Useful Software for your New PC

Building a computer is always just the beginning of the process. In order for a system to function effectively, a PC needs more than just a blank operating system. Many tools exist today, often available as free downloads, that optimize the user experience and efficiency at completing tasks. Over the last 4 years I have tried many different software pieces for different purposes to see whether a program serves to further optimize my work. I decided to write this article to show some of my favourites and explain how they are useful in day-to-day tasks, as well as for gaming purposes and system monitoring. Of course, all of these come after installing Steam or your distribution platform of choice.

MSI Afterburner

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MSI Afterburner is a simple, yet very extensive graphics card overclocking utility that features many tools for optimizing the work of your system. Better yet, it is completely free of charge and its surprising just how much it offers at that admission price. Apart from regulating graphics clock and memory speeds, the utility enables custom fan control and benchmarking software. On top, MSI Afterburner can be used to capture screenshots, record video content and display framerate. Some of the screenshots I have and will be making come from using this software, and it offers convenient options for setting desired image quality. Once launched, the software remains in the background and has little to no effect on system performance. All its functions can be accessed through hotkeys, usually mapped to Fn keys on the keyboard, which of course can be custom-mapped to any key desired. MSI Afterburner is very extensive and offers a lot of control over one’s system hardware, but also works great for capturing image and video content. MSI Afterburner is a very useful tool in day-to-day and gaming tasks, and free of charge, it really delivers on many features.

HWMonitor

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HWMonitor offers complete analysis of system performance and mainly has to do with monitoring temperatures. This tool automatically detects system components and breaks them down into detailed, but easy to understand charts. Every possible process is displayed by HWMonitor, from the speed of case fans to voltage on every core on your processor. It monitors hard-drive speeds and temperatures, clocks on the processor and the graphics card and even how much power is consumed by any system component. Knowing system temperatures is very crucial, especially to gamers and power users, and HWMonitor is the best utility available online. It is also free of charge to download, and just as extensive as MSI Afterburner. In demanding tasks, this utility offers a helpful understanding of system stability at a higher work-load and how it performs under stress. Its also very useful to know whether or not you may have to look for more efficient cooling solutions and if the system is more heated than usual. HWMonitor is another crucial system utility that shouldn’t be skipped.

GeForce Experience/AMD Catalyst Software

Graphics drivers are the first thing to install on a gaming PC, as the entire purpose of the system is designed around efficient gaming. Latest drivers are always crucial in the work of a gaming PC and latest game releases heavily depend on optimized software. Prior to owning my current setup with a GTX 1070, I had a Radeon card HD6850, so I’ve used utilities from both Nvidia and AMD in my time gaming on PC.

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First up is the Nvidia GeForce Experience, and I was quite disappointed by how little I could get out of it. In its current state, this software has many issues and I rarely use it to download drivers for my GTX 1070. Every single time I’ve used it to try and update my drivers, installations always fail, whereas manually downloading the drivers works every time. Many have found GeForce Experience to be a disappointing graphics utility tool, and it doesn’t nearly offer as much as its competition. The software allows to automatically optimize all currently installed games for the newest drivers, and at least exceeds in offering system stability. However beyond that, GeForce Experience doesn’t offer full customization of graphics presets within the software itself, but it is integrated with Nvidia Shield for game streaming. I haven’t found much use out of the GeForce experience and mostly stuck with manually downloading my graphics drivers. It is certainly not a useless utility, but it doesn’t offer many benefits to power users.

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When I was using the AMD Catalyst Software, it proved to be a user-friendly experience that gave me tools in how I wanted to set up my graphics hardware. AMD Catalyst is a graphics driver utility, but offers a lot more on top of it. Visual settings can be directly customized through its interface and it offers a lot of 3D options to tailor experience to higher performance or lower power consumption. I’ve mostly stuck with downloading newer versions of it rather than updates, but AMD Catalyst doesn’t seem to have a problem of failed updates. Games can be optimized for the hardware with this utility as well and it offers many extensive options to set up a graphics card.

Advanced Uninstaller Pro

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Whether you’re trying out a bunch of free software or removing some of your games from the hard drive, the operating system can easily get clogged up by unnecessary files and registry entries. This works to slow down the system and the temporary files take up precious extra space on the hard drive (cleaning up after a few months can easily get you 5GB+). Advanced Uninstaller Pro is so far the most user-friendly uninstaller software that I have tried, and its not clogged up by unnecessary ads and optional software. Although the free version of the Uninstaller Pro does have some monitoring software (that’s bound to alt-tab the game out when its on) that tends to get in the way, but its generally a very convenient experience. It is very easy to access its tools, and Advanced Uninstaller Pro provides easy access to registry cleanup and removal of temporary system files. The software can also be used for uninstalling programs, and conveniently scans for any left-over files from a game or program. All in all, its a very useful utility and if you’re dealing with many installations or programs on a day-to-day basis, it improves system efficiency.

Cyberlink Power2Go/Daemon Tools Pro

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I like to keep my Steam back-ups in convenient form, which is a single ISO image file. I absolutely hate dealing with game folders and zip archives and they often take way longer to copy to an external drive than I’d like. The ISO format is much more accessible, and packs all files into a single image disc that can later be emulated to get the content. There are 2 very powerful utilities available to download on the internet, and I’ve used both of them for my Steam backups. I am not a particular fan of Steam’s own backup system, and with a few tweaks my mounted ISO files can be made to work with Steam.

Cyberlink Power2Go offers a sleek user interface and has become my favourite of the two over the past 2 years of use. The software is powerful, but I’ve only scratched the surface with creating and mounting disk image files. Daemon Tools Pro is very similar in its function to the Power2Go and its hard to decide on which one of the two is better. Both programs offer many similar features and easily create disk images for all your game backups.

Comodo Firewall

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A firewall is extremely crucial in modern gaming and work computer systems as they’re constantly connected to the internet. Windows Defender just doesn’t cut it when it comes to effectively protecting the system, which demands an additional firewall utility. My preferred choice is the Comodo Firewall and with a few tweaks I’ve made it as little annoying as possible. Its robust and very easy to use and offers extensive options in customizing features of the firewall. Comodo Firewall can be set to pick over every little detail, or frustrate as little as possible, and I would certainly recommend turning off HIPS+ defence in the advanced options – its bound to absolutely annoy and believe me, 5 minutes was enough for me. While the HIPS+ feature would have advantages for many users, I haven’t found its value with constant pop-ups. Comodo Firewall is available in paid and free versions, and the one at no cost is completely sufficient to perform all necessary tasks. It needs some work setting up, but the software is very robust and offers many features, just make sure to spend time in the options menu cleaning up that widget and notifications.

7-Zip

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7-Zip is a very simple archiving utility that works fast and offers lots of convenience. The software is free to download and performs extracting/archiving tasks without a complicated interface. 7-Zip works in the background and the system performance only takes a small hit from it. Files can easily be compressed, archived, or extracted in multiple formats and 7-Zip is by far the best utility to use for archiving. You could go for WinRar which is also good, but its full version can’t be had for free.

MyDefrag

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Another issue with constantly transferring files and installing games is the process of disk fragmentation. It slows down the hard-drive, resulting in a small, but noticeable increase in loading times within games, as well as clutters down the system. It is important to have a defragmentation tool available and MyDefrag offers the most convenient experience by far. The program is very easy to use and its features range from full-on defragmentation or a quick one. Additionally, the user can schedule defragmentations for any time of the week, which is convenient to keep up. The software is available for free and provides a great user experience with its neat interface.

Foxit Reader

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A PDF reader is not very crucial for a gaming system, although it helps to have one for work and general use. Foxit Reader is a powerful PDF viewer that offers full editing features. The software isn’t just useful for viewing files, but also allows to easily fill out online applications. Its the best PDF software around and it helps to have it around on any type of computer.

Riptide GP Renegade Review: Back Again with more Jet-skis

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Copyright Vector Unit 2016, Riptide GP: Renegade

Vector Unit is back again with another sequel to its excellent jet-ski racing series, and its now better than ever. Riptide GP: Renegade impresses on many grounds, significantly improving the experience over Riptide GP 2. The thrills of jet-ski racing are all present and accounted for, and Riptide GP: Renegade delivers an experience few others can match. The series receives wider attention, thanks to a release on multiple platforms (more coming soon), but even on mobile it shines. There aren’t that many Android games to match the quality of this title, let alone overcome it. Riptide GP: Renegade delivers quality racing experience for mobile platforms, with detailed graphics and an extensive single player career mode, and is a title that shouldn’t be missed.

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Tech Review – The Revised Xbox One Wireless Controller

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Tested On: Windows 10-Based PC

The Xbox One Wireless controller was already considered to be a great gaming accessory and a preferred input device for players, including those on PC. The device later came equipped with a wireless dongle to use with Windows 10 and for a while it’s the controller that came to dominate many gaming markets. Later on, Microsoft unveiled the premium Elite controller with a high quality build and customizable bindings to please quality-oriented gamers with no budget concern. At last, the product range has been updated to include the updated wireless controller to come with Xbox One S and a Bluetooth functionality to connect with PCs. The new controller slots in between the old models and the Elite, and offers some quality improvements over the original controllers to bridge the gap between it and the premium Elite.

I purchased a white version of the updated controller to use with my Windows 10 system, and while its design doesn’t look outstanding, the controller looks very neat thanks to its colour. This option ships included with all Xbox One S standard consoles and can be purchased separately in white colour. Although many special editions of this controller are available like the Gears of War 4 special, those are limited to be used with the consoles only as the controllers feature no Bluetooth support. On PC, you currently have the option of the black older controller with a dongle or the updated white one with built-in Bluetooth.

Microsoft goes one step further to allow users to customize controller buttons through its Xbox Design Lab site. What it does is allow for millions of colour combinations to choose when buying a controller, which gives the device a degree of personal touch and unique design options. If it wasn’t for its higher price tag relative to the standard controller colours, I would have totally gone for it. As it stands, the customized controllers start at $100 MSRP, which is already quite a lot for an input device. Xbox Design Lab is a quite simple utility tool that offers customizable colours in multiple areas; for example, the controller body, sticks, triggers and the back can be set to different colours to make a really flashy controller. The front and the back get the biggest colour treatment and possess the biggest variety of colour options. Want your controller in pink? Sure. Want in to be purple, yellow and orange at the same time? Not a problem, but you must be crazy to want it like that.

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The new controller is not visually distinguished from its predecessors, but I find it to have smoother corners and grips. The buttons all remain in their usual places and the controller doesn’t feel any different from the Xbox One Controller I’ve used before. However, past the surface, many improvements are immediately recognized, but it still doesn’t justify spending $80-100 on an almost identical controller if you already have one from your Xbox One. Nonetheless, the features are important in moving the product forward and the controller works quite nicely. The device now features a rubberized texture grip for those sweaty palms to hold on to. One of the biggest problems I’ve had with the previous Xbox controllers is when your hands become so sweaty it’s literally prone to fall out. With the updated controller, however, these issues are not much noticeable, although sweaty hands are not completely solved by the rubberized surface. Still, the controller feels nice to use and provides a lot more grip than its predecessors.

More improvements are apparent diving further into testing. The updated controller sports a 3.5 mm audio jack for headphones, taken from the elite. There is still the port for a headset adapter, but the standard audio port makes things easier. On that not, I would not recommend gaming in headphones if you keep it wireless. The Bluetooth connection is not designed to simultaneously conduct game inputs and audio, thus the quality of sound takes a significant hit. If the controller is used wirelessly, sound quality is noticeably very poor, with low clarity and muffled sounds. And don’t even get me started on voice dialogue – it sounds absolutely awful in this setup. Thankfully, all sound issues are fixed by keeping the controller wired so it’s up to preference whether its better wired with headphones or wireless with speakers. I haven’t been able to test the quality of sound in a wireless connection with the headset adapter, as those cost extra. Generally speaking, if the controller is wired, sound quality doesn’t disappoint and can be used perfectly fine with headphones.

The updated Xbox One Controller still relies on using AA batteries, which I was not very impressed by. For a new device, lack of a built-in rechargeable battery is really insulting and this is one area where Microsoft didn’t improve things. Despite the known issues with the Dual Shock 4’s battery, I would have much rather preferred that in the updated Xbox controller than the old-fashioned batteries. Sure, you can use rechargeable batteries in it, but popping them out to charge over the entire night is not exactly fun. The USB port is not particularly done well either, and I’ve got it broken a month into using it wired. The cable still works but it disconnects consistently, however not everyone might run into this issue. The last bad stone to throw would be the controller’s shaky Bluetooth connection. I haven’t used the best quality Bluetooth dongle, but even then, the controller would give me way more trouble with connecting that I would like. A simple thing as unplugging your Bluetooth dongle for an hour can mess up the pairing, and you have to do it all over again. The amount of times I’ve had to deal with that would be astonishing – last few months I’ve been keeping it wired. The new controller still needs a lot of work done on it, and Microsoft hasn’t succeeded in all areas, but there is potential to turn this device into an ultimate gaming accessory, assuming you prefer Xbox controllers over PlayStation’s.

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Bluetooth pairing in itself is not an issue. The controller features a small button for device pairing and the Xbox logo serves to turn on the controller. When you can get it to work, the updated Xbox One controller works quite well over Bluetooth and I’ve never had it disconnect on me once unless the batteries die. Wireless range is not a major issue of concern, as the controller can easily keep up with a few meters away from the computer, but most have their PCs set up in a desk environment anyways, where range wouldn’t be an issue. The controller never disconnects randomly on its own, so it at least provides for extended gaming sessions with no interference. Batteries can last for a while but the controller simply disconnects when out of power, even if in a middle of an intense gaming session.

All issues aside, the updated Xbox One controller deserves praise by bringing the traditional experience closer to the level of the Elite controller. The controller is improved all-around to justify dropping another $80 on one, although if you’re just upgrading, I won’t recommend getting it unless you’re moving up from a 360 controller, where this becomes a big upgrade. The controller can even be ordered in a multitude of user-selected colour combinations to add a drop of personal touch when gaming. The product is well rounded-off with existing and newly introduced features, such as the 3.5 mm audio jack taken from the Elite controller. The new rubberized surface provides for a lot more grip than seen in previous iterations, which makes gaming comfortable even when your hands are sweaty. The controller still uses AA batteries, which I wasn’t impressed by, and suffers from a lot of Bluetooth issues, but despite the abundance of issues I could nitpick about, the controller is overall a solid offer. The newly revised Xbox One Wireless controller is a big step forward and improves on a lot of aspects over the previous model to make the user experience even better.

Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 1070 Review – Raw Gaming Power

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Gigabyte is a widely recognized name in PC Gaming and Hardware. Over the years, the brand achieved its status as one of the most reliable and quality manufacturers, and continues to maintain that standard moving forward with new products. I have previously owned a Gigabyte Radeon HD6850 and the product earned my respect after a consistent 4-year use. The card has never proven to be faulty and provided great stability for my system at the time, paired with a motherboard by Gigabyte as well. But all nice things come to an end some time, and the 1GB old card was simply outdated by the time it hit 2014 and 2 years further.

Moving forward with the new PC built from the ground up, it was important to get the parts that will provide the best stability and performance. At the time of building, back in August 2016, the new Pascal cards by Nvidia have been released to world markets and quickly gained wide attention. At the time, I followed a lot of media news on the new cards and observed how the GTX 1080, 1070, 1060 and later on the 1050 were released to positive feedback. Thus I knew that to achieve best performance and future-proofing, it would take one of these Pascal cards to do the job well. Buying soon after release wasn’t the smartest decision, but prices haven’t changed around much since then.

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Which card to pick up then? The GTX 1070 was crowned by many tech and review sites to be the best price-to-performance ratio, even if the 1060 is more of a budget options. The GTX 1080 was way out of my price range, especially considering that Canadian prices we’re $200+ on top of the US market (so that factored, a GTX 1080 was $1000 and upwards). The GTX 1070 was still quite expensive, however it not only looked like the best value proposition for the performance you get, but also proved to be one over the time I’ve had the new build. The GeForce GTX 1070 is the best value for your money card and packs in a whopping 8GB of video memory to make the product last well for years, in addition to the amount of streaming power it already has. As far as manufacturers went, a lot of choices were appealing, and for the time being I seriously considered getting an Asus Strix. However, after some more research, the Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 1070 caught my eye.

In my experience, Gigabyte offers some of the best performance components on the market, and doesn’t skip out on stability either. So after doing some further research, the G1 Gaming GTX 1070 became my GPU choice. Aside from reliability that I’ve come to experience from the brand, Gigabyte additionally offers some of the highest clock speeds on their graphics cards, and the OC clock on the G1 1070 is faster than any of the Asus Strix or MSI models. This makes this version of GTX 1070 even faster with headroom for higher clock speeds to further increase performance. On top of that, the GPU looks very stylish and offers solid 3 Windforce fans. Gigabyte may lose to Asus Strix or MSI Twin Frozr in terms of cooling performance, but it is up there with the crowd. With all that said, its time to actually discuss the facts on the GTX 1070 G1 Gaming by Gigabyte.

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Out of the box, this graphics card looks quite stylish. Its packaged well so it does take time to get to the sweet spot, but product protection is way more important if you’re spending $600-700 on a GPU. The G1 Gaming shares its design language with the less powerful GTX 1070 Windforce and the GTX 1070 mini-ATX, but this model is the one of largest out of Gigabyte’s 1070 line-up, only outclassed by the heavy reinforced Gigabyte GTX 1070 Extreme.  The GPU comes in more compact than the competing Asus Strix, which gives the G1 Gaming advantage in both speeds and accessibility. Still, 3 cooling fans on a card mean it’s quite massive and heavy, which requires care for installation. But with that said, the Gigabyte’s GTX 1070 flagship doesn’t weight an awful lot to damage the motherboard or the PCI-e slot it rests in. I found no reason to provide any additional support for the graphics card inside my case and over the time it’s been there so far, there is no indication that the weight of the 1070 can damage the PCI-e connection port. Gigabyte has stuck to their preferred design, with an all-around black PCB with some orange accents. The accents form an “X” over the middle fan and although the overall picture can look simplistic, the design is still very attractive. Not everyone will agree on that and it’s a design that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but Gigabyte does a great job of making the card look simplistic, but good.

The build of the G1 1070 is standard when it comes to graphics cards, with a reinforced frame, a visible heatsink and the triple cooling fans. The GPU is reinforced from the bottom by a metal plate to provide excellent protection. You get what you pay for with this one and the quality ends up being very good. No components are left on the outside and the Pascal chip rests under the heatsink with additional protection from the bottom. Under the fans, the G1 1070 exposes its heatsink that runs the length of the entire card. The heatsink is in turn covered by a plastic shell that forms most of the visual design, and 3 Windforce fans are integrated into it. Gigabyte’s fan technology may not be the most efficient, but smaller fan size means shorter product length and none of my games sent it over above 60°C in temperature readings. The G1 Gaming GTX 1070 offers great clock speeds compared to the rest of the market, which isn’t to say other manufacturers are bad. But this card can simply go higher in speeds and its something to look out for when future-proofing a gaming system. The base clock of 1.62 GHz is more than sufficient for running demanding games and tasks, but can be taken further up to 1.82 GHz which outperforms the MSI and Asus cards in many instances. Memory clocks in at 8008 MHz and runs along the 256-bit bandwidth bus. I haven’t had the chance to do rigorous testing with the product, but its standard clock speeds out of the box are sufficient to run all modern games maxxed out at 1080p.

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The G1 Gaming GTX 1070 performs very well under stress, and there wasn’t a time when I couldn’t maxx out any game I wanted. Aside from really high-end features (think GTA 5’s Advanced Graphics Options) and poorly-optimized game, there isn’t anything the GTX 1070 can’t handle. With whopping 8GB of VRAM similar to the GTX 1080 makes GTX 1070 future-proof for a long time. The lack of GDDR5X memory type present in the 1080 doesn’t make the GTX 1070 any worse, and realistically, far few games need any more than 4GB of video memory onboard. Some of the results were very impressive, and I found myself enjoying my games much more than in the past. The GTX 1070 is known to handle well under 1440p, although my experience at the moment limits it to 1080p gaming, but aside from 4k the GPU usually has no troubles keeping up 60 fps or above.

Some game tests (1080p 60Hz Monitor used):

  • Doom (2016) – All presets Ultra: 130 fps
  • Grand Theft Auto 5 – All presets Ultra minus the Advanced Graphics Options: 60 fps
  • No Man’s Sky – All presets Ultra: 60 fps
  • Ashes of the Singularity – All presets Ultra, DX12: 50-60 fps
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – All presets Ultra, no VXAO, SMAA x4: 60 fps
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – All presets Ultra minus Nvidia Hairworks: 60 fps

As seen above, the Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 1070  has absolutely no issues running some of the most demanding games at steady 60 fps, although it’s just the Ashes of the Singularity game that pushes it further. Doom easily hits 130 fps which I was very impressed by, and that factor contributes a lot to the pacing and enjoyment of the game. Very few games are unable to hit the 60 fps mark, and all it takes is usually some simple graphics tweaking to get things back in order. Keep in mind these tests are done on factory clock and memory speeds as I currently see no reason to push it further. The GTX 1070 is already good to last 3-4 years moving forward, and is certified to be VR-Ready by Nvidia. Despite its power capacity, the GTX 1070 is also made to be very efficient and runs quietly all of the time. The only noise I could hear from the computer when playing demanding games was the CPU fan. Additionally, the cooling fans don’t spin at all when working on non-gaming tasks and the graphics card barely gains temperature over that period. This will certainly save you some dollars on the electric bill when you don’t do gaming.

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Gigabyte offers many of the same features in its G1 Gaming GTX 1070 that other manufacturers have, and although it won’t stand out as anything particularly innovative, the card is enough to satisfy a wide variety of setups. The card supports a 6+2 power phase design, which is mostly standard in the latest products and serves to provide stability when powered on. The G1 Gaming GTX 1070 needs a full 8-pin power connector to feed it energy, although the standard 1070 known to require less than a 500W power supply to run. Still, it’s always better to be safe and add the extra watts to go with recommended manufacturer specs. On the side to face the rear of the case, Gigabyte’s GTX 1070 features a multitude of port connectors, going as far as being one of the few companies to still offer DVI for video output. The DVI connector really has to be used as the last option as it won’t provide impressive results, and those buying a Pascal card most likely already have a monitor of no more than a few years or are planning to buy one. The traditional HDMI is included along with the 3 DisplayPort inputs, which can be configured to a triple-monitor setup. The G1 Gaming GTX 1070 can simultaneously support up to 4 monitors even, although it won’t deliver best performance at high-res triple monitor settings. As the latest improvement in image technology, DisplayPort 1.4 supports high resolutions up to 5K and forward, while the HDMI 2.0 is configured at 4K 60fps display output, which is very neat. But if the need arises, those 3 DisplayPort inputs are always there. To mention the last feature, Gigabyte includes 16.8M color customizable RBG lighting on the side, although I haven’t found its effects to extend beyond highlighting the Gigabyte logo.

Overall, the G1 Gaming GTX 1070 by Gigabyte is a very impressive card and an excellent offer for budget-oriented gamers. It might not be the least expensive in the Pascal line-up, but delivers the best performance-to-price ratio. Gigabyte maintains its high level of quality with this product, and the GPU is very nicely built. The reinforced bottom provides protection and necessary stability, but the product isn’t heavy enough to break the PCI-e slot. Through extensive gaming sessions and trying out a variety of titles, the GTX 1070 never disappointed. Most modern games run on Ultra presets @60fps, and it’s usually the most advanced graphics technologies that can bring the card down to its knees. Still, the level of detail possible to achieve with this GPU significantly improves the enjoyment of playing a game. To sweeten the deal, Gigabyte offers a multitude of neat features on top of the standard Pascal chip, including faster clock speeds, reinforced build and automated cooling fan control. As one of the best variants of the GTX 1070 available to buy on the market, this Gigabyte G1 Gaming GPU delivers on all expectations and provides a lot of performance along with some neat features. Nvidia GTX 1070 remains one of the best cards available on the market for its price, and Gigabyte just further extends the appeal with its brand-specific features.

Need for Speed Review – Drift Around Much?

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Developer: Ghost Games; Publisher: Electronic Arts

Reviewed On: PC

Core i5-6500 3.2GHz; 16GB DDR4 RAM; GeForce GTX 1070 8GB

 

Drifting around the streets in the newest iteration of EA’s long running franchise reminds me a lot about the older NFS titles. Need for Speed does a lot to capture the feel of Underground 2 and does many things right to complete the formula. Despite its flaws, Need for Speed is a solid experience, and I personally found it to be one of the best racing experiences on PC in 2016. The game offers a lot of content and a wide selection of cars, with many classics that will no doubt be appreciated by fans of the older titles. Car customization returns after a long absence, and as someone who really enjoys those mechanics, I found myself to lose a lot of time in the garage. The game is not perfect and retains some of the problems the more recent games have, but overall, it feels like a faithful return to formula for the racing series.

Need for Speed looks very impressive and runs on the Frostbite 3 Engine, which has been prevalently used in the latest EA titles. Despite the limitations of its night setting, Need for Speed throws in some nice reflection to compliment its amount of detail. The game is certainly very impressive, and receives the similar level of treatment that DICE throws at its Battlefield titles. The night setting reveals the detail in light reflections which demonstrates the full power of the game engine. Need for Speed might not be the most detailed game when it comes to car models, but its fleet selection looks quite impressive. Not everyone will take the liking to its consistent night-time setting, but Need for Speed takes full advantage of its resources. Although I have tested the game way past its release game at the time of getting Origin Access, the release proved to be stable, and aside from some network issues I haven’t experienced any obvious concerns. Need for Speed runs consistently excellent on my system, with all settings cranked up and a consistent 60 fps performance. The game can be expected to perform similar to other Frostbite 3 titles in terms of scalability and performance across a variety of setups. In the newest iteration, Ghost games includes an extensive graphics options menu and the absence of annoying 30 fps lock found in NFS Rivals. The wide range of graphics presets makes Need for Speed scalable across a variety of systems and the game looks most spectacular on highest settings.

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Ventura Bay’s hills provide for some sweet drift spots

Need for Speed doesn’t offer an extensive garage to match the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo, but its offering is sweet. The game features some of the nicest cars available to race on, ranging from Japanese tuners to Italian exotics. A lot of cars from previous games make an appearance, and I appreciated those rides along with the game’s detailed customization. Need for Speed brings back the much missed car customization system, and especially the Japanese tuners can be extensively modified. Moving up the range however, exotic cars offer very little room to customize the new ride. Car customization is really hit and miss, it mostly works great but more powerful cars restrict player choice. At the lower end of the spectrum though, a small but sleek range of bumpers, spoilers, splitters, hoods and body kits provide enough satisfaction in personalizing your ride. Despite the restrictions however, it is nevertheless sweet to be able to modify a Nissan GT-R or Lamborghini Huracan.

Need for Speed packs in a beefy single player career mode tied in with an entertaining, but completely pointless story. Cutscenes serve more as a distraction than anything, and the cheesy tone of the game’s characters is often cringeworthy. The premise of the plot is that you’re part of a racing crew striving to get noticed out in the streets. The plot follows the basic points of gaining respect, called REP in this case. Player progression is central to the events and the crew do nothing more but provide a consistent stream of events. Still, they come to grow on you and further progression into the game changes crew reaction to player character, albeit at no choice. The career does a great job at providing many hours of content, and faithfully presents the quality of old Need for Speed games. The title is primarily single player, although there are some PvP options which I haven’t indulged in. Its career mode makes up the core of the experience, and I stuck to the traditional experience of building reputation and my garage. Noticeably, some issues come into play concerning the career mode, especially the game’s online integration. The number of times I experienced interrupting server issues, even at this point after release is far too many to count. Yet the overall experience is considerably more enjoyable than NFS Rivals and its backdrop adds a bit of nostalgia for the older games.

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At least I can still modify some of the McLaren 570S

The events are offered in multiple types, spread across Speed, Style and Traditional Racing. The entirety of the plot focuses on participating in various disciplines set by your crew members, which adds a nice touch but doesn’t do enough to steer away from the blatant path of the main plot. The variety in events was good enough to keep me engaged in playing and some car presets turned out to be better at one task than another. I mostly kept my Lancer Evolution MR IX for drift events, while higher performance cars like the AMG GT and the 570S are all about high speed. Performance upgrades make it possible to considerably increase the power of any given ride, and are spread across multiple upgrades named after real engine counterparts. The extensive garage is most likely to warrant another play-through, and it would be interesting to play around with multiple combinations of car types. Proceeding through events earns recognition from top stars of either racing types, which are represented here in live-action cutscenes. Ken Block makes a guest appearance as one of the recognizable figures in motorsports. The story is well-represented through real actor performance, although its role demands are quite simple. Characters do barely more than talk about things with a lot of fist bumping involved. The considerable amount of racing events offered throughout the career complete the package.

Like many games in the series before it, Need for Speed is a fairly easy experience. The traits of simulation are gone since Shift 2 Unleashed and the game is very approachable with its arcade style racing. Drifts are extremely easy to pull off in spite of many walls and tight road bends but it yields a degree of satisfaction in getting the best score. Multiple presets can be changed to further distinguish between point-to-point racing and gymkhana drift events. Car tuning is not as extensive as you’d see in simulation driving games, but it at least allows to specialize a ride to drift more or less. No difficulty presets are available to choose, but instead Need for Speed forces challenge at times through unfair AI, although it is completely random. Opponents can keep up with you even if you’re in a much better car, but at other times they fall far behind, which is disastrous when doing the Drift Train events. Game difficulty is spread very unevenly – most of times it is not too hard at all to win sprint and circuit races, at others the AI beats me by 2 seconds in a lapped time trial, with no chance of improving my time to beat that (keep in mind that the opponent is also driving a Nissan 240SX vs my McLaren 570S). Need for Speed doesn’t present any significant frustrations and despite its shaky difficulty, it never feels absolutely unfair.

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Need for Speed boasts a well-sized open-world with its city of Ventura Bay. There are plenty of sights to see and roads to drive on to make the experience more of a traditional sandbox starring cars. Need for Speed offers no particularly interesting side objectives, aside from some collectible parts the main focus of the game remains on racing and cars. Don’t expect to find much besides racing for entertainment, and although some collectible cars or challenges could have added more to an already satisfying experience, it isn’t a deal breaker at the end. The city of Ventura Bay is relatively large, and offers plenty of driving around its core and outer areas. Similar to that of many old Need for Speed games, the city is broken down into multiple “islands” connected by highways, but unlike those old titles, the world in the newest game is open from the start. Aside from city areas, there are options to drive up to the hills for some sweet drifting down long tight bends. Those provide for the most satisfying drift spots along with industrial areas, but Need for Speed is intent on giving the player the options to drive sideways anywhere. Tight turns and intersections litter Ventura Bay at every moment and allow for some spectacular drifts given the player is skilled at the game. Its almost if the game wanted you to drift at all times. The world map is not outstandingly big, but not really small either. Still, surprisingly, I actually found the concept of driving in an open-world racing game to be quite dull with Need for Speed. The game requires too much travelling around, which is eventually bound to get aggressively boring, and its not even the fault of the size of the open world. Need for Speed simply requires too much driving back and forth between events and cutscenes and it doesn’t do the game any favours. Although the franchise has never had fast-travel systems before, Need for Speed makes me wish it was the game to introduce that feature. Racing is still a lot of fun, but the tediousness of the commute significantly ruins the pacing and sometimes it’s enough to even quit the game.

Issues in Need for Speed are by no means numerous, but some of them carry quite an impact. Besides aforementioned issues with online connectivity and constant travelling, Need for Speed also tends to take a while to load between menus. Even on PC, although I don’t run it from an SSD, the loading times can add up to at least a couple of minutes before the game can be started. The game’s online connectivity plays a major factor in this, as loading screens are dependent on going through a connection process. Need for Speed is mostly seamless, but features loading screens every time the game is launched and any moment you go into your garage. These can mostly be dealt with, although at times annoying, and those who install the game on an SSD would be able to see some improvement in this area.

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Overall, the newest Need for Speed managed to turn out quite good after all, despite average scores from many game critics. It isn’t a game that would appeal to everyone, and even the group who liked NFS games of the old may find itself divided. Nevertheless, Need for Speed has a wide appeal to many gamers, whether as just another sequel in the series or because the game actually brought back visual customization. Despite some of the issues and the presence of always-online connection, Need for Speed retains many elements from the old games to make it an enjoyable experience. The game offers some of the nicest cars to drive, which are made more appealing by a wide range of body parts. Racing is very enjoyable, especially in high performance cars, and Need for Speed offers a sizeable open world to explore. Drifting around the mountain range or city streets is incredibly satisfying, despite the lack of any additional activities within the game. Need for Speed is a great return to form for the series, and delivers on most aspects to re-create the old-fashioned street racing.

Forza Motorsport 6 Apex Review – A sweet slice of Forza gameplay in Windows 10

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Developer: Turn 10 Studios; Publisher: Microsoft Studios; Price: Free

Reviewed On: Windows 10

Core i5-6500 3.2GHz; 16GB DDR4 RAM; GeForce GTX 1070 8GB

 

I’m racing a brand new Ford GT down the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The ride is exhilarating, with realistic handling that strives for my attention. The next corner is coming up fast as I move through the competition. Forza 6 Apex demands precision, each corner presenting a chance of losing control. I hit the brakes hard, slowing down just on time to pass into the corner, gaining a small advantage over the rest of the pack. Sometimes, Forza 6 works in the player’s favour, but more often than not aggressive driving results in a disaster. Maybe Forza 6 isn’t for someone like me, but I grew to enjoy it over the time, and while the Windows 10 Apex edition lacks in serious content, its free asking price serves to demonstrate not only the experience of Forza Motorsport 6, but also the technical achievement of its PC Port.

Forza 6 Apex presents familiar menus at launch, with a clean interface that shows just the essentials. As a Universal Windows Platform App, it works well, presenting no frustration and no notable issues. Diving further into the game, lack of features is immediately noticeable. Forza 6 Apex lacks multiplayer of any sort, significantly limiting the experience. For most, Forza 6 Apex will serve as a quick slice of Forza gameplay if they never owned an Xbox, and paves the way for future games in the series on the platform. The social multiplayer elements are present in the form of online leaderboards, which is not something to especially strive towards. Forza 6 Apex in this way demonstrates a curve towards features commonly found in free-to-play racing games. Anyone looking for the split-screen feature to carry over will find themselves disappointed as well, although the option for local multiplayer would have certainly made the game more enjoyable with friends. All things considered, the lack of mentioned features is not surprising given the free edition of the game, which can still be found carrying a ‘Beta” tag on its store page.

What is available then? For a start, the game features a short but sweet single player, with 13 races split across varying disciplines. Each event consists of objectives to complete which grant medals, although once all 3 are earned per event, there is no real reason to go over them again. Which is unfortunate, because half the cars for each event are usually locked behind further progression and the only way to try them out is to go back and repeat over. That isn’t to say that racing itself isn’t fun and for the thrill alone it is worth revisiting past events, and different cars are always nice to try out. On top of the single player sit daily events, which present another opportunity to earn medals, although I was surprised to notice much of the content gated behind DLC. That’s correct, the free ‘Beta’ release of Forza 6 includes an in-game store with additional events and cars available to those who decide to go premium. On top of the free game, the DLC doesn’t seem to be a bad concept, but its offer is hardly worth it. Additional cars and a round of events won’t keep me playing the game to justify it. Without the added DLC, the single player content is fairly limited and presents little reason to keep playing once the events have been completed.

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Despite the significant content reduction for the free release, Forza 6 Apex retains the core elements of its full-price Xbox One release. Detailed graphics and realistic handling both find their place into this iteration, providing for a vertical slice of gameplay to mirror the depth of the core game. Forza 6 Apex demands precision, and features one of the most realistic handling models I have seen alongside Project CARS and Assetto Corsa. The insignificant single player elements has had no impact on the overall quality of the release, and Forza 6 Apex holds up to offering a similar quality to Forza Motorsport 6. The cars handle tight in corners, demanding control through every moment. A wheel off track can often lead to devastating results and more often than not a race has to be restarted. To its credit, the game features deep customization of its driving elements, striking all nodes to make the experience as easy as possible or as demanding as one can handle. Multiple driving assists can be enabled or switched off to tailor the experience for any skill level.  Forza 6 Apex is quite accessible with full assistance, although still doesn’t quite match the likes of Need for Speed or Forza Horizon in over-the-top driving. On the hardest difficulty, Forza 6 is demanding, but never leads to the point of frustration. Experienced gamers will find a lot of features to like, and customizable assists allows the game to appeal to an even broader audience.

Forza 6 Apex includes a few interesting elements to round off the experience. First of all, I got lost in the robust photo mode that has been included with the release. Forza 6 Apex features a very simplistic photo mode, which yet allows to capture some incredible screenshots. A few simple tweaks allowed me to capture desired moments from multiple angles and the results tended to be quite impressive. I wasn’t a big fan of a lack of a dedicated save folder for those photos and they got easily lost in the process of some software issues.

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Forza 6 Apex shines on high-end system, and its an impressive achievement on a technical level. Tested on my system, the game ran with absolutely no issue on the highest settings and a stable 60 fps, and fully takes advantage of DirectX 12 as the series moves towards a multi-platform release. The stability of the game is fairly impressive, considering how multiple full-price Windows Store releases were plagued with technical problems. When its allowed to take advantage of a powerful system, the game looks stunning and demonstrates some impressive lighting and effects. I was especially fond of the weather effects implemented in Forza 6. The rain not only looks impressive, but impacts gameplay in real-time. Water effects are represented with accurate detail to compliment the overall package.

Forza 6 Apex contains no noticeable performance issues as far as I was able to tell. The game includes a FPS counter in its options menu as a handy tool to show how fast the game is running without any external applications. Graphics options allow for limited, but acceptable tweaking to squeeze performance out of lower end systems. Generally, the game handles pretty well, considering it is a tech demo for a game. It did not present me with any problems to take away from the overall experience.

Forza Motorsport 6 Apex is a nice package to demonstrate Forza gameplay on Windows 10 systems. The free ‘beta’ version available to download from the Microsoft Store provides all the essential gameplay experience of Forza Motorsport 6, albeit with greatly reduced single player content. The game offers a worthwhile experience to any gamer in general, but especially those interested in racing games will find a lot of depth to find here. A limited, but sweet amount of cars and tracks make up this game to show a couple of hours of satisfying experience. If backed up by a powerful system, Forza 6 Apex further shines with its quality graphics and incredible level of detail. Customizable experience makes the demo widely appealing to gamers of different skill levels, although it demands some attention. For its free price tag, Forza 6 Apex is a great game for entertainment, and although it lacks in depth and many significant features, the demo contains all the essential components of Forza racing experience. It’s a game worth trying, considering its also completely free.

The Surprising Value of Origin Access

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I paid $90 for Battlefield 1. I don’t do this very often, hardly ever, as paying full price for new releases is not always the best idea, but some friends and I decided to get it. Past that, I kept seeing promotions for EA’s Origin Access, which offers a $5 subscription to access a variety of previously released titles. Upon checking the catalogue, the excellent value of this subscription became very apparent. The games in front of me included all EA games available on Origin, minus the releases in 2016. Not only that, but some titles are available with Deluxe or Premium Editions, such as Battlefield 4. I then subscribed to the service and came to enjoy the benefits of running my games off a subscription. All of the available games are not just simply streamed from the internet, they can easily be downloaded and accessed in their full form.

The Origin Access subscription costs only $5 a month, and allows for unlimited access to many of EA’s games. The catalogue offers many triple A titles: Star Wars: Battlefront; Need for Speed: Deluxe Edition; Mass Effect 2 & 3 Deluxe Editions, Battlefield 4 and Hardline Premium Editions, and many other games from the Origin back catalogue. Any non-EA titles offered on the Origin store are missing, but that is acceptable considering the already sizeable offer. Furthermore, as long as you keep paying $5/month, all the “Vault” games can be downloaded and accessed anytime, and to sweeten the deal, they can be played with no time restrictions. New titles are mixed in with old, and the majority of EA’s franchises are all accounted for. The present Origin game vault is missing Medal of Honour and Command & Conquer, but those won’t be asked for by many. Still, the library is consistently growing, and just recently witnessed the addition of Star Wars: Battlefront, so more titles from EA’s back catalogue may follow in the future.

Considering that many of the available games are sold for $20 or more, Origin Access really demonstrates improvement on EA’s side. Its just a $5/month subscription, but offers so much more for acquiring it. EA comes to be the first to offer this type of service on PC gaming distribution platforms, and successfully demonstrates the value of a subscription. It can be thought of just like Xbox Live to average out for $60/year and it provides a great service for gamers on a strict budget. Origin Access allows to enjoy many quality releases at the price of an indie game, and offers a considerably more valuable option.

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Despite the many issues that Origin had as a distribution platform over the years since its introduction, EA has taken long steps to fix most of its outstanding issues and managed to throw together a great proposition of a subscription service. Origin Access is priced considerably lower than the majority of the games that come with it, and all of them can be played through in full at no restriction. EA makes far progress into fixing its distribution service, and already works considerably better than uPlay. Origin Access just sweetens the deal further, and based on the amount of fun I’ve had with only 1 of the many games available on the platform, I would recommend getting this subscription for anyone. Its already demonstrated its value to me, and I barely even touched the surface with only Star Wars: Battlefront and Need for Speed downloaded so far.