Thermaltake Chaser MK-1

The Thermaltake Chaser MK-1 is a new case that is out and getting reviews from many major websites and magazines. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on one for a build I’m working on. I won’t do a full review on this as its been covered pretty thoroughly already, but I wanted to bring up a few points that I feel many reviews are missing.

Cooler Master HAF 932 next to Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
Cooler Master HAF 932 next to Thermaltake Chaser MK-1

First, Thermaltake seems to have taken their design cues from the Cooler Master HAF series. This case has a lot of similar features and a nearly identical layout to several cases in the HAF series. Similar hard drive trays, similar button style optical drive mounting systems, same size fans on all sides of the case, etc. In fact, its so much like the HAF series that I wonder if its based off of them. I have yet to be able to confirm or deny this I’ve seen a few forum posts about this topic.

Second, there are some design flaws. One of the great things about this case is that it comes with 5 holes for running cables behind the motherboard tray for proper cable management. This is a great idea, but they seem to have missed one of the critical design components that the HAF series employs here: widening the case to provide more room for cables. The MK-1 has a pretty standard amount of space behind the motherboard tray (which is to say not very much room) which limits you to not being able to route certain cables (or too many cables) through here. For instance, the build I’m using this case for includes an Antec TruePower Quattro 1000w power supply that has wrapped cables for better air flow. This means the main 24 pin power connector to the motherboard has a bundle roughly 3/4″ thick of cabling going to it. This presents an issue when you have 1/2″ or less of room behind the motherboard tray to run all of your cables through. The HAF series resolves this by adding an additional bulge to the side panels which gives you a significant amount more room to run cables.

Another design flaw is the top of this case. Thermaltake has put room for two top 200mm fans (just like the HAF series), however, they have chosen to put them on the outside of the main body of the case instead of inside. To access the fans, they have put a rather large “door” on top of the case that is loosely held on by pressure clips. This makes it easy to work on these two fans, but, it will eventually result in you destroying this case and possibly your computer. How you ask? Simple. This case is designed for gamers. Gamers tend to go to LAN parties. After 12-96 hours of LAN’ing with either very little or no sleep, while drugged up on energy drinks, you need to eventually leave. At this point, you’re exhausted, possibly have a headache from the energy drinks, and you need to get all of your equipment to your car. You grab your computer, bring it to your car, and begin setting it down on the ground to unlock your car doors. Here, in this sleep deprived state, you will eventually make the critical mistake of trying to hold your case up with the convenient handle that belongs to the top “door” of this case which will result in the loosely held pressure clips releasing and you dropping your expensive computer onto the asphalt below. There is a similar handle, on the bottom/front of this case, to remove the front access panel that is also held on with the same loose pressure clips. So you’ve got two potential places to put your hands which may result in the dropping of this case.

Door on
Door on

Door off
Door off

Handle
Door handle that will eventually result in you dropping this case

This case is clearly trying to compete with the HAF series, yet fails in these key points and is too expensive for what you get. Thermaltake made a nice attempt here, and it would have been a real contender had a little bit more thinking gone into the design. Maybe the MK-2 (if they choose to make one) will be better thought out. As MaximumPC states in their review, “The Chaser MK-1 is the best Cooler Master HAF case Thermaltake has ever put out.”.

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Alienware announced new laptops today for US markets via a live Justin.TV broadcast.

M11x Revision 3:
Intel Dual Core Sandy Bridge ULV Processors (Core i3, i5, i7)
Soft Touch Exterior (Black, and Red Colors)
Nvidia GT540m w/ up to 2GB graphics memory
Up to 16gb System Memory
Integrated 4G (WiMAX + Verizon 4G LTE Options)
HDMI 1.4 and USB 3.0
Up to 8 hours battery life
Starts at $999
Weighs ~4.5 pounds

M14x:
Intel Quad Core Sandy Bridge Processors – Overclockable
Soft Touch Exterior (Black, and Red Colors)
Nvidia GT555m (DX11) up to 3GB Graphics Memory
USB 3 and HDMI 1.4
Up to 8GB System Memory
Optional 1600×900 LED backlit screen
Klipsch Audio
Integrated 4G (WiMAX + Verizon 4G LTE Options)
60GHz WirelessHD
6+ hours battery life
Available today starting at $1199
Weighs ~6.5 pounds

M18x:
18.4″ Screen
Intel Quad Core i7 Sandy Bridge processors – Overclockable (Also offering Factory Overclocked Intel Turbo Boost to 4GHz)
Anodized Aluminum Case in Red or Black
Nvidia SLI or ATI Crossfire (Up to 4GB DDR5 Graphics Memory)
Up to 32GB System Memory
HDMI Input
Klipsch Audio Speakers
60GHz WirelessHD
USB 3 and HDMI 1.4
5 Programmable Keys on Keyboard (3 modes (each mode has a different color) which makes “15 keys” using 5 physical keys)
Available in May starting at $1999
Weighs ~16 pounds!

Also:
-Mini display port offered on all machines
-Overclocking does not void your warranty!
-No 3D option on the M18x (Can do 3D through the HDMI 1.4 port to an external monitor)
-Can also stream 3D through the 60GHz WirelessHD
-All laptops have VGA + DisplayPort + HDMI 1.4
-All laptops also come with Klipsch Speakers. M14x comes with mini subwoofer in it
-M17x and M18x come with HDMI input so you can use built in speakers and display for consoles
-HDMI input is HDCP compliant. Windows doesn’t recognize the input feed coming in so you cannot record. Its just a “dumb display and a dumb set of speakers” taking input
-Graphics switching (Shutting off external video card for battery life) is supported on M18x
-Up to 3 hours battery life on M18x with switchable graphics

These specs may or may not be complete (May even be an error or two!). Was typing it out quickly as the speaker talked today and answered questions!

So, this morning I woke up to 69 unread emails in my inbox. Normally, I wake up to 3-5 emails. Most of those 69 unread emails were from a “Google Chrome Notebook Pilot Users” Google Group that I was not aware I belonged to. Many of the emails were other people asking why they, too, were receiving these emails?

Tonight, Google sent out an official email on the situation:

Earlier this morning, you may have received a large number of emails from chrome-notebook-pilot-users@googlegroups.com regarding the Chrome notebook Pilot program user forum. We apologize for this inconvenience, and you will not receive any more messages from this address. Instructions for deleting these messages are at the end of this email.

What happened? We planned to launch our Chrome Notebook Pilot forum next week to all users who had been selected for the Pilot program. Last night, around midnight Pacific time, a user discovered this forum and posted a message. Unfortunately, we had misconfigured this forum to email every post to every member. Thus, the first post started an avalanche of responses. Some messages were unsubscribe requests, others were thoughtful comments or questions, but all of them were emailed to every user. We have since deleted this group.

We’ve created a brand new user forum, which you can sign up for here:
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/chrome-notebook-pilot

Rest assured: you will not be added to this forum unless you sign up using the link above.

The goal of the forum is to provide a centralized place for Pilot users to share their Chrome notebook experiences and tips. In addition, with a centralized forum, our team can more effectively respond to your questions and feedback.

If you are receiving this email and have not yet received a Cr-48, you should be hearing from us soon. Again, our apologies for the flood of emails, and we hope you will join us at the new forum.

Chrome Notebook Team

Oh, Google, of all companies you should know that if you leave something out in the open someone WILL find it! At least it makes for some entertainment.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a good game, with the potential to one day be great. When the game begins, you’re a Valet driver sitting in a womans Ferrari daydreaming. Eventually, you get invited into a competition called Solar Crown. It takes place on two islands: the Mediterranean island Ibiza, and the Hawaiian island Oahu. There are 60 character levels you can obtain in the game and each level unlocks new championships to take part in.

Within Solar Crown there are 3 racing classes. ‘A’ which are sports cars/supercars, ‘B’ which are offroad vehicles/SUVs, and ‘C’ which consists of classic sports cars and muscle cars. Each class has several levels within it. Each level the cars get faster and more expensive. You must earn a license to be able to participate in races at each level. You can still purchase cars and drive around the islands without licenses, however, in order to race you must complete a drivers school at that particular level. A and C classes are much like what we saw in Test Drive Unlimited. TDU2 tends to take a more “simulation” style approach to driving with A and C classes vs the arcade style “drift around every corner” that many racing franchises seem to be going towards these days. Class B adds an interesting element to the game. Offroad racing is largely drifting around corners and more centered around a rally type racing experience.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a driving simulator MMO. Driving around the islands you will encounter other players that you can challenge to a race or enter a co-op free driving mode. You can also hold multiplayer events, and you can start a Club to invite friends to. There is a friends list element to the game, but thus far it is very lackluster. You can add friends and join them if they are online, but there is no way to talk directly to them without being near them and talking in general chat. There is also a police chase scenario that you can enter in to. If you crash into enough police cars in the game or perform enough “traffic violations” directly in front of police cars then you can enter into a scenario where there are either NPC’s or other players chasing you in police cars trying to stop you. It’s quite fun to run from players, but they get weapons such as EMP’s that seem to have an unlimited range and ability to stop your car with nothing you can do to prevent it. The NPC police cars have a very high spawn rate and tend to swarm you in a way that it’s nearly impossible to run from them. They also get the EMP’s that players get. I’ve found the NPC’s usually had me stopped within 30 seconds whereas running from other players I almost always got away. While driving around you can get a phone call from “Police” that invites you to join in chasing someone down. There are multiple levels you can obtain for outrunning the police or catching multiple cars in a row.

Cars are well designed in the game. They are not quite perfect down to the very last detail like in some simulation games, but they are detailed enough that you can appreciate their looks. Each car feels appropriately different while driving. As expected, rear wheel drive cars tend to want to fishtail around corners while all wheel drive cars are much more solid but sometimes lack the acceleration in straight aways.

Since launch, Eden Games have been having a lot of server problems with TDU2. Online access is very sketchy and other players tend to be there one second and disappear the next. At one point, polls on the TDU2 website showed over 80% of people are having online issues with the game. Eden Games is actively posting on Twitter and their forums discussing fixes and trying to get information from their players. They claim to be working on patches for all platforms to solve these issues. They really would have benefited from a proper beta test with user feedback.

Launching the game takes quite a while. Sometimes even a few minutes because the game does a full network check before it will let you play. Once you load the game you are asked to press any key and immediately put into the game. There is no menu system prior to loading the game world. Changing controls, video options, audio options, etc are all done while the game is running. Controller detection is quite good. I’ve used both a Logitech Dual Action Gamepad and an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with TDU2. Both times the game was able to detect them and set default controls that worked quite well for the controller.

TDU2 runs in DirectX 9. It does not support DirectX 10 or 11. Although player controlled vehicles in the game look pretty good, NPC cars and police cars look blocky and bad. People in the game also look like dolls. The world looks good enough to be somewhat realistic but not super detail oriented. You can encounter day, night, and stormy weather scenarios while driving with stormy weather adding water to the road and affecting vehicle handling.

As you work your way through the game you will get “phone calls” alerting you to new places to visit, and challenges to take part in. It’s a great aspect of the game but I found it somewhat buggy and unorganized. At times, I would get several “phone calls” in a row asking me to go to several different places with no real way to turn the caller down and come back to it later. The game gives you the option to say “maybe later” but I found I don’t get another call most of the time.

Eden Games seems to have really wanted to put an emphasis on socializing in the game, but the system they implemented is very lacking. The game is centered around buying houses to have more garage space to store cars. You can invite people to your house to have a makeshift party, but then there is nearly nothing to do once your there. You can talk to each other, you can view a very limited selection of the house owners cars, and you can do basic MMO type things like have your character laugh or look angry/sad/etc. Other than that there really isn’t anything you can do. You can’t even sit down, turn on music, or anything else I can think of that would make this very boring scenario somewhat interesting.

At the beginning of the game you select a premade character. During the game you get repeated phone calls to go to the “plastic surgery clinic” and “hairdresser” and various clothes stores to change your look. I suppose this is a creative way of going about customizing your character but they could have had you do this in the beginning of the game and save you walking around with 40 of your clones for the first 5 hours of gameplay. Another small complaint I have here is all the male voices in the game seem to be very flamboyant. The female voices seem overly flaky/dramatic and the female race announcer repeats the same things over and over again before each race. I really wish Eden Games had come up with more than 3-4 different lines to say at the beginning of races.

As you travel roads through the game you discover more and more dealerships, tuning shops, hairdressers, clothing stores, clubs, paint and sticker shops, car washes, cosmetic surgery clinics, houses for sale, real estate agents, and other locations that you can enter and purchase items or change your appearance at. I really like this method of discovery in-game. Finding new places and seeing what items they offer is a fun addition to the game and ads depth. As you discover more roads, locations, and hidden areas in the game you unlock more options to choose from in each of the aforementioned shops. There is also a ‘used car dealership’ on each island where you can buy cars for your current license level at a discounted rate encase you don’t have enough money for a ‘new’ car. You can also customize any houses that you purchase. During purchase the game tells you how many furniture items can be customized within the house. Many have 75+ customizable items.

Eden Games includes 2 radio stations that you can listen to while driving around in-game. One is a techno/trance/rap/hip-hop station and the other is a mixture of pop and soft rock that bills itself as a metal station. Both radio stations seem to have a maximum of 10 songs with a shared 5 ‘funny’ radio commercials between them. The commercials are somewhat comical the first time you hear them but they are played too much. After a few hours in the game I had already decided to completely turn off music as I was so sick of hearing the same songs and commercials repeated over and over again. Most of the music is from artists I had never heard of, but theres a few recognizable bands.

Despite the many issues in the game, for $40 Test Drive Unlimited 2 brings many hours of fun. None of the current issues truly stop you from having a great single player experience collecting cars, leveling your character, and competing in races. It’s a great feeling every time I get to drive a new car and see how it sounds and feels on the road. I expect the upcoming patches will fix many of the issues and TDU2 will become even better.

Its been one month, today, since I first received my Cr-48. So how has the Cr-48 changed my life in the past month? Well, to be honest, I barely use it anymore. It comes with me to work everyday but, due to the limitations of Chrome OS, I find myself almost always going to one of my other machines because I need to do more than the Cr-48 will allow me to do.

The included 3G has been quite helpful. I’ve used it on a few onsite jobs at work that don’t have wireless and its been a big help. Its also a great go-to machine for quickly looking something up or browsing on the go. I used it at the airport while waiting for my brother and his wife to arrive. I used it at the hospital while waiting for my mom to finish an appointment. For these types of situations, the Cr-48 is perfect. But not because of Chrome OS, but because it has an internal 3G modem.

The Cr-48 has its purposes, but, unfortunately, those purposes are still too limited for me to be able to consider the Cr-48 my everyday machine. Whats interesting is I had this same feeling when I originally tried out Google Chrome (internet browser) a few years ago, and now its the only browser I’m comfortable with using. Hopefully, one day, Chrome OS will be perfected enough to be an everyday go-to system.

Today I ran into a post on a forum I frequent regarding whether or not it was damaging to put your Windows pagefile (or Linux swapfile) on an SSD. The argument goes something along the lines of “Lots of quick reads and writes could damage the SSD over time and decrease performance”.

So I began researching. What I found is that many, many forum users believe this to be true. However, I could only find one example of actual research done on the subject.

The Microsoft Developer Network Blog has done research into the topic by looking at pagefile activity.

Should the pagefile be placed on SSDs?
Yes. Most pagefile operations are small random reads or larger sequential writes, both of which are types of operations that SSDs handle well. In looking at telemetry data from thousands of traces and focusing on pagefile reads and writes, we find that

  • Pagefile.sys reads outnumber pagefile.sys writes by about 40 to 1,
  • Pagefile.sys read sizes are typically quite small, with 67% less than or equal to 4 KB, and 88% less than 16 KB.
  • Pagefile.sys writes are relatively large, with 62% greater than or equal to 128 KB and 45% being exactly 1 MB in size.
  • In fact, given typical pagefile reference patterns and the favorable performance characteristics SSDs have on those patterns, there are few files better than the pagefile to place on an SSD.

    After half a dozen pages of Google search results I was not able to find another reputable website that covers the topic. About the closest I could find was Tom’s Hardware stating:

    Windows is smart enough to store data from minimized applications or idle applications in the swap file so that active processes can access more RAM. The disadvantage of this solution is obvious. The performance of a mechanical hard drive is only a fraction of the throughput realized with memory modules. Solid state drives (SSDs) are an improvement, but the general problem remains. Frequent swap operations are poison to an SSD, possibly decreasing its speed.

    Possibly decreasing its speed. Tom’s Hardware is careful not to say one way or the other as they haven’t seen any research either.

    Essentially what it comes down to is who to believe. Would you believe MSDN with their research into pagefile activity and potentially risk damaging your SSD? Or would you believe the hundreds of forum posters who claim that it will indeed damage your SSD but have no research to prove it? I think this one comes down to a situation of “Can you afford to replace your SSD?”. If the answer if “yes” then relish in the performance benefits. If your answer is “no” then I would play it safe and put your pagefile on a separate hard drive.