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CES Hardware Roundup

MMORPG.com's Carolyn Koh attended the recent Consumer Electronics Show and has come back with this look at some of the hardware she saw on her trip.

CES Hardware Roundup
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Gaming Hardware at the Consumer Electronic Show 2009 in Las Vegas was a bit of a mix between a “new and improved” with little innovation and marked absence. The Media Showcases held by Pepcom and Showstoppers were a little sparse in the Gaming arena, with only a few companies at each event showing their gaming goodies. The majority of hardware was targeted at the console market. Microsoft only showcased their Xbox games and the Gamezone at CES was sponsored by MumboJumbo, a casual game publisher. With that, onto the noteworthy:

I enjoy attending the Media Showcases. The vendors know they are talking to the press and are happy to provide the esoteric information we sometimes seek. Such as: No, I’m not interested in your six-pack of USB drives or OEM ready PC components, talk to me about the latency of your high-performance SDRAM modules for gamers please.

DDR3 High-performance and high capacity SDRAM modules and compatible motherboards became widely distributed after CES 2008 of last year and Tri-SLI machines were also not far behind. Kingston announced their ultra-low latency (ULL) version of its 2GHz HyperX® DDR3 triple channel memory. Available in 6GB and 3GB kits, the HyperX 2GHz memory carries a lower CAS latency of 8 (CL8-8-8-24-1N @ 1.65v) and were made for increased performance in the Core i7 and X58 platforms and which of course require 64-bit a OS to take advantage of. In a PR feat, they also had an over-clocking event, where their engineers showed a single system with 24GB of DDR3 1066MHz Kingston ValueRAM® running an array of applications using Windows 64-bit Vista.

Alienware was there to chat and shake hands and show off their Area51 and M17 gaming laptops with the Area51s being their “no compromise” models and the new M17, their “bang for the buck” model to meet a certain price point. I could go on about their dual graphics cards, their RAID 0 configured multiple drives, DDR3 RAM and dual core processors, right? But don’t all hard-core gaming laptops have those features? Of note for the Alienware is the customizable cover in two cool configurations, their signature magnesium alloy chassis for rigidity and thermal control and the back-lit keyboard with rubbery keys that your fingers don’t slip off on. Each key’s letter(s) are lit and each key is also outlined by the AlienFX lighting control which allows the user to change the colors. You don’t have to stick to blue or green, you can go red, purple, yellow or even blend the colors or have them change intermittently like a Christmas Tree. Not that any of us would do that! Pricy? Oo, yeah, but totally drool-worthy.

On the main show floor, Asus was impressed enough by Kingston technology to use their DDR3 SDRAM modules in the bleeding edge extreme gamer machine mockup they had on display, using the Rampage II Xtreme Motherboard loaded with 24Gig of Kingston DDR3 RAM (Three matched 8Gig modules), Tri-SLI Asus Video cards with the NVidia chips and a CPU cooler about the size of a bread-box. I tried to engage the talking head there but unfortunately, you know… I’m a woman and what do we know about computers, right? The promise of images and information has not arrived either (not like I was holding my breath). So sorry folks, no pics or more information about the neat little gadget in the display case that supposedly made over-clocking easier or any of the gamer targeted components.

NVidia showed off their latest and greatest in gamer goodness, the integration of the Ageia PhysX chip into their video cards (from the 8800 series upwards) and how the Ageia Physics Engine worked and looked in EA’s Mirror’s Edge. A trailer of which can be found here: http://download.nvidia.com/downloads/nZone/videos/nzm_MirrorsEdge_PhysX.mov

They also showed off their 3-D Glasses and Technology – A boxed set consisting of glasses and hardware piece that syncs at 120Hz. Created to run on the latest 120 Hz LCDs and DLP® HDTVs and NVidia GPUs from the 8800 series on up. The boxed set itself costs $199, but the recommended monitors on the NVidia site will run you $399 on up and won’t ship until April.

A question about tests on eye fatigue was glossed over by the talking head there. Frankly, there are some companies that make it hard for you to want to talk nice about their offerings. “It’s in the press kit.” Sorry honey, I had to dig for all the above information on your website. It definitely isn’t on the press kit.

Astrogaming at Showstoppers presented with Audio gear for Pro-gamers – Gamers that are in it for the competition prize money, with an audio amplifier and headset that were easily portable and set up for a team, with side plates for the ear pieces that were interchangeable from padding to mesh to provide more or less damping, to allow for coaching to be audible to the gamer. The boom mike was also swappable from left and right. Usability and options were certainly their catch phrase.

Logitech had a few gamer accessories to show. Of note was the new game pad, the G13 (shipping January) which was contoured to allow for a more natural fall of your hand and wrist although as for all ergonomic computer accessories, your mileage may vary. 25 programmable keys, mini-joystick and three game modes give you 87 per game. It also allows you to save three game profiles. Five would have been better but it’s still a nifty looking game pad.

The new G9 Programmable Laser Mouse (Shipping April) features adjustable 200 to 5,000 DPI accuracy, USB 1 (I wonder if that’s a typo in their Fact Sheet. Who uses USB 1 anymore?), and on-board memory enough for five profiles. It also has two interchangeable grips; a Wide Load grip that has a satin feel and makes the mouse a little fatter for comfort and a Precision grip with “DryGrip” technology (a rubbery material that absorbs some sweat) and a more compact shape.

Muvee was at Showstoppers again, showing off their movie making software (video editing quite un-needed with Muvee around) and a new internet space www.shwup.com that will host your movies made with Muvee. No, it doesn’t do video captures of your last raid for you, but if you run that video capture through the Muvee software, it will edit out all the standing around doing nothing and highlight all the action for you. It’s a great piece of software to do Screenshot and video mash-ups. Yes, I know it’s not hardware, but it’s hard not to give it a plug.

Saving the last for best, I met once again with Razer. Guess what folks? They’ve had a break through and beaten the problems with latency in a wireless mouse. I spoke with the President of the company Robert “Razerguy” Krakoff. Blond and curly-haired as ever, Krakoff spoke of improvements in the line. New and improved industrial designs for tactile and ergonomic comfort, new and improved cords for mice and headsets, and proudly showed off his baby, the Razer Mamba. 8 years in the making, I received a preview of the Mamba which is priced at $129 and ships in late March / early April 2009.

“We had four goals to meet, four gates to hurdle.” He said.

Those four issues were Latency, Battery Life, Weight and Signal Conflict. All of them solved. Razer wanted a wireless solution to match the 1ms response of the wire mouse and has matched that. The NiCad battery lasts 14 hours and weighs a mere 21g, and Signal Conflict was solved by using 2.4gHz, 21 channels and unique MAC addresses matching mice to bases.

The beauty of the Mamba is that it’s a both a wired as well as a wireless mouse. The USB cord connects from the Computer to the Base unit where the mouse is charged or directly to the mouse itself (and again charges the battery). Not to forget the rest of the tech specs, 5600DPI laser sensor, 64K of Onboard memory for macro / profile storage and a whole slew of other bells and whistles including the software suite that would be better served in a proper product review.

In looks and feel, the Mamba is an elegant little beast. Beautiful and deadly fast. It looks rather like the Deathadder, but sleeker. In my hand, it felt much better than Razer’s last offering the Lachesis, which I had found rather ugly and was never quite comfortable with. With the Mamba, I found myself touching and playing with it throughout most of the interview when I wasn’t writing. I liked the feel of it. That rubbery surface also absorbs some moisture so it doesn’t turn slick if your hands sweat.

In Krakoff’s own words, “In my humble opinion, this is the best product we’ve ever made.”

This mouse is hard to top, but Razer does have a new, yet-to-be-shown 7.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset named the Megalodon, the prototype that CEO MinLiang Tan wouldn’t let out of his hands. Not that it was that much different in looks, but the technology, the new Razer Maelstrom Audio Engine is powered by a chip that was used by the French Air Force in their pilot’s flight helmets. They’ve moved on, I surmise and the technology was available for grabs. Razer’s got it. The Megalodon will have onboard Audio Processing which takes the demand off your CPU and the engine has the ability to process audio algorithms faster than the traditional virtual sound technologies. “Hear your enemies before you see them” is the Megalodon’s byline and it promises pinpoint directional aural accuracy.

So there we are. Not a vast quantity of drool-worthy gamer goodies, but certainly some quality stuff coming out.

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.