What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

The 2011 PC Market in Review; Hits and Misses

Status
Not open for further replies.

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
2011 was a busy year in the tech world as a whole but the PC market in particular was moving at a brisk pace. We experienced the launches of Bulldozer and Sandy Bridge while the graphics space was introduced to the likes of the GTX 590, HD 6990 and GTX 560 Ti. SSDs made some serious inroads within the storage market, cases continued a slow march towards perfection and larger PC monitors finally began hitting lower price points through the use of efficient LED technology.

While the component side was moving forward at a brisk pace, the technology industry as a whole moved forward as well. Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich finally brought a bona fide operating system to Android, Adobe took the mobile version of Flash out back and pulled an Old Yeller on it, HP showed how NOT to support a tablet and through a number of failures Blackberry became a shadow of its former self. These bits of news were punctuated by the devastating floods in Thailand which crippled hard drive production, Duke Nukem Forever’s disastrous reception by critics and gamers alike (yeah, we had to include that one) and the intrusion by hackers into Steam’s gaming network. We also lost many pioneers in the industry, among them Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs.

MARKET-IN-REVIEW-2011.jpg

Looking back I’d have to say the last twelve months were some of the most enjoyable in recent memory, at least from a hardware perspective. The team completed a massive 122 reviews and numerous other articles covering all manner of hardware and peripherals but that barely scratched the surface of what was available. Nonetheless, some of these products stood out for various reasons - both good and bad - which is what this end of year article is all about. In it, we’ll take a look at some of the most memorable components and peripherals of 2011 and discuss some of the hits and misses from that overflowing stack of hardware. Unfortunately, in some cases like Audio, HDTVs and Notebooks we didn’t review enough products within each category so it was impossible to conclusively come up with a “best of” list. Maybe next year :)

This may sound like it’s all about us but we’d like to hear your take too. At the top of every page, you’ll find a link to the forum discussion so feel free to rant about our choices or put forward some of your own.

With that being said the staff here at Hardware Canucks would like to wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2012. For us, it will be another massive year with Ivy Bridge, Kepler, OLED TVs and numerous other items all quickly approaching.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
PC Cases & CPU Cooling

PC Cases


PC Case of the Year: Corsair Carbide 500R

<object width="640" height="360"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/v0EZYMvNVdk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/v0EZYMvNVdk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

Corsair doesn’t exactly have a long history in the case design world but their achievements to date are very, very impressive. It all started with the Obsidian 700D and the Carbide 500R continues its predecessor’s tradition of high build quality, excellent features and no nonsense exterior design. What makes the 500R stand out though is price. At under $125 it is an ideal chassis for gamers and regular consumers while covering all of our expectations when it came to cable management, hardware capabilities, user friendly assembly and flexibility. It even had some great water cooling options and great stock airflow. Honestly, there really isn’t anything more to ask for from an enclosure.


The Runner Up: Silverstone Sugo SG06

We’re going off the beaten trail a bit here since the small form factor market is supposedly shrinking faster than Blackberry’s stock price. Don’t tell that to Silverstone though since their Sugo SG06 offers up a remarkably capable mini ITX enclosure that doesn’t cry out for attention but comes with a great 450W power supply and enough space to fit most mid tier graphics cards. Granted, a price of about $120 and its lack of a slim optical drive adaptor may cause some to shy away but for anyone willing to work within its limited confines, the SG06 is a cut above.


The Miss: Lian Li PC-U6 Cowry

With looks only its designer could love and an astronomical price, the PC-U6 Cowry was literally set up to lose but both are easily overlooked if everything else falls into place so to speak. Unfortunately, exterior design and a $250 cost were the least of this case’s worries.

The main problem with the Cowry is an infuriating, ass-backwards assembly process. The interior space is hard to efficiently work in, cable management options are next to nil, limited drive options abound and the front panel connectors can only be accessed by Cirque du Soleil performers. It's a nice try by a great company, but a case cannot be priced based on aesthetics alone; all other aspect must be considered, even when one’s designers are thinking outside of the box.



CPU Cooling


CPU Cooler of the Year: Corsair Hydro Series H80

mfg.jpg

While we shied away from reviewing too many CPU coolers this year, there were a few which came to the forefront. The Corsair H80 is one of those drives. With its great cooling abilities, long 5-year warranty and a great built-in controller, Corsair’s $125 closed loop liquid cooler ran away with our hearts this year. The H80 is as easy – if not easier – to use and install than any air-based heatsink and yet will give you significantly better CPU temperatures. When you add in the fact that all the hot air from the CPU is exhausted <i>outside</i> the case there really isn’t much to fault here. It may not be the cheapest cooler out there, but it certainly is one of the best this side of a custom loop.


The Runner Up: Corsair Hydro Series H60

The Corsair H60 ushered in a new era for Corsair as it was the first sealed all in one CPU cooling solution to come from the CoolIT and Corsiar collaboration. It may seem a tad outdated now, but its performance is still top notch and so too is its ultra smooth, ultra easy installation process. The H60 is also well priced at a mere $80.


The Miss: Prolimatech Genesis

Prolimatech is a company known for making great CPU cooling solutions but the Genesis never really lived up to expectations. In theory, combining tower and downdraft style designs into one large cooler sounded like a winning combination but the reality fell short of that by a long shot. Installation issues coupled with less than awe inspiring performance left us less than impressed but a price of $80 put the final nail in the Genesis’ coffin.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
PC Monitors & Peripherals

PC Monitors


Monitor of the Year: ASUS ProArt PA246Q

Asus_PA246Q_front2_sm.jpg

The ProArt PA246Q really took us by surprise since leading edge professional monitors used to be the sole domain of HP, Dell, LaCie and Apple. ASUS entered the fray with all guns blazing and the result was a monitor that was as visually captivating as it was well designed.

Not only does the ProArt come equipped with a great IPS based panel, but ASUS – unlike most of the competitors in its price range – takes the time to factory calibrate every PA246Q coming off their assembly line. Because of this, the picture quality was second to none and even if some changes are necessary, you can fall back onto one of the best OSDs we’ve come across. Add in decent gaming performance and you have a true plug and play monitor for professionals, semi-professionals, gamers and everyday consumers alike.


The Runner Up: Dell U2410

It was a close race for second place between two Dell units: the U2410 and the U2412. In the end however, quality won out over price and efficiency. With its extra wide colour gamut, above average input options and a great On Screen Display, the U2410 is hard to beat at its current price of $499. If factory calibrated and physical OSD buttons had been included, we could have been looking at a monitor to dethrone the ASUS ProArt but that wasn’t meant to be. As it stands, the U2410 is a great product backed up by a company known for keeping their professional customers happy.


The Miss: Samsung C27A750 Central Station

Unlike most of these categories this was not a tough decision at all as one monitor really stood out for all the wrong reasons: Samsung's C27A750. On paper, Samsung had a great idea which combined wireless display and input capabilities with sleek and stylish design. In reality, this monitor’s wireless USB drivers were a mess and eventually caused our OS to implode shortly after the review went live (the uninstaller is anything but complete), the 1080P resolution is atrocious for a 27” screen and even the stand featured a litany of engineering faux pas. When you consider how pricey the C27A750 is, there really isn’t all that much to like about it.



Peripherals


Peripheral of the Year: Cooler Master Storm Spawn

<div align="center"><a href="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_front_ang.jpg" class="highslide" onclick="return hs.expand(this)"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_front_ang_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a> <a href="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_front_ang2.jpg" class="highslide" onclick="return hs.expand(this)"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_front_ang2_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a></div>
<div align="center"><a href="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_side1.jpg" class="highslide" onclick="return hs.expand(this)"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_side1_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a> <a href="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_side2.jpg" class="highslide" onclick="return hs.expand(this)"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Mouse/Spawn/Cooler_Master_Spawn_side2_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a></div> <br />With so many great mice and keyboards out there it was really difficult to pick a winner but after much deliberation we kept coming back to a dark horse: the Cooler Master Spawn. This mouse may only be appealing to a certain subset of gamers but with a claw grip design it is small and easy to use mouse that caters to a market that’s been largely overlooked. With a unique set of abilities, oh so comfortable ergonomics, a great software backbone and an asking price that significantly undercuts comparable products from Razer and SteelSeries, the Spawn really is at the top of its class. This mouse certainly won’t be for everyone, but if it fits your gaming prerequisites there should be no looking back.


The Runner Up: SteelSeries Xai

Unlike Cooler Master's Spawn, the SteelSeries Xai is a jack of all trades for gamers and home users alike. Its ergonomics may not be as “perfect” for finger, claw or grip users but nearly everyone will find it’s design above average. For some it may look a bit too bland but when you consider the amount of power and performance hidden under the cookie cutter exterior, prepare to be impressed. SteelSeries is known for their conservative looking, high performance mice and the Xai is no exception. If it was not for the bottom mounted mode changing button this may have been the best of the best this year. Sadly, its higher asking price with unique peccadilloes did cost it a few points.


The Miss: SteelSeries Sensei

SteelSeries holds a special place in our hearts since their gaming peripherals are usually a cut above the competition. Unfortunately, their Sensei was one of the biggest disappointments this year. We were truly excited to get our hands on this thing since the hype surrounding it was unbelievable. Sadly, it fell flat in one all important gaming mouse category: grip. When tenths of second count and bragging rights are on the line, weekend LAN Party warriors simply can’t trust a tool in which slips all over the place when it comes in contact with sweat.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Processors & Motherboards

Processors


Processor of the Year: Intel Sandy Bridge i5 2500K

7th.jpg
9th.jpg

In a market that’s rife with high end products with eight or more threads and ultra high clock speeds, one may wonder why we’ve chosen a quad thread, sub-$225 i5 2500K as our Product of the Year in the processor category. Let’s start with the obvious first: a quartet of threads is more than enough to satisfy nearly everyone’s needs and even the most heavily threaded games will have a hard time saturating four cores running at up to 3.7GHz. Granted, the i7 2600K is another great choice but at nearly $100 more than its lower priced sibling, its cost far outweighs the benefits of Hyper-Threading.

What sets the 2500K apart from the non-K series part is the fact that it is so easily overclockable via an unlocked multiplier. Without much effort, most end users can achieve at least 4.7GHz and even auto overclocking features on boards from MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte will safely bring clock speeds to 4.2GHz.

If anything, Intel’s i5 2500K proves that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get great performance, high efficiency and plenty of overclocking headroom. It is currently the best bang for your buck in the processor market and has been since its release.


The Runner Up: AMD Llano A8 3850 APU

AMD has been talking about their Fusion strategy for the last half decade and while the release of the Brazos platform showed flashes of brilliance it was Llano that finally ushered in the future of APUs. And what a future it is.

Upon first glance the A8 3850 really didn’t have much going for it on the x86 processing front due to the use of slightly antiquated processing cores. But when combined with state of the art graphics processing capabilities, the Fusion architecture really starts to shine in both games and other applications. With the massive parallel computing of GPU cores and the serial processing advantages of an x86 architecture working in perfect synergy, this APU is a cost effective solution for 99.9 percent of the population. So far, manufacturing issues have delayed the widespread availability of these highly versatile processors but if they stay the course we think that AMD could have a leg up on Intel in this respect.


The Miss: Bulldozer

Really, what did you expect was going to be considered our flop of the year in this category? If something went right with the Bulldozer launch, we’d love to hear about it. Most of the time we’re firm believers in ignoring pre launch hype but AMD had the better part of a decade to get this one right and close the architectural gap as their products fell further behind the competition. That didn’t happen.

Bulldozer’s list of failures just kept coming: endless delays, raging power consumption, an inability to consistently beat previous generation processors (let alone the aforementioned 2500K) and an erroneous transistor count information sent to the press. Did we mention the rushed and frankly laughable “fix” for Windows 7 that crashed and burned less than 24 hours after it was posted by Microsoft? Oh yes, it was fun all around whenever the topic of Bulldozer came up around the office.

Sure Bulldozer was able to pull ahead in some case but that took specifically chosen benchmarks which didn’t have any foundation in the computing reality of most consumers or enthusiasts for that matter. To add insult to injury, Bulldozergate deniers are still holding out some hope that Microsoft’s Windows 8 will ride in like some magical unicorn, offering up significant performance improvements. But by that time, Piledriver-based cores will (hopefully for AMD’s sake) be out, rendering the first generation Bulldozer CPUs obsolete. We don't count this as a complete failure though, it was simply a bungled launch of a sub-par product followed by a successive number of *facepalm* moments in the months following initial availability.



Motherboards



Motherboard of the Year: ASUS X79 Rampage IV Extreme

Intro2.jpg

A late bloomer to our review lineup won this segment by a slim margin but make no mistake about it, the ASUS X79 Rampage IV Extreme is one of the best motherboards we have ever reviewed. It has one of the most in depth BIOSes around but still makes basic overclocking extremely easy for Sandy Bridge E virgins. That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider the complexity of the BIOS for those who want to explore deeper levels of memory skews and sub-voltages.

ASUS also saw fit to include several industry firsts in the guise of OC Key, Subzero Sense, VGA Hotwire, LN2 Mode, and X Socket. Those are all in addition to an excellent layout, very mature release day BIOS and a feature set that includes everything we could possibly want in a high end product. The only pitfall we can see with this board is its astronomical price but when paired up with a 3960X processor, there is no better combination around.



The Runner Up: ASUS P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3

This is another shoe-in for an ASUS product. The P8Z68-V PRO is literally chalk full of goodness with an intuitive UEFI BIOS, USB 3.0 compatibility, LucidLogix Virtu support, PCI-E 3.0, integrated Bluetooth, VGA,DVI and HDMI outputs, official Ivy Bridge support and Intel’s SRT SSD caching. It also has a mature software package that incorporates some great tools and ASUS has rolled out regular BIOS updates that have brought about better overclocking and increased stability.

One of the main selling features of this board is its excellent and easy auto-overclocking feature which can safely take your processor to the next level. We’ve experienced all manner of manufacturer-supported overclocking via buttons, software or BIOS tweaks but the P8Z68-V PRO featured on the first we would actually consider using on a regular basis. Nonetheless, the real selling point of this board is its price: at just $199 it represents a phenomenal deal for anyone looking at the Sandy Bridge platform.


The Miss: Sapphire Pure Black X58

When playing against the big boys, it’s best to bring your A-game to the table and that’s precisely what Sapphire didn’t do with their entry into the X58 market. Even though the Pure Black X58 was introduced during the Nehalem platform’s twilight days it felt rushed, seriously incomplete and just didn’t bring anything new to the table. To make matters worse, Sapphire neglected to include features that most other boards took for granted at the time. SLI support and dual x16 PCI-E slots were both MIA while the BIOS was rife with bugs, recovery from failed overclocking attempts was nonexistent and some air coolers couldn’t be installed since there wasn’t enough space between the heatsinks and CPU socket. This is one motherboard attempt we’re happy to put behind us.
 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Graphics Processors & Storage

Graphics Processors


Graphics Processor of the Year: NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti

GTX-560-20.jpg

We’re sure some of you will be a bit surprised by this choice and to be honest with you, the HD 7970 would have been a shoe in…if it had been available in 2011. Instead, it received AMD’s usual paper launch treatment and we can give NVIDIA’s GTX 560 Ti the place it deserves as the GPU of the Year.

2011 was actually a bit of a slow year for graphics processors but that didn’t stop NVIDIA from introducing the GTX 560 Ti; a card that embodies nearly every element gamers are looking for in a GPU. Even after a dozen months on the market it can still chew through the framerates of almost every game at mid to high detail settings. It doesn’t cost a fortune either with a $250 release day price which –partially due to savvy market positioning and great performance- has pretty much stayed constant throughout 2011 but still represents a phenomenal value.

NVIDIA hit the nail on the head with this card and we’re sure it will remain resident in many a gamer’s system for the next year or so. It did however get some great competition from the card that was released right alongside it….


The Runner Up: AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB

AMD very nearly took the crown in this category with their HD 6950 1GB. As a little brother to the excellent HD 6950 2GB and actually outperforming its more expensive sibling in some situations, this was one hell of a graphics card. Not only did it provide an excellent all-round gaming experience but with a price of $259, AMD’s answer to the GTX 560 Ti was able to keep pace with the NVIDIA card at most resolutions without costing all that much more. Sounds like a recipe for success doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, driver development problems came back to haunt AMD and handily reminded NVIDIA users why they chose another route. Due to poor or completely missing release day support for triple-A titles like Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and Rage, the HD 6950 1GB narrowly missed becoming top dog in this section.


The Miss: NVIDIA GTX 550 Ti

Ah the GTX 550Ti, does anyone actually remember this thing? Large system builders sure seem to like it and folders have taken to it like fist to water but that’s about it. 2010 had the lackluster GTX 465 while 2011 got the GTX 550 Ti, a card many claimed never deserved the “GTX” moniker in the first place.

The 550 Ti wasn’t a “bad” card per se since it actually performed quite well in a number of applications and successfully replaced the GTS 450 at the $150 price point. Unfortunately, NVIDIA parachuted a product into a massive mid-range battle between the GTX 460 768MB and HD 6850 without providing it any ammunition or even a decent weapon for that matter. The result was a virtual steamrolling in benchmarks against cards that cost only a few bucks more and near parity with the HD 5770, a GPU that was released more than a year previously.



Storage (SSDs & HDDs)


SSD of the Year: Crucial M4 256GB

Crucial_M4_256GB_top_sm.jpg

This was a pretty straightforward choice since we believe Crucial made all the right choices when it came to choosing components for their flagship SSD. The M4 uses the excellent second generation Marvell 88SS9174 controller alongside high performance ONFi 2.0 NAND modules. This combination doesn’t necessarily make it the fastest SSD on the block but as an all-round performer, things don’t get any better than this.

Unlike SandForce drives, the M4 is as close to “plug and play” as you can get since extra long term monitoring isn’t required and it doesn’t even require a TRIM environment to stay fast over time. When you consider Crucial’s flagship also costs less than comparable SF2281based products, what we have here is the perfect drive for SSD novices and enthusiasts alike. Crucial even rolled out some impressive firmware revisions that increased the M4’s performance past our initial expectations.


Hard Drive of the Year: Seagate Barracuda 3TB

Seagate_Barracuda_3TB_label_sm.jpg

When it came to pushing the envelope of what traditional spindle-based drives could accomplish, Seagate took no prisoners with their Barracuda 3TB. In a year where Western Digital had to deal with serious adversity and seemed to spin their wheels, Seagate introduced a 1TB/ platter bruiser that effectively combined a ton of storage capacity with serious performance numbers. Not only was it able to shame several other 3TB drives but it also outperformed Seagate’s own Barracuda XT. The only issue we had with it came after release when a series of unfortunate circumstances drove its price well past the $200 mark.


Runner Up: OCZ RevoDrive 3 x2 480GB

The RevoDrive x2 is big, powerful and boy is it bloody expensive but if money isn’t an issue there’s no other drive we’d rather have purring along in our systems. While it eats CPU cycles for breakfast, what’s not to like about a quad SF2281 wielding PCI-E based drive like this monster? If OCZ ever manages to curb the CPU usage (even an i5 2500K is not “man enough” to fully harness what the Revo can offer) and take care of the lack of TRIM support, this will be the drive every enthusiast will be willing to sell body parts for.


The Miss: SF2281 with ONFi 1.0 NAND based drives

We’re going about this category a bit differently since an abject failure across a whole range of drives contributed to us taking a step back and reevaluating the entire raison d’être of SSDs. At first, the SF2281 controller looked like it would usher in a golden age for solid state storage but what followed was a long list of long term failures and BSODs. No drive was spared either with consumers reporting issues with the OCZ Vertex 3, Mushkin Chronos, Corsair Force GT and a long list of other drives, all of which we initially reviewed quite favorably.

On paper these drives do sound like a great idea as they provide a frugal alternative to their more expensive ONFI 2.0 wielding brethren. The reality was quite different as many were problem prone until Sandforce finally released their 3.3.2 firmware; months after the issues were first reported.
 
Last edited:
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top