Monday, December 12, 2011

Rosewill RNX-G1 USB 2.0 Wireless Adapter

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Works well, keeps a good signal, works in Windows, Mac and Linux
Cons: No 802.11n support, doesn't sit quite right in horizontally aligned USB ports

We have too many computers around here to have them all physically connected with Ethernet cables, so I hopped on Newegg to search for an inexpensive wireless adapter. I wanted to pick up adapters for two different computers, but wanted to be able to switch them from one computer to another in case we rearranged anything and needed them in different computers. For this reason, I decided that a wireless adapter with a standard USB port would be the way to go. The Rosewill RNX-G1 Wireless Black Dongle was $10 with free shipping, so I ordered a couple of them up and awaited their arrival. They also make a version that is white in color if it would match your system better.
The RNX-G1 Wireless Adapter came in a black retail box with a thin piece of moulded plastic holding the adapter and the screw-on antenna. Underneath the plastic was a sleeve containing a CD with the device driver, a quick installation guide (PDF) and the user manual (PDF).
The device is about the size of a USB flash drive, measuring about 3.5" long, 1" wide, a half inch tall and weighing about 1 ounce. It also has a 3.5" external 2dBi antenna that screws onto the end and has a blue activity light in the middle of the device. The antenna is adjustable - it can stick straight out the end of the device, or bend up to 90º and also rotate in a complete circle so that you can aim the antenna wherever you need to get the best signal. It can operate in temperatures ranging from 0ºC to 55ºC and be stored in temperatures ranging from -20ºC to 70ºC, at up to 90% humidity (non-condensing).
When you put the CD in the drive and let it auto-run, it brings up a menu that lets you install the driver, view the quick install guide, view the user manual, browse the CD or exit the software. For my purposes, I obviously wanted "Driver Installation", which gave me a choice of operating systems to install the drivers for. It had options for both 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Windows 7, Windows XP and Windows Vista. I'm using a 64-bit version of Windows 7 on this computer, but I imagine other versions are installed in a similar manner.
The software installed the REALTEK RTL8187 Wireless LAN Driver and Utility on my computer. Installation only took a minute, and this particular driver required a computer restart when completed. After the computer was finished restarting, I screwed the antenna onto the wireless adapter and plugged it into an available USB 2.0 port. It was immediately detected and configured, and I was left with an icon in my system tray. All I had to do was open it up, click on "Available Network" and double click on the name of my home network to connect.
Installation of the second device was even easier, as the computer that device was installed in was running Linux Mint instead of Windows. All I had to do was plug the device into a USB port and wait a few seconds. The wireless adapter was automatically installed and configured and waiting for me in my network manager in the system tray. All I had to do was click the name of my home wireless network and let it connect, easy as pie.
The device supports a variety of security. Aside from the open system, it also supports using a shared key, WPA-PSK, WPA2-PSK, WPA-802.1x, WPA2-902.1x and WEP-802.1x network authentication. It also supports WEP data encryption. It can operate on 11 different frequencies from 2412MHz to 2462MHz, as well as switching between 802.11b or 802.11b/g settings. It works in both Ad-hoc and infrastructure mode, and features a power saving mode that can be set to min, max or none. I leave mine set to none because I use my computer a lot and want to make sure it's always working at it's best when I want to use it.
I'm connected to a Linksys WRT-56G router about 30 feet away, and I'm showing 96% signal strength and 91% link quality. There is also a wall, an LCD television, DVD player and a Nintendo Wii between this computer and the router. I haven't noticed any difference in speed or latency between this wireless adapter and the 25' Ethernet cable I had stretched over here previously. I've had no problems at all with the performance, always getting a clean and steady signal to my router without much added latency or packet loss/retransmission.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a 802.11b/g device, and does not support 802.11n. My router doesn't support the newer 802.11n standard so this was an inexpensive option for me, but if your router does support it you may want to pass on this and spring for a faster 802.11n device instead.
There are only a couple of minor negatives I have noted, and neither is related to the performance of the device. First of all, the cap will be easy to lose. It fits over the USB end of the device in one direction, and if you leave the device plugged in all the time for internet access that thing is going to get misplaced for sure. Secondly, the length of the unit with the antenna screwed on the end makes it tilt downward slightly when it's plugged into a horizontally aligned USB port. I've not had any problems with it falling out or harming the USB port or the USB end of the device in any way, but I still don't much care for it.
The RNX-G1 Wireless Adapter is compatible with Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP/Vista, Mac 10.3+, and like I said earlier it plugged in and worked instantly in Linux Mint as well. It comes with a 1 year warranty from Rosewill.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz Triple-Core Processor

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great budget processor that performs well for everyday use.
Cons: Only 3 cores, not going to set any speed or performance records.

Current System

AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz Processor
Antec 300 Case
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD Burner
ASUS M4A87TD EVO AMD870 Motherboard
ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB Video Card
Corsair Builder Series CX600 PSU
G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Samsung SyncMaster 2333T 23" LCD Widescreen Monitor
You can always count on AMD for a nice budget-friendly multi-core CPU. The AMD Athlon II X3 450 is a great bargain, running about $76 at the time of this writing. For that paltry sum, you get a triple-core processor that's clocked at 3.2GHz and contains 128kb (64kb data and 64kb instruction) of 2-way L1 cache memory and 512kb of 16-way L2 cache memory per core. Sadly it contains no L3 cache, but for the price difference that was a concession I was willing to make. If you want to pay a little extra for a stable fourth core and 6MB of L3 cache, you can always pick up an AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Processor. At the time of this writing, it costs about $117 where the AMD Athlon II X3 450 costs about $76.
The AMD Athlon II X3 450 is a 64-bit processor that supports 4000MHz HyperTransport 3. It features an integrated 144-bit DDR2/3 memory controller, has a maximum TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 95W and is manufactured using a 45nm SOI (Silicon on Insulator) process with Immersion Lithography to cram more transistors into a smaller space. It supports MMX, 3DNow!, AMD64, SSE/2/3/4a, Advanced Bit Manipulation and AMD-V Virtualization Technology. It also supports AMD Cool'n'Quiet 3.0, which does a number of things to make your processor run cooler, quieter and use less energy. This includes automatically throttling your CPU to a slower speed or turning processor cores off when they're not in use to conserve power. This is all transparent to you and I, which makes it a total win.
The retail box comes complete with the processor, a heatsink/fan combo and an installation guide/warranty information booklet that unfolds to quite a large size. Installation is simple; First, locate the CPU socket on your motherboard. Pull up the metal retention lever, and then line up the gold arrow on one corner of your processor with the arrow on the CPU socket and gently set the processor into the socket. Push the retention lever down and you're done. Next, look at the heatsink/fan combo and notice that it has a metal clip on one side, and a metal clip attached to a plastic retention lever on the other. Put the metal clip over the tab, and then put the clip with retention lever onto the other tab and push the retention lever down. Plug in the fan cable to the connector labeled CPU fan on your motherboard, and you're all set.
When I built this computer, I was going for a budget build that would play all the current games that I wanted to play. The price of the AMD Athlon II X3 450 was terrific, and my previous computer only had a dual core processor anyway so it would be an upgrade regardless. Also, as far as gaming goes, many games still don't take advantage of more than 2 processor cores anyway. The third core is nice to offload some of the operating system onto though, freeing up 2 for the games. As an added bonus, saving around $40 by getting this instead of the Phenom allowed me to knock my video card budget up by that same amount and squeak out a better performance increase on that end where it would be more useful to me.
The AMD Athlon II X3 450 is a socket AM3 "Rana" triple-core processor. This is basically a "Propus" quad-core processor with one of the cores disabled. Usually the core is disabled because it failed testing at the factory, however, the disabled core can sometimes be unlocked through your motherboard's BIOS and it will function just fine. Unfortunately this was not the case for me, as attempting to unlock the fourth core of my processor led to hard crashes and instability. I could only get it to run decently if I pumped a lot more voltage to it. Not only was I uncomfortable with the level of voltage required to get it to run, but it also ran much hotter, and my stock heatsink and fan would have been completely unable to cool it adequately if I had left it enabled.
Overclocking the AMD Athlon II X3 450 was a different story. I was able to easily bump it from 3.2GHz to 3.6GHz without raising the CPU core voltage above 1.44v. However, I'm using the stock heatsink and fan in this system, when I stress tested the system in Prime95 and watched the temperatures in Open Hardware Monitor, they were climbing entirely too high for my liking so I stopped the stress test and backed the overclock down. Keeping it at 3.4GHz, it passed 24 hours of Prime95 stress testing in blend mode with a peak temperature of 73ºC. Since the maximum operating temperature of the processor is 75ºC, I didn't want to push it any further. During heavy gaming sessions (playing Total War: Shogun 2, which is a pretty CPU intensive game) the max temperature doesn't even reach 60ºC. If you picked up a decent aftermarket heatsink/fan like the COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus (about $25) and a tube of Arctic Silver thermal compound, I'm sure you'd have no trouble with a 3.6 GHz or 3.7 GHz overclock.
The AMD Athlon X3 450 is by no means a top of the line powerhouse of a processor. You won't be setting any world records for performance, but it's a work horse that is more than adequate for the majority of every day computing needs. I use my computer for a lot of heavy gaming, a little bit of computer programming, as well as web browsing and some photo and video editing. This processor has performed admirably for everything I want to do with it, and I've been very happy with my choice so far.
I chose to pair it with the ASUS M4A87TD EVO AMD870 Motherboard for a couple of reasons. First of all, the motherboard was a good price and fit within my budget. It also had dual PCI Express 2.0 ports, so I could install a second video card in a dual GPU CrossFireX configuration in the future if I needed to. It also supported DDR3 memory, had USB 3.0 support, and had TurboV EVO for easy overclocking. The nail in the coffin was the ASUS Core Unlocker, which made it easy to attempt to unlock the fourth core on this processor. I figured that if it worked, that would just be an added bonus and make the budget system all that much better, and if it didn't work I wasn't out anything by trying as the three stock cores would be plenty of processing power for my needs anyway.
For those of you interested in benchmarks, they were ran at stock 3.2GHz speeds where the processor achieved a Windows Experience Index rating of 6.9.
SiSoft Sandra Lite 2011.10.17.80
Aggregate Arithmetic Performance: 31.17 GOPS
Dhrystone ALU: 34.12 GIPS
Whetstone SSE3: 28.48 GFLOPS

Aggregate Multi-Media Performance: 53.34 MPix/s
Multi-Media Integer x16 SSE2: 41.5 MPix/s
Multi-Media Float x8 SSE2: 68.57 MPix/s
Multi-Media Double x4 SSE2: 37.35 MPix/s
PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0

CPU Mark: 3133.9
Integer Math: 483.0
Floating Point Math: 2438.7
Find Prime Numbers: 751.6
SSE: 12.4
Compression: 3330.4
Encryption: 14.9
Physics: 166.4
String Sorting: 2219.1

Hyper PI 0.99b

Test: 1M
Instances: 3
Best Time: 26.377s
Worst Time:  26.605s
Average:  26.456s