Xanbox Update

It’s been about one month since I built the Xanbox (read about it here) and so far, it’s been running like a top. One upgrade I went for after about a week of use was an upgraded CPU cooler.  The stock unit was fine, but it was LOUD.  I opted for the Coolermaster Hyper T4 and an additional 120MM fan to help pull air through the cooling fins. It’s a lot more quiet now, thankfully, but other than that, things have been running just fine. Games are running well.  Some I still can’t run at the highest graphical settings, but that’s not what I set out to do with this machine. The games I’ve been wanting to play are running great, and honestly I’m not that concerned about it. There’s room for expansion later on, which is part of why I built this machine the way I did. All in all, so far so good. :)

Windows 8: Is It That Bad?

I use Windows 8 (well, 8.1 now), and personally I like it.  Hear me out on this. I’m not a fan of the Metro interface by any stretch of the imagination, but do I ever see it?  Nope.  Windows 8.1 enabled the ability to boot directly to the desktop so you don’t need to deal with the Metro start screen. That’s annoyance #1, at least from what I gather from most people, anyway. The lack of a traditional Start Menu is item number 2 on the annoyance list.  There are plenty of replacement apps out there to get your original Start Menu back, but I can understand that some people feel as though they shouldn’t need to deal with that. In fact, there are quite a few people that are equating Windows 8 to Windows Vista.  In fact, HP has gone back to offering Windows 7 on their laptops. Windows 8 came on my HP laptop when I bought it, so I decided to run with it.  It ran fine, no blue screens, and I never had to interact with the Metro Start screen.

I think the big problem is people see the Metro Start screen and instantly think that’s Windows 8 in a nutshell. They never give it a chance and only assume they get huge, monster tiles to interact with things, or they have to deal with that silly screen all the time. As I mentioned above, if you’re running Windows 8.1 (and you should be by this point), you can enable boot to desktop.  Here’s how:

  1. After booting into Windows 8.1, click the Desktop tile to go to your desktop
  2. Right-click on the task bar, then click on properties
  3. On the Navigation tab, look for the option that says “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”.  Click the checkbox to enable it.
  4. Reboot.  Boom, no more Start screen.  You’re on your desktop now.

Another complaint, that I mentioned above, is the lack of a traditional Start Menu for Windows 8.  If you click on the Windows icon on the taskbar from the desktop, you get a full-screen list of all of your apps instead of the small menu you are probably accustomed to.  There is a search feature that allows you to drill down and find the application you’re looking for, but for a lot of people, they are used to their traditional Start Menu, and nothing else will do. Thankfully for those users, there are quite a few apps to give you a Start Menu you’re accustomed to.  I’m not going into that here, as I don’t use any of them.  What do I use? I use an open source launcher called Launchy.  Alt+Space brings up a prompt where I can start typing the name of the application I want, I find it, hit enter and I’m running.  No clicks, no anything else.  It’s quick and easy for me.

The big question is, what’s performance like? All reports I’ve read indicate the performance seems to be better than Windows 7. I don’t have a baseline as my new rig was built with Windows 8. However, I’m building an exact clone of my rig for my partner, and she’s partial to Windows XP/7, so once that’s complete I’ll be sure to borrow her machine and do some performance comparisons.

 

[Review] Corsair Vengenance K70 Keyboard

I’m a fan of the mechanical keyboard. I like how they feel, the feedback that I get from them, and the build quality. Way back when, I had an old IBM model M keyboard that worked amazingly well for its age, and it was, up until the purchase of this keyboard, my favorite keyboard of all time. I broke one of my rules with this keyboard, though, in that I told myself I would never spend more than $20.00 for a keyboard, but let me tell you, I’m glad I did.

The build of this keyboard is solid. The case is a combination of black plastic topped off machined aluminum. The keys themselves are Cherry MX Reds (more info on switch types here) and provide a nice amount of feedback and just feel great when typing with them. The keys are backlit in blue, and keys 1-6 and W,A,S,D come with textured replacement keycaps (this is a gaming keyboard, after all). Additional features include USB 2.0 passthrough (on the rear), Windows Key lockout, adjustable (and programmable) backlighting in blue, built-in media controls and a removable wrist rest.

I’ve had the keyboard for a few days, so I can’t give a deep impression of its use, but I can tell you that it feels great, looks great and feels like a solid keyboard and I’m happy with it.

My First PC Build in Years!

This past weekend was the end of something I had been planning for some time, and that was the build of a new desktop. When I first moved, I sold my old Dell Q6600 quad core since it was starting to get long in the tooth. I replaced it with a HP laptop, which was working just fine, but it’s no powerhouse, and I saw the limitations when I started editing photos. So, plans for the new Xanbox began. I knew I wanted a mid-range machine and that I did not want to spend thousands of dollars on it. I wanted a system that would last a while, that I could either SLI or Crossfire a pair of graphics cards down the line, and be expandable enough in the RAM department. With that said, here are the specs:

  • AMD FX-8320 8-core (unlocked) running at 3.5gHz (4.0 turbo)
  • ASRock 990FX Extreme4 motherboard
  • Radeon R9 270x 2GB Video card
  • 8GB Corsair RAM (max supported is 32GB)

Everything was put inside of an NZXT Source 210 basic black case with 4 120MM fans providing airflow. It’s powered by a 700 watt power supply, and there’s 2TB (2x 1TB hard drives) of space. I chose Windows 8.1 as my OS of choice; I’ve not had a problem with Windows 8 and performance is running just fine for me. I topped the system off with a 27″ AOC e2752S monitor capable of 1080p and a Corsair k70 mechanical keyboard. I fired everything up Saturday and got the OS installed, and yesterday I spent playing some of the games I haven’t been able to on the laptop, and I’m happy to report the system is running just fine. Next step is to get my photography stuff from my laptop copied over, and then I’ll be set to go.