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Tom's Hardware CES 2018 Best In Show

Worst Name For A Good Product: The “Fryzen” Cooler

At trade show after trade show over the years, Deepcool has always been a reliable source for innovative, buzz-grabbing cooling/case gear at aggressive prices. The names of the products, though, are sometimes head-scratchers. (What kind of royalty is the “Earlkase” chassis for? Is the “New Ark” a paean to Noah’s vessel, the city in Delaware, or maybe the one in New Jersey?)

We give Deepcool props for joining Noctua in the “rarefied air” of vendors making air coolers for AMD’s beastly-big Ryzen Threadripper TR4 socket. However, we just couldn’t help but grin when we saw that the company dubbed its cooler “Fryzen.”

Yes, the company is almost certainly blending “frozen” and “Ryzen.” But when your product is designed to cool a $500-plus piece of heat-generating silicon, invoking images of electricity-induced death is decidedly not advised.

Give the Fryzen credit, though: Deepcool designed it specially for TR4 to cover its large chip surface, while working in the requisite 16.7M color addressable RGBs and six heat pipes. Expect it in April--maybe under a different name.


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Best Pocketable Desktop: Liva Q2 Mini PC

Diminutive desktops are nothing new. Intel’s got its Compute Sticks and Compute Card platform, Zotac has its Zboxes, and ECS has its own track record in the small PC space with its Liva Mini PCs. But the company’s latest mini, the Liva Q2, stood out at CES this year for many reasons.

It’s truly tiny at 2.7” on each side and 1.3” tall, while making room for useful ports like full-size USB, Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, and a microSD slot. Paired with Intel’s upcoming Gemini Lake silicon, which promises seriously improved performance (for a 10-watt SoC) and media graphics, and a price that (if the company’s previous Liva Q is any indication) should start well under $200, ECS has a surprisingly pleasing little PC package here.

Sure, the eMMC storage isn’t going to be speedy or spacious (you’ll get just 32GB or 64GB), and the RAM (offered in 2GB or 4GB dollops) is soldered on the board—a necessity at this size. But hey, when the ECS Liva Q2 officially lands later this year along with Intel’s next-gen low-power silicon, it should be an affordable, versatile PC that you can toss in a bag or slip in your pocket. Whether you use it for digital signage, media playback, or basic productivity tasks, it’s a tiny PC with plenty of potential.


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Most Logical Conclusion To RGB Fever, Part 2: iBuypower RGB Cable Combs

Last year, we thought RGB fever reached its peak with Razer’s Chroma Mug Holder--but iBuypower just said, “Hold my beer.”

The company upped the ante at CES 2018 with RGB LED-adorned combs for braided cables. (You’d use them on ATX, PCI Express, and CPU power cables.) In case you’ve never seen one, a cable comb keeps the individual strands of a power-supply cable neat, lined up, and looking good. This set should run around $40 and will come with two 24-pin, four eight-pin, and two six-pin combs. You’ll plug them in series, using some subtle black cabling that runs behind the combs, which have LEDs embedded in their back.

One of iBuypower’s reps we spoke with said she achieved some Twitter buzz around the combs with #RGBAllthethings on the opening day of the show. We think we have, indeed, reached Peak RGB. (Visit iBuypower here.)


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Best Gaming Monitor: MSI Optix MPG27CQ

It’s the rookie hitting a homer in his first at bat. MSI may be new to gaming monitors (or monitors in general), but the Optix MP-series’ curved 27-inchers break new ground on a couple of fronts. First off, the lower edge of the bezel on these panels is comprised of a series of LEDs (in five discrete banks) that work with the SteelSeries Engine to signal certain in-game parameters. (For example, in an FPS like Counter-Strike, one bank might indicate your ammo level, another the fade-out time on a flash-bang grenade blast, and another your health.) The nice thing about that: The RGB indicators are at eye level, rather than forcing you to look down at an RGB-equipped keyboard or mouse. Initially, count on Counter-Strike, Dota 2, and Minecraft support, with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds coming soon.

Also, the monitor’s USB connection (required to power the LEDs) is used in a “Where have you been all my life?” way: to allow for mouse/keyboard control of the OSD. Rather than fumbling blindly with buttons behind the panel or along the bezel’s bottom edge, you can tweak monitor essentials at the OSD level with easy clicks and pokes in MSI’s desktop client app--and use keyboard shortcuts to instantly switch between inputs.

MSI will offer the Optix display in 1080p and 1440p flavors, both with a 144Hz max refresh rate. The 1440p version on display is rated at a healthy 400 nits. AMD FreeSync is supported across the rante, too. Expect it later in Q1; MSI estimates we’ll see the the 1440p model (MPG27CQ) at around $450, with pricing to come on the 1080p version.


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Best (Only-ish) New Motherboard: Gigabyte Aorus X470 Motherboard

AMD’s new X470 chipset was among the most interesting announcements the company made at its pre-CES event. AMD plans to bring these new boards to market in April alongside its 12nm Zen+ desktop APUs, but we managed to track down one of the new motherboards in Gigabyte’s suite.
AMD says the new 400-Series motherboards will be less expensive than the 300-Series models and also have lower power consumption, improved memory performance, and better power delivery. Better yet, you can drop older Ryzen processors into the new motherboards, or even use Zen+ models in the 300-Series motherboards.

The Aorus X470 Gaming 7 WiFi motherboard comes with beefy aluminum heatsinks over the VRMs. It also offers plenty of power with a 10+2 power phase arrangement. Gigabyte also equipped the board with 2x2 WiFi networking and all the bells and whistles we expect with a gaming motherboard, like a dual BIOS and RGB lighting in just about every conceivable location.

Improved memory performance might be the best feature. Gigabyte says the new motherboards should overclock to DDR4-4000 and beyond, which should bring the new boards up to speed with Coffee Lake’s memory overclocking capabilities. Of course, faster memory provides much better performance with Ryzen processors, so we expect even better gaming performance from AMD’s refresh.


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Most Promising VR Tech: Tobii Eye Tracking

We’ve seen demos for eye tracking in VR many times, and some were embedded into existing headsets, and therefore on one hand there’s nothing particularly notable about the Tobii eye tracking (embedded into an HTC Vive headset) that we saw this week at CES. That is, except for the fact that it was absolutely exquisite. It was so seamless in many instances that we didn’t even realize various interactions were making use of the tracking--a testament not just to the quality of the tracking but also to the wisdom of the animations and cues (or purposeful lack thereof). There was no discernible lag at any point, either.

If Tobii’s solution isn’t the best eye tracking we’ve seen in an HMD, it’s certainly tied for first place. But here’s a twist: We’ve seen several excellent VR eye tracking companies, but they keep disappearing--via acquisitions. Outfits like SMI and The Eye Tribe have been subsumed into huge companies. But that’s extremely unlikely to happen with Tobii, which is not a plucky startup but instead an international company with multiple divisions and 900 employees.

That means HMD makers can license Tobii tech--which in turn means it could make its way into a number of headsets soon.


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Best Keyboard Innovation: Cooler Master MK851 With Aimpad Technology

We’re on record saying that we believe analog keyboard input is going to be a game-changer for, er, gaming, and Cooler Master is the first big keyboard OEM to take the plunge. The company announced that its upcoming MK851 will feature Aimpad’s analog switch technology.

We first saw Aimpad tech in action about a year ago in prototype form, but Wooting beat everyone to the punch when it brought its analog One keyboard to market in 2017. However, if the Cooler Master experiment proves to have legs with consumers, this may just be the beginning of an exciting trend in the keyboard world.


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Worst. CES. Ever.

Intel’s CES went from bad to worse. The pesky journalists at The Register scuttled the industry's plans to postpone news releases about the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities until a few days after Intel’s CES keynote. As a result, news of the performance-killing patches was dragged into the light the week before the show began. Intel took the brunt of the blow as its stock plunged and it was slapped with three class-action lawsuits, but never mind the fact that the vulnerability impacts nearly every processor vendor. 

What could possibly be worse than that? It turns out Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, sold all of the Intel stock he could before the company revealed the vulnerabilities. Krzanich’s $39 million in transactions led to an increasing chorus of financial publications, U.S. senators, and law firms calling for an SEC investigation for possible insider trading. In fact, a law firm announced it was investigating Krzanich for securities fraud a mere two hours before he took the stage.

That’s a lot to carry into the opening keynote at the world's largest consumer trade show, but the show must go on. Krzanich handled the crisis with aplomb in a whirlwind keynote. The spectacle almost made us forget Intel’s promise to deliver the obscenely overdue 10nm Cannon Lake processors to market in 2017--at least until Krzanich didn’t mention it during the presentation.

The next day found the company making a hasty 10nm announcement that lasted, according to our precise measurements, 16 seconds. Intel announced it did ship Cannon Lake parts (yes, plural) before the end of the year, and that it would ramp production throughout this year. The company hasn’t told us exactly what it shipped, how many, or to whom, so we’ll just have to assume it was a meaningful quantity.

Intel spent the remainder of CES week diligently rolling out emergency Meltdown and Spectre patches, but that culminated in an announcement on the last day of the show that the patches are causing unplanned reboots on client platforms with Broadwell and Haswell processors. What could be worse than that? Well, the unplanned shutdowns are also happening in the data center. It’s easy to imagine the lawsuits are rolling in faster than the patches.

Perhaps Intel’s misfortune is fitting for an odd CES week that found the heavens uncharacteristically pouring rain down on Vegas for several days. That led to flooding and a power outage that hit Central Hall, which is notable for being the home of Intel’s booth.

Gloom and doom certainly abounded for Intel at CES, here’s hoping the company finds sunnier days in 2018.


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Best Comeback: Mad Catz

Peripherals maker Mad Catz crashed in March 2017, officially filing for bankruptcy after selling off assets and brands in a desperate effort to raise enough cash to stay afloat. However, not even a year hence, Mad Catz has reemerged with a host of new mice, keyboards, and headsets.

That alone is noteworthy enough we suppose, but we got more of the story when we met with the company at CES. We were told that the people who rebooted Mad Catz are former employees--the folks who actually made the stuff once upon a time. In other words, Mad Catz workers bought back and revived their own company.


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  • derekullo
    Worst. CES. Ever.

    Nvidia

    No 2080 or 2070

    I would have even liked a 2060.
    Reply
  • lsatenstein
    It is too soon after the previous CES.
    Reply
  • ddferrari
    Wow, this RGB/LED craze is really getting out of hand. Does my mouse pad need lights, too?
    Reply
  • sancubes
    No intel offerings or promise this time???
    Reply
  • kinggremlin
    20589208 said:
    Worst. CES. Ever.

    Nvidia

    No 2080 or 2070

    I would have even liked a 2060.

    What? Since when has NVidia announced new generations of video card at CES? 1080 was announced in May, 980 in September, 780 in May, 680 in March...

    If one was to guess, look for Nvidia to have their typical special event to announce the 2080 in May.
    Reply
  • FD2Raptor
    20589764 said:
    Wow, this RGB/LED craze is really getting out of hand. Does my mouse pad need lights, too?

    Let me introduce you to the Corsair MM800 Polaris RGB Gaming Mouse Pad.
    Reply
  • dalauder
    I like the Analog Gaming Keyboard. However, wouldn't it be sufficient to just do analog on WASD and arrow keys? At least, that's all I'd want on a cheaper variant. I guess you might want it on Space, L-Ctrl, or a couple others. I can definitely see a high end model that does it on all keys (you might want C, E, F, G & Shift frequently as well) and a lower end that only does WASD.
    Reply
  • TechyInAZ
    20589208 said:
    Worst. CES. Ever.

    Nvidia

    No 2080 or 2070

    I would have even liked a 2060.

    Nvidia doesn't do CES (for graphics cards). They will display new graphics cards around the 2H of 2018 as they always do.
    Reply
  • ddferrari
    20590278 said:
    20589764 said:
    Wow, this RGB/LED craze is really getting out of hand. Does my mouse pad need lights, too?

    Let me introduce you to the Corsair MM800 Polaris RGB Gaming Mouse Pad.
    :/ Thanks... I should have known.
    Reply
  • scolaner
    20590636 said:
    I like the Analog Gaming Keyboard. However, wouldn't it be sufficient to just do analog on WASD and arrow keys? At least, that's all I'd want on a cheaper variant. I guess you might want it on Space, L-Ctrl, or a couple others. I can definitely see a high end model that does it on all keys (you might want C, E, F, G & Shift frequently as well) and a lower end that only does WASD.

    Yeah, that's a good point. And that's more or less what CM did here with Aimpad's tech. But if you're doing a few, you may as well do them all... like Wooting: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/wooting-one-analog-mechanical-keyboard,5124.html
    Reply