CONSOLES

 

Microsoft®

Xbox One X

1TB Console

Sony®

PlayStation 4 Pro

1TB Console

The original Microsoft Xbox One was released in the US in late 2013 and marked a significant turning point for the future design and performance of consoles. Consoles have gotten more pc-like over the years and are now blurring the lines between the definition of small form factor gaming pc and gaming console. So what exactly happened and why is it better? Well other than the original Xbox from 2001, all the consoles preceding the Xbox One were based on RISC architecture which operates on a reduced instruction set meaning consoles were only capable of very simple general instructions. The Xbox One’s architecture is based on the 8086 instruction set that is prevalent in most personal computers and laptops today. Thanks to the re-integration of this x86 architecture, it is capable of handling more intensive workloads like modern games and is slowly chipping away at the small form factor gaming pc market. Chipping, not replacing, because while APU’s like the one that can be found in the Xbox One will continue to improve thanks to large investments in hardware from AMD and NVIDIA, consoles still lack a fully fledged operating system that would make it suitable for workstation-like utilization. As a dedicated gaming and media device however, the Xbox One more than delivers its value.

 

The Xbox One X is Microsoft’s current revision of the Xbox and based on specs alone, is the world’s most powerful console. Equipped with an 8-Core AMD Jaguar CPU clocked at 2.3 GHz and a custom AMD Radeon HD 7000 series GPU, the Xbox can deliver 4K graphics and video natively along with HDR support and high frame rates. The only downside to the Xbox One X currently is that the AMD Jaguar is older chipset architecture meant more for mobile gaming and will be phased out with the release of the next Xbox rumored to be out sometime in 2020.

 

So why get an Xbox One X today? I’ll just wait for the next one. The answer is because the price is right. A common trend that occurs pending an oncoming release is that prices are reduced on current inventory. The Xbox One X can be found currently at most major retailers for $399.00 and is sometimes bundled with an AAA title game like The Division 3. You would be hard pressed to find any 4K capable, VR capable, gaming platform for that price on the market today and that includes PCs. Graphic fidelity notwithstanding, 4K performance today is still 4K performance tomorrow and there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of older architecture’s lower prices.

Released to critical acclaim in the US in late 2013, the Sony Playstation 4, like the Xbox One, has also gone through a significant CPU architecture change by moving away from RISC and onto x86-64. Thanks to an AMD 8-Core Jaguar 1.6 GHz CPU coupled with a secondary low power processing unit to handle background tasks, this CPU combination allows the Sony Playstation 4 to process at a peak of 1.84 teraflops per second. For graphics, the Playstation 4 boasts the same 800MHz AMD Radeon as in the Xbox One. All of this high performance processing means that the Playstation 4 will support high-dynamic range video and playback at 4K resolution. It was the first console to do this until the Xbox One X was released in late 2017.

 

The latest iteration of the Sony Playstation 4 is the Playstation 4 Pro released in late 2016 as a pre-emptive strike to what would be the release of the Xbox One X by Microsoft. The Pro version came with vastly improved hardware including an upgraded CPU, GPU, more RAM, and USB 3.1 support. This new Playstation 4 was now capable of a staggering peak of 4.2 teraflops a second of processing performance and along with the upgraded AMD Radeon GPU could now deliver 4K gaming natively at 60Hz.

 

By now you might be thinking what makes the PS4 Pro so special versus other gaming consoles like the Xbox One X or even a PC. Well One aspect of the Playstation 4 that often gets overlooked is its support for peripherals and accessories beyond the controller. Sony Playstation has always been good about releasing their own augmented and virtual reality gear for their consoles whereas Microsoft typically doesn’t, relying instead on third parties to make compatible devices. Not only that but the Sony Playstation offers hardware backwards compatibility which means you can use Playstation 3 peripherals and accessories with your Playstation 4.

 

Even with the confirmation of the Playstation 5 on the horizon, the Playstation 4 Pro will likely still have a strong place within the console market because of a lowering price point and will make a great entry for anyone looking to get into console gaming for the first time. You’ll be able to hit the floor running with real 4K gaming and an already established virtual and augmented reality ecosystem.

 

PCs

 

Intel®

NUC Mini

Core i7 PC Kit

CORSAIR®

ONE Elite

Compact Gaming Desktop PC

So the Intel NUC is a small, strange, and powerful device. My first impression of the NUC was one of shear confusion because I couldn’t understand what it was and who it was for. As it turns out, it’s for everyone and I don’t mean that as a marketing gimmick. Intel created the NUC as way to deploy their hardware solutions quickly for any workload you could possibly need a computer for. What makes the NUC different from other compact builds is that all the components that make up the NUC are located on one customizable motherboard only 4 inches across and is independent of the chassis. That means you can easily swap the board for troubleshooting or upgrades (more on that below). These boards are ready to accept memory in their full size DIMM slots. For high speed storage there is an M.2 Slot and a SATA port for an internal hard drive. The latest high-end models like the NUC8i7BEH (that’s a mouthful) feature an Intel 8th Generation Core i7-8559U Coffee Lake CPU that’s capable of boost speeds of up to 4.5 GHz. At 4 cores and 8 threads it will easily handle any workload you throw at it. Oh and did I mention the CPU is soldered to the motherboard so no CPU swapping unless soldering is like…your thing. Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing as there have been tests showing soldered CPUs perform more consistently and with better thermal temperatures. Because the motherboards are only 4x4 inches it does kind of make sense to swap the board with the CPU attached rather than the CPU by itself. With added support for USB 3.1 Gen 2 (1 Type A and 1 Type C), this little device can has the potential to expand even beyond many expensive pre-builts today that are still utilizing USB 2.0. Ouch! This support for Thunderbolt 3 allows the NUC to receive an external GPU for even better graphics performance if the onboard graphics built into the U edition processors isn’t good enough for your needs.

 

The bottom line here is that the NUC puts a new spin on the mini-pc that works and is well executed. For enthusiasts and gamers it has really redefined pc LAN gaming for its ease of use. I recommend anyone who is looking for a pre-built solution but isn’t opposed to a little DIY either, strongly consider the Intel NUC. It comes in several different variants so if you need something specific be sure to check out all the options.

Never judge a book by its cover as the idiom goes. Those same words could be said about the Corsair One Pro. Since it’s coming out in 2017, it has quickly become the pinnacle of ultra small form factor design and performance with the former being a direct outcome of the latter and its design is exceptional. The little over two feet tall “trash can” is sleek and unassuming on the outside with just a touch of addressable RGB for the gaming enthusiast. One button allows the case to open revealing what makes the Corsair One Pro so special. Inside is a perfectly planned and precision executed chassis that is divided into zones allowing all of the internal real estate to be occupied with high-end components without them suffering from the traditional side-effects of small cases like heat and noise. What Corsair has done with the Corsair One Pro lineup is truly remarkable and they have really set the bar high for all other small-form factors to follow.

 

On the high-end skew, The Corsair One Pro i8 rocks a liquid cooled I-9 9900k and a liquid cooled NVIDIA RTX 2080ti. Just in case you don’t know what that means, it means that you are getting the absolute best of the best and will be able to punish any game, media, or production workload you put to it but the features don’t stop there. The Corsair One Pro i8 also has plenty of ports for peripherals including two Thunderbolt 3 ports (1 USB Type A and 1 USB Type C) for almost unlimited peripheral expandability.

 

So this all sounds great…but what’s the catch? Well anything this well designed and this well built has to come with a hefty price tag and a hefty one it is. The high-end skew will set you back a whopping $5000.00 USD. Now there are other small form factors and micro-ATX computers out there that are less expensive and you can certainly build your own compact pc for a lot less, but in either scenario you would be hard pressed to wind up with anything that matches the elegance with performance that the Corsair One Pro manages to achieve.

 

HANDHELDS

 
 

Nintendo®

Switch

Gray Joy-Con

 

The Nintendo Switch is the hottest handheld console on the market today. Considering it’s the “only” handheld console on the market today might have something to do with it. IGN reported that Nintendo had sold 32 million units since its launch in March of 2017 - the best out of all consoles, not just handhelds.

 

The closest competitor to the Switch might actually be Nintendo’s own 3DS which is still very popular but a product of an older generation and hasn’t received a hardware upgrade since 2012. Looking outside Nintendo there are only a splattering of other brands but probably none that you’ve heard of. So the Switch remains the chosen one for now so let’s talk about it. If you’re not familiar with the Nintendo Switch - it is a very versatile portable gaming platform. The idea behind the Switch is to allow users the capability to “switch” between portable handheld use and console use. In handheld mode, users get to utilize a brilliant 6.2-Inch multi-touch LCD screen with a 720p resolution powered by a customized Nvidia Tegra APU. In TV mode, the switch acts as a console allowing it to output video at 1080p to an external display via HDMI.

 

The switch has all the features you would find in a full size console including Wi-Fi, LAN, 3.5mm Audio Jack, a USB Type-C for charging and connecting to the Switch Dock. The onboard Bluetooth does let it down however because it can only be utilized while in TV mode. Hopefully this will be something that gets resolved in the Switch 2 which has been rumored to launch sometime in 2020. So is it still worth it to get a Switch now even with a Switch 2 predicted to come soon. I’m going to answer yes because although there is no official word on the price of the Switch 2 it is probably going to be more expensive than the first Switch was at launch due to its architecture improvements.

 

The Nintendo Switch has remained at its $299.00 MSRP since its launch and is not likely to change with Nintendo recently releasing the Switch Lite, a much “lighter” version of the Switch, at the $199.00 price point cementing the Nintendo Switch as the middle option in the lineup. Still, at $299.00 MSRP, the Nintendo Switch is an excellent investment because of what you get back in features and access to a large library of games.

 
 

NOTEBOOKS

 

Razer®

Blade 15

Gaming Laptop

Dell®

7855 G7 15

Gaming Laptop

If you are looking for a powerful thin and light for gaming and productivity then you might have already heard about Razer’s Blade series of laptops. If you haven’t, the synopsis on them is that they are a powerful slim-and-light that’s elegant and attractive and without any over-the-top styling. But don’t let the sleepy, subdued exterior fool you into thinking this is not a high-end performance pc because inside it’s packed to brim with high-end performance components.

 

Now there has been a lot of talk ever since Razer unveiled the Razer Blade and Blade Pro in 2013, about the high premium customers would be paying for these laptops. Considered by some to be the “Macbook Pro” equivalent of a pc, the Razer Blade had a lot to live up to in terms of its design. Packing that much power into such a small chassis along with a high fps panel and making it all look good would be real testimony to how far Razer would be willing to go to deliver on those expectations. Well Razer not only delivered, they’ve consistently come out with some of the sleekest, thinnest, and high-performing laptops on the market.

 

For me, the most interesting thing about their Blade lineup is the 13-inch skew. At a time when laptop makers don’t seem interested in investing performance to that skew opting instead for larger screens, huge power consumption, and crazy features that feel like gimmicks, Razer decided to put some real thought into their entire Blade line-up. Even though the 13-inch configuration does not include a dedicated GPU unlike the 15” and 17” variants it does accept Razer’s external GPU known as the Razer Core via Thunderbolt 3. Because DisplayPort over Thunderbolt 3 is commonly supported by their Blade line-up, it can keep you on almost a permanent upgrade path so long as your CPU doesn’t start to become a bottle-neck.

So Dell’s flagship G Series lineup of dedicated high performance gaming notebooks seem to have floated under the radar of most gaming notebook enthusiasts in 2019. Between options like the Razer Blade and a plethora of 15-inch and 17-inch offerings from just about everyone even including Dell themselves, it’s hard to know where the G Series fits into all of that. Heck even Wal-Mart made a gaming notebook last year. Well the G Series is an unassuming breath of fresh air in a world full of “rainbow unicorn vomit” and value added gimmicks. Dell cuts right to the chase with these notebooks and what I like most about the G Series is that they have a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) aesthetic about it. Its looks are not going to turn heads but when you pull it out of your bag, people will know you’re serious to turn and burn because on the inside these notebooks have got it where it counts.

 

Both the 15-inch and 17-inch can be gotten with Intel’s 9th Generation Core i7-9750H which is a behemoth of a notebook processor at 6 cores and 12 threads .This processor can step up to 4.5GHz with Intel Turbo and together with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Max Q, this configuration can really push out the frames to the 15.6-inch FHD (1920x1080) 240Hz IPS Anti-Glare Display. It also has what every gaming notebook should have in 2019 and that is a Thunderbolt 3 port (Otherwise known as USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C). Note that this is the highest-end, most expensive configuration that could be specked out but this configuration is not what makes the Dell G7 Series special. It’s the fact this flagship design has so many options that customer can choose from. Options like size and being able to choose how much performance they want will allow customers to get the best gaming experience for the money they are willing to spend. However, when you factor in the potential expandability with Thunderbolt 3 it makes this notebook a very good value proposition for gaming.

 

This is the kind of notebook I could see lasting in someone’s gaming arsenal for a long time but if you do decide to keep it, you’ll want to make sure to keep up with the warranty and even consider picking up an extended service plan.

 

HP®

Spectre x360-13t

Ultrabook

Dell®

XPS 13 9380

Ultrabook

The HP Spectre 13 lineup has become a real hit over the last few years as a hybrid sub-notebook or in this case an ultrabook. I know it’s confusing but to clarify what an ultra-book is, it is actually an Intel designation used to describe a line of sub-notebooks that feature a powerful yet low-power Intel Core processor. So, it is not an ultrabook unless it has an Intel CPU inside. A sub-notebook is smaller and lighter than a traditional notebook but larger than a handheld device like a smart phone. A tablet for example would fall into this category.

 

A hybrid notebook is a notebook that can convert into a tablet and was first introduced to the market in 2012 by Lenovo’s Yoga lineup. Since then the convertible notebook has gone through many changes, face-lifts if you will. Some had success while some were simply bad leading some to speculate the hybrid notebook would become a thing of the past along with tablets in general. As it turns out there was at least one company who still believed in the hybrid and that was HP. Not only did they believe in it, they actually executed one of the most spectacular hybrids on the market today.

 

If you’re not already familiar with the Spectre hybrid it is actually a computer that seems to have a reputation that precedes itself because for all intents and purposes it’s a computer that has been more than a decade in the making and was born from a merger between HP and one of their closest long-standing partners – Voodoo Computers Inc. or what we know today as HP Omen. Thanks to VoodooPC’s long and illustrious history of building some of the best performance gaming pc’s ever witnessed by man and really pushing the envelope of graphics technology, HP would now have a shot at gaining back some real market share in the high-performance creative and gaming sector in which they have found themselves lagging behind in. Under their own name, HP Omen would start to develop their line of systems under their own brand name as well as help HP rebrand and re-design their Pavilion lineup otherwise known today as HP ENVY. The Spectre Series would come out of this lineup as the premier ultrabook.

 

Fortunately for everyone, HP did get it right with the Spectre 13t and I imagine it was not an easy process because HP somehow managed to passively cool the entire notebook. What! How they did that with a Core i7 8565U capable of boosting up to 4GHz on all four cores is beyond me. Well they did it and they didn’t stop there. The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics is capable of a 4096x2304 resolution at 60Hz on its beautiful 13.3 diagonal FHD IPS multi-touch display panel and over DisplayPort. Making the Spectre 13t really special is the I/O. This ultrabook just barely over twelve inches across has not one but two Thunderbolt 3 ports, both capable of handling graphics which means connected to an eGPU this passively cooled ultrabook can handle modern titles with good frame rates. The HP Spectre is truly one-of-a-kind, perhaps even revolutionary and I urge anyone interested in modular setups and/or small form factor pc gaming to give it a try.

For gamers the Dell XPS (Xtreme Performance System) desktop strikes up a bit of nostalgia as it has been a lot of people’s first entry into pc gaming and pc gaming hardware. That’s interesting because the Dell XPS was intended for corporate use and was targeted as a high-end business-class system to consumers. When Dell inititied the XPS program back in the 1990s, it was to be a competitive answer to Gateway’s well-budgeted line-up of desktop PCs for productivity which at that time were flying off the shelves due to their low cost, brick-and-mortar stores, and a sales model copied straight from Dell’s own playbook. Guys! Remember Gateway?

 

Since then, the Dell XPS has stuck to the tradition that Michael Dell and Vernon Weiss started almost thirty years ago which was to pack the latest technology into a streamlined corporate package and sell it at an affordable price. That might be where the story ends for the XPS but to know you’ll have to take a closer look at Dell XPS’s history as a gaming pc. There have been and still are a lot of people who absolutely deny the XPS as a gaming platform but what I’ve learned over the years is that gamers will squeeze all the gaming performance they can from any machine they can get their hands on. Now, that doesn’t justify going out and getting an XPS especially if gaming is your primary use-case…although that might be a narrow and antiquated view to have in an age of Thunderbolt 3 power delivery and DisplayPort which even the XPS 13-inch version is equipped with. As mentioned before in previous articles and reviews, an eGPU cannot fully replace the performance of a dedicated graphics card due to the number of PCI-Express lanes that can be dedicated over to USB 3.1 Gen 2, however it can certainly close the gap significantly and make it possible for you to play at a fidelity on the level with other high-performance gaming notebooks.

 

When I see the XPS I see possibility, and that’s really what’s most attractive about the latest XPS line for me. I could defiantly see a creator using this notebook on the road and plugging into an eGPU at home for gaming. I could also see them really pushing that new Intel Core i7 Ice Lake CPU hard. While the 15-inch version features the 8th Generation Intel Core i7 8705G with integrated AMD VEGA Graphics, the 13-inch has the latest 9th Generation Intel Core i7 1065G7 Ice Lake Processor with Intel’s latest graphics technology called Iris Plus which by some accounts has outperformed AMD’s VEGA integrated graphics. Iris Plus is capable of pushing 4K at 120Hz over display port so even without an eGPU connected display and a dedicated graphics card this notebook should still be able to deliver a good gaming experience to a high refresh rate monitor.

 

So what’s the final verdict on the new XPS line-up? I agree it’s not the best solution for gaming but it can get the job done if you are willing to invest in the highest-end configurations and potentially add an eGPU for good measure in the future.

 

Asus®

ZenBook Pro Duo

Ultrabook

Asus®

Zephyrus G14

Gaming Laptop

The Asus ZenBook Duo first revealed all the way back at CES 2019 and quickly garnered a surreptitious buzz surrounding its controversial dual screen design, hence the "Duo" in the name. While some saw the dual screen as a groundbreaking innovation that would add efficiency to production workflow, others saw it as a gimmick that would satisfy enthusiasts' taste buds but would do little for the creative or gamer in terms of function. A few tech YouTubers who were lucky enough to test drive the ZenBook Pro Duo seemed to express the same "dual" sentiment. Enthusiasts of the duo screen said it was nice to have for gaming because it allows the UI to expand beyond the HUD. For compatible games, users can drag elements down to the secondary screen, dubbed the ScreenPad Plus, and free up more real estate. Elements like tool palettes, menus, maps, action bars, and radar handled on the secondary display, can be a great benefit to MMO and RPG players in particular who struggle with low game visibility due to HUD clutter. On the other hand, if FPS shooters and Player-vs.-Player games are more your thing, than the functionality of the ScreenPad Plus may lessen. With the Screen Pad located at the top half of the keyboard deck, it would require the user to look down to engage those menus properly. For those types of live action games, looking away, even for a second, can prove fatal. The keyboard deck is slightly inclined providing a better viewing angle thanks to its exceptional design ergonomics aptly called ErgoLift. You know you're serious about ergonomics when you've created a brand name around it. Still, the consensus seems to be that while ultimately inconsequential, the secondary display did provide real-time benefits to the gamer and is particularly useful for players who are streaming at the same time, which is a great example of what makes this ultra book so compelling - multitasking.

 

This multitasking behemoth is a real innovative leap forward as a tool for developers, content creators, and business professionals, to handle bulky workloads and processes like video editing and rendering. The secondary display serves as a very useful hub for all of your tool bars and additional windows you have open on your taskbar. Because it's touch enabled and stylus ready, you can use the ScreenPad Plus to draw and sketch as well as quickly cycle between tasks. Alternatively, if you're like me and like to have a movie or video playing in the background while you work then this ultra book has you covered. The ScreenPad Plus is an OLED wide-angle display with ultra detail HDR and a 3840 x 1100 resolution, approximately half the height of the main display. The Pantone verified display features extraordinary color properties covering 100% of the DCI-P3 cinema color space and up to 133% of the Adobe sRGB color space.

 

So this ultra book has a dual screen, is it really worth the almost $4000.00US for the highest-end skew. Well let's evaluate the ZenBook Pro Duo beyond the obvious main attraction. Looking at the highest-end skew, the Zenbook Pro Duo comes with a 9th Generation Intel Core i9-9980HK processor that is a monster of a CPU at 8 cores and 12 threads and a single core boost clock of 5GHz. For graphics, the Zenbook Pro Duo has a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, which is labeled as being a mid-range choice because it is a cut down version of NVIDIA's top end card, the RTX 2080 based on the famous Turing Architecture. Though it may seem wanting, the RTX 2060 is more than sufficient to handle 4K gaming, VR, and Raytracing without losing ground, so to speak, with a Max-Q solution which is generally the case with RTX 2080s inside notebooks. It would be nice to receive at least an RTX 2070 as part of the high-end skew given the lofty price tag but the RTX 2060 does hit the price-to-performance sweet spot and is unlikely that users will notice the performance difference unless they are benchmarking.

It's coming - the gaming notebook that has enthusiasts chomping at the bit, Intel asking what's next from their biggest market rival, and has even Cramer on Mad Money weighing in. Giving his evaluation of the company that is bringing about a revolution within the high-performance gaming notebook space. Asus stunned everyone by dropping an atomic bomb on the laptop market with its latest Zephyrus release, the G14, featuring an AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS mobile CPU based on the latest 7nm process technology allows for 8 cores and 16 threads on a single chip. Coupled with a desktop-class Nvidida GeForce RTX 2060 GPU that clocks up to 1298MHz at 65-watts means you can power through any AAA gaming title at maximum settings while handling all of your content creation needs.

 

As soon as it was released, those influencers lucky enough to get their hands on it for testing quickly dove into comparisons between the R9 4900HS and Intel's flagship mobile processer. The Core i9-9980HK can boost to a staggering 5Ghz but has a 45-watt TDP that can be pushed as high as a whopping 120-watts with factory over-clocking. Note that just about every high-end mobile skew from any manufacturer featured the 9980HK demonstrating the dominance of Intel in the laptop market today. Well all that's about to change because testing has shown that the R9 4900HS actually beat the Core i9-9980HK in multi-core Cinebench and came in a close second in single-threaded performance but only because of the factory over-clocking mentioned earlier. Testers were stunned and the word is out now that AMD is no longer standing by while it watches Intel continue to dominate the high-end notebook market with the Core i9. Not only did AMD's R9 CPU come correct in terms of performance but also they did it in a form factor notebook that's 13 x 9-inches and only 3.8-pounds which is about half the size and girth of comparable gaming notebooks on the market today.

 

Get this notebook with the optional AniMe Matrix display for greater personalization and that eye candy goodness every gamer needs. This magnesium-aluminum display is CNC milled creating 6,536 perfectly spaced perforations in a custom pattern that are backlit with 1,215 mini-LEDs. Use it to light up animations, images, audio visualizations to match music playback, and even status notifications like battery life. The build quality and performance of the display are excellent with a 120Hz 1920 x 1080p @ 120Hz option as well as a 2560 x 1440 @ 60Hz display available. All displays are Pantone Validated and cover 100% of the Adobe sRGB spectrum. Choose your panel wisely if you do not intend to use an external monitor. For graphics, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 with 6GB of VRAM and a boost clock of 1298MHz consuming a cool 65-watts means you'll have plenty of graphics and video performance. For I/O, this notebook has everything, including a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C Thunderbolt with DisplayPort meaning external graphics cards and display docks are compatible.

 

Bringing together the quality design and build quality of Asus, powered by a revolutionary CPU by AMD, and you have the ingredients for what some are calling the most important high-end notebook release by any manufacturer in a decade. This notebook is not available for sale just yet but look for it soon at your preferred tech dealer.

 

2019