Hard Choices: The Great DIY Vs Pre-built PC Debate, Part 2

By Jeremy Laird on October 16th, 2014.

After last week’s missive, the comments were alive with la passion PC. And it was all good. But the one critical aspect we didn’t look at in detail was the value proposition. Do you really save a chunk of change with a DIY build? A matter of some simple sums, you say?

Would that it could be so. The reality is that the variables quickly get out of control. Much depends on your budget, how flexible you are on spec, what kind of warranty you want, even where you are in the world. There are no definitive answers, folks. However, what I can do is spec up my ideal PC via both separate components and a few of the usual suspects from the PC building industry here in Blighty. The upshot makes for some interesting observations that highlight the various pitfalls, pros and cons, hell even some of my own personal peccadilloes, when it comes to DIY vs pre-built PCs. So get comfortable. This is going to take a while. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hard Choices: The Great DIY Vs Pre-built PC Debate, Part 1

By Jeremy Laird on October 9th, 2014.

To build or to buy. That is the fundamental philosophical, cultural, hell maybe even epistemological, question for we PC lovers. Some of you will already know the cut of your own jib. You’ll either gag at the thought of paying through the nose for an oily work-experience tick to inexpertly cobble your PC together using whatever bits the system seller bought cheap that week. Or you’ll wonder why anyone imagines the marginal savings of self build are worth the risk of bork.

I reckon a lot of us are floating voters on this issue. Is DIY a false economy? Is buying pre-built just paying the man? Let’s pick apart the pros and cons and have a proper powwow in the comments below. For part one, we’ll cover off the theoretical bases, the theories, assumptions and practical pros and cons. In part two, I’ll wheel out some examples from both sides of the equation and get forensic with the cost comparison. Here we go.

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Week in Tech: Windows 9 10

By Jeremy Laird on October 2nd, 2014.

Ignore the stupid branding. Embrace the uncharacteristically sane noises coming out of Microsoft. Windows 10 looks promising for old-school PC users. You know, like gamers with desktop PCs. Will I live to regret this sunny optimism? Maybe. Will Windows 10 stop the general Windows rot? Doubtful. Even now, Microsoft’s technical ambitions for Windows seem feeble compared to the grand vision it once had back in the early 2000s. But most of what Microsoft revealed in its mercifully brief presentation covering the new Windows 10 Technical Preview release was positive for desktop dinosaurs and relatively little made me gag.

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Week in Tech: Nvidia’s New GPUs Are Stupidly Good

By Jeremy Laird on September 25th, 2014.

Last week, Nvidia’s unstoppable NDA force ran up against the immovable object that is Week in Tech’s Thursday slot. Now it’s all out in the open and we can take in just what Nvidia has achieved with its new high performance Maxwell graphics. And not at an altogether offensive price either, at least for one of the new 3D chipsets Nvidia wheeled out last Friday, the £250 / $320 Nvidia GeForce GTX 970.

Is the 970 the new no brainer, the default weapon of choice for any of you lot with around £250 / $300 to spend on graphics? As I write these words, yes. Nvidia really has produced something very special. But then I’m writing these words roughly 24 hours before you’ll read them and by then it’s just faintly possible Nvidia’s main rival AMD might very well have buggered things up for me with its own announcement. Again! It was ever thus in the graphics card silly season…oh, and we have a little update on AMD vs Nvidia in the battle for virtual reality rendering supremacy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wot I Think: Oculus Rift DK2

By Alec Meer on September 24th, 2014.

The possible future is here, delivered by a nice man from UPS after a challenging five-month wait on my part. The first gen Oculus I’d been using had sadly morphed from toy of tomorrow into insufferable antique in the time it took for my gen 2 Oculus pre-order to process, and I’d almost forgotten why I was once so charmed by the whole concept of VR headsets.

The Oculus Development Kit 2, which I’ve been using for just under a week now, is an excellent reminder. My excitement is back, and I have a raft of new games, mods and experiments with which to assault my now bone-dry eyeballs. At the same time, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by this new-gen prototype.
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Week in Tech: Don’t Buy A New Video Card

By Jeremy Laird on September 18th, 2014.

Actually, do. But possibly don’t. Or probably do. The problem here is partly ye olde NDA or non-disclosure agreement and the threat of legal immolation at the hands of sharp-suited lawyers and their homicidal liability clauses. I’m not actually under NDA, but I’ve seen things that are and there’s little value in getting people into trouble for the sake of 24 hours. And apparently Nvidia doesn’t fancy shifting its global PR campaign to suit RPS’s Thursday hardware slot. Short sighted as that may be, we must make do.

Nvidia is outing some new GPUs tomorrow and they’re definitely going to shake things up. In fact, they already have in terms of the pricing of existing graphics cards with some conspicuous bargains popping up – on this side of the pond at least. Meanwhile, there’s some interesting LCD screen news, including high refresh IPS on the horizon, and the Beast of Redmond officially brings the Xbone’s controller to the PC. Yay! But there’s no wireless support. Boo! Read the rest of this entry »

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Hard Choices: How To Choose The Right CPU

By Jeremy Laird on September 11th, 2014.

Apparently, some of you don’t dedicate every waking hour to keeping up with PCI Express lane counts, silicon production nodes and CPU socket redundancy. I know, some people, eh? But with that in mind, plus the tendency for product-driven reportage to get a bit jargon heavy, not to mention some significant recent CPU-related developments from Intel of late, now feels like a good moment to stick a peg in the sand, pull all the current CPU options together, outline the key technologies and issues and then point you in the direct of a few best buys. It’s time for another semi-newbie’s guide to CPUs.
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Week In Tech: Intel’s Haswell-E Is Actually Interesting

By Jeremy Laird on September 4th, 2014.

Remember when Intel’s top platform was relevant? When proper CPUs didn’t come with nonsense like integrated graphics and the Core i7-920 D0 was the weapon of choice for gamers and PC enthusiasts in the know? Good times. More recently, the LGA2011 socket and its CPUs have been irrelevant unless you had money to hose about with nonchalant abandon. Yeah, yeah, they’ve been the fastest PC platforms you could buy. But at a premium that massively outweighed the real-world benefit. No longer. Those good times are back. With its new ‘Haswell-E’ Core i7s, the new X99 chipset and revised LGA2011-v3 socket, Intel has finally delivered the goods that I, at least, have been waiting for. Haswell-E is something you’ll actually want to buy. Ride your rodents to the other side to find out why.

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Week in Tech: AMD’s New 285 GPU, NVMe SSDs And Stuff

By Jeremy Laird on August 28th, 2014.

Oh, you silly GPUs. Remember the days when by your names should we know ye? No longer. Increasingly, both AMD and Nvidia appear to be engaged in a game of one-upmanship when it comes to baffling branding. Enter, therefore, the new AMD Radeon R9 285. The nomenclature suggests it should sit above the existing R9 280, but in fact it’s cheaper, less complex and most likely a bit slower. Why not Radeon R9 275? I have no idea. Still, it looks like a promising new option in terms of bang for your buck. Meanwhile, the complete package for next-gen SSD performance is finally coming together as a major new controller chipset with support for NVMe is announced. Yes, NVMe! Oh and on a related note, it now looks like you might want to skip Intel’s upcoming Broadwell architecture / CPU family / platform / whatever and jump straight to Skylake. Details after the break.

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Week in Tech: Bent Screens, Reversible USB, AMD SSDs

By Jeremy Laird on August 21st, 2014.

I’ve been dreading this moment for some time. But inevitably, inexorably, irresistibly it’s happened. LG has announced a curved LCD monitor. Specifically, we’re talking 34-inches of bent IPS panel in the super-wide 21:9 form factor that had me gushing like an idiot the other week. Admittedly I haven’t seen it first hand. But curved HDTVs are an appalling gimmick conceived to exploit the most base consumerist tendencies. I suspect bent PC monitors will be just as bad. Meanwhile, you might think the requirement for correct orientation of USB connectors upon insertion is hardly the most onerous threat to humanity’s collective well-being. But the finalisation of USB Type-C looks set to put an end to it, regardless. Oh, and I have a little – but only a little – more on the Intel Haswell-E uber platform I mentioned last week, Freesync monitors are said to be coming soon and, whaddya know, AMD is doing SSDs… Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: Intel Shrinks Desktop Apathy Down To 14nm

By Jeremy Laird on August 14th, 2014.

22nm apathy to the left, 14nm on the right

Spool up the apathy drive and buckle in for yet another family of unexciting new CPUs from Intel. The 14nm Broadwell generation is nearly upon us and Intel has begun the slow drip feed of info about a CPU hardly anyone will notice or care about in desktop PCs. It’ll be a while yet before we get full speeds and feeds. But we already know enough to say that Broadwell is more of the same. No more cores, barely any additional CPU performance, better graphics and battery life. Deathly dull and disappointing? Yup, except possibly for mobile gaming. It’s all too familiar. Of course, if it’s exciting desktop stuff you crave, Intel’s Haswell-E is, surprisingly, shaping up rather nicely. Pity I can’t tell you any more about that, for now…
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Week in Tech: MMOuse, Shield, Superwide Is Super Cool

By Jeremy Laird on August 7th, 2014.

Not being hugely of the MMO persuasion, the extent to which fixed-configuration mice generate significant anguish is, to coin a Tuckerism, beyond my jaunty-bonneted purview. However, the fellows at ROCCAT are apparently feeling someone’s pain and the result is the new Nyth, a modular mouse for MMOists that comes complete with 3D-printing intrigue. Rejoice. Meanwhile, I’ve had a little face time with both the Nvidia Shield tablet and one of those 34-inch superwide LCDs. GOP-style gut reaction to each after the jump (see, cultural references to make people happy both sides of the pond).
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Week in Tech: Random Screen Round Up

By Jeremy Laird on July 31st, 2014.

Never before in the history of mankind have so many PC display options emerged in such a short space of time. At least, that’s the way it feels right now and in the time-honoured journalistic tradition I’m certainly not going to let fact checking get in the way of a mediocre narrative. It’s, er, monitormageddon people! In all seriousness, it’s enough to keep up with all the 120Hz, G-Sync, FreeSync and 4K nonsense. But now the mix of panel sizes, types and resolutions is beginning to spin out of control. I’m rapidly approaching the point where I haven’t a clue what I would personally plump for. Things will settle down in the next 18 months or so as the sweet spot emerges, no doubt. But that’s no help in the here and now. If you’re in the monitor market today, what the devil are you supposed to do?
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