Contents
Ed Word
Building
for Katrina
Please send feedback and cake
to will@maximumpc.com.
I
’m sure I’m not alone, but this last month, I’ve
been unable to really concentrate on anything
but the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina
on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It’s the worst
natural disaster that’s occurred in the U.S. during
my lifetime, and it’s unbelievable to me.
The one good thing that’s come out of it is the
incredible display of homegrown generosity. People
around the country are opening their homes to Gulf
Coast refugees, helping them find work, and giving
of themselves in ways that I wouldn’t have believed
three months ago.
Even the kids are helping out. Our publisher’s
daughter, Elizabeth (aka Liz), set up a charity
lemonade stand in front of her home and sold more
than $300 worth of lemonade in one afternoon. We
may not be lemonade-making masters, but we can
sure as hell build kick-ass computers. Thus, we’re
building a pair of very special PCs—a lightning-fast
mid-tower rig and a super-silent small form-factor
machine—and selling them, with the proceeds going
to Katrina relief.
That’s right, for the first time, you’ll be able
to buy a rig built by the editors of Maximum PC.
They’ll be available on eBay in a few weeks, and
we’ll donate 100 percent of the proceeds to two of
the charities helping victims of the hurricane—the
Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
The specs aren’t final yet, but I want to give
you a hint of the goodness inside these boxes. The
mid-tower rig will feature an Athlon FX-57 processor,
a pair of GeForce 7800 GTX boards in SLI, a giant
RAID 0 array, and a ton of memory. The quiet rig will
include a Pentium M and a single GeForce 7800 GT
board, both tweaked to run silently. We’re ripping
these ready-to-burn hardware configs straight from
the pages of Maximum PC.
Both machines will feature one-of-a-kind paint
jobs from Smooth Creations (the best case painters
we’ve worked with) and will be hand-built, customtweaked, and signed by the editors. Truly, these are
one-of-a-kind machines, and this is your shot to
own a piece of Maximum PC. Now, we couldn’t do
this alone. We’ve lined up a ton of sponsors, who
were kind enough to donate hardware, software,
and time to our project. In next month’s issue,
we’re going to profile both machines, and give you
a close-up look under the hood, so you can see
exactly what’s on offer. As soon as the hardware
is finalized, we’ll post pics, a full spec list, and the
auction info on www.maximumpc.com. Stay tuned.
MAXIMUMPC Holiday/05
Features
38 Case Race
Face it—appearances
do matter. We shake down 10 highend cases to see if they’re as useful
on the inside as they are pretty on
the outside.
24
Upgrade
No tears. No expensive boo-boos.
No grief counseling. Just step-bystep instructions for upgrading
every component in your PC the
right way.
50
Gift Guide
After a grueling
month plowing through
acres of gadgets, we report
on the best gifts for the
geek in your life—even if
that geek is you.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 5
MAXIMUMPC
EDITORIAL
EDITOR IN CHIEF Will Smith
MANAGING EDITOR Katherine Stevenson
EXECUTIVE EDITOR Michael Brown
SENIOR EDITOR Gordon Mah Ung
FEATURES EDITOR Logan Decker
ASSOCIATE EDITOR Josh Norem
SPECIAL PROJECTS EDITOR Steve Klett
EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Claude McIver
EDITOR EMERITUS Andrew Sanchez
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Tom Halfhill, Thomas McDonald
ART
ART DIRECTOR Natalie Jeday
ASSOCIATE ART DIRECTOR Boni Uzilevsky
PHOTO EDITOR Mark Madeo
ASSOCIATE PHOTOGRAPHER Samantha Berg
CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS Morgan McDermott
BUSINESS
PUBLISHER Bernard Lanigan
646-723-5405, blanigan@futurenetworkusa.com
SOUTH WESTERN AD DIRECTOR Dave Lynn
949-360-4443, dlynn@futurenetworkusa.com
SOUTH WESTERN AD MANAGER Issac Ugay
562-983-8018, iugay@futurenetworkusa.com
NORTH WESTERN AD DIRECTOR Stacey Levy
925-964-1205, slevy@futurenetworkusa.com
EASTERN AD DIRECTOR Anthony Danzi
646-723-5453, adanzi@futurenetworkusa.com
EASTERN AD MANAGER Larry Presser
646-723-5459, lpresser@futurenetworkusa.com
NATIONAL SALES MANAGER, ENTERTAINMENT Nate Hunt
415-656-8536, nhunt@futurenetworkusa.com
ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Jose Urrutia
415-656-8313, jurrutia@futurenetworkusa.com
MARKETING MANAGER Kathleen Reilly
MARKETING COORDINATOR Tara Wong
PRODUCTION
PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Richie Lesovoy
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Dan Mallory
CIRCULATION
CIRCULATION DIRECTOR Stephanie Flanagan
FULFILLMENT MANAGER Angela Martinez
DIRECT MARKETING SPECIALIST Janet Amistoso
NEWSSTAND COORDINATOR Alex Guzman
FUTURE NETWORK USA
150 North Hill Drive, Suite 40, Brisbane, CA 94005
www.futurenetworkusa.com
PRESIDENT Jonathan Simpson-Bint
VICE PRESIDENT/CFO Tom Valentino
VICE PRESIDENT/CIRCULATION Holly Klingel
GENERAL COUNSEL Charles Schug
PUBLISHING DIRECTOR/GAMES Simon Whitcombe
PUBLISHING DIRECTOR/TECHNOLOGY Chris Coelho
PUBLISHING DIRECTOR/MUSIC Steve Aaron
PUBLISHING DIRECTOR/BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT Dave Barrow
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR/TECHNOLOGY Jon Phillips
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR/MUSIC Brad Tolinski
DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL SERVICES Nancy Durlester
PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Richie Lesovoy
Future Network USA is part of
Future plc.
Future produces carefully targeted
special-interest magazines for
people who share a passion. We
aim to satisfy that passion by creating titles offering value for money,
reliable information, smart buying
advice and which are a pleasure to
read. Today we publish more than
150 magazines in the US, UK, France
and Italy. Over 100 international editions of our magazines are also
published in 30 other countries across the world.
Contents
Departments
Quick Start Are entertainment
R&D Direct3D’s Shader Model
Head2Head ATI and nVidia put
In the Lab We benchmark
WatchDog Maximum PC takes
In/Out You write, we respond .......110
execs warming to the web? ................10
their dual-card technologies in
the ring ...................................................16
a bite out of bad gear .............................20
How To Customize Firefox with a
Rig of the Month Old parts
earn new dignity as art ....................112
Ask the Doctor Diagnosing
and curing your PC problems ..............64
72
Reviews
Videocard Gigabyte
GV-3D1-68GT ..........................................72
Desktop PC Puget Systems
Custom PC ..............................................74
CPU/VGA cooler Zalman
Resorator 1 Plus ......................................76
84
CPU cooler Zalman
CNPS9500 LED........................................76
Music streaming box
Notebook Getac M220 .....................78
DVD burners Sony DRU-810A;
Slim Devices Squeezebox 2 ..................81
Lite-On SHW-1635S ................................82
Hard drive Western Digital
SE 16 400 .................................................80
Compact digicams Casio
Media player LaCie 40GB
Silverscreen ..............................................80
EX-S500; Nikon CoolPix S1;
Canon Powershot SD500; Sony
Cyber-Shot DSC-T7 ...............................84
Gaming headset Steel Sound
Mice Apple Mighty Mouse;
5H USB .....................................................81
Logitech G5..............................................86
MP3 players Philips Shogbox;
Mobiblu DAH 5001; Archos
GMINI XS 100 ...........................................87
Gaming
FUTURE plc
30 Monmouth St., Bath, Avon, BA1 2BW, England
www.futureplc.com
Tel +44 1225 442244
Quake 4 ..................................................88
NON EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN: Roger Parry
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Greg Ingham
GROUP FINANCE DIRECTOR: John Bowman
Tel +44 1225 442244
www.futureplc.com
SUBSCRIPTION QUERIES: Please email maxcustserv@cdsfulfill
ment.com or call customer service toll-free at 800.274.3421
ATI’s long-awaited response
to SLI. The number don’t lie ..............70
host of cool extensions.........................61
Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange
(symbol: FUTR).
REPRINTS: For reprints, contact Ryan Derfler, Reprint Operations
Specialist, 717.399.1900 ext. 167
or email: futurenetworkusa@reprintbuyer.com
explained ............................................66
Black & White .......................................89
Fable: The Lost Chapters .................90
Darwinia .................................................90
88
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 7
quickstart
THE BEGINNING OF THE MAGAZINE, WHERE ARTICLES ARE SMALL
Get Your Kicks with
Friday
Night Fix
As the Cartoon Network airs free
streamed broadcasts over the
Internet, Maximum PC wonders:
Are content providers finally seeing
Put the kids to bed, and then kick back with Aqua
Teen Hunger Force on your laptop.
the benefits of digital distribution?
F
ree broadcasts streamed over the
Internet? It almost sounds like a trap.
Yet that’s exactly what’s going on over at
the Cartoon Network, where the channel’s
insanely popular Adult Swim program block,
which runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday
through Thursday, will be streamed over the
Internet on Fridays, for those who can’t bear
to go a day without Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
It’s called Friday Night Fix, and it’s one
example of how the entertainment industry is beginning to acknowledge how the
Internet can help television networks, music
labels, and Hollywood studios bag new
audiences for their content and build more
loyalty among current fans. Paul Condolora,
vice president and general manager of
Cartoon Network New Media told Maximum
PC, “[Friday Night Fix] is intended to attract a new group of users to our site,
who will then experience other aspects of
Adultswim.com, like games and our new
social network dubbed the Fan Collective.
Finally, we suspect there may be people
who do not have cable TV, but might be
able to access our shows on this platform.”
It’s not as if
the entertainment
industry has been
unaware of the way
the Internet can be
used to promote and
gauge the popularity
of content, however.
One of the recording industry’s dirty
little secrets is a
company called
BigChampagne,
which monitors filesharing networks and
reports on what’s
being traded the
most. What’s more,
BigChampagne
In addition to the usual Adult Swim fare, the Cartoon Network
gathers as much deintends to premiere new shows on Friday Night Fix.
10 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
mographic information as is possible from
the shared folders on users’ hard drives—in
essence, gathering valuable marketing data
from the same file-sharing networks that the
industry is actively trying to eliminate.
Wouldn’t you know, there remains a
vocal segment of the entertainment industry that’s unhappy even with the legitimate distribution of creative work on the
Internet. When the UK’s BBC began making
Beethoven symphonies available for free
download over the Internet—a hugely popular program that netted 1.4 million downloads in a single month—recording-industry
representatives whined that the downloads
might cut into their commercial sales.
Ultimately, the entertainment industry
is battling for the attention of audiences
who are turning to the Internet in increasing numbers for their kicks; the result is
a melting away of irrational fears about
Internet distribution and free stuff. As
Condolora put it, “At Cartoon Network, we
believe in letting fans be as big of fans as
they want to be.... We understand what it’s
like to be a fan, and we try to encourage
that behavior on all media platforms.”
Friday Night Fix began airing on
September 16, and is streamed from
Adultswim.com every Friday evening
beginning at 11 p.m. (EST). You’ll need
Windows Media Player and parental permission to watch.
FAST FORWARD
TOM
HALFHILL
32GB Compact Flash Cards?
It sounds wild, but Samsung has developed a new ultra-high-density flash
memory that could make such wildly
audacious memory cards a reality in
the near future. The new NAND chips
achieve a staggering 16-gigabits-perchip density, which is double that of
the company’s current highest-density
NAND chips. The chips will go into production in 2006 and are made using a
50-nanometer process.
I
Bye-Bye, BTX
Intel’s move to lower clock speeds
could be the death knell for its fledgling BTX formfactor
I
ntel’s recent announcement of its
impending move to a low-wattage microarchitecture is good news for fans of
quiet, cool-running PCs, but it begs the
question: Where does this leave Intel’s
much-touted BTX formfactor?
Though BTX was designed to make
communication between the north
bridge and south bridge chips more
efficient, its biggest boon has been
improved airflow over the CPU area—
a major concern with Intel’s super-hot
Prescott processors. Because Intel’s
new chips are designed to run much
cooler (and because AMD was never
going to embrace BTX), will the formfactor simply die a slow death? Rahul
Sood, president of Voodoo PC, certainly thinks so.
Back to the
Future
Intel’s new low-wattage
microarchitecture will probably
render the honkin’ BTX cooling
apparatus obsolete.
“I always thought BTX was a
waste of time and energy,” says Sood.
Speaking of Intel’s switch, he remarks,
“It shows that Intel has re-evaluated
its technologies and probably realized
that AMD was going to roll them up
and smoke them for the next year or
two.” Neither Dell nor Intel—both BTX
supporters—responded to requests for
comment as we went to press.
SATA II Confusion Nipped in the Bud
A new SATA spec consolidates new features into one easy-to-understand name
If you’re confused about whether SATA II is a drive or a feature, or both, you’re not
alone. The ridiculous naming conventions for SATA drives and their associated features have caused widespread bafflement among the industry, and so the organization
in charge of this stuff has announced an all-inclusive SATA spec dubbed SATA 2.5.
The new spec rolls all the previous specs—including those from SATA 1.0, 1.0a,
2.0, and beyond—into one. SATA 2.5 includes support for NCQ, port multipliers,
QuickConnect cables, and so forth. The move makes it easier on drive manufacturers, who will now have only one spec to deal with for all the new SATA features.
Unfortunately, a SATA 2.5 drive won’t necessarily feature all the features listed in the
spec, so be sure to read the fine print before you purchase a drive.
ntel’s next-generation microarchitecture for future
x86 processors resembles an old-generation microarchitecture—but that’s OK. As expected, Intel and
other companies are retreating from their reckless
pursuit of high clock frequencies, and in some ways
are reverting to designs reminiscent of the 1990s.
Note that a microarchitecture is a design for a
microprocessor chip or processor core. Before Intel
announced the next-generation microarchitecture,
Internet rumors suggested that Intel would reveal a
new architecture, which is nuts. Intel’s crown jewel
is the x86 architecture, which was born in 1978 and
might outlive us all. Specific implementations of the
x86—such as Intel’s Pentium 4 or AMD’s Opteron—
have their own microarchitectures. Intel’s next-generation microarchitecture will debut in processors
code-named Conroe (desktops), Merom (notebooks),
and Woodcrest (servers) in the second half of 2006.
An important microarchitectural feature is
the number of stages in the instruction pipeline.
Generally, the deeper the pipeline, the higher the
maximum clock frequency, because each stage
has fewer logic-gate delays. In addition, the pipeline depth influences other design points, such as
branch-prediction accuracy, misprediction penalties,
overall complexity, and power consumption.
The Pentium 4’s NetBurst “hyperpipeline” has
grown from 22 stages at introduction in 2000 to
31 stages today. In contrast, Intel’s next-generation
microarchitecture has only 14 stages. The Pentium M
has 12 stages, the Pentium III (1999) had 11 stages,
and the original Pentium (1993) had five stages.
Clearly, the days of pipelines on Viagra have ended.
But just because the new microarchitecture has only
a 14-stage pipeline doesn’t mean it isn’t potent.
Although the shorter pipeline won’t reach the
orgasmic 10GHz clock speeds once predicted for
2011, it’s simpler and wastes less power, so the
chip runs cooler. Those characteristics are crucial
for multicore processors, and multicore is the
future. Furthermore, the new microarchitecture is
better in ways that conventional benchmarks don’t
measure. It supports 64-bit extensions, Vanderpoole
virtualization technology, LaGrande security, and
new manageability features. Unfortunately, Intel jettisoned Hyper-Threading, which isn’t incompatible
with multicore design but does add complexity.
The 14-stage pipeline might seem like a step
backward, but it’s still deep by most standards.
Intel’s next-generation microarchitecture will bring
us highly efficient chips with two, four, or more
processor cores.
Tom Halfhill was formerly a senior editor for Byte magazine
and is now an analyst for Microprocessor Report.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 11
quickstart
THE BEGINNING OF THE MAGAZINE, WHERE ARTICLES ARE SMALL
GAME THEORY
THOMAS
MCDONALD
To PC or
Not to PC
I
spent the past month doing my annual
Game Immersion Ritual, in which I leap
into a pile of games and swim through
them like Uncle Scrooge going for a dip in his
money bin, emerging with a list of the top 100
releases for the year. The PC-exclusive titles
that made the list are few enough to repeat
in full: SWAT 4, Battlefield 2, Empire Earth 2,
Act of War, Knights of Honor, Silent Hunter III,
Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich, and Guild
Wars. Frankly, we could have done without
every one of them.
Oh, the games were great, but we’d have
done almost as well playing last year’s versions.
In some cases, we’d do better. Battlefield 2, for
instance, took the wonderful, smooth experience
of the old Battlefield and turned it into a painful bout of expensive hardware upgrades, with
frankly nebulous net benefits.
My disappointment with this year may
simply be a matter of timing. Warming up for
late release is Civilization IV, Age of Empires
III, F.E.A.R., The Movies, Black & White 2, Star
Wars: Empires at War, and City of Villains, all
mandatory PC titles, at least for the foreseeable future. Of these, AoE 3, Civ 4, B&W2, and
City of Villains are all strong, at least in their
preview versions, and are known quantities.
No real surprises. F.E.A.R. is shaping up to be
this year’s Half-Life 2, an ambitious FPS with
a creepy Ring vibe. Empires at War may finally
break the curse of the Star Wars strategy game,
but I’ve said that before. As for The Movies, it
looks good so far, but Lionhead games usually
preview well, and often wind up less-than-best
in the gameplay department.
Some other big games in the making—Star
Wars: Battlefront II, King Kong, and Quake IV—
are multiplatform, with the Xbox 360 versions
perhaps delivering better performance than
their PC counterparts. This of course will leave
us once again wondering: Is this the year we
forgo the $1,500 PC upgrade and simply cross
over to the console dark side? I don’t think so,
but we’ll know for sure in a few months.
Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 15
years. He’s currently Editor-at-Large of the old-school
game and puzzle mag Games.
Need A Display? Roll
Your Own!
Philips fast-tracks the flexible screen
T
he folks at Philips Research in the Netherlands
recently demonstrated a working prototype of
the “Concept Readius,” an electronic-document
reader featuring the world’s first “rollable” display,
which lets manufacturers roll a giant, full-size display
into a tiny device.
The 5-inch screen displays four gray levels, and
currently runs at a resolution of 320x240, using
technology licensed from Massachusetts-based
E Ink Corporation. The image is made up of thousands of microcapsules—each about the diameter
of a human hair—that are dark on one side and light
on the other. These microcapsules rotate as needed
to create the image.
Although the Concept Readius is only a reference
design at this point, it’s a good sign that the flexible
display may arrive sooner than anyone had anticipated
and breathe new life into PDAs and e-Book readers
overburdened by the size, weight, and power requirements of their screens.
The rollable
display
arrives
sooner than
expected,
but still too
late for the
iPod Shuffle.
Intel Adopts
SLI and
CrossFire
in Next-Gen
Chipset
If you’re considering making the move to a PCI Express
motherboard, but aren’t sure
whether to spring for one supporting ATI’s CrossFire dualcard tech or nVidia’s SLI, Intel’s
next-gen chipset—dubbed
975X—will reportedly support
both platforms.
According to an article in
DigiTimes, Intel has reached
licensing agreements with
both nVidia and ATI to use their
respective dual-card technologies, a surprising development
given the hyper-competitive
graphics-card market. The article quotes sources at Taiwanese
motherboard makers, though
Intel, ATI, and nVidia aren’t talking about the 975X at this time.
Intel’s new chipset will
reportedly be paired with its
new “Presler” core, which will
be used in the Pentium Extreme
Edition 955. This dual-core
processor will be made using a
65-nanometer process and will
support a 1066MHz FSB with
2MB of L2 cache per core.
Close Up: iTunes 5
Apple’s slick media player gets a high five
Steve Jobs appears to
be cracking the whip:
Apple just debuted
iTunes 5, an update
to the company’s
free media player,
which now allows PC
users to sync their
iPods with contact
information from
Outlook and Outlook
Express. iTunes 5 also
adds folder support
for playlists, and a
more random-behaving “Smart Shuffle”
feature. (Free, www.
itunes.com)
12 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
quickstart
THE BEGINNING OF THE MAGAZINE, WHERE ARTICLES ARE SMALL
&
A spin-off from
LoveSac’s line
of “hardcore
leisure” products, the GameSac can be
upgraded with
cup holders and
pillows, and
even zipped
to another
GameSac to
accommodate
an “oversize”
gamer caboose.
The GameSac
I
t begins humbly, with a foam-like insert about the
size of a small backpack. Punch it, kick it, hump it,
and in a couple days it will expand to fill the washable 4-foot square canvas cover. As Maximum PC
editors battling for “Sac time” can tell you, the plush,
cushy GameSac is the ultimate in luxury for your butt.
$265, www.gamesac.com
Another Browser Goes Gratis
First Shakespeare in the Park, now—free Opera!
I
nternet Explorer might have earned its embarrassing
“hijack me” reputation, but it isn’t looking so bad these
days, now that Firefox has become the latest victim of
hackers and the annoying pop-ups of rogue marketing
agencies. Where is a web surfer to turn?
Until now, Opera Software’s Opera browser hasn’t
been a viable alternative, carrying a $40 price tag for what
most PC users are accustomed to getting for free. But by
offering Opera 8.5 as a free download with no add banners, the company now stands a chance of closing the
gap between its rivals.
Like Firefox and the upcoming Internet Explorer 7,
Opera offers tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking,
along with unique features such as built-in voice recognition, text-to-speech, and a password manager that
can store multiple logins for the same site.
Grab it at www.opera.com. And remember, the browser wars aren’t
over until the fat
lady sings.
Opera is billed
as “The Fastest Browser on
Earth.” Now you
can find out for
yourself at the
irresistible price
of free.
14 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
Windows Vista
is Coming–
in Seven
Editions?
Microsoft isn’t commenting
on the forthcoming versions
of its next operating system,
Windows Vista, but Paul
Thurrott of Windowsitpro.com
got his hands on some “insider
information” that shows plans
for seven versions of the OS.
Of course, Microsoft will neither confirm nor deny any of
this, and specifics will probably change prior to launch
late next year, so take it with a
grain of salt.
The most basic version will
be called Vista Starter, and will
be for emerging markets only
(read: third-world countries).
The next version will be Vista
Home Basic, which will be
similar to XP Home edition. It
will include all the Windows
security utilities as well as
networking support and entertainment apps.
Then there’s Vista Home
Premium, an upgraded version
of Vista Home with features
analogous to Media Center
Edition 2005. Next is Vista Pro,
which will be targeted at businesses and include support for
non-Microsoft networking protocols. It will also support Tablet
PC extensions.
Finally we have Vista Small
Business and Vista Enterprise,
which are targeted at—you
guessed it—small businesses
and enterprise. What really
matters, though, is the seventh version, dubbed Vista
Ultimate, which will reportedly
offer everything from Vista Pro
and Home Premium, as well as
exclusive features including a
gaming performance tweaker,
a Podcast-creation utility, and
online access to downloadable
movies, music, and games.
Thurrott claims that internal
documents state the goal of
all these versions is to provide
“a clear value proposition” for
all customers, regardless of
their expertise.
FUNSIZENEWS
BEWARE INKJET
REFILLERS
If Lexmark has its way,
anyone who opens the
packaging for one of
its inkjet cartridges will
automatically agree to
its terms of service,
which—big surprise—
doesn’t allow the refilling
of its inkjet cartridges.
Reportedly, Lexmark will
begin labeling its cartridges as “singleuse only” soon, and if you violate that
EULA, you can be sent to Gitmo for violating the contract. If you don’t like this
strategy, be sure to vote with your wallet.
SPYWARE FOR STALKERS
A spyware author was recently arrested
for his Jealous Lover program, which
spied on people with a key logger and
other nefarious means. What’s interesting is that the people who bought the
program have also been arrested and
indicted. One arrestee was indicted for
cyberstalking and faces up to five years
in prison.
FIREFOX HINDERS
CYBERSLEUTHING
At a recent meeting
of the High Tech
Crime Investigation
Association, cybersleuths groused about
alternative browsers,
citing how Mozilla and
Opera make their jobs
more difficult by keeping
files in different locations than Internet
Explorer. Also, the forensics software
many sleuths use isn’t always compatible
with alternative browsers. Boo-frickinhoo, investigators. Just learn the new
browsers already!
SHAREHOLDERS SUE ATI
A class-action lawsuit has been filed
against ATI by its shareholders, who
allege that company bigwigs sold off
more than $54 million in stock at “inflated
prices” during the R520’s delay. The stock
price was inflated because nobody knew
about the issues with the R520s design/
production/yields. The suit was filed when
ATI forecasted reduced fourth-quarter
earnings by $20-to-$50 million, due to
the chip’s delay. Ouch.
head2head
TWO TECHNOLOGIES ENTER, ONE TECHNOLOGY LEAVES
ATI’s CrossFire vs. nVidia’s SLI
W
hen you need to do something faster, nothing is more effective than
doubling the amount of horsepower available to perform the task.
And when it comes to making 3D games run faster, nothing has proven to
be more effective than dropping two videocards in the same PC.
There’s absolutely nothing new about this concept. 3dfx’s Voodoo 2
ATI, like nVidia, will rely on OEM partners to sell CrossFire motherboards, but consumers can buy CrossFire videocards directly from ATI or
from third-party manufacturers.
We compared an ATI reference-design Radeon XPress 200 CrossFire
Edition motherboard, an ATI Radeon X850 XT CrossFire Edition video-
graphics boards introduced the concept to consumer PCs in the 1990s,
card, and a Sapphire Radeon X850 XT videocard to GeForce 6800 Ultra,
and nVidia brought the technology back into the mainstream with its SLI
7800 GT, and 7800 GTX cards running in SLI in an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe
(Scalable Link Interface) technology in 2004. ATI is no stranger to the con-
motherboard, to determine which technology is superior.
cept either—you’ll find its GPUs in high-end flight simulators.
BY MICHAEL BROWN
ATI’S CROSSFIRE: Referencedesign CrossFire Edition Socket 939
motherboard (retail boards range
from $80 to $120), Radeon X850 XT
CrossFire Edition videocard ($350),
and Radeon X850 XT videocard
($350), www.ati.com
SPECIFICATIONS
The Socket 939 CrossFire Edition motherboard we
reviewed is based on ATI’s RD480 chipset and features an 800MHz/
1GHz HyperTransport bus, support for DDR1 400 memory, SATA
1 and SATA 2 RAID controllers, a gigabyte Ethernet controller, and
integrated Intel HD audio.
ATI’s 16-pipe, 256MB Radeon X850 XT CrossFire Edition
videocard was the only CrossFire card available at press time. We
paired it with Sapphire Technology’s Radeon X850 XT videocard.
(We’ll test the company’s 16-pipe X800 XL and eight-pipe X800
CrossFire Edition cards as soon as they’re available.)
The fact that nVidia can deliver SLI solutions today with 8-,
16-, 20-, and 24-pipe GPUs gives the company an obvious edge
in this category. We’ll have to wait and see if ATI’s R520 GPU can
alter the equation. WINNER: SLI
round
1
16 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
EASE OF INSTALLATION
Videocard pairs in SLI and CrossFire systems both
depend on inter-GPU communication to divvy up the rendering
workload. nVidia’s GeForce 6600 and 6600 LE use the PCI Express
bus to share synchronization, display, and pixel data; nVidia GPUs
from the GeForce 6600 GT on up require a bridge board.
The GPUs in all CrossFire cards communicate via the PCI
Express bus, but the “slave” card transfers its renders to the
“master” card using a three-headed cable outside the case (one
end plugs into a proprietary DMS-59 connector on the master
card, one end plugs into the slave card’s DVI output, and the
third connects the master card to your monitor). Both solutions
are equally annoying kludges rendered necessary by inadequate
bandwidth across the PCI-E bus. WINNER: TIE
round 2
FLEXIBILITY
Aside from sheer
performance, the most attractive
feature of a dual-videocard
motherboard is that you can buy
a single card now, and drop in
a second one down the road.
ATI’s CrossFire solution trumps
nVidia’s SLI on this score: You
can pair one videocard from any
manufacturer with a CrossFire
edition card from any other
manufacturer. You can run two
cards with different clock speeds,
too—each card will run at its
native speed.
With nVidia’s solution, both
cards must come from the same
manufacturer, run at the same
speed, and be outfitted with the
same BIOS. CrossFire’s flexibility,
however, isn’t entirely without
drawbacks: If you pair a 16-pipe
Radeon X850 CrossFire Edition
card with a 12-pipe Radeon
X800, for example, the CrossFire
board will shut down four of its
pipes. WINNER: CROSSFIRE
round 3
PERFORMANCE
Although ATI is positioning
the Radeon X850 XT CrossFire Edition
against nVidia’s GeForce 6800 Ultra, no
one seems to be making 6800 Ultra cards
these days—nVidia’s GeForce 7800 GT
has clearly taken its place. But for the
record, two X850 XT cards in CrossFire
mode are indeed roughly equivalent to two
6800 Ultra cards in SLI. Dual 7800 GTs, on
the other hand, mopped the floor with ATI’s
top-of-the-line CrossFire combo; while a
pair of 7800 GTX cards blew past ATI’s
offering without even breaking a sweat.
For an in-depth look at SLI vs.
CrossFire performance turn to In The Lab
on page 70. WINNER: SLI
round 5
DESIGN
round 4 SLOT
The PCI Express slots
in both SLI and CrossFire Socket 939
motherboards must be configured to
function as either one x16 and one x4 slot
(in single videocard mode) or as two x8
slots (when two videocards are installed).
You accomplish this on some nForce4
motherboards, including the Asus A8N
SLI Deluxe mobo we used, by reorienting
a small PCB on the motherboard. This
process can be a royal pain in the ass, but
it’s superior to ATI’s brain-dead solution.
On the CrossFire mobo we tested,
you have to insert a PCB into the vacant
PCI Express slot, endowing one slot with
16 lanes and rendering the other entirely
useless. ATI’s technology looks even lamer
in the face of nVidia’s new nForce4 Intel
Edition chipset, which enables 16 lanes in
both PCI Express slots. WINNER: SLI
NVIDIA’S SLI: Asus A8N-SLI
Deluxe Socket 939 motherboard ($165), dual GeForce
6800 Ultra videocards ($415
each), www.nvidia.com
And the Winner Is...
A
TI has had nearly a year to study nVidia’s dual-videocard efforts, and
nVidia’s upcoming Forceware release 80 will finally let you run cards from
yet this first generation of CrossFire technology is far slower and
different manufacturers in SLI, but both cards will still need to be outfitted
much less sophisticated than even nVidia’s second-tier SLI offering.
We hope ATI’s motherboard partners will figure out a way to split the
with identical GPUs.
In the end, however, we find absolutely no reason to buy a CrossFire
PCI Express lanes in the system BIOS, because the reference-design solu-
Edition motherboard and videocard today—especially as you won’t be
tion that effectively configures the lanes as x16/x zero in single-card mode
able to couple any of the current-generation Radeon videocards with an
is mind-numbingly dumb. Even if they do, however, it won’t make up for the
R520-based card. We’ll revisit CrossFire as soon as ATI ships an R520
fact that you remain limited to an x8/x8 configuration in CrossFire mode.
version; but for now, nVidia’s SLI rules the dual-videocard roost.
We do, on the other hand, appreciate that ATI allows us to mix and
Be sure to check out “In the Lab” on page 70 of this issue for more
match a CrossFire Edition videocard with any other videocard in the
information on our CrossFire experience. You’ll find detailed bench-
Radeon X800/X850 family, no matter which manufacturer made the cards.
mark results there, too.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 17
dog
g
watchdo
MAXIMUM PC TAKES A BITE OUT OF BAD GEAR
Our consumer advocate investigates...
PApple PGainward
PHi-Pot PHewlett Packard
Freya, Watchdog of the month
IPOD BAD BATTERY SETTLEMENT
Apple will issue
sent the package back.
cash, credits, or
Gainward’s response
extended warranties
to my problems was
to some 2 million
simply: “Sorry for your
iPod owners, followtroubles, please request
ing the approval of
an RMA.” This was not
good enough for me. I told a class-action suit
against the company.
them I could not pay for
shipping to Taiwan ($20+),
especially after paying for
shipping to the U.S. facility just to have it returned to
me. But my words fell on deaf ears—the company did
not respond to the email nor the three others I sent.
They’re ignoring me now.
This service is unacceptable and I would never
recommend Gainward to anyone, nor will I ever buy
another Gainward product in the future. I am stuck
with a dead card that’s probably not even worth the
cost of shipping it to a foreign country.
— Dan Corritore brand. Consumers who already own a Gainward
card, can only pray it doesn’t break.
For you, Dan, there is a solution that doesn’t
Gainward, the company that made the phrase
require chucking the card. Although it’ll cost
“Golden Sample” synonymous with highly overyou more cash, there are several after-market
GAINWARD GIVES U.S. CUSTOMERS
clocked videocards rather than random steroid
fans that should work on your videocard. The
THE GOLDEN SHOWER
testing, hasn’t been doing so well. Besides being
Dog is particularly found of Zalman’s VGA
I have a Gainward graphics card with a faulty fan. I
squeezed by growing competition in the videoobtained an RMA and sent the card to the company. A
Cooler. Woof.
card market, the company has been in disarray
week later the box came back—unopened and with
most of the year, following a report on tech news
the same tape I sealed it with!
site DigiTimes that Gainward would exit the busiWHERE IS MY MISSING CHANNEL?
When I contacted Gainward again, I was told:
ness and sell its brand name. That report was
Hewlett-Packard is selling its R4000 and ZV6000
“Gainward USA no longer handles RMAs, please
Socket 939 Athlon 64 notebooks with one channel
later disputed, but Gainward did split from invescontact Gainward Taiwan for further assistance.” And
of their dual-channel memory controllers disabled.
tor TNC Industrial.
sure enough, when you go to www.gainwardusa.
What’s worse, nowhere on HP’s website does it
As part of the split, the new Gainward
com, a message on the site confirms this. (This messtate that these systems run single-channel DDR.
announced plans to move its headquarters
sage was not there prior to me sending my package
Anyone researching a system, whether it be a
from Taiwan to Germany and open sales offices
out, by the way.)
desktop or notebook, would discover from AMD’s
in the UK, Sweden, Russia, and France. What
I then contacted Gainward Taiwan for support,
Athlon 64 white papers that the CPU’s built-in
about the U.S.? That’s not clear right now, but
and was told I’d be issued an RMA. The thing is, I told
memory controller is dual-channel.
from what the Dog can tell, Gainward’s presthem that what happened was unacceptable—I paid
Is there any way you can look into this issue
ence in the States is nonexistent. At one point,
money to ship the product out only to have it sent
for the many people who have purchased these
the U.S. website said Gainward had discontinback in the same defective (and unopened) condition
tainted notebooks?
ued support in the U.S. and referred consumers
it was in. And not one person had bothered to contact
—Mark
to Taiwan. Now the site is dead and all phone
me and help this matter move forward, they simply
numbers for the company are disconnected.
So where does that leave
The Dog spoke to a Hewlett-Packard spokesperyou? Without any promise
son who looked into Mark’s question. She conGot a bone to pick with a vendor? Been spiked by a flyof support for Gainward
firmed that certain HP notebooks do indeed use a
by-night operation? Sic The Dog on them by writing
products on store shelves,
dual-channel CPU such as the Athlon 64 4000+ in
watchdog@maxumumpc.com. The Dog promises to answer as
the Dog recommends that
single-channel mode. Why? The spokesperson
many letters as possible, but only has four paws to work with.
you steer clear of the
said HP chose to do this because of the “limita-
A federal judge has approved a $100 million
settlement in a class-action lawsuit against
Apple that claimed many iPod batteries failed
prematurely. Consumers who purchased first-,
second-, and third-gen iPods before May 31,
2004 may be eligible for an extended warranty,
replacement battery, or store credit from the
company. The settlement could apply to as many
as 2 million iPods. Owners of third-gen iPods
will likely receive a one-year extension to the
warranty to cover the battery. If the battery fails
within that period, the consumer could have the
battery replaced at no charge other than shipping and handling, or they could receive a $50
store credit. Owners of eligible iPods whose batteries failed may receive a $50 store credit or a
check for $25. Consumers who already had their
batteries replaced within two years of purchasing the iPod may receive a check for 50 percent
of the amount they paid. More information is
available at: www.appleipodsettlement.com.
20 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
tions when trying to support dual-channel configurations.” She added: “Although the memory
brand does not need to match, the memory density and memory card configuration must be
identical for the full memory amount to be used
properly. If this rule is not followed, you are left
with either a slight increase, no increase, or even
a possible decrease in overall memory capacity.
We decided that these limitations and requirements were too complex and were detrimental to
the overall customer experience. In order to guarantee that customers always get the full amount
of memory they paid for, our only choice was to
use a single-channel configuration.
“These limitations aren’t as big a concern
for desktops, due to the extra number of memory
slots they have (four or more). [Engineers] are
able to lay out the motherboard so the user can
get different memory configurations by plugging
the memory into different slots.”
So, Mark, there’s your answer. Is it right? It
certainly makes memory upgrades easy for the
uninitiated. But if you’re out for the ultimate in
memory bandwidth performance, it’s not ideal.
The sticky thing is that while HP doesn’t say the
notebooks run in single-channel mode, the company also doesn’t advertise (at least from what the
Dog could find on its website) that the notebooks
are dual-channel, either. You would have to infer
that because all Athlon 64 4000+ CPUs on the
desktop are dual-channel it must be the same in
notebooks. You could probably make the same
accusation of the nVidia and ATI cards in mobile
products. While the GeForce 6800 Ultra on the
desktop is a 16-pipe part, the GeForce
Go 6800 Ultra is just a 12-pipe
part. Similarly, many OEM versions of PC parts could also be
lacking features that their retail counterparts carry.
The Dog believes HP should be more forthcoming about the configuration, but it doesn’t look
like a case of blatant false advertising. Woof.
PSU MADNESS
I bought a power supply not too long ago and
found a sticker on it that says “Hi-Pot OK.”
Is this their QA, or what? I was wondering if
they are trying to tell me something.
—Kenny Risch
Sorry to disappoint you and Jeffrey
Lebowski. “Hi-Pot OK” has nothing to do
with marijuana—it refers to an electrical test
conducted on the power supply transformers.
According to PC Power and Cooling: “Hi-Pot
HP says it disabled one memory channel
on the dual-channel-capable Athlon 64
chips in its ZV6000 notebooks because of
the limited RAM-configuration options in
portable PCs.
is a safety test to insure that a user will never
be shocked with live AC when touching the
computer case or any of the components.
The high-voltage insulation is checked by
applying 1500 VAC between the AC Hot
receptacle and chassis ground to insure
complete isolation.”
Overhaul your computer or upgrade a lagging
component with our easy-to-follow,
upgrading
how-tos
U
step-by-step
BY THE MAXIMUM PC STAFF
pgrading your PC is a lot like learning
be prepared for what’s to come and you’ll be
to drive. It’s not difficult, but the
less likely to skip a crucial step by mistake.
results can be disastrous if you don’t
Trust us—we’ve fried enough hardware
follow the proper procedures. We
to know right from wrong when it comes to
urge you to read this story and spare yourself
upgrading. Learn from our mistakes and get
an expensive and heartbreaking upgrade gone
your new, improved rig up to speed faster
bad. Our step-by-step instructions show you the
than ever before!
very best way to upgrade every one of your PC’s
major components. Here’s a tip: Before you start
a component upgrade, read the guide for that
component completely through; that way, you’ll
24 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
TABLE OF UPGRADES
MOTHERBOARD.......... Page 26
POWER SUPPLY................ Page 33
CPU................................... Page 30
VIDEOCARD ........................ Page 34
HARD DRIVE ................ Page 32
OPTICAL DRIVE ................ Page 36
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 25
Upgrade Your Motherboard Step-by-Step
Because the motherboard is the foundation of your entire PC, upgrading it provides many opportunities for you
to thoroughly screw up your rig and crush your spirit. But it doesn’t have to be that way. All you need is paper,
a pencil, your new mobo, and a Phillips screwdriver.
1
Make sure you’re grounded before you touch any
components; it’s as easy as touching the metal portion of your case while the machine is still plugged
in. Remove all your old add-in cards and memory, storing your components in antistatic bags while they’re out
of your rig.
3
Most cases use several Phillipshead screws to hold down the
motherboard. Unscrew each of
them, and then carefully lift the mobo
out of the case.
6
Before you mount your new motherboard, count the mounting points
in your case and write the number
down on a piece of paper. If there are
more or fewer
mounting
points on the
mobo than
in your case,
adjust the
standoffs in
the case to
line up with the
mobo before
you drop it in
the case.
26 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
2
Unhook all
power cables,
drive cables,
and any case-fan
power connectors
from the motherboard. Unplug the
wires connecting
your case’s frontpanel power and
reset buttons, too.
4
Remove the mobo’s old
I/O shield from your case.
A quick thwack with the
handle of a screwdriver will pop
the shield right out.
7
If you haven’t
already installed
your new CPU
and heatsink, turn to
page 30; otherwise,
you’re ready to mount
your mobo inside
the case. Hold the
board over the case
and match the case’s
mounting points
with the holes in the
motherboard. Shift
the board slightly
until they’re perfectly
lined up.
5
When installing the new
I/O shield, make
sure all the knockput panels have
been removed, and
that the holes match
your motherboard’s
ports. You should
also ensure that the
grounding contacts
atop the PS/2, NIC,
and FireWire ports are
bent up so they won’t
get jammed into the
ports when you install
the new mobo.
er
ints set up, carefully low
With the mounting po
and
s
ew
scr
the
ert
Ins
the board into place.
the
don’t screw them all
hand-tighten them, but
8
way down.
9
Install an
expansion card
into the board
to check
the spacing—nudge the
board around
until the card is
easy to insert
and remove.
10
Screw
down the
board,
using enough torque
to keep the screws
from vibrating out,
but not enough
to crush the PCB.
When you’re done,
count the number of
screws you used. If
the number doesn’t
match what you
wrote down earlier,
you missed a mounting point that could
short out the underside of your board.
Pull the board and
locate the missing
mount point.
11
Plug the power and drive cables back into the board.
If you’re moving from an older AGP motherboard to
one that supports PCI Express, your existing power
cable won’t match the new mobo (the cable is keyed to fit only
one way, however, so don’t force it). Newer motherboards have
a 24-pin power connector, but it’s not necessary if you have a
good power supply. If you’re certain your 20-pin power supply delivers enough juice, insert the 20-pin plug into the 24-pin
jack on the motherboard. This will leave four open pins on the
motherboard jack, which would otherwise supply power to the
graphics card.
12
Connect the four-pin ATX12V plug. If your PSU doesn’t
have the square plug, it’s really time to buy a new power
supply. If your machine sporadically crashes while playing games or doing heavy computation, your PSU might not be
providing enough juice; if that’s the case, you’ll need to purchase
and install a new one (see the bottom of page 33).
13
Plug in the front panel I/O, add-in cards, and memory. You’ll find directions for connecting the front panel
I/O in your motherboard manual (each mobo is different, so consult your documentation). If you’re sure you’ve
connected the correct jumpers, but the hard drive or power
light won’t turn on, you probably have the polarity reversed.
Reverse the connector and you should be good to go.
14
Boot the computer. Because you’ve just replaced a major
component, you should really do a clean install of your OS.
Even if you don’t, Windows XP’s activation “feature” might
force you reactivate the OS. Whether or not you do a clean install,
you’ll need to install the chipset and device drivers for your particular motherboard.
15
You’re almost
done. Go into
the motherboard’s BIOS and
set
the proper boot ord
er
(typically optical dri
ve
first, then hard drive
,
and then any other
bootable devices yo
u
have). You should als
o
double-check that
the
mobo correctly detec
ted
your CPU and that
the
front-side bus and
RAM
are running at the pro
per
speed. Each mothe
rboard model is a litt
le
different, so you sh
ould
consult your docume
ntation for the full sc
oop.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 27
Upgrade Your CPU Step-by-Step
The first step in any CPU upgrade is to choose the right processor for your motherboard. The safest way to do
this is to visit your mobo maker’s website and look for a list of CPUs the manufacturer has certified. If you’re feeling frisky, you can cruise the Internet to see if people are running CPUs beyond what the mobo maker has tested,
but we don’t recommend this tack for newbies. The second step is to update your motherboard BIOS; if you don’t,
there’s a chance your machine won’t boot with the new processor. Only then are you ready to begin.
1
Remove the old CPU
heatsink by first prying
ion
off the heatsink retent
m
fro
y
var
l
wil
s
module. Thi
r, so
one heatsink to anothe
t
sul
con
to
you might want
site
b
we
r’s
ure
act
the manuf
your
before you dismantle
d
ase
rele
’ve
PC. Once you
st
twi
lly
efu
car
k,
tsin
the hea
rthe
the
il
it left and right unt
the
If
se.
loo
rks
wo
mal paste
run a CPU-intenfire up the machine and
heatsink is really stuck,
t will soften the
hea
The
.
sor
t up the proces
sive application to hea
again.
it
shut it down and attack
paste, and then you can
Socket 478, 754, and 939 Processors
Examine the notches on your
new CPU to make sure it’s
properly aligned with the socket. Socket 478 Intel chips and Socket
754/939 AMD chips have an arrow that
should match up with the arrow on the
CPU socket. Carefully insert the chip into
the open socket. There should be very
slight resistance going in; anything more
means you either have a bent pin on the
new CPU or you have it lined up wrong.
If you suspect something’s gone awry,
stand down immediately and take a look!
3A
LGA775 Processors
To install an
LGA775 proc, hold
the CPU with your
thumb and forefinger directly
over the socket. Lower the
CPU straight onto the socket.
Don’t drop one side and then
the other, and don’t slide
the CPU over the top of the
socket. Either of these actions
has the potential to kill the
motherboard. Push the locking bracket down to secure
the CPU in place.
3B
4
If you’re using your old heatsink (you
made sure it’s capable of cooling your
newer, hotter CPU, right?), you need
to clean off all the old thermal paste using
a lint-free cloth soaked in isopropyl rubbing
alcohol. We recommend the 99 percent stuff
you get at the pharmacy, but we’ve never had
problems with the 70 percent grocery-store
variety, either. Now, place a BB-size dab of
thermal paste in the center of the mounted
CPU. When you lock down the heatsink, the
pressure should spread the thermal paste
over the entire surface of the CPU.
For photography purposes, several different motherboards were used. We strongly discourage any attempt to use a
Socket 939 CPU in a Socket A mobo.
30 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
2
Now that the old
heatsink is off,
simply flip up the
arm that locks the CPU
in place, remove the
old CPU, and put it in
the CPU cookie jar. If
you’d like to use it in
another machine, place
it on a clean, static-free
surface. Once you’ve
installed the new CPU,
put the old one in that
packaging until you
need it again.
Socket 939 motherboard
5
Reattach the bracket for
the heatsink, plug in the fan,
and fire up that bad boy!
6
The last step
in this installation is to verify
that your CPU is
running at the correct speed. Enter
the BIOS settings
screen by holding
down the F2 or the
DEL key during
boot. When you’re
in, check the values
for the CPU multiplier and front-side
bus speed.
Upgrade Your Hard Drive Step-by-Step
The golden rule for buying a new hard drive is to buy as much capacity as you can afford—no one ever complains
about having too much storage. Today’s highest-capacity desktop drives offer 500GB but are painfully expensive
at about $1 per gigabyte. Our advice is to put your cash toward a drive in the 300- to 400GB “sweet spot.” These
drives cost between $150 and $250, which is a mouth-watering bargain considering their prodigious size and lightning-fast performance.
If your motherboard gives you the choice of using Serial ATA or Parallel ATA, we heartily recommend going with
the former. SATA drives are much easier to install; besides, PATA will go away eventually. Once you’ve installed
your new drive, you’ll need to reinstall Windows and all your apps, settings, files, and media. Take a “clean slate”
approach to ensure your new, pristine hard drive has a new, pristine copy of Windows on it, rather than a copiedover-and-funked-up Windows image from your old drive.
1
Before you begin,
gather all the necessary files you’ll
need to get a brandnew installation of
Windows up and running. This includes your
Windows CD, chipset
drivers, network drivers, video drivers, and
your XP Service Pack
2 disc (if SP2 isn’t already built into the copy of Windows you have).
If you don’t have an SP2 disc, you can download the update from
Microsoft’s web site. Don’t worry about backing up the data on your
existing hard drive at this point.
3
Insert the new drive
into your case. If you’re
installing a Parallel ATA
g in
e,
driv skip to step 4. Plu
either
the SATA data cable and
the
or
le
cab
er
pow
the SATA
neclegacy four-pin power con
er
pow
h
bot
has
tor. If the drive
the
or
one
use
,
tors
connec
nect
other—not both. Next, con
of
one
to
le
cab
a
the SATA dat
SATA
in
ma
’s
ard
rbo
the
mo
r
you
docuports (check your mobo
p 5.
ste
to
skip
and
)
mentation
5
Now that your new drive is connected, it’s time to install
Windows. If you’re sure your mobo BIOS is set up to
boot from your optical drive, drop in the Windows CD,
and boot ‘er up. You’ll eventually land at a screen asking
which drive you want to install Windows on. Because you
had previously disconnected your other drives, the new drive
should be your only option. Press Enter to get started, and
prepare to savor that minty-fresh-OS feeling!
32 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
2
Most people leave
their old drives
inside their PC
after installing a new
drive. To guard against
accidentally installing
Windows over your old
data, instead of onto the
new drive, unplug the
data and power cables
from your old drive right
now. You should also
unplug any other drives,
including backup drives
and USB keys.
4
Each Parallel ATA channel can handle either
one or two devices in
a master/slave relationship.
You identify a hard drive
as being either a master or
slave by setting jumpers on
the back of the drive; do this
incorrectly, and the drive will
remain invisible to the operating system. If your new drive will be
the only one on the chain (the preferred option), configure it as the
master. If it will share the channel with an existing drive that’s been
configured as the master, configure the new drive as a slave. Next,
connect the Parallel ATA ribbon cable to the drive and to the motherboard, and then plug in the drive’s power cable.
7
6
Once Windows is
step
installed, the next
cne
the
all
l
is to instal
. Start
les
fi
d
an
rs
ve
dri
essary
2 (if it’s not
with Service Pack
your Winin
ed
lud
already inc
and then
dows installation),
ipset,
ch
ur
move on to yo
and any
,
ork
tw
ne
rd,
videoca
t need.
gh
mi
other drivers you
At this point, you
should have a fully
functioning Windows installation with all
your drivers installed, all
devices functional, and all
systems go. Now comes
the time to reinstall all your applications, including your
games, image-editing software, media-burning apps, email
client, and so on.
8
You can easily copy the contents of your My Documents and other personal folders, but you might have
to hunt down your email files. Open an Explorer window, click the Tools menu, choose Folder Options, and then
click the View tab. Look in the Advanced Settings window
and click Show Hidden Files and Folders. Open your email
client’s Help file and determine where the program stores
your email (it’s usually in a subfolder of C:\Documents and
Settings\<your username>\Application Data).
9
Once you’ve
removed everything you want
from your old drive,
open Windows’ Control Panel and click
Performance and
Maintenance > Administrative Tools > Computer Management
> Disk Management.
(Note: If your Control
Panel is configured for
Classic View, go directly to Administrative Tools.) The horizontal bars you
see here represent the drives connected to your PC. The drive identified as
Drive 0 and labeled C: will be your main drive (when you reconnect it, your
old drive will likely be identified as Disk 1 and labeled D: or E:). To format
your old drive—again, make sure you’ve copied everything you want from
it—right-click the volume, select Format and follow the prompts to format
the drive. Once it’s finished, you can use your old drive as a backup drive
or as supplementary storage.
Upgrade Your Power Supply Step-by-Step
PC components in general—and videocards in particular—are becoming increasingly hungry for electrical
power. Upgrading your power supply might not seem very sexy, but it could mean the difference between your
PC being a steady performer or an unreliable beast. This is also one of the easiest upgrades to pull off, so
don’t let us catch you whining!
1
Once you’ve removed your existing
power supply—making sure you’ve first
unplugged all the associated cables from
the motherboard, videocard, and drives—it’s
time to mount your new one. Slide the new
PSU into its cage in the same way you pulled
out the old one—specifics will depend on how
your case is designed. Be sure all the power
cables are clear of any obstructions, line up
the threaded screw holes in the power supply
with the holes drilled into your case, insert the
screws, and tighten them down.
2
The next step is to plug the power supp
ly’s cables into your motherboard,
drives, and—if needed—your videocard.
Assuming you have an ATX motherboard, you’ll insert one 24-pin plug
(rectangular in shape) and one four-pin
plug (square in shape). SLI configura
tions may also require a D-shaped Mole
x
four-pin plug as well as special PCI
Express videocard power connector
s. These
plugs are designed to fit only one way.
Apply firm, steady pressure, but don’t
force
the plug or push so hard that you flex
your motherboard.
Your drives require dedicated power
cables—don’t use Y cables. Each optic
al
drive requires a D-shaped four-pin plug,
and each SATA hard disk requires a
flat
15-pin connector (older hard drives
use the same D-shaped connectors
as optical drives). Floppy drives and media-ca
rd readers use smaller connectors. Once
you’ve supplied all your devices with
power, plug in all the cooling fans insid
e the
case. Use cable ties to tidy up when
you’re finished.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 33
Upgrade Your Videocard Step-by-Step
If your videocard is more than six months old, you can kiss chunky frame rates goodbye by upgrading to a new
card. The same goes for PCs of any age that are outfitted with integrated graphics. And if you’re lucky enough to
have an SLI-capable motherboard, adding a second, matching nVidia videocard will nearly double your PC’s performance with many games—woo hoo!
When you’re selecting a videocard, it’s important to know whether you have a newer PCI Express motherboard, or an
AGP motherboard. The easiest way to tell is to open the case and look inside. If you see several extremely short (about
1.5-inch) slots, you have a PCI Express board. If you don’t see those slots, or see only one, odds are you have an AGP
board. An AGP videocard won’t fit in a PCI Express slot and vice versa, so know what you have before you go shopping.
Before installing your new card, visit either ATI’s or nVidia’s website and download their latest device drivers
(Catalyst or Forceware, respectively). You’ll install these after you install your new card. It’s equally important
that you uninstall your old device drivers before you swap out your videocard. ATI provides a free utility for this
purpose, but you can also use the Windows Control Panel to remove either ATI or nVidia drivers. If you’re using
Windows XP, make sure you’re logged on with Administrator rights, and then open the Windows Control Panel
and choose Add or Remove Programs. Locate the relevant driver and click the Change/Remove button. Shut
down your PC when you’re finished.
I,
a second card for SL
Unless you’re installing
.
ard
eoc
vid
g
your existin
you’ll need to remove
supr
we
po
the
m
fro
le
r cab
Disconnect the powe
en your
own isn’t sufficient). Op
ply (a software shut-d
y by
icit
ctr
ele
tic
built-up sta
case and discharge any
cable,
r
nito
mo
the
t
nec
Discon
touching the chassis.
the mountretaining screw from
and then remove the
at the far
clip
ing
ain
ret
wn on the
ing bracket. Push do
the card,
ase
rele
to
t
slo
P
AG
or
s
end of the PCI Expres
ng
chi
tou
oid
ing bracket (av
grasp it near the mount
of
top
the
on
tor
nec
con
SLI
any components or the
of
out
and
tly pull the card up
an nVidia card), and gen
and
rd
wa
for
d
car
the
d to rock
the slot. You might nee
to release it.
e—
sid
to
e
sid
not
back—
1
2
Touch your case chassis
again before removing
your new videocard from
its packaging. Holding the card
by its top edge, align the card’s
edge connector with the expansion slot and push it into place.
Examine the connection to
make sure the card is in the slot,
and then push the board down
into the slot. Expect some resistance, but don’t force the card.
If it’s aligned properly, it should
seat itself fairly easily. Replace
the retaining screw, making sure
the card doesn’t twist in the
slot as you tighten it. Attach the
monitor cable and the supplemental power cable, if your new
card has one.
Upgrade to SLI Step-by-Step
If you’re installing a second, matching videocard (one that’s based
on the same GPU and—until nVidia changes things with its driver release
80—from the same manufacturer) to your SLI-compatible motherboard, the
first step is to check the SLI settings in your motherboard’s BIOS. These will
vary by motherboard, but yours should be obvious enough to figure out.
1
Most motherboards must also be physically reconfigured for SLI, and there
are a variety of ways to do this. Some motherboards, like the Asus A8NSLI Deluxe, have you re-orient a paddle-like circuit board. Other mobos
use jumper blocks, and still others accomplish the task entirely in software.
34 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
2
The next
step is to
plug in your
second graphics card. If your
cards require
dedicated
power-supply
connections, it’s
critical that you
use a separate
power cable for
each card—don’t
use a Y cable.
3
Flip the switch on the power
supply and turn on the PC.
When Windows has finished launching, locate the new
device driver you downloaded
at the beginning of this process,
double-click the file, and follow the installation instructions.
Reboot your PC when the installation is complete. When your PC
has finished booting, right-click
an empty spot on your Desktop,
choose Properties, and then
click the Settings tab to configure your desktop resolution.
If you’re using a CRT, click the
Advanced button and then the
Monitor tab. Crank up the refresh
rate up to at least 72Hz to eliminate headache-inducing flicker.
3
Now, connect the two
videocards using the
SLI bridge connector
that came with your motherboard. After you’ve downloaded and installed nVidia’s
latest Forceware drivers,
open your Display Properties
window, click the Advanced
tab, and then the nVidia tab.
Click the SLI multi-GPU tab
in the pop-out menu and
place a checkmark next to
the item that reads “Enable
SLI multi-GPU.”
Upgrade Your Optical Drive Step-by-Step
Whether you’re sticking with traditional Parallel ATA drives or moving to an all-SATA configuration, installing a
new optical drive is just like installing a new hard drive—only easier! But that doesn’t mean you can be careless, or that you should whiz through the process; for example, you’ll want to screw the drive firmly into both
sides of the case using all four screws. This will significantly reduce the amount of rattle and hum that highspeed optical drives generate.
1
You’ll recall that each Parallel ATA
device must be configured as
either the master or the slave; but
in an ideal world, your optical drive will
have a channel all to itself so it doesn’t
have to share bandwidth. We set up
this drive as the master, using jumpers
on the back of the device. You’ll find a
jumper diagram for your drive either in
its documentation or on a label on the
drive itself.
2
If your new Parallel ATA optical
drive must share a channel with a
hard drive or another optical drive,
configure one device as master and the
other as slave. Because some operating systems have difficulty booting from
slave devices, your hard drive should
be set up as master and your optical
drive as slave. Now you can move on
to installing the drive and connecting its
data and power cables.
3
If your new optical drive is a Seria
l
ATA model, you won’t have to fool
with all this master/slave nonsense: Just pop in the drive (rem
ember
to use all four screws and tighten
them
firmly). Now connect the SATA cabl
e
to the SATA port on your mobo or
expansion card and plug in eithe
r the
legacy four-pin power connector
or
the slimmer, extra-fancy SATA pow
er
cable—but not both, obviously.
DISASTER CONTROL The best way to deal with upgrading horrors is to prevent them
Although new hardware appears all the
time, and new standards have their own
installation routines and quirks, there
remain a handful of simple upgrading maxims that apply to any upgrading scenario. We inherited these pearls
of wisdom from our grandfathers and
grandmothers, and now we pass them
along to you.
ALWAYS ground yourself before touching
any components inside your PC. Simply
touch the metal on the side of your PC’s
case when it’s off but still plugged in. Wearing an antistatic wrist strap is even better,
but these aren’t of much use if they’re not
attached to something that’s grounded;
plus, they itch.
36 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
ALWAYS read all the directions before
you begin your upgrading project. Documentation is notoriously poor, so you might
end up completing a step only to find that
the directions warn you after the fact not to
epoxy your hand to the case.
ALWAYS write down your components’
model and serial numbers before installing
them. You’ll probably never need them if you
do, but we can almost guarantee that you
will need them if you don’t.
NEVER close your case before the first
boot. We know you’re eager to get up and
running, but your new rig will need a little
shakedown time first. Before you close
the case, make sure your upgraded rig
is stable. You should also go through the
Device Manager to make sure there aren’t
any yellow exclamation marks next to any
components.
ALWAYS install your drivers in the correct order. This shouldn’t be necessary,
but it is. When performing a fresh install of
Windows XP, start with the OS, move on
to Service Pack 2 (if it wasn’t slipstreamed
with the OS install), drop in your mobo’s
chipset drivers, follow that with DirectX,
and then your videocard drivers. Finally,
hoof it to www.windowsupdate.com to
download the latest critical updates.
NEVER reuse thermal paste. Wipe off the
old stuff with 99 percent isopropyl alcohol
and lay on a fresh supply.
The Great
CASE RACE
We pit six premium cases against each other in a battle to determine the caso
supremo. With torture tests that get at the nitty-gritty of the building process, you
can bet we know which of these beauties handle every bit as good as they look
C
omputers are expensive these days. Saving your dough for an Athlon FX was brutal, and paying for that pair
of GeForce 7800 GTX cards left you with just one kidney and a nasty scar. Now that you have the parts of your
dreams, don’t blow your street cred at the eleventh hour by mounting them all inside a bland mid-tower case.
Maximum PC traveled to the ends of the geek world to obtain the six baddest, most feature-packed enclosures available, and then we gave them a thorough probing to reveal their individual strengths and weaknesses. We quickly discovered that when it comes to cases, beauty needs to be much more than skin deep.
Although these cases represent the pinnacle of ATX technology, we remain on the hunt for the Ultimate Dream
Case. Check out the wish-list of features that we challenge case manufacturers to implement the next time we call for
the best PC cases the industry has to offer.
BY JOSH NOREM
38 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAMANTHA BERG
ANTEC P180
Virtually silent, except for the sound of our cursing
Antec bills its top-of-the-line P180 desktop case as an “Advanced Super
Mid-Tower.” We love its drop-dead gorgeous exterior, but there’s much
less to admire inside.
INSTALLATION
Building inside the P180 takes a lot of planning and patience; we found
the overall experience to be more frustrating than rewarding. The case is
designed to be ultra-quiet, with separate chambers at the bottom for the
PSU and hard drives, adjustable-speed fans throughout, and triple-layer
side panels to quell system chatter. Thick silicone grommets are present
on all hard drive mounts, and the PSU cage is rubber-mounted to reduce
vibration transfer to the chassis. While the P180 is certainly quiet—quieter, in fact, than most cases we’ve tested—building a system in this case
requires extensive and aggravating cable routing through the cramped
compartmentalized interior.
GOODIES
The case ships with three 12cm fans, which provide plenty of cooling.
Two fans exhaust hot air out the top and rear of the case, while the third
sucks air into the lower chamber. There’s a mount in front of the case
for yet another 12cm intake fan, but Antec doesn’t include a fan. You’ll
also find a silly plastic shroud over the GPU area; but here again, no fan
is included. We found the
whole shroud apparatus
ANTEC P180
chintzy and difficult to deal
$170, www.antec.com
with, so we removed it during testing.
7
A 12cm fan moves air through the bottom chamber; unfortunately, its placement right in front of a 3.5-inch drive
cage allows hard-drive cables to get
caught in the fan blades.
This 3.5-inch drive cage holds
three drives and includes a handy
box for storing case screws and
other teeny necessities.
Rubber gaskets on all the drive
cages help reduce vibrationinduced noise.
ASPIRE X-NAVIGATOR
More than enough cooling, and plenty of coolness
The X-Navigator is an all-aluminum case with flyweight proportions and a decadent lighting scheme that’s clearly designed to
lure the LAN-party crowd. If you can tolerate several minor flaws
and all that glowing neon, you’ll find an otherwise excellent case.
INSTALLATION
Installation was problem-free, thanks to the case’s large size and
old-school design. The case is extremely light, even when it’s
full of hardware, so you can easily schlep it around a work area.
There are seven internal 3.5-inch drive cages, all of which require
mounting screws, and there are four 5.25-inch drives that use
rails, which also must be screwed on.
GOODIES
Five case fans are included, each of which can be daisy-chained
and controlled via a single knob on the front bezel. Each fan has a
blue LED, and the included 500W PSU lights up, as well. In these
days of SLI, though, we remain suspicious of generic power supplies. Two temperature probes display their readings via an LCD
on the front bezel, but there’s nothing in the package for affixing the probes to their target devices. The case comes with two
additional front bezels—one gray, one black—that easily snap on
and off. We love the
Navigator for its light
ASPIRE X-NAVIGATOR
weight, and its over$160, www.aspireusa.net
size stature tickles our
“maximum” fancy.
8
A 500-watt power supply
with two adjustablespeed fans is included.
The transparent lower
half lights up the UVreactive cables emerging
from it.
This little knob controls the speed of all
five LED-lit case fans.
The stock faceplate is black,
but the case comes with blue
(shown) and silver versions, too.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 39
The Great
CASE RACE
LIAN-LI PCV-1100
Beauty and brawn—this case
has it all
This intimidating all-aluminum enclosure
is attractive on the outside, and equally
tantalizing on the inside.
INSTALLATION
The PCV-1100’s internal layout is similar
to that of the Antec P180, in that it has
a separate chamber at the bottom of
the case for hard drives and the PSU;
unlike the P180, however, this case
sports the newfangled “reverse ATX”
design. Reverse ATX cases mount the
motherboard upside down, and the case
opens on the right side. The interior of
this case isn’t particularly spacious, but
having the hard drives and PSU out of
the way makes installation easier than
it would be in a traditional mid-tower.
Cable routing is required, but the intelligent placement of the routing holes
make this easy to accomplish.
The hard drives use a slick rail-less
mounting system that requires you to
simply install a couple of screws in the
sides of each drive; the screws then slide
into channels in the drive cage and lock
into place. The mounting scheme for PCI
cards and optical drives, on the other
hand, is more conventional.
In this snazzy hard-drive
mounting system, drives
slide into rails which are
then locked down by
plastic tabs that take
only a second to release.
Noise-dampening
material installed
on each of the side
doors reduces
noise output.
GOODIES
Lian-Li bills this as a “silent” case, and
it is very quiet. There’s noise-dampening material on both side doors, and its
12cm intake and exhaust
fans are hushed. Rubber on
the edge of the front door
LIAN-LI PCV-1100
further stifles noise from
within, and included rubber
QUESADILLA
treads can be applied to the
Great cooling, quiet,
elegant, and easy to
case’s wheels, for both betbuild.
ter grip and to prevent noise
transfer to a hard surface.
CASE-A-DILLAS
Set the wheel brake and the
No cutting-edge
MAXIMUM PC
features.
case stays right where it is.
This case doesn’t sport
$210, www.lian-li.com
any shiny LEDs or other
adornments that will keep
you awake at night. We’d
have preferred to have the USB and FireWire ports on top of
the case, where access is easiest, but their front-mounted
placement is acceptable. The screws that hold the side panels
remain attached to the panels when unscrewed, which is a nice
touch, and the panels themselves slide on and off with incredible ease. Although there’s no tool tray, swing-out doors, or
other fancy contraptions, the PCV-1100 covers all the bases.
You can set a
brake to keep
your case from
rolling away,
in the event a
rambunctious
pet slams into
your rig.
This Lian-Li provides more than
ample cooling. The
case includes two
super-silent 12cm
fans: one sucks air
in and the other
blows it out.
9
KICKASS
Special thanks to SilverPCs.com for providing our test rig.
40 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
Dark, mysterious, and intimidating, we’re calling Lian-Li’s PCV-1100 “2001: A Case Odyssey.”
The Great
CASE RACE
THERMALTAKE TAI
CHI VB5000SNA
This case sports new features
galore, but its price tag will
terrify you
The Tai Chi is Thermaltake’s most audacious case yet, with rows of extruded
aluminum fins lining the case’s sides.
There are also swing-out doors, a set of
carrying handles, and optional casters
for rolling around the 40-pound behemoth. As exceptional as this case is, it
falls just short of perfection.
INSTALLATION
Although it boasts a removable motherboard tray, the Tai Chi is so roomy
you don’t need it. We dig that the
standoff holes on the motherboard
back plate are labeled, so you know
which ones to use based on your
mobo’s size and formfactor. Hard
drives mount in a removable threedrive cage that includes its own 12cm
intake fan. The cage can be screwed
into any of the case’s 10 5.25-inch
drive bays. Unfortunately, if you want
You can buy a BTX
to use more than three hard drives,
backplate for the Tai
Chi, but this might be
you’ll have to buy either another cage
a useless feature in
or 5.25-to-3.5-inch adapters. We
light of Intel’s recent
appreciate the ability to relocate the
move away from high
on/off switch to any of the front bays;
clock speeds.
USB, FireWire, and audio jacks, meanThis swing-out door
while, reside on top of the case—right
is made to hold a
where they belong, within easy reach.
radiator/fan assembly
that sucks air from
The slide-out tool tray in the bottom
inside the case and
bay is very handy.
blows it through the
We found the PCI slots’ tool-less
radiator.
retention mechanism to be
much less cool. It forces you
THERMALTAKE TAI CHI
to push expansion cards
down onto the motherboard,
FINS
then slide them sideways
Love the doors; very
into the mechanism, and
spacious, and ready
for a water-cooling kit.
then down into their slots.
This is a pain in the ass and
FANGS
out of character for a case
PCI-retention mechanism sucks; pricey.
with so many other wellthought-out features.
Thermaltake includes
optional casters with
the case—and you’ll
need ‘em: This puppy
weighs 40 pounds!
The Yin-Yang motif is
achieved by two overlapping doors that protect the
case’s grill while still allowing ample airflow.
9
$400, www.thermaltake.com
GOODIES
Water-cooling enthusiasts
will love the water-cooling mounts integrated into the Tai Chi’s
door. The case is designed to be used with Thermaltake’s Big
Water kit (you can buy the case with the kit for an extra $100);
but with a little modding, it should work with other kits that use
dual 12cm radiators.
42 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
Thermaltake managed to make a hulking,
40-pound PC enclosure look graceful.
The Great
CASE RACE
ANTEC SONATA II
It sure is quiet, but still a little underwhelming
The Sonata II, Antec’s follow-up to the original “quiet case,” has
changed only slightly—for the worse.
INSTALLATION
The Sonata II is a bit more cramped than most steel mid-towers we’ve
seen. Drives use screw-on rails, rendering them easy to snap into and out
of their cages. The side-facing hard drive cage is convenient, despite the
fact that SATA and power cables must be stuffed into the case in order
to close the side door. As with Antec’s P180, the Sonata II includes a
shroud you mount over the CPU area. We installed the shroud and case
temperatures actually rose by 2 C at idle. The case performed better when
we removed the shroud to promote airflow and free up space. The 450watt power supply includes a 24-pin power connector and a PCI Express
videocard plug, too.
GOODIES
What makes this case quiet is a lack of fans—there is only a single 12cm
adjustable-speed Tri-Cool—and the presence of rubber grommets on the
hard drive mounts. It’s definitely whisperville when the fan is set to low.
There’s no intake fan, and the CPU/GPU shroud doesn’t include any fans
either, which is bunk. The Sonata is classy and low-key, but because of
its minimal cooling and lousy shroud, the better-equipped cases in this
roundup leave it in the dust.
ANTEC SONATA II
$130, www.antec.com
8
The included
SmartPower 450W PSU
has cables for both ATX
2.0 and PCI Express.
The doublehinged door
swings out 270
degrees—a
feature all cases
should have.
The front-mounted
USB/FireWire ports
are flanked by two
super-bright blue
LEDs, which seem
out of place on such
a quiet and otherwise classy case.
3R SYSTEMS R900
Plenty of space, but a bit rough around the edges
When we requested this case for review, the vendor told us it was too
big for home use.
INSTALLATION
As with any full-size case, the R900’s cavernous interior makes for simple installation. Still, we ran into a few roadblocks, the first being inadequate documentation: The case came with only a dinky leaflet explaining its power connectors. This wouldn’t have been much of an obstacle,
except that both of the included case fans have two-pin male connectors that plug into a fan bus, and we couldn’t get either fan to work. It
was impossible to diagnose the problem without any documentation.
Meanwhile, the side doors were mounted so tightly we thought
they were welded shut—not good. After 10 minutes of work with a flathead screwdriver and a lot of elbow grease, we finally had them off.
GOODIES
This case isn’t entirely tool-less, because screws are required to install
everything, but it does come with a nifty toolbox full of thumbscrews
for every possible scenario. 3R also includes a probe that measures the
ambient temperature near the probe’s mounting point and displays it
on a front-panel LCD. Thermal tape isn’t included, so you can’t mount
the probe near the CPU out of
the box; it’s best used to moni3R SYSTEMS R900
tor internal case temps.
$125, www.3rsys.com
44 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
5
This little knob theoretically
controls the speed of both 12cm
intake and exhaust fans, but we
couldn’t get it to work.
This case is so hardcore you can run dual
power supplies. A two-into-one adapter
lets you run both in serial.
The R900 has two power
buttons, so you can choose
which one to connect and
use. Sadly, neither button
is labeled, so hooking up
a single PSU is a trial-anderror affair.
The Great
CASE RACE
THE ENVELOPE
PLEASE...
Though the verdicts in this particular roundup were rather low
all-around, don’t lose hope, dear
reader. We are harsh critics, and
have high expectations for any
hardware that darkens the Lab’s
door. We’re exceptionally finicky
when it comes to cases. While
we upgrade our systems fairly
regularly, we rarely upgrade our
case, so it has to be an enclosure
that fits our current and future
PC hardware needs. It also has
to make building a system as
easy as possible. As this roundup
shows, you can’t take that quality
for granted, even in the realm of
high-priced, full-tower enclosures.
Thankfully, there are some
fantastic cases on the market
today. Our favorite in this roundup
is Lian-Li’s PCV-1100, hands
down. Though we really liked the
nifty doors and sweet design of
Thermaltake’s Tai Chi, its tool-less
PCI-slot mechanism is difficult
to use and annoying. The Antec
P180 looked great on paper,
sporting everything we look for
in a case, but routing the cables
was too much of a hassle.
Lian-Li’s PCV-1100 poses none
of these problems. It’s as easy to
build in as it is elegant and quiet,
and is well deserving of our Kick
Ass Award.
BUILDING A
DREAM CASE
We won’t have the case of our dreams until we find
one with all five of these features!
DRIVE-BAY TOOLBOX
A few Thermaltake cases sport a single-bay toolbox—which is great—but
we want more; much more. Because we normally have three or four 5.25inch bays free, why not use them all for tool and/or beverage storage? We
could stash needle-nose pliers, a cold brewski, zip-tie cutters, screwdrivers, case screws, VGA adapters, and other commonly used doodads.
Better yet—what if this slide-out toolkit came stocked with tools right from
the factory? Whoa!
FLEXIBLE
INTERIOR LIGHT
We’re sick of clamping
flashlights in our teeth
to work on our PCs. We
need—nay, demand—
interior lighting. Ideally,
our fantasy case would
have a long, flexible
snake light, with LEDs at
the tip. When we need to
see the orientation of a
SATA port, we just flick on
the battery-powered light,
point it at the socket and
boom, light!
Lian-Li PCV-1100
46 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
STANDARDIZED FRONT-PANEL
CONNECTOR
Is there some reason—aside from the sadistic tendencies of manufacturers—that every
PC mobo has a different design and location for its front-bezel I/O connectors? We
shouldn’t have to decode these little buggers
on every single mobo, because they all do
the same thing. Give us a single, unified connector that goes from the mobo to the case,
so we can hook up the front-panel power,
reset, and HDD LEDs in one simple step.
WATER-COOLING MOUNTS
We give big props to Thermaltake’s Tai
Chi case (page 42) for being “watercooling ready” right out of the box. It’s
time other manufacturers stepped up
to the plate. Every case should include
a dedicated area for mounting a radiator—perhaps even dual 12cm radiators,
in high-end cases—a separate chunk of
real estate to place a pump, and pre-cut
holes in the back of the case for routing
tubing to an external radiator.
HIDDEN CABLE RUNS
Routing cables through today’s cases is a bitch, with
a capital B. We don’t like routing cables, but we don’t
like messy cases, either, so let us stash them easily
behind the mobo or within the support rails, for Pete’s
sake. For example, what could be easier than routing
the huge ATX power connector under the mobo, or
stashing PCI-E power cables in the vertical support
columns that run down next to the videocard?
HOLIDAY 2005
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This holiday season, Maximum PC journeys to a winter
wonderland in search of gift ideas for computer enthusiasts
I
t might seem like the stuff of fairy tales,
but there actually exists a far-off arctic
enclave filled with fun gear and gadgets
for computer geeks. Bound together by
their techcentric ways, these products have
found fellowship, even romance, among
their kind in the bosom of this snow-capped
50 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
hamlet. But let’s face it, deep down each
item wants desperately to be plucked from
this sub-zero haven and gifted to some
deserving tech-head.
Sounds like the perfect place to find a
holiday gift for the computer geek in your
life, wouldn’t you say? Let’s have a look.
DESKTOP MULTI-HUB
SPORTSTER REPLAY RADIO
3-IN-1 IPOD MOUNT,
TRANSMITTER, AND
CHARGER
After multiple car breakins an exasperated victim
taped a piece of paper to
his window that read, “No
radio inside,” only to find
a note amid the shattered
glass the next morn that
said, “Get one.” If only
he’d had Sakar’s 3-in-1,
an adjustable mount for
any iPod that charges
your player through the
cigarette-lighter jack while
transmitting your music to
your FM radio.
$50, www.compusa.com
No single collection of MP3s can possibly match the diversity of
Sirius Satellite Radio’s massive library. And the best way to tune
into dozens of channels of news and music is Sirius’ Sportster
Replay. Built-in memory lets you record 44 minutes of audio, so
you can skip back through any broadcast or replay your favorite
songs. Listen to it through your home- or car-audio system.
$270, plus $13 monthly subscription, www.sirius.com
Sick and tired of reaching
behind your PC to plug in
your digital camera, USB
thumbdrive, video camera, and
other devices? Nyko’s Desktop
Multi-Hub puts everything in
easy reach. In addition to four
powered USB 2.0 hubs, the
octagonal box has ports for
audio in and out, FireWire, PS/2
devices, and S-video out.
$80, www.nyko.com
HARMONY 880 REMOTE
We’ve all suffered from the condition
known as toomanyremotesitis. It’s
what happens when you leave your
PC to peep Battlestar and are faced
with a pile of remotes to operate your
TV, PVR, and stereo. Luckily, there’s a
cure (and it doesn’t involve penicillin)! Logitech’s color-screened ultrauniversal remote replaces all others,
and its simple-to-use macros make it
significant-other-approved, to boot!
$250, www.logitech.com/harmony
VEX ROBOTIC KIT
Admit it, you’ve wanted a robot buddy since you
were a kid. Your time has come! The Vex kit includes
all the transmitters, motors, wheels, whozits, whatzits, and flunklesnarkins you need to build your very
own remote-controlled pal. Granted, it won’t help you
take over the world, but bring you a beverage, it will.
$300, www.vexrobotics.com
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PC TOOLKIT
USB CAFE PAD
After the USB Lava Lamp and
the USB Smokeless Ashtray,
this USB-connected cup
warmer doesn’t seem so
strange. In fact, it seems like a
darned fine idea. The warmer
keeps tea and coffee at a
toasty-yet-comfortable temperature, can be used to melt
Cadbury Eggs into dessert topping, and even converted into
a mosquito torture chamber
with an overturned shot glass.
$22, www.thinkgeek.com
When people think of tools, the staff
of our sister magazine PC Gamer
usually comes to mind. But there
are other tools actually quite valuable to geeks, and hardcore geeks
like us need hardcore toolkits like
this one. The handsome black carrying case includes everything from a
lost screw picker-upper, to a soldering iron, to a wire stripper.
$37, www.crazypc.com
WI-FI FINDER & USB
ADAPTER
It scans for 802.11b/g/a
hotspots, then reports their
SSID and encryption status,
among other details. Pop it
into your USB port, and it
becomes an 802.11b/g/a USB
Wi-Fi adapter. And if you’re
feeling generous with someone else’s broadband, it can
even turn your laptop into an
access point. Holy frijole, did
Wi-Fi just become sexy?
$100, http://us.zyxel.com
20Q
FRETLIGHT GUITAR
Everything’s made better with LEDs, including a
guitar. Simply connect this axe to your PC and the
126 LEDs will display virtually every chord and scale,
illuminating the path to geek-rock stardom. Your fingers have better places to be than in your ears, and
the Fretlight shows you exactly where to put them.
$600, www.optekmusic.com
52 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
All the accumulated
knowledge of the human
race has been digitized
and condensed into a
yoyo-size ball called the
20Q. Well at least enough
info for this mysterious artifact to correctly
answer “naked mole rat,”
“bazooka,” and “slime
mold” based on our
“yes” or “no” answers
to 20 questions each.
And we used to think the
Magic 8-Ball was cool.
$15, www.radicagames.
com
CODESCOUT
If your car was manufactured
after 1996, it’s home to a tiny
little troll who operates the
onboard computer that monitors your vehicle’s systems.
Connect the CodeScout to
your car’s standard OBD port,
and you can actually communicate with the impish
inhabitant, who’ll turn cryptic
diagnostic codes into plainEnglish descriptions of your
car’s maladies!
$200, www.autoxray.com
MEMORYFRAME WIRELESS EDITION
STICKY POD
Mount your video camera
to the Sticky Pod and
attach it to any surface on your car—it’s
strong enough to hold
on through hairpin turns,
but releases without exterior
damage. The crew for March
of the Penguins are probably
kicking themselves for not hooking
this on their bumper so they could
play Mortal Kombat inside a toasty RV
while penguins frolic outside.
$60-$130, www.stickypods.com
This is the ultimate office accoutrement for the proud geek
parent. Just like a PC slide-show screensaver, the 8x10
MemoryFrame displays up to 80 digital pictures (even more with
the optional thumb drive) at 800x600 resolution. Configuring the
device to display your images couldn’t be easier, and you can
update the MemoryFrame with new pics wirelessly!
$450, www.pacificdigital.com
STEALTHSWITCH
UV DYE
Somewhere out in geek land, a water-cooling kit is
running with just plain-ol’ distilled water. And here
sit three bottles of UV dye, waiting for their chance
to light up a geek’s water (and life) with glorious UV
reactive qualities. Although it’s just harmless dye,
check your kit’s warranty before purchase.
$9, www.crazypc.com
Let’s face it: Our web browsers
sometimes find themselves
on, ahem, not-so-workfriendly sites. A deft tap on the
StealthSwitch’s foot pedal will
hide all your open windows
and mask their presence on the
taskbar. You can even program
it to open “I’m hard at work”
applications when snoopy Sally
from Accounting strolls in.
$40, www.stealthswitch.com
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EGG AND MUFFIN TOASTER
If the founding fathers had been geeks, Thanksgiving would
be celebrated today with a bag of Doritos and a tub of French
onion dip. Rise, pilgrim, and experience contemporary haute
nerd cuisine with a contraption that cooks eggs—hard-boiled,
poached, or scrambled—while simultaneously toasting muffins
and warming Canadian bacon for LAN-party oohs and aahs.
$50, www.eggandmuffintoaster.com
FORERUNNER 301
We know that most geeks’ idea of
exercise is running benchmarks or
surfing the web, but for the few,
the proud, the physically active,
there’s no better gift than Garmin’s
Forerunner 310. Walking, running,
cycling, whatever, the GPS-equipped
wrist band tracks your every move,
displaying your pace, time, distance,
even heart rate. Use the bundled
Training Center software to personalize your regimen.
$325, www.garmin.com
P-51D MUSTANG RTF
ELECTRIC
Open up a whole new
universe of potential
geekdom for the PC
pilot on your shopping
list with this sweet,
remote-controlled, electric
P-51D Mustang. Everything
needed to fly this puppy
(save for a soccer-fieldsize open space) is
included in the box. The
ability to perform 40mph
fly-bys is sure to please!
$230, www.parkzone.com
54 MAXIMUMPC HOLIDAY 2005
ACTION II ROLLING BACKPACK XL
We don’t know what the minimum requirements are to
be considered an official “Transformer,” but the Rolling
Backpack XL must surely meet them. What appears to be
a sturdy, laptop-toting backpack becomes rolling luggage
with a yank on the telescoping handle; and releasable
side straps will nearly double the bag’s capacity for
those last minute rampages through the duty-free shop.
$60, www.pacificdesign.com
TRU-COLORXP LED DISPLAY
Real geeks advertise. Most by their indifference to
personal grooming and indulgence in Star-anything.
But others make a statement with a little more
panache. Let your geek flag fly high, LED-style,
with this 39.6x5.6-inch 16-color display. “Geeks
Do It Virtually,” or any other pithy message, can be
programmed via the included infrared remote or the
display’s 9600-baud port. Yes, we said baud.
$795, www.pro-lite.com
WIRELESS PC LOCK
The holiday spirit is all about sharing, but that
needn’t apply to your PC. Lock up your rig
Grinch-style with the Wireless PC Lock. Set
it up and any time you’re more than six feet
away from your machine, the Lock senses
your absence and renders your PC off-limits
to interlopers. Once you re-enter the perimeter, your PC is back in business.
$30, www.frozencpu.com
POWERSQUID OUTLET
MULTIPLIER
Now that we’ve found the PowerSquid,
we’re ready to send our old, inadequate
power strips packing.
Sporting five flexible
outlet extenders,
this tentacled
tour de force
will accommodate any and every
oddly shaped plug you throw at it.
Wall warts? Bring ‘em on!
$15, www.thinkgeek.com
MAXIMUM PC FLEECE
G4000A AM/FM SHORTWAVE RADIO
Shortwave radio is your ticket to instant geek cred,
and Grundig delivers it in style. Where else can you
hear Cuban agitprop, Nigerian top-40 hits, and the
mysterious and surreal “numbers stations” that
are believed to be encrypted messages to spies?
Shortwave radios are also handy in emergencies
(read: Zombie Apocalypse).
$140, www.etoncorp.com
Geeks aren’t known for stylish attire, but
that could all change with the arrival
of the Maximum PC fashion fleece.
This handsome black long-sleeved
pullover is soft on the skin, toasty
warm, and boasts tasteful touches
like a peek-a-boo zippered neck
and embroidered Maximum
PC logo on the arm. Available
starting November 15.
$35, www.maximumpc.com
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IMPROVING YOUR PC EXPERIENCE, ONE STEP AT A TIME
how2
Pimp Out Firefox!
Extension Junction–
what’s your function?
Find out what
Maximum PC’s top 20
Firefox extensions can
TIME
do for you!
00:10
HOURS:MINUTES
F
olks, don’t get us wrong: We’re not Internet Explorer haters.
We just love Firefox’s tabbed interface and extensibility (a
word that will not be used again in this article). Although
the stock Firefox package installs a svelte, streamlined browser
that’s quick on its feet, we can’t resist the temptation to gorge
ourselves with the thousands of available extensions that customize our browser to do all the things we want it to do (without
doing any of the things we don’t). From extensions that add armorplated browser security, to tireless agents that constantly scour
the Internet for sudden dips in air fares, the possibilities really are
endless. The moral of the story: Master your extensions, and you’ll
master your web experience.
BY CLAUDE MCIVER
Site Navigation
The miracles of miniaturization have had a profound impact on our lives, in computers, cellphones, and swimsuits, to name just a few examples. And now, even those annoyingly long URLs
that crowd the web can be truncated to functional
use. With the Tiny URL extension, a simple rightclick allows you to transform the address of any
page or link into a petite URL that you can save or
share with others. And the best part is, these wee
web addresses never expire, so you can send
grandma a link to the super-cool gizmo you want
from Amazon in a URL that won’t leave her grappling with a four-line cut-and-paste nightmare.
While you’re at it, save yourself some time by
ditching the scroll wheel. As useful as it can be,
the wheel is no match for Scrollbar Anywhere,
which lets you scroll in any direction just by holding down the right mouse button. Your finger’s
already lounging there—give it something to do.
Need more excitement? Simple Rocker Navigation
allows you to go backward and forward through
web pages without the burden of lifting your lazyass hand off the mouse. Holding the left mouse
button and clicking the right button goes forward
in your page history, while doing the reverse will
go backwards in the history. Simple and effective,
just the way we like it.
The RL in URL doesn’t have to mean “really long,” thanks to the magic
of Tiny URL.
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IMPROVING YOUR PC EXPERIENCE, ONE STEP AT A TIME
More Fun with Site Navigation
The exceptionally daring might wish to demonstrate their nav fu by ditching the mouse altogether. Everyone knows that the Tab key jumps from
one page element to the next—including links—and that pressing the
Enter key submits field information and activates links. But the Mouseless
Browsing extension completely liberates you from the little rodent by
associating page elements with numbers. Just enter the number, press the
Enter key, and Firefox responds as if you clicked the link. It’s a great way to
fly though web pages and give your clicking finger a break.
Windows Explorer has a handy “Up” button that whisks you up one
level in the directory structure, so why shouldn’t your web browser? You
can stash Go Up on your toolbar, and with a quick click you can advance
upwards in a website’s directory—for example, using Go Up at www.maximumpc.com/reviews will take you directly to our home page without forcing
you to backtrack with the Back button.
As if that wasn’t godlike enough, Aardvark allows you to whimsically
delete any element on a web page by simply placing the cursor over it and
pressing R. Remove ads, pictures, text—anything you (don’t) want. The
power is intoxicating.
Now you see it,
now you don’t.
View only what
you want with
Aardvark.
Security
You wouldn’t leave the keys to your car on the hood, so don’t leave the
keys to your PC in your browser. NoScript allows you to permanently
approve (white-list) sites you know are safe—like your bank’s home
page—and permits only those sites to execute Javascript. Access the
preferences by going to the Tools menu, click Extensions, and click
Options after highlighting NoScript. You can then add safe sites and
configure advanced options. NoScript can even be added to the status
bar, letting you allow or forbid the current site on the fly.
Search
There are plenty of search toolbars that promise to
give you the information you want, but Clusty Toolbar
soars above the herd. It has the standard search input
area that can search for and highlight keywords on
the page; but what really sets Clusty apart is its link
to the über-cool Wikipedia encyclopedia. Select any
word or phrase on a web page, right-click, select
Get Encyclopedia Clip, and you’ll be served instant
intelligence about the selected text from Wikipedia. The
encyclopedia clip even opens in a small window, so you
never have to leave your original page. If your curiosity
is piqued, simply access the full Wikipedia entry via the
link at the bottom of the clip window. Instant dictionary
results as well as web searches for the selected text are
also available. Groovy.
While you’re at it, why not tweak Google to provide
results with a perfect fit every time? You can do it with
CustomizeGoogle, an ingenious extension that lets you
take control of the world’s most popular search engine.
If the ads on the search results page are bugging you,
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Clusty’s integrated Wikipedia tool makes quick work of serious research or casual web slumming.
simply remove them with a tick in the CustomizeGoogle
option menu. Ads powered by Google will now disappear,
and you can banish ads in Gmail as well.
CustomizeGoogle taps into every component of Google,
including News, Groups, Images, and Froogle. It can even
display links to other search engines based on your search
criterion, right on the Google search results page!
Block dubious
sites or add
trusted ones
from the status
bar.
how2
IMPROVING YOUR PC EXPERIENCE, ONE STEP AT A TIME
Messaging
There exists an exotic species of hominid
who communicates exclusively through text
messaging, and they have the giant thumbs
to prove it. You can establish diplomatic
relations by sending text messages to their
cellphones via email, but it’s always a hassle
because you need to know the carrier’s
domain, and in turn, the carrier itself. Teleflip,
on the other hand, bridges the gap by allowing you to use any SMTP (outgoing) mail
server to send SMS text messages to cellphones, so you don’t have to know all the
minutiae of your carrier’s info.
You can find your SMTP server information in the Accounts setting of your mail
program, or in the Help section of your free
web-based email service. First, access the
Teleflip settings in the Tool menu. Input your
email address, server information, username,
and password and you’re all set to text your
heart out. To send a message, access the
Teleflip tool in the Tool menu and click Send
a Text Message. After entering the recipient’s
cell number and your message, hit OK.
Teleflip then zaps your communiqué over the
net and into the airwaves.
Absent-minded ambassadors can take
comfort in Der Browser Timer, der best way
to remind yourself to send a thoughtful message, with a countdown-style timer or audible and visual alarms that jog your memory
at regular intervals.
Ask the Doctor
Diagnosing and curing
your PC problems
DIFFERENT DRIVE, SAME CD
SNAFU
I have Plextor’s 716SA SATA DVD
burner, and it appears to dislike
random CDs. At first I thought it was
a problem with older, damaged CDs,
because my computer would reboot
spontaneously every time I got to disc
Time Savers
Tabbed browsing is just plain cool—how did
we ever live without it? The same can be
said about a nifty little extension that makes
switching between tabs even easier—the
Tab Scroller. Just hold the right mouse button down and move the scroll wheel, and the
page names of every tab will be displayed in
a popup menu. Use the scroll wheel to select
the desired tab and, voila, you’re there. It’s
quick and makes life easier, especially if
you’re an incorrigible tab-maniac.
Autocopy takes the Control-C out of
copying text. When active, any text that’s
selected with the cursor is automatically
copied to the clipboard. Autocopy can be
configured to turn on or off via the status
bar, context menu, Edit menu, or all three.
A turn of the scroll wheel is now all
you need to change from tab to tab.
Fares, Weather
If you’re constantly leaping from airport to
airport, or even if you’re just planning an
upcoming vacation, the FareWatcher extension is a great way to stay abreast of the
best airline prices. The extension sits on
the status bar and relays customized fare
results via RSS from Farecompare.com.
The Settings menu allows you to tailor the
results by limiting price and specifying the
airline and service type (coach, business,
or—you lucky bastard—first class). It’s
currently limited to domestic flights within
the U.S., however.
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ForecastFox is like having your
own personal meteorologist hanging
out on your status bar. Powered by
Accuweather.com, this extension shows
current and forecast weather as well
as regional satellite information. Plus,
you can create profiles defining location
and unit of measure; so you can get the
weather in your hometown in Fahrenheit
and then effortlessly check the conditions in Glasgow, in Celsius, just by
switching profiles.
four of Baldur’s Gate 2. But I experienced the same problem on disc five of
The Bard’s Tale, straight outta the box.
Suspecting I had a bum drive, I
went out and bought a standard IDE
CD-ROM drive—nothing fancy—and
it does the same thing with the exact
same discs.
I’ve got all the newest drivers
and firmware for my BIOS. I also tried
removing the SATA DVD drive, and yet
I get the same error with the other
optical drive. Any ideas?
—SPC Clark
From the description of your issue,
it sounds like your motherboard is
based on nVidia’s nForce4 chipset. This product certainly didn’t
have the smoothest rollout. One of
its early quirks was that it didn’t
play well with some optical drives,
including Plextor’s 716SA. Poor planning? Cultural differences? Only the
Intelligent Designer knows for sure.
But the Doctor suspects the cure for
your ills is to reinstall your Plexy and
upgrade its firmware with the most
current version available on Plextor’s
website. Firmware version 1.08 ironed
out virtually all issues the PX-716SA
had with the nForce4 chipset.
batteries. After the machine has been
running for a while, the entire left
side of the screen gets very dark. The
right side is unaffected, and adjusting
the brightness and contrast has no
effect. What’s even stranger is that the
problem goes away as soon as I pull
the power-supply plug and switch to
batteries; when I plug the power supply
back in, the trouble returns. What could
be causing this? Can it be fixed?
—David Elstein
No amount of cooling will be enough if you forget to remove
the protective cover from your heatsink.
EVIL MONKEYS
I built my first computer last year
and it’s running great, but with one
problem: My CPU temp is out of
control. I don’t overclock, my mobo
temps vary between 35 C and 45 C,
and my case temps range from 31 C
to 35 C. But my CPU idles at 47 C and
heats up to 62 C under a full load. I
shut down my PC at this point, so it
might get even hotter if I left it on.
I originally installed a
Thermaltake Venus, but after reading
your heatsink showdown in the
September issue, I noticed that the
temps I’m getting are higher than I’d
get with a stock heatsink and fan. I
then bought the Cooler Master Hyper
6+, but now my idle CPU temps are
48 C and 62 C at full load. Are these
high temps caused by my case, a
faulty heatsink/fan installation, or the
evil monkey that lives in my closet?
—Jeremiah Teague
The readings you’re getting with
the Hyper 6+ do indeed seem very
high—they’re not so high that
you need to shut down your PC,
but they’re much higher than they
should be. We got temps of 33 C
at idle and 44 C under load on our
AMD test bench with the Hyper
6+. Here are some troubleshooting
tips: As silly it might sound, the
first thing you should do is make
sure you removed the clear plastic
cover from the bottom of the heatsink. Yeah, it’s a newb mistake,
but we’ve all made it.
Next, make sure you’re using
the appropriate Tic-Tac-size drop
of thermal paste and that you’ve
ratcheted the cooler down nice
and tight to the motherboard. You
should also double-check the fan
to make sure it’s spinning. Finally,
the Doc wonders what you’re
using to monitor your temperatures—there’s an outside chance
it’s reporting erroneous info. We
suggest using a second utility
just to verify the temps, such as
Alfredo Comparetti’s Speedfan. As
for the evil monkey in your closet,
see if you can tranquilize him with
a spiked banana and then call the
zoo. If that doesn’t work, give your
neighborhood exorcist a ring.
This is a complete guess, but the
Doc suspects that something has
gone awry with the machine’s
panel connection, backlight, or
motherboard. Yeah, that’s a pretty
broad diagnosis, but any one of
these components could be at the
root of your symptoms. The uniform light loss you describe might
be intermittent backlight failure.
You’ll find plenty of aftermarket
Inspiron 8000 parts, so you might
want to replace the backlight or
even the entire panel. Dell offers
helpful instructions here: http://
support.dell.com/support/edocs/
systems/plav/sm/ (click “Removing
and Replacing Parts”).
But here’s the bottom line: You
can fix your laptop, but is it really
worth it? Considering that brandnew—and faster—notebooks are
priced in the $600 range, it might
not be.
UNIVERSALLY SUCKING BUS
I have had two different disk drives
installed in a USB 1.0-to-IDE box. I
now have a new USB 2.0 unit with a
third disk. I have plugged all these
units into at least a dozen different
systems and I consistently get
“Delayed Write Failure” errors.
I use this unit on a regular basis to
transfer files between my system and
those of my friends and coworkers.
When the drives decide to misbe-
have, it’s impossible to transfer files.
You can’t just go back into Windows
Explorer and re-access the drive—
you’re forced to unplug and replug,
and most of the time even that
doesn’t help. I have taken the usual
steps of running Scandisk and reformatting the drives, but no problems
are reported and there’s no change
in behavior. Isn’t this supposed to be
a mature technology? What do I have
to do to get reliable performance?
—Frank Orazem
The Doc has used plenty of USB
2.0 external drives and rarely
encounters delayed write failures.
Having said that, delayed write
failure errors are difficult to diagnose, because there can be any
number of causes. When dealing
with an external drive, however,
the most common problem is a
simple loss of communication
between the host and the disk
drive. This occurs most often
when you’re transferring large
files; it can be caused by a faulty
drive losing its connection with
the host’s drive controller, or the
controller losing its connection
with the motherboard chipset.
Another culprit might be other USB
traffic sucking up too much bandwidth during file transfers.
As a first step, the Doc recommends that you make sure there’s
no other USB activity while you’re
transferring files. Next, download
the latest chipset driver for your
motherboard, which will include
USB drivers. If that doesn’t solve
the problem, visit your drive manufacturer’s website and download a
diagnostic utility to test your disk
drive. If the new chipset drivers
don’t solve the problem, and you’re
sure there’s no other traffic on the
bus during file transfers, you probably have a defective drive.
REPAIR OR RECYCLE?
I recently bought a Dell Inspiron 8000
laptop from a friend. It has a 1GHz
Pentium III and 512MB of RAM. I’m
using the Dell power adapter and
what looks to me like the original Dell
De-evolution or Unintelligent Design? Whatever the source of your PC
tribulations, the Doctor is here to help. Send an email describing your
problem to doctor@maximumpc.com and he’ll do his best to come up
with a meaningful solution.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 65
in the lab
REAL-WORLD TESTING: RESULTS. ANALYSIS. RECOMMENDATIONS
MICHAEL BROWN
Benchmarks
CrossFire
ATI’s dual-GPU launch is greeted by the
sound of one hand clapping
I
t has finally arrived: A CrossFire reviewer’s kit. CrossFire is for real. All I needed
to do was build it. I was curious to see
how a single X850 XT CrossFire edition card
would perform, so I held off installing the
companion card. But the first time I powered
up the system, Windows immediately bluescreened. After poring over the installation
guide and troubleshooting everything I could
think of—real reviewers don’t need tech
support—I finally gave up and called ATI.
“Did you plug the dongle into the vacant
PCI Express slot?” they asked. “D’oh!” I
responded. ATI’s PR person had sent an
email warning reviewers about the dongle—
which instructs the motherboard to operate the remaining PCI Express slot in x16
mode—because the
company forgot to
cover it in the instalYes, Virginia, there really is a CrossFire Edition motherboard
lation manual. And I
and videocard.
had promptly forgotten about the email.
With the dongle securely in place, the
the moment, I decided to reseat the cards—
system booted and I was able to proceed
again. With a firm tug on what I thought was
with benchmarking. For whatever reason,
the edge of the X850 XT, I immediately felt a
the card proved to be just a hare’s breath
capacitor give way. Double “D’oh!”
slower than a normal X850 XT (but the perFortunately, I had a spare Sapphire
formance delta is so small that it’s pretty
X850 XT card. And fortunately, CrossFire
much meaningless). When I was ready to
allows you to mix and match videocards
replace the dongle with a second X850 XT,
from different manufacturers—I couldn’t
I was able to boot into Windows, but it was
have done that with two nVidia GPUs.
so unstable that many of the benchmarks
But because the system still wouldn’t
crashed mid-run.
boot, I became convinced that something
I ran through the usual troubleshooting
had gone awry while installing Windows
routines—again. Growing more frustrated by
and the rest of my benchmark suite, so I
repeated the entire sequence. This time,
BENCHMARKS
the system blue-screened during the
2X RADEON
2X GEFORCE
2X GEFORCE
2X GEFORCE
Windows installation!
X850 XT
6800 ULTRA
7800 GT
7800 GTX
I called ATI again. “You must have a
3DMARK 03 OVERALL
20,468
21,820
24,810
26,768
bad CPU,” they assured me. “Can’t be,”
3DMARK 03 GAME 2 (FPS)
41.4
54.4
64.1
69.2
I replied; “that CPU and RAM came from
3DMARK 03 GAME 4 (FPS)
67.8
65.9
89.2
99.5
another PC that I knew was working, and
3DMARK 05 OVERALL
10,398
10,168
11,047
11,379
when I put it back in that other machine, it
DOOM3 (FPS)
68.1
74.3
81.2
84.4
still worked fine.”
FAR CRY (FPS)
122.1
120.0
124.1
128.6
ATI finally agreed to send another mothHALO (FPS)
118.4
113.3
124.5
129.1
erboard. In the meantime, I installed a differBest scores are bolded. ATI benchmarks run on an ATI reference-design, Socket 939, CrossFire Edition motherboard. nVidia benchmarks run on an Asus A8N
ent CPU and different memory into the first
SLI Deluxe nForce4 SLI motherboard. Both test beds equipped with 2GB of DDR SDRAM and 2.6GHz Athlon FX-55 CPUs. Halo 1.06 tested at 1600x1200 with
sound disabled. Doom 3 v1.3 tested at High Quality, 1600x1200, 4x AA. Far Cry 1.33 and 3DMark03 Game 2 and Game 4 tested at 1600x1200, 4x AA, 8x aniso.
evaluation system. Voila! The system booted
3DMark03 and 3DMark05 are run using default settings.
without incident. As it turns out, ATI’s product manager had had a similar experience
with an Intel motherboard: The CPU worked
SPECS
fine in every other motherboard, and the
motherboard worked fine with every other
VIDEOCARD
GPU
PRICE
MEMORY
PIXEL
CORE
MEMOMRY
PIPELINES
CLOCK
CLOCK
CPU. But the two just could not get along
inside the same system.
ATI X850 XT PAIRED
Radeon X850 XT
256MB on
WITH ATI X850 XT
$700
16 on each card
520MHz
540MHz
on both cards
each card
As for performance, the CrossFire archiCROSSFIRE EDITION
tecture
holds its own against same-generaTWO NVIDIA
GeForce 6800
256MB on
GEFORCE 6800 ULTRA Ultra on both
$830
16 on each card
400MHz
500MHz
tion hardware. But there’s little reason to
each
card
CARDS IN SLI
cards
even consider a CrossFire rig when nVidia’s
TWO NVIDIA
GeForce 7800 GT $800
256MB on
much faster, next-gen GeForce 7800 GTs
GEFORCE 7800 GT
20 on each card
430MHz
600MHz
on both cards
each card
CARDS IN SLI
are available for about the same price. The
TWO NVIDIA
GeForce 7800
real question is this: Can dual R520s com256MB on
GEFORCE 7800 GTX
GTX on both
$958
24
on
each
card
400MHz
500MHz
each card
CARDS IN SLI
pete with nVidia’s screamin’ Mimis: dual
cards
GeForce 7800 GTXs running in SLI?
70 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
BEST OF THE BEST
How We Test
Our monthly category-by-category
list of our favorite products. New
products are in red.
Real-world benchmarks. Real-world results
C
omputer performance used to be measured with synthetic tests that had little or
no bearing on real-world performance. Even
worse, when hardware vendors started tailoring their drivers for these synthetic tests, the
performance in actual games and applications
sometimes dropped.
At Maximum PC, our mantra for testing has
always been “real-world.” We use tests that
reflect tasks power users perform every single
day. With that in mind, here are the six realworld benchmarks that we use to test every
system we review.
SYSmark2004: This is the most comprehensive application benchmark available, using
no fewer than 19 applications to measure the
time it takes for the PC to complete to real-world
computer-intensive tasks. Our SYSmark score is
a composite based on the time the test takes to
complete several different types of tasks.
Adobe Premiere Pro: The leading nonlinear digital-video editor has recently been
retooled with more support for multi-threading.
We take a raw AVI file, add several transitions and a soundtrack, export it to a generic
MPEG-2 file, and then report the time the
script takes to complete.
Adobe Photoshop CS: We don’t subscribe
to Apple’s half-baked idea that running one filter
test in Photoshop, in one certain way, at a particular time of day provides an accurate measure of
performance. Instead, we take a high-resolution
image and throw it through just about every filter
available in Photoshop CS at it. Our score is the
time it takes for the script to complete.
Divx Encode: Video encoding is today’s
time-suck. We transcode a short movie stored
on the hard drive from MPEG-2 to Divx using
#1 DVD Ripper. We report the length of time the
process takes to complete.
3DMark05: After ranting about real-world
tests, you might be surprised to find this “synthetic” graphics test in our suite. 3DMark05,
however, has proved to be the standard by
which graphics cards and PCs that run them
are judged. Instead of reporting a meaningless composite score, we run the third test at
1280x1024 with 4x antialiasing and 4x anisotropic filtering, then report the frame rate. Our
zero-point system with SLI can’t even break 30
frames per second.
Doom 3: Id’s hugely popular game is a dark,
scary, and serious test of PC horsepower.
We run this game with 4x antialiasing and 4x
anisotropic filtering, at 1600x1200 resolution,
and report the frame rate.
The actual
scores achieved
by the system
being reviewed.
The scores achieved by our zero-point system are noted
in this column. They remain the same, month in, month
out, until we decide to update our zero-point.
Premiere Pro
620 sec
Photoshop CS
286 sec 362 sec (-20.99%)
Divx Encode
494 sec
29.3 fps
Doom 3
77.1 fps
62.3 fps +
82 fps
0
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
Our zero-point reference systems uses a 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-55, 2GB of DDR400 Crucial Ballistix RAM,
two nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra cards in SLI, a Maxtor 250GB DiamondMax10, a Sound Blaster Audigy 2
ZS, a PC Power and Cooling TurboCool 510 Deluxe Express, and Windows XP Pro with SP2.
Every month we remind readers of our
key zero-point components.
Portable USB drive:
Seagate Portable External Hard
Drive 100GB
DVD burner:
Plextor PX-716A
Widescreen LCD
monitor:
Dell 2405FPW
Desktop LCD
monitor:
Dell 2001FP
Socket 939 Athlon
64 mobo:
Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe
5.1 speakers:
Logitech Z-5500 Digital
Mid-tower case:
Cooler Master Praetorian 730
1635 sec
1812 sec
3DMark 05
External backup drive:
Western Digital Dual-Option
Media Center 250GB
2.1 speakers:
Klipsch GMX A2.1
216
201
7,200rpm SATA:
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500
Photo printer:
Canon i9900
ZERO POINT SCORES
The names
of the actual
benchmarks
used.
Soundcard:
Creative Labs X-Fi Extreme
Music
Portable MP3 player:
Apple iPod 60GB
Maximum PC’s test beds double as zero-point systems, against which all review systems
are compared. Here’s how to read our benchmark chart.
SYSmark2004
Mid-range videocard:
GeForce 6800GT
Socket 775 Pentium 4 mobo:
Asus P5ND2-SLI
How to Read Our Benchmark Chart
BENCHMARKS
High-end videocard:
Asus GeForce N7800
GTX Top
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
The bar graph indicates how much faster
the review system performed in respect
to the zero-point system. If a system
exceeds the zero-point performance by
more than 100 percent, the graph will
show a full-width bar and a plus sign.
Full-size case:
Lian Li PCV-1100
With its newfangled reverse ATX
design and super-quiet operation, the PCV-1100 rolled right
into our hearts
Games we are playing:
Black & White 2, Quake 4,
Dungeon Siege II, Battlefield 2
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 71
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED.
Gigabyte
GV-3D1-68GT
Supersize me!
G
igabyte’s first single-card SLI trick
impressed us as a feat of engineering, but its performance left us cold.
This time ‘round, the company’s engineers
got almost everything right. The GV-3D168GT is not only faster than a single 7800
GTX, it’s faster than two 6800 GT cards
running in conventional SLI. The only problem: This behemoth weighs as much as six
Quarter Pounders!
Gigabyte’s original GV-3D1 merged
two nVidia GeForce 6600 GT cores on a
single card, but it was compatible only with
Gigabyte’s nForce4 GA-K8NXP-SLI motherboard—and could be purchased only as part
of a $495 videocard/mobo bundle. Never
before or since have two eight-pipe GPU, dual
128MB, 128-bit interface videocards been so
freakin’ expensive.
The GV-3D1-68GT pulls off the same
engineering trick, but it pairs two much
faster, 16-pipe
GeForce 6800 GT
cores (each running at 375MHz)
and offers dual
256MB frame buffers (clocked at
500MHz and with
256-bit memory
interfaces). The
capper is that
the new board is
compatible with
any nForce4 SLI
motherboard.
All those
components add
up to some serious mass—and
a need for some
serious cooling:
Heatsinks and
fans mounted
on both sides of
the 10-inch-long
circuit board
The card’s massive
contribute nearly
heatsinks and large
two inches to
fans account for much
its girth, and the
of the GV-3D1-68GT’s
entire package
astonishing two-and-atips the scales
quarter-pound heft.
72 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
Gigabyte’s hulking GV-3D1-68GT doesn’t
at a staggering two pounds, 4.3 ounces
come with a mobo—we included it for scale.
(compared with 12 ounces for a stanThis dual-GPU card is as gargantuan as it
dard 6800 GT card). Despite all this bulk,
is fast.
Gigabyte saw fit to provide just a single
mounting bracket, which left the card
keeling over in our mid-tower-mounted
the GV-3D1-68GT handily beats the performotherboard’s 16x PCI-E slot. We recommance of both a single GeForce 7800 GTX
mend that buyers jury-rig some additional
and that of a pair of conventional GeForce
support for this monster’s ass-end.
6800 GT cards running in SLI. In our test rig,
In fact, anyone who’s considerthe card ran Doom 3 (at 1600x1200 resolution
ing installing the GV-3D1-68GT in their
with 4x antialiasing and 8x anisotropic filtering)
machine should take note of all its dimensions. The heatsink on the back of the
SPECS
card, for instance, came into contact with
the supplemental 12-volt power connecGPU
Dual GeForce
tor on our Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe moth6800 GTs
erboard—we had to push hard before it
PIXEL PIPELINES
16
would seat properly—and if we were utiliz512MB DDR3
MEMORY
ing the case’s second hard drive cage, we
(256MB per GPU)
would have run into even more problem256-bit
MEMORY
atic clearance issues. The aforementioned
INTERFACE
fans are loud—they stood out among all
CORE CLOCK
375MHz
the other machines contributing to the
500MHz
MEMORY
CLOCK
Lab’s cacophony—but at least they don’t
generate the type of high-pitched whine
that sets your teeth on edge.
Two DVI connectors are installed on the
nearly three frames per second faster than two
mounting bracket, along with a video-out port.
6800 GT cards, 18.5fps faster than a single
Anyone interested in editing their own analog
7800 GTX, and 21.8fps faster than a single
videos should note that video-in is not sup7800 GT. Not bad.
ported. If you’d like to run four monitors—not
At press time, the average street price
in SLI mode, of course—you can plug in a
for a single GeForce 6800 GT card was
second mounting bracket that’s outfitted with
about $325, so the GV-3D1-68GT’s $600
a pair of analog VGA
list price represents at least a
connectors. The card
$50 discount over buying two
BENCHMARKS
also supports dual DualLink DVI, so you can
GIGABYTE
GEFORCE 6800GT
GEFORCE
GEFORCE 7800GTX
GV-3D1-68GT (SINGLE CARD)
6800GT (SLI)
(SINGLE CARD)
drive two 30-inch Apple
DOOM 3 (FPS)
71.5
39.8
68.7
53.6
Cinema Displays from
FAR CRY (FPS)
112.7
71.5
111.3
81.5
a single card. Just like
HALO (FPS)
106.2
63.3
93.4
107.9
a conventional 6800 GT
3DMARK05
9,656
5,145
9,234
7,648
card, the board draws
additional power through
3DMARK03
20,538
11,945
19,544
16,074
a six-pin plug (Gigabyte
3DMARK03 GAME 2 (FPS) 52.0
24.6
49.0
33.8
provides a Molex Y
3DMARK03 GAME 4 (FPS) 60.3
28.1
56.6
47.9
cable if your power supHQV SCORE
68
78
68
83
ply isn’t equipped with
Best scores in each category are bolded. All benchmarks are run on our Athlon FX-55 test system, which includes an nForce4
SLI motherboard and 2GB of DDR SDRAM. Halo 1.06 tested at 1600x1200 with sound disabled. Doom 3 tested at High Quality
the appropriate cable).
1600x1200, 4x AA. Far Cry 1.31 and 3DMark 2003 Game2 and Game4 are tested at 1600x1200, 4x AA, and 8x aniso. 3DMark
2003 and 3DMark 2005 are run using default settings. HQV Score is derived from the HQV Benchmark DVD, which measures
As you can see from
the videocard’s performance displaying DVD movies.
our benchmark chart,
separate cards (thus overcoming our next
biggest objection to its predecessor). On
the other hand, you could pick up a single
GeForce 7800 GTX for the average street
price of $510, or a single 7800 GT for
$400, and two of either of those cards in
SLI will definitely leave Gigabyte’s board
with a poor body image.
To be absolutely fair to Gigabyte, however, two 7800 GTX boards cost more than
a grand, and two 7800 GT boards will set
you back more than $800. Compared with
that, $600 for a board that beats the stuffing out of either single card is a good deal.
Unlike those two boards, however, the only
way you can further increase your PC’s performance is to chuck this card and replace
it with two more. Still, this card is a good
value for the money.
—MICHAEL BROWN
GIGABYTE GV-3D1-68GT
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Faster than a single GeForce
7800 GTX; cheaper than two
GeForce 6800 GTs.
SLY STALLONE
Morbidly obese; obnoxiously
loud. Slightly more expensive
than a single 7800 GTX.
8
$600, www.gigabyte-usa.com
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 73
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Puget Systems Custom PC
Upwardly mobile, this rig hints at a promising future for Intel’s Pentium M
W
hile not officially sanctioned by
Intel for desktop use, the Pentium
M processor has long been coveted by fans of quiet PCs and small formfactor boxes,
for the very
reasons the
mobile CPU
has excelled in
the notebook
arena: low
power usage
and minimal
heat output.
This custom
PC from Puget
The Puget’s ginormous radia- Systems is the
tor is the key to its fanless
first Pentium
water-cooling solution.
M-equipped
desktop system we’ve reviewed and we were eager
to see how the chip would fare against its
Pentium 4 brethren and AMD competitors.
The heart of this system is the
2.35GHz Pentium M 780, which sports
2MB of L2 cache. It’s keeping company
with 2GB of DDR2/533 RAM, a single
Western Digital 74GB Raptor, and a BFG
GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB videocard.
Most of the systems we’ve reviewed this
year have incorporated some iteration of
SLI, thus the lone GeForce 7800 card in
Puget’s PC seems paltry by comparison.
UNDER THE HOOD
BRAINS
CPU
Intel Pentium M 780
(2.26GHz)
MOBO
Aopen A-i915GA-HFS
RAM
2GB DDR2/533
LAN
Gigabit Ethernet
HARD DRIVE
74GB Western
Digital Raptor
OPTICAL
Plextor 716AL/SW
Slot-loading IDE
6
ZERO POINT SCORES
SYSmark2004
201
179 (-10.95%)
Premiere Pro
620 sec
611 sec
286 sec
303 sec (-5.61%)
Photoshop CS
BFG GeForce 7800 GTX
256MB (450MHz core,
625MHz GDDR3)
SOUNDCARD
Onboard Azalia 7.1 channel
HD audio
CASE
Lian-Li Classical Silent PC767,
Antec Phantom 500W PSU
BOOT: 29 sec.
HOLIDAY 2005
$4,730, www.pugetsystems.com
BENCHMARKS
BEAUTY
VIDEOCARD
74 MAXIMUMPC
Nonetheless, the GeForce 7800
is more than capable of playing
today’s games. Puget left sound
duties to the onboard 7.1 channel HD audio controller, in lieu
of the familiar Sound Blaster
Audigy 2 ZS, but this isn’t its
biggest failing. Shipping a
Minimalists might dig the single videocard, single hard
$4,700 system with only 74GB
drive, and small, fast, Pentium M, but we need at least
of storage is inexcusable; we’d
a couple hundred gigs of storage.
rather see a quieter, nearly as
fast 500GB Deskstar.
out 1.6 more frames per second than our
The stand-out feature in
this rig is the Aqua-Computer Airplex Evo
6800 Ultra SLI-powered zero-point rig in
1800 Radiator. This is the first fanless waterthe 3DMark05 benchmark. And a score of
cooled system we’ve tested, and it’s made
almost 41fps in Doom 3 from a single card
possible by the beefy, probably-big-enoughis definitely respectable, but we would have
to-cool-a-small-car radiator. The CPU, chiploved to see this system with a 7800 SLI
set, videocard, and hard drive are all cooled
configuration.
by the heavy-duty water-cooling kit, which
While the Pentium M provides good perlooks impressive at work with purple UVformance and runs cool doing so, the proc
reactive dye running through its water lines.
lacks multithread capability, SSE3 instructions,
All hardware is housed in an elegant Lian-Li
and 64-bit processing. So it’s not surprising
PC-767 case, perfect for quietude.
that Puget’s custom system isn’t a high-perThe Puget system batted pretty low
formance gaming PC. Instead, it’s a high-perin SYSmark 2004, for which we blame the
formance quiet PC that allows the Pentium M
Pentium M. SYSmark simulates multitaskto flex its gaming muscle. If your first concern
ing in various applications, and without dual
is quiet operation, and you want something
cores or even Hyper-Threading, the Pentium
with a little get-up-and-go, then get up and
M just can’t compete. Performance in
go get this system. Otherwise, grab a system
Premiere Pro and Photoshop CS was more
based on a full-throttle processor.
impressive, comparable to previous FX-55
systems we’ve tested. And the Pentium M
PUGET SYSTEMS CUSTOM PC
780 was able to encode our MPEG-4 test
video as well as P4 systems with 1GHz
SILENT BOB
faster clock speeds.
Ultra quiet, great case and
aesthetic detailing, slotWith its single 7800 GTX videocard, the
loading DVD.
Puget system couldn’t compete with the
big boys in our game benchmarks. Still,
RIOTING MOB
it summarily spanked single-card 6800Not enough storage, No SLI,
and the radiator is huge.
based systems and managed to crank
DOWN: 9 sec.
Divx Encode
1812 sec
3DMark05
29.3 fps
Doom 3
77.1 fps
1770 sec
30.9 fps
40.9 fps (-46.95%)
0
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
Our zero-point reference systems uses a 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-55, 2GB of DDR400 Crucial Ballistix RAM, two nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra cards in SLI, a Maxtor 250GB
DiamondMax10, a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS, a PC Power and Cooling TurboCool 510 Deluxe Express, and Windows XP Pro with SP2.
100%
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Zalman Resorator 1 Plus
CPU and VGA cooling without fans—yes way!
T
he Resorator’s configuration is simple: a massive 24-inch tall aluminum combination reservoir/radiator (hence the product’s moniker) that holds 2.5 liters
of water. There’s a small and silent 5-watt pump inside the radiator, strapped to
the bottom of the tank. The 5/16-inch silicon tubing runs from the radiator tank to
the CPU water block, then to the VGA block, and then back to the radiator. We love
the auto-close valves on the reservoir. They let you disconnect the hoses for easy,
spill-free travel. Trust us: This is an extremely convenient feature. Installation was,
to borrow a phrase from the Pentagon, a cakewalk. Though motherboard removal is
required for Socket 940/939/754 and LGA775 processors, instructions are clear and
easy to follow. The installation process for the VGA water block was also a breeze
and the explicit instructions prevented us from damaging our X800 XT test card.
Once fired up, the Resorator 1 Plus delivered cooling performance just a tad
warmer than what we’d have achieved with stock air-cooling. It does this, however,
without producing any noise whatsoever. In fact, the only way you can determine
whether the Resorator is running is by glancing at its handy in-line flow-meter. That
this cooler achieves decent temperatures
BENCHMARKS
while handling the load
of both the CPU and an
RESORATOR 1 PLUS
STOCK COOLER
ultra-hot videocard at the
AMD IDLE (C)
40
36
same time is amazing to
AMD LOAD (C)
53
52
us. But the lack of a fan on
INTEL IDLE (C)
46
44
the CPU socket does have
INTEL LOAD (C)
63
63
Best temps are bolded. All temperatures were measured via the onboard
drawbacks. The capacitors
sensors, using the utilities provided by the motherboard manufacturer. Idle
temperatures were measured after 30 minutes of inactivity and full-load
and voltage regulators on
temps were achieved running CPU Burn-in for one hour.
our LGA775 test platform
The Resorator
1 Plus is
so quiet it
includes a
flow indicator
for visual confirmation that
it’s running.
became super hot without the aid of airflow around the processor area.
Although the Reserator didn’t perform as well as the Innovatek SET passive
water-cooling kit reviewed last month, it was a lot easier to install, and goes one
step further by including a VGA water block in addition to a CPU block. All in all, it’s
a hell of a product and a must-have if
you’re obsessed with making your
PC deadly quiet.
ZALMAN RESORATOR 1 PLUS
—JOSH NOREM
$245, www.zalmanusa.com
9
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
Zalman CNPS9500 LED
Zalman’s new
cooler has begun
its reign over the
CPU air-cooling
kingdom.
A whole lot of flower power
Z
alman has been pimping its “blooming flower” heatsink design for what seems
like ages, so we were understandably excited to see the company deviate from
this mold with its all-new CNPS9500 LED CPU cooler. The cooler’s unique design bucks
conventional heatsink wisdom, but as the benchmarks show, it’s still quite capable of
accomplishing Zalman’s twin goals: superb CPU cooling and quiet operation.
The 9500 sports standard air-cooling hardware, including a copper base, copper
fins, and copper heat pipes, but it combines these ingredients in an entirely original
way. Rather than using five or six short-length heat pipes that terminate in a dense
array of big, long fins, the 9500 uses just three
heat pipes, which start at the base
BENCHMARKS
and run in a figure-eight pattern
ZALMAN 9500 STOCK COOLER
from one side to the other, providAMD FX-55 TEMPS
ing increased surface area for
IDLE
FAN LOW (C)
35
NA
cooling and transferring heat to the
33
40
FAN HIGH (C)
copper fins. The fins are very small
100% LOAD
and their thin-blade design lets air
FAN LOW (C)
49
NA
45
54
FAN HIGH (C)
from the 92mm adjustable-speed
INTEL LGA775 3.6GHZ
fan pass through without appreIDLE
FAN LOW (C)
37
NA
ciable noise. The blue LED-lit fan
35
44
FAN HIGH (C)
is mounted on two floating posts,
100% LOAD
FAN LOW (C)
51
NA
which helps reduce noise output.
FAN HIGH (C)
46
63
Installation of the
Best temps are bolded. Idle temperatures were measured after 30
minutes of inactivity and full-load temps were achieved running
CNPS9500
is
effortless. On AMD
CPU Burn-in for one hour.
systems, you use the stock
76 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
mounting bracket and simply tighten two screws. Intel LGA775 systems require
motherboard removal and the installation of a Zalman back plate. The cooler comes
with a fan-speed adjustment brick with an adhesive base for placement on your
case or desktop.
During testing, the CNPS9500 delivered impressive cooling performance. What
is surprising is how quiet the device is regardless of fan speed. Compared with the
Cooler Master Hyper 6+ (reviewed in September), the CNPS9500’s temperatures are
virtually the same, and it’s just as
quiet. Zalman’s cooler is also a cinch
ZALMAN CNPS9500 LED
to install and looks enticing,making
$80, www.zalmanusa.com
it worthy of a 10 verdict.
10
9
—JOSH NOREM
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Getac M220
Built like a tank, the M220 gives you decent
performance in a notebook you can’t break
T
here are two kinds of notebook
geeks: the anal-retentive guy who
keeps the plastic screen protector on his notebook at all times, and The
Abuser. You know the type: The Abuser
throws his unprotected notebook computer into a messenger bag and rides 10
miles over a dirt trail to work. Within a
month, the lid looks like it tangled with a
Brillo pad and the hinges are creaking.
It’s The Abuser that the rugged Getac
M220 will appeal to. Built to Mil-Spec standards, the M220 is rated to take drops, spills,
and sand like no normal notebook would
without splintering to pieces. Everything on
the M220 is designed for survivability, from
the magnesium-alloy shell that’s about as
thick as an Abrams tank’s armor, down to the
rubber seals over all the ports.
That’s right, there are rubber seals over
all the ports, sockets, and other crannies
where water or some other unwelcome element could sneak into your rig. The M220
isn’t completely
waterproof, but it
will take a good
dousing of liquid
if you happen to
be computing too
close to the surf on
a beach, or in the
vicinity of a waterballoon fight.
Getac stuffed
Whether checking
the M220’s invinyour email or callcible shell with
ing in an air strike,
a low-voltage,
the Getac M220 is
1.4GHz Pentium M
plenty tough.
738, 1GB of DDR
RAM, a 40GB hard
drive, and an optical drive, all hooked up
to the Intel 855 chipset. These aren’t topshelf parts, but Getac’s explanation for not
We dropped it, flipped it, froze it, and doused the M220 with an entire 7-11 Slurpee,
without killing it.
using more powerful components is sound,
relating to the notebook’s water and debris
resistance: In order to keep the chassis
sealed, Getac designed the M220 to be
fanless—something you can’t do with the
hotter Pentium M models. We can forgive
the 40GB HD as it can be upgraded to a
100GB model, but we simply can’t forgive
the pathetic optical drive. Our unit came
with a CD-ROM drive! We didn’t even know
they made read-only CD drives anymore.
To judge the performance of the M220,
we compared it with the Compaq NW8240
we reviewed in July. The M220’s CPU runs
about 30 percent slower than the Compaq,
so the 33-to-37 percent slower scores in
Premiere Pro, Photoshop CS, and Divx
encoding were expected. In 3DMark03 we
got an abysmally low score of 91, thanks to
the integrated 855 graphics chip. Our standard DVD playback test wasn’t applicable,
as the M220 lacks a DVD drive.
But do you really buy a notebook like this
to play Half-Life 2 out in the field? No, you
buy a notebook like this so you can take it
on an Africa safari to edit your digital images,
BENCHMARKS
without worrying about breaking the machine.
To test just how rugged the M220
is, we flipped it off a desktop onto a carpeted floor half a dozen times, sprayed
it with liters of water, covered it with dirt,
and froze it alongside our Hot Pockets.
And in the ultimate Pepsi Syndrome meltdown we dumped a large cherry Slurpee
on the M220 and washed it off with hot
water. Did the notebook survive? Yup, and
without a scratch.
Still, we were put off by a couple usability issues: The mouse buttons are particularly stiff and made our thumbs sore in one
afternoon. The handle, while useful, is poorly
placed—when the notebook is used on your
lap, the handle either flips up and blocks
access to the keys, or folds down, where it
jabs you in the crotch. It’s not a comfortable
way to use a computer. Nevertheless, the
M220 is one hell of a tough customer for
people who are more interested in portable
survivability than playing games or burning
optical discs.
—GORDON MAH UNG
GETAC M220
ZERO POINT SCORES
Premiere Pro
665 sec
1004 sec (-33.76%)
Photoshop CS
381 sec
607 sec (-37.23%)
Divx Encode
3D Mark 03
1898 sec
6170
0
PREDATOR
2854 sec (-33.50%)
You’ll break from rough use
before the M220 does.
91 (-98.53%)
ALIENS
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
Zero-point scores are derived from a 2.13GHz Pentium M Compaq NW8240, with an Intel 915GM/ICH6M chipset, 2GB DDR2/533 RAM, two 60GB 5,400rpm drives, and an ATI
Mobility Radeon X800 256MB videocard.
78 MAXIMUMPC
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9
Difficult mouse buttons,
and the handle is poorly designed for lap use.
$3,995, www.getac.com
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
WD Caviar SE 16 400
Actually, you can call it a comeback
W
estern Digital has been sitting on the sidelines of the hard drive technology race
for the past year, quietly petting its Raptor, watching the competition ratchet up
both capacity and buffer sizes to unheard of levels. And now that every one of its competitors has released a next-gen drive (Maxtor released its new drives more than a year
ago, then Seagate, followed by Hitachi), WD has finally laid its cards on the table with its
new SE 16 400GB drive. Granted, the drive’s 7,200rpm spindle speed and 16MB cache
seem kind of ho-hum these days, but its record-breaking benchmarks and surprisingly
low price have made it our new favorite hard drive in the 7,200rpm category.
It’s odd that Western Digital specifically referred to this drive as “next gen” when
the company sent it to us for review, because nothing about the Caviar SE 16 400 fits
that definition. For example, it boasts a lastgen SATA 150 interface, offers no support
BENCHMARKS
for SATA II features, and
doesn’t include native
HD TACH 3 RANDOM ACCESS TIME (MS)
13.1
command queuing (NCQ).
Western Digital says it’s
HD TACH 3 BURST RATE (MB/S)
138
saving these features for its
HD TACH 3 AVG. SEQUENTIAL READ (MB/S)
57
“RAID Edition” drives, which
H2BENCHW APPLICATION INDEX*
29.7
cost about $20 more. We
DOOM 3 LOADING (SEC)
30
don’t mind, because such
5GB READ (SEC)
101
features are only useful in
IOMETER 50% RANDOM WORKLOAD (IO/SEC)
230
a multi-user environment;
OPERATING TEMP WITH NO FAN**
45
as the benchmarks show,
*The application index is a real-world script of six applications. The score
this drive’s “real world,”
is based on the time it takes the drive to complete the scripts. **Hard
drive temperatures measured using S.M.A.R.T. data, as reported by the
single-user performance is
Speedfan utility.
incredible.
Even without a SATA
3G interface
and NCQ, the
Caviar SE
broke all of
our benchmark records.
We pitted the Caviar SE against the current 7,200rpm champ—Hitachi’s 7K500
Deskstar—and the WD drive beat it in nearly every benchmark, the lone exception
was the NCQ-dependent file-server test. The Caviar’s sequential read speed of 57MB/s
is the fastest we’ve ever seen from a 7,200rpm drive, and its application-index score
is also record-breaking. As a bonus, the Caviar ran a surprising 5 C cooler than the
Deskstar at idle and was impressively quiet in operation.
This drive kicks all kinds of ass, and the fact that it costs about
half as much as Hitachi’s drive
WD CAVIAR SE 16 400
just seals the deal.
—JOSH NOREM
$275, www.wdc.com
9
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
LaCie 40GB Silverscreen
Hard Drive
Taking the show on the road—in style
W
ith LaCie’s Silverscreen you can take all those perfectly legal downloaded
movies and DVD rips and play them wherever there’s a television set—at
home, in the car, or if you got caught illegally downloading, even in your cell. The
Silverscreen hooks up to your TV through a scary-large proprietary cable with
composite and S-video connectors (a component video cable is optional). A simple menu system allows you to select the type of media you want to play (it plays
back photographs and music in addition to video) and presents you with the
titles in a format that’s easy to read and select from using the included remote.
In fact, what makes or breaks a drive like this isn’t the number of formats
it accepts, but how well it handles the number of ways in which movies can
be encoded using these compression formats. And the Silverscreen plays
more than any other portable video player (PVP) we’ve ever tested. Even Divx
files encoded at very high bit rates played without a single hiccup. The device
doesn’t support Divx 6 compression yet, but this could easily be remedied with
a firmware update.
The Silverscreen also cleverly solves a serious problem afflicting most
portable video players. Because of “legal issues,” most PVPs won’t help you rip
video to your hard drive, and compressing ripped DVD-Video files is user-hostile,
time consuming, and prone to lost menus, subtitles, and other DVD features.
While the Silverscreen won’t play a commercial DVD if the files are simply
dropped onto the drive, it will play an ISO, or disk image of the DVD, and treat
80 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
A portable video player with no screen? Could it be the Video
iPod Shuffle we’ve been expecting?
it as a genuine DVD with all the features and resolution intact. So if you’ve got
ripped DVD-Video files on your drive (sometimes they just, you know, appear),
creating an ISO disc image of the files is a simple, two- or three-click affair in
disc-mastering applications like Nero and Easy Media Creator.
As a data storage drive, the Silverscreen certainly won’t be accused of doping
to improve performance, taking 7:13 to transfer 7.5GB of data. But simply load it up
while packing—you can’t find a better way to watch your movies wherever
there’s a TV around.
—LOGAN DECKER
LACIE SILVERSCREEN
$220, www.lacie.com
9
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
Steel Sound 5H USB
By pro gamers, for pro gamers—and wannabes!
Every facet
of the Steel
Sound 5H’s
design is
geared
for gamers.
M
any a pro gamer or pro gamer wannabe wouldn’t be caught dead at a LAN
party without a Steelpad mousepad. Now, the company responsible for this
fragging accessory is turning its attention to the headset market. Will the Steel
Sound 5H USB headset raise your gaming abilities to “pro” levels? No—that part is
still up to you. But it can help.
The headset is very lightweight, despite its somewhat bulky size. It’s comfortable to wear for long periods of time, thanks to generous padding on the ears and
connecting band. A retractable, flexible mic housed in the left ear cup performed
flawlessly in our tests with Battlefield 2 and Counter-Strike Source. And the included
7-foot extension cord makes it possible to use the headset with just about any
conceivable PC setup. Oh, and the set can be easily disassembled for quick and safe
packing—a great feature for gamers on the go.
The 5H’s real claim to fame, though, is an onboard 3D audio DSP that makes
the headset work much like an external USB-powered soundcard for notebook
PCs. The included utility software can be used to tweak the DSP’s equalizer settings for specific games, so you can more easily hear footsteps in Counter-Strike,
for example, or the plop of a grenade in BF2. (Default settings are geared for CS,
based on input from several pro players.) The onboard DSP and ability to save
custom profiles for your favorite games means you’ll get the exact same audio
performance from any PC you plug the set into.
We love the Steel Sound’s ability to produce subtle positional audio
effects—such as with enemy footsteps in Call of Duty—but we would have
liked to hear a bit more bass response; big explosions lacked some oomph.
Still, for even the average Joe who wants a leg up on the competition, the 5H
is a solid choice for an all-around
gaming headset, albeit at a not-soSTEEL SOUND 5H USB
average price.
—STEVE KLETT
$130, www.steelpad.com
9
Slim Devices Squeezebox 2
Not quite double the squeeze, but still Mr. Whipple-approved
W
e all have the same problem: tons of music on our computer, but no way to listen to it in the living room. You need a streaming box! The folks at Slim Devices
pioneered the category, and the original Squeezebox set the standard for wireless
audio streaming. The follow-up Squeezebox 2 adds a few cosmetic upgrades and
much-needed support for 802.11g.
The Squeezebox eschews an integrated amp (such as Sonos uses), instead offering a bevy of line-out options—RCA stereo, mini-headphone jack, and optical and
coax SPDIFs. We don’t miss the added expense of the amp, but we would love to see
it as an option for bedrooms, kitchens, and other rooms without a stereo. Audio quality
is excellent, whether using the SPDIF or analog outs, the latter of which use the integrated 24-bit DAC.
While the 802.11g Wi-Fi upgrade isn’t technically necessary for music
streaming—a very low-bandwidth task—it’s a vital feature for an always-on
device such as the
Squeezebox. You see, if
you connect an 802.11b
device to an 802.11g network, the entire network
slows to 802.11b speeds,
which sucks.
Our favorite new
feature by far is the
320x32 vacuum fluoresConnect to the Slim Server software via
cent display. It’s much
PDA or laptop and you can control even a
brighter and easier to
huge music library quickly and easily.
read than the earlier
The Squeezebox 2 will stream your tunes to every room in the
house, and won’t leave your wallet empty.
model, even from across a well-lit room. Still, it remains inferior to the display
on Sonos’ remote; but thanks to the magic of the open-source SlimServer
software, you can get a close approximation with the Squeezebox, if you have
an old PDA or laptop. Point a web browser at the server, and you’ll get a handy
remote interface.
Even with upgrades, the Squeezebox 2 plays second-fiddle to Sonos’ premium streaming system (reviewed in April), but the Squeezebox 2 is much cheaper
($200 for the wired version, $280 for wireless) and provides the same functionality and the same outstanding
audio quality at a fraction of the
SQUEEZEBOX 2
price. It’s a great option for bud$280, www.slimdevices.com
get-conscious music lovers.
MAXIMUM PC
9
KICKASS
—WILL SMITH
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 81
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Earnest Burners
Sony and Lite-On throttle up their top-shelf burners
W
ith the failure of the two competing next-gen DVD standards to
merge into one consumer-friendly
format, and what will no doubt be designer
prices on the first drives and media, we’re
quite happy to see even modest speed
increases in single- and double-layer DVD
burning. In fact, if you’ve got a first-generation DVD burner, we think it’s time to
consider trading up to today’s Nascar-level
speed demons. Let’s see how the latest
from Sony and Lite-On pace in the great
race to fill your disc space.
—LOGAN DECKER
SONY DRU-810A
It seems someone at Sony decided to
start kicking ass and taking names—the
DRU-810A beat the crap out of several of
our benchmarks and made a daring, if not
entirely successful attempt to snatch the
gold from Plextor’s majestic PX-716A.
Writing 4.25GB of data to a single-layer
DVD+R disc at 16x took 6:08 (min:sec), well
behind the swift 5:50 turned in by Plextor’s
PX-716A. But the DRU-810A turns in its
finest performance writing at 8x to both double-layer DVD+R and double-layer DVD-R
discs; DVD+R DL clocked a stunning 15:45
to write 7.5GB of data, two and half minutes
faster than the PX-716A.
DVD+RW speeds also got a hefty boost
to 8x, knocking out 4.25GB of data in 7:56—
at last, rewriteable DVDs have become a
practical backup medium. And at a scant
2:50, you can burn a CD-R faster than you
can print a label for it.
The DRU-810 supports bitsetting to
increase compatibility with set-top players, overburning (a somewhat dangerous
way of squeezing a few extra megs onto a
disc), and overspeeding, which allows you
to burn at speeds higher than the media is
BENCHMARKS
rated for, an option
only available with
specific types of
media, listed in the
documentation.
Plextor’s PX716A remains
the power user’s
Hot-looking, strong, and full of fire, Sony’s DRU-810A is the
weapon of choice
with its lower access Angelina Jolie of optical drives.
times, broader range
of overspeeding options, and the extremely
powerful suite of utilities available in the
bundled Plextools software. We’re a little
troubled over the DRU-810A’s extremely
high CPU utilization. But Sony’s drive, which
is bundled with the excellent Nero suite,
breezes past the competition at double-layer
disc burning, and would make even the
Stout, homely, but full of talent, Litesnootiest rig proud.
On’s SHW-1635S is more like Billy Bob
Thornton than Angelina Jolie.
SONY DRU-810A
9
VIENNA
Extremely fast burning
to double-layer and
DVD+RW discs.
VIENNA SAUSAGES
Few overspeeding options,
and rather noisy.
$110, www.sonystyle.com
LITE-ON SHW-1635S
Optical drives from Lite-On may not always
tear up the competition in the benchmarks,
but they come pretty damn close, and at
prices that make its burners a shoo-in for
frugal folk. The SHW-1635S continues this
admirably utilitarian tradition. It’s rated for
the same speeds as the DRU-810A above,
but falls behind by a notch or two in most
categories. Writing 4.25GB to a single-layer
DVD+R was completed in 6:15 (min:sec),
just behind the DRU-810A. Burning 7.5GB of
CD
DVD
SONY
LITE-ON
SONY
LITE-ON
LITE-ON SHW-1635S
WRITE SPEED AVERAGE
29.32x
29.32x
11.20x
11.89x
OYSTERS
READ SPEED AVERAGE
31.43x
32.55x
12.07x
12.14x
DVD-VIDEO EXTRACTION
n/a
n/a
5:49 (min:sec)
5:59 (min:sec)
Plenty fast, if not top-notch;
tidy six-inch enclosure.
ACCESS TIME (RANDOM/FULL)
106/173ms
111/202ms
120/190ms
120/198ms
ROCKY MOUNTAIN OYSTERS
CPU UTILIZATION
6% (8x)
10% (8x)
22% (2x)
7% (2x)
High access times, slim
overspeeding pickins.
Best scores are bolded. The data CD burn test uses the bundled applications to create a 700MB CD-R. The single-layer data DVD burn test uses the bundled applications to create a 4.25GB disc. The dual-layer data DVD burn test uses the bundled applications to create an 8.3GB disc. The DVD-Video extraction test uses a 6GB
commercially stamped DVD. All tests were performed using Verbatim media, except where noted.
82
data to a double-layer DVD+R took almost
two minutes longer than Sony’s drive, at
17:32. The SHW-1635S enjoyed a heady
victory burning to 8x DVD+RW, however, at
a satisfying 7:33.
Like the DRU-810A, Lite-On’s drive
supports bitsetting and overburning, but
its overspeeding capabilities are scant,
allowing us to burn a 2.4x double-layer
disc at 4x, but not permitting us to exceed
the write speed of a DVD+R rated for 8x.
The drive comes bundled with the Nero
disc-mastering suite, and the six-inch
deep enclosure is ideal for small formfactor PCs. If access times had been kept
below three digits, SHW-1635S would
have merited applause and a higher verdict. Even so, only optical drive fanatics
will suffer from the slightly behind-thecurve numbers—if you’re really itching for
speed, you could always put the money
you save toward a really fast car.
MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
8
$80, www.liteonit.com
PORTABLE STORAGE
WIRELESS HEADSET
Memina Pocket
Rocket 4GB
BlueParrott B100
We know Bluetooth technology is capable of producing good audio, because
the Toshiba Bluetooth headphones we
reviewed in October sound great. The
audio quality of VXI’s BlueParrott B100
headset, on the other hand, is on par
with two cans and a length of string.
The headset can be used with either
a conventional analog phone or paired
with a Bluetooth cellphone. We tested
the former configuration, hard-wiring the
base station in-line to our phone. With
its large earmuff, control module, and
rechargeable battery hanging off the side
of your head like a malignant tumor, the
B100 is anything but inconspicuous.
To receive a call, you simply touch a
button on the side of the headset. Other
buttons control volume and access
services such as call waiting and conference calling. A stiff and finicky boom
extends in front of your mouth.
VXI claims the B100 provides 75
feet of usable range, but audio quality at
both ends of the line deteriorated rapidly
when we moved away from the base
station. The device was tolerable within
a few feet, but at 20 feet, with two walls
between the headset and base station,
callers sounded as though they were
gargling marbles.
We used to think a 1GB USB key was
embarrassingly decadent, but in these 4GB
times we wouldn’t even bother to pee on
a 1-gigger if it were on fire. Sizes always
increase, and as they do, consumers have
to pay a premium for the top-capacity
keys—this four-gig Pocket Rocket sells for
a whopping five large. It’s not really worth
it, in our opinion.
This key offers nothing beyond its
massive capacity. There’s no encryption
software nor is there a utility to make a
hidden partition that can hold, say, a saucy
video stash; in fact, there’s no software
whatsoever. These days we demand, at a
bare minimum, some sort of utility that will
protect our precious data in the event our
thumb drive is misplaced or lost—after all,
these suckers are small and can be hard
to keep track of.
The good news is that the Pocket
Rocket is very fast. It copied our 400MB
test folder in a scant 45 seconds, which
is a tick faster than the previous recordholder—Memorex’s M-Flyer.
We like the flip-around cap, and the
gold tip is a nice touch, but other than
these small pieces of flair, the Rocket is
a run-of-the-mill super-capacity key with
nothing special to offer.
—JOSH NOREM
—MICHAEL BROWN
BLUEPARROTT B100
$200, www.blueparrott.com
3
POCKET ROCKET
$470, www.memina.com
7
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
3.5"
2.3"
Compact Camera
Kerfuffle
Smaller bodies and higher resolutions do not equal poor image
quality and less features
I
nitially, in the compact and ultra-compact
segments of the digicam market, more
pixels crammed onto tiny image sensors generally equated to poor image quality—especially at ISO speeds above 200. But
compression methods and image-processing
technology have improved dramatically during
the last year, as is reflected in the improved
picture quality of today’s smaller cameras.
Case in point: We lassoed four new
cameras—two compacts and two ultra-compacts—from four industry stalwarts, and only
one of them sucked. A year ago we’d have
been happy with one winner out of four.
—STEVE KLETT
CASIO EX-S500
If slipping the ultra-compact, ultra-light,
ultra-thin Exilim S500 Card Camera into your
shirt pocket doesn’t make you feel at least
a little bit like 007 on vacation it’s likely no
camera ever will. Not only is the S500 sexy,
it’s also style conscious—coming in three
color variations. Despite its diminutive size
and weight, the camera feels quite durable,
thanks to its stainless steel–clad body.
The S500 delivers in the performance
category, too. Not only is it relatively
speedy (power-up to first shot takes less
than two seconds, and images can be shot
sequentially in intervals of less than two
seconds, as well), but pictures look very
good across a wide range of conditions.
Outdoor shots were nicely exposed and
saturated, and indoor performance was
excellent, even under moderate-to-low
lighting conditions, thanks to the S500’s
very capable auto-focus and flash. Image
3.5"
noise crept into our
Casio’s EX-S500 is the best all-around ultra-compact camera
pictures at 200 ISO,
we’ve put through the mill yet.
and even more so
at 400 ISO—but not at unacceptable levels.
stores images in its 8MB of onboard
The S500 offers 29 preset “Best Shot”
memory, so you can retrieve a clip beginning
program modes, covering just about every
five seconds before you depressed record.
conceivable shooting situation. And you
A super slim formfactor with superb percan customize your own modes, too. While
formance, the S500 is tough to beat.
these presets make the camera very friendly
to less-experienced shooters, it can be frusNIKON COOLPIX S1
tratingly slow to switch among them. The
While its dimensions are almost identical
entire camera operation is controlled with
to the S500, the Nikon S1’s slightly thicker
buttons, which also makes fine-tuning the
body makes it feel less like a “spy camera.”
external 3x optical zoom a bit tricky.
This isn’t a knock, certainly, as the S1 is still
You’ll need to rely on the 2.2-inch
plenty small—you’ll have no problem stashLCD display for composition—there’s
ing it in your pocket or handbag.
no viewfinder. We didn’t miss it, though,
The internal, very quiet, Zoom-Nikkor
because the LCD works acceptably even
3x optical lens produces very good overall
in bright outdoor situations, and it brightimage quality with nicely saturated colors in
ens automatically in low-light conditions.
both indoor and outdoor shots, as well as
Interestingly, while the camera boasts “antibalanced exposure. We did see a bit of barshake” technology, we noticed little differrel distortion in images shot at wide angle,
ence between shots taken in low light with
and just like every compact camera we’ve
the feature on or off.
tested, noise became noticeable at ISO 400.
The camera also offers several movie
(Though, again, not at an alarming level for a
modes, which will give you serviceable
camera in this category. And ISO 200 shots
clips—though of quality far below DV camappeared slightly better than with the S500.)
eras, which is to be expected. The Past
Like all the cameras in this roundup, the S1
Movie mode is noteworthy as it continuously
has the traditional automatic exposure mode
coupled with a variety of scenic modes to fit
most any occasion. And it has an excellent
CASIO EX-S500
macro mode—able to shoot subject matter
as close as two inches to the lens.
PIXEL-ICIOUS
In terms of raw shooting performance,
Small, lightweight, durable;
the
S1
is on par with the S500, with the
loads of features; good
quality pics.
added ability to shoot in continuous mode,
PIXEL-SICKISH
which was very speedy for a camera of this
Menu modes are tough to
size and delivered impressive results. One
navigate quickly; twitchy zoom controls.
downer is that the LCD displays the last
image captured, even in continuous mode,
$400, www.casio.com
which can make it tricky to follow a moving subject. As is becoming common these
9
2.3"
SPECS
Nikon’s CoolPix S1 is a great little camera,
but its lens position can be problematic.
84 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
RESOLUTION
CCD
EX-S500
5.25MP
1/2.5-INCH
WEIGHT (WITHOUT BATTERY)
4.06oz
PRICE
$400
COOLPIX S1
5.1MP
1/2.5-inch
4.2oz
$380
POWERSHOT SD500
7.1MP
1/1.8-inch
6.0oz
$500
DSC-T7
5.1MP
1/2.5-inch
4.1oz
$500
3.4"
COOL CUCUMBER
Small, lightweight, durable
construction. Speedy
continuous shooting mode.
MELTED ICE CREAM
Too easy for your fingers to
spoil a great shot.
8
CANON POWERSHOT SD500
CORVETTE
Durable; intuitive controls;
quality lens and pics.
$380, www.nikonusa.com
PINTO
CANON POWERSHOT SD500
At six ounces, sans battery, it would be
easy to label the SD500 as the SUV in this
lot of sports cars. But that’s not exactly a
fair description as it also sports the highest
resolution (7.1 megapixels), which makes it
the only camera here with more than 1MP/
oz performance.
This is little more than jargon if the
camera’s pics are so chock-full of noise that
you wouldn’t want to even throw them on the
web, let alone make a 13x19 print. Amazingly,
the camera turned out some of the nicest
pics in the group, particularly at ISO speeds
of 200 or below. At ISO 400, noise was more
noticeable than with all the other cameras
here, but still quite acceptable.
This is the only one of the four cameras
here to sport a viewfinder, but its 2-inch LCD
is a fine substitute. (A new version is due
out soon with an even larger LCD.) It’s the
external 3x optical zoom lens that really sets
this camera apart. Equivalent to a 37-111mm
35mm lens, this setup produces some of
the most vibrant, well-saturated, and wellexposed shots of the bunch. This is due to
the camera’s bigger body, which holds a
larger CCD, which helps keep the noise level
down while delivering higher pixel-count pics.
Like the S1, the SD500 has an excellent continuous shooting mode, able to take sequential shots at the camera’s highest resolution
setting at roughly half-second intervals.
Being slightly larger than other cameras
in this roundup, the SD500 was the most
On the expensive side, and
could use a larger LCD.
2.4"
NIKON COOLPIX S1
pleasing to use. The
dial control for the
zoom allows greater
precision with compositions, and there
is more space in general between controls,
which helps prevent
accidental changes
during camera operation. It also has the
best movie mode of
The Canon PowerShot SD500 feels very sturdy in your hands,
the bunch, producing
and it’s a solid performer, to boot.
serviceable 640x480
clips at 30fps.
Try as we might, we couldn’t find
3.6"
anything to dislike about this camera, other
than the price.
2.25"
days, the S1 doesn’t have a traditional viewfinder—it relies 100 percent on the 2.5-inch
LCD. Fortunately, the LCD is quite serviceable for composition, even in bright sunlight
and indoor conditions. (An auto-focus assist
lamp helps in low-light situations.)
Unfortunately, the position of the internal zoom lens (upper-right corner of the
body) makes it very easy for your finger or
a shadow from your hand to make it into
shots. Though with practice this should be
less of an issue. All in all, the S1 is another
solid choice for a general-purpose, compact camera.
9
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
$500, www.canon.com
SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-T7
If the swimsuit contest held the most
weight in this roundup, Sony’s DSC-T7
would trump the competition—and soundly. This is of course not the case, and this
camera’s slick looks and overall design
can’t overcome its relatively mediocre
image output or its high price.
Thin may be in, but the DSC-T7 is
apparently too slim for its own good. Its
internal 3x optical zoom lens and CCD
combine to produce the least impressive shots of any of the cameras in this
roundup. Noise was more apparent at ISO
speeds of 200 and above, colors were not
as saturated as we’d like, and scenes with
bright lighting and shadows tended to be
overexposed. The latter can be overcome
at times by manually adjusting such things
as white balance and flash power. But
from a pure point-and-shoot perspective,
the DSC-T7 is not the best choice for
budding photographers. Even with tweaking, the output was still not as nice—or as
high-resolution—as what you’ll get from
the SD500 for the same cost.
Still, the DSC-T7 is one very slim,
very cool-looking camera. To boot, it’s
a speedy performer, for the most part,
and sports a beautiful 2.5-inch LCD (of
When it comes to “wow” appeal, the
Sony DSC-T7 has few peers.
course, the spiffy LCD comes at a price:
You get only about 40 minutes of use out
of the camera for each battery charge).
You can power it on and start shooting
in less than two seconds, and shot-toshot times were excellent too, averaging
less than two seconds even with flash.
Unfortunately, the zoom is one of the
slowest we’ve seen, the button to control
it is ridiculously small, and making precise adjustments is tough.
In general, the controls are wellspaced and easy to use; however, the
camera suffers even more than the S1 as
regards the placement of its internal zoom
lens in the extreme upper-right-hand corner of the body. This position makes it far
too easy for your hands to disrupt a shot.
With better-performing, less-expensive
options out there, it’s tough to recommend this one.
SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-17
BEAUTY
Slick, durable design.
Large, vibrant LCD.
BEAST
Slow lens, average image
quality, and expensive.
5
$500, www.sony.com
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 85
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Who Makes the
Mightiest Mouse?
Logitech’s lovely laser faces off against Apple’s two-button Mighty Mouse
P
icking the perfect mouse is an
intensely personal chore. It’s a lot
like shopping for underwear: You
frequently need to try on every pair in the
store before you find the ones that fit just
right. We’re pretty certain that a lot of you
are going to think one of these mice is just
right, and that while the other looks good,
something is definitely missing.
—WILL SMITH
APPLE MIGHTY MOUSE
It’s shocking but true: Apple has
finally shipped a two-button mouse.
Unfortunately, the company’s first foray
into bi-button rodentia can only be considered a flop.
The problem lies in the way the “buttons” work. You see, there aren’t multiple
buttons on top of the mouse, but multiple
touch-sensitive areas. Rest your finger to
the left of the scroll ball (more on that in a
moment), push down on the mouse, and
you’ve left-clicked. Rest your finger to the
right of the scroll ball, and push down on
the mouse, and you’ve right-clicked. Rest
your finger on both sides at once, and the
results are unpredictable.
This is a problem particularly when you
need to click and drag over a large area.
Because the button only stays depressed
while you’re pushing down on the entire
mouse, as soon as you lift the mouse to
reposition it in the center of your mousepad, you stop clicking! Imagine the frustration of trying to drag across large photos or
circle strafe in a deathmatch.
That said, we really like the scroll ball.
It’s infinitely more functional than the
standard tilting scroll wheel, and would
be perfect if it were slightly larger. Sadly,
the Mighty Mouse’s fancy ball can’t save
it from some serious design flaws. When
you factor in a cord that’s too short and a
steep price, you’ll realize you can do a lot
better in a mouse.
LOGITECH G5
Apple’s Mighty Mouse ain’t much of
a mouse. Its touch-sensitive buttons
are easily confused; if you push down
on both sides of the mouse at once,
unpredictable things can happen.
APPLE MIGHTY MOUSE
MIGHTY MOUSE (cartoon)
Looks good; useful scroll
ball; touch-sensitive
buttons.
MIGHTY MOUSE (mouse)
Buttons are too touch sensitive. Scroll ball is too small.
Cord is too short.
4
$50, www.apple.com
86 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
The original laser mouse—the wireless
MX1000—is still one of our all-time favorite
mice. And this one’s even better. It uses
the same laser sensor as the MX1000, but
integrates the on-the-fly, driverless sensitivity shifting that first appeared on the MX518
earlier this year. That’s just sassy.
It’s difficult to describe how incredibly
smooth the G5’s action is. When used with
a Teflon-coated mousepad, it’s the nearest thing to frictionless you’ll find this side
of Dupont. The mouse glides effortlessly
across the surface, tracking with pixel-perfect precision. Its surface is slightly textured
for easy grip, and all six buttons are well
placed for in-game action. We especially
like that Logitech grouped the sensitivity
buttons below the scroll wheel, instead of
placing one above and one below.
We dig the tilting scroll wheel—although
The Logitech G5 has it all: high-resolution
laser sensor, on-the-fly sensitivity control,
and adjustable weights (shown below), to
customize its ride.
LOGITECH G5
LIFTING WEIGHTS
Sensitivity-shifting sensor,
weighted design, and nifty
woven cable.
GAINING WEIGHT
Where’s the second
thumb button?
9
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
$70, www.logitech.com
we still haven’t found a game that really
uses the feature—and we love the sensitivity setting display. The three-bar display lets
you know whether you have the mouse set
to über-fast or molasses-slow. That’s pretty
neat, in a whiz-bang kinda way, but our
favorite feature is the weight compartment
on the mouse’s underside. With 16 included
weights, and room for eight in the mouse’s
weight tray, you can add weight to emulate
the satisfying heft that the batteries in a
wireless mouse deliver. That we like.
Our only complaint is that Logitech
removed the second thumb button, something we find eminently useful for pushto-talk and other secondary features. But
we’re willing to forgive this one tiny flaw on
an otherwise spectacular product.
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Quake 4
For better or worse, Q4 stays true
to its roots
I
f someone were to put together a gaming
time capsule and bury it for future generations to find, we’d definitely recommend it
hold a copy of Quake 4. The game plays like
a greatest hits of the last decade, regurgitating practically every “exciting new feature”
we’ve seen in single-player first-person
shooters over the past few years, while also
recycling the definitive deathmatch title—
Quake III. Though several recent FPS games
have moved the goalposts, with new innovations and different takes on the FPS experience, Quake 4 lacks such freshness. Instead,
it’s an action-packed, but very straightforward, and even derivative shooter that still
manages to be fairly entertaining at times.
The story is unimportant, and you’ll be
hard-pressed to recall what you were fighting for the second the credits roll, but the
gist is that you are a space marine and you
have to take down the Strogg—the evil
race of human/machine hybrids from Quake
2 who are bent on galactic domination.
Gameplay is FPS 101: You’ll stroll through
corridors shooting everything that moves.
Quake 4 borrows heavily from the innovations of its FPS predecessors—we saw this
shield in Halo—but the action is fast and furious.
longed for. Sadly, it’s not. Your weapons
as a Strogg are exactly the same, and
you’re still part of your Marine squad. In
fact, being a Strogg is no different from
not being a Strogg, with one small exception: You can read signs written in Stroggese on elevators and doors. This ability
allows you, as a Strogg, to
wander alone for certain
key segments of the game’s
surprisingly short eight-to-10
hour single-player campaign.
The good news is that
the action is nonstop from
the get-go. The fighting
gets frantic towards the end
of the game, where the AI
ratchets up to “good” levels
(as opposed to the “cannon
fodder” simplicity in the early
parts of the game), and you
are swarmed by multiple
The deathmatch isn’t like Quake III—it is Quake III, and
enemies. Your squad mates’
AI kicks ass. They never get in
includes two of that game’s maps, including the everyour way, but they know how
popular space map DM17.
to follow properly, and they do
There are a few vehicles to mix things up,
what they’re supposed to at all times withalong with a handful of simple puzzles, but
out being stupid or pissing you off.
the meat of the game is the shooting, and
Graphics are excellent, but the game
there’s lots of it, including several very well
bears more than a passing resemblance
done, epic multi-stage boss fights.
to Doom 3. Quake 4 boasts several large,
We wondered if playing as a Strogg—
albeit barren, outdoor environments.
the most heavily marketed aspect of the
Luckily these areas pass by quickly,
game—would be the secret sauce we so
because you’re usually traversing them in
88 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
a vehicle (possibly a too-slow mech or a
peppy, entertaining hover tank).
Multiplayer is surprisingly fun. Straightup twichfest deathmatch aficionados will
love it, as it seems to be ported directly
from Quake III. There are even two Q3
maps that have been redone, and the
most popular Quake 2 map—the Edge—is
included as well. Some of the maps
include powerups, such as haste and
regeneration, but the only game modes
are DM and CTF. Though it’s exactly like
Quake III—which we already played years
ago—we can’t deny it’s fun.
Most people will finish Quake 4’s singleplayer campaign in a few hours and never
pick it up again, but the multiplayer component could conceivably revive the longdead Quake deathmatch scene. Despite a
dearth of innovation, Quake 4 stays true to
the series’ roots and delivers what people
expect from a Quake game—lots of action
and killer multiplayer.
QUAKE 4
BFG
Tons of action, excellent
graphics, and awesome
deathmatch.
LFG
Derivative gameplay, and
short single-player component.
8
$50, http://quake4.ravengames.com,
ESRB: M
Black &
White 2
It’s a little bit god game, it’s a little bit RTS
T
he original Black & White was, in
many ways, a failed experiment in
emergent game design. It attempted
to meld god games—where you build a
city to help your people grow and flourish—with the pet management games
that were all the rage in Japan. You could,
theoretically, teach your pet to do all sorts
of nifty things—help build your city, harvest
resources, turn the enemy into paste. The
way you treated your creature and worshippers affected everything about the game.
Benevolent players’ lands were filled with
light and happiness, while evil players’
lands were dark, unpleasant places.
Unfortunately, bad controls made the
most basic tasks in the game challenging,
and the creatures were difficult to train.
Worse, the win conditions for each map
were unclear, making the game completely
inaccessible for all but the hardcore. The
game wasn’t a train wreck, but it was more
frustrating than fun.
Black & White 2 is everything the first
game should have been. The god game
and the pet are still there, but the folks at
Lionhead also added a real-time strategy
element, giving both good and evil victory
conditions for each mission.
Building your city is simple enough.
Place buildings using a menu system and
your people take care of construction. Place
fields and your people gather the crops.
While you can dedicate individuals to specific tasks (building, gathering, mining, and—
ahem—breeding), it’s not necessary. Your
people will automatically do everything they
Build an amazing city, take over the world. It’s really that simple in Black & White 2.
can to keep your city running
smoothly. This alleviates most
of the micromanagement pain
common to god games, and
in turn lets you focus on more
important tasks, like turning
your enemies into paste. When
your city becomes impressive
enough, villagers from other
towns and cities will abandon
their homes to live with you.
If you’re more interested
in raining death and destrucWhen properly trained, your creature will act as your
tion upon your enemies, you’ll
proxy, healing your people and crushing your foes.
need to build a war machine.
Unlike traditional RTS games,
where you have dozens of different types
Light it on fire and it will burn. Exercise
of units to manage, B&W2 gives you three:
and you’ll get stronger. Eat too much and
infantry, archers, and siege weapons. The
you’ll get fat. In addition to manipulating the
simplified approach eliminates much of
physical world, you and your creature can
the “I use these little guys against cavalry,
perform miracles, spraying water, fire, or
except for these guys, who are immune”
healing rays throughout your city. The real
nonsense. Instead, you have to use all
magic happens when you combine these
your units carefully, support them with
abilities. If you want to see your enemies
your creature, and know when to call for a
faces light up, try chucking a burning tree at
retreat. To win with an army, you’ll need to
them. Well, it makes us smile at least.
conquer each of the other faction’s cities,
—WILL SMITH
one at a time.
Training your creature is easier in this
BLACK & WHITE 2
B&W sequel. When he pleases you, praise
him. When he disappoints you, punish him.
ZEUS
If he’s doing something you don’t like—say,
Playing god is great fun. Fire,
eating the villagers—but you can’t catch him
brimstone, and a wrathful
creature are all at hand
at it, there’s even a handy interface that lets
you deliver time-delayed praise or punishJUPITER
ment. Eventually, he’ll become an indepenControls can be a little wonky.
No locusts.
dent extension of your will, smiting your
MAXIMUM PC
enemies and embracing your friends.
The game follows the basic rules of any
$50, www.ea.com,
world. Water something and it will grow.
ESRB: M
9
When you tire of being good, you can
unleash all sorts of unpleasantness on
your opponents. Nothing sends a message like a meteor shower.
KICKASS
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 89
reviews
TESTED. REVIEWED. VERDICTIZED
Fable:
The Lost Chapters
Better than it was on the Xbox, but still lacking
F
able: The Lost Chapters is far too linear and short (about 14 hours)
to be labeled a “must-have,” particularly on the PC. However, on
this platform it’s infinitely more pleasing to look at (thanks to the
higher resolutions) and easier to play (thanks to the keyboard and
mouse) than it was on the Xbox.
You begin as a small boy whose family is murdered by bandits.
You’re taken in by the local Heroes Guild, where you learn all the
basic skills of being a hero (melee fighting, ranged attacks, magic,
and combat skills). Then, you set out to avenge your family. As with
most of Peter Molyneux’s games, your choices have good or evil consequences,
and the populace will react to you according to your deeds. Your visage also
changes to reflect your alignment.
“The Lost Chapters” portion of the title refers to content that was axed
from last year’s Xbox-only version but is included here. This extra content is
literally tacked onto the end of the game and offers a new snowy region to
explore, a few extra enemies to slay, and another ending steeped in cliché.
The transition between the original ending and new story content is rough and
vague. We also experienced a bug with a significant side quest, and the game
suffers from some audio issues, as well.
Thankfully, there are plenty of new items, spells, and side quests to dis-
There’s a lot to like in Fable, especially the arena combat.
cover that add greatly to Fable’s replay value. These righteous bonuses make
the game’s flaws (and brevity) a bit more forgivable.
You’ll encounter plenty of mini-games traveling from town to town, so be
prepared to go fishing, hunting for treasure, and chicken-kicking. You can even
chat up the local barmaids and try to get a little “hot grog” from them, in a purely-PG fashion. Cheeky humor is a big part of the game’s allure, and in
our opinion it adds a lot of heart
to a title that might otherwise be
THE LOST CHAPTERS
easily passed over.
$50, www.fable-game.com,
7
—STEVE KLETT
ESRB: M
Darwinia
Don’t let the 2D sprites scare you away
S
tuck with a vast inventory of computers he couldn’t sell, alpha geek Dr.
Sepulveda links the machines together to create a “virtual theme park”
called Darwinia, inhabited by 2D sprites with primitive artificial intelligence.
Over the next 20 years, the Darwinians evolve into beings that socialize, reproduce, and even develop their own culture; they are by many definitions alive.
But the peaceful Darwinians lack the skills to defend themselves, so when a
nasty virus infiltrates the system, indiscriminately destroying or subjugating
everything in its path, it appears that the inhabitants of Dr. Sepulveda’s little science project will soon be very much dead.
Although it’s never explained who “you” are, Dr. Sepulveda is mighty grateful
for your serendipitous appearance, and throughout the game he provides you with
strategic advice and programs he developed to defend the Darwinians and cleanse
the system of its intruders. At its heart, Darwinia is a real-time strategy game, pitting
you against snaking viruses, bite-first-ask-questions-later ant colonies, and a hellish bestiary of accomplices while you attempt to win back control of the polygonal
archipelagos that make up Darwinia’s 10 levels. Yes, it’s an RTS, but it’s been swept
clean of complicated interfaces, mining grunt work, and bureaucracy; instead,
pressing the Tab button brings up the Task Manager, where mouse gestures launch
Dr. Sepulveda’s various subroutines.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Darwinia’s minimalist graphics, the game
delivers intensely exalting moments: the melancholy sight of the box-kites that
Darwinians occasionally launch in tribute to their dead; two radar dishes aligned
to create a transmission tunnel through which émigrés pass as pulses of light;
a gathering of Darwinians attempting to contact the deus ex machina intervening on their behalf. Indeed, Darwinia is a game that makes you look at polygons
90 MAXIMUMPC
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By protecting Darwinia’s digital Sea Monkeys, you allow them to
continue evolving until they’re finally able to recreate the events
of 1969’s Woodstock.
with awe and emotion.
The biggest battles will make a beefy system chug, and at around 10 hours
from beginning to end, it’s a sadly brief ride. But in Darwinia, there are no gaming
clichés, no retreads, no been-there-shot-that moments. Unexpectedly touching and
ruthlessly entertaining, Darwinia is
one of the most original and inspired
DARWINIA
PC games we’ve ever played.
$30, www.darwinia.co.uk,
9
—LOGAN DECKER
ESRB: NR
MAXIMUM PC
KICKASS
inout
YOU WRITE, WE RESPOND
We tackle tough reader letters on...
PDell’s 2405FPW PTiming Your Upgrade
PCRTs PPlextor PVOIP PJosh Norem
THE WAITING REALLY IS THE
HARDEST PART
After six months of waiting for just the right price/
performance point to upgrade my graying Athlon
XP system, I read in your October issue that nVidia
is updating its nForce4-based chipsets to include
support for dual x16 PCI-E graphics slots. Cool, I
can wait another month or so for that. Maybe by
then, that Athlon 64 X2 chip I’ve been looking at
will be a few bucks cheaper.
But you also write about rumors of AMD
moving to a brand-new socket (Socket M2) in mid2006. So, is my Socket 939 Dream Machine going
to be obsolete at that point? Am I forced to wait
for (another) new mobo/CPU spec? If I build now,
will I be reduced to shopping on e-Bay for a CPU
upgrade in a year?
Please help! I’m already developing a nervous twitch from waiting this long to build my
Dream Machine.
—Scott Holcomb
EDITOR IN CHIEF WILL SMITH RESPONDS:
You’ve fallen into one of the classic traps of
upgrading, Scott. The longer you wait, the
older the hardware you’re buying becomes.
But are you really going to upgrade soon
enough that you need to worry about
future-proofing your mobo?
I’m sure you bought your Athlon XP
system expecting to update the processor
to something else that would slide into its
Socket A. If you’re going to measure the
time between upgrades in years instead
of months, you should consider your mobo
and CPU a matched pair. Odds are, to get
the latest and greatest at the end of 2007,
you’ll need to upgrade both if you want to
upgrade your CPU.
Instead of worrying about your hardware becoming obsolete, make sure you
spend your money in the right places when
you make your upgrade. Get a proc that’s
fast enough to last you more than a year.
Remember that the best deals are usually
found one bump from the fastest proc, and
don’t skimp on the side orders—get plenty
of RAM, a fast videocard, and a speedy
hard drive.
110 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
SEE YA, CRT
In the October “Best of the Best” section (In The
Lab) it states that the CRT spot will be discontinued
due to waning interest. Please don’t do this.
Tell me I’m not the only person out there who
prefers a variable-resolution CRT to an LCD with its
fixed native resolution. Sure LCDs use less power,
desktop space, and generate less heat, but as I
understand things, if I have an LCD display running
at a native 1600x1200 but play a particular game
at 1024x768 I am going to have to choose between
a smaller “letter-boxed” style display or play with
my game interpolated. As a result, I need a CRT
monitor to allow me to enjoy a game regardless of
the resolution I play at. Am I mistaken?
—Warren Anderson
MANAGING EDITOR KATHERINE STEVENSON
RESPONDS: You’re correct about the resolution
limitations of an LCD, but you’re indeed in the
minority by sticking with a CRT. Even the most
hardcore gamers on this staff have found the
benefits of an LCD (which you point out) worth
the compromise. What’s more, manufacturers
by and large have ceased putting resources
into consumer CRT development (meaning, they
won’t be releasing new CRTs, just continuing to
make the old models), so we don’t see a need
to focus on the category. That said, if a company releases a new CRT worth reviewing, we
will definitely do that.
PERENNIAL PROPS TO PLEXTOR?
I found your review of Plextor’s PX-716SA unconvincing. Did you even consider BenQ’s DW1640 drive,
which every online reviewer has rated better than
the Plextor? Don’t get me wrong—I do use Plextor
drives; in fact, the Plexwriter Premium is the secondary optical drive in my PC. But the Plextor PX-716SA
is grossly overpriced, has a lot of compatibility issues,
doesn’t perform that good, and hasn’t received a
But We’re Not
Maximum
Motorcycle
I have been an avid reader of your magazine
for more than six years and look forward to
each and every issue. After reading the article
on Steve Wright’s Rig of the Month, the “ZX-6R
PC,” in the September 2005 issue, I realized just
how lucky I am that your magazine is all about
computers and not motorcycles. You guys obviously have no idea what you are talking about
when it comes to sport bikes. Your article states
that “…the ZX-6R’s seat frame provides ample
room for a PC.” The article should say that the
ZX-6R’s spar frame provides ample room for
a PC. The PC is located in the section of the
frame that houses the engine. The seat frame
is actually located further aft and wouldn’t even
provide ample room for a Mac Mini. Keep up the
great work and please, stay away from motorcycles in future issues.
—Jeff
EDITOR IN CHIEF WILL SMITH RESPONDS:
I blame Josh.
top rating from the online community. It seems like
you’re almost favoring the Plextor brand.
—R. L. Das
FEATURES EDITOR LOGAN DECKER RESPONDS:
“Almost” favoring the Plextor brand? We’ve
favored it as long as the drives have delivered
Kick Ass performance. Show us a cheaper DVD
burner that charts two-digit access times and
can burn to 2.4x DVD+R double-layer media at
6x speed, and we’ll rip the tiara off the Plexy’s
head and pass it along. We’re not sure what
you mean by “doesn’t perform that good”—
perhaps you’re referring to the shockingly slow
DVD-ripping speed, which can be throttled up
using the bundled PlexTools software (covered in In The Lab, November 2005). But let’s
be clear on this: Although there are plenty of
good hardware review sites on the net, we rely
exclusively on our own benchmarks and observations when we evaluate the hardware we
receive from manufacturers.
Good point about BenQ’s DW1640, though.
The company surprised us by vaulting into the
upper ranks of the optical drive Hall of Fame
with its fast, LightScribe-enabled DW1625
(which was also bundled with software tools
rivaling Plextor’s PlexTools). With performance
like that, you can bet we’ll be inviting BenQ
back into the Lab soon.
WHINING WIDESCREEN
I’m surprised you missed the fatal flaw in the Dell
2405FPW LCD, or you were lucky enough to receive a
monitor without it.
After five minutes of use, the monitor emits a
high-pitched whine that makes you want to blow your
brains out. I have returned two and have now given up
on them. This issue is serious enough to knock down
the rating of the otherwise superb monitor.
—Joe DeCeglie
MANAGING EDITOR KATHERINE STEVENSON
RESPONDS: Your complaint was of serious concern
to us, as we’ve been recommending the 2405FPW
ever since we reviewed the LCD in September and
gave it a 9 verdict and our Kick Ass award. While
we have never personally experienced the problem you describe—even after running our review
model in a closed room all day—we’re aware of
the thread on Dell’s forum dedicated to the matter. We checked with a representative of Dell and
have been assured that there’s a fix for the models
that emit the so-called “high-pitched whine;” you
need to contact Dell’s technical support for details:
http://support.dell.com or 800-624-9896.
NETCELL IS NOT FOR SALE
You used a Netcell Revolution SATA PCI-X RAID card
as part of your dual-everything Dream Machine.
This card is impossible to find at any retailer online.
Have you any idea why?
—Roman Iwanczuk
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JOSH NOREM RESPONDS:
We spoke with our contact at Netcell, and he
told us the company had planned to have a
distribution partner for the 64-bit PCI-X cards
by now, but it just hasn’t happened. The company has inked a deal with XFX Technologies
(www.xfxforce.com) to sell the 32-bit standard PCI version, but says Netcell will be selling the PCI-X versions directly from its website (www.netcell.com). Our contact said that
if for some reason you can’t find the card on
the Netcell site under the “products” section,
or if you have any further questions, don’t
hesitate to contact netcell_sales@netcell.com.
HOW MUCH VIDEOCARD CAN I HANDLE?
I’m a gamer and just upgraded to an Athlon 64
3700+ and a motherboard that supports both
AGP and PCI Express. I normally play games on a
19-inch CRT monitor at 1024x768 resolution. How
powerful does my videocard need to be in order
to play games at that resolution with all the “eye
candy” enabled?
—Jamey Evitts
EXECUTIVE EDITOR MICHAEL BROWN
RESPONDS: You don’t say what your budget
is, so I’ll give you some broad guidelines
based on our most recent benchmarking
experiences. First, because your motherboard
supports PCI Express, you should absolutely
buy a PCI Express videocard—there’s no reason to sink money into hardware based
on dead specs.
If you want all the eye candy enabled
at 1024x768, you should choose a card with
256MB of memory, a 256-bit memory interface, and at least a 16-pipe GPU. Cards based
on either nVidia’s GeForce 6800 GT or ATI’s
X800 XL will fit the bill, and you should find
plenty of such cards priced well under $300.
If that’s too rich for your budget, and you can
tolerate either slower frame rates or lower
resolution, go for a 12-pipe card based on
nVidia’s GeForce 6800. You’ll find these cards
in the $200 range. ATI’s new 12-pipe X800
GTO might also be worthy of consideration,
but we haven’t tested one yet.
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ISSUE
GEAR OF THE
YEAR!
It’s lonely at the top, but that’s offset
by the fact that you’re a winner and
everyone else is a loser. That’s Gear of
the Year for you! Maximum PC names the
best hard drive, the slickest DVD burner,
the coolest water-cooler—more than 15
categories of power-user hardware you
shouldn’t be without.
DIGITAL MEDIA
PLAYER BUYERS
GUIDE
There’s a swarm of new portable audio
and video players arriving just in time
for the new year—which ones will
win praise from the golden ears and
eyes at Maximum PC? Check out the
monster media player with the 7-inch
widescreen, and see if Apple’s iPod Nano
is all that and a bag of chips. Plus, tons
o’ accessories!
MAKING THE
SWITCH
After a few stiff shots of bourbon, Editor
in Chief Will Smith held his nose and
dove headfirst into the Bizzaro world of
the Macintosh. What’s it like living on the
other side? Find out next month!
LETTERS POLICY: MAXIMUM PC invites your thoughts and comments. Send them to
input@maximumpc.com. Please include your full name, town, and telephone number, and limit
your letter to 300 words. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Due to the vast amount of
e-mail we receive, we cannot personally respond to each letter.
HOLIDAY 2005
MAXIMUMPC 111
rig
rig of the month
ADVENTURES IN PC MODIFICATION
DONALD ROCK’S
Cinematron
At Maximum PC we’re all about the cutting edge—the
latest and greatest hardware, the never-ending upgrade
path. But on the flipside of all that progress is a whole
lot of undesirable, has-been hardware, and it’s cool
when someone comes up with an inventive way to
make use of that stuff. (It all can’t go into the creation
of Grandma’s email machine.)
Donald Rock’s Cinematron combines old PC parts
and discarded steel conduit to form a piece of interactive
modern art. Indeed, the fully-functioning computer, which
runs Vector Linux 5.1 and is primarily used to play movies, has all the power it needs to inspire awe. Its artfully
balanced, high-tech aesthetic
is just plain cool. And you
won’t find a common mouse
and keyboard disrupting its
character: All functions are
performed via Telnet, with
commands sent from a laptop to a transceiver built
into the sculpture.
Look familiar? This box was
once a PSU; now it’s home
to the Cinematron’s power
and reset buttons. What
goes around comes around,
or something like that.
All of the machine’s
parts, save the optical
drive, reside in this
14.5x7x15-inch chamber. The hard drive, visible through an acrylic
window in the front,
is a 14-platter, 23GB
Seagate SCSI drive that
Rock got for $5 from a
surplus website.
There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to
adjust the picture.... The Cinematron is capable of rendering its
picture (often a scene from the old sci-fi classic Outer Limits)
as ASCII art, with help from the Linux-based MPlayer.
LEDs housed in
the gutted case
of an old CD-ROM
drive signify the
hard drive’s various states.
If you have a contender for Rig of the Month, e-mail rig@maximumpc.com with high-res digital pics and a 300-word write-up.
MAXIMUM PC (ISSN 1522-4279) is published monthly by Future Network USA, 150
North Hill Drive, Suite 40, Brisbane, CA 94005, USA. Periodical class postage paid
in Brisbane, CA, and at additional mailing offices. Newsstand distribution is handled
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one year (12 issues/12 CD-ROMs) U.S.: $30; Canada: $40; Foreign $56. US funds
112 MAXIMUMPC
HOLIDAY 2005
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