An August to remember
It’s been a great summer to be a PC enthusiast.
The July 29 release of Windows 10 has resulted in an orgy of computing excess, as hardware manufacturers rush to release a glut of new graphics cards, computer processors, SSDs, routers, and more to coincide with the operating system’s launch. The riches started raining down in June, continued throughout July, and didn’t slow down one bit in August.
From Intel’s cutting-edge new chips to fresh GPUs and Google’s entry into home networking, here’s a rundown of all the awesome PC goodies that made their debut in August.
Intel Skylake processors
The most notable release of August was easily Intel’s new Skylake processors, which bucked recent CPU release trends in a couple of ways. First, Intel revealed its most powerful, gamer-focused Skylake processors to coincide with Germany’s blockbuster Gamescom event; and second, Intel didn’t release any processor architecture details until weeks after those chips were already in stores. Heck, it still hasn’t revealed Skylake’s deepest secrets.
As far as the chip itself goes, the performance enhancements are mostly incremental over past-generation Intel chips, though Skylake could be a compelling upgrade from older Sandy Bridge systems at this point. Check out our exhaustive Skylake review for more details.
The first-ever Intel mobile Xeon laptops
The very first Skylake laptops were also monumental for being the official debut of Intel’s workstation-focused Xeon processors in mobile form. (You could find Xeon laptops before, but those were crammed with desktop-class chips.) Intrigued? Check out our preview of Lenovo’s Thinkpad P50 and P70 for full details.
Nope, that’s not Amazon’s Echo—though I understand the confusion. Instead, this Echo look-alike is the OnHub router, Google’s surprising entry into home (and connected home) networking.
This blazing-fast 802.11ac dual-band router rocks 13 antennas and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. But OnHub’s more than a simple router! It also functions as a hub for Zigbee- and Weave-based smart home devices, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. Oh, and it has a Trusted Platform Module for hardware-level security, as well as a built-in speaker/amplifier combo and a dimmable LED light ring.
Whew. It’s up for preorder for $200 if you’re interested.
D-Link DWA-192 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapter
Speaking of funky home networking devices, the D-Link DWA-192 is the fastest 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapter we’ve ever tested, and it delivers excellent range, too. It was a ball to test. HEY-O!
Razer Firefly mousepad
While we’re riding the “weird design” train, meet the Razer Firefly: An ultra-premium gaming mousepad laden with LEDs that requires USB-supplied power—and costs a whopping $60.
It’s actually an exquisitely designed mousepad. But given the price, Hayden Dingman felt compelled to pit it head-to-head against a torn piece of cardboard in our Razer Firefly review. You should read it. It’s pretty great. (Spoiler: The cardboard gets 2.5 stars.)
AMD Radeon R9 Nano
AMD’s intriguing Radeon R9 Nano graphics card made its formal debut in August as well, albeit in paper launch form. (It won’t appear on store shelves until September 10.)
The premium Radeon R9 Nano features a full-blown Fiji GPU with 4096 stream processors, but AMD used the space savings afforded by its embrace of cutting-edge high-bandwidth memory to shrink the Nano down to a mere 6 inches long. The result: The first-ever mini-ITX graphics card capable of playing games at 4K resolution, albeit at a steep $650 price tag.
Be sure to read our deep dive into the Radeon R9 Nano’s tech specs and design details for all the info, and watch for reviews to land around the card’s September 10 launch date.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 950
Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 950, on the other hand, takes square aim at more mainstream gamers with its $150 price point. It clearly beats AMD’s competing Radeon R7 370 at that price point, and it’ll let budget gamers play better-than-console-quality graphics at 1080p without breaking the bank or sipping too much power.
Alienware 13, 15, and 17 gaming laptops
More into premade systems than DIY components? The popular Alienware 13, 15, and 17 gaming laptops all received a refresh in late August, bringing better screens, new graphics options (including a never-before-seen AMD Radeon R9 M395m GPU), and cutting-edge USB Type-C connectors that support Intel’s blazing-fast Thunderbolt 3 technology. Yum!
One puzzling omission: Skylake. The overhauled Alienware lineup packs Haswell and Broadwell processors, though the company tells us it’ll build in the newer Skylake CPUs as soon as possible.
Alienware's X51 microtower
The itty-bitty X51 was the PC that kicked off the whole microtower craze. Alienware’s recent revamp dragged the legend into the modern age, with Intel’s new high-end Core i7-6700K Skylake processor, an awesome little water-cooling setup, and support for the company’s Graphics Amplifier, which is basically an external box that lets you tap into graphics cards way larger and more powerful than you could realistically shove into the X51’s chassis.
Of course we went hands-on with the revamped Alienware X51 lickity-split.
AMD's radical Project Quantum PC
PCWorld’s hardware crown jewel in August was a small-form-factor PC, but it wasn’t the Alienware X51. Hardware editor Gordon Ung coaxed AMD into giving us an exclusive hands-on with the company’s radical Project Quantum PC, of which only 12—count ‘em, twelve—units were made. Even better, AMD agreed to leave us alone with the machine, which pairs cutting-edge design with AMD’s radical new Fury graphics.
Cue the dissection. You don’t want to miss this—and you won’t find it anywhere else.
Still in the mood for more hardware? Check out our rundown of the coolest tech on display at Intel’s Developer Forum in San Francisco earlier this month. The fantastical, fanless PCs are dreamy, but the horde of wearable-controlled robot spiders is NIGHTMARISH.