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Antec ISK600 Review

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/antec-isk600-review/

Antec ISK600 Review

My days of large full tower cases are slowly coming to an end.  Although I love the behemoths of yesteryear, I see myself starting to look upon Mini-ITX motherboards and cases with more enthusiasm every day.  I can get everything I want and need in a compact platform without sacrificing CPU and video card power.  This transition seems to have been born from the latest round of case reviews that have been featured here lately.  We have featured SilverStone, Fractal Design, Lian-Li and iStarUSA cases on the site but one company wasn’t feeling any love and promised me they could sway me from the others with their latest Mini-ITX case.  I have to admit, the competition is rough, but Antec feels as though their ISK600 is the case that steals the thunder.

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The ISK600 is a slick looking and versatile Mini-ITX case capable of stuffing some impressively massive components within.  First, the ISK600 measures in at 195mm (H) x 260mm (W) x 369mm (D) and weighs next to nothing when empty, just 6.5 lbs.  The case can support plenty of storage by allowing you to install a total of 6 devices: 1 Slim Optical Drive, 2 x 2.5″ HDDs, and 3 x 3.5″ HDDs.  Aside from the plentiful storage options, the ISK600 can home a massive (317.5 mm) video card and CPU Cooler (170mm in height).  The case ships with an Antec 120mm fluid dynamic bearing fan (1200 r.p.m, 18dB) installed in the rear, it has 1 USB 2.0 and 1 USB 3.0 ports up front, as well as Audio In/Out.

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The ISK600 is manufactured from 8mm SECC steel and plastic.  It features some advanced cooling capabilities (ready for water) as well as the ability to accommodate a standard ATX PSU.  The stylish and sturdy finish can make itself feel comfortable in any environment and its front facing blue LED strip ensures that you have at least the 37 pieces of flair that the management requires.

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So, what do you get when you get the ISK600 from Antec?

Up front you get some seriously sleek looks.  The front of the case features a slim optical drive bay up top.  Towards the bottom, you see a single USB3.0 port and USB 2.0 port.  These are kept company by Audio In/Out and some cut out buttons for Power and Reset.  LED enhanced lighting indicates power in a very cool way.  The flat black color along with the blue LED accent adds that extra bit of flair in all the right ways.  The Antec logo in the upper right hand corner is carved into the bezel.

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Either side of the front bezel acts as intake for cool, fresh air and transitions smoothly to the sides of the case.  Each side of the lid sports a honeycombed intake to help keep your large video card (on the left) and your PSU (on the right) cool.  Personally, I would have preferred a larger area on the left side to provide large video cards (like those of us with R9s) with dual cooling fans to pull plenty of cool air.  Instead the area is limited to just a small section.  When cooling your rig with air, the rear fan will help to pull air through the system.

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The bottom of the ISK600 sports some small rubber feet, absent of any style.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind at all if we found some stereo style feet similar to that of the SilverStone Grandia GD08 HTPC case.

Around back, the case is pretty simple.  There is a single Antec 120mm exhaust fan, the I/O cutout for your motherboard, a power plug, and dual expansion ports for those dual slot video cards we have come to love.

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If you notice, I did not mention anything about a removable side panel.  This is because there isn’t one.  Instead, 3 thumbscrews hold the single classic AT style lid in place.  When removed, the ISK600’s glorious interior is revealed… and it is glorious.

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To start, once the lid is removed, you are presented immediately with two removable trays.  Each of these removable trays are lined with anti-vibration materials and rest nicely in some simple cutouts in the frame.  No tools are required for removal, just pull them up and out to remove them.

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The first tray, closest to the front of the case can support two 2.5″ drives and a slim optical drive.  This tray is actually two pieces.  The slim optical mount can be removed to install your 2.5″ drives, but it isn’t necessary.  There are screw cutouts for quick and easy access.

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The second of the trays is designed to hold 2 of the 3 internal 3.5″ hard drives.  When installed, they will be staggered.  If you are using a larger heatsink, don’t count on being able to install a drive on the bottom.  The bottom drive uses the HDDs bottom side mounting points while the top can use the HDD sides or bottom.  The large cutout provides you with some wiring options for your hard drives.  Personally, my HTPC, or PC for that matter, do not use any 3.5″ HDDs so the tray is resting comfortably on my “junk” shelf and will remain their until the case is decommissioned.

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Up front, just below these trays, is the area dedicated to your PSU.  The area is lined with anti-vibration materials and the intake fan on your PSU is positioned to pull air through the front bezel.  The ISK600 uses an extension for your Power Supply cable to keep the power plug in the back while having the PSU in the front.  If you peak to the left, the frame of the ISK600 provides the third option for a 3.5″ HDD.

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It may be important for you to note that if you use a HUGE video card, I can almost guarantee that you will end up with some spacing issues.  Although the case states it can support large video cards and standard PSUs, it can get a bit snug and you will need to take into consideration the PSU wiring.  If you don’t have a modular PSU, you should probably consider one for a build in this case.

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The motherboard is installed just below the exhaust fan on pre-installed motherboard standoffs.  There is enough clearance above the motherboard to install one of Antec’s (or another) self-contained water-cooling units, such as the KÜHLER H2O 650.

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When it comes down to the build, everything ends up fitting.  There are no sharp edges at all and the interior finish makes it very easy to work with.  Having a modular design to the hard drives and optical drives allows you to position everything easily and plan your build.

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Although there is plenty of room for hardware, some consideration needs to be made for powering everything.  It almost makes me wish that Antec, or another company for that matter, would offer us PSUs with the Mini-ITX market in mind; PSUs that feature shorter wiring runs for power that keep clutter and volume consumption to a minimum.

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In my cluttered build, I chose to employ the Antec KÜHLER H2O 650 instead of relying on continuously warming air and a traditional cooler.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room for traditional water cooling kits, but the AIO 650 fits well and occupies only a small amount of real estate leaving plenty of room for the excess and wasteful wiring.

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Alright… so what does this all mean to you?  First, the ISK600 is an extremely solid case.  The fit and finish is near perfect and the roomy interior gives you plenty of flexibility.  The removable drive trays are easy to work with and the anti-vibration material will keep things quiet.  The roomy interior allows you to integrate some hefty graphics power, but the relative proximity to your PSU can create spacing issues with the PSU wiring.

When you start to think about the flexibility and build quality of the ISK600 you start to build an expectation for cost in your head.  Well, crush it.  This case is budget friendly, it can be had for right around $59.99 USD.  Add up all the fine points and you have a true winner here.  Antec has pushed the envelope and brought a budget friendly Mini-ITX case that can run with the best of them.

cod recommended badge Antec ISK600 Review

A TEXT POST

Setting up MPC-HC for Video Playback in XBMC

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/setting-mpc-hc-video-playback-xbmc/

Setting up MPC-HC for Video Playback in XBMC


I have been building and using home theater PC’s for as long as I can remember.  However, it seems that recently I have been paying more attention to the quality of things than the quantity of things I do with it.  I remember popping in my BD disc and being blown away by the quality of the image flickering about.  It seems as though that feeling had been washed away even though my collection has been become more high-definition.


First, I would like to express that there is nothing wrong with the integrated player that XBMC provides.  It plays a variety of formats and does it easily.  However, in my configuration, I find that 3rd party players deliver a better video quality without sacrificing performance, control, and flexibility.  These reasons are why the developers of XBMC built-in the ability to run 3rd party applications.

In an effort to improve my multimedia experience, I set out to find out how to improve what I already had without spending money on additional hardware, like external dedicated BD players. After all, another piece of hardware would eliminate the purpose of having a single HTPC for all media purposes.  With that said, I am going to take you along on my journey to improve the video quality without spending any additional cash and without requiring a degree in computer science.

First, let’s start with external players.  There are a lot of players out there that can handle high quality content… but there are always a few go-to applications that seem to top the list of the AV enthusiasts out there.  The top of that list features an application that goes by the name of MPC-HC.

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MPC-HC is a very lightweight open source media player that runs on Windows.  Like VLC (one of our other go-to applications), MPC-HC can play just about anything, including the OGM and Matroska containers (which is the majority of my media collection).  What does that mean to you? It means you don’t have to fool around with various codec packs for media playback.

Now, although this won’t be complicated to get working, it will require an adventurous spirit.

There are a couple of assumptions I am going to make before we begin.

  1. You already have XBMC installed – if not, download it and install it.
  2. You are running Windows. (this guide is for Windows based PC’s running XBMC)
  3. You have Windows already configured for your audio configuration (Speakers: 2, 2.1, 5.1,7.1, etc)
  4. You have a reasonably decent HTPC – even this would do (which can be had for under $200.00 USD)

Download and install MPC-HC

To download MPC-HC, please visit the MPC-HC download page.  I would like to stress that even though you may be running 64-bit OS and capable hardware that you should install the X86 version.  The reason? Some of the optional components require the 32-bit version.

All you have to do is double-click the installer and follow the prompts for a default installation

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For my collection, I try to be as organized as possible.  I use MakeMKV to rip all my content to MKV, then store them on my NAS organized by video quality in the following folders.  With this setup, it allows me to easily fine tune which videos are played with MPC-HC (in part 2 we will discuss up-scaling) and which I will use another external player for.  For instance, I will use PowerDVD to launch my 3D ISO instead of MPC-HC or XBMC’s internal player.

  • DVD – This folder stores my video files ripped directly from DVD
  • HD – This folder stores my video files ripped directly from Bluray
  • 3D – ISO Images of my 3D movies
  • Garbage – standard video files of various quality

Configure XBMC to use MPC-HC

Now that you have MPC-HC installed, let’s configure XBMC to use it. In order for XBMC to recognize and use an external player, you will either have to create or modify your playercorefactory.xml file.

To locate the file or create the file you can use the start menu, the run command, or windows explorer.  Enter the following to navigate to the folder:

%USERPROFILE%\AppData\Roaming\XBMC\userdata

If you already have a playercorefactory.xml file located in this directory, right-click it and choose the option for edit.  If you don’t have one, you can either download the one attached below or create one to edit by right clicking a blank space in the explorer window and choosing the option under New for Text Document.  Rename the document playercorefactory.xml , then edit it.

Download playercorefactory.xml

The contents of the file should be:


 
	
		C:\Program Files (x86)\MPC-HC\mpc-hc.exe
		"1" /full-screen /close
		false
		false
		none
	
 
 
   
 

If you are running Windows 32-bit, you will need to modify the line

C:\Program Files (x86)\MPC-HC\mpc-hc.exe

to

C:\Program Files\MPC-HC\mpc-hc.exe

This will tell XBMC to open any MKV file in our newly installed MPC-HC video player.  If you would like to set some limitations on directories or file types that XBMC will use MPC-HC for, you can add a couple of quick bits of information.  For instance, if you would like to have MPC-HC play more media formats just edit the following line and include the file formats you want:

To something like

<rule filetypes="mkv|avi|mp4" player="MPC-HC"/>

Personally, I limit MKV file playback in MPC-HC to a certain directory for my library

<rule filetypes="mkv" filename=".*/HD/.*" player="MPC-HC"/>

Configure MPC-HC

Out of the box, MPC-HC is a capable player.  Like we said though, we are after an enhanced experience.  To take it up a notch, we are going to install a handful of items:

  • madVR - Make sure you install the 32-bit version.
  • xySubFilter – Make sure you are downloading xySubFilter and not VSFilter

Many tutorials on the net that feature madVR also specify that ReClock will help to keep audio and video in sync.  Since the release of madVR 0.86.0 and the introduction of smooth motion, there isn’t really a need for ReClock.  Smooth motion does require some decent CPU processing power and it does have its drawbacks, like higher GPU usage and some loss of sharpness (23-25fps –> 60Hz: minimal sharpness loss, nearly invisible 24fps –> 24Hz: visible sharpness loss 60fps –> 24Hz: very noticeable sharpness loss).

Note: See more about the release here

Once you have all of them downloaded, start installing them one by one.  Let’s start with madVR.

madVR isn’t a difficult install, but it isn’t as straight forward as your typical windows installer.  You just need to download the zip file, unzip it, move it to the root of C:, and run the install.bat file.  Um… its installed, not configured though.  That part comes in again within MPC-HC.  Just make sure you do not delete the folder once you are done… it is required.

Now that everything is installed, let’s tell MPC-HC.  To get started, open MPC-HC, use the View menu to find Options, or just press O.

Navigate to Playback, Output to change the DirectShow Video render to madVR and hit apply.

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Now to configure XySubFilter, navigate to Playback and uncheck Use the built-in subtitle renderer and hit apply

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To configure the internal filters, navigate to Internal Filters on the left pane and choose the button at the bottom of the screen for Video Decoder

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The general rule of thumb here is to configure the hardware decoder, under the Hardware Acceleration heading, to best match your video card.  For instance, if you are using Intel graphics, select Intel QuickSync as your hardware decoder.  For NVIDIA cards, use NVIDIA CUVID, and for AMD use DXVA2 (native). The rest of the options can remain untouched for now… your mileage may vary.

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Apply, Ok.

For Audio configuration, click the Audio Decoder button located directly adjacent to the Video Decoder Button.

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You need to configure the Audio Decoder for BitStreaming to match your Receiver’s configuration (if you are using one).  In my setup, my Denon Receiver (a bit aged) in my basement supports the following.  Dolby and DTS, but not DTS-HD.  Make a note of the Mixing tab at the top here, if you experience some low volumes when playing back a movie or video you can adjust the settings here to assist.

In order for MPC-HC to support DTS-HD Decoding, even if your receiver supports it, you need to find and download dtsdecoderdll.dll.  DTS-HD is a family of proprietary audio codecs and is unavailable for download through most legal channels.  There are ways for you to get it, however, the best and safest (legally) way is to purchase software that comes with it.  Arcsoft TotalMedia Theatre is one of those software packages and a free trial is available to you to try before you bye.  Yes, the dll is supplied in the free trial.  Once you have purchased the software, just navigate to the folder it is installed in by right clicking on the desktop icon and choosing open file location.  Navigate to the Codec folder, copy dtsdecoderdll.dll and paste it in the MPC-HC\LAVFilters folder.  In my case, I am running Windows 7 64-bit, my MPC-HC folder is C:\Program Files (x86)\MPC-HC\LAVFilters

Configuring madVR

Now that MPC-HC is configured for both XySubFilter and madVR, the rest of the configuration is geared towards madVR and fine tuning it a bit.  As a note, these settings are settings that I used for my configuration and you may need to do some tweaking for yours.  Everyone’s living room is different.

To begin the configuration of madVR, you need to open a video to play with MPC-HC.  The process of doing so is as simple as dragging a video into the MPC-HC screen.  While the video is playing you can right-click anywhere in the screen and navigate to Filters then madVR.  Additionally, you can right-click on the MAD icon in your system tray to Edit Settings.

Upon entering the settings for madVR, you will immediately be prompted to identify your devices.  In my case, the LCD TV I purchased for $5.00 USD needs to be identified as a Digital Monitor / TV.

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Once you have identified your device, you can configure the display modes madVR may switch to.  I am not going to go nuts here trying to define what frame rate is and what refresh rates are; where and why, but it is best to configure your display mode for your source.  If your source is a DVD or a BD, you can safely say that the frame rate will be 23.976fps.  In order to have these frames delivered without being repeated, you can tell madVR what your display supports and it will adjust accordingly. This is done by expanding the menu tree and choosing display modes.

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You can safely determine what refresh rates your TV supports without pulling too much of your hair out.  Just go to your desktop (for Windows 7), right-click, choose Screen Resolution, Click Advanced Settings.

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That will open a new Window.  Along the top you will see a tab for Monitor.  Here you can see the Screen refresh rates supported by your display.  Write them down if necessary to remember them.  Don’t forget, mine is a $5.00 display…  You need to take this information to madVR along with your resolution.

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I generally like to follow the flow of things.  I read from left to right and work in applications from top to bottom.  The next menu item in the tree is for processing.  Here you set the decoding, deinterlacing and artifact removal options of madVR.  In decoding, I typically leave defaults.  In deinterlacing, check the box for disable automatic source detection and force film mode.  I also regularly leave artifact removal set to defaults.

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There has been a lot of debate in the next section about what is better for what.  I can safely say that I am not the expert and that I have had very positive results by listening to those that are far more informed than I on the subject.  Under scaling algorithms, working from top to bottom, the settings detailed below have worked very well for me.

Chroma upscaling, Jinc is widely considered the best to use here.  3 taps is a safe bet and activate anti-ringing filter.  More taps, more horsepower required from your HTPC, but sharpness increases.

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Mirror the same configuration for image upscaling.

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For downscaling, Catmul-Rom and defaults.

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Under Rendering on the menu tree, most options can be left at their default settings.  However, for some displays, like mine, enabling smooth motion frame rate conversion is the alternative support for 23.976hz modes.  I enable it and leave the option for only if there would be motion judder without it…

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The rest of the options under dithering and trade quality for performance sections are areas where you need to tweak and test for your configuration.  For my living room, an overkill HTPC, I disable every option in trade quality for performance and use Error Diffusion – option 2 in dithering.

All that is left to do is pop some corn, grab a soda or beer, and fire up your favorite movie.

A TEXT POST

iStarUSA BPU-350SATA Cage Review

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/istarusa-bpu-350sata-cage-review/

iStarUSA BPU-350SATA Cage Review

If you are into storage and servers, you may have thought about taking a crack at building your own.  Just having a case large enough to home a ton of hard drives isn’t enough to do the job right.  Your drives need to be accessible.  Think about it, you would have to take everything apart to replace or add a hard drive if they were just all stuffed in a case?  That’s nuts.  In the interest of convenience and usability, products like hard drive hot-swap cages are nearly a necessity.  Enter the iStarUSA BPU-350SATA hard drive cage

Hard drive hot-swap cages make things easier when building storage devices and servers.  You get accessibility, organization, and a compact enclosure in one box.  In the case of the BPU-350SATA, iStarUSA provides you with a hot-swap cage that occupies just three 5.25 inch drive bays but still allows you to install a total of five 3.5 inch SATA or SAS hard drives. The BPU-350SATA measures in at 146.0 mm x 126.0 mm x 209.5 mm and is available in Black, Blue, Red, Silver, and plain old lockable.  This hot-swap drive cage supports RAID 1/0/1+0/5 configurations.  Although it wasn’t stated as supported, we were able to configure a RAID 6 array.

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Additionally, the BPU-350SATA can assist with keeping all your hard drives cool as they spin away.  The unit ships with an 80mm cooling fan in the back and is mostly constructed of lightweight aluminum with conductive dissipation grooves.  Air is drawn through the unit and over the hard drives from front to back exhausting the warmed air through your chassis.

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The front bezel is plastic and can be removed with a total of eight screws.  Four on top, four on bottom.  The unit sports 5 removable drive trays; each with their own power and activity LEDs.  Each of these LEDs doubles as a power button!  If you press the button, you can cut or provide power to the HDD.  You also have an Overheat LED that also acts as a reset switch.  This LED will trigger a buzzer alarm if the temps are too high.  Lastly, there is a Fan Sensor LED that acts similarly to that of the Overheat LED.  If the fan stops, the reset button can be used to silence the buzzer alarm.

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Each of the five hard drive trays are constructed of a plastic and aluminum.  The thick aluminum trays slide in with some resistance but with metal on metal contact, that is to be expected.  The lack of wiggle room here doubles as an anti-vibration mechanism.  Hard drives are installed using the bottom screw holes for either 2.5″ or 3.5″ HDDs.  The front of the tray features a quick release locking mechanism that is impressively simple.   The handle itself is metal and a strong spring is used for tension.  The design allows for quick installation and quick release with minimal effort.  The drive trays also assist with heat dissipation.

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On the top and bottom, there are small groves to increase surface area.  Also note that there are four mounting points on each side for special installations and those incredibly complicated screw patterns that somehow present themselves during a build.

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The sides of the BPU-350SATA are completely flat and void of grooves.  Unfortunately, because these sides are completely flat, installation can sometimes become complicated.  There are 12 screw holes on each side for all kinds of installation scenarios, but there are no deep channels for cases with 5.25″ guides.  This design is normal in the server and industrial markets, but if you find yourself looking at one of these for a home build, make sure your case doesn’t have these supports.  Otherwise, you will have to cut them out.

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Around back there are the 5 HDD SATA/SAS connections, the 80mm cooling fan, 2 SATA Power connections, 2 4-pin power connections, some function jumpers, a couple of switches, and a buzzer.  The 80mm cooling fan can be easily removed for replacement.  All too often, these pre-installed fans start whining or whirring and replacing them requires complete removal.  This usually means that we end up living with the noise…  Thankfully, iStarUSA has made replacement easy.  The two switches in the back are to control fan speed and HDD LEDs.  The first set of jumpers allows you to control the temperature at which the buzzer will sound.   Selections can be made for 55, 60, and 65 degrees Celsius.  The next set of jumpers are used for systems that can collect information about the fans and temperatures, while the last set is for power detection settings.  There are also five screws for removing the rear bezel.

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The overall fit and finish of the BPU-350SATA is very nice.  The hard drive trays are spectacular and the unit itself is very sturdy. The buzzer alarms and LEDs are heaven-sent as is the easily removable 80mm cooling fan.  iStarUSA has gone the extra mile here and it definitely shows.  This hot-swap cage, with industrial roots, can easily make itself at home in any environment.  The incredibly slick looks and build quality makes the BPU-350SATA hard to ignore.  With a price tag of right around $119.99 USD this isn’t the cheapest HDD hot-swap cage on the market, but I will bet you dollars to donuts it is one of the better in its price range.

A TEXT POST

SilverStone DS380 NAS Case Review

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/silverstone-ds380-nas-case-review/

SilverStone DS380 NAS Case Review


There is seldom a time when I get more excited than when someone ships me a case designed specifically for storage.  SliverStone told me they would be producing something that would get my fingers twitching in anticipation, and for the last couple of months it sat in a dark corner waiting for the day when I could break it open.  Lonely and afraid, the SilverStone DS380 SFF NAS chassis waited, waited for its chance to woo me.

We have already built home storage servers out of a few cases that weren’t designed for it.  All have done the job and done it well, considering.  To date, we have had only one case in the lab that catered specifically to a NAS build, the iStarUSA S-915.  With the DS380, SilverStone hopes to be the number one pick for your NAS build.  What sets this case apart from that of the S-915 is that this case is intended for the home/enthusiast user whereas the S-915 is an industrial intended chassis.

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First, the DS380 is designed specifically for NAS and storage applications out of the box without the need to buy additional equipment like hard drive cages.  This means that the case ships with the ability to house up to 12 total drives (8 are hot-swappable 3.5″, 4 are internal 2.5″).  It has plenty of cooling, a locking front door, and it can accommodate a mini-ITX motherboard.  The case measures just 211mm x 360mm x 285mm, sports plenty of connectivity, and is constructed of plastic, SECC and aluminum.

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The front of the case first presents an all-aluminum locking door.  Don’t let its simple looks deceive you.  The front door features a power button, but the button can be easily disabled with a locking mechanism on the backside of the door.  Disabling the power button can prevent an unwanted shutdown in more secure environments. Move the slide to enable or disable the power button.

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The front door’s locking mechanism is a simple HEX style key.

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Once the front door is open, the DS380 welcomes you to all things storage.  There are eight removable drive trays, two USB 3.0 ports, audio connection, and a pair of LEDs.

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The removable drive trays are forged from a single piece of injection molded plastic.  The retention mechanism is quite simple and the front of the drive tray is designed to allow the user to label each drive with a provided adhesive label.  To release a drive, just squeeze the two sides and pull.

The right side of the drive tray has an LED for activity/power.  You can install either a 3.5″ or 2.5″ hard drive.  The third drive tray from the top can be removed and blocked off for the installation of video cards up to 11″ long.  Not sure why you would need one in a NAS, but at least overkill is an option here.  I certainly like the ability to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

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The top of the DS380 has a filtered intake for your SFX power supply unit.  The filter is magnetic, flexible, and fits flush with the case.  The fan filter does an excellent job of keeping unwanted debris from getting inside.

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The left side is home to two of the three installed 120mm cooling fans.  The fans are placed behind another magnetic fan filter.   The magnetic fan filter here on the DS380 is a welcome departure from the removable fan filter we found the Grandia GD08.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked it on the GD08, I just like this magnetic option better.  In the interest of consistency, I would have rather had this filter made similar to that of the one on top (or vice versa).

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The right side is barren, but remains the only removable panel on the case.  The panel is held in place with two regular Philips head screws.  I would have preferred if SilverStone had used some thumb screws.

The back of the case is home to the top mounted SFX power supply, the third 120mm (SilverStone 1200RPM) exhaust fan, and the I/O cutout.  There are two expansion slots for things like RAID cards and SAS expanders.

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Inside the case, the hard drive rack is removable and features a backplane that has separate connections for SAS and SATA drives.  There are two 4-pin molex power connections to supply power to all drives and a large cutout for full length video cards.  The cage is held in place by six total screws (4 screws on the sides and two on the bottom of the case).  If you look carefully, you can see a pair of 3 pin fan connectors next to each of the 4-pin molex power connections.  Don’t mind the Storm Trooper…

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The four internal 2.5″ hard drives are installed in a secondary removable drive cage that is mounted to the top rear of the case.  There isn’t much room between the two drive cages (a little less than 2.5 inches), but you can still squeeze your fingers through to make some last minute adjustments after build has been completed.

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Once the hard drive cage is removed, the case reveals its side mounted fans that will keep your drives cool.  Located just behind the drive cage are the two 120mm cooling fans that are responsible for pushing cool air through the system.  Again, we have a positive pressure system here, similar to that of the Grandia series cases.  This positive pressure cooling helps to eliminate dust by ensuring that all air that goes into the system is filtered.  Both of the fans are SilverStone 120mm fans spinning at 1200rpm and both feature a 3 pin molex… hmmm… it just so happens that the hard drive cage has two of these… Thank you SilverStone.

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Motherboard and PSU installation require the removal of the HDD cage(s).  The pre-installed motherboard mounts make for a quick installation and the large interior space allows for clever wire routing.  The cables have plenty of length and can be routed around the top fan to keep them safe from the intake fan blades.

Although we had plenty of room to work in the iStarUSA S-915 during our system build, it seems like things got a bit cramped by the time we were finished.  This wasn’t the case with the DS380.  Instead, we still had plenty of room to move around and make some last minute tweaks to things, even after the assembly was complete.  I can easily fit my entire hand inside and remove and replace the CPU if I needed to.

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Hardware installation is a breeze.  The large and open interior makes for a painless experience.   The hard drive cage does a fantastic job of hiding some wiring.  No cuts, no scrapes, no scratches.  The question is, did the DS380 have what it takes to become our NAS case of choice?  Yes…

The DS380 provides just about everything you could ask for in a case designed for NAS / Storage Server.  Instead of having to source your own drive cages for hot-swap, you get them when you open the box.  The incredible amount of space inside the DS380 makes for easy system builds and clutter free systems.  Although I am not the biggest fan of the drive trays, you have to keep in mind that this is not an industrial chassis and in the interest of keeping costs down, some exceptions have to be made.  Don’t get me wrong, the drive trays aren’t bad, but I do wish they were more like the drive trays we see in QNAP or ASUSTOR NAS.

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The DS380 weighs in at just under $150.00 USD making it a good choice for anyone looking to build an affordable storage device.  If you were to source an iStarUSA S-915 and a couple of drive cages, you could be easily looking at somewhere north of $300.oo USD already.

Bottom line, the DS380 is a great little case.  This case is roomy, keeps things cool, and looks great.  SilverStone has done a fine job.  Would I buy one? Yes.

Before I close, I would like to say that I have seen a large number of folks around the net stuffing large video cards and CPU coolers that are designed for overclocking / gaming rigs.  This is, as far as I am concerned, not what this case, or a NAS, is designed for.  When looking around the net and reading some of those reviews, keep in mind that any complaints they have about space are absurd.  When building a NAS, you don’t need an i7-4790K, a large tower cooler, and an R9 290.  You need a decent CPU, some good RAM, and most importantly, a high quality RAID card.  Focker… Out.

A TEXT POST

How to Delay XBMC Start

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/delay-xbmc-start/

How to Delay XBMC Start

In the last few iterations of my home theater PC, the rig has been getting faster and faster.  Many would not consider this an issue, but in my case, when my HTPC starts, XBMC starts faster than Windows 7 can get networking up.  This means that XBMC cannot reach my NAS for media folders or for the MySQL databases I have configured.  I tried everything I could think of from batch files to delay start to running a scheduled task after Windows starts.  Then I found it.  I found how to delay XBMC start without have to use any crazy batch files or jumping through any hoops.

I had been using a simple shortcut to XBMC in my startup folder and configured Windows 7 for auto login. After hours of internet searches, a little known switch presented itself.

Typically, the path for the shortcut will look something like this (on Windows 7 64-bit):

“C:\Program Files (x86)\XBMC\XBMC.exe”

All you have to do is add a -d and a time.  For me, I had to add 5 seconds to get everything working as it should.

“C:\Program Files (x86)\XBMC\XBMC.exe” -d 5

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Enjoy!

A TEXT POST

Fix QuickBooks Error 3371 (Status Code -11118)

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/fix-quickbooks-error-3371-status-code-11118/

Fix QuickBooks Error 3371 (Status Code -11118)

Recently while upgrading a customer’s old hard drive to a snazzy new OCZ Vertex 150, we encountered an unexpected result.  Everything was moving along splendidly during the customer’s “test it all and make sure it works” phase; applications were loading fast and he was happier than ever.  Then, it happened…  One of his most important applications decided it wasn’t going to cooperate.  QuickBooks hit us with an error, specifically “Could not initialize license properties. [Error 3371, Status Code -11118] “.

First, this file is an encrypted file that contains all your licensing and registration information.

After a ton of internet searching and forum browsing.  We finally figured it out… and the fix is actually much simpler than you think.  When encountered, all you really need to do is to re-create your EntitlementDataStore.ecml.

The file can be found in the following locations for various versions of QuickBooks:

  • QuickBooks 2014 (14.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v8
  • QuickBooks 2013 (13.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v8
  • QuickBooks 2012 (12.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v6.0
  • QuickBooks 2011 (11.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v6.0
  • QuickBooks 2010 (10.0) : C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v6.0
  • QuickBooks 2009 (9.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v5
  • QuickBooks 2008 (8.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v5
  • QuickBooks 2007 (7.0): C:\ProgramData\Intuit\Entitlement Client\v3

Now Delete the file EntitlementDataStore.ecml

When you fire up QuickBooks, open your company file as usual.  Make sure you have your registration information handy as you will have to register the application again.

Enjoy!

A TEXT POST

ASUS Z97-AR Motherboard Review

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/asus-z97-ar-review/

ASUS Z97-AR Motherboard Review


I am always on the verge of pulling the trigger when it comes to purchasing a new motherboard.  However, the dollar spent to performance gained ratio plays out like a bad commercial in my head.  These days, motherboards are becoming more expensive and really aren’t offering too much in the way of shiny new features.  Sure, they look cool… but do they really offer you anything over your current mobo?  Simple answer… Yes… and no. Enter the ASUS Z97-AR motherboard.

Let’s face it, the motherboard market is completely saturated.  In the old days (when AMD was the first to break the 1GHz barrier), abit and ASUS were the top two primary overclocking motherboard makers to choose from.  Today, everyone is fighting for your nickel and the war has made them all step up their game.  Unfortunately, the prices went up as the quality did too.  The ASUS Z97-AR is not going to be your most expensive option in the z97 market.  In fact, I would almost call this a budget board at $149.99 USD when you start to consider some of the motherboard pricing we have been seeing lately, some upwards of $500!!!!

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If you have been hunting around for a Z97 motherboard, you may have seen the A version of this. The Z97-AR is not that much different than the Z97-A.  The A version does have some different colors and VGA / DVI integrated… that’s it.  Colors: Silver (AR), Gold (A).

If you stalk the Z97-AR on ASUS’s product page, you see things like:

  • 5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5 – One click, total system optimization!
  • M.2 & SATA Express – Speed up your system with lightning-fast 10Gb/s transfer speed
  • Crystal Sound 2 and Intel Gigabit Ethernet — a game-winning combo!
  • ASUS HomeCloud – Access your PC remotely and stream multimedia content anywhere, anytime
  • Proven quality – 5X Protection. 1000+ compatible devices. 7000+ validation hours.

With one click, you can achieve total system optimization. 

ASUS has always been on my short list when looking for a motherboard overclocking.  Over these last few years, overclocking has become increasingly easier.  With the 5-Way Optimization, ASUS takes the responsibility out of the consumer and dynamically optimizes yours system based on real-time use.  TPU, DIGI+, EPU, Fan Xpert3, and TurboAPP are the primary components and one click will configure the settings of all these for you.  Personally, I like a little more control.  Thankfully, there are always Advanced modes.

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The Z97-AR doesn’t ship in a double stacked motherboard crate (like ROG mobos) and it doesn’t have 400 accessories crammed into its box either.  Instead, you get the motherboard, a couple of manuals, a driver/utility disk, the rear I/O plate, a pair of SATA cables, an SLI cable and two EZ connect blocks.

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Detailed Specifications

Form Factor ATX Form Factor
12.0 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
CPU Interface LGA-1150
Chipset Intel Z97
Memory 4 x DDR3 supporting up to 32 GB
1333-3300 (OC) MHz
Graphics HDMI (4096×2160 at 24 Hz or 2560×1600 at 60 Hz)
DisplayPort (4096×2160 at 25 Hz or 3840×2160 at 60 Hz)
Multi-GPU Support Supports NVIDIA Quad-GPU SLI Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX Technology
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 or x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
4 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Storage 4 x SATA 6 Gbps Ports
1 x SATA Express
1 x M.2 PCIe and SATA
LAN Intel I218V
Audio Realtek ALC892
USB Ports 6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 6 at mid-board)
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jacks
Internal I/O Ports 1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)
3 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 6 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x SATA Express connector: , compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3 for M Key, type 2260/2280 devices
1 x TPM header
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x Thunderbolt header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x TPU switch(es)
1 x EPU switch(es)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
Accessories User’s manual
I/O Shield
2 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
Warranty Period 3 Years

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The back I/O panel has a display port as well as an HDMI, absent is the VGA port found on the A version.  There are two USB 2.0 Ports, four USB 3.0 Ports, a single Intel Gigabit Ethernet port, and audio connections.  There is also a PS/2 port for your trusty IBM Model M clicky keyboard!

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The board’s layout is excellent. Overall, nothing seems to be out of place but it does seem to remind me a fight scene in Star Wars.

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The CPU socked area is clean and free from large (tall) obstructions.  There isn’t much distance between the socket and the cooling towers for MOSFET and such but with so much crammed on a motherboard, there isn’t much available space.  Around the socket, there is no less than 25mm of clearance, the shortest distance found just to the left.  The heatsinks rise to a total height of 27mm.

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There are four available DIMM slots that can support up to 32GB of RAM at speeds of up to 3300MHz (overclocked). The DIMMS are color coded black and dark grey for differentiation (dual channel memory operation).  However, the grey is so dark that it can be confused.  In a poorly lit room with fluorescent lighting and the motherboard already installed in a case… indistinguishable.  The single sided locking mechanism for the DIMM slots has been a godsend.  The days when you have to remove your overstuffed video card to switch memory around are over…

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Just below the CPU socket is the M.2 socket with plenty of room.  Although this board offers plenty of PCIe slots, SATA Express, and an M.2 slot, there is only so much PCIe love to go around.  The M.2 slot uses the same lanes as the two PCIe x 1 slots.

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The chipset rests below some decently sized passive cooling and just behind the SATA Express and four SATA ports.  The Z97-AR supports all the normal RAID levels and SSD performance requirements like TRIM while SSDs are configured for RAID.

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Circling around, you find the two PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 or x8/x8), the one PCIe 2.0 and the PCI slots.  Crystal Sound 2 can be found on the edges.  Crystal Sound 2 here on the Z97-AR uses the Realtek ALC892 HD Audio Codec with support for DTS Ultra PC II and DTS Connect.

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Additionally, you will find things like a MEMOK! Button an EZ XMP Switch, an EPU Switch, a TPU Switch, and Power-on Button.

  • MEMOK! Button – When installing RAM, there are circumstances and situations that may cause a system boot failure.  Pressing this button begins automatic memory compatibility tuning for a successful boot.
  • TPU Switch – Allows the adjustment of CPU ratio and clock speeds
  • Power-on Button – this is by far my favorite feature of the new ASUS motherboards.  This allows you to boot the system without having to wire a switch or short the pins with a flat head screw-driver.
  • EZ XMP Switch – This allows you to overclock the installed DIMMS.
  • EPU Switch – allows the automatic detection of current settings and intelligently moderates power consumption.

The ASUS Z97-AR also supports TPM (Trusted Platform Module).  TPM can store keys, digital certificates, passwords and data. More Details

The BIOS has come a long way from the blue background and yellow ANSI graphics.  The UI now recognizes mouse movements and is more like an OS environment than anything I grew up on.  With that said, the Z97-AR UEFI (unified extensible firmware interface) is really slick.  Everything is easy to find and there are a ton of options to configure.  I must confess… the color scheme, which matches the board colors, is a little nauseating.

There are two modes in which you can interact with the BIOS.  There is the EZ Mode and the Advanced Mode.  Upon entering, you are immediately thrust into EZ Mode and required to present the ability to press F7 to enter the advanced configuration screens.

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The EZ Mode presents the user with information about your motherboard, CPU, and RAM configuration.  Your temperatures and voltages are displayed in text and graph form while your DRAM Status and SATA information are displayed elegantly.  Drag and drop boot priority as well as manual fan tuning function magically.

Additionally, the EZ Mode provides the burgeoning enthusiast with access to the EZ System Tuning Feature and manual fan tuning capabilities.

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If you are the adventurous type, F7 will bring you into the advanced mode.  Here, you can tweak endlessly.  The Favorites menu allows you to tag frequently accessed settings to one location for quick access.

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Beyond favorites, in order from left to right, Main:

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Overclocking is handled through the Ai Tweaker menu section and allows fine tuning of your system.

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To get a quick look at all the screenshots, click on an image below and either use the arrow keys on your keyboard to scroll through, or click the images.

Advanced:

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Monitor:

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  Boot:

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Tool & Exit:

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ASUS has packaged their well-known AI Suite 3 to bring customization and overclocking out of the BIOS and onto your desktop.  AI Suite 3 offers a ton of configurable options, included the 5-Way Optimization button.  According to ASUS, this will detect the best settings for the way you use your computer.

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Along the bottom of the application, you have an information panel that tells you your CPU Frequency (per core), Voltage, Temperature, and Fan information.  Each of these fly-out to provide a greater level of detail.

Within TPU you can tune a number of elements.  These range from BCLK frequency and CPU Cache ratio to Core Voltage and more.  A second tab offers tuning of the CPU Strap.

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Fan Xpert 3 brings cooling management under control.  You can assign visual locations to your fans within the application and tune them for usage.

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DIGI+ VRM can control things like CPU Power Phase control and VRM switching frequency.

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TurboApp brings the ability to tweak system performance based on the application you are running.  For things that don’t require much, like office, you can tune the system down using less power and creating less noise.  When things need to heat up, like during a late night fragging session, then tune everything to the MAX.

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EPU allows you to create and set power presets.

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Motherboard Asus Z97-AR
Processor Intel i7 4790K
Memory 2x8GB Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR3 PC3-12800
Hard Drive OCZ Vector 256GB
Power Supply OCZGXS850
Video Card Gigabyte R9 170
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit


Motherboard Benchmarking Hardware & Methodology details hardware used & methodology for conducting benchmarks.
To see how this Motherboard compares to others, please visit our MotherboardBenchmarking Database

Ethernet Performance

For testing the Ethernet Performance, we transfer a 2GB file from the workstation to a NAS and back five times. We pipe the transfer speeds during the benchmark to a .csv file for charting.

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CrystalDiskMark is a benchmarking utility that determines speeds by measuring 512KB, 4KB, and 4KB (Queue Depth 32) sequential and random read and write speeds. Test data can be Random, 0Fill, and 1Fill. For our purposes, we left the test at Random.

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CPU Queen Benchmark

This simple integer benchmark focuses on the branch prediction capabilities and the misprediction penalties of the CPU. It finds the solutions for the classic “Queens problem” on a 10 by 10 sized chessboard. At the same clock speed theoretically the processor with the shorter pipeline and smaller misprediction penalties will attain higher benchmark scores. For example — with HyperThreading disabled — the Intel Northwood core processors get higher scores than the Intel Prescott core based ones due to the 20-step vs 31-step long pipeline. CPU Queen test uses integer MMX, SSE2 and SSSE3 optimizations.

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CPU PhotoWorxx Benchmark

This benchmark performs different common tasks used during digital photo processing.

It performs the following tasks on a very large RGB image:

  • Fill the image with random colored pixels
  • Rotate 90 degrees CCW
  • Rotate 180 degrees
  • Difference
  • Color space conversion (used e.g. during JPEG conversion)

This benchmark stresses the SIMD integer arithmetic execution units of the CPU and also the memory subsystem. CPU PhotoWorxx test uses the appropriate x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, 3DNow!+, SSE, SSE2, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4A, AVX, AVX2, and XOP instruction set extension and it is NUMA, HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware.

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CPU ZLib Benchmark

This integer benchmark measures combined CPU and memory subsystem performance through the public ZLib compression library. CPU ZLib test uses only the basic x86 instructions, and it is HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware.

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CPU AES Benchmark

This benchmark measures CPU performance using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) data encryption. In cryptography AES is a symmetric-key encryption standard. AES is used in several compression tools today, like 7z, RAR, WinZip, and also in disk encryption solutions like BitLocker, FileVault (Mac OS X), TrueCrypt.
CPU AES test uses the appropriate x86, MMX and SSE4.1 instructions, and it’s hardware accelerated on VIA PadLock Security Engine capable VIA C3, VIA C7, VIA Nano and VIA QuadCore processors; and on Intel AES-NI instruction set extension capable processors. The test is HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware.

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CPU Hash Benchmark

This benchmark measures CPU performance using the SHA1 hashing algorithm defined in the Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 180-4. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly, and it is optimized for every popular AMD, Intel and VIA processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate MMX, MMX+/SSE, SSE2, SSSE3, AVX, AVX2, XOP, BMI, and BMI2 instruction set extension. CPU Hash benchmark is hardware accelerated on VIA PadLock Security Engine capable VIA C7, VIA Nano and VIA QuadCore processors.

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PCMark 8 Home

PCMark 8 Home benchmark measures your system’s ability to perform a series of common tasks typical of daily home use. The Home workloads generally have light computational requirements and are ideal for testing low-cost tablets, notebooks and desktop home PCs.

The PCMark 8 Home benchmark test contains the following workloads.

  • Web Browsing
  • Writing
  • Casual Gaming
  • Photo Editing
  • Video Chat
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PCMark 8 Creative

PCMark 8 Creative benchmark measures your system’s ability to perform a series of entertainment and media tasks. The Creative workloads generally have demanding computational requirements and are designed for testing mid to high-end notebooks and desktops. Your system must have a GPU with full DirectX 11 support in order to run all the workloads in the PCMark 8 Creative benchmark.

The PCMark 8 Creative benchmark test contains the following workloads:

  • Web Browsing
  • Photo Editing
  • Batch Photo Editing
  • Video Editing
  • Media To Go
  • Mainstream Gaming
  • Video Group Chat
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PCMark 8 Work

PCMark 8 Work benchmark measures your system’s ability to perform a series of basic office and work tasks. For more demanding office use, run the Creative benchmark test. The Work tests are designed for testing typical office notebooks and desktop PCs that lack media capabilities.

The PCMark 8 Work benchmark test contains the following workloads:

  • Web Browsing
  • Writing
  • Video Chat
  • Spreadsheet
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Handbrake is a widely used media encoding platform. We took a standard DVD (A Bronx Tale) and used the preset for “normal” conversion. Encoding is a CPU intensive task that can reveal a lot about your particular system and FPS (Frames per second) in the encoding results is a key indicator to the performance of your system.

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CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Life of Pi or Prometheus and many more.

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Hyper Pi is a front end for Super PI. Super PI is a single threaded benchmark that calculates pi to a specific number of digits. It uses the Gauss-Legendre algorithm and is a Windows port of a program used by Yasumasa Kanada in 1995 to compute pi to 232 digits. In our case, Pi is calculated to 1M using all processors available and high priority.

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Overclocking seems to be more challenging for the CPU than the motherboard these days. The Z97-AR offers much in the way of configuration, but if the CPU isn’t willing, then your options are limited. Overclocking the Z97-AR through 5-way optimization yielded only a 0.9% increase in performance and quite frankly, it was unimpressive. However, when we got down to brass tacks we were able to push our i7 4790K processor to 4.7GHz without much issue (and stable). Granted, the temps got pretty high, but that has little to do with the motherboard. Beyond 4.7GHz, the system became unstable and the famed BSOD presented itself regularly during stability testing at any speeds beyond 4.7.

If you are looking for some ground breaking innovations in the Z97 chipset over its predecessor (Z87), get your magnifying glass out as they are hard to find.  The chipset does offer some enhancements over its older brother, but does that mean you should ditch your Z87 board for a shiny new one?  Well, if things like M.2 support and SATA express are key drivers in your buying decision, then yes.  If you have an older motherboard, then the choice to upgrade is easy.

Ultimately, the motherboard here offers a lot of bang for your buck.  Overclocking was easy enough for the novice and robust enough for those that like to tinker a bit more.  Crossfire and SLI compatibility for the gamer, overclocking for the enthusiast, and a price tag that everyone can afford makes this motherboard a good option for just about everyone.  The UEFI BISO is pretty slick and the included Asus software is hard to beat.

Asus Z97 AR 19 ASUS Z97 AR Motherboard Review

The Z97-AR offers the looks, the features, and just about everything you need rolled up into one happy little package.  Team this board up with some quality components and you can build one heck of a rig.  Bottom line, would I buy one? Yes… and I would stamp this one with the Editor’s Choice Award based on the amount of bang for you get for your buck.

cod editorschoice badge ASUS Z97 AR Motherboard Review

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How XBMC is Keeping Me Alive

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/xbmc-keeping-alive/

How XBMC is Keeping Me Alive

I will admit it.  I am usually a hold out.  In this particular case, I held out as long as I could in fear that an upgrade wouldn’t work the way I liked it to.  For a long time I had been using a combination of WMC (Windows Media Center) and XBMC to front end my Home Theater PC.  WMC handled my Live TV streaming with a cable card and an HDHomerun Prime, while XBMC did everything else.  To be honest, XBMC had some level of PVR functionality built-in to handle live TV… but it was crap in comparison and a major headache to configure with my setup.

I had gone through all types of hoops and trials to get the feel of a single application, but it wasn’t enough.  To my family, it was a pain in the rear to try to figure out how to get what they wanted, when they wanted it.

To give you an idea of what it was like in the C.O.D. household…

First, the PC fires up and you are instantly thrust into everything WMC.  Live TV works like a charm! Controls are handled by either a Logitech Harmony One or My Media Center from Ceton on the iPad.  iPad usually won the battle, because its cool to control stuff from an iPad (remember Bow-Ties are cool).  If you wanted to watch a move or one of my archived TV shows, we would have to navigate to the XBMC icon in WMC.  Once clicked, WMC would minimize and XBMC would occupy our attention.  This means that control, once handled My Media Center on the iPad, would now be transferred to XBMC Constellation.  Close the app on the iPad and open the new one. Endless struggles for my family with rhythmic chants of “I can’t control this stupid thing” hurled at me, accompanied by threats of mutiny if I didn’t return the cable box to the TV stand.

The cable box will not win…

Thankfully, XBMC was able to return order to my home.  The WMC.PVR client released by a group of heroes made it easy to obtain the finesse and function of Live TV found within Windows Media Center inside of XBMC.  The XBMC addon requires only a simple utility to be installed for complete functionality, down to the grace and beauty of the WMC EPG.  Live TV had been working flawlessly in WMC and now in XBMC.

800px PVR Confluence EPG How XBMC is Keeping Me Alive

If you have WMC configured for Live TV already and want to expand into all the wonderful possibilities using XBMC can provide, the door is now wide open.  After all, the endless add-ons for XBMC make doing nearly anything entertainment related possible.  All you have to do is download this simple utility, install it, and configure it.

For a detailed list of instructions: Click Here

With this new PVR add-on, I am now able to focus on one front end for my Home Theater PC.  Order has been restored in my household and all is well.  I get the benefits and strengths of both applications in one now, with one set of controls, and I win… no more cable box and a computer has made its way into another room in this house… without further argument :).  XBMC and this add-on have now restored my confidence and my position as master of the media center.  The remote is now firmly held in the hands of a man restored (until they snatch it from me).  Happy wife… happy life.

A TEXT POST

Thecus Announces First Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/thecus-announces-first-windows-storage-server-2012-r2-essentials-nas/

Thecus Announces First Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS

Thecus Technology Corp. today announces another world first: Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is now available for NAS users. Available this October, the 2-bay W2000, 4-bay W4000, and the 5-bay W5000 offer a host of benefits to SMB users, including data protection, integrated cloud services, and secure remote access.

“Thecus NAS provide users with a complete solution to their storage needs. With the additions to the W Series, Thecus is able to offer a more diversified product to its customers. Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is an ideal pairing with Thecus NAS and will equip small businesses with a powerful and trusted storage solution.” – Florence Shih, CEO at Thecus Technology Corp.

By running Windows Server software on a Thecus NAS, users will be able to simplify the integration of Microsoft’s cloud-based applications and services, including Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure. These new NAS offerings provide users with an affordable, flexible solution that minimizes resources spent on business operations while still optimizing productivity.

“The Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials software allows small businesses to protect, centralize, organize, and access their data anywhere by using almost any device,” said Peter Han, Vice President of Worldwide OEM Marketing, Microsoft. “We believe offering our software on Thecus NAS devices will provide an excellent solution for those small businesses looking to protect their data while optimizing their resources with a hybrid, on premise, and cloud-connected offering.”

Thanks to proven Thecus hardware based on the Intel Atom platform, serviced by dual LAN ports and no less than 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and all featuring media connectivity (HDMI and VGA), the new line of world-first Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS are user-friendly yet robust answers to the data needs of every forward-thinking small to medium-sized business.

20140910 2 2 Thecus Announces First Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS

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Crucial MX100 SSD 256GB Review

New Article has been published on http://computingondemand.com/crucial-mx100-256gb-review/

Crucial MX100 SSD 256GB Review


Crucial, the company that impressed us with their M4 series SSD, has expanded their SSD portfolio with a low-cost, high performance, MX100 series drive. Their claims of “unrelenting performance” combined with low-cost per GB is an attractive marketing campaign. Extreme Energy Efficiency, Adaptive Thermal Protection, and Power Loss Protection mark some of the Crucial benefits on the product page. With all this marketing fluff, the real question is… how does this budget SSD stack up when it comes to spending your hard-earned cash?

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First, the MX100 is not going to be one of those drives that wipes the floor with the competition in benchmarks. Crucial’s product page boasts sequential read speeds of 550MB/s and write speeds of around 300MB/s. It is however, a very well priced SSD that delivers solid performance at a very respectable price (at time of review $109.99 USD at Newegg.com). What do you get for $109.99 you ask? Well, you get this snazzy SSD, a fancy box, a spacer, and a serial for Acronis True Image HD 2014. The SSD itself is a SATA 6.0GB/s 2.5″ solid state drive that measures in at just 7mm thick.

Similar to the M4 and the OCZ Vector, the MX100 looks the part. The aluminum enclosure exudes confidence and provides that quality feel while the subtle graphics provide that tingling sensation, like you were about to toe the line in an Indy 500 qualifying round. That quality feel is backed by a 3 year warranty, an MTBF of 1.5 million hours, and endurance that claims you can write 40GB every day for 5 years. The drive features advanced features like Native Write Acceleration, Redundant Array of Independent NAND (RAIN), Exclusive Data Defense, Adaptive Thermal Protection, Power Loss Protection, Data Path Protection, Active Garbage Collection, TRIM Support, Self Monitoring and Reporting Technology (SMART), and Error Correction Code (ECC)

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So, how does Crucial keep low-cost, speed, and reliability consistent in the MX100? Inexpensive NAND. Although the MX100 sports the same controller found in the M550 (Marvell 88SS9189-BLD2 with custom Micron Firmware), the MX100 features 16 x FBGA NW645 (MT29F128G08CBCCBH6-10:C) 16nm MLC NAND. Not much can be found on the NAND, but a quick decode over at Microns FBGA Decoder reveals the part number: MT29F128G08CBCCBH6-10:C

Crucial MX100 256 2 300x200 Crucial MX100 SSD 256GB Review Crucial MX100 256 3 300x200 Crucial MX100 SSD 256GB Review

The Marvell 88SS9189 controller supports high-speed NAND flash interfaces up to 200MB/s per channel and integrates a dual-core Marvell 88FR102 V5 CPU with shared DTCM and ITCM SRAM. It can support up to eight NAND flash channels, ~500MBps sequential write performance, as well as EPP and T10 CRC Checks.

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Given that Crucial’s product page makes reference to modest performance, what king of performance can you expect from the MX100?

SSD Benchmarking Hardware & Methodology details hardware used & methodology for conducting benchmarks.
To see how this SSD compares to others, please visit our SSD Benchmarking Database

SSD Key Bencharmking Results

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AS SSD is a small but powerful SSD benchmarking utility created specifically for that purpose. The software uses “incompressible” data to benchmark your drive without the benefits of compression that may increase performance under certain circumstances.

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CrystalDiskMark is another benchmarking utility that determines speeds by measuring 512KB, 4KB, and 4KB (Queue Depth 32) sequential and random read and write speeds. Test data can be Random, 0Fill, and 1Fill. For our purposes, we left the test at Random.

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Anvil Storage Benchmark is a software package that I strolled across one day while cruising some reviews. The software is still in BETA and offers it out to you for free during the BETA period. The software has an SSD benchmark that can be configured to test with data from 0Fill to 1Fill. You get read write speeds in MB/s and IOPS. There are other benchmarking options, but we are only concerned with the SSD benchmarking at 0Fill and 100% (1Fill – Incompressible).

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IOMeter has to be one of the most widely used software packages for benchmarking disks. There are an endless number of ways you can build a benchmark, but we chose to limit our benchmarking to 100 percent Sequential Read and Write then 100 percent Random Read and Write. You can emulate our benchmarking by using the following configuration

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The ATTO Disk Benchmark performance measurement tool is compatible with Microsoft Windows. Measure your storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. Several options are available to customize your performance measurement including queue depth, overlapped I/O and even a comparison mode with the option to run continuously. Use ATTO Disk Benchmark to test any manufacturers RAID controllers, storage controllers, host adapters, hard drives and SSD drives and notice that ATTO products will consistently provide the highest level of performance to your storage.

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PCMark Vantage is a benchmarking suite designed to stress components in various ways to measure performance. For our purposes, we will be utilizing the HDD Suite to gain an understanding on how this drive will perform under these simulated criteria: Windows Defender, Gaming, Importing Photos, Windows Vista Startup, Video Editing Windows Media Center, Adding Music, and Application Loading.

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Using traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games, PCMark 8 Storage highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices. You do not need to have these applications installed on your system to run the Storage benchmark. The PCMark 8 Storage benchmark test contains the following workload traces:

  • Adobe Photoshop light
  • Adobe Photoshop heavy
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Adobe After Effect
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • World of Warcraft
  • Battlefield 3
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Although Crucial’s MX100 didn’t top our benchmarking charts it did perform well.  The confusing aspect of the MX1oo to me is where to position it.  The drive doesn’t really market itself as a performance drive or an enthusiasts drive, but it doesn’t market itself as a low-end SSD either.  Rounding out at just about $105 USD, this 256GB drive is certainly less expensive than the high cost barn burners but it isn’t the cheapest either. You can certainly find some low-cost drives out there, some of them being high performance drives from yesteryear (like the OCZ Vector).

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If you are a fan of Crucial products, by all means this drive is a good one.  This drive is the next step in Crucial’s SSD evolution.  The MX100, packed with new 16nm NAND and an enhanced Marvell controller, is the newer faster brother of the M550.

So what does all that mean to you? Add the performance and the reliability claims and this drive seems like a bargain.  If you want a drive that you can abuse (write 40GB every day for 5 years) and still move data swiftly, this may be the drive for you.  If you are looking for the newest / fastest SSD and you have money to burn, you may want to consider one of the benchmark toppers instead.  Overall, I can say that I am happy with the MX100, and if were in the market for an SSD… it would be on the list.