My afternoon with the Plextor M6e PCIe SSD

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

I must go down to the lab again, to the lonely racks and the wires,
And all I ask is a fast server and an image to steer her by;
And the mouse’s kick and the fan’s song and my tired hand’s shaking,
And a grey plate on the system’s face, and a grey cover opening,…

You might recognize those slightly altered lines from the beginning of John Masefield’s Sea Fever poem*—a tale told by a man who’s in love with life on the sea. Well, in a landlocked state, my sea is the datacenter, or in this particular case, a server lab. My original intent upon making my way down to the lab was to check out a system that gave us a login prompt but wouldn’t allow us to login.

After checking it out, I determined that it needed a quick reimage. While there, I discovered that another of our systems had failed to reboot, remaining at the “Press F1 to reboot or press F2 to enter Setup”. It was an endless loop.

What I found was that the RAID controller had failed in the old Dell 1950. But all was not lost because Plextor had been kind enough to send me a 256GB M6e PCIe SSD for review. What better review is there than putting the drive to work in a failed system? Of course the system in question was on the very top shelf of our makeshift rack, which is close to seven feet high. Thank goodness the 1950 is a 1U system. The SSD was still in the box, still in the static-free bag just like the day it was shipped to me a couple of months or so ago (Sorry Plextor—time, it seems, is not on my side).

Adding the Plextor M6e to the system was as easy as adding any other card to a computer. Open the case, pop it in, close the case, hoist the system back up onto the top shelf, plug everything back in, and power it on. The Plextor disk shows up just after the CPU and memory check. The Plextor logo and a few drive details display on the screen for what seems like an eternity**.

Once the system passed its POST, it booted onto the 64-bit CentOS 6.4 DVD, and I began the installation. CentOS found the Plextor SSD without issue and installation took about seven minutes to complete. The time would have been much shorter, but the old DVD drive is slow. After the system rebooted, I logged in, configured my network, and away I went updating the OS and installing a few extra goodies.

The system is incredibly fast, but putting this kind of leading edge disk drive into an old 1950 is like putting a racing engine into a 1965 VW Beetle. Yes, it’s faster, but it’s still a 1965 VW Beetle. To get the full benefit, you’d have to upgrade the transmission, tires, rear-end, and so on.

But putting a racing engine (Plextor M6e SSD) into the Beetle (Dell 1950) isn’t the point. The fact that it works and that it works without issue is the cool part. It’s an upgrade from the old PERC and 70GB SCSI drives. And what an upgrade for just over $250 it is. Sure, that old 1950 is past its prime for production purposes, but for a test/dev system, it’s just fine. It’s a good 64-bit system that can still deliver a punch when you need for it to, especially with CentOS, Ubuntu, or your favorite Linux distro. Although it would probably work OK with Windows, the 1950 has a maximum RAM capacity of 4GB.


ASUS ROG GL551JM Series (Gaming Laptop Review)

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

ASUS is a leading company for gaming laptops with their Republic of Gamers product line. ASUS continues to add to their lineup of computers designed with gamers in mind with the release of the ASUS GL551 series. We were fortunate enough to go hands-on with the ASUS GL551JM computer from the upcoming line, and we were very impressed with what the system had to offer. The ASUS GL551 is a perfect blend of power and style that any gamer can appreciate, and purchasing the new product takes all of the work out of making a custom rig, since the line is capable of playing any current generation games right out of the box.

The first thing we noticed about the ASUS GL551 series was its impressive look. The ASUS GL551JM comes packed in a brush-finished aluminum case that looks great and feels fantastic to touch. The smooth casing offers the perfect surrounding for the red Republic of Gamers logo that is proudly displayed on the top of the computer. The inside design is just as impressive and includes a large buttoned keyboard with red, backlit keys. The LED lighting is customizable and allows users to change the brightness to fit their own preferences. One thing we loved about the design of the laptop was the built-in mousepad. Rather than featuring clickable buttons for left and right clicks, the entire pad clicks in when either side is pressed down, which made using the touch pad incredibly easy.

Other design choices for the ASUS GL551 series are much more like we’d like to see out of a gaming computer. The large 15.6″ FHD display is perfect for playing games in large scale resolutions with the highest definitions and frame rate settings. We never noticed any problems with the computer’s display after adjusting the brightness settings of the monitor after first taking it out of the box. Audio is impressive for the ASUS GL551 series, especially when considering how poor the audio quality is for other laptops on the market. Republic of Gamers AudioWizard is built into the ASUS GL551 series and helps produce some fairly high quality sounds right out of the box. The sound design may not matter for some since most gamers will already have an expensive headset for listening to games and music while playing, but it’s nice to know that ASUS didn’t skip out on audio in their new gaming laptop line.

The ASUS GL551 series also boasts cooling technology and noise reduction perfect for gamers. The ASUS GL551JM definitely does a fantastic job of producing enjoyable gaming sessions with no noise and irritating racket from the computer itself. The computer line is fully capable of playing some casual games and indie games without ever running hot either. We did however notice the rig pumping out a lot of hot air during sessions with newer games and titles set to the highest graphical settings such as The Sims 4 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but the computer never felt too hot during the sessions. It’s really difficult to find a laptop that doesn’t produce a lot of heat during gaming sessions though, so it was nice that the ASUS GL551 series didn’t get too hot during playthroughs.

The biggest question on gamer’s minds when looking for a new gaming laptop is in the specifications. The ASUS GL551 series comes packed with hardware capable of playing any game currently released or that will release in the next five years. The ASUS GL551JM seems fully capable of doing just that, and we were surprised with the computer’s ability to maintain high framerates even during the most rigorous testing. Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition is one of the games we played during testing to see how the computer would perform while playing one of the best looking video games to release in the last year. Despite the game’s strict hardware demands, the ASUS GL551JM was able to perform well and keep us fully entranced in the new zombie survival game, instead of being distracted by dropped frames and performance drops.

The ASUS GL551 series will include the GL551JM and the GL551JK. The differences in the two models are in the specs; the GL551JM is the more powerful model that includes the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M 2GB GDDR5 harddrive with Optimus Technology and 16GB of RAM, while the more affordable GL551JK model offers the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M 2GB harddrive with Optimus Technology and 12GB of RAM. The drop in performance makes the GL551JK a bit cheaper while also making the computer more susceptible of becoming irrelevant in the future. We’d recommend gamers pay out a little extra for the GL551JM model to get the more powerful of the two, but we also can understand that many gamers need to live within a budget as well.

The ASUS GL551 series is one of the more impressive gaming laptop lines we’ve had a chance to try for ourselves. While some gamers will still choose to create their own gaming laptops built to their own specifications, it’s nice to know that companies such as ASUS are offering gamers affordable and powerful gaming rigs capable of playing the best and most popular titles on the gaming market today. Not every gamer is capable of building their own computer, and the ASUS GL551 series takes all of the guesswork out of creating a custom gaming laptop and offers gamers a line of computers that offer decent options and are very stylish. We didn’t have any complaints while testing the ASUS GL551JM, and the overall experience we had with the computer will make it our PC gaming choice for the foreseeable future. ASUS GL551 series is set to release on September 18th in stores and online.


iOS 8 on iPad Air: First Impressions and Performance

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Back in June at WWDC, Apple announced that it would be delivering a new iOS 8 update to iPhone and iPad owners this fall. Earlier this month, Apple confirmed the iOS 8 release date and today, the company rolled out its successor to iOS 7. With the release date now upon us, it’s time to take an initial look at iOS 8 on iPad Air, Apple’s current 9.7-inch iPad.

Last October, shortly after the iPhone 5s launch, Apple took the stage again to announce brand new iPads, one of which was the 9.7-inch iPad Air. The iPad Air replaced the iPad 4 and it, and the iPad mini with Retina Display, helped usher in Apple’s new iOS 7 update. iOS 7, as many of you know, delivered some big time changes to Apple’s mobile operating system.

Since then, the iPad Air has been the recipient of countless iOS updates including Apple’s most recent iOS 7.1 update, iOS 7.1.2. Today though, the current iPad flagship is getting its first major iOS upgrade in the form of iOS 8, an update that made another debut last week alongside the iPhone 6.

iOS 8 made its debut several months ago though Apple showed off the final version at its iPhone 6 launch on September 9th. It also tagged the iOS 8 with a public release date of September 17th. For months, the iOS 8 update has been poked and prodded by developers and today for the first time the final iOS 8 release is available to the public

As expected, Apple pushed the iOS 8 update around 10AM PST delivering the goods to iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPhone 4s, iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina Display, iPad 4, iPad 3, iPad 2, iPad mini, and iPod touch fifth-gen users. Now that we’ve been able to spend some quality time with the public release, we want to take a look our first impressions of the iOS 8 update for iPad Air.

Installing iOS 8

Before installing iOS 8 on the iPad Air, I first installed it on the iPhone 5. As I noted in my first impressions of iOS 8 on the iPhone 5, the installation process was painless and took around 30 minutes or so. I figured that the iOS 8 installation process for a newer device like the iPad Air would be even smoother than that. I was wrong.

Midway through the iOS 8 download process, I was greeted with an unknown error that stopped my download dead in its tracks. The download had been going for at least 10 minutes so this was a bit surprising. I clicked out and then, not following my own advice, I started to panic because it looked like the update had bricked my iPad.

I quickly unplugged my Lightning cable and then performed a quick reset by holding down the power button and home button for about 10 seconds. When the device powered back on, it told me that I needed to plug in to a computer and load up iTunes.

So, I did that and I was immediately greeted with one option and one option alone. I needed to restore my iPad. Tried that and because this was about 20 minutes after the initial iOS 8 release, Apple’s servers produced an error. At this point, I figured the only sensible thing to try was a manual update. I quickly downloaded the proper file, Option clicked on Restore iPad… and about 20 or so minutes later, my iPad Air was rocking iOS 8.

The whole process probably took me an hour. Moral of the story is, be sure to set aside some time to download and install iOS 8. You never know what might pop up. Also, follow my advice and stay calm. There’s probably a fix for whatever issue comes along.

iOS 8 Performance

Remember, when it comes to the performance of iOS updates like iOS 8, I like to look at five different areas in particular. Those areas are: Applications and how they’re performing post update, battery life and whether there is abnormal drain, random bugs or hiccups, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth performance, and overall speed. After spending some quality time with the iOS 8 update for iPad Air, here’s what I’ve found.


iOS apps will often cause applications to start acting crazy. In the past, I’ve dealt with random crashes, random freezing, and other performance issues post-iOS update. The bigger updates tend to cause more trouble than the little iOS updates so I was certainly nervous going into the iOS 8 upgrade for the iPad Air. After all, apps are the lifeblood of my iPad.

I don’t have every single app that you have, plain and simple. So instead of downloading every app on the App Store, I’ll single out my experience with some of the more popular iOS applications. I’ve taken a deep dive into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Chrome, Netflix, Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Maps, Google Hangouts, Pandora, The Weather Channel App, and YouTube. I also play a lot of games on the iPad so I’ve thrown in Angry Birds Space, Kingdom Rush, Tiny Wings, and a graphics intensive game called The Room 2.

This is probably going to come as a bit of a shock to you, it was certainly a shock to me, but all of these applications, Facebook included, are running marvelously after the upgrade to iOS 8. I honestly have not come across a single issues, on the iPad Air at least, in the hours after downloading and installing the final version. Even Netflix is working fine.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t run into problems. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t run into problems down the road. It simply means that everything is going smoothly right now. Applications have a funny way of acting up in the days and weeks after an iOS update so while I’m optimistic, I realize that there’s a good chance something goes wrong in the days ahead.

iOS 8 Battery Life

I’ve installed a lot of updates on my iPad Air though iOS 8 is the largest one to date. Prior to iOS 8, I never had a problem with my iPad Air battery life. I typically can go a full day or more without having to put it on a charger. So far, iOS 8 has delivered the exact same battery life performance and I’m hopeful that this remains intact for the foreseeable future.

In the hours after installing the update, I haven’t noticed any abnormal battery drain and I haven’t experienced any slow charging. The iPad Air is still holding a fantastic charge, something that I’ve grown accustomed to ever since I bought it. I haven’t seen much fluctuation since the day I picked it up and I’m confident that battery life will remain solid on my iPad Air in the days ahead.


I don’t have 4G LTE connectivity on my iPad Air so I can’t speak to how that’s performing but what I can tell you is that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both working fine. I rely on Wi-Fi because I don’t have cellular data and so far, speeds have been up to snuff. I also haven’t witnessed any abnormal slowdown or any dropped connections.

Bluetooth is also solid and I was able to quickly, and efficiently, connect the iPad Air to my Bose Soundlink Mini and play some tunes from Spotify. No, I did not play U2.

Miscellaneous Bugs & Issues

I’ve only had the iOS 8 update on my iPad Air for about four hours. That’s not enough time to deem iOS 8 bug-free but it is enough time for me to relay some feedback.

Thus far, I’ve yet to stumble upon any noticeable bugs, flaws or game changing issues. The update appears to be very stable for a major update though bugs typically show themselves in the days, weeks and even months after release. There are more than likely bugs on board the iOS 8 update but it’s still early in the game.

This is important because iOS 7 caused random reboot issues for iPad mini with Retina, iPhone 5s and iPad Air owners last year before Apple plugged up the memory leak. I’ve seen no such issues in iOS 8.


iOS on the iPad Air has always been fast and fluid. Unlike my iOS 7.0 experience on the iPhone 5, iOS 7.0 performed very well on the iPad Air thanks to the powerful hardware tucked inside. Nothing’s changed in iOS 8. The software is still very fast and I’ve yet to experience any abnormal sluggishness or slowdown.

I’m hearing that the iPhone 4s and iPad 2 iOS 8 updates are causing problems but I’m liking what I’m seeing from iOS 8 on the iPad Air. At least thus far. Given how new it is, it should be one of Apple’s top performers. I’m not worried about it at all.

iOS 8 Features

iOS 8 doesn’t look much different than iOS 7 and after installing it, you’re probably not going to be able to tell that you’re running a brand new operating system. Underneath the surface though, there is plenty to discover and as I’ve found out, there is plenty to like about iOS 8. These are my initial impressions of some of the iOS 8 features that jumped out at me.

Battery Usage

The battery usage tool located in the Usage section of iOS 8′s settings is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the iOS 8 update. This battery life usage tool will allow you to monitor individual applications for battery drain, something that will help you to conserve precious battery life during a road trip, on a flight, or just during your normal work day. I typically use my iPad on all three.

I’ve looked it an unhealthy amount already though I suspect once I nail down the worst offenders, Google Chrome is already at the top of my list, I’ll start to look at it far less. To me, this is one of iOS 8′s small but extremely useful features that I think many of you iPad Air users are going to love. After all, battery life is essential when you take the iPad traveling. This will help you manage it better.


I’ve been looking forward to the changes to iMessage ever since Apple showed them off on stage at WWDC. Like battery life, the Messages application is a key component of my every day iPad use. I message a lot. Co-workers, friends, family, you name it. I find myself sending hundreds messages a day without really knowing it.

In iOS 8, Apple expands on the capabilities of its Messages application. You can now name your group threads to keep things organized. You can remove yourself from group messages. You can set Do Not Disturb on for individual people. You can easily share your location. You can look at your attachments that you shared with friends and family. Most of this is done through the Details tab in the top right corner.

These features, along with the battery usage tool, are probably going to end up being the iOS 8 features that I use the most moving forward. They’re both essential and both have been a long time coming. I’m glad they’re here.


Apple’s iPad multitasking leaves a whole lot to be desired. It simply can’t match up with the powerful features found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S or Microsoft Surface. Those devices allow you to run two apps on screen at the same time. That’s something that I’d love to see on the iPad and it’s something fortunately is rumored for the future. Problem is, it’s not here now.

What is here now is an upgraded version of Apple’s so-called multitasking. Yes, you still have the cards that you can swipe away but you also now have little circles above those cards that provide easy access your most recent contacts. Tap on a circle and you’re able to call that person, send them a message or make a FaceTime call. It also gives you easy access to your Favorites if you swipe to the right. I can see myself using this a lot.


As I noted in my iPhone 5 impressions, I don’t know how I feel about the changes Apple made to the keyboard.

In iOS 8, the keyboard will supposedly be able to predict what you’ll type next to provide a more fluid way of typing. It has done a fairly good job at that so far but I still find the keyboard to be intrusive and distracting, even on a 9.7-inch iPad. Perhaps, it will take some getting used to (god forbid) and I’ll wind up using it for texts and email down the road.

Camera & Photos

The camera and Photos applications deliver some changes as well. I never shoot photos or video with my iPad Air, it’s too big and not a good alternative to my phone, but I suppose if I did I’d love the new capture timer that Apple’s added that lets you set a timer for photos. It’s a small addition but certainly one that should be welcomed by iPad photographers.

Thanks to the new Photo app, you now have the ability to quickly edit your photos in-house. The options aren’t as powerful as an app like Afterlight but they’re free.

Photos is now smarter about sorting your photos and videos as well making them much easier to find. Those of you that take a lot of photos or video will also appreciate the new smart search that allows you to easily find a photo or video from years ago. I’ve already found some horrible photos that I had completely forgotten about.

Obviously, there is a lot more to iOS 8 but it’s going to take time to comb through its features. There are well over a 100 new iOS 8 features on board, some of which take months to discover. These are just the features that stood out to me in the hours after the iOS 8 update’s arrival.

Should You Install iOS 8?

There’s a lot to like about iOS 8. I think the battery life tool and the changes to iMessages are going to be big for many iPad users and those honestly just scratch the surface. iOS 8 delivers over a hundred new features, big and small, and I’ll be taking a deeper dive into those over the next week or so.

So far, I haven’t noticed any major performance issues on the iPad Air, not surprising given that iOS 8 is its first update. Battery life is solid, I haven’t discovered any catastrophic bugs, and connectivity is stable.


Amazon challenges Apple’s iPad with improved Fire HDX

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Online retail giant Amazon has announced a complete refresh of its tablet computer and e-reader devices, including a special child-friendly version of their Fire HD tablet.
The Seattle-based firm announced two new versions of their Kindle e-reader device, including the Voyage, which at 7.8mm is the thinnest e-reader ever, the company said.

The device weighs only 180 grams and has been shown off alongside a new version of the original Kindle, which will have a touch display for the first time. The Voyage also has the clearest display Amazon has ever created with 300 pixels per inch.

The Kindle will start shipping in October, as well as a new Fire HDX tablet.

The Fire HDX was one of three new tablets introduced by Amazon at the launch event in New York. The 8.9inch tablet is comparable in size with Apple’s iPad but offers 1 million more pixels on screen than the Apple device.

Following Microsoft’s example, Amazon equipped the tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard.

“The team has packed an incredible amount of technology and innovation into the new Fire HDX-an incredible HDX display, a powerful quad-core processor, a 70 per cent faster graphics engine, exceptional audio, and faster Wi-Fi-and it’s still startlingly light,” said Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos.

“Fire HDX combines excellent hardware with exclusive features from Fire OS4 including Firefly, the Mayday button, Family Library, ASAP and more.”

This latest move from Amazon comes at the end of a busy summer for consumer technology, with the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus hitting stores worldwide tomorrow, and Samsung having introduced a new version of their 6-inch smartphone, the Galaxy Note, that comes complete with a curved screen on one side, operating as a news ticker and notification bar. The Korean company’s new devices start arriving in October.

The new range of Fire HD tablets come in two sizes and five colours, but the most interesting aspect of Amazon’s smaller tablet is the introduction of the Kids Edition.

This unique version of the tablet runs a simplified mobile operating system that is icon-based designed for younger users to take advantage of apps and other media.

Amazon confirmed that the Kids Edition will contain their Free Time software, which will enable parents to set time limits on what apps can be used on a device, as well as goals and rewards for logging reading and educational app time.

Although the Kids Edition has not yet been given a UK release date, Amazon confirmed that all the other new devices are now available to order online.

Technology giant and rival Apple is expected to update their own tablet, the iPad, at an event as early as next month.

The announcement in New York completes an impressive round of hardware news from the e-commerce firm, after already confirming plans to bring both their TV streaming box, Fire TV and the company’s first smartphone – the Fire Phone – to the UK for the first time.


Asustek launches gaming desktop PC

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc. launched an entry-level gaming desktop computer in Taiwan on Wednesday to expand its offering of products and attract more core gamers.

The Asustek G20 features a compact 12.5-liter case and is powered by a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 graphics card with a 2560 x 1440 resolution.

Compared with Asustek’s previous models that were generally priced above US$1,500, the G20 will start from NT$34,900 (US$1,159) to meet the demand of customers who need gaming desktop PCs with “high cost-to-performance,” according to Asustek.

Kevin Lin, general manager of sales at Asustek, said at the launch that gaming desktop PCs currently account for roughly 10 percent of the company’s desktop PC shipments in Taiwan.

He expected the figure to exceed 30 percent by the end of the year because of the G20 model’s anticipated popularity in the local market.

Asustek now has more than a 50 percent share of Taiwan’s desktop PC market and over a 40 percent share of the country’s gaming laptop market, Lin said.

According to a July study by John Peddie Research, the global PC gaming hardware market, which consists of personal computers, upgrades and peripherals used for gaming, will be worth an estimated US$21.5 billion this year — over twice the size of the global console gaming hardware market.

“We continue to see a shift in casual console customers moving to mobile. While this is also occurring in the lower end PC gaming world, more money is being directed to mid- and high-range PC builds and upgrades by gamers,” said Ted Pollak, senior gaming analyst at John Peddie Research.


ASUS Maximus VII Formula LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »


ASUS is one of the most recognized of all motherboard manufacturers in the world. ASUS was founded in 1989 by four former members of Acer Corps engineers. Very quickly, ASUS firmly established itself as leader an innovator and staple of the computing industry. Eventually ASUS grew into the fifth largest PC vendor as of 2013 with a brand value of 1.3 billion dollars and over 20,000 employees worldwide. In addition to motherboards ASUS’ product portfolio include laptops, tablets, desktop computers, mobile phones, servers, monitors, graphics cards, sound cards, optical drives, computer networking hardware, and computer cases.

The ASUS Maximus VII Formula is a Republic of Gamers branded motherboard (ROG for short) which is based on the Intel Z97 Express chipset. In past generations there has been a Formula and an Extreme variant of the motherboard within the same chipset generation. I spoke with ASUS about the lack of an Extreme version in the current product catalog and was told that the Formula would be the highest end offering featuring a Z97 Express chipset. Usually the difference between these two versions had to do with LN2 optimization and I/O connectivity. The Extreme versions always had more SATA ports, often featured eSATA ports that the Formula version didn’t and in most cases the Extreme offered more PCI-Express lanes and a different PCI-Express slot layout. Typically you’d have better cooling hardware on the Formula and sometimes better audio hardware than the extreme variants would have.

Because there is no Extreme variant in the Maximus VII lineup ASUS did things a little different. I’ve told ASUS on more than one occasion that choosing the Formula or Extreme was a difficult decision because each motherboard often had design choices or features you wanted that the other motherboard lacked. For example you might want the LN2 features on the Formula, or the Formula’s cooling hardware and audio implementation on the Extreme motherboard so you could have the water block with the nicer audio hardware plus the extra connectivity options. I always felt that when choosing between the two options you had to make sacrifices that one wouldn’t need to make if ASUS designed one motherboard with both feature sets streamlined together.

In a way ASUS almost did just that. The Maximus VII Formula lacks the PLX chipset the Extreme motherboards usually have so the slot configuration is all Formula. However surprisingly you get two SATA Express ports and 10x SATA ports on the Formula which is something you’d normally expect on an Extreme motherboard. LN2 optimizations and the sub-zero sense feature have been dropped. So in the end this “Formula” isn’t quite the amalgamation of Extreme and Formula I’d hoped it would be and definitely leans toward the Formula format than it does the Extreme. I suspect this is because X99 is somewhat more appealing than X79 was as an alternative to the more mainstream counterparts. If you are concerned about I/O and connectivity options the Core i7 5820 and an X99 Deluxe or Rampage V Extreme are potentially a lot more appealing than a Maximus VII Formula and Core i7-4790K would be.

The Maximus VII Formula uses an 8+2 phase digital power design using NexFET power block MOSFETS with 60 amp blackwing chokes and 10k rated all black metallic electrolytic capacitors. ROG specific features such as MemOK for increasing memory compatibility and the EZ XMP switch for enabling XMP profiles without entering the UEFI make a return on the Maximus VII Formula. Other features like the ROG SSD secure erase utility, GPU.DIMM POST utility, BIOS direct key and stainless steel I/O ports have also been integrated into the Maximus VII Formula. Naturally this just scratches the surface of what this motherboard has to offer and we’ll cover these other features in more detail throughout the article.

The packaging is what we’ve come to expect from ROG offerings. Effectively it’s elaborate, high quality and very pleasing to the eye. It’s made out of an almost vinyl-like material adding to the feel of quality. A flap opens up to show off the motherboard in a clear window and additional information about the product can be found on the inside of the flap telling you more about the motherboard’s features. The bundle is rich with included features. A door knob hanger, user guide, SATA cable labels, driver disc, Watchdog Game code, 8x SATA cables, 2-Way SLI bridge, I/O shield, Q-Connectors, WiFi antenna and mPCIe card with WiFi adapter can all be found in the box.

Among the more interesting features is the ROG armor which first appeared on earlier Sabertooth series motherboards a couple of years ago. The idea is that the armor acts as duct-work which channels air over motherboard components. Though this version of the thermal armor lacks provisions for fan hardware to mount to it and no fan is included as a result. So it is potentially less effective than the versions used on Sabertooth series motherboards. In previous testing we’ve done as far back as the Z77 motherboard the armor didn’t impact temperatures negatively and acts as a dust filter and makes the motherboard physically more robust and resistant to damage from a dreaded screwdriver slip every PC builder has had at one point or another.

As we’ve seen on some previous “Formula” motherboards the MOSFET cooling hardware is actually a copper based water block. For this version ASUS is claiming up to a 23c temperature reduction compared to heat pipe or passive heat sink designs. I have provided images of both the top of the motherboard and the back of it so you can see the thermal armor in all its splendor. Nine screws on the back hold the thermal armor in place as the armor system sandwiches the motherboard. PCB flex is virtually impossible with the armor and thick PCB.

Naturally, the thermal armor system provides a clean look for the motherboard and creates a natural dust barrier which many may find appealing. I certainly do. I find the dark matte gray coloring also switches up the red and black theme a little for me or at least adds to it in a subtle way.

Despite the extreme size of the thermal armor system’s plastic cladding the CPU socket area remains relatively clean. That is you should have very few problems with larger aftermarket cooling solutions attached to the CPU socket. RAM clearance may be an issue with some coolers but this is unavoidable. Though low profile memory modules aren’t as uncommon as those once were so careful component selection still leaves you with plenty of options.

There are four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots which are color coded to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. Single sided locking tabs allow for plenty of clearance when dealing with larger graphics cards so that memory can be added or removed easily after the system has been assembled. A total of 32GB of RAM is supported using four 8GB modules. Memory speeds of up to 3300MHz are supported through overclocking. ASUS’ T-Topology design is used here meaning that the trace paths to the CPU and therefore memory controller are equidistant. ASUS uses two power phases for the memory subsystem in order to reduce the potential for using four modules to hinder your memory clock speeds when overclocking.

The chipset is cooled using a passive heat sink which offers enough clearance for any expansion cards to be used without worry. There are 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports and 2x SATA Express ports. These are “fed” by the Intel Z97 Express chipset, an ASMedia ASM1061 controller and an ASMedia 106SE controller for SATA Express support which alternatively provides two additional SATA 6Gb/s ports if SATA Express isn’t being used.

The expansion slot area is well designed for two card multi-GPU configurations with plenty of room for airflow between the primary and secondary graphics cards. The lack of a PLX chip does limit your slot configuration options , but the Maximus VII Formula still offers support for 16×0, 8×8 or 8x8x4 PCI-Express lane configurations. The Maximus VII Formula supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology and AMD 3-Way CrossFire™ Technology

The rear I/O panel is jam packed with ports. You have a PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, ROG connect button, BIOS Flashback button, mPCIe combo slot, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 6x USB 3.0 ports, 1x HDMI out, 1x DisplayPort out, optical output, RJ-45 network port and six mini-stereo jacks for audio output. Plastic cladding allows for color coding of the audio jacks while still allowing for these connectors to be gold plated. The ASUS LANGuard feature provides ESD and power surge protection for the network port. The Truevolt USB design delivers 5v power to all USB ports front or back and the isolated linear power supply minimizes power fluctuations. Finally, the I/O panel is stainless steel to aid in corrosion resistance in humid environments.


Oxford Networks unveils $6 million data center expansion in former Brunswick Navy communications hub

September 18th, 2014 by Manmohan No comments »

There’s one nice thing about putting a data center in Maine: come winter, the harsh cold is an easy way to keep servers cool.

That’s a key part of the $6 million expansion unveiled Wednesday in a 52,000-square-foot former Navy communications center at Brunswick Landing, the civilian redevelopment effort underway at the former site of Brunswick Naval Air Station, which was decommissioned in 2011.

The official opening of the 7,000-square-foot data center expansion represents part of a long transition for the Lewiston-based Oxford Networks, which was founded as a telephone provider in 1900.

“My predecessor said that if we don’t change, we’re going to be in trouble because traditional telecoms aren’t doing well,” said Oxford Networks CEO Craig Gunderson, who started with the company in 2003.

The transition has been difficult at times, particularly through the Great Recession, which Gunderson said “really impacted the company financially where we really needed capital to grow.” The company first ventured into the data center business in 2012, with its acquisition of startup Resilient Tier-V Corp. and Norton Lamb & Co.

The Canadian private equity firm Novacap, which manages about $1.2 billion and has investments in similar data centers and telecommunications companies with fiber-optic networks, reached a deal to buy Oxford Networks for about $50 million in January and closed on the purchase in June.

“We’re excited about utilizing this data center, our fiber networks and their capital,” Gunderson said. “We see great opportunities in front of us to really do wonderful things for the state of Maine.”

Gunderson played host Wednesday to a group of local and state political officials, including Gov. Paul LePage, who hailed the new data center as an “economic engine” and praised the foreign investment that moved it forward. Joe Picoraro, a construction project executive with PC Construction, said the project employed 37 subcontractors, 34 of whom are based in the state.

For the data center, the 120-employee Oxford Networks is targeting a market for small- and medium-sized businesses looking to rid themselves of some of their on-site computer hardware, either by moving their own equipment to Oxford Networks’ data center or moving fully to “the cloud.”

Making that move changes the concept of computing from owning a batch of hardware called a computer to thinking of computing power as a service that you buy depending on how much computing power you use.

“IT as a service is the future,” said Oxford Networks Chief Technology Officer Ron Shink. “If you buy a server, you buy finite resources you might not fully consume. And in our case, you buy the resource that you’re consuming, and you can scale that up or scale that down.”

Shink said the data center has more than 60 customers of various sizes, a base that it built on about 1,200 square feet of computing space. The expansion adds 7,000 square feet with additional potential for expansions on site.

Mitch Davis, chief technology officer for Bowdoin College, said the college decided to shift some of its computing needs to the nearby Oxford Networks data center after deciding against building its own data center at the former Navy base because of the cost. Davis said the college is operating in a “private cloud,” meaning that it’s located its own hardware on-site at Oxford Networks’ facility rather than sharing physical resources with other clients on the same servers, or the public cloud.

Davis said the company’s partnership with Novacap also gives Bowdoin access to the investment firm’s other data centers, such as one it owns in Florida.

That’s a move Shink said he expects other companies to make as a baby step to a full move onto shared computing resources.

“We now have the ability to bring customers’ equipment here, manage it, take care of it for them and take it to a safe place and get that worry off their shoulders,” Shink said. “As that ages out, we can help them transition to the cloud.”

The building itself also presented a unique opportunity, as it was originally built as a highly secure communications center for the Brunswick Naval Air Station, a location that allows the data center to build in levels of redundancy for systems including its power supply. The former base has its own power grid, providing a second connection for the data center that also is connected to Central Maine Power’s distribution system and backup generation units.

“We built the most redundant power system that we could build,” Shink said. “So we’re very confident in it.”

Francois Laflamme, a senior partner with Novacap, said that the expansion project was a part of his company’s “investment thesis” for Oxford Networks. He expects the company to target a mix of local, regional and national businesses, depending on customer needs.

“It will take a couple years to build it up and then think about expansion,” Laflamme said. “Having said this, everything has been planned and built around expansion as well. We can double the power and double the air cooling that we have, and we can build out more of the space.”

Gunderson said the company has eight IT positions open and may seek more employees as it builds a broader customer base for the expanded data center.


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