Well it’s that time again, we have to say goodbye to another year and hello to a new beginning. 2016 wasn’t exactly the year I had hoped it would be and I think a lot of people would echo that same sentiment. But around here I have still continued to bring out new content including touching on new areas all together like 3D printing. Over the entire year I published 80 reviews and that is down from 92 last year. I don’t know if that means I have been slacking, but I do know that our content has gotten longer and I am constantly spending more and more time testing, so I think that might be part of the reason for the decline. Every year I like to take a look back at all of the Editor’s Choice awards I give out and revisit them to see if they ended up being used in my personal setup. Last year I gave our 10, but looking back a year later I’m only still using 2. This year I gave out a whopping 19. This may be partially due to working on two different project builds this year, but I still bet more than a few wouldn’t make the cut looking back. So let's take a look.
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Sapphire R9 380 ITX Compact 4GB
I’ve always been a big fan of the ITX form factor video cards and Sapphire has been at the top of the ITX cards from the beginning so it wasn’t a big surprise when the 380 ITX 4GB came out that I would be looking to put it in our next Lunchbox build and I did have the card in the build. By the time our coverage came around though this card was not in it. This was because the card ran to warm for the build with its low airflow. I had a few indications of this in my review and looking back I shouldn’t have given the card the EC Award. Sadly so far I haven’t seen an RX 470 or RX 480 ITX card, I hope Sapphire doesn’t leave the market, SFF builds are only becoming more and more popular.
Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5
For our Lunchbox 4 build, I also got in a few different ITX Z170 boards but the Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 ended up being what I went with for the build. It had a good feature set, good software, and matched the black and red theme of the build. Unlike the Sapphire, I did end up sticking with this one so I imagine for the next few years this board will still be seeing use unless something goes wrong. The Lunchbox 4 build has proven itself to be solid now and it's been to a few LAN events on top of running daily in the office for testing.
Swiftech H220 X2 Prestige
On top of building a new Lunchbox in early 2016, I also did a few mods and improvements to our D-Frame build that I typically bring out to events. This started with me upgrading the cheap all in one water cooling with Swiftech’s customizable kit. I started off with the kit, then shortened the tubing during my coverage. In my review, I mentioned potentially adding the video card into the loop and Swiftech saw that and sent over their Titan X waterblock. Adding the video card into the loop heated things up and that set me off on a whole list of improvements including new fans, a better matching power supply, new custom cables from Cable-Mod, custom acrylic panels to hide the extra cables, and I even added new lighting. So not only can I say that the kit is still being used, but it also pushed me to do a whole list of work to the build over the year.
Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro L
A full RGB keyboard from Cooler Master, when this one came in I couldn’t wait to swap out my Code keyboard for the new board from Cooler Master. Unexpectedly I loved it and started using it on my main PC right away. I even got one for my wife and have the TKL version on the Lunchbox 4. Even after using other great keyboards like the Realforce RGB, I ended up back to using this one. The Code lasted a few years, I wonder if the MasterKeys Pro L will as well.
The NH-L9x65 was the first indication that I had heat problems with our Lunchbox 4 project build. I had built it February but hadn’t posted coverage yet, but I had to switch our original cooler to the NH-L9x65. It had the additional cooling power needed while not being a huge cooler that took up the entire build. In fact even still I’ve been happy with the cooler. I do hope however that Noctua looks at bringing out a black or gray fan option in this size, I ended up designing and 3dprinting a black cover for ours.
So the SeeMeCNC Eris was a blast and for most of the year I had two running consistently in the office. It wasn’t until the Rostock MAX v3 came in that I had to move the Eris’. So I haven’t been printing on them for the last few months, but my wife has been really interested in trying them out as well to learn more about 3dprinting. So this ends up being a borderline one, at the end of the year I’m not using it anymore, but should be again soon.
1UP Keyboards Pok3r Sleeve
The 1UP Keyboards sleeve was a simple handmade bag to protect your keyboard. I started using it right away with the Pok3r in my LAN bag to give is an extra layer of protection. It has held up great and I continue to use it. I have swapped to another keyboard in that time, the Pok3r RGB but the 1UP Keyboards Sleeve still works great. I don’t see this one going away anytime soon, unless I change to a different sized LAN keyboard in the future.
Nvidia GTX 1080 Founders Edition
When I originally gave the GTX 1080 FE an Editor’s Choice award, it was because it was the fastest card on the market and it had good power usage. I swapped it into my personal build and ran it up until about a month ago. I recently built a new build and the GTX 1080 FE actually moved over into that PC along with a second card in SLI so I’m still running it. Any of the aftermarket GTX 1080’s could have also been a good pick but the Founders Edition was the only 1080 to come in and the blower style cooler is helpful in small builds like our upcoming project build. Given its launch was back in June I would have thought that a Ti variation would have come out by now to steal its thunder, but it looks like Nvidia is waiting to see what AMD has up their sleeve first.
Vortex Pok3r RGB
Anyone who has seen me at any LAN events or been in the LanOC office knows I love my small keyboards. I use a full sized keyboard on my main PC but for everything else, I will run a TKL or a 60%. So when Vortex sent over the Pok3r RGB I quickly swapped it out with the Pok3r in my LAN bag and haven’t turned back. No one else is really doing quality 60% keyboards with backlighting so I don’t see this one changing anytime soon unless it is for a Poker 4.
EVGA GTX 1070 SC Gaming ACX 3.0
Welp, it was only a matter of time before I would have to talk about this one. I loved the styling of the new EVGA cards and the performance was up there as well. That said EVGA had some big issues with some of their cards including this one. If you took my advice on this card or an EVGA 1080 I would suggest checking out THIS LINK that has information on the thermal issues that had that caused some cards to pop. Looking back this is obviously one I would take off the list, but the issue never came up in our testing and the card is still running strong.
EVGA GTX 1060 SC
With the GTX 1060 launch, Nvidia did a great job of keeping the power usage and heat down low enough to make it easy for a lot of the manufacturers to design ITX friendly cards like the EVGA GTX 1060 SC. This card specifically performed better than the rest of our 1060’s and was in the smallest package. I used this card to refresh our Lunchbox 3 build and with that, it ended up improving the performance of the build while also dropping temps. All that said, though, looking back to the GTX 1060 overall, AMD has done a great job of improving their drivers to bring performance of the RX 480’s up over the GTX 1060 in even more games. So I think the RX 480 is a better buy now unless you need an ITX solution like this one.
Toshiba OCZ RD400 512GB
Well with 2016 NVMe drives and M.2 drives are finally starting to take hold. Boards finally support them and there are a few more options than just the Intel 750 drive available finally. The only one I had in though was the OCZ RD400 and even though I didn’t have a specific plan for it at the time, I knew I would be using it in something soon. Well in late 2016 the drive made it into our upcoming project build and it has been rock solid. Really looking forward to seeing more NVMe drives in 2017 as we finally get the next big jump in drive performance like when SSDs came out.
So the QNAP TS-451+ performed really well in my original testing and was packed full of features that the other NAS’ we have running in the office don’t have. They even have full VM machines you can run on the NAS like a full server. This is one of the awards that I would be reconsidering, though. After our review, I moved it into our network closet and have been having issues with getting the interface back up and running. I’m sure it is fixable, but I haven’t had enough time to get it worked out.
SteelSeries Arctis 5
With all of the gaming peripheral companies releasing the same stuff over and over again, I was caught a little off guard by the Arctis series from SteelSeries. They took a few of the features that were popular in both of their headset lines and make something completely new, and they ended up being great! I was really impressed with the overall performance of this headset, so much so that I gave it the Editors Choice. Now remember the EC is all about if I think I'm going to use the product for a long time in the future. Well, what I found was that while I love the headset, I wasn’t willing to give up the wireless of my previous headset. Hopefully, in 2017 I will have the chance to check out the Arctis 7, it might be the one.
After years of waiting for that perfect Topre keyboard with backlighting to come in, I was really excited for the Realforce RGB. It performed well in my testing, but it did lack a little of the solid construction that my other Realforce board had. This translated to a little more noise when typing. Well a few weeks after my review I ended up switching back to the tried and true MasterKeys Pro L. So while this was a great keyboard, it is another on my list today that maybe shouldn’t have gotten the EC.
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
So I didn’t end up using the Arctis 5 because it wasn’t wireless so surely I jumped onto using the Crossfade Wireless right? I mean they sound amazing but what I use my headphone for at my main PC isn’t really music, it is just for TeamSpeak. The Crossfade Wireless had an okay microphone, but it would get worse if the Bluetooth connection had any issues, so I ended up with a few complaints that I sounded like I was in a fish tank. So they were dropped down from my main PC use and I now plan on using them with my laptop, the problem is they are bigger than I would typically pack, so I don’t see them getting as much use as they deserve. I should test them out for LAN use as well, maybe they will see more use that way.
Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam
Well in my review of the C922 I found that the streaming focused webcam didn’t really make any big changes from the C920, but the two cameras are still the best webcams to pick up. So in 2017 I’m hoping to use it and get more streaming in, both with gaming and also new print streams and maybe other things like build streams.
SeeMeCNC Rostock MAX v3
Well, early in the year the Eris earned its Editors Choice award because even well after the review I had two Eris’ running day and night printing out all of the random designs that I had found and made. When the Rostock MAX v3 came into the office, however, my focus moved on to it. Not only did I not have the space in the office at the time to have all three running, the v3 had the larger build space that I needed for a few different projects. It’s not going anywhere in 2017, I already have a few other projects planned with it including a 3d printed keyboard and I’ve been thinking of trying to design a Lunchbox style case that is fully 3d printed. I even printed the 2017 for this article's main photo as well.
Caselabs Bullet BH7
Given that this review was just a week and a half ago I can’t really say for sure how it will hold up over a longer period of time like some of the earlier products on this list. That said the Bullet BH7 is an amazing case and it will be used in our upcoming project build, in fact, everything is built around the case. I love the Caselabs construction, its small form factor for an ATX case, and the bright orange color and look forward to diving into the build more here very soon.
Normally I just talk about a few things that I regret not giving an Editors Choice after looking back at how well they performed for me over the year. But before getting into that I want to say that my biggest regret was giving out as many Editors Choice awards. We ended up with 19 and after looking back over them 7 of them didn’t pan out. That said here are two products that I covered this year that ended up seeing a lot of use but didn’t get Editor’s Choice awards.
The Datamancer case ended up being part of a keyboard I built for my wife for her LAN rig and it got a lot of attention at every single event we went out to. The Zotac 1060 was similar, it bailed us out of the delays in our Lunchbox 4 build and has been rock solid from then on.