Week in Tech: Cheap 4K, Adaptive-Sync, DP1.2a, Screens!

By Jeremy Laird on May 15th, 2014.

Sammy's £500, 60Hz, 4K monster

4K, 6-bit, 8-bit and 10-bit panels, G-Sync n’ FreeSync n’ Adaptive-Sync, 120Hz-plus refresh, DisplayPort 1.2 and 1.2a, backlight modulation, multi-stream vs single-stream and IPS vs PLS. The PC display market is completely out of control. But in a good way. Things are developing faster now than at any time I can remember since getting into this game. And I am incredibly, astonishingly, implausibly old. The Atari 2600 was still on sale (just) when I achieved something approaching sentience. I still haven’t truly recovered from the 2600’s piss-poor Pac-Man port. Anywho, the last week or so has seen some really interesting developments in the monitor market, including the announcement that AMD’s FreeSync tech is moving into the mainstream courtesy of official VESA status and the appearance of a cheap Samsung 4K monitor with 60Hz support. High time, then, to pull together the state of play in PC monitors into something we can all understand. Well, hopefully. Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: AMD And The End Of x86

By Jeremy Laird on May 8th, 2014.

AMD's crown jewels are our gaming tools

Existential crisis alert. AMD has been laying out its vision of the future of CPUs this week. And it calls into question the very meaning of what makes a PC. AMD is proposing parallel development of pin-compatible chips based on x86 and ARM. For most things I do with my PC, whether there’s ARM or x86 inside doesn’t matter much. I’m not bothered whether there’s an ARM or x86 chip underpinning m’Chrome browsing, for instance. But gaming is a very different matter. Whether for good or ill, being a PC with the x86 instruction set, Windows OS and DirectX API definitely means something when it comes to gaming. But if everything goes ARM or at least instruction-set agnostic, what happens to PC gaming? What does PC gaming even mean? Does RPS disappear in a puff of speculative logic? Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: SATA Express At Last, Not Google Glass

By Jeremy Laird on May 1st, 2014.

And lo, on the first day of the fifth month during the year of Our Lord numbering two thousand and fourteen, verily did the first motherboard with SATA Express arrive. Well, it’s the first I’ve seen sitting in front of me outside a show floor or PR event. The board in question is a new Asus Z97 beastie. Now, by some metrics, plain old SATA has been a speed bottleneck for SSDs and in turn PCs for a while. And these new interfaces will definitely release the solid-state hounds in terms of raw data throughput. But will that actually make your PC feel faster or make any difference for games? Meanwhile, I’ve decided I’m definitely going to buy an Oculus Rift DK2 and oddly it’s Google’s Glass that’s convinced me to pull the trigger. Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: AMD On The Up, NVIDIA Game Streaming

By Jeremy Laird on April 24th, 2014.

It’s a funny old world when losing $20 million is a cause for moderate rejoicing. But then $20 million’s worth of bleeding is a hell of a lot better than $146 million. I speak, of course, of the never ending saga (going-on soap opera) that is AMD’s fortunes. Thing is, we are all of us much better off if AMD remains in the game and at the very least things are looking up. So, its worth tuning in for this latest episode. Meanwhile, it looks like the range and choice of LCD panels for PC monitors might just be ready to explode, Nvidia adds remote access to its game streaming tech and small-form factor bricks with proper gaming grunt are popping up. Hurrah and huzzah.
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A Clash Of Shafts: Three Flight Sticks Compared

By Alec Meer on April 22nd, 2014.

I’ve spent far too long thinking about and researching joysticks lately, primarily as a result of playing Elite: Dangerous. One thing I haven’t established during all that time is whether ‘joystick’ is the right word for a genre of game controller which also throws out terms like ‘flight stick’ and ‘HOTAS.’ I’ve probably offended someone with just the title of this piece, but then again someone like decided that Hot Ass is a perfectly reasonably thing to call a ‘Hands On Throttle-And-Stick.’ Someone also thought that writing ‘VIBRATION’ in enormous capital letters down the shaft of one of the three sticks I’m looking at here was sensible. Basically, the joy/flightstick industry is a place where innuendo goes to die.

In any case, I’m sticking with ‘joystick’, and I’m using it as a term for three very different types (and costs) of stick I’ve looked at in my recent return to space games. Those are, in descending price order, the Saitek X52 Pro, the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro and the Speedlink Black Widow.
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Elite Dangerous, Nostalgia, Joysticks & Returning To Space

By Alec Meer on April 11th, 2014.

I come and go on old franchises and old ideas being resurrected by rich old men for rather less rich and old men and women. Sometimes it seems like a roadblock to fresh invention, other times it seems like returning to roads that games were forcibly and unfairly turned away from as forces of marketing and demographic-chasing decided they weren’t suitably commercially viable. For example: space sims didn’t all but die out because the possibilities were exhausted. Though there have always been survivors, they all but died out because they required huge budgets to pull off well, but could not command the sort of easily advertised-at mainstream audience required to earn their keep. What remained turned inwards, servicing the very particular demands of a passionate few, and making themselves all the more inaccessible to those who were interested but not quite so fervent about it.

The comeback, thanks to the removal of almost all middlemen and the ability to engage directly with an audience large enough but spread far and wide, is something I find incredibly exciting. After having barely touched space games for years, I now find myself owning a £120 joystick and obsessed with Elite 4.
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Week in Tech: World’s Best GPU, Elite 4 + VR + IR

By Jeremy Laird on April 10th, 2014.

Is Sapphire’s Tri-X Radeon R9 290 the world’s best graphics card? I think it just might be. OK, it’s only the best graphics card in the world in a given context – one in which you’re willing and able to cough up £330 for a graphics card. Likewise, a few other add-in board makers have similarly impressive custom-cooled offerings based on the R9 290 chipset. And somehow all this would hang together a bit better if the Tri-X was available for £290, which is the figure I’d hoped the R9 290 would have to slipped to by now (damn you, cryptocurrencies!). But the Tri-X still ticks all my boxes, I reckon it’s right in the sweet spot and I’m going to explain why. In other news, last week I saw the most exciting thing in gaming since I gazed fecklessly at the goldfish-bowl-proportioned cathode ray tube that masqueraded as a PC monitor and experienced hardware T&L and filtered textures (Tomb Raider on a TNT2, if you must) for the first time. The funny thing is, the bit I’m most excited about I haven’t even seen. I’m talking Elite: Dangerous. I’m talking TrackIR. I’m talking Oculus Rift DK2. Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: Intel Loves You, VR, $3,000 Graphics

By Jeremy Laird on March 27th, 2014.

The golden age of detachable twangers returns...

Right, then, it’s been an intriguing week or so in PC gaming tech. The virtual reality roadmap just got a rocket up the bum with the news that social network and moneybags megacorp Facebook has snapped up Oculus VR while Sony has injected additional momentum by showing off its own prototype headset for the PS4. Meanwhile, remember when you could buy a cheap Intel chip and overclock the twangers off it? Those days may be returning. Intel has apparently decided that it cares about we PC enthusiasts after all. Well, kinda. Oh, and Nvidia has another catastrophically expensive video card which you won’t be buying. Same old.

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Week in Tech: DirectX 12 And Faster PC Games

By Jeremy Laird on March 20th, 2014.

It’s not a huge surprise. But it is interesting. Microsoft has lifted the lid on its latest graphics API, DirectX 12. And the big news isn’t a fancy new rendering technology. The big news is better performance. Just like AMD’s Mantle API, DX12 promises to reduce CPU loads when playing games by as much as 50 per cent. Intriguingly, DX12 is coming to the Xbox One and phones, too. Which brings us to the really good bit. It looks likely your existing graphics card will be compatible with DX12. And that includes Nvidia GPUs… Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: Nvidia Laptop Graphics Update

By Jeremy Laird on March 13th, 2014.

Yes, we’ve done the Nvidia Maxwell graphics thing already. As a desktop GPU, the new GeForce GTXs 750 and 750 Ti aren’t all that exciting. But the same Nvidia GM107 chip rebadged Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M and stuffed into a laptop? Suddenly, things get a whole lot more interesting. The specifics aren’t official yet. But it looks like GM107 might just deliver twice the performance for the same power budget as its predecessor and that’s pretty exciting for thin-and-light gaming lappies. And remember, this is just the beginning for Maxwell – the arrival of second-gen 20nm Maxwell mobile GPUs could be spectacular. While we’re here, I thought a beginners guide to mobile GPUs would be useful for some of you. What with all the branding shenanigans both Nvidia and AMD get up to in the mobile space, keeping track of what’s actually on offer isn’t always easy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: Intel Updates ‘Orrible Haswell, Faster SSDs

By Jeremy Laird on March 6th, 2014.

Intel's new CPUs Hz so good

An extra 100MHz. This is progress, Intel style. I speak of the expected refresh of Intel’s Haswell-vintage CPUs, due in a month or so. It’s a PR upgrade to what was already an underwhelming family of desktop processors and yet another example of some pretty specular foot-dragging from Intel in recent years. Will Intel’s next properly new family of chips, known as Broadwell, be any better? If not, we should at least be able to look forward to a big step up in SSD performance fairly soon in part enabled by Intel’s upcoming 9 Series chipsets. Well, it’s something to look forward to… Read the rest of this entry »

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Week in Tech: Proprietary PC Tech and Nvidia

By Jeremy Laird on February 27th, 2014.

Last week we caught an early glimpse of Nvidia’s latest and greatest GPU design, known as Maxwell. We’ll have to wait a while to see what impact it has on true gaming PCs, but the sheer power efficiency of the new architecture certainly looks promising. Anywho, the Maxwell launch event was a chance to hook up with Nvidia and quiz them on a subject that’s been vexing me of late, namely the rise of proprietary gaming tech – well, mainly graphics – for the PC. What with Mantle and HSA from AMD, G-Sync, 3D Vision and Shield-tethered game streaming from Nvidia, it feels like gaming hardware is becoming increasingly partisan. So what gives? Tom Petersen, Nvidia’s Director of Technical Marketing for GeForce, gave me the low down.
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Week in Tech: Nvidia’s Mighty New Maxwell Graphics

By Jeremy Laird on February 20th, 2014.

Nvidia’s new Maxwell graphics kit, then. It’s out but what’s it all about? Epic performance density and power efficiency is the elevator pitch, with a spot of improved cryptocurrency hashing thrown in for good measure. But are the first new Maxwell boards – the GTXs 750 and 750 Ti – the bomb or a bum deal? Read the rest of this entry »

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