Posts Tagged ‘f1’

Noctua NH-U12S Review

Noctua NH-U12S Review

Manufacturer: Noctua
UK price (as reviewed):
US price (as reviewed): $69.99

When all-in-one coolers started hitting the cooling scene a few years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the end of the road for premium air coolers. Noctua is one of the most established and recognised brands out there in the enthusiast scene, but even we have to admit that value hasn’t always been one of the company’s strong points. In the face of a growing number of super-cheap and capable coolers such as Deepcool’s GAMMAXX S40, you might think paying more than £30 for a CPU cooler isn’t worth it considering how well the latter performs for just £20.

*Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review *Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review
At £47.99, the NH-U12S isn’t even a humongous air cooler and you get a much smaller bit of kit than it’s larger sibling, the NH-D14, which retails for just £10 more. However, the NH-U12S isn’t about raw cooling. With a maximum rated noise of just over 22db(A) and even less using the included low noise adaptor, this is a cooler for those where noise reduction is just as important as a chilly CPU.

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Part of the reason for the NF-F12′s high price is the NF-F12 PWM Focused Flow 120mm fan included in the box. This retails for £17 on its own – one of the most expensive fans on the market. There’s a whole raft of technical blurb in this fan’s specifications but the long and short of it boils down to Noctua claiming it produces a better quality noise by utilising many of these swanky features such as a focused flow frame, varying angular distance and vortec-control notches, plus better airflow and cooling.

The heatsink itself is up to Noctua’s usual standards, however, if you haven’t seen one of the Austria-designed cooler’s in person before, that’s essentially the same as saying build quality is epic. Crammed into this diminutive cooler, which measures just 158mm tall and 125mm wide, are five heatpipes built into a compact array of aluminium fins, plus a copper contact plate that sports a nickel plating.

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Even the packing is a labour of love, with everything packed into premium-feeling cardboard boxes that are all exactly the right size to take up precisely 100 per cent of the outer box. It’s not often we feel compelled to make this sort of comment but it’s totally justified here. As such, with everything labelled for each socket, despite the above average amount of mounting components, installation is fairly painless.

The fan clips are second only to SilverStone’s latest coolers such as the AR01 , in terms of ease of use – no spindly, awkward things here, which is just as well as you need to fit the single 120mm fan after you’ve mounted the cooler to the motherboard.

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Also included are all the fittings needed to mount a second fan, including the brown antivibration corner pads plus a low noise adaptor that can drop the maximum rpm from 1,500 to 1,200, slotting in between the 3-pin power feed and the standard PWM fan cable. Everything you need is included in the box, including an extra-long screwdriver to reach the mounting screws.

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  • Compatibility Intel: LGA775 and LGA1366 (with optional NM-I3 kit) LGA115x, LGA2011; AMD: AM3(+), AM2(+), FM2(+), FM1
  • Size (with fan) (mm) 125 x 71 x 158 (W x D x H)
  • Fan(s) 1 x 120mm, 300-1,500RPM
  • Stated Noisemax 22.4dB(A)

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CM Storm QuickFire XT Review

CM Storm QuickFire XT Review

Manufacturer: CM Storm
UK price (as reviewed):
£64.82 (inc VAT)
UK price (as reviewed): $89.99 (ex Tax)

The last keyboard we saw from Cooler Master’s gaming-focussed offshoot, CM Storm, was the QuickFire TK Stealth. It was an unusual keyboard in that it used a non-standard layout and stealth keys, where the symbols are found on the front rather than the top of the keys. Despite a good few weeks of use, we struggled to get to grips with it, and found ourselves yearning for a regular key layout. It did spark a healthy debate on the subject in our forums, highlighting if anything just how subjective an experience keyboards provide, and that there will never be a perfect keyboard for everyone.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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With us today is another in CM Storm’s QuickFire range, the QuickFire XT, and unlike the TK Stealth it uses a standard layout, so UK users get a full 105 keys, and the keycaps are also the regular variety, with laser etched symbols on the top face. This lends it the benefit of being instantly familiar, though it’s not as small as tenkeyless or TK layout boards. That said, it is about as small as it could be, thanks to a very thin bezel – there’s no excess plastic above, below or to the sides of the keys, but if the 440mm width is still too much you’ll need to consider layouts that use less keys.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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Despite costing just £65, which is very good considering it uses 105 Cherry MX switches, build quality hasn’t been sacrificed. It’s not particularly exciting to look at, but the QuickFire XT is sturdy and feels very durable, and it tips the scales at over 1kg. The outer plastic shell is solid and thick, and the keyboard is reinforced by a steel plate too, so there’s little bend to it even when you apply excessive pressure. The keys are embedded within the chassis, so it won’t be as easy to clean as Corsair’s K70, for example, which uses raised keys.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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The braided USB cable with gold plasted connectors is detachable, but there are no cable channels beneath the board. A PS/2 adaptor is supplied, and in this mode the QuickFire XT supports full n-key rollover. No driver or software is required (nor available), but the board runs natively at a 1,000Hz polling rate. Through a combination of the FN key and the keys on the top row of the numpad, this polling rate can switched between four levels (1,000Hz being the maximum), again when using it PS/2 mode.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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As you might expect at £65, the QuickFire XT is thin on additional features; there’s no extra connectivity, macro keys or wrist rest. However, the F5-F12 keys each have secondary functions courtesy of the FN key. There are seven media functions, with the F9 key reserved for the locking out the Windows keys, and there’s also an LED indicator for when this is activated. Finally, CM Storm also provides a key removal tool along with four red WASD keys and two keys with the Cooler Master/CM Storm logos on, which can be used to replace the two Windows keys.

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When using the QuickFire XT, the four rubber pads on the base along with the keyboard’s hefty weight mean it stays firmly planted on your desk, even during frantic gaming sessions. Sadly, however, the two fold out legs on at the back of the keyboard have no grip, and when using them there is more of a risk of keyboard movement. This is something we’ve seen overlooked before, but even so it’s a shame given how easy it is to fix. Nevertheless, the keyboard slopes naturally upwards at a nice angle, and we found typing and gaming to be more comfortable with the legs down.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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Cherry MX blue switches aren’t our favourites – the click tends to irritate us and we still find it occasionally difficult to double tap with them, which is particularly noticeable in games. Typing does tend to be quick and smooth, however, thanks to the relatively light actuation force and tactile feedback. Thankfully, CM Storm offers the QuickFire TK with red, brown, black and even green switches, so there’s a good chance your preference is catered for. The rounded shape, smooth surface and slick action of the keys themselves also left us with little to complain about in that regard.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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There’s no backlight on the QuickFire TK, but the bright white etching does make the symbols stand out well and it’s not going to fade over time. Therefore, unless you’ll frequently be using it in almost total darkness it’s unlikely to be too much of a hindrance (it never was for us), though we know this very much comes down to personal preference.


With no extra features of software there’s little else left to say about the QuickFire TK. It’s well built, handles nicely and is as small as it realistically could be with 105 keys. The option to choose between five switch types is excellent too, and the standard key sizes mean they can all be easily replaced and customised. The design and feature set are hardly jaw dropping, but equally the QuickFire TK does little wrong – the main criticism we have is the lack of grip on the legs, for example. If you need USB 3 ports, audio jacks, backlighting or macro keys, you’ll want to look elsewhere, but equally you’d already know that by now. If, on the other hand, you’re after a basic and robust mechanical keyboard, the QuickFire TK could be perfect.



Overall 79%

Approved Award

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CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth Review

CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth

Manufacturer: Cooler Master
UK Price: £74.38
US Price: $80.53

Gone are the days of a keyboard being able to distinguish itself simply by using mechanical key switches. Now we are firmly in the territory of mechanical keyboards having almost as many bells and whistles as their membrane key-switch brethren, and although far from the wackiest we’ve seen, the CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth certainly sets itself apart.

The TK Stealth’s standout features are its ‘stealth’ keys, which see their markings moved from the top of the keys to the front face, thus creating a disguised look. Its other trick is the use of Cooler Master’s TK key layout, which removes the cursor and Del/Home/End keys and incorporates them into the Num Pad. By pressing a switch you can either use the cursors and Del/Home/End keys or the numbers.

CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth Review
Out of the box the TK Stealth’s stealthy credentials are immediately obvious. Its black plastic chassis is a simple squared-off shape and its matching keys mean the whole thing merges into one black and menacing mass. What’s more the stealth keys really do work; view this keyboard from the back, sides or top and it appears to be completely devoid of symbols. Of course the effect is lost when viewed from the front so it rather depends just how stealthy you want to get.

We know some of our mechanical keyboard enthusiasts go for completely blank key sets and the stealth effect is that much more impressive done this way. If you do still want some guidance as to which key is which, though, then we certainly can’t think of an easy alternative way of marking the keys.

CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth Review
Breaking up the blackness a little are grey CM Storm logos on the back and top, which again you could see as slightly spoiling the ultra-stealthy look, but overall it’s still a pretty mean looking keyboard.

It’s also a compact keyboard, as the removal of the cursor keys saves you around 5cm in width compared to a standard keyboard and up to around 10cm compared to oversized models such as the Logitech G710+. We’ve long seen the benefit of compact keyboards, from both a practicality and an ergonomics point of view, and the TK Stealth reinforces this feeling. You’re left with more desk space, it’s easier to move out the way and it brings your keyboard closer to your mouse, which puts less strain on your wrists.

CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth Review
As with many compact, and thus semi-portable, keyboards the cable on the TK Stealth is removable. The full 1.8m of its length is braided and at the keyboard end it terminates in a mini USB plug. The cable isn’t too bad on the kinks front straight out of the box and it can be routed either out straight out the back of the keyboard or out to each side. As ever the rear feet can be raised by an inch or so to provide a more angled typing experience.

CM Storm Quick Fire TK Stealth Review
Aside from the key labels and the TK layout, there aren’t too many extras to this keyboard. The Function keys double for multimedia functions, with a long press of the backlit Fn key (to the left of the right Ctrl) switching between multimedia and Function mode. The F12 key, when in multimedia mode, also doubles as a Windows Key lock for disabling the left Windows key.

Otherwise, that’s your lot. The rest of the keys aren’t backlit, there’s no USB hub, no volume wheel and no macro keys.


  • Key Switch: Cherry MX Red (GK-4021-GKCR1), Brown(SGK-4021-GKCM1), Blue (SGK-4021-GKCL1)
  • Keycaps: ABS, grip coated, removable
  • Key Rollover: NKRO (windows only)
  • Polling Rate: 1000 Hz /1 ms
  • Interface: USB 2.0 full speed
  • USB cable: 1.8m, braided, gold plated, removable
  • Dimensions: 377.5(L)*138(W)*33(H)mm 14.9(L)*5.4(W)*1.3(H)inch
  • Weight: 934g/2.1Ibs

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Nvidia releases GeForce 334.89 driver package

February 19th, 2014 No comments

Nvidia releases GeForce 334.89 driver package

Nvidia’s latest GeForce driver bundle boosts performance, increases stability and adds support for the company’s latest Maxwell architecture.

To go along with its freshly-launched new graphics cards, Nvidia has updated its GeForce driver package to version 334.89 with a promise of up to a 19 per cent performance gain in selected titles.

Coinciding with the announcement of its mid-range Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti GPUs and its new flagship GTX Titan Black, the driver bundle offers tweaks for numerous popular games that are designed to improve performance. According to Nvidia’s internal testing, the biggest winner in this latest update is F1 2013 with a claimed 19 per cent boost in framerates across the company’s high-end GPU models, with Sleeping Dogs following with an 18 per cent increase. Other titles benefiting from the update include Hitman Absolution with 16 per cent, Company of Heroes 2 with 15 per cent, Assassin’s Creed 3 with 10 per cent, BioShock Infinite with seven per cent, Sniper Elite V2 with six per cent and Total War: Rome 2 with five per cent.

The update also adds new SLI profiles for multi-GPU rigs, improving the performance of Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD, Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut, Gas Guzzlers, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and The Crew. Bug fixes include Half Life 2 dropping ambient occlusion during sprinting, a lack of SLI option in the control panel when running multiple GeForce GTX 460 cards, and ShadowPlay crashes on three- and four-way SLI configurations.

The drivers aren’t without faults of their own, however: PhysX acceleration is unavailable on 32-bit operating systems using the company’s latest Maxwell-architecture cards, with patches for affected games expected from their respective development houses soon.

The new drivers bundle is available now on Nvidia’s official website.

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Corsair Obsidian 250D revealed as mini-ITX case

January 7th, 2014 No comments

Corsair Obsidian 250D revealed as mini-ITX case

Corsair Obsidian 250D

Corsair has finally announced the Corsair Obsidian 250D, finally marking the company’s entry into the mini-ITX case market.

Built from the ground up for the mini-ITX form factor, the Corsair Obsidian 250D is Corsair’s smallest case to date, measuring just 290mm x 277mm x 351.2mm. This actually makes it noticeably smaller than the ever popular BitFenix Prodigy which boasts dimensions of 250 x 359 x 404mm.

Despite these tiny proportions the case still hosts a full compliment of standard performance hardware, as opposed to the even smaller EVGA Hadron Air, which uses a custom power supply and slot loading drive to achieve its tiny dimensions.

The Corsair Obsidian 250D, then, houses a 5.25in drive bay, two tool-free 2.5/2.5in bays, two tool-free 2.5in bays and space for an ATX power supply, with 200mm of PSU clearance.

The front of the chassis also incorporates two USB 3.0 ports as well as headphone and microphone jacks, though there are no fan speed controls.

A 140mm and a 120mm fan are included while there is space for up to five fans in total. Watercooling is also catered for with space for a 120mm or 140mm radiator in the front and a 120mm or 240mm radiator on the side.

Corsair Obsidian 250D revealed as mini-ITX case

The design of the case would probably best be described as perfunctory. The simple black cuboid is set off by a brushed aluminium panel on the front and a set of cute angular feet, both of which hark back to the larger Obsidian cases, such as the Corsair Obsidian 750D.

Corsair Obsidian 250D revealed as mini-ITX case

“Thanks to the increasingly high performance of Mini-ITX boards, it is now possible to build an extremely powerful yet compact system,” said Xavier Lauwaert, Director of Product Marketing at Corsair. “The Obsidian 250D is made for users who want a smaller PC but don’t want to limit their hardware choices. With support for large liquid coolers, full-length graphics cards and full-size modular power supplies, 250D is Mini-ITX without compromise.”

The Corsair Obsidian 250D release date is set for late January and it will be priced at $89.99, including a 2 year warranty.

Obsidian Series 250D Specifications
Expansion Room

  • Two expansion slots and 290mm of internal clearance allow the use of any current stock graphics card.
  • Supports all modern ATX power supplies, with 200mm of PSU clearance
  • Two tool-free 3.5”/2.5” combo bays
  • Two tool-free 2.5” only bays
  • Full-size 5.25” drive bay
  • Two front mounted USB 3.0 ports for easy peripheral or external storage device connection.

Cooling Flexibility

  • Two high-airflow fans are included (1x AF140L and one 1x AF120L) for excellent airflow and low noise levels.
  • Room for up to 5 fans
  • Radiator compatibility: Front – 120mm or 140mm, Side – 120mm/240mm

Storage Layout Options

  • t]Modular toolless drive caddies can be accessed from the rear of the case.
  • A pair of 3.5”/2.5” drives and two 2.5” only drives can be simultaneously mounted.
  • Full-size 5.25” optical drive bay.

Builder Friendly Features

  • Thumbscrew side panel removal and expansion slots.
  • Tool-free 3.5”, 2.5”, and 5.25” drive bays.
  • Easily accessible (and removable) front, side, and PSU dust filters.
  • Excellent cable routing with multiple tie-down points for improved airflow and cleaner, neater builds.
  • Two USB 3.0 ports and headphone/mic jacks in the front panel for easy access.

Dimensions and Weight

  • Height x Width x Depth: 11.4 x 10.9 x 13.81 inches, 290mm x 277mm x 351.2mm
  • Weight: 4.42 kg, 9.7 lbs

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TSMC launches 16nm FinFET line

December 13th, 2013 No comments

TSMC launches 16nm FinFET line

TSMC claims it will begin small-scale production on its newest 16nm node, the first to offer 3D FinFET technology, before the year is out.

Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) has announced that it will begin manufacturing of FinFET-based 3D chips using a 16nm process before the year is out – albeit only for small quantities of specific parts.

The race to the next process node, where the size of and distance between components on a semiconductor shrink, is a key part of Moore’s Law – but something companies have been struggling with of late. Intel has publicly admitted that a delay to its next-generation chips is a direct result of the difficulties in shrinking process nodes much further, and that’s a company not-inconsiderably ahead of its competitors: Intel’s next-generation Broadwell chips will be based on a 14nm process with three-dimensional Tri-Gate Transistor technology.

TSMC, meanwhile, claims to have completed prototype work on its own next-generation process node with a view to starting small-scale production before the year is out. Like Intel, TSMC is boasting of three-dimensional components – fin-based field-effect transistors, or FinFETS, which drop the voltage required by the transistor while reducing current leakage compared to traditional planar transistors – but at a larger 16nm node.

The new process node marks the first time TSMC has offered FinFET to its customers, which industry group Common Platform has previously targeted solely for the 14nm process node – but it does so significantly after competitor and AMD spin-off GlobalFoundries, which announced a FinFET-based hybrid process back in September 2012 using 14nm transistors on a 20nm interconnect base – a hybrid model it dubbed 14XM, or Extreme Mobility.

TSMC made its announcement at the International Electron Devices Meeting earlier this week. According to coverage of the meeting by Nikkei, the move to a 16nm process means a drop in power consumption of 55 per cent or a boost to performance of 35 per cent compared to the company’s existing 28nm product line. The first 16nm FinFET-based products will, unsurprisingly, be system-on-chip (SoC) components destined for mobile devices.

Like the company’s existing 20nm line, however, production is going to be sorely limited with only small quantities of parts being produced at 16nm going into 2014. When the node will be ready for wider adoption, TSMC isn’t saying – but the company has had previous issues with manufacturing difficulties and a lack of capacity at its 40nm and 28nm process nodes which resulted in customer complaints – meaning that it will have to balance hitting mass production soon enough to be relevant with getting the manufacturing process stable if it wants to avoid a repeat of past mistakes.

So far, TSMC has not released the names of any customers signed up to the first 16nm production runs.

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SCE Liverpool devs form Firesprite

December 6th, 2013 No comments

SCE Liverpool devs form Firesprite

Firesprite has already helped out Sony’s Japanese teams on the Playroom for the Playstation 4.

Developers from Wipeout studio Sony Liverpool have formed a new company, Firesprite.

The studio has already contributed to the Playstation 4 launch line up as it has helped out Sony’s Japanese teams with Playroom, the augmented reality title that makes use of the Playstation 4′s camera.

Firesprite will be led by Graeme Ankers with Lee Carus as art director and Chris Roberts as technical director.

The studio is staffed by some developers that were part of the original Sony Liverpool when it was still called Psygnosis and the five people in the studio’s core leadership team have worked on games for every piece of Playstation hardware.

‘The founding team met up socially after Studio Liverpool and we talked about all the things we had achieved over the years, the platform launches, the variety of games, going back to Psygnosis days and through to F1 and Wipeout. We knew we wanted to carry on making great games,’ Ankers told IGN.

Psygnosis was renamed as SCE Liverpool in 1993 when it was acquired by Sony and the entity was closed down last year. The studio is probably most well known for the Wipeout series.

At present, Firesprite is working on tools and an engine for a new unannounced project. Graeme Ankers did however confirm that it won’t necessarily be a Playstation exclusive despite the studio’s strong ties to Sony.

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Cooling start-up Cryorig announces first product

December 2nd, 2013 No comments

Cooling start-up Cryorig announces first product

Cryorig, a newcomer to the market, has announced plans to launch its début R1 heatsink in January followed by a more powerful R1 Ultimate in February.

The cooling market just got a little larger with the announcement of the Cryorig R1 dual-tower cooler from the eponymous Taiwanese start-up, founded just five months ago.

While the company itself is brand-spanking new, the team behind it claims years of research – having started work on developing new heatsink designs back in the early 2000s. The company boasts employees who have previously worked for or with well-known brands including Phanteks, Prolimatech and Thermalright, as well as experience of the overclocking and modding communities – so you’d expect plenty from its début product.

At first glance, the Cryorig R1 certainly ticks some buzzword boxes. Based around a dual-tower design, the heatsink features seven 6mm heatpipes soldered into the centre of a pair of two-tone aluminium fin stacks. The company claims to use what it calls DirectCompress Soldering, a method of connecting the heatpipes which results in a claimed 10 per cent increase in surface area contact for improved heat transfer.

The trademarked techniques continue with the heatpipes themselves, which are arranged in a staggered layout dubbed Heatpipe Convex-Align. Another trademarked design can be found in the dual-section tower stacks, which include a 2.4mm gap between the front fins reducing to 1.8mm at the rear fins – an airflow-boosting technique the company has chosen to call the Jet Fin Acceleration System.

Cryorig isn’t done with the trademarks there, though. The act of spreading the heatpipes out from the nickel-plated copper base – hardly unique to the Cryorig R1 – gets a trademark of its own as the company’s Heatsink Displacement Optimisation technique, while the own-brand fans include High Precision Low Noise (HPLN) sleeve bearings and detachable Acoustic Vibration Absorbers – or rubber pads to you and me.

Finally, the company has a last trademark up its sleeve – and a patent in pending, too – in the form of the MultiSeg Quick Mount System which claims compatibility with all current Intel LGA and AMD socket types.

The Cryorig R1 is designed to be used with a pair of fans – a 140mm, 13mm-thick 65CFM unit dubbed the XT140 at the front and a thicker 25.4mm XF140 offering 76CFM in the centre – and weighs a total of 1,181g when both are fitted. Overall, the heatsink measures 140mm wide by 130mm deep and is 168.3mm high with a 41.5mm motherboard-to-fin gap. The company has also announced plans to launch an R1 Ultimate which replaces the thinner XT140 with a full-size XF140 and adds an extra mounting bracket for optional third fan at the rear of the tower.

Sadly, there’s one thing Cryorig isn’t yet sharing: the price. The company has confirmed plans to launch the standard Cryorig R1 in January and the Cryorig R1 Ultimate in February 2014, both with the global markets in their sights. More details are available on the official website.

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Valve launches Steam user reviews

November 26th, 2013 No comments

Valve launches Steam user reviews

Developers also have the chance to respond to these reviews and any comments they leave will be clearly marked out.

Valve has added a user-generated-review section to its digital distribution service, Steam.

Currently in beta, the section lets Steam users rate any game that they have played and also leave feedback on the reviews of other users. In a feature similar to social networks, users can also follow reviewers they like.

Although a review can be submitted after simply launching a game, the review will also show how many hours the reviewer has logged on the game through Steam before reviewing it.

Additionally, developers will actually have an opportunity to respond. If a game’s developer responds to a review for a game that they have worked on, the comment will be flagged up as being from the developer.

The reviews do not currently culminate in a numerical score or starred rating of any kind, although Valve is considering adding this further on down the line once the company has gathered and evaluated initial data from the reviews.

These reviews will be included alongside Metacritic data in the games’ entry in the Steam store.

The review feature will replace the recommendations that Steam users can write to people on their friends list. All existing recommendations have been upgraded to reviews instead, although are currently only visible to friends.

Recently, Valve unveiled plans for a line of ‘Steam Machines’, micro-consoles manufactured by third parties running SteamOS. The devices will be aiming for a 2014 release and beta tests are expected to start by the end of this year.

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Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens tests show unparalleled sharpness

November 22nd, 2013 No comments

The $4,000 Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens delivers outstanding sharpness.

The $4,000 Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens delivers outstanding sharpness. (Click to enlarge.)

Carl Zeiss)

What do you get when you build a lens without caring overmuch how much it’ll cost? Carl Zeiss’s new Otus 55mm f1.4.

It costs $4,000, but so far it delivers stellar sharpness, according to rigorous new a test by LensRentals’ Roger Cicala and DxO Labs’ DxOMark score.

“By f/2.8, this lens is already sharper than most excellent lenses will get at any aperture…Zeiss did what they said they had done: gave it exceptional performance even in the corners at widest aperture,” said Cicala, who tested the lens on a Nikon D800e. That camera has a very high resolution 36-megapixel image sensor and, for a little bit of extra sharpness, omits the antialiasing filter that’s present in its D800 sibling.

And DxO Labs put the Otus 55mm at the top of its ranking of dozens of lenses, with an “excellent” DxOMark score of 45 on the D800. The closest rival is Nikon’s 85mm f1.4 with a score of 40.

DxO Labs gave its highest DxOMark score ever for the $4,000 Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens.

DxO Labs gave its highest DxOMark score ever for the $4,000 Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens.

DxO Labs)

It’s not a lens for everybody, of course, given the price and the lack of autofocus that’s so useful to many photographers. But Zeiss has a loyal following for its premium lenses, and there are lots of professionals and and rich enthusiasts in the photo market. If nothing else, the high scores show how much room there is for improvement in the rest of the lens market.

Zeiss plans more Otus models, too — an 85mm f1.4 due in mid-2014 and a wide-angle model after that, according to an HDSLR interview with Zeiss’ Rich Schleuning.

The need for sharp lenses has been increasing with the arrival of SLR with very high megapixel counts — originally from Canon, and now from Nikon and Sony. There’s no point in adding megapixels if a lens isn’t sharp enough to transmit real-world details at the resolution of the sensor. The result has been a new breed of lenses with high resolving power.

And like the Zeiss, some of those lenses are coming from third-party manufacturers, not the dominant camera makers, Canon and Nikon. Sigma has been on a roll recently, scoring high with its Sigma’s 18-35mm f1.8 lens for lower-end SLRs and its 35mm f1.4 and 120-300mm f2.8 lenses for full-frame SLRs, for example.

The new lenses put new pressure on medium-format camera makers, too; the high image quality narrows the gap between conventional full-frame SLRs and extremely expensive cameras with even larger sensors. And as Zeiss doubtless is aware, medium-format photographers are less likely to freak out about the Otus price.

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