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Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7,1


whether you're building the ultimate gaming machine or configuring the best movie-viewing setup, graphics capa­bility is likely at the forefront of your mind. But getting the most out of your media requires a sound card with the best in audio fidelity, and Auzentech's X- Fi Forte 7.1 is just that. The Forte 7.1 builds on Auzentech's previous sound card, the Prelude 7.1. The major difference between the two cards lies in the Forte's PCI-E interface, which offers a higher throughput than the Prelude's PCI interface. Like the Prelude, the new Forte sports Creative's X-Fi chipset, but receives a boost with updated circuitry and components, including EAX 5.0 support.


The Forte has a 120dB D/A converter, headphone amplifier, and microphone pre-amp. It also features 64MB of X-RAM. Other worthwhile specs to mention in­clude the IS-pin analog I/O rnulticablc

and replace­able OPAMPs (operational ampli- fiers) for the front left and right audio. Installation was a cinch. The card is shipped with a low-profile bracket-perfect for fitting into HTPCs. But we tested the Forte in a desktop computer, so we attached the standard bracket that is included in the package. To switch brackets, we had to

remove a single Philips head screw and two jack screws. It's worth men­tioning that you'll need a 3/16 nut driver for the jack screws, a tool that not everyone will have lying around .

We tested the Forte 7.1 using M- Audio's StudiophileAV 40 reference speaker system. We were quite impressed with the clarity and intensity of the sound. There was a significant difference from our system's onboard audio, and by tweaking the options in the included audio software, we were able to customize the audio. The software was easy to use, with Entertainment, Game, and Audio Creation modes. The Entertainment and Game modes were pretry intuitive, with a basic volume wheel and equalizers. The Audio Creation mode was much more involved and should be reserved for advanced (or meticulous) users, as there are far more options to configure, including dB levels for all speakers and auxiliary effects .

Sapphire Vapor-X Radeon HO 4870

t's evident from the box that the Sap­phire Radeon HD 4870's Vapor-X feature is a big deal. Vapor-Xis a newer feature from Sapphire that gives the Radeon HD 4870 superior cooling and quieter operation. Without delving into specifics, Vapor-X technology is similar to a heatpipe, using a hot, flat surface over which a liquid coolant is vaporized and then condensed, all within a small cham­ber mounted on the card. The Radeon HD 4870 is built on a custom PCB that adds Black Diamond chokes and

high-polymer capacitors, which make this card cooler, more power-efficient, and more reliable. The Vapor-X also has an HDMI output with 7.1 surround-sound support. Benchmark scores for the Radeon HD were relatively predictable for a card of its caliber. 3DMark Vantage ranked at P9936, while Crysis Warhead scored almost 10fps at 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. Far Cry 2 posted slightly lower than expected, with about 31fps at 1,920 x 1,080 and almost 23fps at the highest resolution. Overall, Sapphire's take on the Radeon 4870 is a winner, especially considering its re­duced price tag compared to other manufacturers who are charging as much or more for inferior specs .

Solid-State Showdown

Two RAM Leaders' SSDs Square Off


The solid-state storage market has really been heating up as oflate, with a con­stant influx of faster-and sometimes more affordable-drives, in addition to firmware updates that enhance the performance of existing products. For example, fierce memory rivals Corsair and ocz recently began offering new products designed to compete in a few performance categories with Intel's much-heralded X25-M, the Corsair P256 (model tested: CMFSSD­256GBG2D), and the ocz Vertex Series SATA II SSD (model tested: OCZSSD2- 1 VTX120G), respectively. The Corsair P256 and OCZ Vertex Series drives share some similarities, namely their 2.5-inch form factors, SATA 3Gbps interfaces, and Samsung MLC NAND flash memory chips that reside at the hearts of the drives. Setting up the drives was simple and straightforward. And neither exhibited any compatibility problems with Intel-, Nvidia-, or AMD-based southbridges on various Gigabyte- or Asus-built motherboards.

But each uses a different controller tech­nology to manage the data being sent to and retrieved from the drive, which results in drastically different performance, as you'll see in our benchmark results. As its name suggests, the Corsair P256 is a 256GB SSD. It features a sturdy, brushed aluminum shell, which encases a new Sam­sung S3C29RBB01-YK40 drive controller and double-stacked flash memory, as well as 64MB of onboard cache. The OCZ Vertex Series drives, which are available in capacities ranging from 30 to 250GB, also sport 64MB of cache and hard metal cas­ings, but the OCZ drives use Indilinx IDX110MOO-LC drive controllers.

access time. And although both drives blow past Intel's X2 5- M in terms of average se­quential write speeds, neither could come dose to the excellent X25-M in random writes, as is evident by the Intel drive's dominant performance in the IOMeter tests. Both Corsair and OCZ S drives' per­formance is a significant step up from tradi­tional hard drives.

One area where the Corsair P256 and OCZ Vertex Series 120GB drives (sort of) blow away Intel is price. The 256GB P256's $699 and the 120GB OCZ Vertex Series' $345 price tags are higher than Intel's $319 80GB X25-M. Those prices, however, equate to a $2.73 and a $2.87 cost per giga­byte for the Corsair and OCZ drives, re­spectively. The Intel X25-M commands a hefty $3.98 per gigabyte.


by Marco Chiappetta


Logisys Two Color (Blue/Red) Character-Illuminated Keyboard

The combination of the illuminat­ed keyboard and the hotkeys on the Logisys Two Color (Blue/Red) Character- Illuminated Keyboard (Model KB208BK) makes this an appealing keyboard for those looking to control music on a PC and pull all­nighters in a poorly lit office or dorm room. The slim, black design gives it a sophisticated look, and it has a palm rest with tall legs, which makes the key­board comfortable to use. The keys are arranged well, so my fin­gers didn't feel crowded as I typed, but the ENTER key is large, which affects the position of the keys around it. If you are used to the standard-sized ENTER key, this could take some adjusting. The soft-touch keys, however, were slightly sluggish and unresponsive, which meant it skipped a few letters keeping up with this speedy typist.

The hotkeys, which are lined up vertical­lyon both sides of the keyboard, add to the elegant look of the keyboard rather than detract from it. There are 15 hotkeys (which are a combination of multimedia and In­ternet hotkeys) and a dial that adjusts the brightness of the illumination. Don't be fooled by what you read on the Logisys Web site and keyboard packaging, though. The dial doesn't control the volume, as the Web site claims; the volume hotkeys control the volume. Also, the packaging indicates there are application hotkeys for sleep mode, your My Computer folder, and the Windows calculator, but those keys didn't exist on my keyboard. The red and blue illumination, howev­er, is just as bright as the pricier Logitech Illuminated keyboard (which has white backlighting). The PS2 and USB inter­face options, along with the other fea­tures, make the Two Color (Blue/Red) Character-Illuminated Keyboard a decent illuminated keyboard for its price .

Asus N 1 OJC-A 1

we don't care if you call it a net­book or a notebook. The Asus NIO, with a IO.2-inch screen (800 x 480), 1.46-inch maximum thickness, and 3.I-pound weight, is a slick ultra-portable with a sweet surprise. Yes, like other net­books, this one uses the I.6GHz Intel Atom Processor N270 paired with the Intel 945GSE chipset. This means that the Intel GMA 950 graphics engine is built in. However, flip a little switch on the left edge before booting, and you can boot using discrete Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics. You pick Intel for battery life and Nvidia for performance. How big is the performance difference? Potentially huge. With CUDA-enabled apps, some tasks that would normally bring this nctbook's Atom N270 to its knees (say you want to transcode your media files with Nero Move or watch something encoded in H.264) will be considerably better, thanks to the 9300M GS. At the end of the day, though, this is a platform for basic 2D and 3D entertain­ment; the Atom N270 remains a perfor­mance bottleneck.

Our unit shipped an 8-in-I card read­er, I.3MP Web cam, HDMI port, Ex­press Card slot, and fingerprint reader built into the touchpad. You'll have to load apps from an external USB or LAN source, be­cause there's no built-in optical drive.

Honestly, the NI 0 was a little heavier and thicker than we would've liked. The screen bezel feels excessively thick, but we're guessing this is a concession made by opting for a 1 0.2-inch screen along with a comfortably broad keyboard. Still, we reviews I hardware found the screen very decent for prolonged viewing, including for video playback. We love the button above the keyboard for tog­gling between different power/performance profiles. In High Performance mode with Wi-Fi enabled and all power-saving fea­tures disabled, we achieved a battery run­time of 4 hours and 54 minutes-nice. The NIO is convenient, affordable, and effective for nongaming tasks. We hope this sparks a trend in pushing the enve­lope for nctbook expectations .


SanQ E2400HD

This 16:9 aspect ratio, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution features HDMI, DVI (with HDCP), and VGA inputs. BenQ also integrates its Senseye+ Photo Image


artifacts. The E2400HD also displayed some dark shading at the bottom and top of the screen when displaying bright col­ors. Despite these issues, the E2400 dis­played one of the truest black-and-white gradations of our test group. The stand for the 24-inch monitor is sturdy, but it only allows you to tilt the E2400HD up or down. BenQ integrates five preset modes, including Standard, Movie, Dynamic, Photo, and sRGB (ide-al for people who use sRGB devices to match color), and the controls are built onto the right side of the monitor. We had complete control of the bright­ness, contrast, and sharpness, as well as the red, green, and blue levels on the monitor. We thought the built-in speak­ers produced the best audio clarity and overall volume of the group. The moni­tor's subtle dark patches may deter graphics professionals, but the people looking for a monitor for watching movies and TV will appreciate the deep

contrast ratio of the E2400HD's 24­inch screen.

Archos 560GB Internet Media Tablet

The Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet (PMP, MID, etc., etc.) is getting a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. It combines the performance, function, and content most of us are looking for in a portable media device: full Web connec­tivity, PC compatibility, music, video, photos, and games. There's even more than that, though. If you're not sold on netbooks and don't want to give in to a smartphone, the Archos 5 is probably a good fit for you, especially if you really only care about the multimedia capabilities.

Starting with menu features, the Play category is where you store files from your PC-you can also access Web Radio (with an incredible 10,000 stations), built-in games, and added Flash applica­tions. PC connectivity requires the included USB cable, 

and syncing the media from your hard drive is extremely easy. Windows Media Player assists you in the syncing process, so you can quickly transfer MP3s, videos, and your photo collection. Videos on the Archos 5 are crisp, and the audio is consistent on both the uploaded content and Web Radio­clear highs and lows provide a well­rounded sound. The touchscreen is highly responsive, but you do have to tap twice to select options in each media category. If brows­ing via Opera is new to you, be assured that there is practically no learning curve. You can also set up a Gmail, Yahoo!, or Hotmail account that's accessible with a few taps. The cons are moderately annoying at worst. A stylus would have been a practi­cal accessory; some Web pages are diffi­cult to navigate on the touchscreen. 

(Still,you can zoom in and out by double­tapping.) The glossy metal finish is in no way a fingerprint deterrent, but Archos does include a cleaning cloth to remove smudges. By no means have we covered every significant feature; however, we can confi­dently say that the Archos 5 is beyond adequate for its purposes .

AMO Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

f you just got a brand-new Phenom II X4 940 BE and are kicking yourself for

not waiting for the 955 BE, you can stop. The 955 is pretty much the same story as the 940, but with a slightly faster clock (3.2GHz vs. 3GHz, respectively). AMD pulled the same stunt with the Phenom X4 9850 BE and 9950 BE.

It's not that the 955 is unimpressive, it's just that it's not any more impressive than its predecessor, the 940. The slight bump in benchmark performance is easily explainable with the slightly higher clock of the 955. If you're overclocking, the bump is a bit more noticeable.

I hit P9642 in 3DMark Vantage with a clock speed of 3.86GHz-a sig­nificant step up from the stock­speed score of P6488. The bottom line is that the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is a slightly better chip than the 940 and enters the market at a better price-$30 less, to be exact. We can only assume that price will drop with the next batch of AMD CPUs, so it's a great deal for AMD's best processor .


by Seth Colaner

Icy Dock MB882SP-1 S

Icy Dock MB882SP-1 S" is a long name for a clever little device that allows you to insert your 2.5-inch SATA notebook hard drive or SSD into a con­verter that effectively makes the drive physically the same size as a 3.5-inch hard drive. The converter solves the problem of trying to fit an SSD or notebook drive into a desktop PC case. Indeed, when a drive is safely inserted into the Icy Dock MB882SP-1S, the whole shebang will fit into a drive bay or external hard drive enclosure designed for a 3.5-inch drive. The converter can handle 3Gbps drives with a max capacity of 500GB and sports airflow vents for heat dissipation. Even with a 2.5-inch drive inside, the Icy Dock MB882 is incredibly light. Altogether, the 2.5-inch drive and the enclosure weigh


less than a typical 3.5-inch hard drive. I was impressed by how easy it was to install the hard drive in the enclosure. There are no screws required. You just slide the top open, place the drive inside, and slide the lid shut. Done.

To test whether the MB882SP-1 S would affect read/write speeds, I ran the drive on PCMark Vantage with and with­out the converter. The resulting scores showed a slight but negligible difference in performance between the two. Without the converter, the hard drive averaged 3318 over two runs with an average of 3286 over two runs with the converter.

I pulled the hard drive out of the converter after a few rounds of PCMark to check the tempera­ture, and I was disappointed to find it quite warm. The bottom line is that the Icy Dock MB882 is a device designed so simply and elegantly that it requires infinitesimally more effort to swap in and out of a com­puter as any 3.5-inch hard drive. This is definitely a product you want to have in your toolbox if you work with SSDs or notebook hard drives .

Gigabyte's GA-EX58-Extreme

Congrats on the new laptops, Betsy! And yes, we think we can help with your problems. Let's tackle your husband's issue first. Because his machine is on the network and getting Internet access, his problem is most likely related to one of three things: the work­group name, network discovery, or firewall settings. On your hus­band's machine, make sure his workgroup name matches yours (and the WinXP machine's) in the Advanced System Settings. Also, be sure to enable network discovery in the Advanced Sharing Settings. Finally, ifhis notebook came with a preinstalled third­party security suite, try searching for the printer with the suite's firewall disabled. Having seen this issue many times in the past few months, we'd bet that there's an overly restrictive software firewall running on your husband's machine that needs to be tamed a bit.

The error you're receiving when you try to print sounds like some sort of incompatibility between Win7 and the printer's dri­vers or WinXP's print spooler. The first thing to try to remedy the situation is to install the latest drivers for your printer and then reconnect to it on your laptop. If that doesn't help, you can try bypassing the spooler altogether and printing directly to the printer. On the WinXP machine, open the printer properties and then dick the Advanced tab. On the Advanced tab, you'll see an option labeled "Print Directly To Printer." Select that option, apply the changes, restart your machine, and try printing from the new Win7 laptop again.

I recently decided I'd upgrade my aging Core i7­920 quad-core chip (I know, just kidding: It's not that old) to some­thing of the six-core variety from Intel. However, I'm having some issues with my motherboard now, and I'm wondering if I'll have to rip that out since it might not support the new 32nm chips properly.

I have a Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme motherboard, and it always has performed really well with my 920 chip. I recently purchased a Core i7-970, since it cost about $150 less and has only 133MHz slower core clock than the Core i7-980X. Unfortunately, my GA-EX58 mobo won't boot at all with it, but if I swap the chip back to the Core i7-920, it boots just fine. I tried grabbing the latest BIOS from the Gigabyte site, but no matter what I do, I get a flash program error saying it's an "incompatible BIOS file," or something like that.

I'm stuck and not sure what to do. Any clues? I'd hate to have to return the Core i7-970 or upgrade the motherboard. Also, did I go wrong picking up the Core i7-970? Should I have sprung for the extra money and got a 980X? Are there any other performance differences in the new 970 chip I should know of?

A: Fear not, Bob. You can probably get that board to wake up just fine with your new Core i7-970. (By the way, we like your practical approach of choosing a new processor.) The Core i7­970, like the top-end Core i7-980X, has 12MB of shared L3 cache backing its six processing cores. Other than the dock speed differences you mentioned, the only other difference between the 970 and 980X is the QPI interface speed, which is 4.8GTps for the 970 vs. 6.4GTps for the 980X. You're not going to see much, if any, difference in performance due to QPI speed, however. In general your performance for lightly threaded or single-threaded apps should drop in just under a Core i7-975 quad core.



Now, on to your motherboard issue. We've seen this many times over the years, when Intel or AMD release a new core revision, especially chips that have new power requirements, like Intel's new 32nm Gulf town core. Although Intel designs many core migrations to be socket-compatible (though it's not always the case), it's up to motherboard manufacturers to ensure their power supply and regulation components on the motherboard, along with the BIOS microcode that supports it, are compatible with new chip requirements. In your case, the good news is that your Gigabyte motherboard should work with that Core i7 -970 just fine.

Likely, what you need to do is go back to Gigabyte's Web site and download older revision BIOS images, perhaps as far back as when Gigabyte introduced the first version that supported Intel's new six-core CPUs for that motherboard. Many times, trying to flash-upgrade with the most recent revision of a BIOS image will fail because, somewhere along the way, the BIOS image check routine of the flash upgrade program determined that your cur­rent BIOS image was too old to be considered upgradable. So, in short, you need to perform at least one incremental upgrade from an older BIOS revision before you can move forward and flash­upgrade the BIOS to the latest revision. Once you flash to a BIOS image that is compatible with the most current version, you should be good to go.

At the very least, you should be able to download an older revision of the BIOS that fully supports your new Core i7-970 chip. Good luck!


by Dave Altavilla and Marco Chiappetta, the experts over at

For bonus material, subscribers can go to www.cpumag.comlcpuoctl

Viewsonic VG2428wm

Currently available for about $270 online, the VG2428wm is a scream­ing deal if you want a top-end, 24-inch LCD but not the top-shelf price tag that's often attached to such displays. The VG2428wm supports VGA and DVI-D ports but not HDMI. Instead, you get a two-port USB 2.0 hub and a 3.5mm stereo that feeds the 2W integrated stereo speakers. The speakers are sufficient for voice and YouTube, but you wouldn't want to game with them.

Using X-Rite's ilDisplay2 package, we measured the VG2428wm out of the box with a 2.2 gamma, an already optimal 6500K color temperature, a minimum luminance of 0.3cd/m2, and a running luminance (at 100%) brightness of 329cd/m2-a respectable 10% above the vendor's specification. We observed only slight blooming around the bottom edge and nothing out of the ordinary for a mainstream CCFL unit.

We've heard from Viewsonic that the compa­ny is transitioning to LED backlighting across its product line, and we can see why. Despite excellent color quality (that admittedly favors reds a bit over blues before calibration), deep blacks, zero visible ghosting, and excellent ability to preserve bright color grades without banding, the only weak­ness in this model is its power consump­tion. With a solid black background on the Windows 7 desktop, we measured the VG2428wm drawing 38.4W A solid white background yielded 37.3W. 

Withthe default Win7 desktop, we meas­ured 37.9W at 100% brightness, 27W at 80%, and 22.5W at 50%, with full-screen video maxing out at 41.2W LED panels generally con­sume much less. However, Viewsonic's stand is bril­liant, allowing for a 90-degree pivot, 360-degree swiveling, almost effortless tilting from - 5 to 20 degrees, and a height adjustment spanning 5.3 inches, so you can be ergonomically comfort­able. The 0.75-inch bezel isn't remark­ably thin, but it's svelte enough to escape much notice. Overall, the VG2428wm is one of the best monitor values we've tested recently .

NZXT Phantom

The NZXT Phantom is a full-tower design that will be available in white, black, or red. Also note that the chosen color covers both the exterior and interior of the case. The Phantom has what I'd call an angular design: The front panel has a triangular protrusion at the bottom, with smoother curves up top. The case panels are littered with angular cutouts and metal-mesh perforations.

At the top of the Phantom, users will find a typical assortment of connectors, along with an excellent five-channel fan controller. The front of the Phantom has a hinged door that hides five 5.25-inch bays, and the back has all of the com­mon elements of a full tower, 



in addition to a switch that gives users the ability to toggle any case lighting on and off. The Phantom includes an array of fans ranging in size from 120 to 200mm. Even with the fans running at their top speeds, the case remains relative­ly quiet.

Because of its size and nearly tool-less design, working within the Phantom is a breeze. All drives, with the exception of 2.5-inch SSDs, which require a few screws, can be mounted using tool-less retention mechanisms or trays. Large graphics cards will fit in the Phantom easily, as will tall, tower-type CPU coolers (provided the optional 200mm side-panel fan isn't installed).