Sunday
Mar302014

PC Case Review: Cooler Master HAF XB

 

I had been in the market for a new Home Theater PC Case, the Criteria, 2 stacked 5.25” bays to accommodate the Antec Veris Multimedia Station premier (http://www.antec.com/Believe_it/product.php?id=NzEy) I got about 6 months back at Micro Center on clearance for $20 (down from the regular MSRP of $100) The other major criteria, be capable of holding a full ATX motherboard, because I intended to recycle my old Core 2 Quad CPU and Asus P5E Deluxe motherboard from my old desktop PC. The idea being this HTPC would be capable of still fitting inside of my Home Theater entertainment center, while still being able to hold a full ATX board… So I really just wanted a Tardis style PC case (bigger on the inside).

My original thought was to purchase a Cooler Master Elite 360 or 361, but this became difficult as the case had been discontinued and was rather expensive to find and get shipped on Amazon or Ebay. I didn’t want to pay over $50 for a case which had an original MSRP of $40. So I started looking at modern (currently stocked) cases.

Two cases I kept coming back to; the Corsair Carbide Air, and the Cooler Master HAF XB. My first frustration with either of these cases was the placement of the Optical media bays, below the motherboard tray. These cases are tall cubes or double wide mid-towers. In the case of the HAF XB, I realized it was better choice for me because the case was meant to be used a desktop configuration, after looking one day at the Carbide Air and noticing the feet placement was designed to have a wide tower case with the Optical media bays side (which is just weird). The HAF XB also being priced slightly cheaper than the Corsair Carbide was also a plus.

 

 

 

The HAF XB was far from perfect though, I don’t really like open air or mesh grill cases, all of that ventilation leads to dust, and in my case; cat hair clinging to the grills. But I did like the HAF XB’s Hot Swap drive bays. I should mention that some of the reviews I have read claimed the hot swap bays have had problems, and I believe Cooler Master has changed the back plane since releasing the case, because my back plane was different than one I had seen in pictured in those reviews; the SATA cable connectors being on the top of the PCB instead of coming straight out the back.

Okay, what else do I like about this case? The removable motherboard tray! I don’t see this feature enough in cases, and it’s really nice in this case. I also like the front dual 120mm/140mm fan mounts, as this leaves some potential for future radiator mounting.  The additional drive bays in the bottom rear of the case are nice as well. The version I purchased used the dual 3.5” bays, unlike the HAF XB EVO. which has 4; 2.5” bays.  Though ironically I was placing an SSD in that bay, but I still I prefer 3.5” bays (Who is putting 4 SSDs into PCs these days? If you are, I’m jealous).

 

The Power supply bay is a mixed blessing, on the one hand I like that the cage protrudes from the case to accommodate longer PSUs, but if I’m using the smaller PSU, I should have option to not have it protrude and have it flush inside the side case, perhaps the inclusion of a different cage bracket if they revamp the model? I do however love the anti-vibration foam the PSU rests on, and the under mounted dust filter.

Speaking of protrusions, my major gripe with this case is the top panel that has a raised grill from the top of the case; for some reason this case doesn’t want to just be a box/cube…  This protrusion is to accommodate a 200mm fan… Okay so the idea is to have a lot of Air Flow in this case… I should probably mention HAF stands for “High Air Flow”. But I hate 200mm fans; they are just gaudy in my opinion; and I really wish they would have gone with a windowed top… Which Cooler Master does sell for $11.99 (http://www.cmstore-usa.com/haf-xb-transparent-top-window-panel-oem) so I guess I shouldn’t complain… But I’m going to anyways, since the shipping cost on this part from the cooler master store actually exceeds the items itself. And the panel isn’t flat, it still protrudes, and I’m not sure why since there is no fan to mount there, so the panel could have been flat.

I’m not sure how great the cable management in this case is because I don’t really understand how I was to properly manage the cables in my situation. My setup is weird because the Antec Veris panel not only connects to the power supply header, but the on/off switch (and the on/off switch from the front I/O has to connect to it), and a USB port. Also my USB 3.0 header had to connect to PCI USB 3.0 Expansion card; which also required the use of a Molex power tap. I did what I could to keep the cables from obstructing air flow. The case does come with a several mini zip ties, and there are places to use them, but it wasn’t really for me.

I like the case, and the handles on the side panels are a nice touch though, and I do like that it is really easy to remove the top and side panels to get easy access inside the case. The remove-able motherboard tray is awesome, but I wish they would have put some of that same thinking into the power supply cage (why can’t I have a flush mount bracket?). And the top of the case just isn’t for me; I don’t like 200mm fans.  The hot swap bays so far haven’t had any issues, and the mesh grill hasn’t been too much of a dust magnet yet. I don’t regret buying the case, but I’m not sure I would recommend it for everyone.

 Picture of the completed PC using the HAF XB and the Antec Veris front panel all in my Entertainment center.

 

 

Monday
Mar032014

Sale of the Week: A Great HTPC Keyboard.

 

BestBuy has for sale this week, a great little Home theater PC keyboard. Having gone through several bluetooth keyboards, and wireless Keyboard mouse combos, I found this great Logitech Keyboard. I purchased one about 2 months ago and have been loving it. It's fairly small, but still comfortable to type on. Plus the integreated touchpad is very easy to use. My wife and I have been loving it over having the mouse and keyboard be seperate on our Mac mini in our living room.

 

You can click the click the pick for the Link or go here:

 

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage.jsp?_dyncharset=UTF-8&_dynSessConf=&id=pcat17071&type=page&sc=Global&cp=1&nrp=15&sp=&qp=&list=n&iht=y&usc=All+Categories&ks=960&fs=saas&saas=saas&keys=keys&st=K400

 

Friday
Feb282014

Okay, now is the time to upgrade your monitor.

I know, not everyone wants to drop nearly $1000, on monitor and go Dual 27" 2560x1440, like I did... Yes there is something wrong with me.... At $400-$450 a screen it's a lot... I get it...

 

But that's no reason you can't go to atleast a 1080p Screen, or maybe even two!

 

For $107. The Dell Outlet is offering the P2214H 22" 1080p screen. As long as you use coupon code: WL3XKKV?6$7SCT (Link to deal is here: http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/22/campaigns/dfo_dfh_deals_page?c=us&l=en&s=dfh&dgc=IR&cid=260728&lid=4699327 )

 

I personally have owned a lot of Dell monitors, and have purchased several from the dell outlet. And they are great deals. Also Tekzilla's Patrick Norton has said the same.

 

What I love how the Proffesional grade monitors, is you get height adjustable stand which is something you don't see enough of in comsumer monitors, and usb hub built into the monitor.  But why are you still reading this. Go! Go buy it now!

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb192014

Quick Review of the Asus VivoTab Note 8

I purchased this on Saturday Feb. 15, on making a visit to the Microsoft Store at the Mall of America in Bloomington. Almost a week earlier I learned that Microsoft had put this Windows 8.1 tablet on sale online, and I soon watched it become sold out, at $329.99; I however purchased this guy for $299 in the store.

After 5 days with the device I have to say I really like it. It’s great to use both as a note taking device with the bundled Microsoft Office Home suite included (Microsoft bundles Office Home with all 8 inch Windows 8.1 Tablets) , or as a media player device watching streaming videos on YouTube or Blip. Because it’s a full x86 Processor I also don’t have a problem with non-native video codecs. I can run VLC on it, or even ITunes.

Battery life is hard to test in 5 days, but I am able to go a day or two on casual use. Asus claims 8 hours, which is on par with other Bay Trail Atom Tablets.  One of the huge benefits of the Bay Trail Atom tablet is that they can recharge off just about any Micro USB charger; chances are you have a few of those lying around. Unlike the Surface Pro, who’s charger is around $60 to $80.  

I’ll admit I was stunned by the overall performance of this tablet, while it wasn’t screaming like the Surface Pro; it wasn’t a slouch either. This is not the Atom of the Netbook generation or even the Atom in the early Windows 8 tablets that came out last year like the Samsung ATIV 500 or Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2.

I mentioned the ATIV and Tablet 2 for a specific reason. Those devices and the VivoTab Note 8 share a feature that was my main attraction to this device, The Wacom digitizer! I have been a fan of Wacom digitizer pens since I was first introduced to them on my old ThinkPad X41 Tablet, whose pen works on Asus VivoTab note 8!

Now why would I do such a thing you ask? What could be the benefit?  Well Asus did disappoint in their included pen digitizer by not giving it an eraser head, like that on ThinkPad Tablets of yester year, or even the Surface Pro (whose digitizer also works on the Asus Vivotab Note 8).  The included pen can be stored in a silo at the bottom of the tablet, something it does have over the surface pro, who’s magnetically attached pen falls off more often in my bag than I care for.

Honestly, that lack of an eraser head is my only complaint for the Vivotab Note 8 though. It’s priced well at $299 for the 32GB model. It’s a little pricier than the competition of the 32GB Dell Venue 8 Pro, which does have an optional Synaptics digitizer (though I hear the driver/firmware is still a little buggy), which is available at Microcenter for $199 on sale, or the 64GB ThinkPad Tablet 8 at $399 which does feature a 1920x1200 display but lacks a digitizer option (Damn you Lenovo! Damn you). This is a device I’m carrying back and forth to work and I am recommending to anyone.

 

SPECS: (Taken from Asus Site)

  • Windows 8.1
  • 8-inch HD (1280 x 800) IPS display
  • Intel Atom Z3740 processor
  • Integrated Professional Wacom Digitizer Stylus with EMR Technology
  • 2GB LPDDR3 memory
  • 5MP rear camera and HD front-facing camera
  • 802.11 ABGN, Bluetooth 4.0+HS, Miracast
  • Up to 64GB internal storage, up to 64GB microSD card slot and bundled unlimited ASUS WebStorage (1 year)
  • Micro USB
  • 15.5Whr battery
  • 220.9 x 133.8 x 10.95mm
  • 380g

 

Pros:

Wacom Digitizer

Priced Right.

Bundled Office Suite

Light weight

Mirco USB Charging.

 

Cons:

Included Pen/Digitizer doesn’t have eraser (though the device does recognize pens that do)

Bit of a stretch but the Vivotab Note 8 didn’t include a Micro USB to full USB adapter (other tablets do)

 

Buy, Try, Don’t Buy:

BUY!

 

Video Review

 


Saturday
Sep212013

Really Good Deal on a DSLR, that makes a great HD Camcorder.

 

 BestBuy is offering a really good deal on the Nikon D5100. Just $489.99, that's about $210 off. I have seen this camera occasionally go for $600, but never sub $500. I talked my brother, Linkara into picking one up as an HD Camcorder.  Why? Well I first got turned on to this camera when Nash bought one and posted this video.

 

I bought one for my employer at the time and did the mentioned firmware hack to remove the video capture limitation.

 And wow. It's a pretty cool camera. I really like that it has a Microphone in. And the included lense isn't that bad either. Linkara will be pairing the camera with the RODE VideoMic shotgun Microphone I recommened to him after reading/watching this review at PCper.com