Summary: Our FiringSquad Invitational event at Computex continues to grow bigger, it is one of the premiere gatherings at the huge computer show in Taiwan and today you can see how it unfolded!
When we started the Industry Invitational 3 years ago, the idea was to have a forum for the manufacturers to show off their systems, and also have some fun at the same time. In the mean time, the event has morphed into one of the most fun and exciting events at Computex, with people from around the industry gathering to catch up and relax for a couple of hours. With the help of our sponsors we end up doing a lot of giveaways for the attendees, which makes it even more fun. We also make sure there is plenty of beer and wine on hand-this year went through over 100 beers and 6 bottles of wine! In fact one could say the FiringSquad Industry Invitational puts the Party back into “LAN Party”, which is just the way we like it.
Integral to the Industry Invitational are the 7 awards. These are what the manufacturers are battling for, in hope of including something in their corporate headquarters’ lobby display case. They all take these awards very seriously, as they should. Unfortunately not everyone gets to win, and there are always a few disappointed faces at the end. This year’s contest was being billed as a showdown between 2 industry heavy weights who had previously won 3 awards each: Gigabyte and ASUS. Also eagerly followed was the Overclocking award, for which DFI was the undisputed champ.
The awards are:
A special mention goes out to our colleagues in the web media who helped us out by judging the awards for this year’s event. They are:
John Chow-The Tech Zone
Tim Smalley-Bit Tech
Nathan Kirsch-Legit Reviews
Regardt Van Der Berg-Tide Media
Ricky Morris-Digi Times
Stephen Fung- Future Looks
Chris Ramseyer-Real World Benchmarks
Dennis Garcia-Ninja Lane
Jason Jacobs-Techware Labs
Cyril Kowalski-The Tech Report
EA has made this event what it is from the very first year. Not only do they organize the gaming portion of the event, but they bring lots of prizes for the participants from the various companies, ensuring that everyone goes home with something.
The Taipei Computer Association represents the Computer Industry in Taiwan and is one of the organizers of Computex. They bring a lot of the local Taiwan press to the event and have been our supporters since the very beginning. We appreciate having their support, as it means our event is officially sanctioned by the Computex organizers and brings us broader industry support. This support has allowed us to grow the event to its current size. Thanks to Enoch Du, Angie Tsai and Sakura Yang for their continued support of our event over the years.
As the company that invented the small form factor market back in 2001 with their SV24, Shuttle is highly respected among gamers and hardware enthusiasts. In many ways they’re the Apple of the industry, with stylish designs that are very powerful, delivering performance as good as any full-sized ATX system, yet small enough to fit comfortably on a small desk, or as the centerpiece of a home theater entertainment system. Particularly with their innovative heatpipe and cooling technologies, the Shuttle XPC is really a marvel of modern industrial design.
Sapphire is no stranger to PC gamers being one of ATI’s oldest board partners and enjoys Tier One board partner status among enthusiasts. In fact, ATI has contracted Sapphire in the past to produce all of their Built By ATI cards end users purchase at retail outlets like Newegg and Zipzoomfly. Sapphire’s parent company, PC Partner, is a manufacturing powerhouse, producing a wide range of video cards and motherboards for OEMs. They’ve been so successful that Sapphire has entered into the motherboard market. Their PURE line of motherboards have been on the market for a few years now, and are designed to deliver good performance along with reliability all at an attractive price point.
Sapphire is probably best known though for their lineup of high-end video cards. Besides offering standard Radeon cards that are built on the basic ATI reference design, Sapphire also produces two higher-end SKUs known as the Toxic and Ultimate Edition. Sapphire’s Toxic cards are designed in cooperation with Thermaltake and feature liquid cooling. These cards are also usually overclocked out-of-the-box for better performance
They always take their participation very seriously: I received a call from Robert Ng, their head of RnD in Hong Kong the week before the event. With this kind of support and commitment, it is no doubt they continue to stay on top of the world-wide VGA market. We also have to thank Cathy Yu for her continued support of this event and FiringSquad over the years.
Gamers have long been familiar with Razer, a manufacturer of premium-quality PC peripherals, including mice, keyboards and mousepads. Their company motto is “Built for Gamers, By Gamers” which is an accurate reflection: their CEO Min-Liang Tan is an avid gamer and no doubt this spirit is instilled throughout the whole company. Razer is also a great supporter of LAN events world-wide. If you are into attending large LAN parties or are part of a clan, no doubt you are aware of Razer’s commitment to PC gaming. For the Industry Invitational, Razer provided all of the participants with Krait mice and Mantis gaming pads and also gave away Tarantula keyboards to some lucky winners.
abit has been a name synonymous to PC gamers since the very beginning of performance PC hardware. abit was the first to introduce and overclockable BIOS, the first to have jumperless technology, and the first to include overclocking strips on their motherboards. They also built the first legacy-free motherboard back in 2002, the original MAX series. And since 2003, they have had a close partnership with the worlds most famous gamer, Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, who they kindly agreed to bring to our event this year! Fatal1ty is a great guy and played against any and all comers in a shootout; nobody beat him but someone did walk away with a F-190 HD Fatal1ty series motherboard from abit. Jason from TechwareLabs managed to get the most frags against him and was rewarded by being kicked over while still sitting in his chair, to Jonathan shouting “Fatal1ty!!”-a classic (yet totally staged) moment for the cameras. Once again we have to thank David Jarlstedt at abit for arranging this year’s sponsorship.
FiringSquad readers in North America may remember Elsa from a few years ago-it turns out they are back in the market. Long a manufacturer of high-end VGAs, their focus for the past few years has been parts of Asia and Europe. Elsa was once a very popular graphics card manufacturer and one of NVIDIA’s Tier One board partners. Elsa has fallen out of the limelight in the North American region in more recent years to focus on other markets -- it has been nearly six years since our last Elsa Gladiac review, back then it was their GeForce 3 card.
FiringSquad readers are no doubt familiar with Gigabyte-they are a titan in the motherboard industry. Gigabyte’s motherboards are known for being highly reliable as well as feature-packed: Gigabyte was the first motherboard manufacturer to offer dual BIOS chips on their motherboards as well as all-solid capacitors and their many of their high-end boards ship with 12-phase power circuitry and a host of other goodies including external eSATA ports that can be mounted on the backplate of the system. Their latest “6 Quad” series of motherboards feature quality touches such as all solid capacitors and 12-phase power, making their products unbelievably stable. Check out this recent review on FiringSquad for more info.
Founded in 1999, Thermaltake has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the cooling and PC case markets. Thermaltake’s cases are practically legendary for their durability, their cases are also spacious enough that working inside them is quite easy. The product that really put Thermaltake on the map though is probably their Golden Orb CPU cooler.
Biostar really made a name for themselves with their iDEQ line of small form factor (SFF) systems. In our roundup of four 865G SFF systems, the iDEQ 200T came within a hair of winning our Bull’s Eye Award; in the article we declared the Biostar iDEQ 200T “offers the best ergonomics of all the small form factor systems we tested”.
Like ASUS and Gigabyte, MSI is another one of Taiwan’s largest motherboard manufacturers. Also like ASUS and Gigabyte, MSI has their hands in almost everything PC-related, producing not just motherboards but also graphics cards, networking/communications products, consumer electronics devices like MP3/video players, flash memory drives, and also notebooks. In fact, many of MSI’s notebooks have been picked up by boutique gaming PC manufacturers like VoodooPC.
NVIDIA is no stranger to FiringSquad readers, having dominated the GPU market for most of the recent era of PC gaming. They are the undisputed graphics technology leader and the ones to beat in this department. They have also recently developed fantastic chipset designs that have also taken over the high-end market for motherboards. One of FiringSquad’s long-term partners, EVGA, happens to be NVIDIA’s largest partner in North America. We have to thank Cynthia Lee in Taiwan for her support.
For years now Cooler Master has been at the forefront of pioneering case design. It was Cooler Master who was one of the first case manufacturers to embrace the use of all-aluminum enclosures. By moving from steel to aluminum thermals are improved and the case weighs less. Cooler Master went on to produce several aluminum cases that were highly popular among enthusiasts. More recently Cooler Master has moved into other areas such as CPU coolers, hard disk enclosures, and notebook coolers. At Computex 2007, Cooler Master showcased another segment they’re entering: power supplies.
While Albatron has only been in the motherboard business for about five years now, they’ve quickly made a name for themselves in the industry. Besides motherboards, Albatron also manufactures graphics cards (they’ve been an NVIDIA board partner since 2002), plasma and LCD displays, and more recently, flash memory.
Without a doubt ASUS is one of the most recognized brands in the motherboard industry. With multiple products spanning across chipsets from Intel, NVIDIA, SiS, and VIA, ASUS’ motherboards have appealed to a wide audience ranging from budget shoppers to gamers and enthusiasts that are willing to spend anything in order to achieve the highest performance. It’s the high-end performance crowd that would really appreciate ASUS’ entry into this year’s invitational.
The TP35D3-A7 Deluxe was the motherboard of choice for Biostar’s invitational event system. Running alongside the TP35D3-A7 Deluxe was a Core 2 Duo E6750 running at 1333MHz FSB and 2GB of DDR3-1066MHz RAM.
Another neat feature on Cosmos is its push button drive bay attachments, allowing you to remove 5.25” drives at the touch of a button. The case also has an eSATA port on the top panel of case, just above the power and reset buttons. Here you will also find four USB ports, audio jacks, and a Firewire port. Also prominently featured at the bottom of Cooler Master’s case is their upcoming 850W power supply.
Cooler Master’s system was outfitted with a Core 2 Extreme X6800 and a pair of Radeon X1950 Pro cards running in CrossFire mode. Cooler Master elected to pair the CPU with abit’s 975X motherboard, the AW9D-MAX.
Just a few short years ago practically zero hardware enthusiasts were interested in DFI motherboards. Instead DFI was known for producing low-cost, low performing motherboards for the value segment – overclocking was never considered in motherboard design. Nowadays DFI is one of the most respected names in the business among enthusiasts. The company owes its stratospheric success to their engineers, most of who came from abit and designed some of abit’s most successful motherboards.
Elsa’s invitational system was very nice. The system consisted of a pair of Elsa Gladiac GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB cards running in SLI. With two GeForce 8800 cards running together, the Elsa system tore through our performance benchmarks. Paired with the cards was a Core 2 E6850 running at 1333MHz FSB and 3.0GHz clock speed. Elsa then finished the system off with a DFI LANPARTY UT NF680i SLI motherboard and 2GB of RAM. Elsa then finished the system off with a Wolf King keyboard – obviously they came prepared to play C&C 3!
For this year’s invitational event Gigabyte came with a very powerful system. At the heart of Gigabyte’s PC was their GA-N680 SLI-DQ6 motherboard. The GA-N680 SLI-DQ6 is Gigabyte’s high-end nForce 680i SLI motherboard, featuring Gigabyte’s quad BIOS technology, quad Gigabit Ethernet, three PCI Express graphics slots, and Gigabyte’s Silent Pipe heat pipe with Crazy Cool to help cool the underside of the motherboard. Like many of Gigabyte’s newer motherboards, it also features all-solid capacitors and 12-phase power. CPU duties were handled by a Core 2 Extreme X6800 and 4GB of RAM.
A perfect example of this is Kingston’s 1375MHz DDR3 HyperX modules (PC3-11000), the KHX11000D3LLK2/2G 2GB kit. The kit combines two 1GB modules and is rated for speeds up to 1375MHz with memory timings of 7-7-7-20 at 1.7V.
With such low timings and high speeds, these are the fastest DDR3 modules on the market that have been announced to date and as such we’ll be using them extensively in our testing of Intel’s upcoming 1333MHz FSB Core 2 CPUs.
Kingston relied on more conventional DDR2 memory for their invitational system, opting to go with 2GB of HyperX DDR2 rather than the latest DDR3 memory. Their system was also configured with a Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor and two GeForce 7900 GTX cards running in SLI.
MSI chose to bring an AMD system to this year’s invitational event. MSI’s PC featured one of their K9N SLI Platinum motherboards. The K9N SLI Platinum uses the nForce 570 SLI chipset and ships with dual Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1 channel audio, and dual x8 PCI Express graphics slots. MSI then paired the K9N SLI Platinum with an Athlon 64 X2 6000+ and one of their NX8600 GTS GeForce 8600 GTS graphics cards.
While NVIDIA’s dropped by our event to play games every year, normally they show up the day of the event, setup their systems, and get their game on. This was the first year they also decided to enter a system into the actual hardware competition and they certainly showed up with one helluva system.
PowerColor specializes in manufacturing high-end Radeon graphics cards for enthusiasts. For instance, they have a line of silent graphics cards dubbed SCS3 (short for Silent Cooling Series) which use massive heat pipes in order to cool the GPU without generating any noise. They’ve also partnered with Arctic Cooling to produce Radeon cards with built-in Arctic Cooling Accelero heatsink/fan units integrated on the card. The Accelero is considered to be one of the best aftermarket heatsink/fan units on the market right now, so this gives end users a very powerful cooling solution.
Sapphire’s latest flagship card is the Radeon HD 2900 XT Toxic. The cooling system for the 2900 HD Toxic is centered around a 5.25” drive bay which houses the reservoir, radiator and pump, which is then connected to a water block on the top of the Radeon HD 2900 XT GPU. Water circulates back and forth via two hoses, working to keep the GPU cool. One interesting feature that the Toxic supports is the ability to add an additional Toxic GPU if you want to run two cards in CrossFire mode.
This is the exact configuration Sapphire chose for their invitational system – two Sapphire Radeon HD 2900 XT Toxics running in CrossFire mode.
Over the years many competitors have come and gone, but no company has truly displaced Shuttle as the #1 manufacturer of small form factor systems.
For the invitational Thermaltake submitted a system with their latest case, known as the Swordsman (it’s also known as the SwordM). Like all of Thermaltake’s high-end cases, the SwordM is a tool-free design and supports liquid-cooling systems, in fact Thermaltake’s system was liquid cooled. One interesting feature that the SwordM supports is a shutter enclosure in the back of the case. Cables can be tucked out of sight inside the enclosure, resulting in a neater looking case and better airflow. To further expel hot air from the system, the top can be opened. As you know, hot air usually rises to the top of the case, with its convertible top, the SwordM could be quite effective at removing this hot air from within the system. Another interesting aspect of the top is it is opened by a hydraulics, in fact the side of the case can also be opened hydraulically.
Thanks to its quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6800 CPU running at 3.67GHz and Radeon HD 2900 XT CrossFire graphics, PowerColor’s system turned in the highest performance in our 3D and CPU/motherboard benchmarks. No other system quite matched it in overall combination of performance. This really is a tribute to not only the components used within the system, but just as importantly, the amount of time PowerColor devoted in tweaking the system for maximum performance.
Best Visual Design: Cooler Master
While this is the most subjective category we judge, Cooler Master’s Cosmos was the unanimous favorite among the panel of judges in this category. Everyone was in agreement that the Cosmos was simply gorgeous.
Best Video Performance: ASUS
Like PowerColor, ASUS used dual Radeon HD 2900 XT cards running in CrossFire mode to take home this award. We honestly expected NVIDIA’s GeForce 8800 Ultra system to win here, but without any tweaking and outdated Vista drivers, the ASUS Blitz Extreme/Radeon HD 2900 XT CrossFire system was faster.
Best Portable Design: MSI
This category was a real close one between MSI and ASUS. Both notebooks performed nearly identical to one another, the MSI ran just a hair faster than the ASUS in our tests. The real beauty of MSI’s GX710 though is its slim chassis. The GX710 is surprisingly thin for a 17” notebook.
Best CPU/Motherboard Performance: Thermaltake
While Thermaltake doesn’t make CPUs or motherboards, the system they submitted turned in excellent performance in this category. Perhaps the executives at Thermaltake should consider entering into the motherboard field?
Highest Overclock: DFI
DFI takes home the award for the highest overclock for the third year in a row!! Not only did they take home this award for having the highest percentage overclock, also remember that the Ultimate Gaming Machine, PowerColor’s submission, was powered by a DFI motherboard, and hit the highest clock speed of all the systems tested at 3.67GHz. Needless to say it was another impressive showing from DFI.
Best Low Noise Design: Sapphire
In stock form, AMD’s Radeon HD 2900 XT generates a large amount of noise when running 3D games and applications. This is because the card’s fan runs at over 5,000 RPMs under load. It goes without saying that this can be pretty annoying if you’re finicky about noise. Sapphire’s Radeon HD 2900 XT Toxic gets around this by employing liquid cooling. The result is a card that generates significantly less noise than the stock Radeon HD 2900 XT. We were so impressed at how effective the system was in action that we awarded Sapphire with the best low noise design award.
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