Face-melting memory and cutting-edge storage: This week's powerful new PC hardware

ava direct x99
Gordon Ung

Technology marches onward

After a constant barrage of powerful new PC hardware was revealed during CES 2016 last week, this week was bound to be a snoozer, right? Wrong. PC makers seemingly missed the memo about CES’s end, as over the past four days we’ve witnessed some shockingly impressive new computer hardware thrust into the limelight, and some potent older products received fresh breaths of air with staggering price cuts.

But enough chit-chat! Let’s dig in.

gskill ripjaws v 128gb ddr4

Ridonkulous RAM

Let’s start with G.Skill’s borderline ludicrous new Ripjaws V memory kits, which check damn near every box PC enthusiasts could ask for. This 128GB of cutting-edge DDR4 memory (split over eight 16GB sticks) are clocked at a whopping 3000MHz, or nearly twice as fast as the 1666MHz DDR3 memory found in many people’s PCs. Whoa.

What’s more, this Ripjaws V RAM rocks ultra-low CL14-14-14-34 CAS latency times, too. It’ll be available by the end of the month. G.Skill’s staying mum about pricing at this point—but expect it to near or even surpass $1,000 for the full kit, though.

seagate 8tb nas drive

Seagate's 8TB consumer hard drive

Storage-stuffed hard drives aren’t all that new in the enterprise space, where racks full of servers rock bays full of storage, but Seagate’s new 8TB network attached storage-optimized drive is the largest non-archival hard drive available for consumers yet. The new model supports a 216MBps maximum sustainable transfer rate and 256MB cache, which are both major improvements over Seagate’s smaller drives—but on the flipside, it requires almost twice as much power as Seagate’s 4TB NAS drive. You win some, you lose some.

Don’t let all this NAS box talk fool you, either. You can plop Seagate’s 8TB drive in a proper PC just fine. The NAS qualifier simply means it spits off less vibration, uses less energy, and spins more quietly than traditional hard drives.

13tb ssd fixstars

World's first 13TB SSD

Oh, your rig’s too swanky for mere hard drives—even revolutionary ones? Then feast your eyes on the Fixstars SSD13000M, a.k.a. the world’s first-ever 13TB hard solid-state drive. Yes, a 13 terabyte SSD. Now that’s hardcore, but so is its price tag, at a luxurious $13,000, or $1,000 per terabyte. Pushing PC hardware to blazing new frontiers should always be celebrated but you’ll probably want to wait a few years for storage like this to become a bit more affordable before you break out your wallet.

If you decide to splurge today, though, the Fixstars SSD will deliver sequential read speeds of 580MBps and write speeds of up to 520MBps. That’s not exactly up to par with those fancy new NVMe SSDs making the rounds, but it’ll blow the pants off a traditional hard drive—and did I mention it holds 13 terabytes?!

compulab airtop

A passively cooled, fanless gaming PC

SSDs have a huge following with silent PC enthusiasts, since unlike traditional HDDs, they don’t have any moving parts whatsoever. And this week, those silent PC enthusiasts found a new paragon: The Compulab Airtop, a full-blown gaming PC that has no fans whatsoever thanks to a passively cooled case that took three full years to engineer.

The Airtop dissipates heat across a large flat heat-pipe array toward a panel filled with 14 air tubes, which expel the hot air from the top of the chassis. It mirrors the arrangement on both sides of the case to cool down both a CPU and a discrete GPU. Each side can handle up to 100W TDPs, meaning Compulab’s able to offer the PC with up to high-end Core i7-5775C “Broadwell-H” processors or Xeon workstation chips, and either Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 or Nvidia Quadro M4000 graphics. Hot damn.

Be sure to read our full report on the Compulab Airtop for many more nitty-gritty details.

radeon r9 nano

Radeon Nano price cut

Speaking of power-sipping graphics cards, AMD’s tiny six-inch Radeon R9 Nano—easily the most powerful mITX GPU available, capable of playing games at 4K resolution—received a steep $150 price cut this week, bringing it down to $500 a mere four months after its launch.

This is bound to open new doors for AMD’s pint-sized powerhouse. At $650, the Nano commanded a premium price for its small size, but $500’s a vastly more compelling price point, as the card outpunches Nvidia’s GTX 980 at stock speeds and damn nears equals the pricier $550 Radeon Fury.

intel iris pro

Intel's integrated GPUs rising

This week, Intel was banging the drum about its integrated graphics, crowing that the Iris Pro GPU in its higher-end processors “can outperform 80 percent of discrete graphics chips.” Ho ho ho! Intel didn’t reveal exactly which discrete GPUs it’s measuring against, and Iris Pro graphics have indeed evolved into a capable entry-level gaming solution, but to put things in better perspective, Nvidia’s $100 GeForce GTX 750 Ti outperforms Intel’s solution.

That’s not to say Intel shouldn’t be proud of its accomplishments; Gregory Bryant, vice president and general manager of Intel’s desktop clients platform, said “We have improved graphics 30 times what they were five years ago” and that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

intel skylake core i7 6700k
Gordon Ung

Skylake bugs out

It wasn’t all roses for Intel this week, though. The company admitted that its Skylake chips suffer from a serious bug that can lock systems up while performing certain complex tasks with Prime95, a popular tool for stress-testing new and overclocked processors. Here’s how to test your PC for the Skylake bug.

amd opteron a1100 server chips arm seattle

AMD's first ARM-based chips

We don’t normally dip into the enterprise side of things here at PCWorld, but AMD’s new Opteron A1100 server chips deserve a shout-out for what it represents: It’s the first ARM-based—not x86-based, like the rest of AMD and Intel’s lineups—“Seattle” processor shipped by AMD.

arduino 101 intel

Intel's Arduino 101

Intel didn’t release any new processors this week, but it did release a new board for makers and tinkerers. The $30 Arduino 101 includes Intel’s much-balleyhooed Curie chip module, designed to let makers whip up custom projects for wearables, robots, and smart appliances.

The board packs a low-power Quark chip, Bluetooth, a USB hub for interfacing with traditional PCs, an accelerometer, and a gyrometer. It also has a pattern recognition engine, and software packages called IQs will be available to analyze data from your projects. At CES, Intel showed Curie modules strapped to bikes and snowboards to track height and distance traveled, while another demo showed an artist painting on a gigantic virtual canvas.

And even better, the Arduino 101’s completely open-source, and Intel’s shared the schematics for it.

as rock ministx motherboard

Meet mini-STX

This week also saw us mopping up trends witnessed at CES, most notably the introduction of hardware based on Intel’s new mini-STX motherboard form factor. At 5 inches square, mini-STX boards are only slightly larger than Intel’s itty-bitty NUC PCs, but unlike NUCs, you’ll be able to swap out the processor inside of mini-STX machines. It’s easy to see these becoming popular in home theater PCs and workplaces that demand a minimal computing footprint.

Numerous PC vendors showed off mini-STX goodies at CES. ASRock revealed its first mini-STX motherboard and a “mini-STX building block PC,” pictured above. ECS also debuted a mini-STX motherboard, while Silverstone was proudly displaying a mini-STX case prototype.

thermaltake rgb power supply
Brad Chacos

Flashy power supplies

Another mop-up CES trend we covered this week was the introduction of tricked-out PC power supplies, which breathed some much-needed fresh air into a long-stagnant hardware genre.

Thermaltake’s Toughpower DPS G RGB 1250W (pictured above) is notable for a couple of things. Most obviously, its fans features RGB lighting that you can customize to any hue you desire, and as an unabashed lover of blinged-out rigs, I’m all for that. But perhaps more interestingly, it also packs Thermaltake’s Smart Power Management platform, which tracks your PC’s power usage to provide granular cost and usage reports, and even push warnings to your phone when the PSU fails.

Meanwhile, Deepcool was showing off—get this—a liquid-cooled power supply. We’re not exactly sure liquid-cooled power supplies are practical or necessary, but the push to drive system temperatures ever lower have definitely resulted in some glorious examples of PC excess in the past, so who are we to judge? Hit this link to see Deepcool’s mad invention for yourself.

htc vive pre

Such a tease

Virtual reality is finally getting real, folks. After HTC revealed its new camera-equipped Vive Pre VR headset during CES, the company’s CEO announced this week that preorders will open on February 29. The big question, of course, is how much will it cost? The Oculus Rift’s $600 price tag shocked everybody after Oculus spent months saying it would be as cheap as possible. With two made-for-VR controllers and a pair of base stations to track your movement around a 15-by-15-foot room, the Vive is sure to be even more expensive.

thermaltake tank mod
Brad Chacos

Mind-blowing mods

Of course, the fanciest PC hardware in the world isn’t worth much if you don’t do anything with it. If you’re looking to trick-out your computer to share off your gear, be sure to check out PCWorld’s look at the craziest case mods and powerful PCs of CES. Sure, you’re not likely to transform your home PC into a Star Destroyer from Star Wars or a liquid-cooled tank, but it’s nice to dream, right?

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