s — this is excellent sound quality for the money.

It’s equipped with a noise-cancelling, adjustable, and detachable foam-tipped microphone, and it’s easily one of the better-sounding mics I’ve ever used in a gaming headset. On the left ear there are buttons for volume and a mic mute that are easy to find and push by touch. The bundle comes with an extra USB cable for charging the headset’s built-in battery, which I love because it allows me to keep using it while it’s charging instead of scrambling for a fresh set of AAs when it does after about five hours of use. That’s well short of the advertised eight hours, but still very manageable.

While lightweight and comfortable, the construction of the headband and padding feels a little flimsy.

Compared to my personal wireless surround-sound headset, the $250 Ear Force Turtle Beach PX5s, I found the wireless range (about 30 feet, through two walls) and quality of the surround sound to be superior with the Tactic3D Omegas. It’s just a really great-sounding headset. The only real issue is that, while lightweight and comfortable, the construction of the headband and padding feels a little flimsy. You’ll need to be careful with how you handle them if you want them to last — not that you need to be told not to toss your $200 headphones across the room. It would also have been nice if there was a headset stand included with the bundle, considering you get one if you buy the Ear Force Tactic3D Omegas by themselves.

A headset can only be as good as the sound hardware piping audio to it — and in this case that’s no problem, thanks to the excellent Recon3D. It’s a external USB soundcard the size of a mouse (which doubles as a wireless receiver for the Tactics3Ds) that packs some of the latest Sound Blaster tech: the Sound Core3D quad-core audio processor. Relative to my motherboard’s on-board sound hardware, the Recon3D is a tremendous boost in audio quality for PC gaming, audio, and watching movies.

I didn’t find the Scout Mode button all that useful while playing Battlefield 3.

On the front of the glowing blue gizmo is a 3.5mm mic and 3.5mm Stereo aux input, in case for some reason you preferred to use wired headphones (or speakers) instead of the Tactic3Ds. In addition there are four main buttons: two for volume control, one to activate turn THX audio enhancement, and a “Scout Mode” button. Scout Mode is advertised as helpful for pinpointing the source of a sound by enhancing the highs and cutting out a lot of lows. However, I didn’t find it that useful while playing Battlefield 3, and actually preferred my THX setting for locating the source of gunfire and explosions.

Setup & Software

Getting the Recon3D and the Tactic3D Omega systems up and running was as simple as plugging the Recon3D into my PC, which recognized it right away, and pairing it with the Tactic3D by holding the connect button for a few seconds. Installing Creative’s software suite, not so much. As I’ve come to expect with Creative software, the first time I installed the Recon3D Control Panel it appeared blank, then periodically reset the surround sound to stereo mode. Uninstalling and reinstalling fixed the issue. The software is, of course, entirely optional — they’ll work with standard Windows 7 drivers — but if you opt out, you miss out on a lot of features.

There are a lot of tuning options in there — everything from an equalizer to bass and surround-sound enhancement settings. Plus there are CrystalVoice options if you want to morph your voice during multiplayer games (but please, don’t be that guy), or use the noise-reduction options to help cut out some background noise, which I recommend. I did however keep the Acoustic Echo Cancellation feature turned off because when enabled, I constantly got a rumbling echo in the headset.

I’d have liked the option to cycle through different profiles with a button on the headset.

Once configured, you can save your profile settings, then load that specific profile (eg games, movies, music) as needed. You can also load a specific profile to the Recon3D, but this is only useful for using these peripherals with a game console since you can’t install the control panel software on those machines. However, I’d have liked the option to cycle through different profiles with a button on the headset (like the Turtle Beach PX5s), without having to open the software suite every time I wanted to make a change.

The surround-sound headset market is a very crowded region, and a lot of these choices don’t come cheap. Creative’s Recon3D and Omega Wireless bundle is a reasonably affordable solution when you take into account everything that you get for $250. But you’d better make sure you can use everything in the box — otherwise you might be better off purchasing only one or the other.

Score

Pros: The Tactic3D Omegas are a great pair of rechargeable wireless headphones; the Recon3D is impressive tech for an external soundcard; great microphone.
Cons: Software can be buggy; Scout Mode button is a gimmick; no stand included in bundle; headset feels flimsy.