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Thread: Anandtech News

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    #6511

    Anandtech: Extending Home Networks - A Comparison of G.hn, HomePlug AV2 and Wi-Fi Mes

    Over the last decade or so, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of devices connecting to the home network. The popularity of IoT has meant that even devices that are not mobile require communication over the Internet, but, their placement might be far away from the primary router in the house. Given this situation, it is essential to find a reliable way to extend the reach of the home network. There have been many attempts to come up with a standardized way to do it, but consumers have been forced to use range extenders, powerline networking kits and the like to increase the reach of their home networks. Given the multitude of available options, what underlying technology should consumers look for? This article provides a comprehensive overview of the available options as well as a quantitative comparison in one particular residential scenario.

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    #6512

    Anandtech: The Khronos Group Announces New Standards Collaboration for VR Integration

    It’s no secret that at this early point in the lifecycle of VR that there are many different platforms, solutions and paths to choose from when it comes to content and standards for motion and control. Due to the range of APIs created for game engines and different VR solutions, such as Steam VR, Oculus, OSVR, Daydream etc., it can be difficult for developers to create one-application-fits-all software. As a result, their software typically ends up specializing for a particular VR solution over others. This can arguably limit industry growth at the expense of differentiation.
    The goal of the new Khronos VR Standards initiative, announced this week, is to create a set of standard APIs that portable VR applications and engines can use to interface with different hardware and vendor device drivers. Much in the same way that Vulkan is designed to be a low-level graphics standard that can target any capable set of hardware and software, the end goal here is to have a sufficient number of companies and developers on board to create a singular API interface for all future VR development, making a single app compatible with any device and software stack that adheres to the new standard(s).
    At this time, Khronos is only putting out the announcement that this new VR Standards Initiative is in the early stages and encouraging companies in the VR space to get on board. The usual suspects are publicly participating (Google, Oculus, Valve, Intel, AMD, ARM, NVIDIA, EPIC Games, Razer, Tobii), and we were told that a number of other companies are also involved but not publicly at this time (we questioned Khronos about Microsoft, and Chinese participants as well).
    Khronos confirmed that this is still early days for the initiative, at the point where the scope of the specification is still being determined. As a result, aside from headset tracking, controllers and other devices in a VR runtime, the scope could go beyond simple VR implementations and move to delocalized streaming and virtualized environments, depending on the participants in the Initiative. We were told that typical Khronos cycles for this sort of thing are 18-24 months before a ratified standard is in place.
    From Khronos’ press release:
    “Khronos has been on the forefront of advanced graphics and system APIs for over 15 years, and in keeping with that tradition and obligation to the industry at large has embarked on a new, vitally needed set of APIs and standards for the emerging VR market. We applaud the industry-leading companies that are coming together as Khronos members for this endeavor, and expect the whole industry will share our sentiment,” said Jon Peddie, President of JPR.
    Any company interested in participating should get in contact with Khronos. There have been some initial presentations at SIGGRAPH Asia this week.


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    #6513

    Anandtech: HGST Ultrastar SN200 Accelerator: 7.68 TB Capacity, 6.1 GB/s Read Speed, 1

    Western Digital this week announced two high-end HGST Ultrastar families of SSDs designed for high-frequency workloads in cloud and hyperscale environments that require instant response time. The new drives will act like application accelerators and will thus offer very high sequential and random performance as well as very low latency.
    The manufacturer does not reveal a lot of information about the HGST Ultrastar SN200 family, but we do know that it is based on a proprietary controller that is compliant with the NVMe 1.2 specification, uses PCIe 3.0 interface and supports “advanced ECC” (which is probably a marketing way of saying LDPC). The HGST Ultrastar SN200 family of solid-state accelerators consists of two lineups: the SN260 and the SN200. The Ultrastar SN260 is designed for maximum performance, which is why it uses PCIe 3.0 x8 interface and is set to be available in half-height/half-length add-in card form-factor. By contrast, the Ultrastar SN200 uses a more traditional 2.5”/15 mm form-factor along with dual-port U.2 connector featuring PCIe 3.0 x4 interface (dual-port is needed for high-availability systems).
    To appeal to different types of customers and workloads, the SN200 and the SN260 SSDs will come in endurance-optimized and capacity-optimized models with the former offering up to three drive writes per day (DWPD) for five years and the latter offering up to 7.68 TB capacity (see the table for details) as well 1 DWPD for five years. Power consumption and other features of different types of drives are similar: they do not consume more than 25 W under load and they support end-to-end data path protection, secure erase, power-loss protection and so on.
    When it comes to performance, the HGST Ultrastar SN260 with 800 GB – 7.68 TB capacity is the absolute champion in Western Digital’s product stack and is also among the fastest high-capacity NVMe PCIe SSDs today (it only pales in comparison with Seagate’s Nytro XP7200, which is a PCIe 3.0 x16 SSD with read speeds speced at 10 GB/s). The SN260 is rated at up to 6.4 GB/s for sequential reads and up to 2.2 GB/s for sequential writes (both capacity and endurance models). The new SSDs can perform up to 1.2 million random read IOPS as well as up to 200K/75K random write IOPS (endurance/capacity models).
    The HGST Ultrastar SN200 is considerably slower than the SN260 (as expected) with sequential and random reads, but write performance of the two drive families is similar. The SN200 SSD supports sequential read speeds of up to 3300 MB/s as well as sequential write speeds of up to 2100 MB/s.
    HGST Ultrastar SN200 Series Specifications
    SN260 SN200
    Capacities 800 GB
    1,600 GB
    3,200 GB
    6,400 GB
    960 GB
    1,920 GB
    3,840 GB
    7,680 GB
    800 GB
    1,600 GB
    3,200 GB
    6,400 GB
    960 GB
    1,920 GB
    3,840 GB
    7,680 GB
    Form Factors HHHL add-in card 2.5"/15mm U.2
    Interface PCIe 3.0 x8 (NVMe 1.2) PCIe 3.0 x4 (NVMe 1.2)
    or 2x2 U.2
    Controller Proprietary
    NAND 128 Gb MLC made using 15 nm process technology (?)
    Sequential Read 6100 MB/s 3300 MB/s
    Sequential Write 2200 MB/s 2100 MB/s
    Random Read (4 KB) IOPS 1,200,000 830,000
    Random Write (4 KB) IOPS 200,000 75,000 200,000 75,000
    Mixed Random Read/Write
    (max IOPS 70%R/30%W, 4KB)
    560,000 270,000 500,000 240,000
    Write Latency 512 B 20 ms
    Power Idle 9 W
    Operating 25 W
    Endurance 3 DWPD 1 DWPD 3 DWPD 1 DWPD
    Encryption AES-256
    Power Loss Protection Yes
    MTBF 2 million hours
    Warranty Five years
    Western Digital is sampling its HGST Ultrastar SN200 NVMe family of SSDs to select customers and plans to start their commercial shipments in the first quarter of 2017. The drives will be covered with a five-year warranty and will come with two million-hour MTBF rating.
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    #6514

    Anandtech: HGST Ultrastar SS200 SSD: Up to 7.68 TB, 1.8 GB/s, Dual-Port SAS 12 Gbps

    Western Digital has introduced a new family of Ultrastar SS200 SAS SSDs that wed high-performance with capacities up to 7.68 TB as well as relatively high endurance. The drives are aimed at mixed-use and read-intensive workloads that require not only maximum throughput, but also reliability. To guarantee the latter, the Ultrastar SS200 uses the company's Guardian technology.
    The HGST Ultrastar SS200-series SSDs are designed for datacenters that rely on SAS backplanes, which are used for modern read-intensive and mixed-use workloads that benefit from performance and reliability (e.g., financial transactions, e-commerce, virtualization, database analytics, etc.). The drives come in 2.5”/15 mm form-factor with two SAS 12 Gbps ports and are based on the Guardian platform originally developed by SanDisk. The Guardian technology handles flash management, signal processing, end-to-end data path protection, power-loss protection and so on. Unlike the previous-gen products featuring the Guardian, the Ultrastar SS200 SSDs are based on a proprietary Western Digital controller and firmware, not a third-party chip with a custom firmware, the company told us. The manufacturer claims that the SS200 drives use “commercial-grade” MLC NAND memory, which probably means 128 Gbit ICs made using 15 nm fabrication process.
    HGST Ultrastar SS200 Series Specifications
    Ultrastar SS200
    Capacities 400 GB
    800 GB
    1,600 GB
    3,200 GB
    480 GB
    960 GB
    1,920 GB
    3,840 GB
    7,680 GB
    Form Factors 2.5"/15mm U.2
    Interface dual-port SAS 12 Gbps
    Controller Proprietary
    NAND 128 Gb MLC made using 15 nm process tech (?)
    Sequential Read 1800 MB/s
    Sequential Write 1000 MB/s
    Random Read (4 KB) IOPS 250,000
    Random Write (4 KB) IOPS 86,000 37,000
    Mixed Random Read/Write
    (max IOPS 70%R/30%W, 4KB)
    154,000 90,000
    Write Latency 512 B 100 ms
    Power Idle 3.8 W - 4.3 W
    Operating 9 W - 11 W (configurable)
    Endurance 3 DWPD 1 DWPD
    Encryption AES-256
    Power Loss Protection Yes
    MTBF 2.5 million hours
    Warranty Five years
    Since different workloads mean different demands for capacities and endurance, Western Digital plans to offer capacity-optimized versions of the SS200 that can store 480 GB – 7.68 TB of data and rated for one drive write per day (DWPD) for five years as well as endurance- and performance-optimized models rated at 3 DWPD for five years that can store 400 GB – 3.2 TB of data. Power consumption of the Ultrastar SS200 SSDs is configurable and can be as low as 9 W or as high as 11 W.
    When it comes to performance, the HGST Ultrastar SS200 supports sequential read speeds of up to 1800 MB/s as well as sequential write speeds of up to 1000 MB/s. Random read performance of the Ultrastar SS200 is up to 250K, whereas random write performance is rated at 86K/36K (performance-/capacity-optimized models).
    Samples of the HGST Ultrastar SS200 SAS lineup of SSDs are available to select customers now and Western Digital intends to begin their volume shipments in the first quarter of 2017. The drives will be covered with a five-year warranty and will be rated at 2.5 million-hour MTBF.
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    #6515

    Anandtech: Microsoft and Qualcomm Collaborate to Bring Windows 10 to Snapdragon Proce

    Today at Microsoft’s WinHEC event in Shenzhen, China, the company announced that it’s working with Qualcomm to bring the full Windows 10 experience to future devices powered by Snapdragon processors. Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, is “excited to bring Windows 10 to the ARM ecosystem” and looks forward to bringing “Windows 10 to life with a range of thin, light, power-efficient and always-connected devices,” which may include anything from smartphones to tablets to ultraportable laptops to servers. These new Snapdragon-powered devices should support all things Microsoft, including Microsoft Office, Windows Hello, Windows Pen, and the Edge browser, alongside third-party Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps and Win32 apps. They should even be able to play Crysis 2.
    This announcement fits nicely with Microsoft’s “Windows Everywhere” doctrine and should come as no surprise. It’s not even the first time we’ve seen Windows running on ARM processors. Microsoft’s failed Windows RT operating system was a modified version of Windows 8 that targeted the ARMv7-A 32-bit architecture. It grew from Microsoft’s MinWin effort to make Windows more modular by reorganizing the operating system and cleaning up API dependencies.
    This work first surfaced in Windows Server 2008, which could be installed with a stripped-down, command-line only interface that did not include components such as Internet Explorer that were not necessary for specific server roles. Windows RT also leveraged the newer Windows Runtime (WinRT) API that offered several new features such as digitally signed app packages distributed through the centralized Windows Store and the ability to run apps within a sandbox. It also made it easier for software developers to target multiple CPU architectures. However, Microsoft’s rework of Windows was not yet complete, leaving Windows RT with a bunch of legacy Win32 code that went unused. It also could not run Win32 desktop apps, severely limiting the number of available apps to only those using WinRT and distributed through the Windows Store.
    MinWin and its derivatives have continued to evolve over the past few years after getting a major boost in 2013 when Microsoft reorganized its disparate software platforms into the singular Operating Systems Engineering Group. The end result is Windows 10, a modular OS that can run on anything from low-powered IoT devices to high-performing workstations and servers. Its foundation is OneCore, MinWin’s direct descendant, that includes only the operating system kernel and components essential for any hardware platform. OneCore UAP (Universal App Platform) is another major module for Windows 10 whose groundwork was laid during the creation of Windows Phone and Windows RT. It provides support for Universal Windows Apps and Drivers, along with more advanced features such as the Edge browser and DirectX. On top of these modules, Microsoft can add modules that target specific device families (desktop, mobile, Xbox, HoloLens, etc.) that provide specialized features and shells.
    Also included in OneCore UAP is Universal Windows Platform (UWP). An extension of the WinRT API used in Windows 8, it allows developers to create universal apps that are CPU architecture agnostic and can run on multiple devices, seamlessly adapting their user interface and input methods to the hardware they’re running on. With UWP, the architecutre independence is achieved by having pre-compiled versions for each platform available from the Store, which will then download and install the correct version for the individual device. The major change with today's announcement over Windows RT and UWP is that x86 apps will be available to run on ARM, along with support for all of the peripherals that are already supported with Windows 10. This alone is a huge change from Windows RT, which would only work with a small subset of peripherals.
    Microsoft is also focusing on having these devices always connected through cellular, which is something that is not available for many PCs at the moment. Support will be available for eSIM to avoid having to find room in a cramped design to accomodate a physical SIM, and Microsoft is going so far as to call these cellular PCs meaning they are expecting broad support for this class of computer, rather than the handful available now with cellular connectivity.
    The ability to run x86 apps on ARM will come through emulation, and to demonstrate the performance Microsoft has released a video of an ARM PC running Photoshop.
    Windows 10’s ability to scale and adapt to essentially any hardware platform is a remarkable feat of engineering, and it’s what makes today’s joint announcement with Qualcomm possible. The first devices with Snapdragon SoCs running the full Windows 10 experience should be available in the second half of 2017.
    It will be interesting to see what shape these devices take and which companies produce them. Some new lower-cost, full-featured Windows 10 tablets would be a welcome addition, and Qualcomm has its eyes on the low-powered server market too with its Centriq product family. A Windows 10 smartphone with a Snapdragon SoC is also likely, but with Windows Phone 8 holding less than 1% global market share, according to Gartner, Microsoft is essentially starting from scratch. Will the benefits of universal apps be enough to lure software developers and users of other Windows products away from Android and iOS? Can Windows 10 reestablish Microsoft as a major player in the smartphone market, or is the hole it has dug over the past decade too deep?


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    #6516

    Anandtech: AMD Delivers Crimson ReLive Drivers: Yearly Feature Update for Radeon Game

    This time last year we saw the launch of Radeon Crimson. This was AMD’s big attempt to state that a yearly cadence for software features was a good thing, and helped streamline the process for the number of initiatives that AMD participates in when it comes to GPUs. This year the update is called ‘Crimson ReLive’, and features a number of updates such as integrating the professional aspect of Radeon Pro into the cadence, a push towards VR features, and additional elements to gamers/streamers and even screen recording for professional software.

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    #6517

    Anandtech: Gigabyte Expands Xtreme Gaming Lineup with XC700W and XC300W Chassis

    GIGABYTE this month quietly introduced two PC chassis that belong to the flagship Xtreme Gaming family of products. Both computer cases can boast a distinctive design as well as organized internal airflows, cable management, customizable RGB lighting that can be controlled using software, transparent full side panel windows, detachable dust filters and other elements typical of a high-end chassis. The XC700W and the XC300W are aimed at slightly different classes of PCs.
    The GIGABYTE Xtreme Gaming XC700W: Big

    The flagship of the Xtreme Gaming chassis lineup is the XC700W that GIGABYTE positions for high-end desktops. Following the latest industry trends, this PC case does not support any 5.25” devices and thus will not be able to house even a mobile ODD. The total amount of hard drives or SSDs that the XC700W can house is six (three 2.5” and three 3.5”), which is lower than the amount of SATA connectors on advanced motherboards, but which should be enough for gamers if they use top-of-the-range drives.
    GIGABYTE Xtreme Gaming XC700W
    Motherboard Size ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX
    Drive Bays External None
    Internal 3 × 3.5" (with 3.5" to 2.5" frame)
    3 × 2.5" (behind MB)
    Cooling Front None
    Rear 1 × 140 mm (included)
    Top 3 × 120 mm or 2 × 140 mm
    HDD/Side None
    Bottom None
    Radiator Support Front None
    Rear 140 mm
    Top Depends on installed cooling systems
    Side -
    Bottom -
    Expansion Slots 8
    I/O Port 2 × USB 3.0, 2 × USB 2.0, 1 × Headphone, 1 × Mic
    Power Supply Size ATX (up to 220 mm)
    Dimensions 593.5 × 240.5 × 546.6 mm
    Features · Tempered glass side panel
    · 16.8M customizable RGB lighting
    · Detachable dust filter
    Price unknown
    The XC700W PC case has plenty of space inside and can accommodate both custom-built as well as all-in-one liquid cooling systems. In addition, the case supports up to six fans to ensure proper airflows.
    As for materials, the full-tower case is made of steel, aluminum and tempered black glass. The weight of the chassis is 15.4 kilograms. Meanwhile, pricing of the XC700W is unknown.
    Gallery: Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming XC700W


    The GIGABYTE Xtreme Gaming XC300W

    The Xtreme Gaming XC300W is considerably smaller than the XC700W and weighs just around 7 kilograms. The chassis is made of steel and plastic, which is why it is logical to expect it to be more affordable as well (exact MSRP will vary by region).
    The XC300W is designed for compact gaming systems, but it can accommodate ATX motherboards as well as up to four SSDs or HDDs (two 2.5” and two 3.5” drives). Just like its bigger brother, the XC300W does not support ODDs.
    GIGABYTE Xtreme Gaming XC300W
    Motherboard Size ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX
    Drive Bays External None
    Internal 2 × 3.5" (with 3.5" to 2.5" frame)
    2 × 2.5" (behind MB)
    Cooling Front 3 × 120 mm or 2 × 140 mm
    Rear 1 × 120 mm (included) or 1 × 140 mm
    Top 2 × 120 mm or 2 × 140 mm
    HDD/Side None
    Bottom None
    Radiator Support Front None
    Rear 140 mm
    Top -
    Side -
    Bottom -
    Expansion Slots 7 or 2 (the case supports horizontal installation of a graphics card)
    I/O Port 2 × USB 3.0, 1 × Headphone, 1 × Mic
    Power Supply Size ATX (up to 200 mm)
    Dimensions 440 × 210 × 469 mm
    Features · Tempered glass side panel
    · 16.8M customizable RGB lighting
    · Detachable dust filter
    Price unknown
    Despite its relatively small sizes, the XC300W has enough space inside for AIO liquid cooling systems. In addition, the chassis can also house five 120-mm fans to cool down components with high TDP, including multi-core overclocked CPUs as well as high-end graphics cards. It is noteworthy that the XC300W supports vertical installation of video cards as well which will please modders as well as owners of custom-design graphics adapters (such as those in GIGABYTE's own Xtreme Gaming lineup) with plenty of LEDs and stylish design.
    Gallery: Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming XC300W


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    #6518

    Anandtech: The ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS Review: Mainstream GTX 1070 with G-SYNC

    ASUS offers a wide assortment of gaming laptops under “Republic of Gamers”, or 'ROG', with models such as the G752 lineup, the liquid cooled models in the GX800 series, and a few models for those who need more gaming per dollar. Today we are looking at the ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS, which ASUS labels “Compact and Potent”. The Strix branding has morphed a bit over the years, and now tends to signify the more economical products from ASUS, and the GL502VS certainly fits that bill, with quite a bit of hardware packed into a reasonable budget.

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    #6519

    Anandtech: Best Mechanical Keyboards: Holiday 2016

    Mechanical keyboards have become highly popular during the past few years, with almost every advanced PC user wanting one on his/her desk. There are many arguments regarding the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical keyboards: they are far more durable than membrane keyboards, easier to maintain and provide better tactile feedback, yet noisier and significantly more expensive. However, what makes mechanical keyboards so popular is, as vague as this sounds, their feeling. It is very difficult to put it into words but if someone uses a mechanical keyboard for a few days, all membrane keyboards will be feeling like a toy afterward.
    Membrane-based keyboards have their actuation point at the bottom of the key travel and require maximum pressure force at the beginning of their travel, requiring a relatively large amount of strength to be pressed that will inevitably force the key to bottom down. Mechanical keyboards are very different, with both the actuation point and the pressure point somewhere along the travel distance of the key, with several different switch variations offering better flexibility for the consumers. There are tactile and linear switches, audible and quiet, with various key travel lengths for consumers to choose from.
    There are many arguments about how mechanical switches can make you type or react faster because they are easier to actuate and/or because the key does not have to bottom down. In terms of speed, the truth is that the difference is marginal at best. Mechanical switches are however much more comfortable for long-term use, making mechanical keyboards a nearly necessary tool for professionals and hardcore gamers who value their tendons. Similarly, many argue about which mechanical switch is the "best". Simply put, there is no "best" switch. Whether you prefer strong linear switches because soft linear switches are too easy to bottom down or audible instead of quiet switches, it virtually always is a matter of individual personal preference.
    For this holiday buyer's guide, we are having a look at mechanical keyboards. Our aim is to offer our suggestions to both gamers and professionals by dividing the market according to the user's needs.
    Low-Cost Mechanical Keyboards

    Before we begin this section, we should point out that we are aware of the many Asian manufacturers that flooded the market with $35-60 mechanical keyboards. However, we prefer not to have an opinion on their products before they are actually tested in our labs.
    If you are a professional and are seeking a no-frills mechanical keyboard that will simply be reliable and comfortable for you to do your job with, then the Nixeus Moda Pro is a good place to start. It is currently selling for $65 at the time of this review but it can be frequently found on offer for as low as $50. However, our recommendation is to spend a little extra and go for a Cougar Attack X3. $15 more will get you original Cherry MX switches and backlighting, while the keyboard is fully programmable and comes with a rather good software package. Having a fully programmable keyboard is not something to pass lightly; even if the programmability does not sound like a useful feature to you at this point of time, it can easily become useful in a future game or application. If lighting is your fancy, Patriot's Viper V760 is also retailing for the same price as the Cougar Attack X3, offering RGB lighting at the expense of using lower quality switches and having a poor software package.
    Buy Cougar Attack X3 on Amazon.com
    Mainstream Mechanical Keyboards

    The Corsair Gaming K70 LUX is perhaps the best choice for a fully featured, reliable mechanical keyboard. If you steer clear from the "special" shortened RAPIDFIRE switches and RGB lighting, the LUX version offers excellent long-term reliability, red backlighting, original Cherry MX switches, a fully programmable layout and the best, most flexible software package currently available. It is one of the most popular mechanical keyboards for a simple reason; there are very few equal alternatives for $97.
    Buy Corsair K70 LUX on Amazon.com
    Sadly, the RGB version of the Corsair Gaming K70 LUX is currently disproportionately expensive, adding $65 to its price tag. The G.Skill Ripjaws KM780R is an excellent alternative for a fully programmable gaming keyboard with RGB lighting, and its current retail price of $115 is a steal. G.Skill's software, however, is not as sophisticated as Corsair's and perhaps a third-party macro recording software might prove to be necessary.
    Buy G.Skill Ripjaws KM780R on Amazon.com
    Top-Tier Mechanical Keyboards

    If you need/want a fully featured keyboard with many extra macro keys, we will once again suggest a product from Corsair, the Gaming K95. There are many mechanical keyboards selling for $130, which is the current retail price of the K95, yet it has a very significant advantage over the competition and that is Corsair's CUE Engine software. Whether you are a gamer or a professional, the need for several extra keys suggests that you will also need a flexible software package and Corsair's CUE Engine is one of the very few serious mechanical keyboard software packages currently available.
    Buy Corsair K95 White on Amazon.com
    An RGB version of the Gaming K95 is also available for $180, which probably sounds very steep at first, yet it actually is comparable to the price of premium professional mechanical keyboards that are neither programmable or have RGB backlighting. When the quality and exceptional flexibility of the Corsair Gaming K95 RGB are put into perspective, then the retail price of $180 seems very reasonable. G.Skill's Ripjaws KM780 mechanical keyboard is a reasonable and cheaper alternative for a fully programmable keyboard with some extra keys and RGB lighting, currently retailing for $150, but the accompanying software is not (nearly) as flexible as Corsair's.
    Buy Corsair K95 RGB on Amazon.com


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    #6520

    Anandtech: Western Digital Announces Ultrastar He12 12 TB and 14 TB HDDs

    Western Digital on Tuesday introduced its fourth-generation enterprise-class hard drives filled with helium. The HGST Ultrastar He12 HDD can store up to 12 TB of data, whereas its version based on shingled magnetic recording technology has a capacity of 14 TB (note, both are under the He12 brand). It is noteworthy that to increase the capacity of the HDD, Western Digital had to increase both the amount of platters in the new drives as well as their areal density.
    New Generation

    The HGST Ultrastar He12 is built upon a completely new platform featuring eight platters, up from seven inside previous-gen drives that use Western Digital’s HelioSeal technology. The manufacturer does not reveal a lot about the new HDDs, but it looks like as the company has learned more about helium-filled drives and managed to squeeze eight platters into a 3.5” HDD to increase capacity. To add the eighth platter, Western Digital had to redesign internals of its HDDs (including arms and heads) significantly. Over the next few months, we will probably learn more about HGST's fourth-generation HelioSeal platform in general and the new HDDs in particular. Moreover, Western Digital recently said that the HelioSeal is here to stay for a long time as demand for high-capacity SSDs is growing. Therefore, helium will be used not only for PMR- and SMR-based hard drives, but for HDDs featuring future magnetic recording technologies as well (i.e., HAMR, BPM, etc.).
    The increase of the amount of platters inside the Ultrastar He12 was not the only way to raise its capacity, as Western Digital also had to increase the areal density of each platter. The Ultrastar He12 with a 12 TB capacity featuring perpendicular magnetic recording technology has an areal density of 864 Gbit/inch2, whereas the Ultrastar He12 with 14 TB capacity and SMR technology has an areal density of around 1000 Gbit/inch2.
    The increase of helium-filled HGST Ultrastar capacity by 20% to 12 TB brings very significant benefits to operators of cloud and exascale datacenters as such drives significantly increase total storage capacities. For example, each standard server rack can store 2400 TB of data if fully populated with 10 TB HDDs today. If 12 TB hard drives are installed into the same rack, its total storage capacity increases to 2880 TB at the same power and at the same space, which is quite an upgrade.
    Moreover, if owners of datacenters are willing to alter their applications and add support for SMR management (i.e., sequentialize their writes and minimize random writes), they can increase total storage capacity of one rack to 3360 TB without tangible increases of power consumption (if any, after all, SMR management should not take a lot of CPU time or significantly increase I/O transactions) and at the same space. The Ultrastar He12 14 TB was designed primarily for archival applications, where data is written sequentially in huge chunks (and is hardly ever updated) and where peculiarities of SMR do not have a significant impact on performance (except certain scenarios). Archives of social media, backups, multimedia files and other almost never get updated and SMR HDDs are perfect for them. A 40% increase of storage capacity in one generation is very substantial for cloud datacenter companies and they may get inclined to invest in both hardware and software just to get some extra storage. In fact, the considerable capacity increase over currently used 8 and 10 TB hard drives may make the Ultrastar He12 with 14 TB capacity a more popular product than the Ultrastar Ha10, the first host-managed SMR drive from Western Digital that never became widespread.
    Due in 2017

    Just like in the case of the previous generation Ultrastar He, the new HDD will be available with either a SAS 12 Gb/s and or a SATA 6 Gb/s interface. The Ultrastar He12 14 TB SMR version will be available to select customers only because this is a host-managed SMR HDD that requires applications to manage data transfers between SMR and PMR bands. Typically drives featuring SMR technology manage themselves automatically, which guarantees predictable performance, but does not take into account peculiarities of end-users' applications. Host-managed SMR HDDs rely on software to optimize their performance and/or power consumption.
    Other specifications of the HGST Ultrastar He12 12TB model resemble those of current-gen helium-filled enterprise-grade HDDs: the new drives feature 7200 RPM spindle speed, a 256 MB data buffer, a sustained transfer rate of up to 255 MB/s as well as an average latency of 4.16 ms. Power consumption of the 12TB model using SATA is set to be up to 7.2 W, whereas power consumption of the SAS model will be up to 9.8 W.
    HGST Ultrastar He12 General Specifications
    (12TB model Specifications only)
    HUH721212ALE60y
    HUH721212ALN60y
    HUH721212AL420y
    HUH721212AL520y
    Capacity 12 TB
    RPM 7200 RPM
    Interface SATA 6 Gbps SAS 12 Gbps
    DRAM Cache 256 MB
    Format: Sector Sizes 4Kn: 4096
    512e: 512
    4Kn: 4096, 4112, 4160, 4224
    512e: 512, 520, 528
    Helium-Filling Yes
    Areal Density 864 Gbit/inch2
    Sustained Transfer Rate 255 MB/s
    Average Latency 4.16 ms
    Seek Time (read/write) 8/8.6 ms
    Acoustics 2.0/3.6 Bels
    Power Rating Idle 5.3 W 6.1 W
    Operating 7.2 W 9.8 W
    MTBF 2.5 million hours
    Warranty 5 Years
    Since we are dealing with enterprise-grade HDDs, the Ultrastar He12 features all the technologies currently found in such hard drives from HGST including a special micro-actuator that improves the accuracy of head positioning in multi-drive environments, (which naturally improves performance, integrity, and reliability), rebuild assist mode to speed up RAID recovery time, and others. Finally, the new drives have SED options as well as Instant Secure Erase feature so to either quickly redeploy or retire an HDD.
    Right now, samples of the Ultrastar He12 HDDs are available to select OEMs. Western Digital plans to start commercial shipments of the 12 TB drives in the first half of 2017. The 14 TB version will be available in the middle of 2017. The drives will be covered with a five-year warranty and will be rated for 2.5 million hours MTBF. Prices of the Ultrastar He12 are unknown, but they will naturally depend on the amount of HDDs acquired by a particular customer. The 14 TB model will be available to select clients only and their prices will be negotiated individually.
    Not Alone

    Western Digital will not be alone with 12 TB HDDs in 2017. Last month Seagate implied that its 10 TB helium-filled drives would be accompanied by higher-capacity 12 TB models and it does not take a prophet to conclude that such HDDs are due in 2017.

    “[10 TB HDD is ] what we view as a tweener because it will have the 12 TB right on top of it,” said David Morton, CFO of Seagate, at the Next-Gen Storage/Networking conference organized by Needham & Company.
    We do not know whether Seagate also has plans for SMR-based 14 TB HDDs for cloud datacenters in 2017, but the 12 TB PMR model will clearly be an important one next year as the amount of data that companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook need to host is growing fast. Since both large makers of HDDs are going to offer 12 TB hard drives next year, competition will keep prices under control (i.e., companies will not be able to demand a huge premium for these products). However, since we know nothing about costs and yields of the eight-platter Ultrastar He10 as well as nothing about Seagate’s 12 TB product at all, it is impossible to make guesses about any actual price tags here.
    The Next Step

    When it comes to the next step for all HDD makers, the industry insiders consider HAMR as the most important technology transition for hard drives of the decade. HDD manufacturers hope to commercialize HAMR-based drives over the next couple of years, but are reluctant to disclose exact capacity points of technical aspects. Back in November the CFO of Seagate said that it could make financial sense to start HAMR roll-out with 16 TB models.
    Due to the increased amount of components and usage of new materials, HAMR-based hard drives are expected to cost more than traditional HDDs in terms of manufacturing, which likely means that they will carry higher price tags as well. In a bid to make HAMR drives appealing to the customers, HDD makers will have to maintain their per-GB costs and performance at the levels of currently available HDDs. This is why companies like Seagate consider 16 TB as a right capacity point for the initial HAMR-based offerings.
    Right now, the mention of the 16 TB capacity sounds more like a consideration rather than a commitment, but if the companies are talking about capacities, then it means that they are confident of the HAMR tech itself. The big question is whether HDD makers already have internal HAMR roadmaps with exact capacity points, or they are developing them today.
    Now, while 16 TB is a hypothetical figure at the moment, if HDD makers manage to release such drives in 2018 (this year has long been discussed as the launch timeframe for commercial HAMR HDDs), they will offer tangible capacity upgrades to those, who use 10 TB drives now or plan to deploy 12 TB HDDs next year. The ability to store 3840 TB of data per rack sounds plausible for those, who use leading-edge PMR-based HDDs, but those with 14 TB SMR HDDs may be less interested in such an upgrade (especially given their investments in SMR).
    Wrapping things up, it looks like the HGST Ultrastar He12 HDDs (as well as competing hard drives with the same capacities) could be the highest capacity offerings from Western Digital before HAMR-based HDDs arrive over the next couple of years (yet, something tells me that these are not going to be the highest-capacity non-HAMR HDDs ever). Since it takes time to qualify new drives for datacenters and transition to HAMR HDDs is not going to happen overnight, it looks like the Ultrastar He12 drives have a long lifespan ahead of them.
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