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Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Fractal Design Arc XL Review

Manufacturer: Fractal Design
UK price (as reviewed):
£101.41 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $129.99 (ex Tax)

The Arc line of Fractal Design cases fall into its performance category. As such, having plenty of airflow is key, as is the ability to install lots of high-end components and water-cooling gear. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the latest cases in the range, the midi-tower Arc Midi R2 and the micro-ATX Arc Mini R2. With the Arc XL, Fractal has now also seen fit to make an Arc case suitable for those with larger motherboards and components, something it has also done previously with the low-noise Define range of cases.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The chassis certainly lives up to the XL in its name. At over 570mm tall it’s capable of housing both E-ATX and XL-ATX motherboards, and is of a similar size to the Corsair Obsidian 750D. As expected, it sports the classic Fractal black and white colour scheme, with white PCI brackets and fan blades. It’s also very much an Arc chassis, with the hefty mesh sections on the roof and front panel along with the large, tinted side panel window ensuring aesthetic uniformity throughout the range. Build quality is of the usual high standards – there’s a little bend to the side panels but that’s just a result of them being so large, and elsewhere the plastic and steel exterior is solid and sturdy.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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The front mesh section clips on and off with ease thanks to a pair of push pins, and as usual it’s backed by dust filtering material too. Removing it reveals a duo of 140mm/120mm fan mounts, with a single 140mm Silent Series R2 fan mounted in the top one. The design allows you to install fans here without popping off the entire front panel, which is handy. However, above this section are the four covers for the optical drive bays, which do require front panel removal to access.

The I/O panel is located on the roof, and comprises four USB ports (two being USB 3), dual audio jacks, power and reset buttons and a fan control switch, which has 5V, 7V and 12V settings and can control up to three fans. The action of the power button is fine, but the reset one is too small to use your fingers with – this could become annoying in troubleshooting situations but it does mean you’ll never accidentally press it when fumbling for a USB port or the like.

*Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review *Fractal Design Arc XL Review Fractal Design Arc XL Review
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Practically the entire roof is formed from another mesh and dust filter combination. Unlike the front one this cannot be clipped in and out of place, but Fractal recommends simply cleaning it with a hoover while it’s still attached. Beneath it there is room for three 120mm or 140mm fans, with another 140mm Silent Series R2 fan included in the furthest back mount. This is complemented by the case’s third and final fan (the same model), which is fitted as a rear exhaust.

Moving to the bottom of the Arc XL, we find a set of feet that lift the case some way of the ground, and which are fitted with rubber rings to give it excellent grip on all surfaces. A slide out dust filter is fitted here, and it protects both the PSU and the last of the case’s fan mounts, a 140mm/120mm one on the case floor. Unlike many cases, the filter here is relatively easy to replace without having to tilt the case on its side.

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm) 232 x 552 x 572 (W x D x H)
  • Material Steel, plastic
  • Available colours Black
  • Weight 13.8kg
  • Front panel Power, reset, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, stereo, microphone, fan controller
  • Drive bays 4 x external 5.25in, 8 x internal 3.5in/2.5in, 2 x internal 2.5in
  • Form factor(s) E-ATX, XL-ATX, ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ITX
  • Cooling 2 x 140mm/120mm front fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm rear fan mount (140mm fan included), 3 x 140mm/120mm or 1 x 180mm and 1 x 140mm/120mm roof fan mounts (1 x 140mm fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm bottom fan mount (fan not included)
  • CPU cooler clearance 180mm
  • Maximum graphics card length 330mm (480mm without HDD cage)
  • Extras Removable dust filters, triple speed fan controller

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HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

The Banana Pi pictured, and HummingBoard SBCs offer pin-compatibility with Raspberry Pi accessories but significantly improved features and performance.


The success of the Raspberry Pi project has kick-started interest in low-cost Linux-powered single-board computers, but it has been surprisingly free of clone designs – until now.

Unlike rival development platforms such as the Olimex OLinuXino family or the popular Arduino microcontroller, the Raspberry Pi is not open hardware. Its design is locked-down and proprietary, and its principle components – namely the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip (SoC) processor – not available in small quantities or without signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. This may have contributed to a lack of compatible clones appearing on the market since its launch more than two years ago – until now, with two companies announcing Pi-compatible creations featuring considerably improved specifications: the HummingBoard and the Banana Pi.

First, the HummingBoard. Created by Solid-Run, the company behind the ultra-compact CuBox product line, the HummingBoard boasts the same features, design and layout as the Raspberry Pi – right down to the 26-pin general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header at the top-left of the board, which is pin-compatible with existing Pi accessories. Unlike the underpowered single-core 700MHz ARMv6 processor of the Pi, the HummingBoard boasts a quad-core 1GHz Freescale i.MX6 chip, 2GB of RAM – four times that of the Pi – and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Additional enhancements over the Pi include an upgrade to gigabit Ethernet, an on-board real-time clock module, and an infra-red receiver.

The Banana Pi goes a step further. Created by OSSUG Company, The Banana Pi again duplicates the layout and footprint of the Raspberry Pi and includes both the 26-pin GPIO header and the smaller P5 header of its established rival. Although its 1GB of RAM and dual-core AllWinner A20 processor can’t match the performance of the HummingBoard, the Banana Pi boasts an on-board SATA connector with 5V power output for mass storage. The board also includes gigabit Ethernet, an infra-red receiver, three on-board buttons and, interestingly, a microphone.

Thus far, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been slow to offer an upgraded version of its award-winning single-board computer. The initial Raspberry Pi Model B was succeeded by a Revision 2 design which added the P5 connector and doubled the memory to 512MB but retained the slow single-core ARMv6 processor, while the Model A is a cut-down version which drops to a single USB port and loses the Ethernet networking chip. Its most recent product, the Compute Module, still uses the outdated BCM2835 chip – leaving the market open for Pi-compatible devices like the Banana Pi and HummingBoard that can offer buyers higher performance and more features.

Pricing for the HummingBoard has yet to be confirmed, with the Banana Pi available on import from Chinese resellers for $59 (around £35, a mere £7 more than a Raspberry Pi Model B.)

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AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle

AMD is today extending its Never Settle Forever bundle to include more games and cards


AMD is today rolling out an update to its Never Settle Forever bundle, promising more titles and variety as well as availability with a wider range of its graphics hardware.

The Never Settle Forever bundle is AMD’s ongoing promotion, whereby purchasers of certain AMD graphics cards from participating retailers are eligible for up to three free games, as well as a few other bonuses.

The company claims that this latest update is a response both to customer demand for more and newer titles as well as to the fact that the previous bundles were a few months out of date and did not incorporate the full range of AMD’s latest cards.

As you can see, everything from the R7 240 series up to the mighty R9 295X2 is now included in the promotion. The tiered system of bronze, silver and gold (one, two and three free games respectively) is being maintained. Users will need an R7 260 or R9 270 series card to qualify for the silver tier, while only those who buy an R9 280 series card or higher are eligible for the gold one.

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle *AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle
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While games from the previous offer are being carried over, AMD is adding a number of new and unreleased ones to the lineup from which users can pick. Thief, AMD’s TrueAudio launch title and the latest Mantle-compatible game, was recently added, and will continue to be offered in both the gold and silver tiers. Murdered: Soul Suspect, which is a few months out, is now also available for the gold and silver tiers – users will receive the code upon the game’s release. It doesn’t support Mantle, but will have AMD optimised technologies, much some other recent Square Enix titles like Tomb Raider and Deux Ex: Human Revolution.

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle *AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle
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Also introduced as of today are a selection of indie titles, a first for a graphics card package. Guacamelee!, Dyad, The Banner Saga and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack are the current choices. It’s also worth noting that for each game choice you have (i.e. two in the silver tier) you’re able to pick two indie games.

Other new additions include what AMD is referring to as classic titles. For these, AMD is working closely with developers who have optimised their game codes for AMD hardware, and offering a selection of games released in the past few years which users may have missed at the time.

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle *AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle
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The full list of the current 21 games and their global availability is listed below – in case where games aren’t available, AMD ensures us it’s due to regional availability issues rather than their own program.

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle *AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle
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Finally, each tier of the Never Settle Forever bundle comes with some extra bonus offers. First is a key code for three months’ free use of Splashtop, which lets you stream games from a PC to mobile devices over your home network. Next up is $10 off the AMD Radeon RAMDISK 64GB software, and lastly is the AMD Operator Bundle for the free-to-play game FireFall, which includes some exclusive armour and equipment.

AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle *AMD updates its Never Settle Forever bundle
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The Never Settle Forever codes will be delivered physically or digitally, depending on the retailer and board partner in question. The coupon is good for a single transaction only – you must select all of your games at once. The reason this is relevant is that AMD has promised to continue updating the selection, so it may pay off to wait to redeem your code. The current codes are valid until August 31 2014.

What do you think of the updated Never Settle Forever package? Has such a package ever been the deciding factor in your GPU purchases? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review

Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review

Manufacturer: Nanoxia
UK price (as reviewed):
£64.99 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): Currently unavailable

As the name suggests, the top priority of Nanoxia’s Deep Silence range of cases is noise reduction. While a bespoke water-cooling system can do wonders for your system’s noise output, cases designed specifically to contain noise are an easier and more financially realistic option for most people. The noise (or rather the lack thereof) of the Deep Silence 1 and Deep Silence 2 chassis certainly impresses, but cooling performance also takes a hit – a classic trade-off. We’re now looking at the Deep Silence 4 (Deep Silence 3 having apparently been skipped), which brings the now familiar design to the micro-ATX form factor for an attractive £65.

*Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review *Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review
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The Deep Silence 4 is available in three different colours, and each one has a nice brushed metal effect on the plastic front section. Elsewhere, there’s little visual fanfare, but like the Fractal Design Define series the case is modest looking and refined. Build quality on the outside is good all round, and the feet have large rubber pads to contain vibrations, and they also provide the case with plenty of grip and clearance.

The Deep Silence 4 features a case door that occupies the top third of the front panel. Opening it up reveals the reset button and the two optical drive covers, which can easily be clipped in and out of place. You’ll also find an impressively powerful set of fan controllers for so small and cheap a case. Each of the two variable speed sliders can be used to control the speed of up to three fans each.

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While we can’t complain about the ability to control six fans, it’s a little odd given that you can sadly install just three to the chassis itself, including the two that are bundled with it. These 120mm Deep Silence models, which have green blades, are fitted in the front intake and rear exhaust positions. The third and final fan mount, which can take both 120mm and 140mm models, is found in the roof, as the two side panels and the floor of the case are devoid of any extra ones. While we understand that the Deep Silence 4 is designed for low noise, having such a limited ability to expand upon the default cooling is nonetheless disappointing.

The front intake pulls air in through small vents on the sides of the front panel, as well as a single larger one beneath it. It’s blocked off entirely at the front, however, so airflow from this fan is unlikely to be that high, even at full speed.

*Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review *Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review Nanoxia Deep Silence 4 Review
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Thick, spongy material designed to suppress noise lines the inside of the front door. Sadly, the bottom section of the front has no door, but it too is backed by noise dampening material, as are both side panels and the roof. The roof even includes a foam-backed blanking plate for the single fan mount, which is excellent to see – your case will be quieter and protected from dust when you’re not using this mount. A slide out dust filter is also provided for the PSU, while the front fan has its own one too (though you’ll need to pop the front panel off to access it), meaning the Deep Silence 4 is fully shielded against dust.

The final thing of note on the case’s exterior is the front panel connections. There’s nothing special here, though with two USB 3 ports alongside a USB 2 one and the usual audio jacks, there’s easily enough for a £65 case.

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm) 200 x 480 x 380 (W x D x H)
  • Material Steel, plastic
  • Available colours Black, anthracite (reviewed), white
  • Front panel Power, reset, 2 x USB 3, USB 2, stereo, microphone
  • Drive bays 2 x external 5.25in, 6 x internal 3.5in/2.5in, 1 x internal 2.5in
  • Form factor(s) Micro-ATX, mini-ITX
  • Cooling 1 x 120mm front fan mount (fan included), 1 x 120mm rear fan mount (fan included), 1 x 140mm/120mm roof fan mount (fan not included)
  • CPU cooler clearance 160mm
  • Maximum graphics card length 265mm (395mm without HDD cage)
  • Extras Dual channel variable speed fan control, removable dust filters

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Antec Kühler H20 650 Review

Antec Kühler H20 650 Review

Manufacturer: Antec
UK price (as reviewed):
£54.99
US price (as reviewed): $69.99

If you’ve got around £50 to spend on a CPU cooler, then you’ve got quite a decision on your hands. There are dozens of great examples – both air and liquid-cooled to choose from and most of these will fit into your average enthusiast case too. Decisions aren’t based just on cooling performance either; there’s also noise to consider and in some cases colours and bling too as we saw with the Phanteks PH-TC14PE.

Of course, all-in-one liquid coolers are still very much in the limelight and if we had the option, they’re probably where our money would go. They top our cooling graphs and many cost less than some of the large premium air coolers out there too. We recently looked at Antec’s Kühler H20 950, which received awards for both our test systems thanks to great cooling, excellent software control and easy mounting. However, if £60 is your limit but you still want to delve into liquid cooling, then Antec has a slightly cheaper option.

Antec Kühler H20 650 Review
The Kühler H20 650 is essentially a half height radiator, single fan-version of the Kühler H20 950 and retails for a more modest £55, which is one of the cheapest all-in-one liquid coolers we’ve seen. It still features the combined fan and pump assembly as its bigger brother as well as the directional blades at the rear to focus airflow.

Antec Kühler H20 650 Review Antec Kühler H20 650 Review
Thermal paste is pre-applied and there’s the same mounting mechanism employed as the Kühler H20 950 too with a ring locking onto the cooler and securing using thumb screws with a backplate used on LGA115X and AMD systems. There’s surprisingly few bits to contend with but that’s exactly the way it should be, especially with an all-in-one liquid cooler.

Antec Kühler H20 650 Review Antec Kühler H20 650 Review
The radiator as we’ve already mentioned is a half height model but while it won’t be able to keep up with full size examples like the larger Kühler H20 950, we’ve found they’re not far off in cooling terms and take up less space too. The contact plate and waterblock, being minus a pump, is very low profile indeed so this is one of the more compact all-in-one liquid coolers we’ve tested. The single fan is actually controlled using an on-board temperature monitor rather than tapping into the motherboard’s fan signals, with the temperature also feeding into an illuminated plate on top of the waterblock, which changes colour.

Antec Kühler H20 650 Review Antec Kühler H20 650 Review
When we looked in the box, we assumed there were two fans, however, the extra fan-shaped contraption is a standoff, which Antec claims reduces resistance at the rear of the radiator between it and the case, improving airflow. The extra screws provided can of course be used to mount an extra fan too. Sadly, one thing that is missing is software control – there’s no way to manually control the fan so you’re left at the mercy of the integrated firmware dishing out fan speeds based on the temperature.

Specifications

  • Compatibility Intel: LGA775 and LGA1366 LGA115x, LGA2011; AMD: AM3(+), AM2(+), FM2(+), FM1
  • Radiator size(mm) 120 x 159 x 27
  • Fan size (mm) 120 x 120 x 25 (W x D x H)
  • Fan(s) 1 x 120mm, 600 -2,400RPM
  • Tubing length 300
  • Waterblock height (mm) 26
  • Stated Noise not stated

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Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google’s Project Ara, created by one-time subsidiary Motorola and based on Dave Hakkens’ Phonebloks concept, is scheduled to hit the market in January 2015.


Advertising giant Google has confirmed that it is forging ahead with the Project Ara modular smartphone concept, and plans to release the first commercially available parts in January 2015.

Originally developed by Motorola Mobility based on concept work carried out by Dave Hakkens under the name Phonebloks, Project Ara was acquired by Google when it picked up the Mobility division from Motorola. Although the company would go on to sell the bulk of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo it kept hold of Project Ara, announcing in February this year commercialisation plans for the technology.

Project Ara aims to offer the same level of customisation available in the PC world to the smartphone – and, eventually, tablet, markets. The Ara platform uses a central chassis dubbed an Endo, to which component modules are connected via magnets. These modules contain everything from the display to the processor, storage, camera and battery, and can be assembled in almost any combination or pattern. As well as ending the annual phone upgrade cycle – the Endo itself, Google claims, would be good for five to six years – by offering the chance of incremental upgrades, the system would also allow for complete customisation: one Endo may have a high-end processor and high-spec camera, while another opts for a slower processor, no camera and a bigger battery for longer runtime.

Google held its first Project Ara developers’ conference this week, and CNET reports that it offered a timeline to commercialisation: the first Project Ara Endo will be on sale, barring any major setbacks along the way, in January next year for just $50. It will be joined by a range of component modules, although the specification and pricing for these has not yet been confirmed.

Google also outlined fabrication hardware for the modules themselves, developed in conjunction with academic and business partners and taking the form of large-scale 3D printers capable of working with conductive materials. More details on these will be provided at the next conference in July.

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Noctua NH-U12S Review

Noctua NH-U12S Review

Manufacturer: Noctua
UK price (as reviewed):
£47.99
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.

*Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review *Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review
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.

*Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review *Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review
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.

*Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review *Noctua NH-U12S Review Noctua NH-U12S Review

Specifications

  • 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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Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth announced

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth announced

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is receiving a spiritual successor in the form of sci-fi-themed Civilization: Beyond Earth, launching this year on Windows, OS X and Linux.


A spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s intergalactic classic Alpha Centauri has been officially announced, and it brings the promise of treats for PC gamers including support for AMD’s low-level Mantle application programming interface (API) and cross-platform gaming on Windows, OS X and Linux – the latter to include Valve’s SteamOS.

Released in 1999, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was a spin-off from the Civilization franchise, acting as a follow-on of sorts for anyone who had completed a space victory in the game. The player was given the task of colonising Chiron in the eponymous star system, and later the option of playing as one of two non-human races – previously limited to non-playable characters in the game.

The game was critically acclaimed, but a poor seller; following its release, the Civilization franchise would again return to historical rather than futuristic settings and never again venture beyond our solar system – until now. Firaxis has announced Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, the first space-based title to carry the official Civ branding – and a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri.

Announced at PAX East this weekend, the game promises to revamp the Civilization experience with a new web-like technology tree, a more open-ended progression system no longer tied to real-world history, and many of the developers who worked on the original Alpha Centauri. For PC gamers, the news gets better still with Firaxis announcing that the game will launch later this year on Windows, OS X and Linux platforms – the latter to include support for Valve’s SteamOS Linux distribution. The company has also promised support for AMD’s Mantle API at launch, giving hope that the game’s performance will be acceptable even on lower-end hardware.

If all that has whetted your appetite the company has offered a teaser trailer for the title, reproduced below.

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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.

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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.

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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.

*CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review *CM Storm QuickFire XT Review CM Storm QuickFire XT Review
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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.

Conclusion

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.

!–

Score

Overall 79%

Approved Award

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Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review

Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review

Manufacturer: Corsair
UK price (as reviewed):
£37.99 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $54.99 (ex Tax)

Budget enclosures are rarely the most exciting, but they’re a necessary and crucial part of the market due to the sheer volume of cases sold at lower price points, especially in developing economies around the world. Thankfully, such products have come a long way in recent years, so even if you’re not paying top dollar you don’t need to settle for sacrificing basic features and build quality.

Corsair, one of the most well known chassis manufacturers, is now setting its sights on the high volume budget market with three cases launching today under the Carbide Series Spec brand. The Spec-01, which we’re looking at here, is the cheapest of the bunch at just £38, and also Corsair’s cheapest enclosure to date. Its previous budget Carbide case, the 200R, had lots of features and build quality but was lacking in the cooling department, so hopefully the Spec-01 will improve on this.

*Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review **NDA 11/04 2pm** Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review *Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review **NDA 11/04 2pm** Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review
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Externally, the Spec-01 is no dull black box, but as ever its styling won’t be to everyone’s taste. The thick vertical grilles at the front guard the case’s red LED 120mm intake fan. Meanwhile, both side panels are extruded, with the left one also housing a large square window.

Build quality is very respectable on the outside. The front panel may be plastic, but it’s thick and rigid and doesn’t bend or creak, and though the case is fairly light its steel panels have only a little flex when pressure is applied. Our one small gripe is that the plastic feet have no rubber soles, so there’s little grip on smooth surfaces.

*Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review **NDA 11/04 2pm** Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review
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Below the front 120mm fan is a second 120mm mount. There are also two empty 120mm mounts on the roof and a further one at the rear, for a total of five. Even at £38, we were a little disappointed to find that the front intake is the case’s only fan. We’ve seen similarly priced cases such as the NZXT Source 210 and Antec One ship with two fans. Also, even when limited to one fan we’d pick a rear or roof exhaust position over a front intake, as this is typically more effective at cooling. The empty mounts do mean that the CPU area is at least well ventilated, so there are openings through which heat can rise, but without fans to exhaust air faster overclocked systems may find the CPU and VRM areas rapidly getting hot when the system is under load.

*Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review **NDA 11/04 2pm** Corsair Carbide Series Spec-01 Review
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One thing that’s good to see in so cheap a case is dust filtering material, which is fitted to the rear of the front grilles. It’s not independently removable but the front panel itself is easy to pop off for cleaning. There’s also a slide out filter beneath the PSU, though like many such designs it can be difficult to replace properly without lifting the case up slightly. One overlooked area is the roof, where the empty fan mounts are unshielded from dust, though it’s rare to see filters in this location at this end of the market.

The I/O panel includes a single USB 3 port with an internal header, alongside the usual audio jacks and a USB 2 port. It’s a shame that both USB ports aren’t USB 3 ones, but one is still better than none. There’s no built in fan control, but the power and reset buttons are solid and satisfying to press. Beneath the I/O panel are the two 5.25-inch drive bay covers.

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm) 200 x 413 x 467 (W x D x H)
  • Material Steel, plastic
  • Available colours Black
  • Front panel Power, reset, USB 3, USB 2, stereo, microphone
  • Drive bays 2 x external 5.25in, 4 x internal 3.5in/2.5in
  • Form factor(s) ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ITX
  • Cooling 2 x 140/120mm front fan mounts (1 x 120mm fan included), 1 x 120mm rear fan mount 2 x 120mm roof fan mounts (fans not included)
  • CPU cooler clearance 165mm
  • Maximum graphics card length 420mm
  • Extras Removable dust filters

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