This year, for the first time ever, Tom’s Hardware chose to recognize four companies at CES 2012.
Now, show awards aren’t something we’ve typically done in the past. After all, products that earn our editorial nods are first put through grueling tests and then compared to similar offerings. But we also want to acknowledge innovation and performance, and then encourage vendors to push forward with concepts that may have been on the fence about.
As such, we limited our selection pool to the companies we met with at the show, where we were able to sit down and talk shop for 30 minutes or more. Yes, that meant holding off on handing out our congratulatory trophies until the second, third, and fourth days—but we had to be sure we were recognizing the right products.
MSI GUS II
Our first award went to MSI. Its GUS II external GPU enclosure was the only product to really command our attention during the first day of meetings. It employs Intel’s Thunderbolt technology and employs a power connector able to support any graphics card—so long as it uses less than 150 W. MSI demoed the GUS II using a MacBook running Windows. Later this year, though, we’ll start seeing desktop motherboards with Thunderbolt built-in. Might MSI convince AMD and Nvidia to help with driver support that’d make CrossFire connectivity a plug-in upgrade for Ivy Bridge-based notebooks? That remains to be seen. What we do know, though, is that this is one very cool concept that should become available in the first half of 2012.
We met with OCZ early the following day, and were again drawn to a Thunderbolt-based piece of hardware. To be fair, Intel was showing off the Lightfoot in its booth when we met up Jason Ziller, the director of Thunderbolt planning and marketing. But we wanted OCZ’s take before picking it as a winner. The company claims it’ll be selling its external drive within the next quarter. It’ll hit capacities between 128 GB and 1 TB, and you can expect to pay around $2 per gigabyte. However, the inclusion of a PCI Express-based Kilimanjaro platform is said to enable throughput as high as 750 MB/s through just a single Thunderbolt connector. That’s a lot of very high-speed storage in a convenient form factor.
In all frankness, the third award was a little more deliberate. We had heard about EVGA’s SR-X before the show, knew we wanted to see it, and suspected it’d win our affections if only because of its gratuitous enthusiast allure. However, as an isolated incident of impossible logistics would have it, there was no way to get from our meeting at The Mirage to EVGA’s suite at the Wynn in the five minutes budgeted. So, we had to call up the EVGA crew to talk about its upcoming dual LGA 2011 interface motherboard. Support for a pair of eight-core Xeon E5s promise to make it a very high-performance platform (even if its cost, completely built-up, will undoubtedly be outrageous). Meanwhile, four-way SLI support with all cards in 16-lane slots is promising for compute applications, while 12 DIMM slots accommodating 96 GB makes room for plenty of memory and a massive RAM drive.
SilverStone FT03 Mini
Our final award of the show goes to a company many might consider an unlikely recipient. Rarely are enclosures glamorous enough to single-out amongst the other new products and technologies shown off at CES. However, we were happy to see SilverStone innovating beyond the FT03 it had on-hand last year. Deemed larger than many expected, the FT03 boasted a unique, stylish design, but didn’t really push the envelope in terms of dimensions. SilverStone’s FT03-Mini does, though. Room for a mini-ITX motherboard, SFX power supply, and dual-slot graphics cards up to 9” long should satisfy any number of space-constrained enthusiasts with Zotac Z68-based motherboards.