Wednesday, January 23, 2013

AnandTech Article Channel

AnandTech Article Channel

Rosewill Armor EVO Case Review: Sometimes Performance Isn't Everything

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 08:01 PM PST

As NewEgg's house brand, Rosewill has been growing in very interesting ways. Being the house brand of a major electronics retailer means dipping your toe into a lot of different markets, and Rosewill has expanded dramatically, to the point where their products are starting to crop up on other vendors' sites. At the same time, those products are gaining attention in their own right. Rosewill's own Thor v2 may not be the best built enclosure, but it's a dynamite performer and can oftentimes be found at a bargain.

Rosewill has also been fairly aggressive about pursuing enthusiasts. It's not enough to simply have a product and offer it; you don't seen Best Buy sending out review Dynex or Insignia televisions to websites for review. There's also sweet money to be had in chasing mid-to-high end buyers, and that's where the Armor EVO comes in. The EVO is a fairly modestly sized tower capable of supporting E-ATX motherboards and promises healthy cooling performance. It also comes with an unusually optimistic MSRP: $119. Is it worth the money, or did Rosewill misfire?

The End of an Era: Intel's Desktop Motherboard Business to Ramp Down Over Next 3 Years

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 03:30 PM PST

Today Intel made a sobering, but not entirely unexpected announcement: over the next 3 years Intel will be ramping down its own desktop motherboard business. Intel will continue to supply desktop chipsets for use by 3rd party motherboard manufacturers like ASUS, ASRock and Gigabyte, but after 2013 it will no longer produce and sell its own desktop mITX/mATX/ATX designs in the channel. We will see Haswell motherboards from the group, but that will be the last official hurrah. Intel will stop developing desktop motherboards once the Haswell launch is completed. All Intel boards, including upcoming Haswell motherboards, will carry a full warranty and will be supported by Intel during that period.

This isn't a workforce reduction. Most of the folks who worked in Intel's surprisingly small desktop motherboard division will move on to other groups within Intel that can use their talents. Intel's recently announced NUC will have a roadmap going forward, and some of the desktop board folks will move over there. Intel will continue to produce barebones motherboards for its NUC and future versions of the platform.

Intel will also continue to produce its own form factor reference designs (FFRDs) for Ultrabooks and tablets, which will be where many of these employees will end up as well. As of late Intel has grown quite fond of its FFRD programs, allowing it a small taste of vertical integration (and the benefits that go along with it) without completely alienating its partners. This won't be a transfer of talent to work on smartphone FFRDs at this time however.

The group within Intel responsible for building reference designs that are used internally for testing as well as end up as the base for many 3rd party motherboards will not be impacted by this decision either. The reference board group will continue to operate and supply reference designs to Intel partners. This is good news as it means that you shouldn't see a reduction in quality of what's out there.

It's not too tough to understand why Intel would want to wind down its desktop motherboard business. Intel has two options to keep Wall Street happy: ship tons of product with huge margins and/or generate additional profit (at forgiveably lower margins) that's not directly tied to the PC industry. The overwhelming majority of Intel's business is in the former group. The desktop motherboards division doesn't exactly fit within that category. Motherboards aren't good high margin products, which makes the fact that Intel kept its desktop board business around this long very impressive. Intel doesn't usually keep drains on margins around for too long (look how quickly Intel exited the de-emphasized its consumer SSD business).

The desktop motherboard business lasted so long as a way to ensure that Intel CPUs had a good, stable home (you can't sell CPUs if motherboard quality is questionable). While there was a need for Intel to build motherboards and reference designs 15 years ago, today what comes out of Taiwan is really quite good. Intel's constant integration of components onto the CPU and the resulting consolidation in the motherboard industry has helped ensure that board quality went up.

There's also the obvious motivation: the desktop PC business isn't exactly booming. Late last year word spread of Intel's plans for making Broadwell (14nm Core microprocessor in 2014) BGA-only. While we'll continue to see socketed CPUs beyond that, the cadence will be slower than what we're used to. The focus going forward will be on highly integrated designs, even for the desktop (think all-in-ones, thin mini-ITX, NUC, etc...). Couple that reality with low board margins and exiting the desktop motherboard business  all of the sudden doesn't sound like a bad idea for Intel. 

In the near term, this is probably good for the remaining Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers. They lose a very competent competitor, although not a particularly fierce one. In the long run, it does highlight the importance of having a business not completely tied to desktop PC motherboard sales. 

MyDigitalSSD SMART & BP3 mSATA SSD Review

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 09:24 AM PST

Every now and then we receive a request from a smaller SSD manufacturer to review their products. We rarely say no to such a request and we try to treat all manufacturers equally regardless of how big they are. MyDigitalSSD is one of the lesser known SSD manufacturers, although that's not a surprise as they rely on their own distribution channel instead of selling at NewEgg or other major online retailers. MyDigitalSSD sent us two of their mSATA SSDs for review, the SMART and BP3. The SMART is a typical SandForce SF-2281 based SSD but in mSATA form factor while the BP3 is a more interesting drive. It's based on Phison's first SATA 6Gbps controller, which is something we haven't reviewed before. Read on to find out how the drives perform!

Hands on with Microsoft's Surface Pro, Available in US & Canada on February 9th

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 08:00 AM PST

When it launched Surface RT, Microsoft mentioned that 3 months later it would be bringing out an Ivy Bridge version running Windows 8 Pro. At the end of last year, Microsoft announced pricing for Surface Pro: $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB version, both without any bundled touch/type cover. Today we get the missing puzzle piece: availability. Surface Pro will be available in the US and Canada starting on February 9th.

Microsoft Surface Comparison
  Surface RT Surface Pro Apple iPad 4
Dimensions 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"
Display 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS? 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS
Weight 1.5 lbs 2.0 lbs 1.44 lbs
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 3

Core i5 with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)

Apple A6X

Connectivity WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 4GB 1GB
Storage 32GB or 64GB 64GB or 128GB 16GB—64GB
Battery 31.5 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $499 $899 $499

Earlier in the month I had the chance to sit down with a pre-release Surface Pro. While my time with the unit was too brief for a full review, there are a few points I'd like to share:

- From a distance, Surface Pro looks a lot like Surface RT. You can easily tell the difference in display sharpness compared to Surface RT (1080p vs 1366 x 768 helps), but both sport the same 10.6-inch 16:9 form factor. When viewed head on with the display off, you can't tell it apart from the RT version. I really believe Microsoft settled on the right display size for a notebook/tablet convergence device (although I'm still not sold that this is the ideal aspect ratio).

- Surface Pro is definitely thicker and heavier than Surface RT. Microsoft does a good job of masking the weight in both of these devices, but I'd still like to see thinner/lighter versions next round.

- I'm not too bothered by Surface Pro's pricing, as it's ultimately an Ultrabook competitor. However I would like to see a bundled touch or type cover at those price points. I'd also like to see integrated Thunderbolt to truly enable the tablet/notebook/desktop usage model. 

- As I mentioned in the first Surface Pro announcement piece, the tablet uses a 17W Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) SKU. I'm not sure how much we should read into Surface Pro not being a 7W SDP Ivy Bridge launch vehicle. The performance per volume is obviously going to be very good as a result. Microsoft demonstrated content creation and even gaming workloads on the tablet, both of which were very responsive. This is really where I feel Microsoft dropped the ball on not including Thunderbolt, although if all you need is miniDP out then Surface Pro has you covered. If you're fine with an Ultrabook/MacBook Air-class system as your main machine, Surface Pro could really be everything from your tablet to your desktop.

- Don't be fooled by the similarities in capacity. Surface Pro uses a full blown SSD, not an eMMC solution for storage. It also features an integrated USB 3.0 port, so IO performance will be notebook-like not tablet-like.

- Surface Pro features two fans that are audible under heavy load but attempt to remain as quiet as possible. The fans will adjust their direction of rotation depending on how you're holding the tablet, with the goal of never exhausting warm air into your hands. The vents are located around the top half of the device as you can see in the image above (this separation doesn't exist on Surface RT).

- The digitizer that ships with Surface Pro attaches magnetically to the charge port on the tablet. 

- Surface Pro uses the same type and touch covers as Surface RT. These two remain the best tablet keyboards I've ever used, not in that they are great keyboards but they offer a great balance of usability and form factor. Type/touch cover really do feel like a cover that you never need to remove, whereas most other tablet keyboards make me feel like I've turned my tablet into a notebook. I would still like to see Microsoft take a second pass at the covers though, I feel like there's room for improvement in usability. MS nailed the form factor, now it's time to perfect the keyboard/trackpad functionality.

- Surface RT was built from three discrete pieces of VaporMg (injection moulded magnesium): frame, back and kickstand. Surface Pro only needs two: the frame and back are integrated, and the kickstand is the only other discrete piece of VaporMg. The finish feels identical to Surface RT, although the kickstand did feel different to me. I didn't get enough time with the unit to really pinpoint how it was different, I just noticed that something was different. Overall I'm still very impressed with the build quality of Microsoft's Surface devices, if the rest of the Windows RT/8 tablets and notebooks felt like this I'm not sure Microsoft would have needed to build Surface to begin with.

- As much as I love the kickstand (all tablets need Surface's kickstand), Microsoft still doesn't have a great solution for in-lap use. The kickstand is workable, but not ideal. I'm not sure if there's even a real mechanical solution to this problem, but I'd love to see one. 

Overall I'm very excited about Surface Pro. Like Surface RT, I feel like the one that's going to be really exciting is the next generation device though. Without Haswell you lose S0ix and support for ARM-like idle platform power, which I suspect is going to be largely responsible for the "5 hour battery life" claims vs. Surface RT. Anyone shopping for an Ultrabook won't be put off by the battery life, but compared to ARM based tablets it doesn't look good. When you can get Ultrabook/MBA performance and ARM-like idle power however, things get very interesting. The appropriate Haswell parts won't be available until Q3 of this year, making holiday 2013 (or maybe a little sooner) a probable launch for a Surface Pro 2.

I'm glad to see Microsoft going down this path. The past few years have been littered with form factor confusion, and while I don't have clear visibility to what will ultimately emerge as the "right" ones, I do believe there's currently room for something in between a tablet and a notebook. 

Microsoft remains ahead of the curve in building tablet/notebook convergence devices. Unlike Apple however, Microsoft doesn't have the luxury of showing up to an uncrowded market. As a result, Microsoft has to work a lot harder to convince folks that Surface is a platform worth using - the initial flaws are less excusable when the market is full of mature competitors.

Microsoft Announces New Surface RT SKU: 64GB Without Touch Cover

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 08:00 AM PST

When Microsoft launched Surface RT, you could only buy the 64GB SKU with a bundled black touch cover. Although Microsoft's custom keyboard covers are an integral part of Surface's design, Microsoft offered them unbundled so: 1) you could choose whatever color you'd like, and 2) Microsoft could make tons of sweet cash on selling you a $120 cover.

Today, along with a bunch of other things, Microsoft is annoucing a 64GB Surface RT SKU without a bundled touch cover for $599. The pricing is in line with everything else, $100 more than the base 32GB configuration and competitive with other high-end ARM based tablets on the market.

Microsoft Surface RT SKUs
  32GB 64GB
Surface RT $499 $599 NEW
Surface RT + Black Touch Cover $599 $699

Rounding Out the Surface Announcements: New Markets and New Touch Covers

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 08:00 AM PST

Along with the 64GB $599 Surface RT and Surface Pro availability announcements, Microsoft is also announcing three new limited edition touch covers, expanded availability in 13 new markets and a Surface edition of Microsoft's Wedge Touch Mouse.

The new covers come in cyan, magenta and red, and each have their own design laser etched into the outside of the cover. Each cover is priced at $129.99, a $10 premium over the standcard touch covers. 

Over the coming weeks, Surface will be available in the following new markets: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. This apparently doubles the number of markets Surface is available in.

Finally, Microsoft's Wedge Touch Mouse is going to be available for $69.95 which is basically a version of the Wedge mouse but with Surface's finish on the sides.

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