TR Awards 2006

ANOTHER YEAR HAS COME AND GONE, leaving a trail of phenomenal new hardware, disturbing and annoying trends, and disappointing flops and no-shows in its wake. All told, 2006 was a great year for PC enthusiasts, and a very busy one for us. An almost endless stream of new hardware passed through our labs, and most of it was pretty good. We also got to see dual-core processors really come into their own, Intel bounce back from the horrendous NetBurst era, and Nvidia shock the world with a unified shader architecture. Somewhere in the middle of all that, AMD surprised everyone by acquiring ATI.

Of course, 2006 was also dotted with events and trends that we’d just as soon forget. For every engineer working overtime on an innovative new product, there seemed to be at least one PR rep blowing smoke, one marketing team spinning hype, and one product manager making a poor design decision.

To send 2006 off in style, we’ve singled out the best enthusiast-oriented products of the year for our Best Hardware of 2006 awards. We’ve also whipped up a selection of unique awards to recognize some of the year’s most interesting innovations and annoying trends. And there were plenty of each. Read on to see our picks for the best hardware of the year—and then some.

The best hardware of 2006
Every year we’re inundated with new products, and although many are reasonably good, only a select few deserve special recognition. The winners of our Best Hardware of 2006 awards are the most compelling enthusiast-class products of the year, and not just because they nicely fill a spec sheet or price point. These products all have something special to offer, and in many cases, they break new ground where the competition fears to—or simply can’t—tread.

They’re all exceptional products, but our Best Hardware of 2006 award winners aren’t necessarily the components we’d recommend for every enthusiast-oriented PC. For specific recommendations that take into account current street prices, I suggest you check out the latest revision of our system guide.

Best processor
Intel Core 2 Duo
The NetBurst era was not kind to Intel, and during that time, we saw little reason to recommend Pentium chips over AMD’s Athlon designs. In fact, the market became so lopsided that we stopped reviewing LGA775 motherboards altogether—we just couldn’t bring ourselves to recommend any desktop platform with an Intel processor. Continually losing the performance race to AMD couldn’t have been a pleasant experience for Intel, and Prescott’s power consumption must have been embarrassing. But Intel wouldn’t be down for long.

At the beginning of 2006, Intel employees sounded positively giddy about the company’s upcoming Core 2 Duo processor. They went on and on about the chip’s performance and power efficiency, and at the time, it all sounded too good to be true. But it wasn’t. Midway through 2006, Intel unleashed its Core 2 Duo on the world and changed the desktop processor landscape almost overnight.

Intel’s Core 2 architecture was a stunning achievement, and really much more than a mobile chip re-spun for desktop applications. The chip was Intel’s first four-issue design, and it offered incredible SSE throughput thanks to its ability to execute 128-bit SSE instructions in a single clock cycle. A technology called memory disambiguation—coupled with a monster L2 cache—allowed the Core 2 to offer blistering performance without an on-die memory controller, as well.


A picture of the Core 2 die. Source: Intel.

The Core 2’s performance really was amazing, and power consumption was even more impressive, especially considering Intel’s power-hungry Prescott history. At its launch, nothing AMD had in its stable could keep up with the Core 2 lineup. Intel hasn’t increased clock speeds over the last six months, and AMD still hasn’t been able to catch up. What Intel has done, however, is put two Core 2 Duo chips on a single package, creating the world’s first quad-core desktop processor.

The quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6700 might not be the most cost-effective chip in the Core 2 lineup, but it’s a heck of a thing to behold. And while many have criticized the chip’s two-die-per-package design as a kludge, the two-die approach allowed Intel to bring chips to market in volume before the year was out. In fact, it will probably be another six months before we see AMD release its first quad-core design.

Normally, if someone suggested that the Core 2 Duo was not the best processor of 2006, I’d be inclined to call them a hopeless fanboy. However, the Core 2’s performance and power consumption were so impressive, and its dominance so utterly complete, that anyone who doesn’t think the chip was the best processor of 2006 is more likely a madman.

Best graphics chip
Nvidia GeForce 8800
Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 wasn’t released until November of 2006, but this chip was far and away the best GPU of the year. For one, the GeForce 8800 was the first DirectX 10-compatible graphics card on the market. It was also the first unified shader design to be available on a consumer graphics card—a surprise to most of us considering how much Nvidia had downplayed the need for unified shaders in the past.

And then there was the GeForce 8800 series’ performance, which was nothing short of jaw-dropping. We all assumed Nvidia’s next-gen graphics chip would be faster than its previous flagship, of course, but I’m not sure anyone expected the GeForce 8800 to burst out of the gate with the ferocity that it did. Just a single GeForce 8800 GTX proved faster than a pair of GeForce 7900 GTXs running in SLI or two Radeon X1950 XTXs in CrossFire. And the GeForce 8800 did it with the best image quality of the lot.


The GeForce 8800 GPU

Nvidia’s previous graphics chips haven’t always had impeccable image quality, especially when anisotropic filtering and antialiasing are thrown into the mix. However, the GeForce 8800 raised the bar on that front thanks to effectively angle-independent aniso and coverage sampled antialiasing.

Apart from its awe-inspiring image quality and performance, the GeForce 8800 graphics chip is a rather impressive bit of engineering. The chip has eight groups of 16 generalized floating-point stream processors that can operate on vertex or pixel data, allowing for effective load balancing depending on the content of a given scene. Those stream processors run at a whopping 1.35GHz, too—more than twice the speed of the rest of the chip. Couple that with a 384-bit memory interface and up to 768MB of onboard memory running at an effective 1.8GHz, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a graphics card.

Of course, the GeForce 8800’s mammoth processing power takes more than just a few transistors. The die is huge, and Nvidia estimates that there are 681 million transistors under the hood—twice as many as you’ll find in the graphics chip that powers the GeForce 7900 GTX. Surprisingly, though, Nvidia did a remarkable job of keeping all those transistors from consuming too much power. The GeForce 8800 GTX consumes less power under load than the Radeon X1900 XTX, and Nvidia equipped cards with a whisper-quiet fan that makes less noise than just about everything else out there.

The GeForce 8800 is sort of the ultimate high-end exotic car; it has plenty of impressive engineering to geek out over, there’s loads of power for a day at the track, and it’s practical enough for the commute to work or short trips to the grocery store for a carton of milk. That makes it the best graphics chip of 2006, by a long shot.

Best chipset
Nvidia nForce 570 SLI for Socket AM2
Last year, we couldn’t find a chipset we liked enough to name the Best Chipset of 2005, so no one took home the award. We were much more impressed with 2006’s crop of core logic chipsets, and we managed to find two worthy candidates for our Best Chipset of 2006 award. But there can be only one winner, and Nvidia’s nForce 570 SLI for Socket AM2 edged out Intel’s P965 Express.

Cue fanboy whining.

Intel launched the P965 as a mid-range chipset for Core 2 processors, but with a more advanced 90nm fabrication process and additional south bridge Serial ATA and USB ports, it looked more like a successor to the high-end 975X Express than a cheaper sidekick. The line between the 975X and P965 became even more blurred this fall when ATI announced that the P965 would pick up official support for CrossFire multi-GPU configurations—a capability previously exclusive to the 975X Express. But really, who could blame ATI? Motherboards based on the P965 were everywhere in the second half of the year, and the chipset did an admirable job of scaling from budget $100 boards for mainstream users to $200 screamers built for overclockers and enthusiasts.

While the P965’s versatility and popularity are impressive, there are two things we really don’t like about the chipset. First, it doesn’t include integrated Gigabit Ethernet networking. Intel makes some fine networking controllers, and we’d really love to see one integrated into at least the company’s high-end “R” south bridge chips, if only to provide a more consistent user experience. As it stands, motherboard makers are free to use whichever GigE chips they please, and we’ve seen performance vary quite a bit.

The P965’s lack of integrated networking would be easier to forgive if Intel hadn’t also dropped “parallel” ATA support from the chipset’s ICH8 series south bridge chips. Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to ditch clunky IDE ribbons—but the summer of 2006 was too early to drop ATA support from such a mainstream chipset. Serial ATA optical drives were still few and far between, and they’re only now becoming available at reasonable prices. The prevalence of ATA devices forced mobo makers to resort to third-party ATA controllers, many of which lacked proper DOS support, creating compatibility problems with older boot CDs and even some versions of Ghost.

In essence, the P965 Express has become a leaner, meaner, and slightly lighter version of the 975X. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t have the makings of the best chipset of 2006. For that honor, we have something even more versatile: Nvidia’s nForce 570 SLI.


The nForce 570 SLI MCP pressed into service in the 680i chipset

Nvidia has a habit of sharing chips across multiple chipsets, and the nForce 570 SLI made its way into about a bazillion different configurations. First, it was available as a single-chip implementation known as the nForce 570 SLI for Socket AM2 processors. That very same chip was also paired with a north bridge component as a part of the nForce 590 SLI chipset, which was available for both AMD and Intel CPUs. As if that wasn’t enough, the 570 was pressed into service again as the nForce 680i SLI’s south bridge.

Ok, so maybe we’re short of a bazillion, but you’ve gotta give Nvidia props for picking a pony and riding it. The nForce 570 SLI is really more of a thoroughbred, and a juiced up one at that. Nvidia managed to squeeze a 1GHz HyperTransport interface, 28 PCI Express lanes with SLI support, six Serial ATA RAID ports, 10 USB ports, “Azalia” High Definition Audio, and two Gigabit Ethernet controllers with TCP/IP offloads into just one chip. The hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet even works this time around, and Nvidia also added outbound packet prioritization to the mix.

With so many integrated features, the nForce 570 SLI and its couplings were able to offer more consistent peripheral performance than their competition. But there was still a catch: power consumption, or more specifically, the resultant heat output. The nForce 570 SLI runs hot, whether it’s acting on its own as a single chip or working under an assumed name with a north bridge riding shotgun. Heat output is a far cry from Prescott levels, but it’s forced many motherboard makers to employ elaborate heatpipe networks in order to achieve passive cooling.

Fortunately, heat is the only problem we have with the nForce 570 SLI, and it’s really not that big of a problem at all if you consider the issues that plague other chipsets. If that’s the price we have to pay for great peripheral performance, widespread availability on a variety of mid-range and high-end motherboards, great extras like the nTune system utility, and a consistent overall user experience, we’ll pay it gladly.

Manufacturer Asus
Model P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Best motherboard
Asus P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition
A lot of great motherboards passed through the Benchmarking Sweatshop this year, but Asus’ P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition was the best, in part because it enjoyed so many firsts. This was the first Core 2 motherboard we got our hands on, and one of the first enthusiast-class P965 boards on the market. The P5B Deluxe was also the first to offer Core 2 multiplier control in the BIOS, and it was the first P965 board to support CrossFire multi-GPU configurations.

Oh, and did I mention that the P5B Deluxe was the first Core 2 motherboard we were able to overclock to a front-side bus speed well beyond 400MHz? Yeah, that too.


The P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition in all its glory

Our P5B Deluxe’s excellent overclocking performance underscores the fact that this board’s appeal reaches beyond its ability to beat the competition to market. Asus put together one heck of a package with the Deluxe Wifi-AP Edition, including silent heatpipe cooling, just enough expansion slots, an ICH8R south bridge, eSATA connectivity, onboard 802.11g Wi-Fi, plenty of BIOS-level overclocking and fan speed options, and a handful of useful extras. More importantly, the P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP pushed the envelope and offered things you don’t often see from even a high-end motherboard. That makes it the best motherboard of 2006.

Unfortunately, even the best motherboard can’t escape annoying quirks. The board’s BIOS is a little finicky when it comes to flashing, and a flash gone wrong can render the board unable to POST. What’s worse, Asus hasn’t used a standard BIOS chip, so you can’t just pop in a replacement after a failed flash. Recovery is still possible, but the whole issue puts a bit of a smudge on what would have otherwise been a pristine award.

Best BIOS
Abit uGuru
Abit shared this award with DFI last year. uGuru continued to shine throughout 2006, but DFI’s BIOSes failed to consistently implement some of the unique features we really liked about last year’s LANParty boards. No one—including Abit—really went above and beyond in the BIOS department in 2006. That allowed Abit to enjoy the nice lead it built itself with uGuru, which still offers by far the most complete array of BIOS-level hardware monitoring and automatic fan speed control options. No one else even comes close.

Monitoring and fan speed control may be the backbone of uGuru’s appeal, but Abit’s BIOSes also offer a bevy of tweaking and overclocking options, including multiplier control for Core 2 processors and plenty of memory bus dividers and voltage options. That’s exactly what enthusiasts need in order to wring the best performance and highest overclocks from their systems, making Abit’s uGuru an easy choice for the best BIOS of 2006.


Abit plays with color… without universal success

Of course, we can’t give this award away without taking a crack at Abit’s one attempt to break new ground in the BIOS realm. In 2006, Abit decided that typical blue or grey BIOS color schemes had to go, and the company served up alternatives in black, red, and pink. The black and red schemes worked well, but the pink was, well, pink. Please remember your market, Abit; enthusiasts and overclockers aren’t so much into pastels.

Best sound card

Manufacturer Creative
Model X-Fi XtremeMusic
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic
Creative’s X-Fi XtremeMusic won this award last year, and it’s back for another round. Nothing has changed, mind you; this is the very same card as a year ago. As much as it might pain me to recognize an identical product two years in a row, there simply isn’t a better consumer-level card on the market. Not that it’s easy to match the X-Fi XtremeMusic. For less than $100, you get impeccable fidelity, support for DVD-Audio playback, and the ability to handle up to 128 simultaneous 3D voices in hardware. That’s an impressive trifecta, and most competitors can’t even match two out of three—not that there are many competitors to begin with.


The X-Fi XtremeMusic rides again

Creative’s own business practices have a lot to do with the dearth of competition in the sound card market, and that’s drawn the ire of the enthusiast community in the past. Enthusiasts haven’t been pleased with Creative’s driver bloat, either, although the X-Fi line does offer a relatively clean driver-only installation option that gets rid of all the optional junk. We’ve yet to encounter the hissing and popping problems that some users report exists with certain motherboards, as well.

Since it’s still the best consumer-level sound card on the market, and even more affordable this year than last, we see no reason not to let the X-Fi XtremeMusic keep its best sound card award for another year. But we’d love to have more options to choose from next year. Is anyone listening?

Manufacturer Western Digital
Model Raptor X
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Best hard drive
Western Digital Raptor X
2006 treated us to a number of interesting new hard drives, including one we’ll recognize a little later on. However, the king of the hill throughout the year was the latest addition to Western Digital’s 10k-RPM Raptor line. Long criticized for offering too little storage, WD doubled the Raptor’s capacity to 150GB for the new revision. Cache was also doubled to 16MB, and support for Native Command Queuing was added in lieu of the decidedly more obscure Tagged Command Queuing found on the older Raptor WD740GD.

Interestingly, though, WD chose not to support 300MB/s transfer rates with the new Raptor. Nevertheless, the new Raptor was easily the fastest Serial ATA hard drive on the market, thanks in large part to its spindle speed advantage over slower 7,200-RPM drives.


The Raptor X and its audacious window

Western Digital actually rolled out two versions of its new Raptor in 2006: the Raptor WD1500ADFD, and the Raptor X. Both offered identical specifications and performance, but the latter featured a windowed view of the drive’s internals. That’s right: Western Digital put a window on a hard drive.

As one might expect, the windowed Raptor X cost more than the vanilla WD1500ADFD—$50 more at launch, to be exact. That premium has shrunk since the Raptor’s launch, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s a small price to pay for the unique cachet that comes with the only window available in a production hard drive. The fact that Western Digital had the engineering expertise and audacity to equip a 10k-RPM hard drive with a window makes the Raptor X an easy pick for the best hard drive of 2006.

Manufacturer Gigabyte
Model i-RAM
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Coolest product
Gigabyte i-RAM
Gigabyte’s i-RAM solid state storage device doesn’t really fit into any of our best hardware categories, but for me, it was by far the coolest product of 2006. I’ve been around long enough to remember RAM disks, and that’s essentially what the i-RAM is, but without all the hassle. Through the magic of a field programmable gate array (FPGA) chip, the i-RAM allows DDR memory to appear as a standard Serial ATA hard drive. No special drivers or software are needed, just a Serial ATA cable and standard DDR DIMMs.

In addition to being ridiculously easy to set up, the i-RAM offers blistering performance, phenomenal access times, and complete silence. With a street price hovering around $120, it’s also an incredible value considering the cost of other solid state storage devices. The fact that you can add your own memory is a nice touch, too, and that goes a long way towards keeping the i-RAM’s price affordable.

Unfortunately, i-RAM isn’t perfect. The current version is limited to 150MB/s Serial ATA transfer rates that it has no problem saturating, and total capacity is capped at 1GB per DIMM, or 4GB total. That all but corners the i-RAM in a niche. Since it acts like a standard Serial ATA hard drive, however, there’s nothing (save for cost considerations) stopping you from building a multi-i-RAM RAID array to achieve higher capacities and even more exceptional performance.

Regardless of its status as a niche product, the i-RAM is undeniably cool. You won’t find a faster storage device that plugs into a Serial ATA port for anything close to the i-RAM’s price, even when fully loaded, and that puts a huge grin on my face.

The other awards
2006 was full of events and trends that don’t necessarily fit into our best hardware categories, but that doesn’t mean they got off without recognition. We’ve cooked up a special batch of awards to reward some notable moves and to chastise a few things we’d rather forget.

Worst trend
Renaming for marketing
We may have named the nForce 570 SLI the best chipset of the year, but that doesn’t get Nvidia off the hook for being a little too creative with product renaming. You see, although the nForce 570 SLI was available as single-chip core logic, it also picked up a few aliases as Nvidia pressed it into service in other chipsets. In the end, that single chip ended being known not only as the nForce 570 SLI MCP, but also the 590 SLI MCP, and the 680i SLI MCP.

And it gets worse.

You’d think that the nForce 570 SLI for Socket AM2 would be similar to the nForce 570 SLI for Intel CPUs, but you’d be wrong. The 570 SLI for Intel actually didn’t contain an nForce 570 SLI MCP. Instead, it was merely a rebadged version of the an older nForce4 chipset. Confused yet?

Nvidia defended its creative renaming by suggesting that it was merely changing names to help differentiate its products. An nForce4 chipset became the nForce 570 SLI for Intel, Nvidia says, merely to denote support for Core 2 processors. But why not call it the nForce4.1? Or the nForce4 Core? Or anything that doesn’t suggest an nonexistent upgrade to an nForce 500 series chipset.

Regardless of whether Nvidia’s intent was malicious, renaming products to suit marketing agendas doesn’t sit well with us. The market is confusing enough as it is for uninitiated consumers, so be straight with them. Call a product what it is, not what you think you can get away with.

Best move we thought we’d hate
Rebadged Nvidia reference mobos
We’ve bemoaned the lack of variety in the graphics card market on more than one occasion, and 2006 was a banner year for rebadged reference designs. These days, graphics board manufacturers do little more than resticker the heatsink on high-end graphics cards, and that has resulted in a rather dull market.

With restickered reference designs diminishing the number of unique graphics card offerings, we shuddered to learn that Nvidia would be offering complete nForce 680i SLI reference motherboards for resale by its partners. But it really didn’t turn out as badly as we might have expected. The availability of a ready-for-retail nForce 680i board design hasn’t stopped Abit, Asus, and others from coming up with their own designs for the 680i SLI. What it has done, however, is allowed smaller players like BFG Tech, EVGA, and even ECS make a play for enthusiast motherboard dollars.


The nForce 680i SLI reference board: Built by Nvidia, rebranded by others

The real kicker here is that Nvidia actually built quite a good motherboard with its nForce 680i SLI reference design. Apart from Serial ATA signaling problems that appear to have been fixed with a BIOS update, the board offers an excellent layout, competitive performance, a feature-rich BIOS, and loads of overclocking headroom. In fact, the reference design is probably much better than what less experienced mobo makers like BFG and eVGA would have been able to come up with on their own; it’s certainly an improvement over ECS’s attempts to produce a good enthusiast board, and they’ve been building motherboards since the dawn of time.

Of course, just because we like the nForce 680i reference design doesn’t mean we want to see every motherboard maker selling the board with little more than a new sticker. Bigger players like Asus, Abit, DFI, Gigabyte, and MSI should be able to do better, and with the likes of BFG and eVGA nipping at their heels with a capable reference design, we hope it forces them to raise the stakes even higher.

It’s about time
Perpendicular recording
Enthusiasts have been waiting for perpendicular recording technology to make its way into desktop hard drives for years, and we’ve had Hitachi’s “Get Perpendicular” song stuck in our heads for pretty much the whole time. Fortunately, 2006 brought us our first taste of perpendicular recording with Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.10 series. The 7200.10s were the first 3.5″ desktop drives to make use of perpendicular recording tech, and they did so in style, offering a flagship model with a whopping 750GB of storage capacity—50% more than the next largest drive on the market.


Perpendicular recording facilitating Seagate’s 750GB monster

The Barracuda 7200.10 750GB was released in May, and some eight months later, we’re still waiting for a higher capacity hard drive to hit the market. The fact that Seagate was able to hold a 50% storage capacity lead over the competition for the better part of the year is an impressive feat in and of itself, but what’s more striking is that the 750GB flagship didn’t carry an obscene price premium. The ‘cuda was the most expensive SATA hard drive on the market, of course, but its cost per gigabyte was comparable to that of 500GB drives.

Seagate was the only manufacturer to bring perpendicular recording to the desktop in 2006, but it joined Fujitsu and Hitachi in offering mobile drives with perpendicular tech. 2007 looks to be the year that perpendicular recording will really take hold, though. Hitachi has already announced plans to release a five-platter terabyte drive that uses perpendicular platters in the first quarter, and Seagate is promising a four-platter terabyte disk in the first half of the year.

Where are they now?
Small form factor systems
Just a few short years ago, small form factor systems captivated our attention by squeezing an entire PC into a barebones form factor the size of a bread box. Small form factor systems were every bit as fast as their full-size counterparts, they were available with all the latest chipsets, and they had enough tweaking and overclocking options to keep the average enthusiast happy.

Shuttle was responsible for most of the craze, and they did small form factors better than anyone else, aggressively releasing models based on new chipsets and sockets—often even before motherboard makers. And then Shuttle decided that it wanted to become a systems vendor, shifting its focus from designing small form factor barebones to putting together complete systems. Suddenly, Shuttle was less concerned with keeping its barebones systems on the cutting edge, leaving the door open for someone else to pick up the torch.

Except no one really did. Some tried, and we’ve seen decent small form factor designs from Biostar, MSI, and others. But none have been exceptionally good, and none have inspired the sort of enthusiasm for the platform that we saw in Shuttle’s heyday.

Perhaps we’re just beginning to see the enthusiast community’s relationship with small form factor systems for what it was—a torrid affair driven by infatuation, but sorely lacking in substance. Still, we miss getting excited about cramming an obscenely powerful system into a chassis the size of a toaster.

Biggest flop
Quad FX
When Intel announced that it would bring its Kentsfield quad-core processor to market before the end of the year, AMD seemed to scramble to come up with a response. At first, AMD intended to counter Kentsfield with a “4×4” concept that combined two processors and four GPUs in boutique systems built by the likes of Alienware and Voodoo PC. As enthusiasts who prefer to roll our own systems, we weren’t impressed, and we didn’t pull any punches.

AMD was at least paying attention, because 4×4 soon morphed into the much more reasonable Quad FX platform. Quad FX dropped the four-GPU requirement in favor of a motherboard that was simply capable of supporting up to four graphics cards, and AMD pledged several processor options to meet different budgets. What’s more, AMD said Quad FX CPUs and motherboards would be available as retail products, giving enthusiasts the freedom to build their own systems based on the platform.


AMD’s Quad FX platform

In essence, Quad FX became little more than an enthusiast-oriented dual Opteron platform with support for unbuffered memory. That’s not a bad idea, especially considering how suitable AMD’s processor architecture is for multi-socket systems, but the reality didn’t work out quite as well as the ideal. You see, Quad FX did in fact arrive before the end of the year, but it did so only in review sample form. Actual CPUs and motherboards are only now becoming available online, and retailers are selling them at a bit of a premium.

Availability wasn’t Quad FX’s only problem. AMD chose to launch the platform with just one compatible motherboard, and while Asus’ L1N64-SLI WS is a sight to behold, it’s too big for some ATX cases, has two very power-hungry Nvidia MCPs, and really is overkill for enthusiasts looking to revisit the multi-socket glory days of the BP6. Power consumption is actually a rather major issue for the entire Quad FX platform, especially when compared with Intel’s considerably more power-efficient quad-core alternative.

Quad FX may be a fine workstation alternative for those looking to avoid higher Opteron prices, but it’s too awkward to compete with the simplicity of adding a quad-core Kentsfield to a compatible LGA775 motherboard, and it’s not any faster. With 65nm CPUs and some reasonable mid-range motherboard options, Quad FX could have been a very desirable platform. That’s the direction the platform needs to take if AMD wants Quad FX to go anywhere in 2007.

Most underdelivered hype
Hardware physics processing
We’ve had hardware acceleration for graphics, 3D audio, and even Ethernet for years, but in 2006, we were introduced to the first dedicated physics processor. Ageia’s PhysX physics processing unit promised to bring games a new level of environmental interaction and realism that would not be possible without dedicated physics hardware.

The hype sounded good, and games were certainly ripe for an upgrade from lame rag doll effects. Unfortunately, Ageia’s delivery was a little lacking. Game support just wasn’t there, and we found that even Ageia’s own Cell Factor tech demo ran pretty well with just a high-end dual-core processor. Ageia promised more widespread game support, and we’ve been inundated with press releases detailing upcoming games that will make use of PhysX hardware, but we’re still waiting for a compelling reason to recommend a PhysX card.


Ageia’s PhysX processor

Of course, Ageia wasn’t the only company pimping physics processing in 2006. ATI and Nvidia also threw their hats into the ring, promising to accelerate eye candy physics (effects physics that doesn’t impact actual gameplay) on the GPU. Both briefed the press about their plans, and ATI even had a live demo running at Computex. Yet we’re still waiting for games that will actually make use of GPU-based physics acceleration.

Game developers aren’t universally enthusiastic about hardware-based physics processing, either. Valve, for one, seems far more interested in doing physics on multi-core processors. Dedicated physics processing’s best shot at a killer app may be Unreal Tournament 2007, but that’s not due until later this year, leaving 2006 drowning in unrealized physics hype.

Biggest play
AMD buys ATI
It doesn’t get much bigger than the AMD buying ATI. Although the jury is still out on whether this marriage will be good for both companies, and the market as a whole, there’s no denying that this was the biggest development of 2006. In fact, AMD’s acquisition of ATI had such an impact that we’re still waiting for the dust to settle; we may have to wait until the end of 2007 to have anything really profound to say on the subject.

Comments closed
    • PRIME1
    • 13 years ago

    I bet you could pre-fill the motherboard of the year with ASUS xxxx.

    I only buy ASUS, so I am in total agreement.

    Is TR planning to look at the 650i chipset? All the power of the 680i with none of the frills, cost or problems.

    8800 is damn impressive….looking forward to the refresh so I can get a single slot card.

    As for “about time”….. Wide availability of SATA Optical Drives.

      • Dissonance
      • 13 years ago

      We’re hoping to have some 650i board reviews soon.

        • PRIME1
        • 13 years ago

        Well I already have an ASUS P5N-E on the way, but I would still like to see a TR review of it. I read one at the [H], but I like balanced opinions.

    • hagbag
    • 13 years ago

    no message

    • spuppy
    • 13 years ago

    No meaty middle digit for the Killer NIC? ๐Ÿ™

    • mongoosesRawesome
    • 13 years ago

    With all these complaints, I’m surprised you do one of these every year.

    That said, I’m going to have to throw my towel in with everyone who’s saying the 965 is the best chipset. The 590i is just too bloated, uses too much power, too expensive, and too buggy.

    Although from a pure features perspective, the 590 does have the 965 beat.

    I guess its a bit of a tossup. Tough call.

    • Freon
    • 13 years ago

    PhysX should’ve been the biggest flop, but close enough. I’m not sure anyone had big expectations from the quad FX. At least I wasn’t getting all that excited over it. PhysX was expected, at least by some, to become a new market trend. It well-deservedly flopped hard. Dumb idea from day 1. Sorry so much capital got blown to figure out what many knew was obvious from day one.

    I-RAM is not that impressive. I don’t know anyone buying one. Most people still don’t even know it exists, let alone can they afford a setup with enough memory to make it worthwhile. I’d like to see this kind of product happen (i.e., solid state storage), but it is certainly not ready for prime time. Trivial product. It’s nifty, but I don’t see any market impact here.

    I guess I have to agree with the video and sound card. There just isn’t any competition, so they win by default. Oh well. I think it is more important to point out the advancements than value for this kind of award. I think no one would be complaining if the R600 was out so at least there was a choice. On an absolute scale, the 8800 is it.

    Intel Core 2 Duo is an obvious pick. I think we can all agree. What’s up way faster, overclockable, and cheaper? Win times 5 and a half for everyone. Intel gets a pat on the back.

      • moose17145
      • 13 years ago

      PhysX a flop… wtf are you talking about… have you not seen the “Killer NIC”… man… talk about taking a belly flop off a 100 story building into concrete…

      Also i kinda feel bad for Ageia… the only issue is game support… if they had more of it then maybe they would be doing better right now. Really there were a lot of people who worked VERY hard on that card and project as a whole and are new comers into the market with nothing else really backing them, and they were ballsy enough to try something way out there at the time, gotta at least give them points for that. Not many other companies are taking risks on that level.

        • SGWB
        • 13 years ago

        I want Killer NIC’s for my servers. It’s a full TCP offload engine that only runs 250 bucks! Full TCP offload NIC’s cost double that from the major NIC vendors. The way this thing flopped is that it was mis-marketed.

        Damage, please get one of these and test it under server loads. I want to know what it can do for a file server. Better yet, put this thing on a iSCSI SAN and let it really stretch it’s legs.

    • Chaos-Storm
    • 13 years ago

    Northwood was by no means a bad processor. But prescott, by any standard, was an abomination. And overall, the pentium 4 architechture was a disgrace, having lower IPC than the architecture before it, and at the beginning only matching performance. Sure it sold well because of large numbers (OMG 3.8 Ghz), but it was deceitful to consumers and a leap backwards.

      • d2brothe
      • 13 years ago

      Heh…northwood wasn’t terrible…it was about the only time in P4 history that you *could* argue it was faster. Plus northwood had potential, I heard somewhere they got a set of them running at 8 Ghz for NASA.

      Its true though…the average computer user, and slightly lower than average computer enthusiest hears 3.8 Ghz and thinks ur e-penis must be ginormous…

    • HardcoreTech
    • 13 years ago

    A comment in the introduction:

    “We also got to see dual-core processors really come into their own, Intel bounce back from the horrendous NetBurst era..”

    Yes” Core” is cool, but Netburst was not “horrendous” by any measure. In fact it was very successful if you look a the millions of Netburst processors sold and the long life span of the architecture (over five years from late 2000 to mid 2006). After multiple die shrinks, multiple core speed and bus increases there are still millions of P4 Netburst CPU running solid as a rock. I call it unfair to dismiss Netburst as horrendous just because a better successor has finally come along.

      • indeego
      • 13 years ago

      We use it to heat our office, and occasionally get work doneg{<.<}g

        • moose17145
        • 13 years ago

        I believe you are mistaking NetBurst with Prescott. The Northwood series was a rather cool running chip and still in the NetBurst family.

          • indeego
          • 13 years ago

          Nope. I’m referring to “Netburst, the Space heater.” We have about 15 in our office and the fans are quite annoying. Putting your hand near the back of the PC is impossible for more than about 10 seconds. I have a user where she reversed the exhaust so that the hot air blows over her fingers when she types (she’s constantly cold, was her reasoning.) Netburst isn’t an Intel codeword, but it’s architecture fairly synonymous with the PIVg{<.<}g

            • HardcoreTech
            • 13 years ago

            Some P4 Prescott series and PD 8xx series had heat issues and but the noise is depending on many factors. The only real solution is to get quieter aftermarket fans or processor heatsinks better suited to your processor since the stock ones run too fast. I have 10 years tech support experience with major OEM supporting almost every Intel and AMD processor on the market (desktop, server) and it was really only a few processors had any real heat issues. AMD had just as many if not more heat issues at one time. Like I said in original post if Netburst was that bad would it have been around 5 years and spawned so many different models?

            • rxc6
            • 13 years ago

            Well, It was bad enough that the biggest CPU company in the world could not keep the performance crown for more than few months during that time. I don’t know about you but it seems pretty damn bad to me.

            • LoneWolf15
            • 13 years ago

            /[

            • reever
            • 13 years ago

            You’re a liar.

          • Sahrin
          • 13 years ago

          All Netburst chips were unusually hot. I’ve got Williamette based machines and Northwood based machines that are a tremendous pain to operate. And that doesn’t even take into account the horrid thermal performance of any Pentium 4 based laptop.

      • Dissonance
      • 13 years ago

      /[<...Intel bounce back from the horrendous NetBurst *[

      • SGWB
      • 13 years ago

      Consider the fact that Netburst did not attain it’s publisized projections to reach 10Ghz. Prescott topped out at about 4Ghz. That makes the architecture about 40% successful at meeting the design goals. That’s a pretty abysmal failure.

    • indeego
    • 13 years ago

    I think the “biggest move” was Apple moving over to Intel, not ATI/AMDg{<.<}g

    • Inkling
    • 13 years ago

    If you liked it, or think it’s worth a read, please digg:

    ยง[<http://digg.com/hardware/The_Year_s_Best_Worst_and_Most_Forgettable_Technology_for_PC_Enthusiasts<]ยง Thanks.

    • jroyv
    • 13 years ago

    Gigabyte’s i-RAM… I like this product but you end up paying $400 for a 4GB hard drive. A really FAST hard drive yea but 4 GB.

    I wonder if it could be used with Vista’s ReadyBoost?

      • Xylker
      • 13 years ago

      Nah, you need 15 gigs to install that beast…

        • jroyv
        • 13 years ago

        I wasn’t actually proposing installing Vista on the i-RAM but using it for Vista’s ReadyBoost feature since it would be much faster than a USB Flash Drive.

        “ReadyBoost is Vista’s capability to extend the disk cache to USB flash devices.”

      • Wajo
      • 13 years ago

      I have 2GB of DDR memory, when i switch to a DDR2 platform, It wouldn’t be that expensive to get an ultra fast disk for the swap file. I assume several people share my situation.

        • mongoosesRawesome
        • 13 years ago

        You’d spend that much on a *swap* file? How often do you use your swap file?

          • Bensam123
          • 13 years ago

          I believe it’s used whenever you use your computer. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

          Still, memory is way too damn expensive for this. The higher the capacity, the more expensive it gets. It’s almost like the product is a few years too early. At the rate memory density is improving and the size of programs are growing the two should catch up to eachother in about 6 years. I’m guessing by the time this sort of thing becomes cost effective there will be a new storage technology available ๐Ÿ™

          Hybrid hard drives with large caches almost nullify the benefits of I-Ram too and those are just around the corner.

    • Krogoth
    • 13 years ago

    I hate to be critic, but “awards of 2006” was a complete letdown and some of the choices IMO made little sense.

    Chipset: NF 570, WTF? 965 gets disquaified because it lacks PATA and intergrated NIC? Ahem, NF series lack spot was full manufacturer drivers for its ATA and intergrated NIC. Didn’t memories of activearmor and ATA problems get lost during a session of New Years Eve drinking? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    965 is clearly the winner of this year. It is the reason that optical SATA drives are finally coming out. It overclocks like a SOB and hardly has any known issues unlike NF family. 965 platform does not cost a fortune. Who cares it lacks native SLI and CF support? Both things are nothing more then expensive marketing gimmicks that appeal to high-end market who a tiny minor of enthusiast and readers here. The line has be drawn somewhere for PATA’s obsolescence and HDDs are slowly doing it anyway despite the release of ICH8.

    GPU: I do not believe 8800GTX deserves the crown for 2006, despite its revolutionary design and outstanding performance. The reason? It is too expensive and first batch of cards have annoying issues. DX10 support is a non-issue when DX10 will not become a factor until 2008. 8800GTX does not work with some 8x PCIe slots, drivers are very rough ATM, HDCP problems and 8800GTXs had a slight delay before its intented release, because of a voltage problem on some cards that was corrected at the last minute. It is pretty clear to me that G80 was rushed to the market in hopes to steal the R600’s thunder. Nvidia is already making a second revision of 8800GTX which supposely resolves most of the foremention issues.

    IMO, the winner for this year by a very tiny edge is 7900GS. The value it offers is just incredible. It already is near 7900GT performance and 7900GTX when overclocked for >$249. 7900GS is cool and will be fast enough until DX10 becomes a factor and by that time frame a G8x/R65x will be around to make look 8800GTX dated. 7900GS is also one of the few cards that make SLI a option for non-unlimited budget users.

    Best motherboard: The normal P5B or Gigabyte DS3 deserves this title. They overclock darn well and you can easily do volt-mods without spending a ton. The P5B-Prenium Wi-Fi offers a bunch of gimmicks that just raises the bottom line cost.

    Best BIOS: It is a tie between DFI and Abit. To be honest I think this arena has been stale since 2003.

    Best Soundcard: X-Fi, it is a no-brainer.

    Best HDD: Sorry, but the Raptor X loses to its sibling the 7200.10. The Raptor’s advantage is disappearing to mainstream HDDs. The Raptor X’s cheap gimmicks is big turnoff for me. Mainstream HDD are almost as fast, while they can hold a lot more data. The 7200.10’s edge out of the mainstream lot is that it offers perpendicular recording. The technology is still in its infancy, but shows great promise with 7200.10 .

    Coolest Product: Sorry, I-Ram is a solution looking for a problem. I think the winner is probably G15 keyboard from Logitech. You can setup macros, interface the onboard LCD with games like UT2004 for real-time stat updates and programmable keys.

    Worse Trend: Product names and their marketing spin. Graphics front saw the worse of it this year and biggest offender is none other then ATI and its panthers. (GTO, GT, SE, GTO2, GTX, Pro, XT, XTX OMFGWTFBBG etc).

    Biggest Flop: Aegia Physix, Killer NIC (thanks SGT Lindy for reminder) and first-generation PS3s

    Meatly Middle Digit: Quad FX, because the whole idea behind the platform is a complete joke and marketing drones at DAMMIT want enthusiast to take it seriously. Nvidia is a runner-up for infamous problems with 8800GTX and i680 boards and their spin on the cause of the problems.

      • Proesterchen
      • 13 years ago

      q[

        • Krogoth
        • 13 years ago

        The point is that a lot of gamers can afford the an 7900GS without burning through their checkbooks. I hate to break it you, but the vast majority of the market still runs on R3xx, R4xx and N4x-era hardware. It will not change until DX10 finally hits critical mass for developers to take the plunge.

        I am not saying that G80 architect sucks. What I am saying is that 8800GTX is nothing more then an expensive impulse buy ATM. Most of the 8800GTX’s advantages are not being utilized to their full potential. They will not be likely be until late 2007 at earliest. By that time frame a superior version of G80 architect will be out and an more affordable mid-range part.

          • Satyr
          • 13 years ago

          Mmm. I agree with a lot of your points actually, though not the graphics one. If it was “Deal of 2006”, then maybe. But as it stands, I think the 8800 was a pretty big technical jump, which as Proesterchen points out, the 7900gs was not.

        • flip-mode
        • 13 years ago

        Agreed. Despite the value of a 7900GS, and the fact that I just picked one up myself, TR’s awards aren’t “value awards”, they’re “technology awards”. If these awards were based on value then almost every category would have been different. The CPU would have been an AMD single core or the X2-3800, the GPU woulduv been the 7900 or x1950pro, the mobo would’ve been a Biostar T-force (which it arguable could have been anyway). The best value is always found in the previous year’s tech – in which case this would really be a redux of TR awards 2005.

          • Krogoth
          • 13 years ago

          That logic falls apart with I-RAM and Raptor X as candidates. I-RAM is 2005-era and underlying design of Raptor is even older then that.

            • flip-mode
            • 13 years ago

            But they’re still the most cutting edge consumer products in their segments at this time.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 13 years ago

      +1 for using DAMMIT *[<:D<]*

        • Flying Fox
        • 13 years ago

        It’s DAAMIT daamit!

          • DrDillyBar
          • 13 years ago

          woops

    • Dposcorp
    • 13 years ago

    I have a 320 Seagate, but I think the 750GB one should have beat or tied the raptor.

    Otherwise, great article.

    • flip-mode
    • 13 years ago

    Yaaaaay! You all know I’ve been waiting for this. Off to read.

    • Shintai
    • 13 years ago

    BUUUH!

    P965 is clearly the chipset of 2006! And only technological impaired americans dont have alot of SATA opticals to choose from.
    And nVidia NIC? Gimme a break, those nForce chipsets got as many bugs as features.

    And best motherboard should be the Asus P5B-E Plus, again tho, not for americans ๐Ÿ˜›

    And HD, Seagate 320GB 7200.10, the peoples HD!

    /me joins the popcorn throwing crowd and throws soda around too!

    Else nice awards ๐Ÿ™‚

      • alex666
      • 13 years ago

      Please do not incorporate nationalities into your arguments. If there’s one thing I genuinely have appreciated about being a forum geek over the past few years, it’s been its global nature and the interactions I have had with folks world-wide. Living in rural Utah and communicating with a fellow from Viet Nam was one experience that stands out, and would not have been possible were it not for these open forums. Name-calling based on one’s country of origin sets a very ugly precedent. Please stop.

        • Shintai
        • 13 years ago

        Well, it still doesnยดt change the fact that the Plus board or the DS rev2.0 alogn with a much larger SATA option ainยดt avalible in the US. And therefore TR used that as a reason to vote on. The rest was a merely sarcastic joke.

      • Proesterchen
      • 13 years ago

      Personally, I don’t think there was a single, above-all, no doubts about it, must-have, killer chipset last year. Pretty much every single one I can think of got at least one weak side, with a number showing multiple.

      • flip-mode
      • 13 years ago

      Suck it up ninny ๐Ÿ˜‰

      If you’re going to (predictably) suggest the P965 is best, at least give a rational why it is, rather than why the NF570 isn’t. Gaisor’s reasoning if favor the the 570 seems very very sound to me.

      I do give props to Intel for their stable, low heat, and relatively bug-free chipsets though. I’d gladly own a P965 or an NF570 myself.

        • Shintai
        • 13 years ago

        Ask yourself what the 570 or any nVidia chipset for that matter offers (besides SLI). I dont wanna hear about 0.5-2% CPU usage on USB, NIC, I/O or something, but a solid reason why.

        Simple is a winner usually. nForces own featurelist is more a burden than a solution (And we can see that on their massive bug record). The NIC thing is right, and we have to wait till ICH9 before thats “fixed”. But usually we are talking 70MB/sec vs 110MB/sec in the extreme. Hardly something its worth for alone.

        Also each hour you fiddle with nForce drivers and data corruption is time wasted. And time=money ๐Ÿ˜›

        But you did put it nicely yourself, better stability, alot lower heat and power consumption(happy wallet).

        Anyway, you know you gonna get a P5B-E or buy a P5B-E Plus overseas. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • d2brothe
      • 13 years ago

      I’ll agree the baracuda should have won the HD category, the Raptor X is just stupid IMO…cool…but stupid. The barracuda is a much better all round drive.

      As for chipsets, its very close between the P965 and the 570, personally I’d go for the P965, but there are arguments for both. My question why no 680i? Did I miss something or was that not the top chipset?

    • SGT Lindy
    • 13 years ago

    “Most underdelivered hype/Biggest flop”

    Killer NIC

    I laugh out loud at anyone that bought this:)

    • grug
    • 13 years ago

    Can you really present a “best audio hardware” award when you’ve only reviewed one dedicated sound card?

    I was hoping to see a review of something like the B-Enspirer or one of the other cards capable of realtime DTS encoding.

    • spworley
    • 13 years ago

    It’s interesting that if you had asked people to make predictions in January 2006, probably none of the winners would have been an easy guess.
    Core 2? Big unknown… AMD was still king of the hill. Nvidia 8800? HUGE surprise! AMD+ATI? Out of left field.

    That said, I can’t even start to guess for 2007. Everything is getting interesting again!

    • DrDillyBar
    • 13 years ago

    Great article. 2006 was fun.

    Physics was too new to be implimented in 2006, but 2007 better be more interesting the just proof of concept (move more of the API to hardware!)

    Best HDD of 06; 320GB Seagate SATA2

    Sound needs to become PCIe

    The i-RAM is sweet. I would like it to go one of three ways. First, SODIMM’s. Mount them vertically and add more slots. The sucker would still cap the SATA interface if it was running PC-133 memory, which is sweet (and a guess). Secondly, FBDIMMS, which as a technology offer capacity advantages. Third? Support for 2GB DDR DIMMS & PCIe. Not all Mobo’s get multiple PCI slots, considering one would be the XFI.

    Next point? Let’s just not get into nVidia’s business practices.

    Sig:
    C2D E6300 | P5W DH | 2048MB’s DDR2 667 | HIS 256MB X1900 XT | X-fi | 300GB ‘cuda 7200.9 | Dell 2005FPW |

    • Bensam123
    • 13 years ago

    *throws popcorn at the sound card award*

    What other sound cards were reviewed in 2006? I wish you guys would consider reviewing other sound cards even if they’re crappy. Even reviewing cards re-spun with generic Realtek chips onboard would be worth it…

    I was hoping a review for the Razer Baracuda would show up here sometime soon but it still hasn’t manifested itself.

    I think sound is the most overlooked aspect of the PC gaming industry. Even physics is getting more attention then sound.

    To some of us, hearing things is just as important as seeing. You can hear 360 degrees but you can only look one direction.

    IMO I think the coolest product would be the introduction of physics. Even if things didn’t live up to the hype (they never do), the idea is there and it has the attention of the big wigs.

    I-Ram is cool but ultimately useless in it’s current form. The idea of physics has started a revolution. Playing through faces of war with completely destructable buildings really makes me appreciate it.

    Not to come off on a completely bad note. Most of the awards fit well, some were no brainers.

      • Satyr
      • 13 years ago

      “You can hear 360 degrees but you can only look one direction.”

      Your ears don’t quite have the same fidelity as your eyes though do they; certainly with regards to the average user…

        • jiminyjetson
        • 13 years ago

        I have the aural sensitivity of a sponge, as well you know.

          • Bensam123
          • 13 years ago

          Still… if you compare how much attention one is given over the other…

          If you can hear things at 30ft clearly such as footsteps IRL, you can hear them at about 3ft in most games unless the audio is jacked (loud footsteps).

            • Satyr
            • 13 years ago

            Right, well, erm, jack the audio then? I don’t quite understand what audio fidelity has to do with footstep volume?

            All I’m saying, is that, in the broadest sense, audio hasn’t changed a lot in 10-15 years. The average consumer could *probably* tell the difference between current game graphics and that of 10 years ago. However, would the difference in sound be so different? Not a chance. People complain, but the obvious reason is lack of demand. There’s not a lot of point in TR reviewing hundreds of rubbish soundcards. Sure, we all hate Creative, but they produce the best cards at the moment, so what do we care; we are fickle consumers.

            Pick up some Sennheiser headphones; that will give you the biggest upgrade in audio quality :).

            • Bensam123
            • 13 years ago

            How far away you can hear footsteps is the most basic way of comparing how neglected sound is. You’re just relating sound fidelity to the actual quality of the sound (SnR), not what you’re actually hearing IE. in game sounds.

            The average consumer won’t complain about mid-grade graphic quality either. That didn’t stop them from making SLI and Crossfire, factory overclocked video cards, releasing a brand new video card every three months or so.

            I do have a pair of Sennheiser and a X-Fi Fidelity.

            Best product? Have you seen a review on a Baracuda? Hence why I said what I did in my first post. Razer is toting it as the best sound card currently available.

            Not hundreds of rubbish sound cards, but how about two or three notable ones instead of one.

      • Satyr
      • 13 years ago

      I realised that in my tiredness, I clearly didn’t pick this comment apart as much as I should have… “You can hear 360 degrees but you can only look one direction.”

      We clearly see in a field of view, so by using degrees in one half of your argument, then “direction” in the other doesn’t make a lot of sense. Also, do you have any idea of the amount of data our brain has to process from our eyes compared to from our ears? All in all, lets face it, the two senses aren’t really comparable.

      P.S. I own a X-fi and an 8800, so I’m a sucker for both anyway :D.

        • Bensam123
        • 13 years ago

        No, they aren’t. But you’re comparing them. I’m just stating how neglected one is over the other.

          • Satyr
          • 13 years ago

          Only in terms of their popularity though. In fact, my entire reason for posting was due to your direct comparison.

            • Bensam123
            • 13 years ago

            “We clearly see in a field of view, so by using degrees in one half of your argument, then “direction” in the other doesn’t make a lot of sense. Also, do you have any idea of the amount of data our brain has to process from our eyes compared to from our ears?”

            Hmmm…

    • totoro
    • 13 years ago

    Aw, no meaty middle digit award again this year.
    Maybe someone will do something really stupid in 2007.
    (2006 was pretty good, though.)

      • flip-mode
      • 13 years ago

      Yeah, that award is worth breaking out every year. Somebody deserves it.

    • imtheunknown176
    • 13 years ago

    I think small form factor pcs died because they are too expensive. I would love one but don’t want to fork out all that money for a computer with such limited room for expansion. I mean it’s not really anyones fault they cost a lot (well I think shuttle overprices a bit…); small proprietary motherboards are expensie to make.

      • quarantined
      • 13 years ago

      A barebones system really isn’t that expensive compared to a full tower. I payed around $225 for the Shuttle I had. That covered the motherboard, case and PSU. By the time I bought that stuff individually, I’m not saving much, if any.

        • imtheunknown176
        • 13 years ago

        I agree that a lot of the sff systems you can buy are competitively priced, unless you want one with an Intel 965/975 chipset or comparable am2 nforce chipset. But that goes back to it being difficult to shoe horn a full featured motherboard in such a tiny space.

        BTW, pretty cool posting on the same subject at the same time lol

      • Homerr
      • 13 years ago

      SFF is in hibernation because no board manufacturer is yet to come out with a decent mATX overclocker on the Core 2 Duo front. The SFF crowd all bought 6100/6150/NF4 chipset boards and X2/Opty’s in late ’05 and early ’06. We don’t see a reason to upgrade our SFF’s yet when they are still competitive when overclocked, which they do quite nicely.

      As for Shuttles, same argument but with an additional caveat. On the AMD side there was decent onboard graphics for media PCs, whereas you’re stuck with Intel’s GMA 950 on the Intel side – feels like a lateral move rather than upward.

      If one manufacturer would come out with a decent C2D 650i/680i mATX overclocking board then this segment would heat up fast. SLI would be a huge plus, but even a single slot o/c board would do at this point.

        • Vrock
        • 13 years ago

        There’s a difference between small form factor and mATX. mATX is an industry standard and nowhere near as small, and small form factor is proprietary from case to motherboard, and even power supply.

      • SGWB
      • 13 years ago

      I think the three reasons SFF isn’t moving is:

      A: Consumers have never heard of Shuttle and don’t trust them yet.

      B: Expansion is too limited on SFF computers. I know that the vast majority of computer buyers don’t upgrade their computers, but people like to have options. One or two card slots is not enough

      C: People who want small, quiet, unobtrusive, non-upgradeable computers buy laptops or Mac Mini’s

    • quarantined
    • 13 years ago

    Yeah, were are the SFF systems? I can’t go back to another monstrous tower.

    But 2006 was an exciting year for computing, no doubt.

    • d2brothe
    • 13 years ago

    Woot first post! ๐Ÿ˜›

    As an actual post tho…I must say, this has been one incredible year in computers. If R600, Vista, Office 2007, and maybe K8L had arrive this year, it would be one for the records, but nevertheless, still a very cool time to be a nerd :D.

      • Ardrid
      • 13 years ago

      Very true indeed, my friend. 2006 was an excellent year to be an enthusiast, with the C2D and 8800 launches being some of the most impressive in recent history. 2007 should be even more interesting with R600 and K8L on the horizon. It’s gonna be fun to watch the sparks fly as AMD tries to take back the lead in the GPU/CPU arenas.

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