Friday, 23 December 2011

Asus X53E-SX1167V Laptop Review!


Features

For the final review of the year, I have for you guys an Asus X53E laptop. This is you mid to low range laptop at an acceptable price range for those on a budget. Let’s take a look at what this has to offer

Model: X53E-SX1167V
OS:
Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
CPU:
Intel® Core™ i5-2430M (2.4GHz)
Memory: 4GB DDR3 (1333MHz) (Max 8GB)
Hard Drive(s):
750GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive(s):
Super Multi DVD R/W
Networking:
Gigabit Ethernet
Graphics:
Intel HD Graphics 3000
Display:
15.6” HD LED Backlight (1366x768 Resolution)
Audio:
Altec Lansing Speakers
Coms:
802.11b/g/n
Inputs:
2x USB2.0, 1x USB3.0,  1x Microphone, SD/MMC Card Reader
Outputs:
1x Headphone Out, 1x VGA, 1x HDMI
Battery: 6 Cell

Pretty average specs.
Out of the box one can’t help but notice the white casing from the usual blacks and charcoals. If you want a laptop to standout this is definitely one to think about.

Design
Unpacking the box was less than ordinary. Standard Asus packaging. Unwrapping the unit reveals its white casing. The white casing is covered with small grey dots in shape of swirls and twirls which add quite a unique look to it. Opening the lid, the keyboard and surrounding plastic is all the same white material with the dots. The edge around the display however is your usual glossy black, which is a bit of a shame. I would’ve liked to have seen a more unified design with the white colour.
The keyboard itself is also a nice white colour and comes with a full sized keypad as well, which should be appealing to a lot of people. It is nice and comfortable to type on and features Asus’ Ice Cool palm rest areas.

On the left side of the unit you have the exhaust, a USB 3.0 port, VGA and HDMI output, Ethernet and the power plug. Right hand side features your audio jacks, 2x USB2.0 ports, the DVD drive and the Kensington lock. 

The notebook is your standard 15.6” Screen sized laptop, weighing in at 2.6Kgs. Once again the power adapter on the Asus laptop disappoints me again. It is positioned on the left hand side of the unit, and it has a 90 degree plug. Also, the cable sits in front of the exhaust, with all hot air coming out of the unit, blowing right onto the power cable. Not exactly the wisest thing to do. I’m sure not all users would be comfortable with their laptops power cable heating up constantly. Unless you plug your cable in on an awkward angle, this could potentially be hazardous in the future. 

Felt like deja-vu? That’s because you may have read the exact paragraph in my previous reviews. This is now the 3rd Asus machine with the same problem. I think it’s safe to say it is a design flaw with a few of their models.

Performance
Featuring an Intel 2nd Gen Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory, it serves up a good technical specification for most home users. The larger memory and increased storage space definitely work in the units favour.

Booting the unit came in at 50s, which is acceptable and expected from an i5. Although I must admit there are a lot of background processes going on, something which consistently bugs me about Asus. All the pre-installed applications and utilities that come with the unit are a complete waste of resources most of the time and would barely be useful to the majority of users. I would really like to see an Asus one day with not as many junk in their machines.

The display on the unit is as expected. Seems like the same display from other models. Watching HD movies and photos from a DSLR appeared sharp and clear. The good thing about this display is it is quite crisp so you don’t have blurry spots which is always great.

Sound on the X54L is relatively good. Although you’re not going to get boom box equivalent sound coming out of the speakers, it still manages to provide comfortable listening levels through the Altec Lansing speakers.

I installed Photoshop CS5 64bit to test out how simple editing will run. Installation took only 6 minutes which is a good result. Launching Photoshop was also very responsive, coming in around the 20sec mark. It took me just a few seconds to open up 5-10mb files which are promising as these are the average sizes most users will be working with; surprisingly, the 700mb file didn’t perform as badly as I expected. The file opened easily and I was able to work on it for lengthy time without slugging out too much.

Simple everyday software like Office, Excel, Outlook and browsing internet was normal without any hiccups. The 4GB memory gives a pleasant browsing experience managing to handle multiple open tabs with streaming video.

Our Cinebench software gave us the following test results:
CPU: 2.68pts
OpenGL: 8.16fps

The CPU performed well and achieved an acceptable result for an everyday computer. The OpenGL as expected struggled with the Intel HD3000 graphic processor. Obviously not built for the gamers.

Our PCMark07 benchmark gave a result of 2076 PCMarks. 

Our PCMark results sits snug in between an i3 machine and i7 machine which is comforting to know there’s nothing unordinary going on within the unit.

Temperatures were very good with the unit. Load times were fantastic with 28 and 37 degrees for the hard drive and CPU respectively. On load the unit handled the heat very well and kept the keyboard and palm rest areas cool. A surprising element was the loudness. The unit maintained a very low sound even when under load.

Conclusion
The unit is perfect for those looking for a nice and simple family laptop or something to do your house financing work on. It provides good performance at little cost, running nice, cool and quiet. However it’s missing something; something I can’t get my head around. There’s just something about it that doesn’t interest me. It feels like it’s a bit boring and would never excite me. This is a bit of a personal opinion though. Others may fall in love with the decorated white casing and elegant feel to it, because overall, it is a solid unit that performs well at a reasonable price.
By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Edifier Aurora 2.1 Speaker System Review


Today we have in our hands a nice little review on the Edifier Aurora MP300Plus speakers. The Aurora speakers come in a 2.1 format with nice circular shaped speakers and a dedicated subwoofer in a tube shape. Before I get into the details, let’s take a look at the tech specs!

Model Number: MP300 Plus
Total power output: RMS 3.5W x 2 + 15W x 1
THD + N (testing level): 10%
Signal to noise ratio: ≥85dBA
Frequency response: Satellites: 230Hz - 20KHz | Subwoofer: 45Hz - 200Hz
Distortion: ≤0.5%
Input sensitivity: Intelligent Sensitivity Adjustment (I.D.C)
Audio Input Type: 3.5mm Stereo line-in
Adjustment: Master volume control
Subwoofer / bass unit: 2 inch, Magnetically shielded, 4Ω
Midrange / high unit: 1½ inch, Magnetically shielded, 4Ω
Dimension: Satellite: 59mm x 67mm x 59mm | Subwoofer: 280mm x 87mm x 59mm (W x H x D)
Weight: 1.00Kg (Net) | 1.30Kg (Gross)

What impressed me by these specs are the fact the speakers and subwoofer have their own dedicated frequency response range. This is good because it ensure the subwoofer will only output good sub levels while the speakers will give you all your mid and high range sounds you need.
The system has a nice low profile design which means it occupies little desk space. Its design encourages you to sit the subwoofer behind the monitor with each speaker on the corners of your monitor. On the left side speaker, there are two rounded buttons which are your volume control for the system. There are no signs or labels around the buttons so it’s up to the user to figure it out (let’s face it, it won’t be that difficult) But the buttons definitely feel cheap and very unpolished off compared to the rest of the unit. I would have liked the volume to a bit better designed and better built.

The speakers are powered and are connected to the main unit with their own S-Plug type cable. It has a Line Input plug to connect your computer or other audio device to the speakers. What is good is that it comes with multiple cables that let you plug up devices instantly. No need to rush around your drawers and cupboards trying to find that one cable, Edifier has made it easy for us by including the wiring with the package. The magnetic shielding on the system works a treat and my mobile phone didn’t cause any interference which was great.

The sound of the speakers is surprisingly very loud and powerful. It packs a massive punch and lets everyone know you’re around. Music sounded great on the speakers but was a bit bass heavy and higher sounds were muffled out though it was disastrous and still provided good entertaining sound.
Movies were great on these speakers. The extra bass helps this out a bit and gives it a more cinematic feel to the sound. Vocal parts and action sequences gave it a good punch to the feel.
For those who like a bit of extra style in their computer lives, the Aurora's also is available in a range of colours .

Conclusion
Overall, these speakers don’t have many faults in any. They provide a solid and clear sound in a simplistic and elegant design with easy connectivity and portability. Priced in around $88, you can’t go wrong with them. Now for the good part, keep your eyes open on these speakers over the next few days as it will be part of a massive upcoming sale. You won’t be finding the price of these anywhere else!

By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gaming Headsets Review!

Selection of the most popular headsets!

For today’s reviews I have a bunch of gaming headsets and headphones that I’ll be putting to the test. The 5 headphones under the spotlight are


So it’s quite a big line-up with all major gaming brands pitching in with its own option of gaming headsets. We have a mix of USB and Analogue inputs so both types will be tested. Now before I get into it all, I should state that I am and have been a music producer for the past 11 years, so when it comes to Audio, I know all the technical ins and outs and can pick a good set of headphones from the bad easily.

For testing purposes I will be using my workstation PC which has Dual Xeon X5650 Processors, 16GB Memory and an nVidia QuadroFX 4800. So it’s got more power than majority of your gaming PC’s. For sound card I have opted to stick with a Generic sound card. The reason being I can test the headphones on an ordinary sound card and listen how well the headphones can perform. Remember these high end specs as it’s going to come into play later.

Each headphone will go through a routine of the same audio tests to see how well each fairs up. These tests will range from Music, Movies & Gaming and of course Comfort. The music tracks I’ll be testing will be the following with the different types of compression and quality rates:

Above & Beyond – Sun & Moon – 320kbps MP3 Variable
112 – Dance With Me – 128kbps MP3 Constant
Britney Spears – Criminal – 320kbps MP3 Constant
Extreme – More Than Words – 160kbps Constant
Skrillex – First Of The Year – 320kbps MP3 Variable
Tatu – Not Gonna Get Us – 192kbps MP3 Constant
Wolfgang Gartner – Wolfgang’s 5th Symphony – 320kbps MP3 Constant
Original Track – Uncompressed WAV
Cubase 5 Track Playback – Uncompressed Original

I chose these songs because they roughly represent a broad style of music genre’s and each have a unique sound about them with different compression and quality rates.
Two movies I will be testing are Rango and Red Riding Hood in both Stereo and 5.1 (Where the headphone supports 5.1). Gaming wise it will be Call of Duty MW3.

Razer Banshee Starcraft II
  • Circumaural Design with 50mm Driver Units
  • Volume & Mic Control Buttons on the Headset
  • APM-Lighting System
  • 10 preset EQ
  • Detachable Microphone Boom
  • Dimensions: 183mm(L) * 90mm(W) * 200mm(H)
  • Inner Ear Cup Diameter: 60 mm / 2.36”
  • Cable Length: 12.13 m / 7.0 ft
  • Approximate Weight: 297 g / 0.65 lbs
Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 32Ω at 1kHz
  • Sensitivity (@1kHz, 1V/Pa): >102dB at 1 kHz
  • Drivers: 50 mm, with neodymium magnets
Microphone
  • Frequency Response: 100 - 10,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity (-42 dB ± 2dB @1kHz, 1V/Pa)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >58 dB
  • Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
So the specs show it be relatively decent looking headphone. The Banshee is a USB type headset, meaning plug it in your computer and it’ll install itself and you’re ready to go. The problem with this is you need to download additional software to control the sound. So let’s get a move on with testing this thing.

Firstly, it looks and feels massive. The ear cups are square in shape as is its plastic housing. It has the Starcraft logo on each side and illuminates when plugged in. There are also Mic volume control on one side (Microphone side) and general Volume buttons on the other. There are a few lights around the edges and bottom of the headphone which give it a cool look to it. Fancy thing about these lights are, once you download the software drivers for it, you can change each colours light, pretty nifty I might say!

Comfort:
I must say they are great. The velour pads ensure long headphone sessions without discomfort and sweaty ears, the closed dynamic sound is pretty good with insulation with exterior interferences and your head looks like a disco ball once you get the lights going, so brilliance with that! The one downside is due to the fact it is so big, it does weigh a bit on your head. Though I can’t see it being a problem, if you’re a small 10year old, keeping this thing balanced on your head could strain your neck muscles!

Music:
First off, out of the package the bass was just overkill on these headphones. I love bass, but prolonged use with that much could be very discomforting and even damaging in the long run. The problem is by default the headphones are loaded with the Equalizer on. I really hate the use of Equalizer and I will tell you later on in the article. So after downloading the software and turning the EQ off gave me a much better flatter sound. Music was relatively good. Low bass sounds come through very well as do midrange vocals and sounds. The higher end seemed to lack a bit of punch though, which I think is caused by the powerful bass drivers in the headphones. Almost sounds like the bass is eating out the higher end. However most people won’t be distracted by this as it still gives a nice clear solid sound. What was also good is that it performed very well with all the different typed of compressed audio files however come uncompressed and original tracks I noticed the bass powerful headphone amplified the music too much and didn’t give me a nice flat sound I was expecting it to. Turning up the volume did stuff things up a bit though, I was noticing the bass come through too much and slightly distorting, even though I had all the EQ’s turned off.

Movies:
Both movies feature good midrange vocal parts while each providing their own music styles making each movie a unique experience.
Rango: In Stereo, the sound was average. Nothing about made it pop or excite me. The good bass of the headphones though I must admit made the experience quite pleasant. It was an almost cinematic feel to the sound.
Red Riding Hood: The scary nature of the movie made the soundtrack and bassy sound effects come through beautifully, however like I mentioned previously, the lack of higher end made vocals sound a bit more muffled and not as crisp as I would have liked.

Games:
Being a stereo headset gaming was normal like any other headphone. However with gaming I didn’t notice the higher bass and lack of higher pitched sounds being a problem in game. Somehow it managed to be quite good and sounded even. There were no muffling or tinny sounds and it general performed well

Conclusion
Solid built Solid bass. Where the headset lacks in music and movies it makes up for in gaming, after all it is a gaming headset. However I am inclined to tell you, throughout the length of my testing, I did get quite a lot of crackles and pops, especially while doing CPU heavy things on the computer which is extremely frustrating since there is enough power in the PC than most others put together. I blame this on the USB feature which I will go into detail later on. One downside thing to this in terms of design, Is the Starcraft branding on the headphones. You’re going to look a bit silly going to a Call of Duty Competition wearing Starcraft headphones, however if you don’t mind and need a headset specifically for gaming, this could be a wise choice.


Corsair Vengeance 1500

Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 32 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Dynamic Range: 95dB (A-weighted)
  • Drivers: 50mm
  • Cable Length: 3m
  • USB power consumption: 250mW
  • Connector: USB Type A
Microphone
  • Type: Unidirectional noise-cancelling condenser with adjustable, rotating boom
  • Impedance: 2.2k Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 100Hz to 10kHz
  • Sensitivity: -44dB (+/-3dB)
Average specs, nothing about it pops out and makes me look twice. This headset is also USB and requires you to download additional software to take full advantage of it. Opening the unit I got a bit worried. It makes a lot of creaking sounds while moving it around and adjusting the headphones. The unit doesn’t come with any control on it. There is a volume controller attached to the wire not too far from the headphones. Not sure if I like this too much as you’re going to constant have something in your way and you’ll be thinking about where to stuff the control so it doesn’t get in your way.



Comfort:
Putting it over my head I was afraid it was going to break. All the creaking and plastic shell just does not feel very well built. The headphones also can rotate at slight angles to each side which means while carrying it around they will be swaying around a bit. When I put on the headphones I tried to adjust the height with great difficulty. While one side would slip out easily, the other side was quite rough and took my both hands and a bit of strength to adjust it, very frustrating. A positive side to it is the velour cups which sit very comfortable on your head, I was quite impressed with the overall comfort of the headphones.

Music;
Struggled with music I must say. There was a lack of bass all around and the headphones sounded like those old cheap computer speakers you’d get bundled with the PC. Even with the software EQ enhancements, the headphones just did not produce a very good sound. Bit disappointed really, these headphones had a bit of hype around them and they seem to really lack oomph in the music department. A good side to these was putting up the volume did not cause distortion or discomfort; it handled higher volume much better than the Banshee.

Movies:
Rango in stereo was quite pleasant to be honest, after the disappointment of music listening, it was good to hear the sound of the film in comfort. Surprisingly the lack of bass didn’t let down the overall feel of it. In 5.1 the headphones excelled. I had to set the headphones setting to Dolby Cinema Surround and it gave it a very cinematic feel to it. Watching your movies in surround on the headphones is definitely awesome and the Vengeance 1500 shines in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Watching Red Riding Hood was equally pleasing in both Stereo and 5.1. It’s quite amusing actually, where the headphone lacks in music power it definitely makes up in movies.

Games:
While playing Call of Duty I found that I had to go through a bunch of settings in game and through the software to find a good sweet spot. The 7.1 feature of the headphones didn’t justify itself and sounded very similar to a good pair of stereo headphones. It was a bit disappointing really.

Conclusion
For around the $90 mark, there a quite a few headphones out there that do a much better job than this. Overall I am quite disappointed with the performance and build quality of these headphones. Although it sits comfortable on your head, it lacks importance performance speed bumps along the way which could leave you not so happy about the purchase. A good outcome with this headset was no crackling and popping whatsoever.

Steelseries Siberia V2 (Black & Gold Edition)

Headphones
·  Frequency response: 18 – 28.000 Hz
·  Impedance: 32 Ohm
·  SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms: 112 dB
·  Cable length: 1 + 2 = 3 m (9,8 ft.)
·  Jacks: 3,5 mm
Microphone
·  Frequency response: 50 – 16.000 Hz
·  Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
·  Sensitivity: -38 dB

Finally, in the mix is a good ol’ fashioned Analogue headset. No software driver needed for these, just plug in and you’re ready to go. The headset has a mic controller and even its own Volume controller on the cabling. I found that setting the volume on the controller to about 75% gave me the best sound result. With wiring, it comes with a 1m cable plus a 2m extension cable. So if your sound card is close by, you don’t need to hide away 3m worth of cables which is just clever design. The microphone is wrapped inside the left ear piece and you simply pull it out and can be easily adjusted to suit the position of your mouth.

Comfort:
This is probably the most comfortable one I’ve used today. The pleather cups cover your ears nicely and the brilliant auto adjusting feature using those unbreakable wiring you see in banks for tying pens down to the desks. This makes it easy to slide over your head for automatic adjustment so you don’t need to sit there and play with the adjustment.


Music:
By far the best of today’s line up so far. All the tracks produced amazing low, mid and high range sounds. Even producing music on the Siberia V2 proved to be very ideal. It is slightly amplified meaning it does boost the lower end sounds a bit while producing, but it is minimal enough to overcome after getting used to it. Overall music was a fantastic experience on the Siberia V2’s.

Movies:
Once again the Siberia V2 proves itself, this time with Movies. The stereo headset produced very quality levels all around. Don’t be fooled by its lack of 5.1, this stereo headset provides a bigger punch than the 5.1 headsets I’ve used before.

Gaming:
Gaming on the Siberia V2 was definitely exciting. It packs a massive punch of bass and treble with pure clarity. Quite frankly the sound output of this totally dominates in terms and performance in today’s review so far. I want to keep playing with this headset but other headsets are waiting.

Conclusion
I really could not find a fault with this unit. I would have liked to see velour pads over the pleather to help in longer headphone sessions and no sweaty ears. But performance wise this is the cream of the crop so far. An amazing all-round good performance in a well built and solid unit.

Plantronics Gamecom 7.1 Dolby Headset
  • Dolby® Headphone technology delivers a virtual 7-channel audio experience.
  • Dolby® USB sound card is the only way to get the 7.1 experience.
  • Open-ear design keeps you connected to the game and your surroundings.
  • Concealed mic boom stays hidden until you’re ready to use it.
  • Specially designed earpods redistribute pressure for maximum comfort.
  • In-line volume and mic-mute controls allow for easy audio adjustment
  • Noise-canceling microphone lets you communicate clearly.,,
  • Rugged, military-grade design and extra-strength cables make your hardware hardcore.
I was a bit surprised not to be able to find technical specs of the unit. Bit strange. Firstly, I am quite pleased that these are Analogue headphones, which have an additional USB plug for Dolby sound processing. This is a useful feature for those who would rather stereo analogue headset over digital surround sound. The headset feels solid and well-built and sits quite comfortably on my head. Adjusting the ear pieces was easy as I just pulled down as I slid it over my head.

Comfort:
The velour pads ensure good prolonged use without the sweat and discomfort. The unit is lightweight but is rugged and bulky. I think this comes from the cheap plastic feel of the unit.

Music:
Fantastic. The headphone produced a fantastic all-round sound with good solid bass. It lacked a bit of punch in the higher end but I think most people will find that a bit more comforting. Turning up the volume was very comfortable and no distortion whatsoever. All the tracks at different quality rates proved to work just great. Uncompressed audio didn’t fare as well as compressed. I’d say the lack of quality within the speaker is to blame for this.

Movies:
Not quite sure about the movies. In stereo it doesn’t have the same excitement as music. It just lacks a bit of oomph about it. Sounds very flat compared to the Steelseries Siberia V2. After attaching the Dolby USB processor and setting to 5.1 audio, the movies definitely improved a lot.



Gaming:
Gaming also lacked a bit punch and flare. It just wasn’t as exciting as the Siberia V2. The Dolby attachment did improve the enjoyment a bit but it wasn’t as good as I expected. I wanted a bit more out of this in terms of gaming.

Conclusion
A promising headset, and with a price tag of around $70, it really is worth its weight in entry level headsets. Well balanced for music players and a relatively positive outcome for gaming performance. The comfort and rugged design make this a great choice for newcomers to the headset category.



Razer Megalodon
Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 32 O at 1kHz
  • Sensitivity (@1kHz, 1V/Pa): 102 ± 4dB at 1 kHz
  • Max. Input Power: 200 mW
  • Drivers: 40 mm, with neodymium magnets
Microphone
  • Frequency Response: 50 - 16,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity (-37 ± 4dB @1kHz, 1V/Pa): Variable (user adjustable)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 50 dB
  • Pick-up pattern: Unidirectional
Audio Processing Unit
  • Master volume, center speaker, front speakers, side speakers, rear speakers, bass level, mic sensitivity, mic leveling, mic mute, Razer Maelstrom on/off, active/standby toggle, reset
  • Cable: 3.3 meters, Braided Fiber Sheath
  • Connector: Gold-plated USB

Firstly, love the packaging; it comes with a big box that has cushioned interior, foam manual holder and a big hard case zip bag which houses the headphones. I was quite excited by the packaging alone! It’s not every day you get yourself such elegantly packaged headphones. Once out you’ll find yourself the headphone unit and a ‘maelstrom audio engine’ device attached to the wiring. This is pretty much the heart and processing unit of the headphones. You have the ability to control every aspect of the headphones through the device wether its bass, treble or even surround sound features. Quite the nifty unit to have in hand. For testing purposes I had the volume, bass and treble sliders all set to their maximum in the blue light. Once you go over a certain amount the level indicator goes red. So I’ve set it to a nice flat level.





Comfort:
The velour pads once again prevail in comfort ability. The pads sits nicely around the ears and adjusting was very simple as the adjustable rails are very slick and glide easily.  The light weight nature of the headphones makes it barely noticeable on your head and help with prolonged use.

Music:
Probably the best of the day, slightly edging out the Siberia V2. My reasoning for this is the Megalodon provides a more flat sound. What makes ‘flat’ sounding headphones is that it gives you the sound at a level it was made at, and allows your control how much extra oomph or tsss you want in your music. Putting up the bass level on the unit didn’t muff out the audio but still provided a good solid kick to the music. All the mp3’s sounded fantastic and enjoyable to listen to. Uncompressed WAV files were please but original production didn’t fare as well. One of the problems with the control wheel is that, as you may have noticed by the photos, it is a complete fingerprint magnet.

Movies:
Watching movies in 5.1 or Stereo are equally fantastic, just remember, you don’t need to set the maelstrom to 7.1 to enjoy 5.1 movies and I’ll explain this later. The surround on the headphones was excellent providing a great listening pleasure. Bass and quiet scenes with conversations and music came through with great clarity and performance.

Gaming:
Gaming was very good on the Megalodon when set to 2.0 setting on the maelstrom. 7.1 made the sound very muffled and added slight distortion. At 2.0 gunshots were whizzing by and my own weapon was packing a massive sounding punch. I was impressed with the headphones 5.1 setting through the game but when I set it to 7.1 on the maelstrom, things just got bad. 

Conclusion
For a price tag of around $190, I’m not quite sure if there is really that much of a difference between this and the Siberia. I think the flamboyant packaging and dedicated processing unit gave Razer a good opportunity to bump up the price on it. It does perform well but I hear not a lot of improvement for the price from the other headphones.

So there we have it, each headphone tested out individually, so let’s take a quick rundown over the final results and pick out the winners:

Best Music Headphone: Steelseries Siberia V2
Best Movie Headphones: Razer Megalodon
Best Gaming Headphones: Steelseries Siberia V2
Most Comfortable: Steelseries Siberia V2
Best Wow Factor: Razer Banshee

Clearly, the winner out of today’s test was the Siberia V2. Don’t be fooled by the lack of 5.1 or 7.1 support, the Siberia V2 has outstanding performance all-round in an insanely comfortable headset. So now that we have our headsets all through with, I want to go over some technicalities of headphones that can be misleading and misinterpreted.

USB vs. Analogue.
Analogue wins this hands down. Ask any audio enthusiast, analogue audio is always preferred over its digital counterparts. USB headsets have a few problems:
1) Being USB, it can be affected by your computers performance and create crackling and popping sounds. It is also perceptible to interference from electronic devices. This can also cause crackling & popping.
2) USB Headsets are in a way, their own soundcard. They all have audio processors either in the ear pieces, or like the Megalodon, in an external unit attached to the wiring. The problem with this is if you already have a decent soundcard in your system (a $60 Creative soundcard would be suffice) it is going to be rendered completely mute due to the headsets own processor. That means, your amazing and powerful soundcard that you have paid a deer amount for is completely useless with a USB Headset.
3) The audio processor in the headsets (its own soundcard) is very inferior to the quality of dedicated soundcards. Think that your headphones have a fully built soundcard in them somewhere. Something has to be sacrificed to fit it all in there.
4) Analogue will always sound better. Analogue headsets don’t have digital processor in them that can manipulate the audio that comes from the soundcard.

Stereo vs 5.1/7.1
Let me just start by saying 7.1 headphones are currently are a bit of a gimmick. The problem here is to utilize the 7.1 function of the headphones; you need audio recorded in 7.1. Playing MP3’s with the 7.1 setting enabled doesn’t upgrade it to 7.1. That is actually impossible for headphones to do. Think about it, a MP3 has 2 channels of audio, a left and right. 7.1 has 7 channels plus a subwoofer channel. That means there are individual bits of audio on each of the 7 channels, and all sub audio are within the .1 sub channel.
5.1 on the other hand is plausible. Current games and High-Definition video comes with 5.1 audio, so a 5.1 headphone is more than capable of playing back 5.1 naturally without any processing.
With gaming, a good stereo headset, will still manage to playback the 5.1 audio very well. Matter of fact, the difference is too small for majority of people to notice the difference.

Microphones
You'd notice by now ihave talked about the microphones of the headsets. This is because they all have very similar chipsets and microphones to one another. The difference in sound is going to come from how much you pay for the headset, so the more you pay, the better quality the processor in the mic is.

EQ
I'm not a EQ user and i will never use it. The reason for this is, the music that you hear from iTunes, to Movies to Games, has already been professionally mixed, mastered and EQ'd to a level perfect for that sound. It is already at a perfect level.

So there we have it, hopefully i have provided enough information for you to select your next headset with a bit more knowledge.

By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Lenovo A320 All-in-one Review!

Lenovo A320 77465CM
All-in-one desktop for the stylish user!
http://www.centrecom.com.au/catalog/77465cm-lenovo-a320-77465cm-p-55613.html?sort=2a

Features

Today I’ll be looking at another all-in-one for the desktop user, this time a Lenovo A320. This mid-range desktop has the potential power to be the perfect replacement to suit the needs of the whole family, and even might entice some professional business end users for its slick design and simplicity.
Let’s take a look at what it’s got under the hood.


Model: A320 77645CM
OS:
Windows 7 Home Premium
CPU:
Intel® Core™ i5-2410M (2.3GHz)
Memory: 4GB DDR3 (1333MHz) (Upgradable to 8GB)
Hard Drive(s):
750GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive(s):
External USB DVDRW
Networking:
Gigabit Ethernet
Graphics:
Intel HD3000
Display:
21.5” Full-HD LED (1920x1080 Resolution)
Audio:
Stereo Speakers
Coms:
802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
Inputs:
2x USB2.0, 2x USB3.0, 1x Microphone, SD/MMC Card Reader, 1x HDMI-in, TV-In
Outputs:
1x Headphone Out, 1x VGA, 1x HDMI-Out

Looks pretty good on paper, however if I was to nit-pick I really would have liked a dedicated nVidia or ATI chip on the board and the fact it is using a mobile processor instead of a full-fledged desktop based CPU could be a bit off putting. Basically what it means is it has the guts of a laptop in the shape of a desktop.

Loaded on the PC is a nifty little webcam software package that lets you play around with some fun and quirky tools. The quality of the webcam seemed quite good and took a pretty neat picture.  
One thing I did notice though it does not come partitioned with a data drive, so unless you partition the drive yourself, remember to always backup your data, as a full restore will erase everything off your computer.

One of the important features to have on an all-in-one design is the ability to switch off the display to save power, the Lenovo A320 has this feature but in a poor action. To turn off the display you need to go into the menu of the monitor and navigate your way around to switch off the display. A little button on the edge of the screen somewhere I think would have been much better and more user-friendly.
The menu itself is a bit laggy and slow. When pressing a button, you need to give it a second or so to respond. This shouldn’t really happen with today’s monitors.

The keyboard has 3 large circle buttons on the top right hand corner for software shortcuts. Each button launches the default application for your Media Player, Internet Browser and the 3rd button launches the Lenovo Vantage Technology Start Center. Basically it has all the Lenovo built-in tools in one place including One-Key Recovery.  The recovery feature is fantastic and superfast. The one thing I love about Lenovo products is their recovery software is fantastic and always works a treat and is simple enough for even the most novice of users to operate.
On boot up every time you’ll get the Bluetooth manager application appearing telling you your mouse and keyboard aren’t connected.  Don’t panic! You need to move the mouse around and hit a few keys to activate the Bluetooth devices, bit annoying and unnecessary. I’ve used wireless devices before on Bluetooth without the need to do this.

Design

The unit comes nicely packed into a white box with several small cardboard boxes holding all the extra accessories like keyboard, mouse, power cable and the external DVD drive.
The unit is very slick and stylish, with a white and silver glossy plastic casing. The screen is elevated from the base with silver covered plastic tubing which is very sturdy and strong. Now, Lenovo market it being ultra-slim at just 18.5mm deep, but this is the depth of the actual monitor and not base, the base measures up at around 190mm (19cm) in depth. 

The base itself is the heart of the unit. All the parts packed into a very tight space, something I think could have used a better design. Although it looks very good, it’s quite impractical at times. Firstly, the need for an external drive. Once you plug in the external DVD drive, it changes the whole slick look of the unit. I would have opted for a slightly larger base that could hold a slim DVD drive. It also uses one of the 4 USB ports, so, there goes a waste of a port. The 2 USB ports on the side of the unit are USB3.0 and the rear ones are your USB2.0. The ones on the side I found to be quite badly placed. The angle in which I have my monitor kind of sits right over the ports, so when I tried to plug in a device, my average sized hands found it a bit difficult to get in there to plug it in. The rear ones were no better having me stand up to be able to reach over the monitor. The base should have been made to stretch the width of the monitor so users can easily access the ports. The size of the base is smaller than majority of laptops so I think Lenovo definitely had the chance to make it a bit bigger and fit better options into it.
At the rear of the base I notice the Ethernet port, power port and TV-in to be side by side. This could be problematic if you wanted to use all three at the same time because the power plug is a 90-degree plug, which means if you have it on either side of it, it is going to block one of the ports on the side of it. Your only option is to go up! This contradicts the sleek design.

The keyboard and mouse are wireless Bluetooth components and are fantastic. The mouse looks pretty ugly I must admit but feels amazing under your hands and is extremely comfortable. The keyboard is no less, though it is a compact design, typing on it feels wonderful and even packs its own number pad with the use of the Fn button. I’m not quite sure why they added this in considering there is a row of numbers beneath the F keys, but it does seem encouraging to see Lenovo haven’t left things out.
Overall, though the base of the unit lacks good design fundamentals, when put together, it looks fantastic and would add a stylish and modern look to your home or office. It comes with a plethora of inputs and outputs which give good connectivity options for its users.

Performance

Featuring a mobile 2nd Gen Core i5 Processor, this unit has a lot to prove itself. Out of the package the unit was a breeze to setup and initialize, and like many other machines, comes loaded with a bunch of software (which in many scenarios you’ll never use).

Booting the unit came in at 1min 17s, this was a not the result I was hoping for. I was expecting a slightly better performance result than this. Many of the laptops I have reviewed in the past absolutely cream this result, including Lenovo’s own Y560p which proved to be a possible desktop replacement. However I did notice that boot time was lengthened after Windows initialization which leads me to believe the excess software and start-up services were tugging this machine down, so I did a bit of tweaking, uninstalling and general cleaning up (a brand new machine) and got the boot down to 1min 5s, which is reasonable. A reduction of 12s is fairly large although I do believe if I had this unit formatted with a fresh clean copy without all the excess baggage; it would come down even more.
Some of you may be asking, why am I referring to laptop results in comparison, well the fact is the unit has a mobile processor which is used in laptops and comes with a 5400RPM hard drive, which is identical to the majority of notebooks. The specs in this unit are those used in laptops, so it is a fair comparison.

General software tasks like Office & Excel were usual as expected, nothing out of the ordinary performance wise. Video editing and photo manipulation was a breeze on the desktop. The processor was quick in rendering and the 4GB memory means working with fairly large Photoshop files handle easily.

The 21.5” LED display looks very sharp and clear. There are no blotchy spots or blurriness anywhere on the screen. Full HD videos looked very nice and the colours were rich and vibrant. The displayed showed blacks very well and I didn’t see any pixilation in dark areas when watching movies. This is useful for those wishing to use the screen as a secondary monitor thanks to its HDMI and TV inputs. People can easily hook up their PS3’s to the monitor which provides an awesome close up gaming experience.

The noise level on this unit was quite comfortable and not until the unit is fully loaded for a lengthy amount of time does it start getting a bit louder, however it never reaches an uncomfortable level and most users will find the quietness pleasing.
Audio was very good. Watching movies gave a nice sound and music sounded evenly well. Though it lacked lower sub levels altogether, it doesn’t over do the higher levels and give you that tinny sound like many other low quality speakers do. It gives a nice flat comfortable and loud sound.

Our Cinebench software gave us the following test results:

CPU: 2.51pts
OpenGL: 7.87fps

Nothing unusual about these results, the OpenGL performed as it should have considering it has an Intel HD3000 graphics processor. The CPU results sit perfectly in between the mobile i3 and i7 processors which are more than expected of it to. 

Our PCMark07 benchmark gave a result of 2059 PCMarks. |
Our 3DMark11 produced a result of Nothing. The lack of DX11 hardware didn’t allow the test to begin, so I gave a test using 3DMark06 and it scored 2986 3DMarks

Temperatures were interesting in the unit. It was a bit too hot for my liking. The machine idled in around 45-50 degrees for the CPU and peaked in around the 80 degree mark. This is a big jump in temperature from idle to load. The problem I think stems from the plastic covered base with no decent ventilation or exhaust. If you use this unit in a hot environment and the CPU hits the 100 degree mark, you’re looking at a system failure shutdown and potential permanent damage. Though I must make it clear it is very difficult to achieve such high temperatures on any computer. So don’t be discouraged by what I’ve written. It is my duty to ensure you, the customer, know everything about the unit before purchasing.



 
Conclusion

The Lenovo A320 has a few design flaws that could have been avoided with a bit more thought into its design, but it is constantly overshadowed by the beauty and performance capability of the unit. It looks and feels fantastic to use and I believe they are important factors when it comes to all-in-one desktops. Lenovo has given customers the perfect replacement for that box sitting under your desk with a well built, stylish and comfortable desktop unit that though has a few design flaws and interesting choices in internal hardware, proves to perform above expectations. This unit can also be beneficial to business owners who need the power of a full sized desktop in a compact, stylish and modern look. 

By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Thermaltake Meka G-Unit Review

Thermaltake Meka G-Unit Keyboard.

We’ve gone gaming mad this past week with a bunch of gaming gear being reviewed and this week seems to fair no less! Today I got my hands on a TteSports Meka G-Unit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard. I must say this will be my first real test run at a mechanical keyboard so it has a fair bit to prove to someone who’s used to good ol’ fashioned keyboards.

Let’s take a look at what Thermaltake claims it can do!

·         Tt. Breakaway Gold-Plated USB Connection Cable (2 Meters in Length)
·         Audio/Microphone Jacks Onboard
·         7 Easy Access Multimedia Keys
·         60 Macro Keys across 3 Profiles
·         Tt Game Mode Option (Disables Windows Key)
·         Authentic Cherry Black Mechanical Key Switches
·         Selective Backlighting
·         Cable Management Slots Located on the Bottom of the Keyboard
·         64KB Onboard Memory
·         1000 Hz Polling Rate Limit
·         Detachable Wrist Rest for Maximum Comfort
·         50 Million Keystroke Lifespan
·         2 Onboard USB Hubs
·         USB to PS2 Adapter included Body dimensions (LxWxH): 430x160x40mm



That’s a fair bit of stuff for a keyboard, but what a keyboard it is! Packaging was in true Thermaltake spirit, sticking with their red and charcoal black colour scheme. The TteSports logo, which looks like a dragon (correct me if I’m wrong on that) is also prominent throughout the design of both, the packaging and the unit itself. Within the packaging you’ll find the keyboard itself, a velour bag with the gold plated and braided USB cable, a Velcro bag for the keyboard and a detachable wrist rest.
The unit is extremely solid piece of engineering. It is the heaviest keyboard I have ever found, and can easily be used as a Melee weapon at your local LAN (Centre Com does not condone violence with a keyboard). It’s about 3kg, for a keyboard, that’s as heavy as most monitors. Be warned, once you plant the keyboard on your desk, that’s it, takes such an effort to move it again. It sits ridiculously firm on the desk which is handy when gaming as you wouldn’t want the keyboard moving around.

The front of the keyboard has USB inputs to connect it to your computer along with 2x extra USB inputs that give you quick access to USB ports, and audio input and outputs. The audio inputs I must say lose a decent amount of quality. As an audiophile I wasn’t impressed with the output and I think Thermaltake could have designed the keyboard without them.

The layout of the keyboard is quite conventional with the addition of 12 Macro keys on the left hand side, profile switches are located above the ESC key, and on the right hand side you have additional volume control keys and media player functions. Important gaming keys have illuminated letters. Keys like W, A, S, D, Space, Arrow Keys, Num Lock and when pressed, Caps Lock, all have their own lighting effect. The lights are bright enough to be noticed in the daylight and strong enough in the dark to provide a solid key light. Overall it works very well and is designed for gamers.

Let’s talk mechanical now. As this is my first time using a mechanical keyboard I think I can give it a good unbiased opinion. First things first, mechanical keyboards are loud. Well not loud, but louder than your normal keyboards when pressing keys. The space bar especially seems to have a decent switch on it being the noisiest. Using the keyboard however was something really unusual, it’s like the transition from ball mouse to laser mouses. You know how it works, you know how to use it, but it feels like something completely different. The responsiveness while typing this review up was quite incredible. At times I would just touch the key and notice I’ve finished spelling the word correctly. It picks up key presses very well. However, this isn’t a keyboard to be typing long essays on. It just looks too cool and funky to be seen under the sweaty palms of a university student trying to push out a 2000 word essay the night before it’s due. It would look way cooler in the hand of a hardcore gamer that looks forward to the weekend so they can enjoy a good 72hours of gaming!
 
Which leads to gaming on the keyboard.  Using the keyboard on MW3 was quite comfortable and fun. I could easily reach all keys and shortcuts, and if you’re really into your gaming, you can program the macro keys to the left to do simple commands. Keys were very responsive and didn’t lag at all and I loved being able to just touch a key to action it. Unlike other keyboards I didn’t have to slam the key down as hard as possible to activate it. It was just smooth and controlling the player was just easy as can be.

The software which comes with the keyboard could have used a better UI. It screams Thermaltake branding but it looks very cluttered and chunky. A more streamlined and simply UI would have been more beneficial. The software allows you to pretty much change whatever you need on your keyboard and assign your macro's.
 
Overall, for what you pay for, you get an unbelievably well-built keyboard that is solid from every key through to the guts of the keyboard. Gamers will joy to the gaming functions and appreciate the attention to gamers Thermaltake have put in. 



By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.