If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization. - From "Murphy's Laws of Technology"


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 AM3+ Motherboard - Fantastic High-End Board for AMD!


Pros:

The ASUS Sabertooth 990FX board is feature rich, well designed and built, and makes a great backbone to any high-end AMD build.

Fully supporting Windows 8, AMD Crossfire, Nvidia SLI, and the latest AM3+ FX processors, this board has more than enough power to go around.

I have actually bought three of these boards, two of the R2.0 versions and a single R2.0/GEN3 (with PCIe 3.0), each one has performed flawlessly. I have been using ASUS boards for all of my personal builds for a long time, and there is a good reason for that, quality. They work great, and in the rare case an issue may arise, the support has always been there and the issue corrected. However I have yet to have any issues come up on these Sabertooth boards.

This board sits as the backbone of high-end gaming system, with all of it's SATA ports saturated, running a hybrid dual-GPU setup, 16GB of RAM, and an overclocked FX Vishera processor. I have yet to find a task it can't handle, especially when you plug other high-end hardware into it.

The board has a great deal of on-board temperature monitoring, and this is one of the reasons I went with the Sabertooth, I have an OCD for monitoring my system very closely. I take very good care of my hardware. Using AIDA64 to monitor all of temperature, voltage, and fan speed sensors in the system.

The UEFI is great, as with many other ASUS boards. It's a fantastic overclocker. There is more than enough PCIe, SATA, and USB connectivity. The board is well laid out and designed. It stays cool thanks to that CeraM!X coating. It also looks pretty damn good sitting in any build.

This is, by far, one of the best AMD based boards for the AM3+ platform in my opinion. The quality and features that you get at this price point are amazing. This board can handle just about anything you throw at it. You plug quality high-end hardware into it and it will fill even the most demanding gaming needs. I would, and do, recommend it to anyone looking for great quality and features at a great price, especially for gaming.

Cons: 

This model has no PCIe 3.0 support, but for now, it's not necessary.

Final Thoughts: 

Hardware used to test these boards.

AMD FX-8350 OC @ 4.3GHz (Cooled by Thermaltake Frio / 2x fans push-pull)
16GB A-Data 1600 XPG Gaming Series DDR3
XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition
EVGA GT 640 Dedicated PhysX (Hybridize)
Corsair HX850W Pro Series PSU
1x Seagate 600 Series 240B SSD Boot/OS

With all of that plugged into this Sabertooth motherboard, it performs flawlessly. High end gaming (Battlefield 3 and 4, Metro Last Light, Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Diablo III, Saints Row 4, and countless others), live streaming to Twitch via OBS, recording via Fraps, this board does not skip a beat.

I have overclocked my FX-8350 to 4.7GHz very easily on this board, however backed it down to 4.3GHz to maintain long term stability and maintain lower operational temperatures on air cooling. I have also overclocked one other 8350 to 4.5GHz and an FX-8320 to 4.1GHz, all on these Sabertooth boards.

I also have all of the SATA 6 channels used in my personal system, with 1x SSD, 2x optical, and 5x HDD's. No problems, no slow downs, no bottlenecks. 

There really are not enough good things I can say about the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX boards. If you're looking for a high-end high quality motherboard, this Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 is a fantastic choice. Gaming, broadcasting, editing, recording, it can handle it all if you couple it with other good hardware. It really is that simple.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Western Digital My Net N900 (& Central 2TB) HD Dual-Band Router Series Review


Original Review Date: 10/15/2012

Pros:
  • Highly versatile.
  • Fast.
  • IPv6 ready.
  • Lots of great features.
  • Very easy to configure.
  • Great for gaming, media, and high-end home networking.
I have been a long time fan of Western Digital HDD's, but all my networking needs always fell to Linksys and D-Link. So when I went looking for a new router, I was surprised to see these from Western Digital. One thing I love to do it try new brands, outside of my box, and see how they stack up with what the competition. This keeps me informed and allows me to make better purchase decisions not only for my own needs, but for clients and others as well.

This router was a hard sell for me, I have always trusted Linksys, and the classic well proven and established WRT54G series to be more precise. The problem with "classic" routers like the WRT54G is they lack modern features, and this was what I was looking for. I have used the WRT54G series for a long time, not only for myself and family, but customers as well. It's a tried and true router. So this My Net N900 did not have an easy task impressing me.

This router delivered performance that I can honestly say I am very pleased with. Easy to configure and manage for both the novice and experienced alike. Great wireless connectivity for all the devices I tested. Delivering great performance to my rather large home network.

Easy setup of network storage and printing. These are great features and my entire family is taking advantage of them. Network storage for easy file sharing and "cloud". A centralized printer everyone can access, anytime.

Other than what I talk about in the "Cons" section, I had no other problems with this router at all. Registration was quick and easy. All the features work. Its held up to our normal day to day use, and the heavy loads I put it under for testing purposes. It stays relativity cool thanks to a small fan on the bottom moving air through the unit.

To be perfectly honest, I am pleased with this router, it's security features, other available features and settings, and overall performance. I have to give kudos to Western Digital for a fine product. So far anyway. I have an overall favorable experience.

One important fact to remember is that this is a new product, problems will creep up, on top of the general nature of hardware issues. Western Digital seems to be releasing needed firmware updates. Though I did this review on the out of box 1.02.02 firmware (Mon 21 May 2012).

See "Final Thoughts" for my network configuration and testing details.

Cons: 

The one problem ran into with this router was it seemed to lack the ability to pull WAN info from my modem using DHCP, an Arris TM902A. No big deal, I entered the info manually and it then picked it up and started working.

I decided to take the router to a friends and give it a try there, since he had a different modem than mine, but under the same ISP. Yet again, it failed to pull the necessary info to connect to the internet. Again, manually entering the information got it working.

I gave it one more try in a third location, different modem, same ISP, and this time it worked flawlessly. It picked everything up with a minutes of being powered on and running the quick setup. This was a Linksys DCP-3008.

With 2 out of 3 setup attempts requiring manual configuration to get it connected to the modems in question. This is why I docked one egg. Normally, I would not do so, since it was easy to setup manually, but a novice may have had a far more difficult time.

Some notifications do not go away simply because you "ignore" them. They only go remain "ignored" for that session. They persist until whatever is generating the notification is rectified. Not really a con, but it can be annoying.

Like others have stated, the 5GHz band does seem to be weaker that other routers. The 2.4GHz seems to be on par with other routers, at least the ones I have used and tested.

Final Thoughts:

Network configuration at the time of testing.

Wired devices:

4 PC's. All with Intel EXPI9301CTBLK adapters.

1 "Server" PC with the same adapter.

1 Networked Home Surveillance & Security System with DVR.

Wireless devices:

Nintendo Wii

Roku Streaming Media Player

2x Android Smartphones

Kindle Fire

Guest devices

USB Devices:

HP Photosmart 7960 printer

Seagate Backup Plus 1TB HDD

I use the DHCP server for guest and wireless connections. Manually configure all wired connections. WPS works great, its as simple as pushing a button. Setting up wireless access was very fast and simple.

The printer setup was easy, as was the backup HDD. Network storage made very easy.

Transfer speeds over the network, to that HDD, seem to hover around 18 MB/sec for large files. It took approximately 3 min 15 sec to transfer a single 4GB file.

For multiple small files, such as MP3's in this case. 80 of them at 300MB took about 30 seconds at about 13 MB/sec.

Streaming the same HD movie, via Netflix, to all the PC's in the home, as well as the Roku, no problems at all.

Streaming the same HD movie file from one PC, to all the others, also not a problem.

Having all 4 PC's in the same online game generates no noticeable lag.

Wireless gaming via a laptop also performed flawlessly when playing with all 4 wired systems.

32 firewall, port forwarding, static routing, FastTrack Plus QoS, and enhanced WMM rules may be set, as well as 24 MAC filters. Great for a control freak like me.

The "WD Internet Security & Parental Control" ability is fantastic service for parents who want to keep their kids safe online. They describe it best as a router-based dynamic web filtering service that blocks undesirable Internet content and can be configured on a per-device basis. Filtering up to 90 different "categories" of internet content, using a global categorization database covering over 1.5 billion URLs, and real-time dynamic filtering, all based on your settings for each device connected to the router.

Once you register your router for the service, you can add your own URLs to a "Safe/Block List", a maximum of 60. This is accessible via the router, and online.

This router has stood up to the heaviest usage I can throw at it. It works well for me, in my home, as the backbone of my home network.
 
Follow-up Review Date: 5/13/2013

This is a quick follow-up 6 month update on my original review (above). My original performance assessment still stands and you can check out all the information in that earlier review.

The router has held up pretty well as the primary core of my very demanding and usage intensive home network for the past 6 months, with only one real issue that crept up, you can read about that in the cons section.

I notice many reviews saying the unit overheats. It does get warm, but mine has never got hot or overheated, even under the intense loads of my network. I have the router sitting on top of the DVR used for my home security system, which is metal, so the surface dissipates heat very well. Perhaps that helps. However I also keep it clean, the router does have a fan on the bottom so it can get dusty, so I clean it via compressed air once a month as I do for the PC's and other hardware in my home.

I have not had any wired or wireless connection drops, with wireless in operation 24/7 powering several devices.

The router have never hard locked or lost any of my settings.

In my original review I stated the 5GHz wireless strength was weaker than other options, however the 2.4GHz band seems on par with other units I have tested. I still stand behind this, but after considerable outdoor wireless usage on the 2.4GHz band, I must say it's range is very good. I live on the second floor of a small modern apartment building. My apartment being the furthest away from the parking lot. Yet I do not loose connection on my tablet until I am out of the lot and driving away. I get perfect connection everywhere on the property, even at reduced signal strength, as well as in the basement.

As far as the 5GHz band goes, other users around me have also said they have had range issues on 5GHz, and all use 2.4. So the fault may not be with the router.

The router is still performing well as a small file server via an attached Seagate Backup Plus 1TB USB 3.0 HDD.

The only real notable issue I have had with this router is that in the past 6 months I have had to power it down and reset the unit twice. The reason being that I seemed to loose performance. Not noticeable unless you were streaming HD media or gaming online, but easily noticeable running a speed test. My connection speed would drop from it's normal 60Mbps to 4-6Mbps. Running the current firmware.

I have had this happen on many other routers on my home network, as I have said many times, it's VERY demanding. Most of the time it was a routing table and memory management issue, and common among many routers. In a but shell, I don't think the units memory is being properly managed, as connections are closed, the memory used by those connections should be freed up, I don't think it is.

As far as I know, the only long-term fix would be to use DD-WRT, since the problem is there in the latest firmware.

This issue keeps the router at 4 eggs for me, even though it's a very easy fix and has only happened twice, just power down the router for a few minutes. However that's a workaround and there should be a fix in the firmware to properly manage the units memory without having to use a third-party firmware. Something I hope they look into in the near future.

When I say I have a more demanding home network than most, I mean it, so I routers have to be pretty robust and stable to handle the loads I put them under. As of this update review, my home network consists of the following devices, not including guest devices used from time to time.

4 wired PC's.

1 wired "server" PC.

1 wired home security system DVR.

7 wireless devices. (2 laptops, 2 tablets, Roku, a netbook, and a Wii U)

All of the wired devices are on almost 24/7, as well as at least 2 of the wireless devices at any given time.
Some of the loads this router are subjected too are long online gaming competitive sessions on one or two PC's in the latest games, while live streaming the entire time in HD to Twitch, and monitoring that stream via one of the laptops. Yet another PC also online gaming, and the other watching Netflix. All at the same time.

It also handles LAN gaming quite well, so far I have tested it with 8 systems running all at once, wired and wireless mixed, and it did not have a single issue.

Large file transfers and streaming over the network also do not slow it down.

It also works well when servers running behind it. I do run a couple private game servers for family and friend use, as well as a voice server, and a private file server. The unit has no problems keeping up with any of it.

So would I still recommend it after using it for 6 months? Yes, even with the two unit resets I had to do so far, this router has done really well considering the loads it's put under. I can honestly say I am pleased with it's overall performance, and as you can see, I don't exactly go easy on the unit.

WD My Net N900 Central HD Dual-Band Router 
 
A lot of this review will mirror my review of the My Net N900 HD, since this one performs on par with that one, obviously. This is a good thing, since I was still using that router after several months, and I still stand behind my reviews of it, both the original, and follow-up. On the Central HD version I upgraded my original 4 star rating to 5 stars.

That all being said, here we go...
  • Highly versatile and fast.
  • A nice list of great features.
  • Very easy to configure and setup.
  • Absolutely great for gaming, streaming media, and high-end home networking demands.

Putting this router at the core of my very demanding home network was an easy and simple process. As expected, it performed fantastically. See "Other thoughts" for network information. Considering that before the My Net N900 series, I was an avid Linksys user, to give a competing router such good reviews is really saying something, considering the loads I put my home network under at times.

I had no problems with the setup or configuration. It's easy to configure for both novice and advanced users in my opinion.

Both wired and wireless performance is great on this router, it does not buckle under heavy gaming or live streaming loads, or when many devices are in use.

I did a lot of the same "tests" on this router as I did on the My Net N900 HD, and as expected, got almost the exact same results.

Streaming the same, or multiple, HD movies via Netflix, to all the PC's in the home, as well as the Roku, no problems at all. Streaming an HD movie file from one PC, to all the others, also not a problem.

Having 4 wired PC's in the same, or different, online games generates no noticeable lag. Games tested were Battlefield 3, Defiance, Black Ops 2, League of Legends, and World of Warcraft.

Wireless gaming via a laptop also performed flawlessly when playing with all 4 wired systems.

32 firewall, port forwarding, static routing, FastTrack Plus QoS, and enhanced WMM rules may be set, as well as 24 MAC filters. This is great for a control freaks, like myself.

I use the DHCP server for guest and wireless connections. Manually configure all wired connections. WPS works great, its as simple as pushing a button.

Both wireless bands seem to maintain good connection in my home, and reach a pretty good distance outside of my home as well. Living in a second floor apartment of a modern building on a rural street. The 5GHz band does not seem to go as far, but that is common for all the dual band routers I have tested, so it's an environmental issue, not the hardware in this case.

In the week I tested the router, I did not have a single dropped connection or device.

I had no problems accessing the internal 2TB HDD, or mapping it, as some other users had reported. It does come with a driver CD that I suspect may not have been used in some cases. This was on all Windows 7 Ultimate 64 and one Windows 8 system.

Many other reviews say this router can not be opened to service the internal HDD, however that's not the case, it can be opened very easily. There are 5 screws holding the clam-shell together. 4 are under the rubber feet, and the 5th is under the ID label near the outside edge of the case. You simply remove them and pop the top off. It "snaps" into place, similar to many laptop cases.

I tested the 2TB version, and it contains a white label Western Digital WD20NPVT drive, this is a "green" drive. The drive is easily removable. I had no other HDD's I could use to see if you could swap it out with a different model at the time of testing, but one would assume you could replace the drive with at least the same model if the need was to arise. However I do not know for sure.

There are 6 internal antennas, powered by 2 mini-PCIe cards, split into 3 antennas for each band. 3 horizontal for 2.4GHz and 3 vertical for 5GHz. With one for each band on the front and each side of the case, none in the back.  

I really do think this is a good router, it might be pricy (becasue of it's internal HDD), but I have not had any problems with it what so ever in my testing under my network conditions.

Seagate Backup Plus 1TB USB 3.0 Portable Drive Mini-Review


Pros:

The drive is compact and for it's 1TB capacity. It and the Dashboard software is very easy to setup and configure.

USB 3.0 Support out of the box. Firewire and Thunderbolt via an adapter sold separately.

Respectable speeds doing direct transfers to and from the drive. Writing a large number of smaller files (MP3) at about 70MB/sec. Read speeds seem to hover between 80 and 90MB/sec. Single large files, 3.9GB Fraps videos, were similar.

The Dashboard software is very easy to setup. Linking it to Facebook to automatically backup photos posted from anywhere was fast and simple. It can also backup from Flickr.

You can configure it to do system backups as well, from preset default backup locations to selecting individual files, folders, and drives. Backup times and regularity can be set from continuous to once month, and everything in between, for everything. This is exactly how I prefer my backups.

It comes with 1 year of Seagate Cloud Storage as well, 4GB of space, and you can access that directly from Dashboard, and via a web portal. All you have to do is register the drive, setup your account, and you're done. Very easy.

The software can also test the drive for functionality as well as configure power saving, the LED light, and enable/disable backup features.

Backup automation made easy. I am impressed and pleased with the options that came with Dashboard and how this drive has performed so far.

I have mine connected to my router as a network storage drive and it works flawlessly in this capacity.

Cons: 

Facebook and Flickr backups are all or nothing. You are not able to select individual photos like you can with files from your system.

The USB cable is short, 18"", and very rigid. However it is a very good quality cable. Still, long enough to reach from around most ATX cases.

The driver is working wonderfully, these are just a couple things to keep in mind that I have noticed.

Final Thoughts: 

I did not get to test Firewire or Thunderbolt since the cables are sold separately. However the support it there. If you are looking for an easy to use, versatile, portable backup drive, this may be what you're looking for.

I would happily recommend this drive to anyone, at only about $90 at the time of this review, it's a great deal for it's capacity and performance. I have no problems giving it a 5 star rating, even after several months of use, it's still going strong.

Newegg: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822178105

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

PC vs Console Gaming. What's Wrong With the Industry. IMO.


Note: This article actually took me about a week to write. It's something I have pretty strong feelings about, and each time I would sit down to write this, it kept getting longer and longer and slowly turned into a novel. Something I did not want, a long ramble, but a straight forward post, something I still probably failed at. I re-wrote it and condensed it as much as I thought I could, but still express my viewpoint on the subject.

**********
This is a subject that gets brought up a lot among myself, friends, and many other gamers on both sides of the fence. Which one is "better"? What are the pros and cons? Why is there such a divide between the two? Do you even know why there is a divide between the two camps? 

I am going to give you my humble opinions on this subject, based upon my own observations over the years I have been a "gamer", having been a part of the industry, worked and played in it. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, this is simply my take on where the industry is today and where I think it's headed. 

So I guess we will start off with the "which one is better" question. This is completely subjective and a matter of personal opinion. Technologically PC gaming is superior in every respect. However that's about the only point you can get most people to agree on. When it comes to just about every other aspect of the debate, you often have widely varying opinions.

What is my opinion? I make absolutely no effort to hide the fact I am a PC gamer and that I hate what modern consoles have done to the gaming industry from that perspective. So I obviously think PC gaming is better, but I also don't hate console gaming, even though most of my console gaming is old school retro and I do little to no "modern" gaming on consoles.

I guess while we are cutting to the heart of the matter, I might as well explain why I hate what modern consoles have done to the industry. Why I think they have held back technological advancement and hindered the industry from innovating and evolving the way it used too. To offer us new, bigger and better, gaming experiences on the scale that it should be. 

The very core of the issue for me is the huge technological divide between PC and console gaming. PC hardware technology is vastly superior to consoles in every way, and can offer up experiences not possible on consoles. However, it rarely happens, why? Because most all games made today, are made with limited out-dated console hardware in mind, and PC's are often stuck with inferior poor quality console ports of the games. 

The current generation consoles, the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 are roughly 8 plus years behind what modern gaming PC's care capable of handling. They were outdated at the time they were released from a PC perspective. The same is even true of the next gen consoles due out this year, they will a tremendous step above the current generation that's for sure, but still behind PC capability. Granted, not by such a huge margin as the 360 and PS3, but that gap will only grow as time goes on. Because PC's can be upgraded, the technology advances while the consoles just sit there and run in place getting further and further behind. You have to remember, consoles are made with an expected life of roughly 10 years!

So what does this mean for the games? Think about it, if you are playing a modern game on your console, you just paid $50 or more for  an outdated piece of software that was possible on PC many years ago, and you probably had no reservations about it at all. You have been conditioned to accept this as normal since it's what your console can handle, you are used to it. I have a serious problem with that.

Developers and publishers design games to fit inside the console box, and it's rare they step out of that box and give PC gamers a product that can actually take advantage of the power available to PC gamers. It does happen, but not nearly as often as it should. 

Multi-platform development should be commonplace, and porting should be rare, but it's the complete opposite. It's a hell of a lot cheaper to develop for an outdated console and port to PC than it is to develop cross platform or innovate with a new technology. Why spend that extra money when you have a huge customer base willing to pay top dollar for the console game since, lets be honest, consoles control far more of the market than PC's when it comes to gaming today.

What ends up happening is you foster an industry of developers that start to stagnate, they have no reason to innovate, to push the envelope of gaming technology since the hardware they are developing far keeps them tightly sealed in a very limited box, all nice and cozy collecting top dollar for stale products. All the while technology marches on, and with the exception of a few games, the software sits and waits for that console to finally be replaced.

What gets me about this is that we seem to be OK with that. I am going to use "The Last of Us" for the PS3 as an example. The game truly does look fun, and pretty darn good graphically. Then I read reviews that talk about how amazing it looks. I think to myself, amazing for a PS3 sure, but that game could have been made for PC years ago.

Lets pause for a second and hypothesize, use our imaginations, and ponder where modern gaming could be IF there was no console limitations and it advanced along the same lines as the hardware world. If the industry followed PC technology instead. Could you imagine the level of graphic detail, simulation, physics, and interactiveness of it? It would be at a considerably higher level than it is today. For the simple fact that you would have an entire industry innovating, not just a few developers.

This is what drives the core of my hatred for what consoles have done to the gaming industry. What keeps me a PC gamer and really grasping at those few games that come out that actually take advantage of my PC's raw power. Avoiding many of the direct poorly optimized console ports that seem to flood the market.

None of this means I think all games have to be technologically advanced, graphically eye popping, or otherwise marvels of modern design. In fact, there are a host of games that I play, and love, that are just the opposite. I just wish the games that are trying to be "modern", actually were.

So I guess that sums it up for me, why I think consoles have been a hindrance to the advancement of the gaming industry, while on the flip side of the same coin, being it's bread and butter. As time goes on, I think the line between PC and console's will begin to blur. With the advancement of APU technology (Accelerated Processing Units - CPU and GPU on a single die.), and even further down the line with different forms of computing just over the hill. For today however, and the foreseeable future, I think that consoles are going to continue to hold back the gaming industry. At least until the day comes when you can upgrade your console the same way you can your PC.