Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thermaltake Versa H35 Mid Tower Case

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Versatile with ample room for cooling, cabling, and layout options
Cons: Front panel, bottom filter removal, want more rubber grommets

Unboxing

The Versa H35 arrived in a no-frills brown cardboard box. I'm always a fan of this, as I find it rather silly to spend extra money on the packaging just to make me pay more for the item inside. It was packed in a plastic bag stuffed between two simple pieces of hard foam. This is par for the course in the budget case market, and I have no complaints as my case arrived completely undamaged. The Versa H35 comes in two versions: one with a clear side window, and one without. My version does have the window.

The case feels fairly rigid for a budget case. It flexes a little if you pick it up and twist it, but only while it's empty. Both side panels are removed easily with the included thumb screws, and the front panel pulls off by grasping the bottom and working it out. I'm always a little afraid of breaking the front plastic on cases like this, but it came off and went back on a couple times without issue. I think I'm just spoiled by my Antec 300, who's front bezel just kind of hinges out to the side and never leaves me wondering. The main thing to be mindful of in this case would be the circuit board at the top of the front. All the front panel connectors stick out the very top of the case, and the board is on the front. If you're not really careful pulling the front plastic off you're likely to bend things.

Appearance

The very first thing I noticed after removing the Versa H35 from the box was the magnetic filter on top. Seriously, that thing looks awesome. It's a fine mesh that's flexible and has magnetic strips all around the bottom. It covers nearly the entire top of the case and will be super easy to clean. There is also a large filter across the bottom of the case, but this one is not magnetic. It's also not easy to remove like so many case-bottom filters. The bottom filter is just stuck across the bottom, and tucked under little metal flaps that hang out around the bottom of the case. You basically have to pick the case up and have someone else pull it out, or lay the case on it's side to remove the filter. This problem could have been avoided by simply leaving off either the front or the rear tab on the case, and extending a pull-tab of some sort on that side of the filter. Such a basic thing that's so disappointing. The bottom filter covers the power supply intake as well as an optional 120mm fan mount, but with that annoying filter I wouldn't particularly want a fan there.

The finish is a nice matte black, doesn't absorb fingerprints too much, and looks decent. The coating flows inside of the case, which is especially good in this version with the window. The crystal clear side window is large and offers a good view of the guts of your system. The front bezel is covered in small holes, and this includes the matching drive bay covers. Angled corners give some personality to the case, and a simple silver Thermaltake logo at the bottom finishes it off.

Airflow

The front of the Versa H35 came preinstalled with a single 120mm fan, with room to mount a second one above it if you so desire. This space would also accommodate a dual-fan radiator for water cooling, but only if you remove the 3.5" drive bay. Instead of holes for the fan screws, the case contains long slots which make it possible to mount 120mm or 140mm fans in the front (or a 240 or 280mm radiator). You could probably mount a 360mm radiator with the 5.25" drive bays removed, but I don't think you'd get any screws in the top part. I really like this design as it leaves you a lot of options. The same goes for the top of the case under the magnetic filter; 120mm slots instead of holes. The top lacks the slots for 140mm, but the area is long enough to easily fit a 360mm radiator if you wish. There is a single 120mm exhaust fan in the rear to round out your options.

Versa

So the Versa case is versatile, who would have guessed? Aside from the fan and radiator mounting options, the inside of the case is pretty versatile in other ways. First of all, the 3.5" drive cage can be removed with two thumb screws from behind. It can be repositioned and takes very little time. You can optionally purchase a second cage, which will connect nicely to this one (the top of one and the bottom of the other side together, besides the thumb screws). Both of the 5.25" can also be removed easily, as they are held in with 4 thumb screws behind the front bezel. I am a giant fan of removing unnecessary pieces to improve both looks and airflow.

Installation

I picked up this case to throw some older parts in for an extra system. There were two reasons for this; to let my toddler have a computer to play on, and to house my shared media drive and Plex installation so I could get them off my main computer. To that end, the following parts went into this build:

AMD FX-8320 processor
ASUS M5A97 PLUS motherboard
16GB (4x4GB) G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-1600 RAM
Samsung 850 PRO 512GB SSD
Seagate 4TB hard drive
Sapphire R9 270 2GB video card
Thermaltake SMART 600W power supply
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO cooler


The first thing I noticed when I went to install my components was that there were lots of cutouts for cable management. Unfortunately only the bottom two by the power supply had rubber grommets, but at least there were cutouts at all I guess. There is also ample room behind the side panel to run cables, as well as multiple tie-down points for your cable ties. The motherboard standoffs came preinstalled for an ATX board, which was perfect for me but if you're using a different form factor you may have to move or remove a few.

There's a mounting point for a 2.5" drive on the back side of the motherboard tray, which I find beneficial. If I wasn't installing my media drive in this system, it would mean I could completely leave the 3.5" drive cage out for all that extra airflow. There's a second position for the 2.5" mounting point as well, so presumably you could order a second bracket and mount two of them back there. A very large CPU socket cutout rounds out the back of the tray.

The tool-free 3.5" mounting options are decent enough. Lightweight plastic boxes in your drive, pulls out easily and snaps back in easily. The 5.25" tool-free option looks a little less desirable however. It seems to only connect in the front on the right hand side, and the other three normal screw locations just sit there. I had no intention of installing anything in those bays for this build anyway, but if I did I would be screwing them in instead.

The front panel connectors consist of headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, the power and reset switches and a couple of LEDs. I'm personally glad that there is no USB 2.0 in the front, as I always want USB 3.0 there and I really don't need 50 ports up there. If I need more than two, I'll be using the back or a USB hub anyway, and this way I don't have to look to make sure I plugged the flash drive into the faster port since they're all fast. (Though it should be noted, the motherboard I'm using in this particular build doesn't have USB 3.0 headers -- a downside under these circumstances, but one I knew in advance).

Final Thoughts

I'm a fan. So many features I almost forgot it was a sub $100 case. The couple places where the budget aspect pokes through are where the front panel connectors meet the bezel, the bottom fan filter being annoying to clean, and the rubber grommets that it lacks in the higher cable management holes. For these few qualms you get layout options, great options for cooling, and an otherwise well designed case. I would purchase this case again, and recommend you look at it as an option as well.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rosewill 7' Cat 6 Network Cable


Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Works well, inexpensive, perfect length for my patch cables
Cons: None if you like the rubber clip protection covers

When I replaced all the networking cables and equipment in the house, I opted to use 7' cables for patch cables between the equipment and the individual computers. Some of them previously had 3' cables, and one even had a 1' cable, and while these worked fine there really wasn't any slack to move things around at all. I figured 7' was an optimal size because it was short enough to not be too unwieldy, but long enough to allow flexibility in placement.
 
To that end, I purchased six of these Rosewill 7' Cat 6 Network Cable. The cable modem is has one of these connecting it to the wireless router, and then the router has two more of them connecting the individual computers in the main room. I also have a 25' cable snaking across the ceiling into the other room and into a network switch, where two more of these 7' cables connect the individual computers in that room as well; the remaining cable I threw in my box of cables for a spare.
 
Since the 25' cable I used (RCW-565) is black in color, I opted for the RCW-580 grey ones for the 7' patch cables so that I could tell at a glance whether the cable I was removing was a long run or a patch cable. The black version of this 7' cable is RCW-562 if you would rather have them match. Like it's older 25' brother, the 7' cable came in a sealed foil and plastic bag and was wound into a coil to prevent kinking.
 
Cat 6 cables are backwards compatible with Cat 5/5e applications, so they can be swapped right into existing networks without messing anything up. They have reduced impedance, crosstalk and structural return loss due to typically using larger twisted wire pairs (22 AWG as opposed to 24 AWG for Cat 5 cables). I noticed these cables weren't quite as flexible as most of the Cat 5 & 5e cables they replaced, but they were still plenty flexible enough and I had no issues routing them.
 
Network speeds are the same as before, with the hard drive being the limiting factor in transferring across the local area network and the terrible 1.5mbitcable being the limit over the internetfor me. I went with 10/100 BASE-T networking, but this Cat 6 cable would work just as well for GigabitEthernet if I had chosen to go that route. It meets all EIA/TIA Cat 6 TIA/EIA- 568-B-2.1, draft 9 standards and has a gold-plated RJ-45 male standard connector on each end.

This cable also has the little rubber protective things covering the clips on the connectors at the end that I really don't like. Others may like them as they do prevent snagging and breaking the clip off, but I'm typically a little more careful with my cables. The only time I've broken the clips off have been when they got snagged while buried loose in my extra cable box. I chose to cut the rubber covering off the ends of all my cables with a pair of wire cutters and call it a day.

I'm perfectly happy with these 7' cables and the 25' cables I purchased, and they (at the time of this writing) only cost $2.49 on Newegg with free shipping. They also typically have volume discounts for ordering multiple cables, and while it's not a large discount it's never a bad thing to save money if you need multiple cables like I did anyway. An easy recommendation.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Rosewill 25' Cat 6 Network Cable

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros:Inexpensive, good quality, works well
Cons:None if you like the little rubber clip protectors

I recently decided to redo my home network setup with all new parts in an effort to get my cable company to step up and provide the service they are supposed to. You see, they like to blame slow network speeds on customer equipment 100% of the time no matter what, so I thought I would just nip that in the bud. One part of the upgrade involved replacing all the old Ethernet cables in the house; after some research I decided to go with Category 6 network cables, and after some price and quality comparisons I decided to go with the Rosewill brand.
 
For my network, the cable modem plugs into a wireless router which then plugs into the two computers in the main room. From that router, a 25 foot Ethernet cable goes up the wall and across the ceiling into the other room, where it plugs into a network switch that in turn plugs into two additional computers. For that 25 foot cable length I replaced my old Cat 5e cable with this black Rosewill 25' Cat 6 Network Cable. I also replaced the router, the switch, and all the patch cables going from the network devices to the individual computers.
 
The first thing to note about Cat 6 cable is that it is backwards compatible with Cat 5/5e cables, which means you can swap it into existing applications without issue. Both cables use the same connectors and contain four pairs of twisted wires inside a sheath, but Cat 6 cables typically use larger (22 AWG) wire than Cat 5 cables (24 AWG) to help reduce impedance, crosstalk and structural return loss.
 
This particular cable came packaged in a sealed plastic and foil bag. It was coiled up nicely in a big coil to prevent kinking, and twist-tied together on one side. The first thing I noticed when I opened the package was that the cable was noticeably thicker than the Cat 5e cable it replaced, and thus wasn't quite as flexible. It still had plenty of flex to it, but if I laid it down on the floor it tended to fall back into a coil shape or a straight line rather than just flop all over the place. I had no problem routing it up the wall and the along through some looped hooks in the ceiling.
 
One thing I don't particularly care for that others might like is the little rubber protective cover that surrounds the clip on each end of the cable. This makes it so you don't snag the clip on things and break it off, but at the same time it makes the cable harder to remove since the rubber is a little stiff. Personally I grabbed a pair of wire cutters and cut off the protective cover on all my new cables to make it easier on myself later.
 
Network speeds are the same as before, with the hard drive being the limiting factor in transferring across the local area network and the terrible 1.5mbit cable being the limit over the internet for me. I went with 10/100 BASE-T networking, but this Cat 6 cable would work just as well for Gigabit Ethernet if I had chosen to go that route. It meets all EIA/TIA Cat 6 TIA/EIA- 568-B-2.1, draft 9 standards and has a gold-plated RJ-45 male standard connector on each end.
 
I'm very happy with this cable. It's currently selling on Amazon for $5.99 and on Newegg for $4.49 with free shipping; when I purchased my cables a couple of months ago on Newegg it was $4.99 and had a 20% off promotional code, which made it a heck of a deal. I picked up a second one to keep in my box of extra cables as a spare, and I would easily recommend this cable.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rosewill 40-in-1 3.5" Internal Card Reader (RCRIC001)



Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Inexpensive, works well, installs easily and reads a lot of different formats
Cons: Doesn't read common microSD cards without an adapter

When I built this last computer for my mom, we decided to throw a memory card reader into one of the available 3.5" external drive bays. While it's not something she uses regularly, it's nice to have on hand for for reading the memory card out of her phone or camera occasionally and it also has an additional USB 2.0 port in it as well. Also, since it was only $6 on sale it wasn't really going to affect the price of the build much, so there was little reason not to include it.

This build:
 

AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive

 
I'd picked up a similar card reader in the past for a previous build, and it was a little short and only had one mounting screw location on each side. It sat in the case fine but it did pivot a minuscule amount up and down because there was only one screw holding it on each side. This Rosewill RCR-IC001 card reader didn't have that problem because it's longer and takes advantage of both screw mounts on each side of the device, which makes it feel more stable and secure in the case.
 
The card reader also comes with a changeable front panel. There is a black face plate installed out of the box, but there's an additional silver face plate in the package in case it matches your case better. It's easy to change with one little tab to depress on each side to make it pop right off. Hooking the device up to the motherboard is also easy, as the connection consists of a single USB 2.0 cable that you run to one of the USB headers on your motherboard. The cable is probably 18" long so there's plenty of length to make it reach wherever you need to on your particular motherboard. I ended up using a zip tie to tie off a loop of extra slack and laid it under the drive, out of the way.
 
This device is a 40-in-1 memory card reader, but when they say "40" they really mean "5 types and most of their variations". It supports Compact Flash, Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital and SmartMedia cards. Many of the variations like miniSD, microSD and MS Pro Duo only work with the appropriate adapter that may or may not come with the memory card. The device also supports the SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format that is prevalent in most phones and tablets these days.
 
The card reader works by having four different slots in the face, along with a USB 2.0 port and a couple of LEDs for activity (green) and power (blue). The top slot on the left is used for MS/MSPro/MS Duo/MSPro Duo, and the top middle slot is used for CFI/CFII/MD cards. The bottom left is for SD/MMC/RS MMC and the bottom middle is for SMC cards. We've only used it with SD cards (and microSD cards with the adapters) so far since that is the only type of card that any of us have laying around. SD cards must be inserted upside-down into the slot, but they worked just fine and were about the same speed as my external card reader.
 
The slots are hot swappable and you can use multiple slots at once (as well as the USB port) if you have different types of memory cards, allowing you to transfer data from one to another. Supported operating systems include Windows 7/Vista/XP/2000/ME, and it also seems to work fine in Linux Mint (which implies it will likely work fine in Ubuntu and Debian, and probably most major Linux distributions). No drivers were necessary for me to install in either operating system. The device can be operated in temperatures ranging from 0ºC to 50ºC at a humidity between 10% and 95%.
 
The package contains the card reader itself, four screws for mounting the device, the extra silver face plate, and a folded up single-page user manual. The manual contains a brief introduction and specifications in seven different languages on one side, and surprisingly clear installation diagrams and instructions on the other. This device is made in China and backed up by a 1 year limited warranty.
 
Overall this was a good purchase and I recommend it. You can usually find it on sale for $6 or $7 and it's just one of those things that is nice to have on hand even if you don't use it too often.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kingston 16GB Class 4 microSDHC Card


Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Worked well enough in the generic Android tablet it was picked up for
Cons: Worst random 4k write speeds; no included SD adapter or plastic case

My young nieces have birthdays that are close to each other, so their mom got them each a $90 generic Android tablet to play with. They enjoyed the tablets a lot, but the 4GB of internal storage was a bit lacking for all the games they wanted to download and play. Now I could have picked up identical microSDHC cards for them but I decided to be clever and pick up two different brands so that I could compare the two and review them in the process.
 
First of all we have this Kingston 16GB microSDHC Card (SDC4/16GBSP), and secondly we have a Mushkin 16GB microSDHC Card MKNUSDHCC4-16GB). I decided on these two cards in particular because they are both brands that I've had a positive experience with in the past. I skipped out on some of the similarly priced generic brand cards for the opposite reason. I also previously reviewed a Patriot Signature Line 16GB microSDHC Card (PSF16GMCSDHC43P) that we used in a Motorola DROID 4 Phone that I will poke comparisons at as well for variety.
 
Three separate manufacturers. Since all three of these cards are the same size, same speed rating, price and format the comparison should help figure out which is the better deal. This review will mostly focus on the Kingston 16GB microSD card, though I will mention the others at times and point out if they were particularly better or worse.
 
The first thing I noticed was that this Kingston card did not come in a full plastic package. Instead, they opted to go with sandwiched cardboard that was easier to open by snipping off the top with a pair of scissors and pulling the blister pack out of the middle that held the card. The blister pack did sort of snap shut and held the card in place, but it's flimsy and large and not something that you would want to use to keep the card secure and undamaged.
 
That's the second thing I noticed... unlike the other two cards, this one did not come with a rigid plastic carrying case to protect the card while it's not in a device. It was also the only card not to come with an SD adapter to use in tablets, cameras and laptops. The package I liked; the lack of a case and adapter were a little disappointing but not really a big deal overall since I already had two of each from the other manufacturers' cards.
 
This is a standard microSD card with the normal notched side to prevent it being inserted the wrong way. Like most cards this one is black, but it's really noisy looking with a ton of text across the front. Hey, it's not like you're going to be looking at the card anyway though -- I assume it will be crammed into a phone, camera or some other random device most of the time. It comes preformatted with the FAT32 file system and has a total formatted capacity of 15,699,279,872 bytes (14.6 GB). For comparison, the Patriot card had a capacity of 14.9 GB and the Mushkin had a capacity of 14.4 GB.
 
I assumed since they skimped on the adapter and the case that maybe they put a little extra work into the card; would the Kingston be the winner of the three? As it turns out... no. This was the only one of the three cards that Windows 7 would not let me use for ReadyBoost. Since it's a Class 4 card we should see a minimum performance of 4 MB/s for both reading and writing on a new card. Well, we easily got that but we assumed that going in. Looking at the benchmarks below we see a 20 MB/s sequential read speed and about the same for 512k random reads, which are moderately fast. We also see 5 MB/s sequential write speeds which falls well within the class 4 specification.
 
Random 512k and 4k writes are slow like they are with most cards, but the 4k write speeds in particular were abysmal. Yes, that's the correct amount of zeros, I ran the test three times (0.007, 0.006 and 0.007). You're probably not going to do a whole lot of random 4k writes so that's probably the least important of the tests, but it's also the one that was drastically and substantially different from either of the other cards (0.964 for the Patriot and 0.604 for the Mushkin). Benchmarks were taken using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c at the default settings.
 
Seq Read: 20.04 MB/s
Seq Write: 5.034 MB/s
512k Read: 19.59 MB/s
512k Write: 0.788 MB/s
4k Read: 3.292 MB/s
4k Write: 0.007 MB/s

 
Overall the Kingston 16GB microSDHC Card is pretty average; it works well enough in the generic tablet and is fast enough for normal use. However it loses points for having a 4k random write speed that was 100 times slower than the other cards, not including an SD adapter, and not including a protective case. Both of the other cards included these two small bonus items for the same price and managed to give us a faster card as well.
 
While this card isn't terrible, I would avoid it in favor of either of the other cards. Out of the two remaining cards, I would recommend the Patriot because it had significantly faster write speeds across the board and also had the largest formatted capacity out of the three cards to make it the clear winner.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mushkin 16GB Class 4 microSDHC Card

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Can record HD video. Comes with an SD adapter and a really handy carrying case
Cons: Average speeds; you can do better for the same price unless this is on sale

I picked up a couple of different brands of 16GB microSDHC cards for my nieces' generic Android tablets. Since they each got one, I figured I would be clever and get two different brands of cards so that I could compare them and see which was better. The cards I got were a Kingston 16GB microSDHC Card (SDC4/16GBSP) and this Mushkin 16GB microSDHC (MKNUSDHCC4-16GB) Card. I also previously reviewed a Patriot Signature Line 16GB microSDHC Card (PSF16GMCSDHC43P) that I picked up for a Motorola DROID 4 Phone, so that gives me a good variety of similar cards from different manufacturers.
 
All three cards are 16GB in size, they are all microSDHC and they are all Class 4 cards. Having similar sizes and speed ratings, you would think that they were all pretty comparable... but you would be mistaken as one of these cards is ahead of the others by leaps and bounds when it comes to performance. This review will focus particularly on the Mushkin 16GB microSD Card, though I will poke at the others for the sake of comparison.
 
First of all, the Mushkin card arrived in a nice blister pack. Opening it up I was presented with a familiar plastic case 2" wide by 1.5" tall plastic case containing the microSDHC card itself, as well as an SD adapter so that I could use the card in a regular SD card slot. I don't care if every one of my cards comes with an adapter, but it's sure convenient to have at least one on hand so any time a card does come with one is an added bonus.
 
The transparent plastic case is also pretty nice; it's fairly sturdy and has a latch on the right-hand side to make sure it stays closed and your precious cards don't come tumbling out and get lost. There are form-fitted notches inside the case that both the card and the adapter sit into so they're also not banging around inside the case. The adapter simply says "microSD Adapter" on it and is otherwise plain black, and features the standard write protect locking lever on the left hand side to prevent overwriting data. The card itself has the Mushkin brand name, microSDHC and 16GB written on it but is otherwise plain black as well. Both pieces have the standard notch in the top left corner to prevent them being inserted upside down or otherwise incorrectly.
 
Being a Class 4 card, this card should adhere to a minimum 4 MB/s speed for both reading and writing on a new empty card. This coincides with the sequential speed test in the below benchmarks. Your data will not always be written and read in order from a fresh card though, so I also find it important to check out the random speeds for 512k and 4k chunks of data to get an overall picture of how the card will perform for me.
 
The Mushkin 16GB microSDHC card comes preformatted with the FAT32 filesystem and has a total capacity of 15,464,398,848 bytes (14.4 GB). Windows 7 offered to let me use it for the Windows ReadyBoost feature; while that's not really useful these days with the price of RAM being so low, it at least tells me that the card meets the minimum speed requirements to be used as such. I've used Mushkin memory modules in the past and was happy with them, so I had high hopes for this card.
 
Benchmarking was done using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c using the default settings. Interpreting the results we see that the sequential read speed and random 512k read speeds were good, which is to be expected. The sequential write speed was well over the 4 MB/s minimum as well, but the random 512k and 4k writes were average to slow. The Kingston card I picked up at the same time for the same price was pretty comparable across the board, but it had random 4k write speeds much slower (0.07 MB/s). On the other hand, the Patriot card had significantly faster write speeds across the board for the same price... as well as a larger total formatted capacity (14.9 GB as opposed to 14.4 GB).
 
Seq Read: 20.03 MB/s
Seq Write: 5.100 MB/s
512k Read: 19.26 MB/s
512k Write: 0.854 MB/s
4k Read: 3.713 MB/s
4k Write: 0.604 MB/s

 
It's not that this card is slow, it does fall within the SD Association Class 4 speed range, it's just that the Patriot card I had before was so much faster and identically priced. This card is perfectly average in every way and should work well in any device that requires a Class 4 card. It works well in the tablet and would work similarly well in a phone or camera, and is fast enough to write a streaming HD video recording from your device.
 
However, if you don't find it on sale somewhere I'd suggest picking up the Patriot card instead since it has significantly faster write speeds for the same price.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Silicon Power 32GB Class 10 microSDHC Card

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Large capacity, good price, fast enough to record HD video from the phone
Cons: Comparable speeds to the Patriot class 4 card in my brother's phone

Since we had our son in May my fiancee has been taking loads and loads of pictures with her phone and quickly filled up the 8GB memory card she had. I decided that we would just skip getting a 16GB memory card upgrade and go straight for the 32GB card, which is the maximum amount officially supported by the Motorola DROID 4. I heard some people had luck with 64GB microSDXC cards if they were reformatted, but I didn't want to chance it. 

Newegg had a couple of cards in one of the email newsletters that week; one was a Team Group class 4 card for $16 and the other was a class 10 card from Silicon Power for $20. I have one USB flash drive from each company on my desk and I was unhappy with the speeds of both, so I decided to get the class 10 card for the extra $4. I figured if the speeds weren't up to par, they would still be good enough if I purchased the faster card to start with.
 
The card is a microSDHC card and comes with a microSD to SD adapter so that you can use it in things like laptops and printers that may have an SD card reader built in but not a microSD one. I do have a USB card reader that will take either one, but the old laptop we have will only take full size SD cards so it was nice that they included this. This also makes it possible to use the card in devices like cameras that take full size SD cards in the first place.
 
This Silicon Power microSDHC card comes pre-formatted with the FAT32 file system and has a total capacity of 31,902,400,512 bytes (29.7GB). It is a solid black, standard sized card (about 15mm long, 11mm wide and 1mm thick). It also has the standard notch on the right side so that it can't be inserted upside down. The included SD adapter is also notched for correct insertion and features the normal write-lock switch that you can slide down to make the card read-only until you slide it back up.
 
This card is designed for high-speed continuous shooting capability, and the class 10 speed rating means the card should write at a minimum speed of 10MB/s. Benchmarks were taken using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c at the default settings. As we can see this card just meets the class 10 requirements for writing sequential and 512k random chunks of data. Good enough to write HD video streaming from the phone's camera anyway.
 
Sequential Read: 20.03 MB/s
Sequential Write: 11.90 MB/s
512k Random Read: 19.69 MB/s
512k Random Write: 11.38 MB/s
4k Random Read: 3.384 MB/s
4k Random Write: 1.321 MB/s

 
It's not a bad card and it does work well in the phone, but I'm a bit disappointed overall that the speeds aren't a bit higher considering it's a class 10 card. This class 10 card is comparable across the board to the 16GB class 4 Patriot Signature card that we picked up for my brother's phone; a little faster in a couple of the tests and a little slower in a couple others. It is fast enough that Windows offered to let me use it for Windows ReadyBoost when I inserted the card reader with the card in it.
 
The cards are RoHS compliant and fully compatible with the SD 2.0 standard. They have built in Error Correcting Code (ECC) and are rated for a minimum of 10,0000 insertions. They can be used in an operating temperature of 0ºC to 70ºC, and stored in temperatures ranging from -25ºC to 85ºC at between 8% and 95% humidity. These cards are assembled in Taiwan and feature a lifetime warranty. I'm fairly happy with the card in general, but I wish it was a little faster since it's barely an improvement over the class 4 card from Patriot. Three stars.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Silicon Power Blaze B10 16GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive




Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros: Cheap, decent capacity
Cons: Inexcusable, abysmal speed. Thin and brittle plastic housing

I picked up this Silicon Power Blaze B10 16GB Flash Drive on Newegg during one of their Shell Shocker deals for $10.99 with free shipping. It seemed like a pretty good price for a USB 3.0 flash drive to me, and all of my other flash drives were only USB 2.0. Only two of the computers in the house support USB 3.0, but I figured when I needed to copy stuff to or from one of those computers this would be a lot faster than using one of the USB 2.0 drives so I really wanted to pick one up. Since this one was a good price, I decided to give it a shot even though I had no experience with Silicon Power products in the past.
 
It's a pretty standard sized flash drive, measuring just under .5" thick, .75" wide and 3" long. It feels like it is made out of really cheap, thin plastic and has a cap that could be easily lost. It has rounded corners and a hole for a lanyard or key chain on the end of it. The USB plug itself is blue instead of black because this is a USB 3.0 drive, which is nice because if I forget which drive was the fast one I could tell at a glance (not withstanding the fact that it says 16GB_3.0 on the front).
 
The whole drive is black except for the "futuristic geometric pattern" which is really just a series of angled lines. These lines are mostly Turkey Blue in color when the drive is cool, and they turn Blaze Red when the drive warms up for any reason (contact with skin, normal operating, getting placed in the heat). It doesn't take a whole lot of temperature to make it turn colors, and in fact it has sat here red most of the time on my desk because of the 90ºF temperatures lately. The activity LED is also red, which is only noteworthy because I think the LED in every other flash drive I have is blue.
 
The drive comes formatted with the FAT32 file system and has a capacity of 15,502,147,584 bytes (14.4GB). It's fast enough to be used by Windows ReadyBoost even when plugged into a USB 2.0 port. These benchmarks were taken using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c and the default settings. As you can see from the following benchmark the USB 2.0 performance is pretty good when it comes to reading data, but the write speed is abysmal and very disappointing.
 
USB 2.0
 
Seq Read: 34.73MB/s
Seq Write: 20.78MB/s
512k Read: 33.98MB/s
512k Write: 3.600MB/s
4k Read: 5.287MB/s
4k Write: 0.179MB/s

 
Well it can only get better by plugging it into a USB 3.0 port right? That's the whole reason I picked this particular drive up anyway, so lets give it a shot. If it's fast with USB 3.0 then I'll be happy with the drive for this price and it should serve its purpose well. The drive advertises up to 70MB/s read speed and up to 20MB/s write speed, so let's see how it fares.
 
USB 3.0
 
Seq Read: 43.77MB/s
Seq Write: 20.69MB/s
512k Read: 42.43MB/s
512k Write: 3.555MB/s
4k Read: 7.001MB/s
4k Write: 0.150MB/s

 
What?! Yep, I had to verify that it was indeed plugged into one of the USB 3.0 ports and then I had to run the test a couple more times just to make sure. It's just nowhere near the speed it should be, and in fact is the slowest flash drive I've tested to date. Absolutely horrible speed all around, except in the sequential read and write tests where it had an average score. The sequential speeds are the least important too, as it's not often all of your data is going to line up sequentially so you're much more likely to get speeds closer to the random 512k or 4k random speeds on average.
 
So what can I say about the Silicon Power Blaze B10? Stay away. Even for the low price tag I picked it up for during Newegg's Shell Shocker deal it was absolutely not worth it. What possible purpose could you have in picking up a USB 3.0 drive that is slower than most USB 2.0 drives? Sad and disappointed is what I am; this flash drive gets a 1-star rating from me and I don't recommend it to anyone for any purpose.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

AMD FX-4100 3.6GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) Quad-Core Processor

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good performance for the price. Overclocks well (and easily due to the unlocked multiplier)
Cons: Not a "true" quad-core. Won't be setting any speed records

This build:
 

AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive

 
This was a $500 budget PC build where the goal was to make it remain a viable everyday system for the next few years. It wasn't going to be used for much in the way of gaming, but it was going to run 24/7 and get quite a workout with other applications. The main steps were to grab a lot of memory and a quad-core processor that ran at a decent speed, and the AMD FX-4100 seemed to fit the bill nicely. Not only does it run stock at 3.6GHz, but it the turbo mode would automatically bump it to 3.8GHz when it wasn't utilizing all of the processor cores.
 
AMD's FX-4100 is a quad-core processor, but not in the strictest sense of the word. Instead of four physical cores, the processor has two physical "modules" that each contain two arithmetic logic units and two address generation units. Each module contains 2MB of L2 cache and there is a further 8MB of L3 cache shared between them. It has support for normal instruction set extensions such as MMX, SSE and 3DNow!; in addition it has support for newer extensions like AVX, SSE4.1, SSE4.2, AES, CLMUL, XOP, FMA4 and CVT16.
 
The "Bulldozer"-based FX-4100 is manufactured using a 32nm High-K Metal-Gate silicon-on-insulator process, and has a thermal design power of 95W. It has native support for DDR3 memory as fast as 1866MHz and features Hyper Transport v3.1. It uses the 942-pin Socket AM3+ CPU socket, which is also backwards compatible with AM3 processors like the Athlon II and Phenom II. Some AM3 motherboards may support the new AM3+ socket wit ha BIOS update if the manufacturer decides to implement it, but it's not officially supported by AMD so your mileage may vary.
 
The processor cost $95 with a promo code from Newegg, which wasn't too bad. I could have used an FX-4170 for about $25 more, but I decided against that for one main reason. While the FX-4170 is faster (4.2GHz, 4.3GHz Turbo), it's only because of an increased multiplier. Since the FX-4100 has an unlocked multiplier, you can just pop into the system BIOS and increase it yourself to get the speed benefit for the lower price. A quick bump from 3.6GHz to 4.2GHz in the BIOS takes about 15 seconds to change the multiplier from 18x to 21x, and it runs perfectly with the stock heatsink and fan using stock voltage (at least for me -- due to subtle differences, your mileage may vary).
 
For about $30 we could have jumped to the FX-6100, which is a six-core processor that runs at 3.3GHz. Unfortunately, most of the applications being used on the system wouldn't benefit much (if at all) from having six cores instead of four. On top of that, the lower clock speed would be detrimental and it would be a slower processor overall for what it was going to be used for. Skipping this one was a no-brainer. The FX-6200 seemed to be about the next "upgrade", with a six-core processor clocked at 3.8GHz (4.1GHz Turbo). It did cost an extra $60 or so though, and the only real upgrade part would be the two extra cores that wouldn't be utilized very well in this system.
 
As for Intel processors, the i3-2100 is comparable to the FX-4100 for the most part -- but it would have cost an extra $25 as well. The i5-2500 would be a big upgrade over the FX-4100, but it was more than double the price. Since this was a budget build, we decided that the FX-4100 seemed to hit the sweet spot of value for cost while still fitting into the overall system budget. Due to the way Windows 7 schedules tasks for processors, the dual "module" design isn't as effective as it could be. Installing a couple of hotfixes from Microsoft will help to mitigate some of this performance degradation (KB2645594 and KB2646060). Windows 8 has already addressed these issues and has further scheduling improvements to help even more.
 
Installation was easy; line up the arrow on the processor with the arrow on the CPU socket, gently place the processor in the socket and then pull the socket lever down to hold it in place. The heatsink and fan installed cleanly too; we just used the pre-applied thermal pad for this build. Set the heatsink on the processor, hook one clip over one side and the other clip over the other side. Make sure it's pretty straight, and pull the retaining lever back. Not really much to it.
 
Since this system was going to be used more for applications than for gaming, we decided to pair this processor with 16GB of DDR3-1600 RAM. We also installed an inexpensive ($15) video card for good measure, as this provided some additional video memory, processing and an HDMI output. The GA-970A-D3 motherboard was decently priced at $80 and provided USB 3.0 support, four memory slots, six SATA 6.0GB/s ports and plenty of expansion slots for future use. The goal here was to make this PC reliably and realistically last for at least 5 years for moderate to heavy application usage without having to worry about it being totally obsolete and useless.

Overall this is a great budget processor, regardless of the application. If you have more money to spend, by all means pick up an i5-2500k or something, otherwise the FX-4100 is a safe bet that has decent performance for a really good price. The fact that it has a lot of overclocking potential is just icing on the cake that will give you even more bang for the buck.

At stock speeds this processor achieved a Windows Experience Index rating of 7.2. You can hear the stock fan but it's not too loud, and it keeps the CPU at about 33ºC at idle and up to 51ºC while stress testing with Prime95. I realistically don't see any reason for more processor power than this for this computer in the foreseeable future, so this was a great choice for the processor; it runs everything thrown at it with no trouble. I took the liberty of running a few benchmarks at stock 3.6GHz speeds; the results are below.

SiSoft Sandra Lite 2012.SP5a
 

Aggregate Native Performance: 39.14 GOPS
Dhrystone Integer Native SSE4.2: 47.77 GIPS
Whetstone Double Native SSE3: 32 GFLOPS
 
Aggregate Multi-Media Native Performance: 107.92 MPix/s
Multi-Media Integer Native x16 AVX: 127.86 MPix/s
Multi-Media Float Native x16 FMA4: 91.08 MPix/s
Multi-Media Double Native x8 FMA4: 49.47 MPix/s
Multi-Media Float/Double Native x8 FMA4: 67.12 MPix/s
 
Cryptographic Bandwidth: 1.63 GB/s
Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth AES256-ECB AES: 4 GB/s
Hashing Bandwidth SHA2-256 AVX: 679 MB/s
 
Inter-Core Bandwidth: 7 GB/s
Inter-Core Latency: 118.3 ns
 
ALU Power Efficiency: 10.12 GIPS
Power Efficiency: 5.30
 
PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0
 

CPU Mark: 4392.9
Integer Math: 840.2
Floating Point Math: 2751.1
Find Prime Numbers: 1182.5
SSE: 15.9
Compression: 5357.8
Encryption: 15.7
Physics: 278.1
String Sorting: 3391.3
 
Hyper PI 0.99b
 

Test: 1M
Instances: 4
Best Time: 27.487s
Worst Time: 27.862s
Average: 27.662s

Zalman N-Series 64GB SSD

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: SandForce controller, decent performance; mail-in-rebate made for an outstanding deal
Cons: "Decent" performance, not a whole lot of capacity

When I assembled this last budget computer build I hadn't planned on including a solid-state drive. They do cost quite a bit and you don't get a whole lot of storage capacity for the price compared to conventional platter-based hard drives. However, after picking up all of the parts necessary there was about $45 left in the budget, and Newegg happened to have a good deal on a solid-state drive that could be picked up and still keep us under budget.

This build:
AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive


The price of the Zalman N-Series 64GB Solid-State Drive was cut down to $79.99, and then there was a $40 mail-in-rebate on top of that bringing the total cost down to $39.99. For forty bucks I couldn't think of a good reason not to grab the drive, so it got added to the build at the last minute. I'm pretty happy with the results.
 
This is a standard 2.5" SATA II solid-state drive. It supports the Windows 7 TRIM command and is optimized for AHCI mode. The drive features the SandForce SF-1222 controller and advertises 280MB/s read speeds and 270MB/s write speeds, which were faster than the other Zalman S Series solid-state drive that was on sale for the same price. It features built-in ECC and wear-leveling technology and is fast, silent and resistant to damage from jarring because it has no moving parts.
 
I was actually kind of surprised when it arrived since it came via the postal service in a lightly padded manila envelope. I actually thought it was another flash drive that I ordered at the same time because I'm used to my hard drives arriving in big plastic clam-shell packages wrapped in bubble wrap and stuck in a box surrounded by crumpled paper or other packing materials. Even the little retail box inside the envelope felt cheap and was made of thin cardboard.
 
The tiny drive is really light, weighing just a few ounces. It appears to be made of aluminum and has an attractive dark, brushed metal appearance. While the drive did come with 4 small screws for installation, it did not come with an SATA cable so you'll have to pick one up separately if necessary. The motherboard we picked up only included 2 SATA cables, which we used for the DVD burner and the 2GB conventional hard drive, we had to use a spare to complete the installation. Luckily I have piles of things like that lying around that were extras from previous builds, so I just used one of those.
 
The Rosewill Challenger case that we used also came with a plastic 3.5" to 2.5" adapter, and we made use of that to install this drive into a standard 3.5" hard drive bay. Most cases do not include such things and one is not supplied with the drive, so make sure to pick one up if required. This will not be an issue with laptops or netbooks because they use 2.5" hard drives to start with. The shock resistance of the solid-state drive is of even more benefit in a mobile computing platform, as you're less likely to damage the drive if the laptop gets tossed around in your bag or knocked off of a table.
 
Installation was easy enough; I just set the drive onto the adapter and inserted the four screws into the bottom. After that I attached the drive rails to the sides of the adapter and slid it into an open 3.5" drive bay. You may have four more screws to use instead to attach the adapter to the drive bay, or even small clips or some other type of tool-less installation in your case, but it's all about the same and it takes very little time or effort. The final part of the installation was plugging in an SATA power connector and then running an SATA cable from the drive to an available SATA port on the motherboard.
 
Keep in mind that the rated read and write speeds are best-case scenarios under ideal conditions. The actual numbers are going to vary drastically depending on the other components in the computer and it's setup. To benchmark the performance of this drive I used CrystalDiskMark with a 5x 1000MB test, and AS SSD. AHCI is enabled in the BIOS and Windows 7 is using the AMD_SATA driver. Here are the results:
 
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c
 
Seq Read: 191.8MB/s
Seq Write: 66.56MB/s
512k Read: 180.0MB/s
512k Write: 65.67MB/s
4k Read: 18.6MB/s
4k Write: 64.67MB/s

 
AS SSD 1.6.4237.30508
 
Seq Read: 194.48MB/s
Seq Write: 58.17MB/s
4k Read: 16.10MB/s
4k Write: 43.37MB/s
4k-64Thrd Read: 97.86MB/s
4k-64Thrd Write: 59.15
Read Access Time: 0.231ms
Write Access Time: 0.294ms
Read Score: 133
Write Score: 108
Overall Score: 310


Not terrible, but also not spectacular and certainly nowhere in the same ballpark as what is advertised. That seems to be about par for the course these days though, with manufacturer's claims for all sorts of products bordering on false advertising. I'm still pretty happy with the drive though and it's significantly faster and more responsive than a conventional hard drive. If you've got the big bucks to spare on a larger, faster drive then by all means get one; otherwise this is a solid choice.
 
I didn't time the installation of Windows 7, but it was noticably faster than installing to a conventional hard drive. After it was completed, the drive showed a 55.8GB total capacity (60,019,437,568 bytes). You'll notice that this is about 4GB shy of what it should be, and this is because solid-state drives keep a small amount of capacity set aside for wear-leveling to ensure that your drive remains functional for as long as possible. This particular drive is rated for 5000 program/erase cycles and should last the average person for many years.
 
The computer starts up much faster and shuts down much fast. In addition, the computer comes out of hibernation mode almost instantly which is a drastic improvment over conventional hard drives. Usually I turn off hibernation mode because I'm too impatient to wait 10 or 15 seconds for it to get back to normal, but with this SSD I'm presented with the Windows login screen almost instantly when I press the power button. The fact that this makes it worth using hibernation mode for me means some sort of savings to the electric bill in addition to the savings attributed to using the SSD over a conventional hard drive in the first place.
 
This ROHS compliant drive uses MLC NAND flash and has a 1,000,000 hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). It has a standard operating temperature of 0ºC to 70ºC and a storage temperature of -40ºC to 85ºC. It is made in Taiwan and is backed up by a 3 year limited warranty. I certainly recommend picking up a solid-state drive, at least for your main Operating System drive, and this is a good one for the price.