I admit, I’m something of a sucker for small PCs with lots of power. A couple of years ago, I wanted to see how just how much computer I could cram into a mini-ITX case, kitting it out with goodies like an Intel i7 2700K CPU, 16GB of 1866 MHz RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 680 GPU. But two years is a long time in the tech world, and Intel has since unleashed three new generations of processors–Ivy Bridge, Haswell, and Broadwell–while Nvidia brought out its 900-series of GPUs, complete with a brand new architecture in the form of Maxwell. Naturally, I was curious to see what a difference two years makes, both in terms of raw performance, and just how small I could reasonably go with the build.
Thankfully, not only has the tech moved on considerably, but so has the fashion in PC cases. Bigger is no longer necessarily better thanks to a far larger choice of Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX cases. You could argue Bitfenix’s Mini-ITX Prodigy case led the way here (outside of the original Shuttle PCs), being one of the few M-ITX cases on the market that let you use full-size graphics cards, power supplies, and watercooling systems. Other manufacturers followed suit, and now pretty much every major case-maker has an M-ITX or mATX model in its lineup. And with smaller cases comes greater choice in smaller motherboards, and PSUs, and all manner of power-efficient kit geared towards those building a smaller PC.
Even Intel’s most powerful consumer CPU of them all, the recently released Haswell-E, doesn’t demand the space of a full tower case, or the power of a 1000W Watt PSU.
X99 and Haswell-E
Yes, Haswell-E, the newest addition to Intel’s “enthusiast” range, quite comfortably works in small cases, thanks to a few motherboard makers creating mATX-sized boards for it. And really, if money is no object, then Haswell-E is the chip to buy. It might be physically larger in size than its regular Maxwell siblings (including the overclocking focused Devil’s Canyon lineup), requiring an all-new motherboard socket in the form of 2011-3, and lacking an integrated GPU, but its specs are undeniably impressive.
The top end 3.0Ghz 5960X chip I’m using for my build features eight cores with hyperthreading (Ivy Bridge-E topped out at six), a huge 20MB of cache, and support for up to 40 PCI Express lanes. That’s particularly useful for those wanting to run triple, quad, or 4-Way SLI or Crossfire setups. Depending on your chosen motherboard, it means that four individual GPUs could run at 8X speeds. Any left over PCIe lanes can be used with all-new M.2 SSDs, which connect to the system via PCIe, opening up the potential for even faster speeds than possible over SATA.
Of course, the 5960X doesn’t come cheap. At $1000 it’s by far the most expensive chip in Intel’s consumer range, with only the workstation-focused Xeons topping it. That said, there are a few cheaper alternatives in the Haswell-E range. The $589 5930K ditches two of the cores, but keeps the 40 PCIe lanes, while the 5820K drops down to $389. That chip is something of a bargain if you’re not planning on running more than two GPUs in your system, but getting the rest of the system up and running is still an expensive prospect.
For starters, you need a new motherboard, even if you’re moving up from the previous generation Ivy Bridge-E. Given the target market, most of the X99 boards are geared towards overlockers, featuring high quality voltage regulation modules and circuit designs, and thus don’t come cheap. Part of the reason for the move to an entirely new socket is the sheer number of new features that come as part of Haswell-E. Quad-channel DDR4 RAM is standard across every board, the core benefits being higher bandwidth (DDR4 starts at 2600Hmz), and reduced voltage requirements of 1.2v at expense of latency. Like most new tech, DDR4 is expensive, and there are currently only a handful of manufacturers making kits. The RAM I’m using for my build–16GB of Corsair’s Vengeance LPX 2800MHz DDR4 RAM–costs $384, which represents a substantial mark up from DDR3.
Elsewhere there’s support for the aforementioned M.2 SSDs and SATA Express (which also lets you use PCIe SSDs). Not every board supports all these features, though. Case in point, EVGA’s none-more-black X99 Micro. At the moment, only EVGA and ASRock are making mATX X99 motherboards, and both have made sacrifices in order to shrink the chipset down to a smaller size. Neither feature more than four RAM slots, and neither feature more than three PCIe slots (realistically, only two of those can be used at once with dual-slot GPUs), meaning there’s less use for all those PCIe lanes. Disappointingly, the EVGA board doesn’t feature SATA Express either, and its M.2 slot makes use of the smaller Type 2230 (30mm) slot, which no high-capacity M.2 SSDs currently use.
That said, despite those omissions, the $250 EVGA X99 Micro is a great motherboard, with high quality VRMs and caps used throughout. It’s also far less offensive than the ASRock boards, which only come in bright blue, or an eye-searing red. That might well float your boat, but for me, the black color scheme of the EVGA board makes for a far classier look.
SLI Fun Times
The X99 Micro also makes for quite the potent performer, particularly when paired with some suitably powerful GPUs. The obvious choice here are Nvidia’s $500 GTX 980 GPUs, which are currently the fastest on the market, and also far more power efficient than anything from AMD. That’s important in a small case, where there’s less space to dissipate heat, and where a bigger power supply might not an option. If you wanted to save a few bucks, you could go with the similarly impressive GTX 970s, but then, if you’re planning on going Haswell-E, money isn’t likely to be too much of an issue.
Speaking of which, one GPU simply isn’t going to cut it in a system like this, and if you’re planning on playing above 30fps at 1440p or 4K resolutions, then an SLI or Crossfire setup is needed. Going mATX means you can’t go with more than two GPUs (EVGA claims you can do three-way SLI on the X99 Micro, but you’d need to use slim watercooling blocks to do so), but that’s still plenty of poke for games, particularly when coupled with the Haswell-E CPU and faster DDR4 RAM.
Trying to find a case that can comfortably accommodate two full-length GPUs like the GTX 980s, along with the PSU to power them, immediately restricts your options somewhat–and if you want one that’s easy to build in with good airflow, you’ve got even less choice. However, Corsair’s Air 240 fits the bill on all accounts. There’s just enough room for the X99 Micro and two GTX 980s, while the dual chamber design that separates the hard drives and PSU from the other components means there’s plenty of good airflow, and enough space for a proper PSU; the design also makes cable management an absolute dream.
The case also sports enough space to fit a dual 120mm radiator. Intel recommends using a watercooling setup if you’re planning any sort of overclocking, and certainly, during benchmarking, I noticed Haswell-E runs noticeably toastier than its cheaper cousins, with temperatures pushing 70 degrees under load with only a moderate boost in voltage. Corsair’s H100i fits the bill nicely, offering up some of the best cooling performance for an all-in-one system, while its thin profile means a push/pull fan configuration is possible, even with long GPUs like the GTX 980s.
For power, I went with Corsair’s HX750i, which is platinum rated, and puts out 750 watts of power. Now, that might not seem like enough for an overclocked system with two GPUs, but power efficiency has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and as I discovered, it’s more than enough to power the system: during regular desktop use, the PSU’s fan doesn’t even spin up. For storage I settled on two of Crucial’s MX550 SSDs hooked up in RAID 0, which should make up for the lack of a suitably sized M.2 SSD, and boast even faster performance. Completing the look are white sleeved PSU cables, along with some of Corsair’s SP120 white LED fans.
The total cost is an eye-watering $3714.77, which is a lot of money, but actually quite reasonable when compared to the cost of pre-build X99 systems from boutique manufacturers like Origin and Digital Storm.
Thankfully, putting the system together was mostly a pleasant experience, thanks in part to the Air 240, which was more than roomy enough to work inside, despite its small footprint. However, using an mATX board does mean you have to make a few compromises with cooling, particularly if you use a H100i or similar watercooling system too. With a mATX board in place, none of the fan mounts on the bottom of the case are useable, while the radiator and hoses of the H100i block the front two on the top of the case. That limits you to using just a single exhaust 120mm exhaust fan on the top of the case, which is fine if you’re using blower-style GPUs that exhaust air out of the case anyway.
However, if you’re planning on using GPUs that exhaust into the case, that might not enough to keep things from getting too toasty inside. You could potentially reverse the airflow in such a situation, having all the hot air exhaust out over the H100i from the front of the case. You could also make use of the two 80mm fan mounts on the back of the case, but 80mm fans are notoriously loud and inefficient, so are best avoided if possible.
A couple of other issues that cropped up included the placement of the USB 3.0 header on the motherboard, which is placed right underneath the second GPU, making it unusable without a low-profile adaptor. I also had trouble with the power cables for the GPUs, which had to be bent back significantly in order to slide the side of the case back on. Only GPUs that conform the standard PCIe card height will fit, meaning taller cards like ASUS’s GTX 980 Strix or XFX’s Double Dissipation models can’t be used.
Overclocking and Performance Benchmarks
As you’d expect, Haswell-E chips all come fully unlocked, allowing you to overclock them as far as your cooling system and PSU will allow. Faster RAM does make things trickier than they should be, though. If you’re using RAM rated at anything over 2666MHz with EVGA’s board, you need to adjust the base clock in order to get it running at its rated or overlocked speed. The X.M.P. profiles of the Corsair RAM did this automatically, and left us with a very stable system, but you may want to go ahead and do things manually if you’re planning a substantial overclock.
Blackmagic Speed Test showed impressive results for the system’s RAID 0 setup.
Cinebench is great for testing multithreaded workloads, with the score of 1726 reflecting the CPU’s impressive core count.
For my system, I went with a 125MHz base clock, which makes use of the base strap ratio to keep things like the PCIe bus running at the stock 100MHz. Combined with the 2200MHz RAM multiplier, this gave us a RAM speed of 2750MHz, just shy of its rated speed of 2800MHz. I did experiment with pushing the RAM up to 3000MHz using the 2666MHz multiplier, but even with a voltage boost to 1.35v, the system was never quite stable.
As for the CPU, things were a little easier. Using a multiplier of 35 gave the CPU a boost clock speed of 4.37Ghz, a nice bump over the stock boost of 3.5Ghz. Surprisingly, it only needed 1.18mv to run stably at that speed. Under load, that resulted in core temperatures of around 65 degrees, which isn’t too bad at all considering the size of the case. Power wise, even overclocked and with both GPUs going full pelt, the system only pulled 580 watts, which dropped to around 190 watts at idle.
Taxing the system proved to be a challenge; suffice to say, anything less than 4K just isn’t worth bothering with. At 1080p the system flew threw every game we threw at it, posting over 100fps in each game with all settings maxed out. Even at 1440p, the system had no problems delivering frame rates well above 60. Only at 4K did the system begin to struggle, but even there the results were impressive. Even if you don’t have a 4K screen, Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution technology mean you can render games at 4K, and then downscale them to 1080p for increased sharpness. The results are impressive, and largely remove the need to use anti-aliasing, which improves performance.
Game Settings Average FPS
Bioshock Infinite 4K DSR, Ultra, No AA 109
Tomb Raider 4K DSR, Ultra, FXAA, TressFX 46
Metro Last Light 4X SSAA, Ultra, Ultra Tessellation 55
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag DSR 4K, Ultra, HBAO+, Ultra, God Rays, No AA 59
Watch Dogs DSR 4K. High Textures, Ultra, HBAO+, No AA 52
Battlefield 4 DSR 4K, Ultra, HBAO, No AA 80
Crysis 3 DSR 4K, Ultra, No AA 38
But are these results impressive enough to warrant spending nearly $4000 on a gaming system? Certainly, you could get similar performance with a Devil’s Canyon i5 or i7 and a pair of GTX 970s, which would bring the cost down considerably. The truth of the matter is that Intel’s 5960X isn’t the best choice for gaming: there’s simply no game that takes advantage of that many cores, with the higher clock speeds of Devil’s Canyon having far more of an impact. And, as we discovered in our review, the GTX 970′s performance is nearly as good as that of the GTX 980, but costs half as much.
The real kicker here is that Intel’s X99 platforms and Haswell-E CPUs push poor old AMD even further down the performance pipeline–and the company isn’t catching up anytime soon. Yes, this is system is overkill for the vast majority of people, and even those who have the need for 16 overclocked threads on the desktop may find it hard to justify a $1000 CPU. But being sensible isn’t what Haswell-E is about.
You might not ever tap into all its power, and you certainly won’t max it out while playing games at anything less than 4K. No, Haswell-E and Nvidia’s GTX 980 is like many of the finer things in life: expensive, exclusive, and oh-so lust worthy. Its bleeding edge tech will eventually trickle down into cheaper products, but for now, if you want the absolute best in computing, Intel’s Haswell-E is it.
Players gain instant access to all unlockable content available in the game (excluding downloadable content);
The Accelerator is available now for a suggested price of $1.99.
2K Showcase: One More Match
Story focused on the rivalry between WWE Superstars Randy Orton® and Christian® in 2011;
Playable WWE Superstars (2011 versions): Christian, Randy Orton, Edge®, Mark Henry® and Sheamus®;
Playable arenas from 2011: SmackDown®, Extreme Rules®, Over the Limit® and Capitol Punishment®;
2K Showcase: One More Match will be available in early 2015 for a suggested price of $9.99.
2K Showcase: Hall of Pain
Story focused on top matches for WWE Superstar Mark Henry;
Playable WWE Superstars (2011 versions): Mark Henry, Big Show®, Kane®, Jey Uso®, Jimmy Uso®, Sheamus, The Great Khali®, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan® and Ryback®;
Playable arenas: SmackDown (2011), Vengeance® (2011) and WrestleMania® 29;
2K Showcase: Hall of Pain will be available in early 2015 for a suggested price of $9.99.
2K Showcase: Path of the Warrior
Story focused on the career of WWE Hall of Famer Ultimate Warrior;
Playable WWE Hall of Famers: Ultimate Warrior (1989-1996), Hulk Hogan (1990), Andre the Giant (1988) and Sgt. Slaughter (1991);
Playable WWE Legends: Honky Tonk Man (1988), Rick Rude (1990), Macho King (1991) and Colonel Mustafa (1991);
Playable WWE Superstars: Undertaker® (1991) and Hunter Hearst Helmsley® (1996);
Access to WWE Hall of Fame ring announcer Howard Finkel and WWE managers Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan, Paul Bearer, Sherri, Sid Justice and General Adnan;
Playable arenas: WrestleMania VI, VII and XII; SummerSlam® (1988, 1990 and 1991); Saturday Night’s Main Event® XXIV and Madison Square Garden®;
2K Showcase: Path of the Warrior will be available in early 2015 for a suggested price of $9.99.
Playable Former WWE Champion and Monday Night Raw® announcer: JBL®;
Playable NXT Superstars: Adam Rose™ and The Ascension™ (Konnor™ and Viktor™);
Playable NXT Diva: Emma™;
NXT Arrival will be available in early 2015 for a suggested price of $6.99.
New Moves Pack
Moves Pack: More than 30 new moves, including an alternate version of Sister Abigail (performed from the ring corner and made popular by Bray Wyatt®) and Multiple Gut Wrenches (made popular by Cesaro®);
The New Moves Pack will be available in early 2015 for a suggested price of $3.99.
About the WWE 2K15 Season Pass Program
In addition to the offerings above, players may purchase select WWE 2K15 downloadable content at a reduced price point through the game’s Season Pass program. For a one-time cost of $24.99, a savings of more than 20 percent versus individual content purchases, players will receive the following items as they become available:
Access to exclusive playable WWE Diva Paige™;
Access to the Accelerator;
Access to all three 2K Showcase stories (One More Match, Hall of Pain and Path of the Warrior).The WCW pack adds five new wrasslers in Bam Bam Bigelow, Diamond Dallas Page, Fit Finlay, Lord Steven Regal and Lex Luger. The new screenshots show of each of these characters, as well as a few shots of other new WWE superstars added to the game such as two Hulk Hogan variants and two Sting variants. These characters were only previously available to players that pre-ordered the game, or bought the Hulkamania edition. These packs both retail for $2.99. Finally, there’s a new screenshot of Paige, who can be earned if you buy the game’s Season Pass for $24.99. Head on down below to check out all of the new WWE 2K15 action! You can also find the detailed notes on all of the planned DLC.The company would later clarified that the Sting and Hogan packs are the same as the preorder bonuses for the videogame. So the only really new stuff in the update are Paige and the WCW pack. Moreover, it seems like the Hulk Hogan pack received a delay of a week in Europe and Australia for the PlayStation 4 version of WWE 2K15:
Last but not least, 2K also confirmed that they are still working on the Showcases. These campaigns take “a bit more” work compared to the other DLC types:
For the uninformed, the new Showcases will let you play through campaigns based on Mark Henry, The Ultimate Warrior and the rivalry between Christian and Randy Orton. You can buy a bundle for these campaigns with the season pass, which also contains the above-mentioned Paige as an exclusive playable character.
WWE 2K15 is now available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles after launching in October for last-gen and November for current-gen. You can purchase the game and/or the season pass with Amazon: WWE 2K15 and WWE 2K15 Showcase Season Pass.
If one thing about Brock Lesnar is certain, it’s that the former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE champion is his own man.
That point was strongly re-iterated last week, when the man who won the coveted UFC heavyweight title in his fourth professional fight was announced as a surprise inclusion in EA Sports UFC’s Legends DLC pack.
Lesnar, whose career achievements include defeating the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania and headlining the two most-watched UFC PPVs of all time, left MMA in 2011 to return to professional wrestling following two straight knockout defeats and a lengthy struggle with diverticulitis.
His inclusion in EA Sports UFC is particularly surprising considering he’s currently under contract to WWE, a company who are notorious for keeping their performers on a tight leash. Not only that, but he also featured heavily in the WWE 2K15 video game, released last month by 2K Sports – one of EA Sports’ greatest rivals.
With the Beast Incarnate’s appearance in EA Sports UFC prompting speculation about a possible return to MMA in 2015, it’s also afforded us with a unique opportunity to compare his character model in both games.
While Lesnar looks impressive and as imposing as ever in both games, EA Sports UFC’s superior lighting ultimately gives it the edge for us. That said, while Brock was much lighter in his MMA run than his appearances in WWE – due to weight class restrictions as well as his battle with illness – we can’t help but feel his EA model may look a little too lean. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
It would seem then that Yukes and Visual Concepts focused on gameplay in terms of the in-ring experience, and, for the most part, the results are quite good. The new collar-and-elbow tie-up system flows nicely, though I would prefer that it only happens once or twice instead of 3 times, and the UI really gets in the way of the animations, but it is an otherwise-welcome addition to the series. Matches have a slower buildup, giving big or important matches a better sense of drama. The momentum and stamina mechanics work together in an interesting way but don’t quite fit together as well as they should. Moves build up more momentum (getting you to a finishing move) while quickly draining stamina, while a measured pace (and lots of taunts), keeps you well-rested, but also opens you up to more reversals of minor moves.
Reversals are still the key to WWE 2K15, and they are one of many “gamey” mechanics that pull you out of the match and remind you that you are playing a game instead of watching a match on TV. The reversal windows on default settings are way too large, and it seems like once a person learns the proper timing on reversals, it’s possible to trigger one every time, which throws the balance out of whack. I’m honestly not sure how to fix this, as wrestling itself relies on reversals to shift the momentum of the match, but the reliability of the system actually works against the game, rather than for it. The fact that you can’t reverse a reversal hurts as well, and actually serves to suppress aggression as both players wait for an opportunity to counter and take control of a match.
The submission and pin mechanics are also accompanied by garish UI elements that feel out of place in such a naturalistic game, and I got the sense that the development team should think about reversing these two. Submissions are handled with rapid button presses and pins a timing-based hold-and-release system, but the timing on escaping a pin can be inconsistent, and the time that it takes to orient yourself to the meter (especially if you haven’t been pinned in a while) can cost you a match in a way that feels unfair.
The submission system is similarly inscrutable, as a circular meter pops up on the screen whenever a submission is started, but the game doesn’t make it apparent that both parties in the submission should be rapidly pressing X/A in order to lock in/escape the hold, so the first couple of times you submit someone end rapidly without much feedback. Once you understand submissions, however, they feel imbalanced compared to the rest of the game, as a wrestler will be unable to hold off a basic submission after only a few minutes if that specific body-part is targeted consistently. I fashioned my most recent MyCareer wrestler as a submissions expert, and my matches end much faster than an older version of the wrestler that had more of a traditional moveset.
There are other little weird minigames that pop up so infrequently as to be jarring and strange each time. The “comeback moment” QTE happens so suddenly and without explanation that new players of the series have no idea what’s going on, and the assorted minigames for ladder and cage matches are similarly awkward.
Despite all of these small issues, the matches WWE 2K15 presents flow properly and feel pretty good, for the post part. I wonder how long-term online play will fare with the reversal windows and latency issues, but the results can be similar to what airs every week on TV.
Unfortunately, the feature-set that was so extensive in the prior 2 iterations of the last-generation doesn’t quite make the cut here. Last year’s “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode is replaced by a 2K Showcase mode that opens well. Each of the matchups available here are bookended by slick WWE-style video packages that set the stage for the action to come. The commentary for each match has specific lines for it (unlike the generally-awful commentary of regular matches), and little touches like the Chicago crowd booing John Cena ferociously as he faces hometown guy CM Punk are welcome. However, the actual matches rely on the same scripted style as past editions of the game, and for some of the more overbooked matches, it borders on ridiculous. When you spend quite a bit of a match building up to a finisher, only to have the game take over and reverse that finisher, forcing you to start all over, it’s frustrating and feels as though the game is more concerned with recreating all of the major beats of a match instead of making reliving them fun and interesting. The vague objectives (damage Triple H…ohhhkayy?) don’t help alleviate these issues, either.
More concerning, of course, is the dearth of content available here. Out of the box you get 2 2K Showcases: one highlighting the tremendous CM Punk-John Cena “Pipe Bomb” Feud of just a couple of years ago and an older, classic feud between Triple H and Shawn Michaels. These are well-done and offer a couple of hours gameplay each, but the scarcity of them is disconcerting. If, for some reason you don’t have a particular affinity for one or both of these feuds, there’s literally no reason to play the mode. They don’t exactly excel on the gameplay front, so it’s only the real diehards that will exhaust what this mode has to offer. There are 3 Showcases coming between now and the end of April, but only one of those (the Ultimate Warrior) feels really compelling, and each is paid DLC.
The hope for 2K Sports is that users dig into the brand-new MyCareer mode, and, again, first impressions are good. Sure, your silent and personality-less protagonist evokes 2K career modes of yesteryear, but considering how much of a douche the player character in NBA 2K15 is, it’s not unwelcomed silence. The mode takes you through the WWE Performance Center, and coach Bill DeMott does his best to train you. It may usually be just by screaming at you that you don’t want it enough, but perhaps that’s just his style.
Regardless, eventually you’re whisked away to NXT, and this is where the problems slowly start to creep in. You’re instantly pushed to the moon, being granted a #1 contender’s match after only a couple of weeks in NXT, which means you haven’t had a chance to build up your character’s stats to a sufficient level, and the game doesn’t quite recognize this, throwing you quickly into matches against guys who build up momentum much faster and lose stamina much slower than you, making it feel like the game is actively working against you. Still, a moderately-skilled player should be able to justify the shotgun approach, and you have a short stint in NXT before shuttling off to Superstars, and slowly up the ladder until you win the heavyweight title, at which point the mode ends. Seriously. MyCareer doesn’t make an effort to put you into storylines, doesn’t give you any rivals to face, and never really gives you a chance to put your mark on the WWE. You’re not a character as much as a robot destined to burst onto the scene, win the title, and leave just as quickly. The WWE is about long, involved rivalries that evolve over time. MyCareer doesn’t replicate any of that.
WWE 2K15 feels like the first entry of a series’ release on a new console, but games that don’t come out at launch don’t get the same benefit of the doubt as those that do. It’s hard to recommend WWE 2K15 to any but the most ardent wrestling fans, but those who have the patience and imagination required to eschew the game’s scripted modes and build their own fantasy federation will find a reasonable facsimile of professional wrestling, despite the oft-horrible UI and shoehorned minigames. However, it’s time for 2K to decide what they want to do with WWE 2K15. As currently constructed, it doesn’t fit with their other sports offering, which looks and feels like a recreation of NBA basketball (with robust and realistic modes to boot), but it will take a serious commitment for WWE 2K to get where it needs to be.