Gelatiman and I attended PAX in Melbourne this year with a schedule of booth tours and were eagerly anticipating some of the new gaming products from the brands that we all know but it was also a chance to talk to the representatives and find out what was still in the pipeline for later this year or early next year.
There were some products that we were looking forward to seeing in person but we also saw some crazy custom builds and a few things that weren't on or radar just yet. Events like PAX are great for gamers considering hardware upgrades. There are limited opportunities for people to check out peripherals like a keyboard, head set or mouse in person before making a purchase and when you consider that some of these peripherals are over $100, it can be a huge leap of faith to buy 'site unseen' and based on subjective reviews of other people (like us).
The main thing that we took away from PAX in terms of gaming technology is that it really is a great time to be a consumer and we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to companies constantly working to improve their products and competitively price them.
We would also like to give a BIG THUMBS UP to the organisers of PAX Melbourne 2014 for delivering a well-run event that was a privelege to attend - if you missed it this year, make sure you get on board for the next one!
First stop was the Cooler Master booth. The first thing that got our attention wasn't actually a Cooler Master product, rather the DXRacing chair at their demo desk - This just went on my Christmas list, if you haven't seen these, there is a picture below and you can check them out at http://www.dxracer.com.au/. Anyway, back to Cooler Master... They had their new line of All In One liquid coolers - the Nepton series. We have a review unit of the Nepton 120XL so stay tuned but the demo PCs looked pretty slick with these fitted and Dong Xie, the Cooler Master rep explained that although Cooler Master has produced 140mm and 280mm AIO coolers in the past, 120/240 versions will fit in more cases so this seems to explain why the Nepton series is only available in 120/240mm.
There was no shortage of gaming mice and keyboards on display either - the standouts were the Quick Fire Ultimate mechanical keyboard and Havoc gaming mouse. For those interested in spending a little extra effort to have a more customised desktop, we also spotted the Cooler Master Mech keyboard with a removable aluminium place that sits on the top. This plate can be removed and painted or skinned with vinyl wrap for a unique look. The one on display had a red aluminium plate to match the demo rig and looked awesome.
The custom PCs on display at Cooler Master were really nice and we've included some shots in the gallery below. The white Cosmos case with blue accents first caught our eye until we saw the red and black water cooled CM HAF Stacker setup with the ASUS ROG internals. It might not be everyone's dream mod in terms of the colours but it looked really impressive when standing next to it.
Leading up to PAX, I'd seen some press releases about the Alienware 13 and the Graphics Amplifier that makes it possible to use a standard desktop GPU card to give your gaming laptop some extra grunt when you're at home. The Alienware 13 was a noticeable improvement over the Alienware 14 that we saw last year in that it's significantly thinner for a start and more portable. We were able to spend about 15 minutes or so checking out the laptop itself and first impressions were good in terms of the image quality of both the 1920x1080 and 2560x1440 panels as well as the keyboard and trackpad. We were also able to see (and get some photos of) the Graphics Amplifier. The Alienware 13 has a GTX 860M with 2GB which should be sufficient for 1920x1080 but there will still be compromises required in terms of eye candy at that resolution, for any resolution above 1080p the GTX860M is going to be really tested - enter the "Graphics Amplifier". The Graphics Amplifier is a pretty simple concept where you can use a standard PCIE graphics card in an external housing with the Alienware 13 and the laptop treats it as if it's built into the laptop. The housing is basically a ventilated box that has a power supply, PCIE slot that will hold a dual slot card and a USB 3.0 Hub. This technology could mean that one device could satisfy gaming on the go and gaming at home with the same core platform and unlike most notebook technology, upgrading the graphics card over time would be straight forward and less risky to the proprietary components inside the notebook itself. After about 15mins with the Alienware 13, it looked and felt like a laptop I could use on a regular basis.
Fractal Design & Func
Fractal Design teamed up with MWave and had an impressive ice block announcing their presence - fortunately they also had a few demo rigs on display as well as their Kelvin All In One water coolers, the new Integra series of power supplies and a Node 804 on display. We were also able to get hands on with the Func KB-460 mechanical gaming keyboard and MS-32 gaming mouse. There also have reviews in progress here for these peripherals and they are both worth a look.
The line up from the teams at Fractal Design and Func both share an unobtrusive and minimalistic styled design - this doesn't make them boring but it does make them more understated than most of their competitors - the other thing that has been consistent with these bands to date has been build quality. When we spoke to the guys from Fractal Design, they reiterated how important it was to release product to market that was right, even if it impacted on the timing.
The MSI booth showcased their new X99 and Z97 series of motherboards, the Twin Frozr V cooler and their gaming line up of laptops. It was an impressive booth and it was hard to know where to start. The MSI GS-70 Stealth was the stand out for me and although I'm pretty conservative in that I have a preference for standard black notebooks, the anodized red finish looks even better in person than it does in the promo shots. The viewing angle was wider than I had expected on the GS-70 Stealth and the steel series backlit keyboard also had a nice feel to it. With a slim profile, performance compenents and good looking screen, the GS-70 Stealth is one to keep an eye on.
The Frozr V GPU cooler on display had it's fans actually stopped on a running PC because the GPU wasn't working hard enough. The dual slot cooler also looked a couple of millimetres slimmer than the previous version which could be handy for those wanting to pair up graphics cards for SLI or Crossfire.
Update 03/01/2015: We are currently reviewing the GTX 980 that uses the Twin Frozr V cooler and it lives up to the hype.
Logitech's Regional Gaming Product Manager, Max Pan was generous enough to give us 20 minutes of his time to talk about the research and effort that goes into improving their gaming products like the new G910 Orion Spark. We will be covering the conversation in more detail as part of our G910 keyboard review in the coming weeks but it's fair to say that Logitech take their design and product useability more serisously than most gamers and listen to the feedback from the community. After talking to Max and having him take us through the features of the G910, we gained a new apprecation for the 'Science Wins' motto that Logitech has associated with it's G-series gaming peripherals.
Update 03/01/2015: We are currently reviewing the G910 Orion Spark - check in soon for the write up.
As expected, the Gigabyte guys were doing what they do best - Overclocking with liquid nitrogen. It's hard to walk past a booth with dry ice mist and a wall mounted water cooled PC. We managed to spend a few minutes with Dino from Gigabyte and checked out the impressive Gigabyte BRIX mini PC that packs a punch with a GTX760 despite being about 13cm x 12cm and only 6cm thick. The BRIX also has a VESA mount on it so it can be attached to the back of a monitor. Whilst this technology isn't necessarily going to replace your high end gaming desktop, it has enough built in connectivity and gaming grunt to make for a decent media PC or steam box. We like the possibilities that this opens up and look forward to seeing how the future of this form factor pans out.
Tesoro is a brand that has been growing in profile more recently here in Australia and we were able to check out their latest range of gaming peripherals. The dominant product on display was the Excalibur RGB mechanical keyboard that had a nice clicky feel to it and the very light-weight Kuven Angel headset that isolated external noise effectively. We only spent about 15 minutes looking at the line up but first impressions were promising
We saw a nicely decked out Core V71 chassis with a red LED theme and water cooling. The water cooling was the new Thermaltake LCS that is expected to hit the Aussie shelves in December. There were range of radiators ranging from 120mm, 240mm, 360mm and a 480mm that won't fit in any of the Thermaltake cases that are currently available so we are expecting to see a case from Thermaltake in 2015 that will hold their largest radiator. This is a progressive step for Thermaltake who have had closed loop units and the almost half hearted Big Water series in the past. The fittings are all 1/4" standards so they can be introduced to existing water loops or used in conjunction with other parts for a true custom setup.
Also saw the Luna case fans for the first time. The Luna series are fitted with rubber corners and LEDs - although it was too noisy to check out their acoustic properties, they did look pretty good in the demo rig.
Thermaltake were also showcasing their Lifestyle solutions brand Luxa. This line includes battery packs, chargers and speakers. Given that you can't change batteries like the old days, these are the new 'must have' gadgets along with wireless charging docks and media players. One of the devices we saw was capable of holding 40,000 milliamp hours and charging about 6 devices for 24 hours according to Chris.
Last but not least, we checked out the Tt eSPORTS Peripherals and saw a bunch of new entry level products to keep gaming affordable by making smart sacrifices in terms of features. Chris showed us the Talon gaming mouse. For between $29 and $35 online, gamers on a budget can pick up this mouse and enjoy the benefits of an optical sensor, 3 profiles, 2 macro buttons, on-board memory and 6 colours of LED. We also looked at the cut priced Poseidon ZX which is a backlit mechanical keyboard available for $99. Thermaltake are trying to cut the smart corners with these products so things like braided cables and Keyboard USB/Audio pass through have been omitted from the design. If gamers have more to spend, Thermaltake do have an intermediate level of peripherals and their high end Level 10 series.
What we saw at PAX 2014 in Melbourne was a really well run event in a beautiful city when the Spring weather is typically awesome. The exhibitors worked hard to give all of their visitors information and explanation and helped us "press folk" out by organising booth tours and giving us details ahead of time so that we could maximise our time at the event. Thanks to all the marketing, PR, sales and product specialists that pulled some long hours and delivered quality booths for the event.
Word has it that PAX is back in Melbourne next year and the only thing I'd do differently next year is attend more days - it was a great experience to talk to the guys that make our gaming technology and the developers that create the games. There were some good examples of progress in the gaming laptop and peripherals space plus some promising signs for quiet gaming though more efficient cooling. The key hardware manufacturers put in strong exhibits as expected but some of the smaller players that are still establishing their brands were able to demonstrate that their kit is also pretty good too. More choice is a great result for gamers as is the recognition from the manufacturers that there is a need for a wide range of price points to suit gamers of all budgets.
Although I had a blast looking at all the technology and my Christmas wish list doubled after our PAX booth tours, I have to admit that the Indie Pavilion was one of my favourite experiences at PAX Melbourne. These developers really put it out there to stand at a booth and invite feedback, criticism, praise or rejection to show what they have built. I'd like to say a big thank you to the developers for their time and patience in explaining their creations to us and letting us experience their demos at PAX Melbourne. There are some great local titles and a few emerging international games that we're really looking forward to.