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Asus’ Xonar U3 USB audio device
If your system has a free PCI or PCI Express slot, you’ Toms Shoes Outlet d do well to populate it wi Toms Shoes Outlet th a Xonar sound card rather than filling one of your USB ports with the U3. The USB Xonar’s signal quality simply isn’t good enough, and its lack of high definition audio support is difficult to ignore. Asus didn’t intend for the U3 to end up attached to desktop systems, though. On its native turf in the notebook world, the newest addition to the Xonar family truly shines.The U3 sounds so much Toms Shoes Outlet better than my ultraportable’s integrated audio that it’s become a permanent fixture in my notebook bag. I was briefly worried that having the device draw power from the USB port would dramatically reduce battery life, but that simply hasn’t been the case. When looping an HD movie clip with Dolby Headphone enabled, the Xonar config reduces the system’s marathon run time by a scant 11 minutes. That’s a trivial price to pay for a palpable improvement in sound quality and overall functionality.Asus Xonar U3July 2011That added functionality is what really seals the deal for the Xonar U3. Speaker virtualization and EAX emulation are rare in the notebook world, especially among mainstream and thin and light systems. You’ll have a hard time finding a laptop that can encode Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly, too. Add up everything it offers, and the Xonar U3 looks like a great value at . Audiophiles need not apply, but I’d recommend the Xonar U3 to anyone in the market for a cheap laptop audio upgrade, especially if they’ll be playing games.Still, I’m left wanting. The U3 may be a great value, but I’d be inclined to pay more for something Toms Shoes Outlet with a nicer casing, better sound quality, and the ability to handle HD audio streams. Whether that can be achieved without sacrificing the U3’s portability and minimal power consumption remains to be seen. A casual browsing of the fancier USB DACs on the market reveals a lot of designs that are substantially bigger than the Xonar, and I’m not seeing a lot of support for positional audio, speaker virtualization, or Dolby Digital Live encoding.
Asus’ VivoBook X202E notebook reviewed
Ultrabooks were meant to revitalize a PC notebook industry that had lost some of its swagger in the face of super slim systems like Apple’s MacBook Air. PC makers have been rolling out similarly svelte designs for a couple years now, and some of their offerings have been quite good. However, like the MacBook Air, this new breed of premium notebooks has also been rather expensive. Combine relatively high prices with the growing hype surrounding less expensive tablets, and you’ve got a recipe for slow sales.
Market research firm IHS initially expected 22 million ultrabooks to ship in 2012, but it cut that estimate by more than half in October and lowered its 2013 forecast by 25%. Mainstream consumers won’t be interested in ultrabooks until prices drop to around $600 700, IHS says. The thing is, there’s already an ultraportable notebook available in that price range. Although it may not meet Intel’s strict definition for what constitutes an ultrabook, this three pound, 11.6 incher still boasts a 17W Ivy Bridge CPU, brushed metal surfaces, USB 3.0 connectivity, and a Windows 8 friendly touchscreen. I’d like you to meet the Asus VivoBook X202E.
She’s a looker, isn’t she? At first glance, it’s hard to believe the X202E . The overall style definitely draws inspiration from Apple’s aesthetic, but I’m not going to complain about clean lines and textured metal surfaces becoming available on such an inexpensive system. Besides, Asus has put its own spin the whole brushed aluminum trend with a beautifully tinted top panel that defies the monochromatic tones of modern Macs.
The subdued shade of purplish gunmetal sets the X202E apart from the mountain of MacBook wannabes on the market, and it provides a touch of warmth to the otherwise cold metal exterior. This isn’t one of those all metal unibody Toms Shoes Outlet designs, though. The chassis’ metal pieces are complemented by plastic parts, including the entire bottom panel and the strip running across the front edge of the lid.
Asus has resisted the urge to polish those pieces to a fingerprint prone shine, allowing the X202E to maintain its classy looks even after a busy day in the real world mo Toms Shoes Outlet stly, anyway. Glossy screens are hard to avoid these days, and adding touch to the equation invites plenty of ugly streaks. Of course, you don’t have to use the X202E’s touchscreen. Like Window 8’s Modern UI Start screen, it’s there but can be easily ignored.
While the VivoBook’s body isn’t metal throughout, you wouldn’t know it by picking up the thing. One perceives only the slightest hint of flex when holding the notebook by the front corner of the palm rest. The brushed slab that comprises t Toms Shoes Outlet he palm rest and keyboard tray likely deserves a lot of credit for the structural rigidity. As an added bonus, the metal skin looks and feels a lot more expensive than you might expect from a system that costs 550 bucks.
Despite the fact that the VivoBook hasn’t dieted down to meet ultrabook standards, the chassis is only 0.85″ thick. There are certainly thinner designs out there, but in my experience, shaving a few millimeters off a notebook doesn’t y Toms Shoes Outlet ield practical benefits beyond the initial “hey, cool, it’s thinner” reaction.
Asus’ Rampage III Gene and Sabertooth X58 motherboards
Believe it or not, Intel’s top of the line Core i7 980X Extreme is a pretty compelling value, at least within the context of a high end system build. That’s uncommon for a halo product that costs an even grand, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The 980X’s Gulftown silicon is a native six core design built using 32 nano fabrication technology, so it’s as cutting edge as desktop CPUs get.
Gulftown’s arrival ushered in a renaissance of sorts for Intel’s LGA1366 platform, which includes the X58 Express core logic chipset. As the original launch vehicle for the first Nehalem based CPUs, the X58 has been around for just about two years now. Intel’s flagship chipset is still a competent competitor, but with Sandy Bridge lurking just over the horizon, rumors of a six Toms Shoes Outlet core derivative swirling, and motherboards based on new 6 series chipsets on display at IDF, the X58 is destined to be deprecated. eventually. Even after Sandy Bridge arrives, the X58 will reign as Intel’s only desktop core logic chipset capable of supplying a pair of graphics cards with 32 lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity.
To keep the X58 Express in tune with the latest fashions, Asus has come up with a couple of new models that have all the latest goodies 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA their own unique perspective on what makes a good enthusiast board. One, the Rampage III Gene, is a microATX midget geared toward gamers and laced with remote overclocking functionality. The other, dubbed the Sabertooth X58, eschews the excesses that weigh down a lot of high end motherboards in favor of a classic, stripped down approach. Both boards are available for around $200, putting them firmly at the affordable end of the X58 spectrum. Naturally, we had to find out which is best and whether either is worthy of the high end system setup you’re thinking about using to justify that 980X upgrade.
The Rampage III Gene
Exhibit A is the most recent addition to Asus’ growing family of Republic of Gamers motherboards. I’d characterize the ROG umbrella as the PC equivalent of BMW’s M division, Audi’s RS line, and Mercedes’ AMG offerings, but that implies an increase in performance that we generally don’t see from premium motherboards. Instead, the ROG badge denotes the inclusion of extra widgets and software, such as a GameFirst app that p Toms Shoes Outlet rioritizes networking packets for multiplayer gaming, onboard voltage probe points for hardcore overclockers, an overhauled AiSuite of Windows tweaking apps, and the ability to overclock and monitor a system remotely with a laptop via ROG Connect.
Premium features don’t come cheap. However, the Rampage’s is pretty reasonable for a high end motherboard. This isn’t a run of the mill ATX board, either. The Rampage squeezes into microATX dimensions, which should give LAN gamers a little more room in the trunk for an extra large bag of Cheetos and a couple of cans of their favorite overcaffeinated beverage.
Despite its small footprint, the Rampage has all the accoutrements one would expect from a premium motherboard, and it very much looks the part, all dressed up in black and two different shades of red. I’m not sure if Asus meant the DIMM slots to be slightly more orange than the other red accents found on the board, but the two shades don’t quite match. You’re going to have a hard time spotting a difference between them in a fully loaded system, though.
I don’t mean to dwell on aesthetics, but the Rampage’s funky heatsinks are quite becoming. The north bridge cooler is nice and chunky, and the dense array of thinner fins that sprouts up from the power regulation circuitry offers loads of surface area. Both heatsinks are a little on the tall side, so you’ll want to avoid aftermarket coolers that taper out aggressively from the CPU socket. Most tower style designs raise their fins up high enough that clearance shouldn’t be a problem.
To avoid clearance conflicts with longer graphics cards, the Rampage’s DIMM slots only have retention tabs on one side. That’s enough to hold DIMMs securely, at least with the standard sized modules we used for testing.
Speaking of clearance, note that all eight of the internal SATA ports are lined up along the board’s right edge. This orientation leaves plenty of room for longer graphics cards, but it can be a problem in tighter enclosures that put hard drive cages or other internal scaffolding right next to the motherboard tray. I suspect microATX cases are more prone to a tight fit than the average ATX mid tower.
The slot stack on the Rampage III Gene is more generous than one might expect from a microATX board. You get two PCI Express x16 slots, each of which has a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. The x4 slot that sits between them is notched to accept longer graphics cards, but since it’s connected to the first generation PCIe lanes in the south bridge, you’re only getting half the bandwidth of a PCIe 2.0 x4 slot.
Just to the left of the expansion slots lies a very fancy looking X Fi SupremeFX sticker. Peel it back, and you’ll find a pedestrian Via VT2020 audio codec chip. The Via codec is responsible for handling the hardware side of the Rampage’s onboard audio, while Creative’s SupremeFX software adds support EAX 5.0 positional audio effects and leans on the CPU for any associated heavy lifting. EAX support is a nice touch on a board that targets gamers, but its utility is questionable at a time when few new titles make use of the standard.
At least the Creative audio control panel is slick, and it’s easy to avoid bloat by just installing the necessary drivers. I do wish the X Fi supported real time Dolby Digital Live or Toms Shoes Outlet DTS encoding, though. The only way to get multi channel audio out of the Rampage’s S/PDIF digital audio output is with content that has pre recorded audio tracks. Gamers will have to use the analog outputs if they want surround sound.
Although the Rampage III Gene has a pretty good selection of connectivity options, it’s conspicuously missing external Serial ATA ports. There’s certainly room for eSATA, and I suspect most users would gladly give up one of the eight internal SATA ports to get an external option.
A couple of buttons do take up space in the port cluster, but both are important. The one on the left is a handy CMOS reset button, while the one on the right toggles the ROG Connect feature. Just to the right of the ROG Connect button sits the USB port used to connect a secondary system running Asus’ remote tweaking and overclocking software. ROG Connect is undoubtedly a neat technology. However, I don’t see much utility to the remote control capability outside of competitive overclocking circles.
Fortunately, you can still overclock via Asus’ TurboV Windows software or through the BIOS, which is predictably loaded with tu Toms Shoes Outlet ning options.
With a base clock that goes up to 500MHz and support for CPU and DRAM voltages up to 2.5V, even extreme overclockers fueled by liquid nitrogen should find ample headroom in the Rampage’s BIOS. The BIOS is a pleasure to use, too. Most clock speeds and all voltages can be keyed in directly, and there’s an incredible degree of granularity throughout.
An abundance of overclocking controls is hardly uncommon in the motherboard world, but good fan speed controls can be difficult to find. Asus has done a good job here, offering control over the CPU fan’s duty cycle and high temperature trigger. Similar options are available for one of the auxiliary fan headers, and users can choose between three presets for the system fan header. There’s only one problem: you’ll need a four pin fan to get any level of fan speed control working with the CPU fan header. Three pin fans will spin, but only at a constant speed.