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The best Asus laptops: Best overall, best for gaming, and more
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 16:00:00 +0000
Asus is known for its innovative designs and quality products. So whether you’re in the market for a powerful workhorse, something you can easily take on the go, or a laptop with a gorgeous OLED display, Asus has it covered. Here at PCWorld, we’ve personally reviewed a number of Asus laptops from inexpensive VivoBooks to powerful gaming machines like the ROG Strix and Zephyrus. You might say we know Asus’ lineup of laptops like the back of our hands. So to make your search for a laptop easier, we’ve curated a list of the best Asus laptops we’ve tested. If we had to choose only one that really sets itself apart, however, we would have to go with the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. It offers an enticing combination of blazing-fast performance and a compact form factor. The white exterior is easy on the eyes, as well. Not your cup of tea? Lucky for you, we’ve got plenty of other options. If you’re interested in our methods for choosing these laptops, check out the section on how we test below the recommendations. Also, be sure to visit our comprehensive guide to the best laptops among all the major brands if you want to peruse the cream of the crop from every notebook maker. 1. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 – Best overall Pros Powerful CPU and GPU performance Compact and attractive design Newly added webcam Cons Semi-upgradeable RAM Keyboard backlighting is subpar MSRP: $1650 (base price) | $2500 (Radeon RX 6800S, 1TB SSD, 32GB RAM) Best Prices Today: $1499.99 at Best Buy | $1,859.00 at Amazon The ROG Zephyrus G14 is both lightweight and powerful. It weighs just a little over three pounds, which makes it a capable traveling laptop. Thanks to the AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS processor and AMD Radeon RX6800S GPU, you can expect strong performance as well. The only weakness is the keyboard, which our tester describes as “meh.” It feels a little mushy and the backlighting is rather unimpressive. Nitpicks aside, the Zephyrus G14 is well worth it. In addition to the strong performance, the 1600p display produces vibrant images and the audio is decent. If you’re in the market for a portable Asus laptop that delivers zippy performance, this laptop is a phenomenal pick. Read our full ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) review 2. Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop – Best OLED display Pros Good productivity performance Superb display Rugged design Great battery life Cons Boring aesthetics Unimpressive 720p webcam Unreliable fingerprint scanner Poor port selection Best Prices Today: $1,602.05 at Amazon Back in the days of old, laptops with OLED displays were something of a far-fetched dream. Nowadays, they’re more mainstream and the Asus VivoBook Pro 15 is one such example. According to our review, the Pro 15 has an “outstanding 15.6-inch 1080p OLED non-touch display at an affordable price.” Wild, right? Shadows are deep and wonderfully rich while brighter spots are super vivid. The color performance is fantastic as well. If you’re looking for a laptop that makes games look great and also satisfies productivity needs, the Pro 15 is a great choice. Read our full ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop review 3. Asus ROG Zephyrus S17 – Best premium gaming laptop Pros Excellent CPU and GPU performance Robust and innovative design Comfortable and customizable keyboard Cons Trackpad requires some pressure Very high price MSRP: $2,200 (base unit) up to $3,700 (review unit) Best Prices Today: $2,402.97 at Amazon | $3699.99 at Asus | $3699.99 at Costco The Asus ROG Zephyrus S17 is a gamer’s ultimate dream. This laptop features lightning-fast GPU and CPU performance plus a stunning 17.3-inch 4K display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The rugged all-metal chassis, six speaker sound system, and customizable keyboard really adds to the premium experience as well. However, you’re going to pay out the nose for it. If you’ve got a flexible budget and you won’t settle for anything other than the best of the best, the Zephyrus S17 is truly the bees knees. (See our roundup of the best gaming laptops for even more options.) Read our full Asus ROG Zephyrus S17 review 4. Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition – Best midrange gaming laptop Pros Outclasses every CPU in competing laptops Radeon RX GPU outclasses similarly-priced GeForce GPUs in conventional gaming. Surprisingly good audio quality Cons No webcam Very bulky 280-watt power brick Nvidia GPUs outclass Radeon in ray tracing and content creation. MSRP: $1649.99 Best Prices Today: $1649.99 at Best Buy Granted, the premium Asus ROG Zephyrus S17 can be out of range for many people’s budgets. Coming in at a more palatable price point is the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advanced Edition, another all-AMD laptop that delivers fast CPU and GPU performance without busting your wallet. It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5900HX processor, an AMD Radeon RX 6800M GPU (comparable to an RTX 3070 or 3080), 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. According to our review, the GPU “doesn’t outpace higher-wattage RTX 3080 laptop GPUs, but it’s a worthy competitor for conventional gaming tasks.” Unsurprisingly, the Strix G15 is one chunky machine, measuring 28mm at its thickest part. Although the additional thickness allows more space for cooling components, it’s not very portable. But, as long as you don’t plan on taking this laptop everywhere you go, it’s a powerful gaming rig that’s well worth the money. (You can find more midrange gaming laptop options in our roundups of the best gaming laptops and best gaming laptops under $1,000.) Read our full Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition review 5. Asus ROG Flow Z13 GZ301 – Most portable Pros Big performance in a small package Bright, crisp display Compatible with XG Mobile for GPU boost Cons Versatility doesn’t come cheap Detachable keyboard poor fit for gamers MSRP: $1,899.99 Best Prices Today: $1899.99 at Best Buy If versatility and portability are your bag, the Asus ROG Flow Z13 is a worthy option. With its detachable keyboard, you can easily convert the Flow Z13 from a 3-pound ultraportable clamshell into a 2.6-pound tablet. In both instances you’ll benefit from the the Z13’s bright, crisp 1920×1200 IPS touch display. It’s Core i9-12900H CPU and GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics make it suitable for gaming, though you’d probably want to invest in an external keyboard and mouse for the best experience. It’s a unique combination of qualities that’s admittedly not for everyone, but if you’re looking for maximum flexibility, it’s a capable performer, albeit at a premium price. Read our full Asus ROG Flow Z13 GZ301 review 6. Asus Zenbook Pro Duo 15 OLED UX582 – Best for content creation Pros Dual OLED screens are a boon for mobile content creation Great keyboard and extra-loud speakers Includes a backpack, palm rest, ergonomic stand, and stylus Cons Small trackpad that hates lefties Dual-screen software takes some getting used to Tech specs slightly underperform comparable laptops MSRP: $2999.99 Best Prices Today: $2,399.99 at Amazon | $2770.99 at Best Buy Now for something completely different. The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo 15 OLED UX582 gives users dual screens: a 15.6-inch 4K OLED panel that shines at a bright 440 nits while covering 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut—a serious screen for serious content creators—and, in a truly interesting twist, a secondary 14-inch 3840×1100 OLED screen situated above the keyboard. Windows counts it as a second monitor and you can use bundled Asus software to use it for all kinds of helpful tasks—say, as a trackpad or for summoning a panel of touch controls for select Adobe apps. The UX582 packs abundant firepower, including a high-end overclockable Core i9 chip, GeForce RTX 3070 graphics, 32GB of DDR4 memory, and a fast 1TB NVMe SSD. It’s basically a portable high-end PC workstation, though the lack of an SD card reader may prove irksome. You can always buy an external SD reader and slap it into one of the laptops dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, though. You might also consider a less expensive version than our review model, which switches out the high-end overclockable Core i9 chip for a Core i7 chip, and drops the memory down to 16GB, on sale for $2,400 at Amazon. It should still be plenty speedy for video editing but costs significantly less. (For even more options in the content-creation space, see our roundups of the best laptops for graphic design and best laptops for video editing.) Read our full Asus Zenbook Pro Duo 15 OLED UX582 review How we tested The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them. Windows laptops PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file. Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips. Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.What to look for in a laptop Ah, here we are at the million dollar question: What parts and features matter most in a laptop? Well, it really depends on your personal lifestyle and what you plan on using it for. If you travel a bunch for work, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a laptop with solid battery life and a light weight. If you’re a gamer, you’ll be looking for solid GPU and CPU performance. Here’s a rundown of some key features to take into account. Laptop type: The first question you should ask yourself is what kind of laptop you’re looking for. There’s traditional clamshells, 2-in-1’s, and much more. The displays on convertible laptops (aka 2-in-1’s), for example, can swing around 360 degrees, or in the case of the ROG Flow Z13 above, detach from the keyboard altogether. This allows you to use the laptop like a tablet. They can also be propped up like a tent for viewing movies or participating in video calls. CPU: If it’s CPU power you’re looking for, the cream of the crop is the Core i9-12900H on the Intel side, with 14 total cores and 20 threads and a boost speed of 5GHz. Intel processors are available in Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9. The higher the number, the more powerful the CPU. As for AMD options, the Ryzen 3 is good for basic productivity and web browsing. If you need more power, the Ryzen 7 chip is well suited for content creation like video editing. Finally, if you’re dealing with 4K video, spring for a Ryzen 9. Graphics: You’ll want a discrete graphics card for hardcore gaming or editing videos. It’s separate from the CPU, so you can expect higher performance out of it. Integrated graphics, on the other hand, are attached to the CPU and use less power as a result. This is perfectly fine for everyday tasks, especially if you’re not doing anything that’s graphics-intensive.RAM: 8GB of RAM is fast enough for general use. However, if you’ve got a gaming laptop, 16GB of RAM is the way to go, and content creators will want even more.Display size: If you’re a video editor or someone who does a lot of multimedia work, you’ll want a display that’s anywhere from 15- to 17-inches. The sweet spot is really anywhere from 13- to 14-inches, though. The bigger the display, the heavier your laptop is going to be. A 13- or 14-inch display is the best in terms of portability and value.Battery life: If you plan on taking your laptop anywhere with you, aim for something that can last 10 to 12 hours on a single charge. That’s more than a full work day, so it should theoretically get you through long flights or a day of classes. Obviously, more is always better. Just know that the bigger the battery, the heavier the laptop.Price: The price really depends on your budget. If you’re strapped for cash (been there, trust me), go for an entry-level business laptop. These laptops are good choices for students or young professionals. If you can afford to spend more, the versatility of a 2-in-1 laptop is really worth it. Ports: A wide array of ports is always a plus in my book, as it eliminates the need for an adapter. I’d recommend a laptop that has both USB-C and USB-A. An HDMI port is good, too. This is especially useful for when you want to hook up to an external monitor. Laptops
Cyberpunk 2077 user-made FSR 2.0 mod dramatically improves performance
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 15:04:21 +0000
Last week AMD made its killer Fidelity FX Super Resolution 2.0 (say that five times fast) upscaling technology available for all developers to implement in their PC games. “Developers” is a broad term, of course, and it technically includes tireless PC game modders, who love nothing more than to tinker with releases until they’re better, stronger, faster than they were before. Such is the case with Cyberpunk 2077, CDProjekt Red’s troubled sci-fi opus, and a selfless and intrepid modder known only as PotatoOfDoom1337. The FSR 2.0 mod for Cyberpunk allows for advanced resolution super sampling on more or less any graphics card. Unlike Nvidia’s similar DLSS technology, it doesn’t require developers to apply game-specific machine learning algorithms, and it works on any graphics card from any manufacturer. That doesn’t mean it’ll be all that helpful if you’re running Cyberpunk on, say, a dusty old GT 730. But if you have a mid-range card you can see dramatic improvements at high resolution versus running with FSR disabled. The developer said that on a GTX 1080 (a six-year-old card that doesn’t support DLSS), the framerate doubled with the mod applied. The base game supports the original FSR 1.0 from the developers. But PotatoOfDoom1337’s mod, available on NexusMods and spotted by Tom’s Hardware, forces the newer and much more advanced FSR 2.0 system to take its place. Once the slightly tricky setup process is done, users can apply FSR 2.0 using the DLSS setting in the game’s default graphics menu. The developer warns that the mod is currently in a proof of concept stage, and that “changing certain graphics settings” will break it. There’s also a ghosting issue while driving. This user implementation of FSR 2.0 isn’t quite as powerful or efficient as the latest version of DLSS running on an RTX 30XX graphics card, as demonstrated by PotatoOfDoom1337’s comparison video. And even that’s using fairly standard static and tracking shots — performance might dip during gameplay, especially with tons of enemies on screen or a high-speed chase. But it was cobbled together by a solo modder in just a few days, and it doesn’t require the latest hardware from a specific vendor. It’s a promising demonstration of how AMD’s technology could benefit PC gamers, especially on budget machines. Graphics Cards
RIP, Lightning cable: You showed what USB-C should have been
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 14:37:41 +0000
I remember being envious of my friends with iPhones. Before the Lightning cable’s debut in 2012, I’d never experienced such a feeling. Apple’s 30-pin connector was proprietary and a little finicky. In comparison, mini and micro USB were more widespread and flexible, if not universal.  Say what you will about Apple’s penchant for forcing people over to new cables—the move to Lightning cables as the standard did wonders for convenience. You didn’t have to think about the orientation of the cable when you plug it in, and there was even a tactile click when fully seated. Connecting an iPhone to a charger was something you can do in the dark and without fear of damaging the port. Plus, because of the high number of iPhone owners (in the US, at least), someone always had a spare charger or cable you could borrow. Unfortunately, when news broke earlier this month that the European Union voted to mandate USB-C as the default connector for phones (as well as other electronics, including tablets and laptops), provoking some U.S. senators to push for a similar universal charger mandate, it seemed to sound the death knell for Lightning cables. And I’m actually sad at the thought. It’s been a bumpy ride on this side of the fence. Micro USB was used more widely in 2012, sure. But that connection type has problems. For starters, it’s susceptible to damage after frequent use. (I lost two phones to ports that stopped working, since they couldn’t take a charge anymore.) You also have to make sure, every time, that you have the correct orientation, lest you hasten the port’s eventual wear-and-tear death. Unlike mini USB, it can be harder to tell at a glance if you’ve got a micro USB cable correctly aligned with its port. For a long while, trying to find a USB-A to USB-C cable at a random store (as I had to in 2018, when I left my charger at home while visiting family) could be a crapshoot. After it took three hours to locate a USB-C cable on that trip, I began to carry a micro USB to USB-C adapter at all times.Jeroen den Otter / Unsplash USB-C eventually did come along, with the big push beginning in 2015. It had universal orientation and a sturdier build, but its rollout was slow. In fact, the transition over to USB-C has taken more than half a decade. Up until the pandemic, I was still constantly carrying around a micro USB to USB-C adapter. People willing to loan their USB charger often still had only micro USB. Sometimes they didn’t even know what a USB-C connector was.  Best usb-c cable for charging and transferring data Cable Matters 6-foot USB C cable MSRP: $18.99 Best Prices Today: $17.99 at Amazon Only now, seven years later, does USB-C dominate the consumer electronics landscape. And that’s what made Lightning cables superior, truth be told. Apple showed us how simple and reliable connectors could be. (Though ironically, first-party cables were horrendously fragile.) And they did it for years before the USB-IF launched USB-C. It’s a real shame that like everything with Apple, Lightning ports were kept within the ecosystem and not adoptable by non-Apple devices. Public government stepped in to create a universal standard (one that helps reduce all our cable and charger waste), and it chose the option available to all device makers. That’s ultimately led to the presumable end of Lightning cables—it’s unlikely Apple will keep them for non-EU countries. I’ll miss them and what they stood for. Editor’s note: This article originally published on June 20, 2022, but was updated to include news of U.S. senators pushing to adopt a similar universal charger mandate. Consumer Electronics
The best VPN for torrenting: Speed, privacy, and support matter
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 14:30:00 +0000
You’d think this was the year of the Linux desktop or something given how many people want a VPN for downloading free and open source software through torrents. Yep, that’s what you want torrents for, and if there’s one thing you need when torrenting free and open source software, it’s a secure and private internet connection. Seriously though, besides privacy, you also need to consider speed, and whether a VPN has torrent-friendly servers and services. We go in to more detail on what to look for in a VPN for torrenting below our picks. (To learn even more about all the VPN services we’ve tested, see our roundup of the best VPNs for all sorts of uses.) So what’s the best VPN for torrenting your favorite flavor of Linux and maybe a little Open Office? Here are our top picks. 1. ProtonVPN – The best choice hands down Pros Fantastic speeds Easy-to-use multi-hop feature Supports TOR over VPN connections Cons Expensive MSRP: $96 Best Prices Today: $96 at ProtonVPN AG ProtonVPN has some of the fastest speeds around, both upstream (1st place) and down (2nd place), which is helpful when you want to spread the Open Office love as quickly as possible. It also has excellent privacy promises, and it has a bunch of servers in a friggin’ bunker, which is pretty cool. ProtonVPN has an excellent interface, it’s ownership is well known, it’s based in Switzerland, and did we mention the speeds are solid? Read our full ProtonVPN review 2. OVPN – Best for diskless servers Pros Privacy and anonymity are top priorities Accepts cash payments for added anonymity Cons Smaller number of servers Limited country selection MSRP: $4.99 per month Best Prices Today: $4.99 at OVPN While it’s not as well known as other services, OVPN is one of the, if not the, earliest pioneers to deploy diskless servers across its network, keeping everything in RAM. (That has since become common among VPN providers.) OVPN is based in Sweden, it makes the right privacy promises, and while it’s not in our top 10 for speeds, OVPN’s speeds were very good on the whole. It just had a few weak spots, but if you stick to European servers (or North American ones for non-torrent uses) the speeds should be outstanding. Read our full OVPN review 3. Mullvad – Best for anonymity Pros Good speeds Higher level of anonymity possible than with most VPN services Windows desktop is easy to use Cons Not guaranteed to work with Netflix Lacks the extra services that some VPNs offer No password protection for your account MSRP: $6.88 per month Best Prices Today: £5 at Amagicom AB Mullvad is the ultimate VPN when it comes to privacy and anonymity. The Sweden-based company appreciates your business, but it’s not interested in finding out who you are. Instead of using an email and password combo, Mullvad randomly generates an account number that functions as your username and password. Mullvad is in the top 10 for speeds, and of course its privacy promises are top notch. Read our full Mullvad review 4. ExpressVPN – Best all-purpose option Pros Consistently good speeds Easy-to-use desktop program Broad device support Cons Logs data transfer amounts More expensive than many competitors MSRP: $6.67 per month Best Prices Today: $6.67 at ExpressVPN | $6.67 at ExpressVPN ExpressVPN is our favorite VPN so it’s no surprise that it’s landing in the top picks for torrents. ExpressVPN makes most of the right privacy promises, and its speeds are very good. It also has a lot of other features beyond being good for torrents that make it worth your while, such as the smart DNS feature. ExpressVPN is officially based in the British Virgin Islands, it has an absolute ton of servers, but it does monitor bandwidth usage to get rid of bandwidth hogs, which might be a problem if you’re constantly downloading nightly builds of various Linux distros. Read our full ExpressVPN review 5. AirVPN – Honorable mention Pros Excellent speeds Detailed real-time information about the network Good pricing with many subscription options Cons Team is largely anonymous MSRP: $57.10 Best Prices Today: $57.10 at AirVPN AirVPN is either an excellent VPN for privacy, or the ultimate honey pot to attract online trouble makers, like free and open source software torrenters. The reason we say that is that AirVPN’s team is largely anonymous so it’s not clear who’s running the show. Still, this Italy-based VPN does have a good reputation and its speeds put it in our top 10. Its desktop interface is very bare bones, but it’s usable. Its network isn’t huge, but it is very economical and works well. Read our full AirVPN review How we tested If you’ve read a number of these VPN articles, you know the drill by now. We test on three different days taking the average speeds we find in five different countries (each country is tested three times per day). Then we take all those daily averages to get an overall global average in megabytes per second. Then we compare that to the base speed without a VPN, and then express the result as a percentage how much of the base speed the global average maintains. If there are particularly standout speeds in a certain country or region we will generally call those out too. The reason we don’t quote specific speeds is that these can vary by all kinds of factors such as your location, ISP, home network load and equipment, and so on. The percentages, however, give you a generally good idea of how much of a dip to expect when you connect to a VPN—there’s always a dip. One other factor torrent users will want to know about is that we read the privacy policy for each and every VPN we cover. Yes, it is painful. The reason we do that is a VPN may promise up front that it doesn’t track your web browsing, but then you find that actually it does log IP addresses, timestamps, and bandwidth used. So we dig into the details so you can know exactly what the VPNs we review promise. With that knowledge, however, you can be sure you’re getting good value for your money. Most VPNs will likely be fine for torrents, but if you want the best of the best, these are our recommendations. How to pick a VPN for torrenting There are a few hard-and-fast rules you need from a VPN when downloading torrents. Here’s what to look for: Blocking First of all you want a VPN service provider that allows torrenting on their network. Most do, but there are a few notable exceptions such as Tunnel Bear, which actively blocks torrents. Then there are VPNs that partially block torrents, especially on U.S. servers such as TorGuard. This VPN service recently settled a lawsuit brought against it by a consortium of Hollywood production companies after users of TorGuard were found torrenting files that weren’t free and open source software. As a result, TorGuard promised to no longer allow torrents on its U.S. servers. TorGuard isn’t the only company that refuses torrents on its U.S. servers. Keep Solid recently promised to block torrents and piracy sites like The Pirate Bay, YTS, and RARBG on the U.S. servers of its service VPN Unlimited. A number of other VPN services are also involved in pending legal action, including ExpressVPN and ZenMate, as reported by TorrentFreak. On top of that, many other VPN services don’t want to end up in a lawsuit like their competitors and actively disallow torrenting on their American servers. Service location For that reason, we recommend using VPN services that are based outside the U.S., and from those VPNs you should use servers based in countries that are friendlier to torrents. This avoids the issue of dealing with torrents being blocked outright when all you want to do is load up Ubuntu on that new laptop. Most VPN services will specify which servers allow torrents, but a popular and easy choice is Sweden. The speeds are usually good, and most services include Swedish servers in their networks along with many other countries that are torrent-friendly. No-logs policy The next thing you want is a VPN that has an ironclad no-logs promise from the service provider, because nobody wants to be exposed downloading free and open source software. That means that the service should include a promise not to maintain logs of any kind, with everything going to /dev/null—a non-existent directory on Linux systems that means all logs are permanently lost. We say “promise” since there’s no real way to know for sure that a VPN isn’t logging your activity. You ultimately have to trust that they’re not doing it. This trust can come from a few factors, in order of reputability: The company’s no-logs promise has been proven by a court challenge, numerous third-party audits have verified the service’s claims, or you might just take the company at its word—yikes. Speed Finally, after those details have been verified, you want a VPN with solid speeds. Torrents can take a long time to download as it is, depending on how many people are sharing the file. The last thing you want is to see your download slowed down by shoddy VPN speeds. To get the VPN you need for torrenting, just put all those attributes together: allows torrents, absolute no-logs promise, torrent-friendly services and servers outside the U.S., and excellent speeds. VPN for torrenting FAQ If you still have questions, the following information might help put them to rest. What is a VPN? A VPN (virtual private network) encrypts your internet traffic and disguises your identity while browsing the internet. When used for torrenting, a VPN will anonymize your torrenting traffic and keep your ISP from potentially throttling your connection in the future. Additionally, VPNs allow you to connect to servers all across the world. So if you’re looking to access location-restricted content, such as streaming services, you can connect to the appropriate country’s server and gain access that way. How does a VPN work? A VPN hides your IP address by redirecting it through a remote server hosted by the VPN company. To anyone looking in, the VPN server then becomes the source of your data instead of your actual location. These remote servers can be in your own country or located in different countries around the world. All of your network traffic from your computer to the VPN is sent over a secure and encrypted connection.  When connected to a VPN while browsing the internet, the VPN acts as a middleman between your computer and a website. Your computer sends a request to the VPN, which then passes it on to a website. The website then sends its response back to the VPN which forwards it through the secure connection to your computer. All of the traffic rerouted through the VPN shows as coming through their server rather than your own computer. This keeps your ISP and other third parties from snooping on your internet activity. Are VPNs legal to use? Yes! In most countries, including the United States, using a VPN is perfectly legal. Even though some websites might try to block VPN connections, they are still okay to use. Please note, while using a VPN is legal, some of the activities done while using a VPN might be illegal. Activities such as downloading pirated copyrighted content or accessing dark web markets are both illegal with or without a VPN. VPN
Software subscription overload: Which services are worth paying for?
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 14:21:12 +0000
I used to pay nothing for the software services I rely on—e.g., email, password manager, cloud storage, and more. And those I did need upgraded features for, I could pay once and be set for awhile. But the bar for privacy and security has risen (an unfortunate side effect of modern tech life), and most companies have ditched one-and-done software licenses in favor of paid subscriptions. Weaving together a comprehensive set of basics can add up fast, especially given all the other subscriptions in our lives. The good news is, you don’t have to shell out cash for everything. Some free options cover enough to be more than adequate. The trick is knowing when to scrimp and when to splurge. This guide will help you wrap your head around free versus premium considerations for the most significant tech subscription types you’re likely to use on a phone or computer—and maybe help you save some cash in the process. We didn’t wade into entertainment subscriptions (like Netflix or gaming) because that’s highly subjective. Let’s dig in! Email Free email services always have some kind of limitation or hidden price, whether that’s a restrictive storage cap or use of data collected about you.diedryreyes3456 / Pixabay So many people use a free email service that you’re probably wondering who bothers with a paid plan. Your typical Gmail or account still has a price, though—not only do you have to endure ads, but data about you is being gathered for use. Paying for email keeps you from being the product, and depending on your chosen service, provides stronger security protocols and encryptions options, too. You also get a broader range of features included, like support for custom domains and masked email. But do you need paid email? Some people can’t see the downside to ads or having their habits recorded for other people’s use, after all. It’s a personal choice, but ultimately comes down to how much control you want. Consider how often you use email, the amount of email you prefer keep, the types of features you need, and your general preferences surrounding privacy and security. You can find free plans with stronger privacy and security (always a good thing)—services like Proton or Tutanota provide them, though with a heavy cap on storage (1GB). Paid services with a full set of features run about $36 to $48 USD per year, and should ideally include custom domain support, additional email aliases, 10 to 15GB of storage, and calendars. Antivirus IDG Free antivirus software can work very well—in fact, we’re fans of Windows Defender, which does an excellent job at basic protection. But paid antivirus programs have their purpose, and the feature enhancements you get (like scheduled scans, deeper control over settings, phishing and ransomware protection, and more) can be worth the cash, particularly if you have riskier internet surfing habits. the best overall antivirus for windows Norton 360 Deluxe Read our review MSRP: $99.99 Best Prices Today: $17.99 at PCWorld Software Store | $19.99 at Amazon | $19.99 at Best Buy Risk isn’t related to how savvy you are with computers, by the way. You can know plenty about PCs and still engage in activities that can increase your risk of exposure to viruses and malware. Maybe you often hit websites off the beaten path, or you have a job that involves a lot of email with attachments or links. Or you have a relative that’s constantly asking you to vet sites, links, and files they’re uncertain about. Paid software can help add an extra layer of back up for when you accidentally visit the wrong site or download and open something you shouldn’t have. (Yes, virtual machines help with this too, but not everyone has the system resources or interest in running those.) If all you do is check your email, never click on links, and mostly visit established sites like Amazon and Facebook with ad-blocking turned on—you’re probably fine with free antivirus software. But if you know you could be vulnerable to straying beyond those borders, paid software is a better call for covering your butt. VPN Unless you only engage in very light use, a paid VPN is the way to go for the best security, privacy, and speed.Proton Technologies A lot of people don’t use a VPN, but those who do typically appreciate privacy, security, and speed. It’s hard to find a free VPN that can compete with paid services as a result. With speed in particular, you’ll see a notable disparity when comparing the top picks in our roundups of the best paid VPNs and the best free VPNs. The paid services blow free ones out of the water. They also have many more worldwide servers—important if you’re using a VPN for circumventing geo-targeting or when you’re traveling and need a local server. the best vpn overall ExpressVPN Read our review MSRP: $6.67 per month Best Prices Today: $6.67 at ExpressVPN | $6.67 at ExpressVPN Paid services also don’t allow you to become the product, in which identify information about you is kept (e.g., an email address) or worse, your internet browsing habits are being monitored in order to sell the data. Nor do they have restrictions on data usage. This is one of the few services where you’re better off going paid, unless your need for a VPN is truly minimal. You can save money by waiting for deals (timing your initial purchase around Black Friday is usually a good strategy), or finding a plan that offers a bundled discount with other services you use (e.g., Proton’s Unlimited plan includes both the highest tier of VPN service plus their mail and storage drive service). Password manager Good free password managers exist (and you should be using one!). The reason to go paid is for features that improve convenience or further strengthen security.PCWorld With password managers, a good free service or app will cover all the fundamentals. Just protect your account with a strong main password and two factor authentication, as well as safeguard browser extensions and apps with a PIN code or password, and you’re good to go. You’ll be able to easily generate strong unique passwords (and with some free password managers, unique user names and masked email addresses), and then quickly autofill them whenever logging into accounts. So why a paid password manager? Paid plans offer additional valuable features like more robust sharing options, more sophisticated methods of two-factor authentication, and specialized features like being able to hide some of passwords while traveling. Think of it like the difference between a four-star hotel and a two-star hotel—the latter is usually more than adequate for a comfortable trip, but the former can really improve the travel experience thanks to better amenities, a concierge service, etc. Incidentally, if you don’t have a password manager yet, it’s time to get one. There’s an option for everyone out there. Cloud storage Cloud storage helps with photo backup and document collaboration, and for many of us, it’s hard to avoid needing the storage space of a paid plan.Microsoft Folks who kick it old school may be able to get away with backing up everything on local storage, but many of us these days find ourselves inevitably drawn into some form of cloud storage. Often the choice is influenced by the ecosystem our phone belongs to. If you don’t take a lot of photos or create a lot of large documents, you might be able to get by fine with a free service. Google, for example, offers 15GB of space with all accounts. But if you’ve really committed to the cloud, you’ll run through that quickly. To keep your costs down, think broadly about your options—depending on your storage needs, you might save some cash by going outside of the ecosystem you’re already in. Microsoft’s Office 365 plan is one of the cheapest ways to get 1TB of space, for example (and here’s a trick to get Office 365 for even cheaper). You may also already have access to storage through other plans you’re subscribed to. Amazon Prime members have access to Amazon Photos, which offers unlimited photo and 5GB of video storage to Prime members. Don’t forget that cloud storage isn’t a backup of your data if it’s the only copy you have. You’ll want to have a second copy elsewhere, whether that’s on a local PC or external drive, or a second cloud storage service. Cloud backups Cloud backups are an easy way to keep offsite copies of your files. Unfortunately, free plans usually don’t offer much in the way of storage space. iDrive offers just 10GB to gratis accounts.Jared Newman / Foundry The best cloud backup service overall iDrive Online Cloud Backup Read our review MSRP: $79.50 Best Prices Today: $79.50 at iDrive Why have both a cloud storage and a cloud backup service? They’re slightly different in concept. Cloud backup services are geared toward actual backups. You’ll download and install software that handles backing up your device to the storage service automatically, with the ability to save and track different versions of backups. With regular cloud storage, you have just one version of your file that syncs across all devices. Cloud backup plans also offer more storage space; it’s an easy way to have an offsite copy of your files, and less hassle than continually backing up on local drives to stash with trusted friends or family (or in a safe deposit box). Think of the two as complimentary services, rather than redundant. The thing with backups is that few people have just a handful of files they want to save, meaning a free service won’t provide enough storage space. You’ll have to go with a paid service if you want the convenience and peace of mind of cloud backups. Our recommendations for the best cloud backup services is a good starting point to find a plan that’ll suit you and your needs. Other services Other services and subscriptions exist beyond the six mentioned here—web hosting, for example, is another common one. When trying to figure out which way to go when it comes to free versus paid, ask yourself these questions: What are the features I get with a paid service?Can I find the key features I need in a free service?Are the limitations of a free plan workable?What are the hidden gotchas of a free plan?How much time and hassle does a paid plan save me?Don’t forget to also do you research to see if you can find more alternatives to the services you’re considering, or if you can gain access to the feature you need through another kind of service. (For example, maybe your email service doesn’t offer email aliases, but you can link a masked email service to your password manager and generate logins through that one interface.) You can also save cash by using free software for other things you do, thus freeing up funds for a subscription elsewhere. Internet
Best laptop deals: Top picks from budget to extreme
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 14:18:07 +0000
Whether you’re looking for a laptop for gaming or programming, you’ve come to the right place. We’re combing the web daily to find the best laptop deals. However, not all advertised laptop deals are actual deals, so we’re only including the ones we consider true bargains—and we’ll explain why. Right now, we’re seeing strong discounts on gaming laptops, Microsoft Surface devices, Chromebooks, and more. We’ve also got some handy laptop shopping tips at the end of this post. Read on to learn more. The best laptop deals in 2022 Acer Spin 3 Acer From: Walmart Was: $586 Now: $399 ($187 off) The Acer Spin 3 is s a nice mid-range laptop for someone who needs a satellite device when away from their primary rig. This laptop has an older (but still capable) Core i5-1035G1 CPU with four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 3.6GHz. It also has a 14-inch 1080p touch display, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of onboard NVMe storage. That’s not a ton of storage, but it’s enough for documents and such. It comes with a rechargeable stylus as well, which is great for drawing or marking up documents. See the Acer Spin 3 at Walmart Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 Lenovo From: Lenovo via eBay Was: $769.99 Now: $509.99 ($260 off) The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 is a solid productivity and casual computing laptop. This laptop features a Ryzen 5 5625U with six cores, twelve threads, and a boost to 4.3GHz. It has a whopping 16GB of RAM and 512GB of onboard storage. The display is also 15.6 inches with 1080p resolution. Lenovo’s bundled three free months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate with this laptop. That’s an odd choice, especially because this machine only has integrated graphics and no discrete GPU. Still, if you have a console or want to play some older games that won’t tax the integrated GPU, it’ll work out nicely. See the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 at eBay Acer Predator Helios 300 Acer From: Walmart Was: $1,449.99 Now: $1,199 ($250.99 off) If you’re looking for an excellent 1080p gaming laptop at a good price, we’ve got the deal for you. This version of the Acer Predator Helios 300 has a 15.6-inch display with 1080p resolution and a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz. The CPU is the Core i7-11800H with eight cores, sixteen threads, and a boost to 4.6GHz. For RAM, you get 16GB, which is excellent for gaming. As for onboard storage, it’s a lot. This laptop is packing 512GB of NVMe SSD storage over PCIe 4.0 as well as a 1TB hard drive spinning at 7,200 RPM. The operating system is Windows 10 and it’s Windows 11 ready. The GPU is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, which means you should have no trouble exceeding 60 frames-per-second on ultra graphics settings. See the Acer Predator Helios 300 at Walmart Acer Swift 3 Acer From: B&H Photo and Video Was: $799 Now: $499 ($300 off) If you’re looking for a nice productivity laptop, the Acer Swift 3 is a solid buy. However, this deal only lasts until Thursday, June 23 at 11:59 PM Eastern time. This laptop has a 13.5-inch 2256-by-1504 resolution display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. That’s more square resolution than the typical 16:9, which adds more height to the display and is nice when working on documents. It also has an Intel Core i7-1165G7 with four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 4.7GHz. RAM is 8GB and onboard storage is a 512GB NVMe SSD. That means this is a good laptop for working on Office documents, editing photos from time to time, and casual uses like video streaming and web browsing. It’s a nice set-up at a good price. See the Acer Swift 3 at B&H Dell G15 Ryzen Edition Dell From: Dell Was: $1,018.99 Now: $649.99 ($319 off with coupon code 50OFF699) If you like AMD processors, but would rather go Team Green for the GPU, the Dell G15 is what you need. It has a 15.6-inch 1080p display with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. The processor is the Ryzen 5 5600H, which has six cores, twelve threads, and a boost to 4.2GHz. It also has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of onboard storage. That’s plenty for three or four games without resorting to external storage. The GPU is Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 3050, which is good for 1080p displays. However, you’ll likely have to dial it down to at least medium on newer AAA titles, especially the more demanding ones. If you have a specific game in mind, the 3050 will do the job at an excellent price. See the Dell G15 Ryzen Edition at Lenovo Chromebook 3 Lenovo From: Best Buy Was: $139 Now: $99 ($40 off) Sometimes deal hunting means making compromises to take advantage of those incredible prices. This is one of those. The Lenovo Chromebook 3 features an 11.6-inch display with a 1366-by-768 resolution. We try not to recommend anything below 1080p, but given the screen size and the fact that it’s well under $100, this is fair value for that resolution. It also has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. That’s plenty for a Chromebook. The processor is Intel’s Celeron N4020, another good choice for the minimal requirements of a Chromebook. This laptop will also run Linux apps as well as Android apps from Google Play. This Chromebook will also continue to get updates until June 2027. See the Lenovo Chromebook 3 11 at Best Buy Lenovo IdeaPad 3i Lenovo From: GameStop Was: $989.99 Now: $499.97 ($490.02 off) Gaming on a budget pretty much never gets much cheaper than this. This laptop has a 15.6-inch display with 1080p resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. The CPU has an Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i5-11300H, which has four cores, eight threads and a boost to 4.4GHz. The GPU is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650, which will support low to medium graphics settings on newer games, and you should be able to bump it up higher on older titles. It’s a modest entry-level GPU, but it’ll get the job done, and you rarely find gaming-ready discrete graphics in a notebook this cheap. The laptop also has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of onboard storage. That’s not a ton of storage, but it should be enough for several games and some documents, too. If you need more storage there are usually some good deals on flash drives that insert flush against the USB port, or you can always turn to the cloud. See the Lenovo IdeaPad 3i at GameStop LG Lenovo Legion 5i Lenovo From: Walmart Was: $1,029.99 Now: $699 ($330.99 off) This is a nice gaming laptop at a solid price. It’s packing the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, a 1080p graphics card. With this you should be able to play most games on medium to high with a jump to ultra on older games. The processor is the Intel “Comet Lake” Core i5-10500H, which has six cores, twelve threads, and a boost to 4.5GHz. It’s an older processor, but still fast enough for gaming. As for RAM, it’s 8GB and onboard storage is 256GB. This is still considered a budget gaming rig, but for $100 extra you get an upgraded GPU. See the LG Lenovo Legion 5i at Walmart Acer Aspire 3 Acer From: Walmart Was: $549 Now: $479 ($70 off) You don’t often find a laptop deal with an Intel Alder Lake CPU, which is why we decided to highlight this specific sale. The Acer Aspire 3 features Intel’s Core i5-1235U with eight efficiency cores and two performance cores with HyperThreading for a total of 12 threads and a maximum boost to 4.4GHz. It also has 8GB of RAM, a 15.6-inch display with 1080p resolution, 256GB of onboard storage, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and it’s running Windows 11 Home. See the Acer Aspire 3 at Walmart Gigabyte A5 K1-AUS1150SB Gigabyte From: Best Buy Was: $1,199 Now: $899 ($300 off) Best Buy is back with another version of a Gigabyte gaming laptop. This one features a 15.6-inch display with 1080p resolution, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of onboard SSD storage. The processor is a Ryzen 5 5600H, a step down from the Ryzen 7 in the last laptop (though this one is $100 cheaper). The GPU is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, which offers no compromises 1080p gaming–meaning it will meet or exceed 60 frames-per-second in most games. This is an excellent price for a very good 1080p gaming machine. See the Gigabyte A5 K1 at Best Buy Acer Aspire 5 Acer From: Walmart Was: $499.99 Now: $379 ($120.99) The Acer Aspire 5 is a nice productivity laptop. There are some laptops with larger displays, but for the price, this set-up is very good. It has a 14-inch 1080p display and an Intel “Tiger Lake” Core  i5-1135G7 with four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 4.2GHz. It’s packing 8GB of RAM, a 256GB NVMe SSD, and Wi-Fi 6. If you need something that you can take with you but still performs well enough on productivity tasks, this laptop will fit the bill. See the Acer Aspire 5 at Walmart Lenovo IdeaPad 3i Lenovo From: Walmart Was: $699 Now: $399 ($300 off) We’ve already got an IdeaPad 3i in the round-up, but this model is different enough that it’s worth a look on its own. The somewhat older Core i5-10210U has four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 4.2GHz. Still, it’s a solid processor for an everyday work machine. It’s also packing 8GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD. That’s a big difference compared to the other 3i, which has a hard drive. This model has a slightly smaller screen at 14-inches, but the resolution is 1080p, which is all well and good. It’s also running Windows 11 Home. See the Lenovo IdeaPad 3i at Walmart Acer Aspire 5 A515 Acer From: Amazon Was: $399.99 Now: $329.99 ($70 off) If you’re looking for a solid everyday laptop, you’ve come to the right place. The Acer Aspire 5 features a 15.6-inch 1080p display, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of onboard SSD storage. The processor is a Ryzen 3 3350U, which has four cores, four threads, and a maximum boost to 3.5GHz. It’s packed with modern features like Wi-Fi 6, a backlit keyboard, and a fingerprint reader for biometric logins. Acer starts this laptop off with Windows 11 in S mode, but there’s no reason not to do a one-way upgrade to full Windows 11. This is being sold by a third-party retailer, but Amazon is handling shipping, which means it falls under the company’s return policy. See the Acer Aspire 5 A515 at Amazon Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Lenovo From: Walmart Was: $539.99 Now: $279 ($260.99 off) The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i is a great option for a student or for someone who primarily works in the cloud. It has a 14-inch 1080p touch display. It’s also a convertible for those times when you need to use it like a tablet. The CPU is the Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i3-1115G4, which has two cores, four threads, and a boost to 4.1GHz. It also has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Lenovo is running this convertible with Windows 11 in S Mode, but it can run regular Windows 11 mode as well. Just remember it’s a one-way upgrade. See the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i at Walmart Gateway Creator Notebook Gateway From: Walmart Was: $799 Now: $699 ($100 off) The Gateway Creator Notebook is a serviceable 15.6-inch 1080p gaming clamshell. It features an Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i5-11400H, which has six cores, twelve threads and a 4.5GHz boost clock. The GPU is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050. It also has 16GB of onboard RAM and a 512GB SSD. There’s a few extras you get with this rig like a Windows Hello-ready IR camera, THX Spatial Audio, and a free month of Xbox Game Pass for PC. It’s a pretty good deal all around, so don’t miss out. See the Gateway Creator Notebook at Walmart Asus Vivobook Pro 14 K3400 Asus From: Walmart Was: $749 Now: $549 ($200 off) If you’re into creative work, the Asus Vivobook Pro 14 is a fantastic option. This laptop has a 14-inch 2880-by-1800 OLED display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. OLED screens are great, so you can expect a sharper image. The Vivobook is also packing a Core i5-1330H, a Tiger Lake CPU with four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 4.4GHz. There’s even 8GB of RAM, which is a good amount for some video editing. Onboard storage is a 256GB NVMe SSD, and you’re getting Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5.0. This is a nice laptop with a very good display, but for storage you’ll likely have to rely mostly on the cloud. Speaking of which, you also get a free, three month subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud as part of the package. See the Asus Vivobook Pro 14 K3400 at Walmart Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ Mark Hachman/IDG From: Walmart Was: $929.99 Now: $599 ($330.99 off) If you’re looking for a well designed Windows tablet, there’s no beating Microsoft’s Surface line and this Walmart’s sale offers an excellent bargain. This version of the Surface Pro 7+ comes with a Core i3 processor, 128GB of onboard storage, 8GB of RAM, and a black Type Cover. We reviewed the Surface Pro 7+ in early 2021, giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars and an Editors’ Choice Award. We called it “the most potent upgrade Microsoft’s Surface Pro line has offered in years.” See the Surface Pro 7+ at Walmart Laptop deal buying tips If you’ve shopped online before for laptop deals you’re probably aware that there’s a vast range of laptop configurations available. A good place to start is with the processor. Buy laptops with Intel 10-series Core chips or higher, such as the Core i5-10510U, or the Core i7-11800H (for even more details see our Intel 10th-gen mobile CPU buying guide); or go with an AMD Ryzen processor (but not an AMD Athlon or A-series chip). Avoid laptops with Pentium or Celeron processors unless it’s a Chromebook (running Chrome OS). You’re going to need to pay attention with gaming laptops, too, as some GPUs, like the RTX 3050 Ti, don’t offer much boost over their RTX 2xxx-series cousins, and Nvidia has dropped the Max-Q designation on certain low-power options. Our laptop CPU and GPU cheat sheet can help you shop smart. Display resolution is a gotcha. If you see a laptop labeled as “HD” resolution that means 1366-by-768 and often isn’t worth your time for a laptop under 13 inches unless the deal is absolutely standout. What you want is “Full HD” or “FHD,” which means 1080p. Don’t buy laptops with under 4GB of RAM or 128GB of SSD storage—though on a Chromebook, this configuration is acceptable. We have more explanation in our laptops versus Chromebooks buying guide, as well as in our primer on how to buy a budget laptop without getting screwed. Also watch out for eMMC storage, which is something we don’t recommend for a Windows laptop but works fine for a Chromebook. Reviews can be helpful. Even if you can’t find a review of a specific configuration, try related models. They’ll often give you a good idea of the build quality and performance. Also buy from brands you trust. Amazon’s daily laptop deals right now are full of brands we’ve never tested or talked to (Broage, Teclast, DaySky, Jumper) and it’s just a good idea to be wary. Most older laptops will run Windows 10, and that’s fine—there’s no rush to upgrade. Windows 10 in S Mode, though annoying, can be switched out of easily if you find it on a budget laptop. If you want to buy a Windows 10 PC with the intent of upgrading it to Windows 11, we recommend you start here with a list of older laptops that are Windows 11-eligible. Updated on June 27 with additional deals, and to remove expired deals. Laptops
Get this Acer convertible laptop for just $399
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 14:07:36 +0000
If you’re in the market for a 2-in-1 laptop, today you’re in luck. Right now, you can get an Acer Spin 3 convertible laptop with an Ice Lake processor for $399 at Walmart. That’s $187 off the MSRP. This version of the Spin 3 has a 14-inch touch display with 1080p resolution. The CPU has an Intel “Tiger Lake” Core i5-1035G1 with four cores, eight threads, and a boost to 3.6GHz. That’s an older processor, but it still has a solid core count and the speed is fine for everyday uses and productivity. For RAM, you get 8GB, which is a solid amount for surfing the web and checking e-mail. Onboard storage is a 256GB NVMe SSD. That’s a little light, but it should be enough if you rely on cloud storage or use external storage. Acer packed this laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 port, two standard USB, a media card reader, and an HDMI out. It comes with a stylus as well, which is useful if you need to mark up a web page or do some drawing. It’s also running Windows 10, but it should be upgradeable to Windows 11. [Today’s deal: Acer Spin 3 for $399 at Walmart.] Gear, Laptops
This EVGA mechanical keyboard is ridiculously cheap right now
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 13:20:45 +0000
It’s an excellent day to upgrade to a mechanical keyboard. GameStop is selling the Evga Z15 RGB keyboard for $40. That’s $90 off the MSRP and better than you’ll find elsewhere right now. It’s $10 cheaper than the last time we covered it. The Z15 features RGB LED lighting and Kailh Speed Bronze linear switches. These switches have an actuation distance of 1.1mm and a full travel distance of 3.5mm. They’re also hot swappable if you’d rather trade them in for a different Kailh switch. Mechanical keyboard switches are typically very comfortable and advantageous for day-to-day typing as well as gaming. The keyboard has a dedicated volume scroll wheel, multimedia keys, and a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M33. The last bit helps deliver a response rate that EVGA says is four times more responsive than your average keyboard. EVGA’s also packed this keyboard with a magnetic palm rest for added comfort. Mechanical keyboards can often cost well over $100, so this is truly an excellent buy. [Today’s deal: Evga Z15 for $40 at GameStop.] Gear, Keyboards
Kingston XS2000 review: This pocketable SSD is fast and spacious
Mon, 27 Jun 2022 10:30:00 +0000
At a glanceExpert’s Rating ProsSuper svelteGood 20Gbps performanceAvailable in up to 4TB in capacityConsSlower than much of the competitionNot much of a lookerOur VerdictThough it’s hardly the fastest 20Gbps SSD we’ve tested, the XS2000 is fast enough, fits easily in any pocket, and is available with up to a whopping 4TB in capacity. All without breaking the bank. Price When Reviewed$75 for 500GB I $160 for 1TB I $285 for 2TB I $500 for 4TB Best Prices Today: Kingston XS200 USB SSD Retailer Price Delivery Kingston 74.99 View Not Available View Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide Though it’s not quite as tiny or as fast as the recently reviewed Adata Elite SE880, the Kingston XS2000 is small and a decent 20Gbps USB performer. It’s also available in the larger 2TB/4TB capacities that the SE880 is not. If you need lots of capacity, the XS2000 is about the cheapest 20Gbps path to a solution we’re aware of. This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best external drives. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.  Adata Elite SE880 SSD Read our review MSRP: $79.99 for 500GB I $129.99 for 1TB Best Prices Today: $124.99 at Adata | $129.99 at Amazon | $129.99 at Best Buy Kingston XS2000: Price and specs The XS2000 is available in 500GB/$75, 1TB/$160, 2TB/$285 (tested), and 4TB/$500 flavors from Kingston. It’s also available from other sources at a decent discount. It features a Type-C connector and rubberized sock (packaged separately) for additional shock protection. The drive is USB 3.2 2×2, aka SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps, or as we like to say: 20Gbps USB. Kingston includes a Type-C to Type-C cable. The Kingston XS2000, shown here with its rubberized protective cover in place. Kingston was mum on the exact type of NAND inside, but did admit that it’s 3D TLC (Triple-Level Cell, 3-bit). We’d guess lots of layers, seeing as it’s available in 2TB and 4TB flavors. The internals are NVMe, as SATA would not be able to deliver anywhere near the performance that the XS2000 reaches. Kingston XS2000: Performance The Kingston XS2000 isn’t the fastest 20Gbps USB SSD we’ve tested, especially at writing data, but that’s comparable to saying it’s not the fastest Corvette. It’s still greased lightning compared to 10Gbps drives for most everyday tasks. Note that the Samsung T7 Shield in the charts below is a 10Gbps USB drive, and a fast one. It’s included merely to draw a distinction between 10Gbps and 20Gbps performance. That said, it didn’t lose by all that much to the XS2000 in the sustained writing portion of CrystalDiskMark 8, and beat it in the 450Gb write. These tests were not the XS2000’s finest moments. The XS2000 falls off the pace writing, but is a very fast reader. If your workload is read heavy, you’ll love it. Write heavy… not so much. In our 48GB transfer tests the XS2000 was quite a bit slower overall than the SE880, largely because of its slow writing. The Kingston XS2000 again fell well short of the rival Adata Elite SE880. Mostly due to the slower write pace. However, the XS2000 did beat out its Adata rival by a substantial margin in our single 450GB file write test. This is usually indicative of faster NAND, but secondary caching comes into play as well. Having 2TB to play with allows the XS2000 to utilize more NAND as SLC secondary cache. The SE880 was only a 1TB drive, consequently with less secondary cache to play with. The WD Black P50 is marketed as a gaming drive and has exceptionally fast sustained writes. The T7 utilizes superior caching to do an amazing job sustaining write performance, albeit at a slower rate initially. Finally the Kingston XS2000 bested the Adata Elite SE880, though it had a distinct advantage with 2TB of capacity (more NAND for secondary cache) over its rival’s 1TB. One of the XS2000’s advantages is that it’s available in 2TB/4TB capacities. Obviously, the Kingston XS2000 is not the fastest 20Gbps drive on the block. In our book, it’s fast enough for the average user. Especially as sustained writes are generally the least common operations. Still. External USB drive tests currently utilize Windows 11 64-bit running on an MSI MEG X570/AMD Ryzen 3700X combo with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules, a Zotac (Nvidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card, and an Asmedia ASM3242 USB 3.2×2 card. Copy tests utilize an ImDisk RAM disk using 58GB of the 64GB total memory.Each test is performed on a newly formatted and TRIM’d drive so the results are optimal. Over time, as a drive fills up, performance will decrease due to less NAND for caching and other factors. The performance numbers shown apply only to the drive of the capacity tested. SSD performance can vary by capacity due to more or fewer chips to shotgun reads/writes across and the amount of NAND available for secondary caching. Bottom line The Kingston XS2000 isn’t going to win any beauty contests, or a bare-knuckle performance fight. But it is super small, affordable, and fast enough. It’s also available in the 2TB and 4TB capacities that many super-portable SSDs are not. A solid product that can be found at attractive discounts. Computer Storage Devices, Flash Storage
Get personalized protection from hackers with ClearVPN, just $30 for one year
Sun, 26 Jun 2022 08:00:00 +0000
Some VPNs provide what can only be described as a cookie-cutter approach. Every subscriber gets the same features, regardless of a client’s individual needs. But some VPNs offer more personalized services, such as ClearVPN. The good news? They aren’t always more expensive. ClearVPN lets subscribers customize services to suit their needs. For example, they can unblock specific websites, change their protection levels, and alter privacy settings to enjoy the web in their own way. Plus, ClearVPN can cover up to six devices while offering unlimited streaming. And, if you care what others think, it’s received a user rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot, which is an excellent score by all accounts. Ready to try it? Now is a great time. ClearVPN is offering a one-year Premium Plan, usually $155.88, for only $29.99. It’s an affordable option for an outstanding VPN that’ll help protect you from hackers without making you feel like you’ve lost control of your web experience.  ClearVPN Premium Plan: 1-Year Subscription – $29.99 See Deal Prices subject to change. VPN
Build a website on your own, no coding skills required, for just $59
Sat, 25 Jun 2022 08:00:00 +0000
Websites used to be hard to make. Today, they require much less skill. In fact, virtually anyone can make an attractive website with zero coding knowledge. You only need a website builder like Buldix Pro, and lifetime subscriptions are on sale for just $59. Buldix Pro is a popular drag-and-drop website builder ideal for non-techies, seasoned web developers, and everyone in between. You just choose from its existing stock of templates and customize it to suit your needs. You can drag and drop a variety of pre-made assets, websites are responsive, and you can even link your own custom domain and host it on your own. Yes, there are other drag-and-drop website builders out there. But most are too simplistic for professional applications. Buldix Pro, by contrast, works great for everyone. Even professional developers use it to get jobs done much faster than they could by coding alone. Plus it’s received tremendous user reviews on Facebook, Dealfuel, and more, so you can research how well it works before you buy.  Buldix Pro: Lifetime Subscription – $59 See Deal Prices subject to change. Web Development
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a near-perfect beat-em-up time machine
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 18:00:00 +0000
I was born in 1987. When I was five years old, my most prized possession was a pair of Ninja Turtles shoes with light-up soles. I, along with millions of other kids of roughly the same age, was afflicted with Turtlemania. And after the cartoon and the movies, perhaps the most beloved artifact of the time is the pair of licensed arcade beat-em-up games: the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel, Turtles in Time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a loving homage to those specific games, that era of beat-em-ups and fighting games in general, and of course, the cartoon that became a worldwide phenomenon. But developers Tribute and Dotemu weren’t content to merely replicate the games from the late 80s and early 90s, incredibly simple as they are by today’s standards. Shredder’s Revenge is a time machine that, while paying its respect to the era, embraces the renaissance of pixelated 2D games that have boomed since digital distribution began.  The result is an absolute treat for both beat-em-up fans and Turtlemania sufferers, longing still for that which further nurseth the disease. Shredder’s Revenge doesn’t do anything particularly innovative in terms of gameplay, but it’s rock-solid and polished to a mirror shine in the way even the original arcade games weren’t. Plus, its shell is absolutely stuffed full of goodies for fans of the first TMNT cartoon and the franchise as a whole. If you count yourself in either camp, it’s well worth the $25 asking price.  Shredder’s Revenge starts with a familiar-looking stage in the Channel 6 TV studio, then goes on a whirlwind tour of the Turtles’ colorful version of 1980s New York City. You’ll have to be an absolute wizard of franchise knowledge to recall the bosses of all sixteen side-scrolling levels, to say nothing of the near-endless parade of side characters and Easter eggs. Naturally the 3-5 hour ride (on standard difficulty with one player) ends with face-offs against Shredder and Krang, and the short, single-frame story interstitials don’t really care how you get there.  Dotemu The more immediate means of progression is beating the absolute snot out of about a million variations of robots, Foot Clan ninjas (who I am reliably assured are also robots — hey, it’s been a long time since I watched the show!), and a few more interesting mutants. At the end of each level you’re treated with a boss who surely has their own fan wiki page. It would be easy for things to get repetitive — it is a beat-em-up, after all — but new bad guys, interactive stage elements, and expanded moves and powers are introduced at just enough of a clip to keep you engaged. It’s also a treat just to see what goofy visual gag is around the next corner, like the Foot Clan goons above manning food court counters. I am self-admittedly terrible at old beat-em-ups, including the original Turtles games and similar era fare like X-Men. While Shredder’s Revenge doesn’t do anything to change the basic awkwardness of the 2.5D setup, it’s forgiving enough with its hitboxes and combos that I could reliably understand and pull off what I was trying to do. Get a long enough combo without getting hit and you’ll charge up a super move, but between a variety of attacks and dodges and frequent healing items and power-ups, you can generally get through without them even on a solo play. I think veterans of the genre will need to crank up the difficulty to the max to get a challenge.  Dotemu This is perhaps the one downside of Shredder’s Revenge. While it is a loving homage to the genre, an homage is all it is in terms of gameplay. The smooth, forgiving combat feels great, but doesn’t add anything you haven’t seen before. I suspect that connoisseurs who have been spoiled as of late on excellent entries like Streets of Rage IV or River City Girls will be underwhelmed by the lack of innovation and challenge. For them, the game will have to win through on presentation and nostalgia alone.  You can bring along a friend (or two, or five) either locally or online, which unlocks combo moves and support. This is where the game really shines, unlocking even more of the characters’ charming animations and voice lines (some of which are delivered by the original cartoon voice actors). You can have as many as six player characters on screen at once — any of the four Turtles, plucky reporter April O’Neil, fuzzy dad figure Splinter, or once you finish the story mode, legendary railroad engineer hockey mask enthusiast Casey Jones. With all six on-screen at once it gets chaotic and occasionally incomprehensible, but the pixelated beauty never lets down a frame.  Dotemu Visually Shredder’s Revenge is a joy for fans of the pixelated style. Every background bleeds unique, colorful elements, and every fighter’s animations are stuffed full of personality and charm. The four Turtles’ methods of movement and attack are visually unique to both their weapons and their characters, and even the lowliest grunts get to do something interesting with each new frame. Search every nook and cranny of the stages and you’ll find secrets that will challenge the memory of even the most devoted 80s cartoon fan. But what really surprised me is the music. You get the expected remasters of the classic themes and TV show music, but there are also original songs, some with full vocals, ripped out of a radical alternate dimension of 1980s hip hop and power rock. It’s a devastating three-fingered punch right to the memory, somehow achieved with a track list of entirely new tunes.  The Steam version of the game is identical to the console version (where I admit I played most of the story mode). Unfortunately that means no real enhancements on PC, like support for ultrawide resolutions, but to be fair that would have required some fairly intense reprogramming of the very intentional stage design. PC players do get the advantage of online multiplayer, including crossplay with the Xbox, without needing to pay for a console service subscription. The game is also available on the PC version of Xbox Game Pass. Shredder’s Revenge is a near-perfect nostalgia trip. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for side-scrolling beat-em-ups, no one was asking it to. The game manages a subtle feat through a combination of modern design, classic sensibilities, and a Party Wagon full of cartoon callbacks. It doesn’t deliver the experience of playing the original TMNT games, it delivers the experience of how you remember feeling when you played those games. And that’s something truly special.  Video Games
The best gaming laptops under $1,000: Best overall, best battery life, and more
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 16:00:00 +0000
If you’re jonesing for a powerful gaming experience but you’re really strapped for cash, there are a number of budget options to consider. You can actually get some pretty decent CPU and GPU performance out of a budget gaming laptop. You just may need to dial back your graphics settings to hit that hallowed 60 frames per second mark in the latest cutting-edge games. If you’re not sure where to begin, don’t sweat it. We’ve done the hard work for you and curated a list of the best gaming laptops that fall under the $1,000 mark. We’ve also included a couple of other options for those that can stretch their budget a little bit further to crank up the eye candy. Whether you love first-person-shooter games or something more story-driven, all these machines should be more than capable. If you find a little extra cash lying around, be sure to check out our roundup of the best gaming laptops overall for a glimpse of what’s available with a higher budget. Additionally, you’ll often find gaming laptops going for cheap in our roundup of the best laptop deals, which we update every weekday. Read on to learn more. 1. Acer Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6) – Best overall Pros Stellar ultraportable performance Sneaky gaming laptop with RTX 3050 Ti graphics Impressive battery life considering high-end parts Cons Display feels cramped for creative work Fan gets loud during heavy workloads Poorly placed Pg-Up and -Down buttons Best Prices Today: $970.72 at Amazon Don’t judge a laptop by its chassis. The Swift X may not look all that threatening at first glance, but under the hood you’ll find some seriously powerful components. This ultraportable is packing an AMD Ryzen 7 5800U processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU, and 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. In our review, the Swift managed “48 frames per second at the Highest preset” when running Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1080p, and you’ll get even faster performance if you don’t mind dialing visual settings down from the maximum in the latest games (that’s likely to be needed on all sub-$1,000 gaming laptops). There are a few downsides, though. The fans get loud under heavy loads and the keyboard runs a little warm. But if you can live with those shortcomings and you’re looking for strong CPU and GPU performance, the Swift X will definitely deliver. Read our full Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6) review 2. Acer Nitro 5 (AMD, 2021) – Best value Pros Crisp 1440p display Competitive performance for the price Roomy 1TB SSD with room to add second drive Cons Heavy and bulky case Flimsy display lid Shortened Shift key is annoying MSRP: $1700 Best Prices Today: $724.00 at Amazon | $1700 at Acer If you’re looking to score some mid-range components at a reasonable price, the Acer Nitro 5 is worth considering. Our pricier $1,700 test configuration includes a Ryzen 7 5800H processor and RTX 3070 graphics, but you can find models with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 and a blazing-fast 144Hz display for as little as $800. There are a couple of shortcomings, though. The laptop itself is heavy and the display lid is a bit flimsy. That’s not too surprising, as budget gaming laptops tend to be beastly in size and made of plastic materials. If you can live with those tradeoffs, then the Nitro 5 is a good option for most folks. Read our full Acer Nitro 5 (AMD, 2021) review 3. HP Envy 14 14t-eb000 (2021) – Best battery life Pros Good value for the money Fantastic battery life Quiet fan, with no detectable performance throttling Thunderbolt 4 support Cons Slightly quirky keyboard layout Webcam’s signature feature is ineffective MSRP: 950.99 Best Prices Today: $950.99 at The HP Envy 14 is a good choice for modest gaming or content creation. The configuration we tested features an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor and an Iris Xe/Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics card. (HP also offers a version with upgraded RTX 3050 graphics and a Core i7 processor, but it costs $1,100.) However, the most surprising thing about this laptop is its battery life. Gaming laptops generally aren’t known for having good battery life, so the Envy 14 really breaks the mold here. In our tests, it ran about 15 hours on a single charge. The Envy 14 doesn’t produce much fan noise, either. In our review, we found that it ran “extremely quiet during both CPU- and graphics-intensive loads.” Read our full HP Envy 14 14t-eb000 (2021) review If you’re able to stretch your budget If you have a bit more you’re able to spend, these laptops offer some nice extras, additional performance, or both. HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) Pros Very good value Surprisingly comfortable keyboard Large 16-inch 1080p screen with a high 144Hz refresh rate Cons Budget RTX GPU Audio doesn’t feel quite right Display hinge is a bit flimsy MSRP: $1,249.99 Best Prices Today: $843.30 at Amazon | $1199.99 at HP When it comes to the HP Victus 16, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. The 16-inch 1080p display has a high refresh rate of 144Hz, the keyboard is surprisingly comfortable, and there are a wide range of configuration options. Although the laptop’s GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU falls on the lower end of the spectrum, it still delivers solid 1080p gaming performance. Plus, the subtle design makes it a suitable choice for either work or play. We tested the top-tier configuration, which is still relatively affordable at $1,250. However, as we mention in our review, these models can go as low as $730. The cheaper models use the older GTX 1650 GPUs, which lack DLSS and ray-tracing support. With that being said, these laptops should still provide decent gaming performance at lower graphics settings. Read our full HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) review Acer Predator Triton 300 SE Pros Slim, sub 4-pound design Solid gaming and ray-tracing performance with RTX 3060 Three-zone RGB keyboard backlighting Impressive battery life Cons No G-Sync support No wired ethernet MSRP: $1399.99 Best Prices Today: $1299.99 at Best Buy The Acer Predator Triton 300 SE is a good option for both work and play. Gaming and ray-tracing performance are good, since you’re stepping up from the RTX 3050-class GPU found in sub-$1,000 gaming laptops up to a much more potent RTX 3060, and the battery life is surprisingly impressive for a gaming laptop. During our battery test, which loops 4K video, the 60 watt-hour battery died at the nine-hour mark. That’s definitely more than a full work day. And at a little over three pounds, this is a fairly lightweight machine. Between its slim profile and decent battery life, the Triton also makes for a good work/travel laptop. The design is subtle, too. You wouldn’t mind taking this into a work meeting with you, as the minimalist aesthetic doesn’t draw much attention to itself. Read our full Acer Predator Triton 300 SE review Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition Pros Outclasses every CPU in competing laptops Radeon RX GPU outclasses similarly-priced GeForce GPUs in conventional gaming. Surprisingly good audio quality Cons No webcam Very bulky 280-watt power brick Nvidia GPUs outclass Radeon in ray tracing and content creation. MSRP: $1649.99 Best Prices Today: $1649.99 at Best Buy The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advanced Edition is an all-AMD laptop that delivers fast CPU and GPU performance at a reasonable price point. It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5900HX processor, an AMD Radeon RX 6800M GPU (comparable to an RTX 3070 or 3080), 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. According to our review, the GPU “doesn’t outpace higher-wattage RTX 3080 laptop GPUs, but it’s a worthy competitor for conventional gaming tasks.” Unsurprisingly, the Strix G15 is one chunky machine, measuring 28mm at its thickest part. Although the additional thickness allows more space for cooling components, it’s not very portable. That said, so long as you don’t plan on taking this laptop everywhere you go, it’s a powerful gaming rig that’s well worth the money. We understand that the $1,650 price tag isn’t “cheap” in the traditional sense, but this all-AMD laptop costs significantly less than other laptops of comparable power. If you look on Best Buy or Nvidia’s website for 3080 machines, they cost upwards of $2,200 to $3,000. Read our full Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition review How we tested The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them. Windows laptops PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a hefty 30GB file. Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips. Gaming tests: We benchmark each gaming laptop using several titles.Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.What you should look for in a budget gaming laptop When it comes to picking the right gaming laptop, it really depends on what you want to do with it. Do you plan on playing lightweight indie titles like Stardew Valley (no shade, I love this game) or something more visually demanding like Cyberpunk 2077? Are you going to use the machine for work as well as play? It’s possible to get reliable performance out of a gaming laptop that costs under a grand, but you’ll need to take a hard look at the individual components. You don’t need a powerful GPU for something like Fortnite. You can run even most of the newest games very well at 1080p resolution with even entry level graphics cards if you don’t mind dialing down the in-game visual settings from Ultra to more-reasonable High to Medium settings. You’ll almost certainly need to do so to hit 60 frames per second in modern games on a gaming laptop under $1,000, but the good news is they should still look good, especially on a laptop display. GPU: The thing about the GPU is that it can’t be swapped out and upgraded later, so you need to be real choosy about which one you pick, as this component will determine how well your machine runs games. Luckily, you don’t need the best of the best to get reliable gaming performance. The GTX 1650 is an entry-level GPU that’s affordable and good enough for 1080p gaming with mid-to-high graphics settings. That said, expect lower frame rates on newer titles. If you’re looking for a bit more power, the more modern RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti are preferred options, and commonly found in gaming laptops under $1,000. You may occasionally find a deal on an RTX 3060-powered laptop under $1,000, but they’re relatively rare. CPU: Like the GPU, the processor can’t be upgraded either, so you’ll want to be selective. For Intel, we’d recommend an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7. For AMD, you’ll want to spring for a Ryzen 4000 or 5000. A processor with at least four cores is good, but six cores or more is better. RAM: You’ll want at least 8GB of RAM. If you can afford 16GB of RAM, go for it. Memory is normally upgradable, so you can always swap it out and add more later on.Storage: Storage impacts how many games and applications you can install on your laptop. Like RAM, storage is often upgradable and can be swapped out later. However, you should aim for at least 512GB of SSD storage plus a hard drive, as AAA titles tend to eat up a lot of space. SSDs load games faster, as data is stored on chips rather than spinning disks.Display: 1080p is what you can expect at this price range, either with a 60Hz or 144Hz (preferred) refresh rate. Budget gaming laptops don’t always have the best displays, as that’s where manufacturers tend to cut corners to keep the cost low. If you’ve got a dim display, you can always pick up an external monitor to plug into it. Battery life: Generally speaking, gaming laptops are known for having poor battery life. That’s because they use a ton of power. They also tend to be heavier than other laptops because they need more space for heatsinks and other cooling components. Depending on the use, most will last anywhere from four to six hours on a single charge. That said, there are a few exceptions. The HP Envy 14 (featured above), for example, hit the 15 hour mark during our battery test. Laptops
Microsoft is ready to leave Windows 8 behind, just like everyone else
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 14:56:18 +0000
Windows releases have a lot in common with Star Trek movies: they seem to alternate in terms of reception. Windows 7 was generally well-regarded at launch back in ’09, as was Windows 10 in 2015. Windows 8, the awkward middle child that tried some huge user interface changes in 2012, was not. Windows 8.1, the last major update to the OS, will officially end support early next year. And Microsoft can’t wait to tell you about it. As The Verge reports, anyone still using Windows 8.1 will get notifications about the end of software updates sometime next month. They’ll have until January 10th to find a new operating system, or face the web without any backup in the way of security updates. It might be an awkward transition: PCs still running Windows 8.1 might not be able to meet the minimum requirements of Windows 11, as Microsoft fully admits in another support document. The company is still selling Windows 10, which is notably less picky about low-powered hardware (and needs no Trusted Platform Module), but which will officially end its support life in 2025. Windows 8 was immediately divisive when it launched, mostly because of the radical Metro user interface departure that borrowed heavily from Windows Phone, emphasizing touchscreen functionality long before most users were ready to embrace it on PC. Microsoft was attempting to create a unified system that integrated both conventional desktop applications and mobile apps, and it didn’t work. Windows 8.1 was a sizable patch released the following year meant to address some of these issues, notably a more flexible home screen with easier access to the more conventional Windows desktop. But by then public opinion had soured, and huge amounts of users had resolved to stick with Windows 7. Windows 8 technically ended support way back in 2016, as Microsoft pushed people to apply the 8.1 functionality and security patches. As of February 2022, StatCounter reports that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combine for just 4.42% of worldwide Windows users. The older Windows 7, which ended support more than two years ago, still has almost three times as many users. While not quite as big a blunder, Windows 11 is drawing comparisons to 8 as users hesitate to upgrade. It’s currently holding just over 10 percent of the userbase… slightly less than Windows 7. Ouch. Windows
Rock out with Apple’s wireless Beats Studio 3 headphones for $180
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 14:49:02 +0000
If you want to rock out with a nice set of cans, Amazon’s got you covered. The online retailer is selling Apple’s Beats Studio 3 wireless over-the-ear headphones for $180. That’s $20 off the most recent price. When we reviewed the Beats Studio 3, we gave them 4.5 out of 5 stars and an Editors’ Choice Award. “With active noise cancellation, big bass and a comfortable design, the Beats Studio 3 Wireless are the ultimate Beats headphones,” we said. This set of headphones features the Apple W1 headphone chip, which makes for easy pairing with iOS devices. It will work with Android too, but through standard Bluetooth connection. It also supports up to 22 hours of listening time as well as a quick charge option where 10 minutes will get you three hours. The device has active noise cancelling for keeping out environmental sounds and there’s a transparency mode to allow essential noises in, so you don’t lose track of the world around you. As for the sound this thing produces, it has big bass and supports spatial audio. [Today’s deal: Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones for $180 at Amazon.] Gear, Wireless Headphones
Should you buy a PCIe 3.0 or 4.0 SSD?
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 14:30:00 +0000
So you’re looking to upgrade your ancient hard drive, or slightly less pokey SATA-based SSD, with a spiffy new M.2 solid-drive. But you’ve probably seeing a lot of chatter about Gen 3 (PCIe 3.0) or Gen 4 (PCIe 4.0) drives, and whether it’s worth it to go with the newer, faster, and more expensive technology. If you’ve got a couple of minutes, let PCWorld’s expert Gordon Ung break it down for you. Unlike a more obvious and drastic upgrade where you can see the difference in the connector itself, M.2 PCIe 3 and 4 drives look identical from the outside. The difference is the standard in the way they connect to the motherboard, and thus, the rest of the computer. Newer drives are compatible with the newer designs for the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) bus standard. That’s a fancy way of saying they can move data around at a faster rate. On paper, Generation 4 drives are essentially twice as fast as Gen 3 drives, an absolutely massive improvement. It isn’t the same kind of jump you’d see when going from a SATA hard drive to a SATA SSD, but it’s still a dramatic boost when copying files or doing other operations that lean directly on read and write speed. a killer pcie 3.0 SSD SK Hynix Gold P31 M.2 NVMe SSD (1TB) Read our review Best Prices Today: $107.99 at Amazon Here’s where things get tricky. Unless you’re spending all of your time copying files from one PCIe drive to the other, you’re probably not going to see that huge boost in speed on a regular basis. PCIe Gen 3 drives are already so speedy that in normal everyday operations, like browsing the web, playing games, and managing documents, most users simply won’t be able to see a notable improvement. That extra money spent on a faster drive almost won’t matter. For a more technical breakdown of how that faster speed actually affects your experience, check out this explainer article. What about the future? There’s where the money might pay off. Microsoft’s new DirectStorage feature allows SSDs to move data directly to a graphics card, bypassing the CPU entirely. This could significantly speed up gaming performance, though we’ve yet to see it actually implemented. This and other upcoming innovations could make a super-fast PCIe Gen 4 drive worth the investment. But if you’re looking for a boost in speed on a budget (or your desktop or laptop doesn’t support a PCIe Gen 4 connection in its M.2 slot), a Gen 3 drive will do just fine. Leave the more expensive drives to those who are trying for a future-proof build, or who regularly transfer massive amounts of data. Our guide to the best SSDs can point you towards the best drive no matter your budget or needs. Computer Storage Devices
Save a massive 32% on the fitness-focused Apple Watch SE
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 14:17:58 +0000
If you’re looking to buy an Apple Watch at a decent price, today is your lucky day. Walmart is selling the 44mm Apple Watch SE for $209. That’s $100 off the MSRP and $21 better than the last time we found a deal on this model. When we reviewed the Apple Watch SE, we called it “a very good mid-range smartwatch.” That’s a key point about this watch. You’re sacrificing some popular features for a better price like the always-on display and the SpO2 monitor. The Apple Watch SE does have many of the key features you’d like to see in a smartwatch. You can use it to take calls, reply to texts, get notifications from other apps, track workouts, and keep track of your heart rate. It has irregular heart rhythm notifications and the Emergency SOS feature in case of a hard fall–a popular feature for those who are at risk of injury. It’s also swimproof and it works with Apple Pay. This is a solid entry-level smartwatch from the world’s most popular smartwatch maker. Just make sure you have an iPhone to go with it. [Today’s deal: The 44mm Apple Watch SE for $209 at Walmart.] Apple Watch, Gear
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 vs. AMD Radeon 6950 XT: Which GPU should you buy?
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 10:45:00 +0000
The AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT has been an interesting GPU this generation. It’s both cheaper than the competing Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090—and sometimes faster, too. It’s now been refreshed with the RX 6950 XT, a late entrant into the tumultuous GPU market. Nvidia has also done its part with the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti, which brings impressive performance, albeit with a high cost and power draw at 450W TDP.   With the original RTX 3090 price recently decreasing slightly, it makes for an interesting comparison against the newer AMD RX 6950 XT. The RTX 3090 Ti offers more performance, but is significantly outside of the price bracket of the RX 6950 XT. Is this AMD refresh enough to push performance for AMD ahead of Nvidia, even in the murky waters of ray tracing? More importantly, does it move the needle for high-end gamers enough for them to switch their allegiance from Nvidia to AMD? Let’s find out! Sapphire RX 6950XT Brad Chacos Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950XT: Price Relax. You can easily find both GPUs in stock now at most retailers, and generally at close to MSRP. The GPU market has experienced a significant downturn during the last several months, with prices quickly dropping from their stratospheric levels.  Nitro+ Pure Radeon RX 6950 XT Read our review MSRP: $1249 Best Prices Today: $1249 at Newegg The AMD RX 6950XT comes in at a $1,099 MSRP for the reference model, and some third-party models range from $1,199 to $1,299. A modest bump from the $999 6900XT pricing—but it does not mean they’re a great deal. With the declining GPU market and murmurs of the next-generation GPUs coming out this year, it has significantly dampened demand and enthusiasm for this level of GPU.  Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition Read our review MSRP: $1499 Best Prices Today: $1499 at Best Buy | $2,134.90 at Amazon The Nvidia RTX 3090 has also experienced much lower demand, resulting in quickly falling pricing. While you’re still unlikely to find a $1,499 Founders Edition at MSRP, most models such as those from the EVGA RTX 3090 lineup have experienced a significant price drop, coming in as low as $1,609 for the Black series. (The 3090 Ti debuted at $1,999, a big increase over the RTX 3090—and it’s already being discounted at many retailers, too)  The pricing on the used market is even lower, however, with RTX 3090s dipping close to the $1,200 mark in many cases.  Neither model is a great price-to-performance choice this late into the release cycle, however. Most high-end gamers who don’t have a top-tier GPU will likely be best served by waiting for the next generation this year. The AMD RX 6950 XT is the latest to test its mettle against Nvidia. Thiago Trevisan Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950XT: Performance AMD certainly threw in a surprising performance with the original 6900 XT—it was able to match or beat the RTX 3090 in certain games and scenarios. Has the RX 6950 XT finally crossed the Rubicon in all performance areas? Not quite. When it comes to ray tracing performance, the RTX 3090 is still out ahead. (Check out Brad Chacos’ review for a deeper dive on the new AMD refreshes.) Thiago Trevisan In games such as Watch Dogs Legion with traditional rasterization, we can see the AMD RX 6950 XT performing as well or better than the RTX 3090 (especially at lower resolutions). This trend continues in other games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, where it’s able to keep up with the RTX 3090. Game after game, both GPUs trade blows and are highly competitive with each other.  Both GPUs have party tricks up their sleeves for performance, too. AMD has Smart Access Memory that can boost performance when coupled with a Ryzen CPU, along with Radeon Super Resolution. This will give it significant boosts in many games, besting the RTX 3090 in some cases, as shown below in Horizon Zero Dawn. Nvidia also has DLSS technology that does wonders for keeping graphical fidelity and high frames simultaneously—which is a gamer changer when paired with ray tracing. AMD RSR AdvantagesThiago Trevisan What happens when we introduce ray tracing? That’s where Nvidia’s RTX 3090 still holds an advantage over AMD. The 6950 XT does not have upgraded ray tracing hardware when compared to the 6900 XT, keeping it behind the Nvidia RTX GPUs in this case.  It can be argued that there are diminishing returns for ray tracing visuals and performance, with varying results. The technology puts insane strain on performance, lowering frame rates significantly until you claw some back with the help of an upscaling technology like DLSS or AMD’s FSR. The visual impact doesn’t always make losing that performance worthwhile, either. But when it comes to the “halo” GPUs like these, ray tracing can be part of the reason you get a high-end GPU in the first place; you want to turn all the eye candy up to Ultra, including ray tracing. Paired with Nvidia’s DLSS, the performance penalty can be mitigated, and the visuals enjoyed fully. This is one big advantage of the RTX 3090 versus the newer 6950 XT—maximum performance and visuals matter when you’re spending way over $1,000 for a GPU. AMD’s ray tracing hardware is a generation behind Nvidia’s implementation, while its DLSS rival, FSR 2.0, is great but still in its infancy, with only a handful of games supporting the fledgling technology at this point. That means ray tracing is best experienced at 1440p resolution on the 6950 XT, while you can usually crank ray traced games even at 4K on the 3090. If you’re not interested in ray tracing however, the 6950 XT is a mighty fine choice for significantly less cost.  GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition Read our review MSRP: $1200 Best Prices Today: $1200 at Best Buy Let’s not forget that the RTX 3090 is certainly better geared towards content creation and other workstation use cases, as well. With a whopping 24GB of GDDR6x VRAM, it will handily beat the 16GB RX 6950 XT in most content creation tasks. The 3080 Ti would be a more reasonable competitor to the 6950 XT in this case as a pure gaming solution.  Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950 XT: Power and other things to know The RTX 3090 packs a TDP of 350W, with many third-party models eclipsing 400W. The RX 6950 XT comes in a 335W TDP, which is reasonable for the performance that it puts out. Remember, the 3090 Ti is already up to 450W TDP—so next-generation offerings will likely go up significantly in requirements.  You’ll want a minimum of a 750W power supply for both, but we’d recommend you up that even higher for future proofing—as high-quality power supplies tend to last a long time.  You’ll need a case with good airflow for both these options, and better clearance than lesser GPUs require. (They’re often wrapped in a nice, thick, beefy air coolers to keep their temperatures in check.)  Which is the better option for water cooling? We’d argue that the RTX 3090 is, since it likely will have a wider range of water blocks available on the market. Plus, with its steaming-hot VRAM, it often benefits more from taking a deep swim versus the typically cooler RX 6950 XT. So, is the 6950 XT enough to best the RTX 3090? The 6950 XT is a slightly more powerful addition to the high-end AMD lineup, putting up an impressive performance versus the RTX 3090. It’s simple: If you’re playing at higher resolutions and want to use ray tracing, Nvidia still holds an advantage here. DLSS and the Nvidia encoders are also great technologies that serve people well.  If you’re after pure frame rate goodness—without as much ray tracing, the 6950 XT can be often a much better choice than the RTX 3090, especially in sub-4K resolutions. AMD offers great technologies such as FSR, Smart Access Memory to really up the performance too.  So, who wins? Unfortunately, the 6950 XT comes in too late in the release cycle to be relevant in the rapidly declining GPU market, making it an expensive option. The aging RTX 3090 is a similar story. Its high price was never a very good option for purely gaming—making better use for hybrid content creators/gamers instead. The RTX 3090 Ti is an even worse value proposition this late into the story, making it only relevant for a few high-end enthusiasts who don’t mind the price tag.  3090 Ti: The symbol for diminishing returns in an ever changing market. Beautiful, but flawed! IDG The verdict: This is a good ole’ fashioned standstill. We’d wait out the market a few months as both will experience even steeper declines in price with the introduction of the next generation. Otherwise, if you really must have one now, the decision will come down to ray tracing preference and resolution you’re playing at. Both GPUs will give you good, all-around performance for years to come—but neither are a great choice right now as the GPU market is rapidly changing this year.  Graphics Cards
Best USB microphones for streaming: Upgrade your stream with high-quality audio
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 10:30:00 +0000
Whether you’re streaming games to Twitch, doing voiceovers for your YouTube videos, or just video chatting, your audience needs to hear you clearly. And unfortunately, microphones built into laptops, webcams, and even headsets just don’t compare in sound quality to a full-size microphone sitting close to your mouth. The good news is you don’t have to splurge on pro-level audio equipment to significantly improve your sound—USB microphones are an affordable and satisfying alternative. Plus, USB mics are essentially plug-and-play, making them much easier to use. When selecting our picks for the best USB microphones, we look for models that offer easy setup, great quality, and a fair price, as well as flexibility with voice types and volumes. If you want to learn more about how to pick the best microphone for your particular needs, scroll down to our buyers’ guide below our recommendations. The best USB microphones Elgato Wave:3 – Our top pick Pros Powerful and accurate audio Fantastic ADC Easy-to-use hardware controls Feature-rich software options Clean and sleek look Great value for the price Cons Mic mute placement Included stand not usable for serious streamers MSRP: $149.99 Best Prices Today: $149.99 at Amazon | $149.99 at Best Buy | $149.99 at Elgato The Elgato Wave:3 packs in a lot of performance for a $160 USB microphone. Not only does it sound great out of the box, but it can be tuned further, too. You can also easily adjust the mic during streams, thanks to a capacitive mute button and a physical dial that controls mic gain, headphone volume, and crossfade (aka the balance of your mic versus PC volume when using connected headphones). Powering the excellent audio is a 24-bit/96kHz analog-to-digital converter and a large condenser capsule sensitive to voices of all volumes, plus a lone cardioid polar pattern that keeps the focus on you and not background noises. Overall, voices sound natural coming through the Wave:3, and transitions from loud to quiet speaking are smooth. Our one nitpick is that this mic would sound even better with a little more sharpness in the mid-tones. The Wave:3 also comes with built-in hardware to reduce unwanted vocal pops (those distracting bursts of air that happen when saying words that start with letters like “p” or “b”), as well as a unique feature that reduces clipping (the distortion that happens when you talk or yell louder than the mic can handle) by switching to a secondary signal that’s been picking up your voice at a lower volume. Streamers with a two-PC streaming setup or the use of additional non-Elgato mics may need to look elsewhere, but for most people, the Wave:3 is the closest to a one-size-fits-all solution—especially since Elgato’s Wavelink software gives you control over audio routing of other sources beyond your mic, too. Elgato Wave:1 – Runner-Up Pros Same great sound profile as the Wave:3 Same amazing software features Same clean and sleek look Easy-to-use mic mute Cons Not a great value for its price Lacks dedicated mic gain/crossover control Lower-tier ADC compared to Wave:3 MSRP: $99.99 Best Prices Today: $79.00 at Amazon | $99.99 at Best Buy | $99.99 at Elgato The Elgato Wave:1 may lack its sibling’s fancier features, but don’t count it out. It still has the same fantastic large condenser capsule and protection against plosives and clipping as the Wave:3, and you get similar sensitivity and tonal clarity, too. This mic plays nice with almost every voice out there—it provides warm, full tones in the low end that mix perfectly with a crisp high range. Where it falls behind the Wave:3 is with its lower-quality analog-to-digital converter, which offers a 24-bit/48kHz signal. Less data in the digital capture of your voice means a less faithful reproduction of it, though as noted above, it still sound pretty good. More disappointing are the stripped-down hardware controls. The control dial on the Wave:1 only toggles muting of the mic and headphone volume. You can still control mic gain and crossfade through Elgato’s Wavelink PC software, but the experience is more cumbersome than having dedicated controls on the mic. We think it worth the extra $30 to get a Wave:3, but if you’re on a tight budget, this $130 mic is still one of the best on the market. Shure MV7 – Premium pick Pros Inspired by a legendary microphone Rich, bright, radio sound USB/XLR connections Easy-to-use software Built like a tank Cons Touch controls Requires more knowledge to use Micro-USB connection Steep price MSRP: $249 Best Prices Today: $219.00 at Adorama | 249 at Shure | $249.00 at Amazon Last fall, Shure released the MV7, a USB microphone inspired by the well-known audio company’s legendary SM7B—a professional microphone used for decades by vocalists and countless radio shows. But while still aimed at a more experienced user, the MV7 requires far less time to learn its ins and outs for the best possible experience. And what an experience it is. This dynamic-capsule mic sounds fantastic in the lower range (think booming radio voice), with smooth, clearly defined reproduction of tones in the mid and high range, too. To get the best results, you’ll need to tweak the EQ settings using Shure’s easy-to-use MOTIV software, but you largely get similar performance to the unparalleled SM7B. Furthering the MV7’s professional vibe is its solid build quality, though its heavier weight and lack of included stand means you’ll need a strong boom arm to use it effectively. The MV7 is also compatible with XLR connections, so if you upgrade to a more high-end audio system in the future, you can do so without having to buy another mic. The MV7 isn’t for everyone, however. Its dynamic capsule is better suited for a loud voice, and it also has a highly directional hyper cardioid polar pattern, which limits how you can use it. (Its position relative to your mouth strongly affects performance.) This mic’s signal also caps out at 24-bit/48kHz. Most disappointing is the touch panel interface on the device for mic gain control, mute button, and monitor levels, which can be awkward to use during streams. But if you’ve got the patience and the right kind of voice, it’ll make you sound like liquid gold. Razer Seiren Elite – More affordable premium pick Pros Low-end heavy, radio-like sound Simple controls Light-up compression warning Cons No software tuning Micro-USB connection MSRP: $199.99 Best Prices Today: $235.40 at Amazon Razer’s top offering boasts specs that put it on par with the best mics in this round-up. Like Shure’s MV7, the Razer Seiren Elite sports a dynamic capsule that works well with many vocal types, emphasizes low-end tones, and requires close proximity for smooth output. (That last aspect is a positive when in a noisy environment, as it keeps background noises from being picked up.) And like Elgato’s Wave:3, the Seiren Elite has easy-to-use physical controls, with one knob controlling mic gain, another controlling headphone volume, and a mute switch. It even features an LED ring around the base of the mesh grill that lights up to indicate when mic’s built-in compressor kicks in to even out high spikes in volume. But while this compact mic generally takes a radio-like approach to mic design and sound signature, its $200 price tag drags down its appeal compared to our top pick, the $160 Wave:3. That’s particularly so with its analog-to-digital converter limited to a 16-bit/48 kHz signal—the baseline of usable signal by today’s standards. Other mics with higher bit rates will have a longer life as future standards (and audience expectations) rise. You won’t be able to tune its output further, either, as Razer’s Synapse app doesn’t support that—a real bummer, since Seiren Elite lacks the clarity and sharpness of other mics in the mid-to-higher frequencies necessary for that classic radio sound. Blue Yeti X – Best multi-purpose option Pros Simple and clean sound profile Sturdy build for mic and included stand Feature-rich software Multiple polar patterns make it versatile Cons Sound lacks character Micro-USB connection Big and bulky Buggy software MSRP: $169.99 Best Prices Today: $169.99 at Amazon | $169.99 at Blue Like Shure, Blue is a well-respected name in professional audio. But unlike Shure, Blue also has a history of producing great USB-based microphones for many use cases—and the company’s Yeti X comes closer to the Wave:3 in terms of audio performance than the rest.  Unlike the other mics on this list, though, the Yeti X doesn’t focus specifically on streamers. The company’s top microphone features multiple polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, and stereo), which you can easily toggle through using the physical dial on the back. The condenser capsules in the Yeti X pick up voices easily and capture voice in all vocal ranges well, with an output at 24-bit/48kHz that has a neutral, more generic sound and works well for a variety of scenarios. That’s both a plus and a minus for this mic—with no features or distinct identity in its sound, it lacks a personality worth lavish praise. While you can tweak the audio profile in Blue’s Voice software quite a bit, the program can be buggy, making such adjustments unreliable. Build quality is solid on this mic, which also comes with a heavy and sturdy included base. The main drawback of Yeti X’s design is how imposing it is in size—it takes up a lot of space within your field of view. At $170, the Yeti X is the best Blue has to offer, but unless you’ll use your microphone for other purposes (in-person interviews, multi-singer recordings, etc.), you’ll be better off with a streaming-focused mic like the Wave:3. Blue Yeti – Affordable alternative to the Yeti X Pros Simple-and-clean sound profile Sturdy build for mic and included stand Multiple polar patterns make it versatile Feature-rich software Cons Slightly oversensitive condenser Big and bulky Buggy software MSRP: $129.99 Best Prices Today: $84.99 at Best Buy | $99.99 at Dell Home | $110.45 at Amazon Similar to its newer, higher-end sibling, Blue’s original Yeti model is a solid, all-purpose USB microphone that offers good sensitivity to a variety of voice types and clear, neutral sounding output. It also has excellent physical controls on the mic, with separate dials for headphone volume, polar pattern (cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, and stereo), and gain level, plus a mute button. As you’d expect, this signal produced by this baseline Yeti is stepped down (16-bit/48kHz versus the X model’s 24-bit/48kHz), but audio reproduction still sounds good. Its primary downside is just how sensitive its condenser capsule is—even in cardioid mode, the mic picks up background noises easily, including the sound of pressing the mute button. The Yeti also still sports the mini-USB connection that it launched with back in 2009, though arguably, mini-USB is a sturdier port type than micro-USB. The included base is sturdy and heavy, though this mic benefits from being put on a boom arm. (Remember, it picks up background noise easily, so it’ll capture the sound of your keyboard and how it rattles on the desk with unfortunate clarity.) Positioning it can be a bit of a hassle, though, due to how the Yeti’s large size can block your view. At a list price of $130, the Yeti is best for budget-minded people who will also use it for other purposes like multi-singer recordings and in-person interviews. However, if you can find it for a sale price of $85 (which the Yeti often dropped to before the pandemic), we’d consider it a solid budget mic. Neat Bumblebee II – Budget alternative to the Yeti X Pros Clean, neutral sound profile Solid base included with mic Affordable MSRP Excellent signal quality Cons Very small mute indicator light Lack of control labels Mic picks up all clicking of control buttons MSRP: $99.99 Best Prices Today: $79.99 at Amazon | $99.99 at Neat On the surface, the Neat Bumblebee II may seem like just another USB-C microphone, but it actually comes from a team that includes the original founders of Blue. Despite that heritage, the Bumblebee II stands on its own. This $100 condenser mic offers good sensitivity and clear, neutral output. Recordings are clean and pleasant to listen to, with just enough warmth to prevent a sterile vibe—the sound is not as bright as with Blue mics. Controls are straightforward, with one knob to control volume for a plugged-in headset, microphone gain, and the mix of sidetone and your PC’s output, and one dedicated mute button. A small red LED indicates your mute status. These physical controls feel good, but clicking them does get picked up by the mic. The mute indicator light is also quite small and hard to see at a glance. Bumblebee II does offer just one polar pattern—cardioid, which picks up sounds only from the front of the mic. But it also provides excellent signal quality, with 24-bit/96kHz output. (Close rivals stop at a more modest 24-bit/48kHz [Blue Yeti Nano] and 16-bit/48kHz [Razer Seiren X]). It’s perfect for streamers and podcasters who don’t need multifunctionality and care more about faithful voice reproduction. Support is scant for this microphone, so don’t lose your included quick start guide. Neat and parent-company Turtle Beach’s websites are both slim on documentation. There’s also no software for fine-tuning audio output. But for folks looking for a simple plug-and-play solution, the Bumblebee II does work extremely well out of the box. Important features in a USB microphone Capsule type This cutaway shot from Elgato’s Wave:3 product page shows what a capsule looks like. Capsules are pieces of hardware that converts sound-pressure levels traveling through the air (in this case, your voice) into a direct-current (DC) signal, aka the audio signal. How a capsule picks up audio signals is determined by its type. The two most common kinds you’ll encounter—and should seek out—are condenser and dynamic capsules. Condenser capsule microphones: This variety of mic uses extra voltage (+48V aka phantom power) to charge the capsule, which makes it more sensitive. Generally, condenser mics are better for people who speak at softer volumes or have voices with more dynamic range.Dynamic capsule microphones: Dynamic mics don’t require that extra voltage and are thus less sensitive. This sort of mic is better for people with loud voices or folks trying to better isolate audio pick-up to only what’s close to the microphone (i.e., trying to block out background noises like a mechanical keyboard or loud PC fan). Dynamic mics tend to last longer, as too much sensitivity can harm a capsule over time.Electret condenser capsules: This capsule type is cheap and small, and more often used in laptops and smartphones. Unlike a true condenser mic, electret condensers aren’t actively charged—instead, they essentially come pre-charged, so they’re lower power and produce lower-quality audio.Digital signal quality (bit depth / sample rate) After your voice has been transformed into an electrical signal by a microphone’s capsule, it then passes on to the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) found in all USB mics. As you might guess, the ADC converts the incoming analog signal (your voice) into a digital signal that your computer can use. How accurately the ADC does so depends on its defined bit depth and sample rate. These two technical specs indicate how faithfully an audio signal replicates the original sound—in this case, the transmission of your voice through your mic to your PC. As the microphone transcodes your voice, it captures parts of the audio at specific intervals (sample rate) and a specific level of detail (bit depth) and then reconstructs the original based on that data. The digitization of an analog waveform involves two measurements: bit depth, which refers to the amount of amplitude samples available, and sample rate, which refers to the amount of samples per second (measured in Hz) available. More bit-depth samples mean more dynamic range, while more sample-rate samples mean more granularity between frequencies. The higher the number of both bit depth and sample rate, generally the more faithful the reproduction. Other factors, such as the condenser type and how the microphone is tuned, also influence what you actually hear as the end result, but because bit-rate and sample-rate numbers reveal the amount of data captured and kept for use, they can serve as a quick way to screen for anything underpowered. A low bit depth and sample rate results in a voice that sounds digital and robotic—the signal lacks enough detail to keep all the nuance and personality of the original speaker—so avoid microphones that are stingy in this regard. Consider a 16-bit/48kHz signal a minimum (it’s roughly the level of a CD in quality), and aim for higher to prolong the use of your microphone. Like with photos and video, standards gradually climb over time, and so too audience expectations for quality. Sensitivity The sensitivity of a mic indicates how easily it picks up sound. If you have a quieter voice, seek out a more sensitive microphone for more accurate reproduction of your voice—conversely, if you have a booming voice, you’ll need a less sensitive microphone for the same effect. Condenser types (see above) influence how sensitive a mic is, as does the ability to tweak the gain level. Mic controls Touch-based controls might be popular for some microphones, but physical controls like buttons, knobs, and dials are superior: No looking is necessary when making on-the-fly adjustments during streams—you can keep your eyes on your screen while fiddling. Better microphones offer control over mute, gain level, and headphone volume (if you can plug in headphones directly into the mic) at minimum. We like to see crossfade (the balance between your PC’s audio and hearing your own voice fed in from the mic) as an option, too. Software controls For a USB microphone, you’ll do all your audio processing—that is, tweaking the audio that comes through the mic—in a desktop PC program. Ideally, this companion software should be easy to use, easy to navigate, and allow you to tune the audio output. The best software also lets you configure the routing of other audio sources (e.g., the game, chat from programs like Discord, and music from Spotify). You can choose what gets pulled in and how that’s directed out. Build quality The build quality of a microphone affects more than just how the device holds up with use—it also has an impact on audio performance. The better the materials, the better quality of vocal performance. The capsule type, housing around it, and any shielding placed between you and the capsule (to tamp down unwanted noises) all influence the mic’s output. Type of USB connection Micro-USB is still surprisingly common among USB microphones, despite the growing adoption of USB-C and its advantages. We prefer a USB-C connection for its better durability, both for the port itself and for cables—anecdotally, we’ve had more micro-USB ports and cables fail or loosen over time. That said, micro-USB should still serve fine, especially if you don’t plan to move your microphone around (a potential source of stress on the port) or regularly plug and unplug the cable. Polar pattern This screenshot from the Blue Yeti product page illustrates which parts of the mic are active for each polar pattern supported. A polar pattern (or pick-up pattern) indicates the areas of a mic that are sensitive to sound. Streamers should focus on microphones with a cardioid pattern, which makes the mic more sensitive right in front of the capsule (typically the top of the mic) and less so on the sides and rear. This type of polar pattern helps physically isolate the audio source being recorded—in this case, you. Some mics feature other polar patterns as well, making them more versatile for use. Other common ones are omnidirectional, which makes the mic sensitive to pick up on all sides (useful for conference calls); bidirectional, which picks up from the front and and rear (useful for face-to-face conversations between two people); and stereo, aka mid-side, which makes the mic pick up the right and left channel separately while being sensitive at the front (useful for multiple people conversing or singing while sitting side-by-side and all facing the mic). What to look for Our picks for best USB microphones work well with a wide variety of voices, but to find a mic that fits your voice just that much more, keep these factors in mind. Tonal reproduction Tonal reproduction refers to how close the microphone’s output matches the sound of a person’s actual voice. Some microphones cater to lower-end vocal ranges by doing things like boosting mid-range frequencies, while others cater to those with higher pitches by having a less sensitive capsule. To get your desired style of output, find out how a microphone is tuned, plus the size of capsule in the mic and the type of mic. These add up to form the microphone’s profile—and once you know it, it’s pretty easy to narrow the field of mics that are right for you. Vocal clarity Vocal clarity refers to how loud and clear someone can be heard with a microphone. While tone can certainly play a part in this, the biggest influences on clarity are how sensitive the microphone is to the audio it’s receiving and how strong the amplification process is in translating that to a digital signal. A quiet voice will need both a more sensitive microphone and stronger amplification in order to achieve desired volume levels, while a big, booming voice will need the opposite. (In fact, if a highly sensitive microphone is regularly subjected to loud sounds, it can actually damage the capsule over time.) The distance from you to the microphone has an impact on this as well, but we don’t recommend shifting your position to make a mic work with your voice. Generally, you want to have a microphone as close as possible to your mouth, as that’s the position for getting its best performance. Stay close to the mic to get the best sounding audio from it. Analog-to-digital converter quality As mentioned above, when you speak into a mic, that analog signal gets captured by the microphone’s capsule, then an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) transcodes that to a digital signal that your computer can use. How good an ADC is will impact both the tone reproduction and clarity of the digital output, as well as how loud it is. Output from low-quality ADCs sound less natural and can even have more digital artifacts, resulting in a tinny sound with less range. An ADC can also affect the signal transmitted to your PC by not providing enough power to the output of the audio, resulting in less clarity and a quieter volume to work with. Think of an ADC like the middle person in a three-person game of Telephone—it has the ability to dramatically convolute or distort what the original person passed on. Generally, the better the converter, the more the voices of all types benefit from accurate reproduction, but some folks with specific voice concerns (like quiet volume or a thinner sound) might need to pay more attention to specs like bit depth/sample rate, which influence how strong a signal the ADC sends to your PC. Once you’ve narrowed down your potential microphone picks, find videos of them in use to get a better sense of how their output sounds. As a starting point, we’ve used all of these microphones in this roundup in our live videos on YouTube and Twitch. USB microphone vs. a headset Good headsets sound decent on a stream, but a dedicated USB microphone provide the clarity and warmth that draws in viewers. Here’s why. While USB microphones are cheaper than a full professional setup, they’re pricier than a good headset. Even headsets that cost about the same may still seem more appealing, since you can use a headset for both listening and talking. So why choose a USB microphone instead of a headset? While headsets don’t sound bad on a stream, a headset microphone is just too small to really compete with a USB mic. Generally, the larger the capsule, the more sensitive a microphone can be to sound pressure changes, thus producing more accurate results. That’s the reason headset microphones struggle to produce a well-rounded sound, especially in the low end. Short of attaching a huge capsule to a boom arm on a headset, a standalone USB mic will be better suited for professional-sounding streams. And the more you sound like you could be in the same room as your viewers, the more likely they’ll connect with you and stick around. Consumer Electronics, Gaming, Gaming Accessories
Receive near instant feedback on logos, images, text, and more with Helpfull
Fri, 24 Jun 2022 08:00:00 +0000
People commonly ask colleagues for feedback from time to time. But that can be fraught with challenges. After all, how are you to know if they’re genuinely being honest? This is why folks turn to Helpfull when they need honest and constructive reactions and reviews. The Helpfull Feedback Platform provides creators and businesses easy access to unbiased and detailed criticism for logos, images, text, and more. Create your survey, upload the content you want to be reviewed, and choose your demographics. Within minutes you’ll get constructive feedback from users, so you’ll know what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t. You might find Helpfull particularly valuable if you’re an app developer or work in QA. QA Specialist Karla Q writes, “Helpfull is a great service to use if you need feedback in real time. In a very interactive and fun way that makes you excited to view the results.” With the Helpfull Premium Plan, you’ll get two free questions per test and 50 credits per month. Additionally, you can export results to PDF or Excel for further analysis, they offer support via phone or the web, and it’s also compatible with all operating systems. And since a one-year subscription is on sale for only $39, it’s easy to fit the cost within virtually any budget.  Helpfull Feedback Platform: 1-Yr Subscription – $39 See Deal Prices subject to change. Asset Management Software, Education and Training Software
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