Microsoft already gave us a look at its next-gen Kinect alongside the Xbox One, but today the company circled back to announce an update to the Windows version of its sensor. Don't get too excited yet, though: the update won't debut until 2014. Still, Redmond has shared details about some of the enhancements it says will "revolutionize computing experiences," such as a higher-definition camera, expanded field of view and improved motion tracking -- essentially the same improvements we'll see on the new Kinect for the Xbox One. Microsoft says developers will learn more at the Build 2013 conference in June, so stay tuned.
Source: Kinect for Windows Blog
Not to be outdone by some of its music-streaming counterparts, Rhapsody's releasing a revamped version of its iPhone app today. Taking on a newly minted look, the service promises this version will make it simpler for subscribers to access and manage their tunes within the application. Rhapsody added features such as a "personalized" organization that, as you'd expect, organizes your jams under the My Music section and splits them into two different categories: Library and Downloads.
Much like on the Android flavor of the app, Rhapsody also updated the Album and Artist pages to display more useful info and tools, including reviews and additional music controls. In theory, these should pair nicely with the all-new fullscreen player and a pop-up menu that allows you to easily add songs to the download queue. Rhapsody tells us the update will be hitting the iPhone soon (sorry, iPad owners), so keep an eye on the App Store if you'd like to be one of the
First! first to test out the goods.
Gallery: Rhapsody for iPhone redesigned
Darkmatter's portable open source Xbox 360 project may have hit Kickstarter with bad timing, but it looks to be drawing crowds all the same. The laptop-like console is available in fully finished or kit form for the Xbox 360, thanks to a 3D-printed, laser cut casing, 15.6-inch 720P widescreen LED display, capacitive Arduino-based touch interface, a headphone jack and support for all native features, like WiFi, 4GB storage and DVD compatibility. Addressing concerns about the lame duck console it's working with, the group said in an update that it should be able to adapt the Xbox One's motherboard as well, though it's obviously never laid a hand on it yet. Any future-proofing concerns didn't dismay those who saw the device at Maker Faire, however, as most seemed enthusiastic about the project, including Ben Heck, who's been known to mod a device or
two 75. You can pledge $499 for a full DIY kit (without the required Xbox 360 Slim 4GB), while a fully assembled and tested Darkmatter Xbox Laptop will run $999. Check the video after the jump or hit the Kickstarter page at the source link to ante up.
Source: Darkmatter (Kickstarter)
Looks like there are more smartphone-loving vampires than we first thought. Following Samsung's plans to offer the Galaxy S 4 in multiple new colors, AT&T has scored a US exclusive for the smartphone in a very distinctive Aurora Red. The crimson-hued Life Companion will be available for pre-order on May 24th, with retail stores getting their supply on June 14th. The lone disappointment is the capacity: AT&T is only offering red for the 16GB, $200 model. Still, we're happy that we won't have to wait for the Galaxy S 4 Active just to get a Samsung flagship in a livelier color.
File this under "things we could have sworn already existed." Microsoft just announced two mice, the Sculpt Mobile Mouse and Sculpt Comfort Mouse, and believe it or not, this marks the first time Redmond has made a pointing device with a hotkey for the Windows 8 Start screen. In addition to bringing up the Start Menu, you can use it return to the desktop, all without having to hit the keyboard. While the Mobile Mouse has just the Start key and a scroll wheel, though, the bigger Comfort Mouse takes things a step further: the button there doubles as a capacitive surface you can swipe to toggle through open programs in Windows 8. If you swipe that strip the other way, you can also bring up a list of open applications running along the left-hand side of the screen. Note: the Comfort Mouse's Start button is located on the left, meaning it was clearly designed for righties. Or, you know, someone with a strong left pinky.
Some other differences: the Mobile Mouse requires a dongle, whereas the Comfort uses Bluetooth. Oh, and the Comfort has a more ergonomic shape, too, but you probably gathered that just by glancing at the name. Expect the Mobile version to go on sale first -- it'll hit shelves later this month for $30. The Comfort model will arrive in June, with a higher MSRP of $40. In the meantime, we've got some hands-on photos (heh) for you to check out.
We're finding out about the new Xbox in just a few hours. But that doesn't mean we have no idea what's coming. Here's a rundown of everything we know, or think we know, about the next Xbox.
We are pretty sure we know what the guts of the new Xbox look like. It'll have a 64-bit, 8-core, 1.6GHz processor made by AMD with x86 architecture and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. (x86 means, broadly, that it's a lot like the chips in your home computer, which is a change for Xbox, which had until now run on PowerPC.) The GPU is an 800mhz DirectX 11.x, and will be accompanied by custom hardware to accelerate certain Xbox-specific tasks. It's also got an ethernet port, an optical disc drive (reported Blu-ray), a default 500GB SATA 2 HDD, USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI out and in ports.
For reference, the current Xbox 360 has a 500MHz GPU, a 3-core 3.6GHz processor, and 512MB of RAM. The upcoming PlayStation 4 also has an 8-core 64-bit processor and 8GB of RAM.
This one's tricky. There is zero official information out there. But we do have some clues. Microsoft supernerd Paul Thurott spitballed a "$500, $300 with subscription" number that hints at the real issue with the new Xbox: subsidized pricing.
Microsoft already offers a subsidized Xbox 360 + Kinect package for $100 up front, if you sign up for two years of Xbox Live Gold at $15 per month. That comes out to $360 for just the two years, which is more than you'd pay if you're bargain hunting for cheap subscription renewals.
A two-year subscription for a next gen Xbox probably wouldn't stick in the craw as much as being locked into two years with the current system (though there's no reason to think the current subscriptions won't work on a new Xbox). But the relative surety of the subsidized pricing implies two things. One, this is probably coming in higher than the $400/$300 levels of the 360. And two, Microsoft understands that a gaming console, no matter how many features you pack in, is a tough thing to swallow as that big of an up-front cost.
This seems like a no-brainer, but a Microsoft exec strongly indicated
There's a popular rumor floating that the next Xbox is going to be called Xbox Infinity, but it's not based on much more than a clever mock-up made by a Redditor. While Xbox has trademarked Xbox 8 (which is an infinity sign turned upright), there's no real indication that that will be the name, any more than Xbox 720 or just plain old Xbox.
Largely the same! Most of what we know about the new Xbox controller comes from our friends at Kotaku
The controller, according to Kotaku sources, actually seems quite similar to the current Xbox 360 one. Same two analog sticks in the same upper-left/lower-right position, same positioning of the d-pad and face buttons and forward and back buttons. Triggers. Bumpers. Top-center power button. It all seems to be the same, though we can't tell if any of these buttons have been improved-if, say, the d-pad responds more crisply, if the triggers pull more deeply, and so on.
More broadly, this means that you won't see new points of interface on the new controller, like the Wii U's 5-inch LCD or the PlayStation 4's touchpad.
OK, so the part about the controller being mostly unchanged is only partially true. Why? The Kinect will be standard with every next gen Xbox sold, making it even more of a de facto controller extension than the current iteration.
The Kinect 2 will be upgraded significantly, to not just detect broad arm movements and laborious, seizure-like movements generously described as "dancing", but finer hand gestures sent from multiple users. It's also said to implement more natural language controls (think Siri), as well as features like wake-on-speech.
Which sounds great. But in reality, it's probably more realistic to expect the new Kinect to perform the tasks the original was meant to at a now-acceptable level, and for these new features to be at about the same level as the curent Kinect (that is, passable, at times). So look for refined gesture recognition and improved speech control accuracy, chiefly.
Other less certain rumored features include eye-tracking, which can be amazing
This has been a major sticking point. Rumors have persisted that the new Xbox will require a persistent internet connection, presumably at broadband level, in order to play games. And the people have not been amused.
The move, which we've seen with individual games like Diablo 3 and SimCity, would presumably be to enforce stricter security and anti-piracy features. It would also prevent a smaller-every-day but still significant group of people from playing and enjoying Xbox games. But we've also heard that it could only pertain to entertainment features, which would make slightly more sense, since that would require constantly pulling down information about content.
Microsoft has kowtowed to public sentiment on other future-facing issues after backlash from the slow or unreliably networked, like its original musings about ditching the optical drive this generation in favor of downloaded games. So it could go either way.
Update: An internal Microsoft memo obtained by Ars Technica indicates that you'll be able to play Xbox games offline after all. Phew! Hopefully.
One of the underplayed details is that the new console will reportedly have an HDMI in port. What does that mean? The Xbox is in all likelihood going to be used to control literally everything your TV does.
How would that work? The HDMI-out from your cable box would route through your Xbox, which would then apply its own interface on top of it. Theoretically, that would let Microsoft integrate all sorts of features into that. It's likely where the reports of the Kinect controlling your cable box
Don't sleep on this as a major feature of the new Xbox. It could include capabilities ranging from deep content recognition to DVR to (hypothetically) picture-in-picture TV shows in games. This is especially interesting given the reported capability to "hot switch" between two games, effectively running both at once. The WSJ recently reported that Microsoft had definitely at least explored these options?though how many show up tomorrow is anyone's guess outside of Redmond.
And don't forget, Microsoft is also reported to have
Back in September, Microsoft hired a CBS executive
This is based on speculation, but hear us out anyway. The new Xbox will probably integrate tightly into Windows 8, and the broader Windows Universe that Microsoft is building. It will do this as a gaming system, but also as a set top box.
The first thing to note is that this is actually possible this generation. The new Xbox has moved to an AMD x86 chip, meaning it's using the same type of chip that Windows PCs have. Rumors have the new Xbox running Windows 8, but even if it's not quite running the same operating system, the change of platforms should make developing games, especially for indie developers, a lot easier.
Consider: Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) is hugely successful. It's a wonderful place to find and enjoy indie content. And that's exactly the sort of thing that Microsoft would love to get into its Windows Store, which is doing fine, more or less, but still hasn't reached the level Microsoft would like.
Further, tighter integration of apps like Xbox Music, Internet Explorer, and other Windows 8 features, would make sense for the central location of Windows 8 in your home. Of course, that doesn't mean you'd just fire up the Xbox and see the Windows 8 start screen. The Dashboard has been revamped a few times, but it's already in tune with the Windows 8 aesthetic (and, really, was the incubator for it), so figure that'll go along mostly untouched.
The biggest bummer to come out of the rumor mill is that the new Xbox might ditch the ability to play, and therefore buy and sell and trade, used games. It's unclear whether that will happen, but we do know that games will have to be installed to be played, though that will take place in the background over the course of play, instead of up front before you can even get into the game.
Microsoft is also rumored to have a 7-inch Xbox tablet
With clear skies and rising temperatures around the country, the summer travel season is nearly upon us. And unless you've got money to burn or a first-born to offer, now's the time to book your travel plans. Here's how to get away without breaking the bank.
Airline ticket pricing is a fickle mistress. While prices overall have steadily risen over the last two years?and showing no signs of stopping any time soon?the cost of an individual ticket depends on a myriad of factors, the largest of which being when you buy it and when you want to leave.
By and large, prices are lowest when book your flight at least 21 days in advance and rapidly increase as the departure date draws near. Seat pricing often fluctuates depending on the departing day, with weekend flights costing more than mid-week ones. If you can be flexible on what days you fly, say on a Tuesday rather than a Friday, many additional seating options will be available for less. Obviously, there are exceptions to that pattern: booking for major travel days like the night before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Superbowl Weekend are going to be uber-pricey no matter what, and flying during the North American travel season (June to August) will see many of the less expensive seats purchased months in advance.
Sometimes it also pays to be patient. Airlines will often post "weekend deals" for flights and routes they're trying to fill. Prices for these seats likely won't be as 21-day advance purchases but if you're travelling last-minute, they'll get your butt in a seat for less than what you'd pay at the ticket counter.
Used to be, if you didn't buy your tickets directly from the airlines, you'd have to go through a intermediary, a travel agent. These people would put together vacation packages for travelers, including flights, car rentals, and hotel accommodations. The rise of the Internet, of course, put a stop to all that silliness. Now, a plethora of travel sites (including the airlines themselves) perform the same function, you've just got to know how to use them effectively.
Every major American carrier will gladly sell you a seat directly from its website. United, Delta, Virgin, American, Southwest, Jet Blue, and Alaska all do, as well as a number of smaller, regional carriers. If you tend to fly primarily on one carrier than the others, sign up for the company's newsletter or mobile app?which often contain deep discount offers?and follow them on Twitter?Virgin and JetBlue both regularly drop great deals through the social media service. If you can afford the debt, sign up for an airline-branded credit card that delivers miles or other flight perks.
If you're airline agnostic and want to compare the fares for a given time and trip across multiple airlines, there's no need to check each website individually. Instead, use a cost comparison site like Fare Compare, KAYAK, or Skyscanner. These services not only list the flights available for your specific departure time?sourced from both the airlines themselves and other booking sites like Hotwire and Priceline?it also allows you to see all the flights for that date from up to three other travel sites. So say you're flying SFO to JFK, leaving May 23 at 6pm. The service will show both the flights available for 6pm, but also all JFK-bound flights out of SFO for the 23rd. You might find something cheaper if you fly two hours earlier. Hipmunk might be your best option of all; it sorts by price just as effectively as other providers, but also by how much of a pain in the ass your connections will be.
Chances are, you're probably going to need transportation and accommodations once you get to wherever you're going so you might as well bundle those in with the price of the flight and save a few bucks, right? Sites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Priceline all provide this service and operate much like the flight comparison sites above. Each service has different limits to the discounts it can provide for any given package, so you'll do well to give all three a quick look before pulling out your credit card.
There's no reason to fork over your hard earned cash when you've got hard-earned miles that can cover the cost but you'll have to book early. Airlines only designate a couple of seats per flight to reward passengers (those paying with miles). Only about 10 percent of a carrier's total number of seats are reserved for rewards and those go quickly?even on otherwise empty flights. You can thank the airlines' yield management software, which determines the price of a particular route or flight, for these blackout dates.
Mile Rewards are also governed according to their status as either Saver or Standard. Saver rewards are usually capacity-controlled but require half as many miles as Standard rewards, which are available regarless of how full the flight. In general, you should expect to pay somewhere in this ballpark when using saver miles, though for off-peak travel, these figures may be as much as 5,000 miles less:
Well, what are you waiting for? Book your flight and go see the world?or at least visit your parents. Hey, it's still better than the In-Laws.
[Smarter Travel - Budget Travel - Independent Traveler - Cheap Flights - Wild Junket - Mashable - Image: doomu / Shutterstock, tratong / Shutterstock, FuzzBones / Shutterstock, michaeljung / Shutterstock]
There's something on the internet that you desperately want to keep everyone from seeing. Something you're deeply embarrassed of. That would show all your friends how you're not actually as smart and fashionable and ironically self-aware as you pretend to be. And you really ought to get over it.
We all have stuff like this. Maybe it's a gross Facebook album from college. Or a Xanga or Livejournal or Blogger account, or a dance you did
So what's the underlying holdup we have about this stuff? On one hand, yes, yours are the same skeletons everyone else has tried to scrub from the web. But just the same, they leave you feeling impossibly exposed?especially ones where you really tapped into your feelings, like those old personal blog entries. And it's all kind of earnest for the way the internet works now, where you're required to maintain a constant ironic detachment. Which is true. But at some point, all that earnesty really betrays is that you're a human being with human feelings.
Still, it's a tough sell. I asked Gawker's advice maven and wonderful person Caity Weaver what she thought (while she was starving and all crazy, she asked us to specify), and she said, "Oh my God that is like my greatest nightmare. People are vicious animals." But isn't everyone an awkward mess, and doesn't it just end up being endearing? "I meeeaannnn, I would not want that to happen to me, even with your sweet logic. I guess it depends how embarrassing. If your life was just boring, then enjoy your boring life, no one cares."
Point taken. But how boring is anyone's life, really? No one you know who's spent any amount of time on the internet?or really, any amount of time being a human being, because humanity is inherently sad and creepy and idiotic?is without humiliating memories. And the thing is, the entire internet, basically, has declared embarrassment bankruptcy. There's just too much stupid now, ours and the world's, to really shame you the way you feel you deserve.
That's relegated what at one time might have been life-scarring bungles into pieces of digital ephemera. Or actually, diluted the idea of embarrassment to the point that your polemic about how all these haters need to back the hell off of Travis Barker is basically the internet equivalent of those pictures your mom has of you when she used to dress you up like a baby duck whenever she took you to the mall, or that Homecoming lip sync video she refuses to let die. You bristle when they're brought up, but ultimately, they're usually more fun than they are mortifying unless you're a huge closet racist.
Obviously, this doesn't include things that can actually cause material damage to you, your loved ones, or your career. Yes, you should probably do everything in your power to scrub the photo of you peeing in the break room coffee machine off of the net. And that Ashley Madison account is probably asking for trouble. And if you're committing crimes, it probably doesn't matter if you're found out online or off.
But that horrid Facebook picture your jerk friend Ashley keeps re-tagging you in where you have nine chins and the pallid complexion of a Se7en victim? Who cares. How do you possibly expect that to compete for your friends' internet mindspace when you're competing with assholes dunking their heads in buckets of urine
So you can go on imagining your past being held up to the internet's magnifying glass as a total nightmare. But unless you were doing something especially anatomical with that Labradoodle, no one's going to be half as embarrassed for you as you are of yourself. So embrace it. Own it. No one likes the girl who's too cool to make funny faces in pictures.
Our days of sales-taxless, free-love internet revelry may be numbered. Thursday afternoon, the Senate voted to open the floor
And strangely enough, everyone's favorite online tax-free haven is leading the charge. Et tu, Amazon? Also... why?
The new legislation would require all internet retailers to charge the sales tax rate of the item's destination, overruling the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Quill v. North Dakota that made online shopping an easily tax-free zone. According to David French, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Retail Federation:
The industry is evolving very rapidly, and the law today is a 20th-century interpretation of an 18th-century document that is holding back the entire retail industry as it adapts to 21st-century consumer preferences and demand.
In other words, states are tired of missing out on the estimated $22 billion a year that taxed online sales could produce. And Amazon's doing everything it can to help them get it back.
According to the Quill ruling, retailers without an actual physical presence (stores, warehouses, computer servers, what have you) in a state aren't required to force customers to throw down sales tax on their purchases. While a lot of business that allow mail and online orders do, in fact, have brick-and-mortar locations in plenty of states?think Best Buy, Target, Walmart?it's this ruling that spurred Amazon and others like it to build as few of their warehouses around the country as possible. With this handy little loophole, massive online retailers get to offer lower prices, lure in more customers, and put another nail in Mom and Pop's respective coffins, all in one fell swoop.
But the bipartisan, 10-senator-backed bill thinks the playing field's become uneven, and they're ready to level it out. Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan said at Wednesday's hearing:
Today, while local small business retailers follow the law and collect sales taxes from customers who make purchases in their stores, many big business online and catalogue retailers do not collect the same taxes. This puts local neighborhood-based small businesses at a disadvantage to big, out-of-state, online companies. And because these out-of-state companies are able to cut corners and play by a different set of rules, cities and states lose out on funding for K-12 education, police and fire protection, access to affordable health care and funding for roads and bridges.
Of course, just because the retailers aren't required to collect the tax themselves doesn't mean that it's technically not still there. For every online and otherwise non-sales-taxed purchase you make, the government is putting you on your honor to add up the missing taxes and pony up of your own volition. But shocking as it may be, the vast majority of people steal from our poor, helpless government every year by filling that line in with a miserly little zero.
Why no, no it's not! Sure, the tax-free party it's been enjoying for the past 21 years was a great business strategy for a while, but times are changin'. Most people these days are united by at least two factors: an irrational demand for instant gratification and a desire to have as little face-to-face interaction with other people as is humanly possible.
So to keep up with our whiny, minsanthropic ways, Amazon has installed same-day, one-click delivery in 10 cities across the country. Same-day delivery means huge, fully stocked warehouses. Warehouses mean obeying state tax laws. And the heavy populations in the places getting the service will almost always mean a state sales tax.
So with these additions, Amazon's days of skirting tax law are coming to a close. Rather than find another way to sneak around the sales tax rules, its lawyers and lobbyists have opted to make damn well sure that everyone else is going down with them. Or as they chose to frame it, create "an even-handed federal framework for state sales tax collection."
Everyone hates paying extra taxes. Remember the Boston Tea Party? And with the rate we as a nation have been growing increasingly dependent on online shopping, those extra dollars spent are going to add up quick. Long story short: it's going to make your life a whole lot more expensive.
It's not just going to hurt your wallet. The diversity of the marketplace could get slashed as well. As individual sellers with retail aggregators like eBay and Etsy decide the tax hike isn't worth the time it takes to carefully craft their cat hair necklaces, they'll start taking down their online stores. And YOU'LL never get to know the joys of wearing metal balls of cat sheddings around your throat.
The situation's not totally dire. As we very well know, getting a law passed can be a complicated process, even when it's pretty widely supported. Conservatives, in particular, are not fans of increasing pressure on businesses just so our states can turn into socialist hand-out free-for-alls. A lot of voters aren't too keen on an effective tax hike, either (gasp!), which means that the bill might not make it past the House of Representatives pending Senate approval on May 6.
Still, even if the House does kill this particular piece of legislation this time around, you can bet Amazon won't go down without a fight. It seems almost certain that sales tax will invade the internet someday. Let's just hope Super Saver Shipping isn't next. [Wall Street Journal 1, 2, 3, Real Clear Politics, SupremeCourt.gov]
Have you tried to put together a Transformer lately? Without an instruction booklet, you stand a better chance of dismantling a nuclear warhead than making Optimus look like Prime, instead of a 16-wheeler with a robot head for a butt. That wasn't always the case.
In our visit to Transformers HQ
"The reference style is so phenomenal in the movie tie-ins, we got more complicated than we had to," Lamb says. "Right now, there's a big effort to get back to simple; and more than simple, intuitive."
What was the issue, exactly? "Bay and ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) work it pretty well," Lamb says, "But they also do some magic." In the movie, a car's parts could fold into infinitely small sections. Tiny pieces of interlocking plastic? Not so much.
Take Bumblebee. In the movie, he's a 1977 Chevy Camaro, which is a license deal agreed with Chevrolet. Meaning Hasbro not only had to deal with the normal mechanics of turning a car into a robot, and do it in a way that resembled the on-screen transformation, but it had to make sure the car was as detail-specific as possible to the original ?77 Camaro. Not easy.
Not only that, but the team had to match that replica car to the movie's version of the robots, and find some approximation of the transformation you see in the film, which isn't always possible. "If the bumper isn't on his chest," Lamb says, "and his doors aren't back here [motioning to his shoulder blades], it isn't Bumblebee."
They figured it out. "We were definitely proud of them when it was all said and done," says Lamb. "The movie models were the most accurate and realistic we'd ever produced." In the end, the movie toys used more points of articulation and movable parts than any generation before. But they were also supremely hard to assemble. "You get back to G1 [the well loved first generation of American Transformers] Optimus Prime, and you can transform it with your eyes closed one you figured it out."
So what brought everyone back to the idea of more intuitive design? Ironically enough, the movie.
"With the movie, for the first time, Transformers wasn't about a whole line of characters, it was about two characters, Optimus and Bumblebee," Lamb says of the need for kid-friendly Transformers. "And you'd really like the billions of kids out there to be able to pick up any Transformer off the shelf and just pick it up and start playing with them." Which, hopefully, spells the end of toys abandoned in a state of Butt-Head-Optimus variant.
The sheer number of Twitter clients available for Android is staggering, but few of them are actually worth considering. Times have changed, and the best Twitter app for Android has changed along with it. We think that Falcon Pro deserves the nod, and is well worth your money if you use Twitter with any regularity.
Update: Our previous pick for the App Directory was Twicca, and before that Twidroyd (now UberSocial), so if the comments below look a little out of place, it's because we've updated our pick as time has passed to reflect what we think is the best Twitter app for Android.
The real beauty of Falcon Pro is that it's one of those Twitter clients that keeps your focus right where it's important: on your stream, your mentions, and your DMs. Beneath an elegant interface is a ton of power and a wealth of features that let you customize your reading experience just the way you like it. Whatever your specific needs are, it's likely that Falcon Pro can be tweaked to match: whether you want the font size to be just a little larger, or you want to be notified of mentions but not DMs, or you want the app to check for new DMs more frequently than mentions, or you need a home screen widget that's transparent, or there's something else.
The UI may be slim, but it's super-fast, gesture-powered, and a quick swipe to either side will reveal all the options you need. Like our previous favorite, Twicca, the UI does a great job of being readable without cluttering itself up with buttons and options right on the main screen. Long-press a tweet to see more options, including quick buttons to favorite, retweet, or reply, and a menu button that leads to more choices (like deleting the tweet, muting/reporting/blocking the user, copying the tweet to your clipboard, or even translating the tweet into a different language).
The built-in browser is another of Falcon Pro's greatest features. Once you get used to viewing links in the browser without having to load your phone's primary web browser, you'll never go back to just tapping a link and waiting for it to open in Chrome or Dolphin or another app. Since the in-app browser supports videos and photos, they're just a single tap away as well, and you don't have to wait for a handoff between apps to enjoy what your friends have posted. Falcon Pro also supports Android tablets natively (without having to pay for a second, separate app), and it looks really good on them too.
Falcon Pro's customization options deserve praise as well. It's not unusual for a Twitter client to let you tweak the text size and the font, but Falcon Pro's settings and options are easy to use and easy to find again, and aren't buried in a myriad of confusingly named settings. It may cost money, but it's a far better Twitter client than the official one, and definitely the best we've ever seen.
Falcon Pro is impressive, but it's not perfect. Of course, the obvious ding on Falcon pro is the price, but that's not really a fair ding. Sure, most other Twitter clients are free, but seriously, Falcon Pro is only $2. At the same time, Falcon Pro comes without ads, without "promoted tweets" or "sponsored" crap served up by Twitter, and you have complete control over muting and blocking anyone and any tweet from your timeline.
Falcon Pro also doesn't support multiple accounts, which is a bit of a bummer, and a more serious ding if you're someone who has to manage a business account or you work for a brand and do their tweeting. Even if you have a blog and want to be able to check that stream on the go, you'll need a second app installed. In fact, multi-account support is in such high demand by Falcon Pro users, it's the most popular feature request on the app's public feature request page.
Falcon Pro is a great app, but if it doesn't meet your needs for one reason or another, there's are definitely alternatives.
Twicca (Free) was our previous favorite, and it's still good. We think Falcon Pro has outpaced it, but it's free, a great Twitter app
Twitter for Android (Free) is the official Twitter client, and while it's pretty feature bare and pales in comparison to almost everything else available, at least it's semi-regularly updated and it supports multiple accounts. It's probably enough for most people who just read Twitter and maybe post now and again, and it's definitely useful to have around if you have multiple accounts to manage. Still, it's lacking some of the advanced features that the independent apps have. Plus, you never have to worry that your favorite app is suddenly unavailable because the Twitter mothership decided to shut it down or cap its number of user access tokens.
Carbon (Free) is another great Twitter app that we've reviewed before
Plume (Free, $5 Premium Version) is another solid option, although its users have been rebelling lately against the development path the app has taken. We still think the interface is great and the app offers a ton of filtering and customization options, and even has a similar color-coding system like Twicca does. Images are loaded in-line, and the app is snappy and fast. However, Plume it felt a little limiting by comparison, never remembered where I stopped reading, posted notifications even after exiting the app, and the app's ads at the top of the timeline felt intrusive. Even so, it supports multiple accounts, supports tablets, has a great widget, and looks sharp.
TweetDark (Free), is?stick with me here?based on TweakDeck, which is no longer available because of Twitter's API upgrade, which was based on TweetDeck for Android, which is also no longer available because of Twitter's API upgrade (and because Twitter decided to discontinue it). Regardless, TweetDark does work, even if TweetDeck logins don't work, and if you want a nice, large UI without a ton of extra features, it's worth a look. It does, however, support Facebook, multiple Twitter accounts, and FourSquare all in the same app, so if that's important to you, check it out. It's lightweight, fast, and free.
TweetCaster (Free, $5 Premium Version) takes an entirely different approach to your stream, and puts your tweets and media on tiles you can browse through and tap to enlarge. It's a little like Google+, which isn't a bad thing: it's actually really good looking, especially on Android tablets, and the free version supports multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, and packs in the features. Smart lists, photo filters before sharing, customizable interface, it's all there. It's ad-supported, and the $5 pro version strips them out, but at least you can try all of the features for free first.
HootSuite (Free) is ideal for people who use social media a lot, have multiple accounts to keep track of, or have to have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks in the same app. For everyone else, it might be a little bit much, and you might not care about things like stats and analytics around your tweets and Facebook posts. Still, it's a good Twitter app, and it's free. In the same vein, there's always Seesmic (Free, $3 Pro Version), which also supports multiple accounts and Facebook, but it's ad-supported unless you pay for the pro version, and combined with Twitter's own ads, that's a little rough, especially since you're not getting that much for the money. Plus, Seesmic is regularly upgraded, but its UI and feature-set still feel like they've been outpaced by faster, better Twitter apps.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.
Spring is a great time to stock up on some new furnishings and other household items, especially in May. Here are the best things to buy this month.
Every month, we look back at the best times to buy anything during the year, and pull out items each month to remind you what's coming. Obviously, none of this is to say you should go on a shopping spree?but if you've been holding off for a lower price on something, these are the things that get the sale treatment in May.
We'll be posting updates for you guys every month, so you're aware of the deals going on all year round. If you're curious to see what's coming up, you can always check out our full best time to buy guide to see the entire year at a glance. And, if you know of any deals we didn't mention, share them in the comments below.
We've walked you through building your own computer before, but what we didn't do at the time is give you a suggested parts list for that new computer. In this post?which we'll update regularly as prices and components change?we'll walk you through the parts and hardware we'll need for three different system builds: a budget workstation, a mid-range powerful PC, and an enthusiast's system for gamers and media professionals.
While some consider the desktop a dead platform, there are still plenty of us who use them as much as or in addition to laptops or tablets, love to play PC games, or just enjoy getting our hands dirty and building our own systems. Before we go any further, we should point out that these PC builds are designed to optimize your all-around computing experience, with some emphasis on PC gaming. What components give you the best bang for your buck depend heavily on what you're planning to do with the system: your parts may be different if you're building an HTPC on the same budget, or a super-speedy file server for your home network.
We've talked about our own experiences building a system and why it's important already. If you're ready to set out on the task of building your own computer, here are the components you'll need to build the best system you can get for your money.
The old debate over whether you should build your own system or buy a pre-built one is an old, long-standing argument that will never be easily washed away. However, there are some benefits to building your own system that can't be weighed in terms of dollars and cents. You may be happier with your own hand-built system, or you may be able to score bargains and rebates that lead to a more powerful computer stuffed with higher quality components than a manufacturer would use.
Building your own PC also gives you complete and full control over that system's components and extendability. Unlike buying an OEM PC, assembling your own gives you the ability to make decisions about when and how you'll upgrade that system in the long run as opposed to simply taking what the manufacturer sells you. For example, you can buy into a new motherboard chipset early and wait to spend money on the next generation of graphics card later, giving yourself a timely upgrade when the moment-or your budget-is right.
Ultimately, while it may be easier to just pull out a credit card and buy whatever's on sale from your preferred OEM, there's something about assembling the components of a system that you've selected for your needs, powering it up, installing your favorite OS, and using it every day that's' incredibly rewarding.
There was a time when building a PC was all about buying the most expensive and most powerful components you could on the budget you had. While some of that is still true, even budget components can be remarkably powerful, and if all you're planning on doing with your system is word processing, surfing the web, and some light entertainment like streaming video or listening to music, almost any system build will work for you.
You don't need to spend a grand on high-end gaming components if you're putting together a system for your friend who doesn't know or care what graphics card is going into the box. At the same time, that doesn't mean they're doomed to a computer full of sub-standard components. We explained a few months ago that you should carefully assess your need before rushing off to start pricing out components, and that advice is still true today.
Ultimately, there's no reason for you to rush out and buy the most expensive components you can afford unless you're an enthusiast and want the most top-of-the-line system you can afford. Here we'll detail two separate builds, a high-end system for enthusiasts and power-hungry users, and a mid-range build that will cost about half as much but still pack a punch.
The first few times we did this guide, a few people noted that $600 and $1200 were more than enough to spend on high-powered PCs, but a good machine at around or less than $400 would be a great project. Well, here you go?not only is it possible to come in under $400, we opted for $300, and the system we put together on that budget is no slouch.
This parts list assumes that you'll need the basic components: a case, a motherboard, processor, memory, storage, graphics card of some type, power supply, and an optical drive. We're going to assume you have a perfectly good USB keyboard, mouse, and display you can repurpose for use with your new system. Before you blindly buy what we're about to suggest, take a moment and look at our Lifehacker Night School article on choosing PC components, where we discuss some of the things you should think about before buying your components. For example, our $300 PC here is made for economy and general use, not necessarily high-end gaming or video editing. Remember to consider what you'll use the system for before buying.
Here are the parts for our budget-friendly PC, complete with prices current as of this writing:
It's compact, it's roomy enough to actually get your hands in there, and it's small enough to go on top of or underneath a desk without taking up too much space. It's not the sexiest case in the word, but it's all black, lightweight, sports front-side USB 2.0 and audio in/out ports, has dual fans for airflow, and is well reviewed and regarded. Plus, you really can't argue with the price tag. You could step up to a full-size tower if you want and spend some more money, maybe on a $40 NZXT Source 210 (not to be confused with the NZXT Tempest 210 we use later in this guide) if you have more to spend. For the money and the size though, this'll do just fine.
This build won't take a ton of horsepower. We used PCPartPicker's calculator to estimate the total wattage our final build would draw (~150W) and this 380W power supply will handle that nicely and fit in our mini tower nicely. Plus, it has enough juice to power some upgrades if you ever want to add or upgrade the system, and you can take it with you to a more powerful build or roomier case if you wish. As always, just make sure you do the math on the wattage your system will likely pull down before you select a power supply, and try to buy from someone with good reviews and a solid track record of quality. If you're not using PCPartPicker, try the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator.
We may have let the cat out of the bag, but our budget build is an AMD-based system. Like we said, that doesn't mean it's a slouch. For example, this build will give you six USB 2.0 ports, six SATA II ports, gigabit Ethernet, supports up to 16GB of RAM, and 7.1-channel on-board audio, so we won't need to pick up a separate sound card. It packs on-board video-out, and since the AMD Trinity that we're about to slap into it is an APU, it'll handle graphics nicely. It doesn't pack top of the line features like SATA III or USB 3.0, which is a bummer, but the price is right, it's a nice, small Micro ATX board, and honestly, your peripherals are probably all (or mostly) USB 2.0 anyway.
Don't underestimate AMD's A-Series APUs. They can handle more than you might think, and they're a staple in our favorite HTPC builds. Because it's a combination CPU and GPU, this also means we don't need to add a stand-alone graphics card in our build. The A4 has the equivalent of an AMD Radeon HD 6410D built right into it. This budget system doesn't have to drive a living room TV at 1080p, so we stepped back a little to a slightly more modest A4 model. It'll still handle everyday duties easily, and web video at 1080p on a wide-screen display without blinking an eye. You can even fire up some of your favorite games on this thing?and while you won't be able to max out the settings, if you turn them down you'll get modest framerates. If you don't do any gaming at all though, the A4 gives you a speedy processor that can handle everyday tasks like surfing the web, watching web video, listening to local or streaming music, and getting actual work done.
RAM prices have gone up a bit in recent months, which is kind of a bummer, but that doesn't mean there aren't bargains to be had. This 4GB kit will be enough to get our budget PC up and running with enough RAM for just about anything it'll need to do. The board can support up to 16GB, so if you want more RAM, you can always buy bigger sticks, but keep in mind there are only two slots on it.
Hard drive prices have stabilized since the holidays, and if you catch a sale, you can do well enough to pick up an SSD for your mid-range system along with a standard spinning, high-capacity hard drive. This $67 1TB model is speedy, sports a 64MB cache, is a solid 7200RPM drive, and is affordable enough that we decided to use it again in our $600 build below (spoilers!). If you have a different brand allegiance when it comes to drives, try this similar Seagate 1TB model for a few more dollars. Whichever you choose, make sure you make note of the warranty, and, of course, keep your data backed up. Every hard drive fails, it's just a matter of when.
There isn't too much to worry about when selecting an optical drive: just get something that works for your need (for example, this ASUS assumes you won't be watching Blu-Ray videos on your PC. If you are, you may want to look at a Blu-Ray drive, like this ASUS Blu-ray drive, which will cost you a bit more but allow you to watch those Blu-ray discs on your system) and select a well-reviewed drive from a reputable manufacturer. If you have an optical drive from a previous build, even better.
Long gone are the days where you should immediately budget at least a grand for a decent self-built system. Unless you absolutely have to have a top of the line PC, this mid-range system will power through everyday tasks, handle PC gaming, streaming movies and music from the web, and even those bigger projects like organizing the family photos or editing home movies.
Again, we're going to assume you have a perfectly good USB keyboard, mouse, and display you can repurpose for use with your new system. Our $600 PC here is made with bang-for-the-buck in mind, something that will earn you high performance without breaking the bank?not necessarily silent operation or tons of expansion bays. Remember to consider what you'll use the system for before buying. You may very well want to tweak some of the components we suggest below.
Here are the parts for our mid-range PC, complete with prices current as of this writing:
The NZXT Tempest 210 is a roomy mid-sized case that, thanks to its steel body, is both lightweight and should last you longer than just this build. It's large enough to accommodate all but the largest components, and roomy enough to move your hands around inside without too much of a squeeze. The case is loaded with grips to easily remove drive bays inside without a screwdriver, slots to route your cables through cleanly, extra fan grills for superior airflow and cooling, it's just a nicely designed case. You also get a pair of 120mm fans for your money, an enlarged CPU cut-out to accomodate after-market cooling, and front-side audio and USB ports (including a USB 3.0 port) are a nice bonus in this budget case. Plus, our own Whitson Gordon swears by NZXT cases, both for their interior space and how easy it is to install and remove components from them.
Most PC builders, especially starting off, tend to completely overestimate how much power their components will actually need. At the same time, you don't want to buy a power supply too weak for the components in your build, or buy one from a flaky manufacturer or a no-name brand. Stick with trusted vendors on this one, and spend a little more if you have to. This 500-watt power supply from Corsair should be enough for our components, and Corsair is a trusted name. Pay attention to warranties and return policies as well, but try to make sure you're getting the right amount of juice for the system you're building. If you have a few more dollars, the same power supply comes in a modular version for $70, which is out of our budget but will keep your case nice and clean. There are some great calculators on the web that will help you determine how big your power supply should really be, like the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator.
Whether you're a gamer or you're building a system for productivity, this LGA 1155 board is rock solid, reliable, and sports some high-end features for not a ton of money. You'll get 6 USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), four 3.0Gb/s SATA ports and two 6Gb/s SATA ports, gigabit Ethernet, and on-board sound, so we won't need to pick up a separate sound card. It packs on-board video, (so you could ditch video card below and save some more money), but you'll need a CPU that supports integrated graphics processing, since the board won't do it for you alone. Still, this is a great, upgradable board that's perfect if you want to upgrade to a more powerful processor, or an SSD that can push data through those 6Gb/s SATA channels.
As usual, we're going Intel in the mid-range build. Again, there's no reason you couldn't sub this out for an AMD processor (and AMD-compatible motherboard) if you wanted to, and AMD's Trinity platform, which sports some seriously solid integrated graphics for cheap. However, we landed on the Ivy Bridge Core i3. It's a solid processor that fits in our budget, offers better gaming performance than you might think, and will tackle almost anything else you throw at it. If you aren't much of a gamer but run a lot of CPU-intensive processes, like converting or editing video, we recommend upgrading to the Core i5-3570. It'll give you a bit of extra power for those tasks, and its integrated graphics mean you can ditch having a video card altogether and stay under budget.
RAM prices have spiked since our last update, and this 4GB kit that used to be $20 is now well over $30. Still, it's a solid set, and it fits into our budget. One of the most important things about buying memory is to make sure you get RAM that's compatible with your build, and that's from a reputable memory manufacturer. G. Skill is well known and makes high quality desktop memory. Our board is dual-channel, so we want to make sure we take advantage of it, and 4GB of RAM is enough for our everyday PC. Of course, if you have more to spend, you could add more to the build, maybe with this 8GB kit (2x4GB) from G. Skill for $61.99.
Like we mentioned, Hard drive prices have recovered a good bit from where they were even a few years ago, and this Western Digital model will serve your mid-range PC well. It packs SATA III, sports a 64MB cache, is a solid 7200RPM drive, and its price can't be beat. Still, hard drive prices haven't dipped so much that we could slap an SSD into this build, although we really wanted to. Again, it's a Caviar Blue, meaning it's one of Western Digital's all-purpose, everyday use drives, so don't expect crazy read/write speeds like a Caviar Black, but the cache and spin speed are right for the price. If you have a different brand allegiance when it comes to drives, try this similar Seagate 1TB model for a few more dollars. Whichever you choose, make sure you make note of the warranty, and, of course, keep your data backed up. Every hard drive fails, it's just a matter of when.
Our budget allowed us to upgrade graphics cards from our last builds, since prices have fallen a bit. As usual, we're offering up an AMD and NVIDIA option so you can choose your side accordingly. Like so many other components, it's easy to get caught up in which brand you prefer, but both of these cards pack enough power for everyday tasks, full HD video, and more than casual gaming. These cards can handle just about anything you throw at them, on high-to-max settings even. If you're powering a 1080p display, maybe something upwards of 22"-27", you shouldn't have much of a problem, although you might need to turn things down if your framerates suffer. We might be a little optimistic, but you should be able to crank up Dishonored or Bioshock Infinite to high and get solid framerates with these cards. If you're not gaming at all, you won't even notice?streaming and local video will play silky smooth.
There isn't too much to worry about when selecting an optical drive: just get something that works for your need (for example, this ASUS assumes you won't be watching Blu-Ray videos on your PC. If you are, you may want to look at a Blu-Ray drive, like this ASUS Blu-ray drive, which will cost you a bit more but allow you to watch those Blu-ray discs on your system) and select a well-reviewed drive from a reputable manufacturer. If you have an optical drive from a previous build, even better.
If you have a bit more to spend?
We know that $600 is pushing the limit of "mid-range," but we wanted to make sure we got quality components in that offered a solid all-around build. That doesn't mean there isn't room to improve it, or cut it down a bit if it's too much. You could get below $500 by swapping in a cheaper processor (like the graphics-heavy AMD A10-5800K noted above, or even a Sandy Bridge Intel G850) or opting for less powerful motherboard. If you go AMD, note that you'll need an AMD-compatible motherboard as well. But, if you have a little more to spend, you can get some big boosts for not much more money.
If you have a few more dollars to spend, consider upgrading the RAM in the system from 4GB to 8GB using the kit mentioned above (or max out the board, if you want). If you're interested in gaming, you could probably get away with a beefier graphics card than the ones we opted for above. For example, this AMD Radeon HD 7850 is a step up from the 7770 in our build, and it's only about $40 more. A little more will get you the 2GB version of the 7850. If you're an NVIDIA fan, consider GeForce GTX 650 Ti 2GB model, which is $20 more than the one we picked, but a killer card. A little more will net you the overclocked, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce 660.
Of course, if you have more money to spend and you're not looking for gaming performance at all, consider upgrading the RAM in the system first, then using the rest of your budget to pick up an SSD to drop your operating system on so that 1.5TB drive can sit secondary holding your large files. You can pick up even a 64GB SSD for around $70.
Now that we've covered two systems that can be purchased and assembled on a decent budgets, now it's time to have some fun. First, we're not targeting our upper limit here, we just want to give you an idea of some of the high-end components that would make a good enthusiast's build. If you're a fan of PC gaming, have to play the latest releases as soon as they're out, have multiple huge, high-resolution displays, or just want the beefiest box you can afford, this build is for you.
As with the $600 PC above, we're going to assume you have the basics, like a keyboard, mouse, and display. In this case though, we're going for the big, pretty, and powerful, as opposed to trying to keep the budget down. We won't necessarily aim directly for our high-end, but we will slap in some pricier components that we know would make a noticeable difference in your computing experience if you had them in your system.
Again, remember to consider your use case before buying ? the people who'll really love this build will be PC gamers, media professionals, and enthusiasts who want to futureproof themselves or just prefer the top of the line.
Here are the parts for our mid-range PC, complete with prices current as of this writing:
The Corsair Carbide 400R was our choice of case last time, and it's still a great model. Its price hasn't changed, but that's okay. It's sleek black, lightweight steel and plastic, and has 6 expansion bays and 8 PCI slots on the rear. It has top, rear, and optional front and side case fans to keep your system cool, and a front-side I/O panel for power, USB 3.0, and audio. You won't get a power supply with the case, but the 400R is a robust case that will stand the test of time, and has plenty of room inside for upgrades if you want them, or long graphics cards or after-market CPU cooling. Warning though: there are some very pretty cases on the market ? buy one that has the features and look that you want. Looking for a side-window? Grab the pricier Carbide 500R. Want more options? We just did a Hive Five on desktop computer cases with some great picks (although most were a bit more expensive, like the winner: the $180 Cooler Master HAF X), or you could save money with the slightly smaller $60 Cooler Master HAF 912, or spend nothing and repurpose an old case from a previous build.
Speaking of Corsair, the company makes good power supplies, and 650-watts of juice should be enough to power even the most demanding components. If you want one, $15 will buy you this model in a modular variety. Either way, this case doesn't have windows, we'll save the dough. You read Lifehacker, you can probably manage your cables. This power supply is quiet, comes with a +12V rail a high-powered graphics card, and offers enthusiast-level power output at a solid price. There are more expensive power supplies out there, but this one gets the job done without being overkill.
It's definitely pricey, but this board picked up an editor's choice award at AnandTech for its ports, power, and features, and that's a big deal for AnandTech (who's normally a bit critical of Gigabyte boards.) Want USB 3.0? This board has it. Need dual LAN? Sure, why not. The board supports Intel's latest Core processors, and even offers a few tools for overclockers. The board also has built-in support for Crossfire (AMD) and SLI (NVIDIA) for high-end gaming with multiple graphics cards, sports 6 USB 3.0 and 4 USB 2.0 ports, on-board HDMI, dual gigabit Ethernet, supports on-board RAID, has 9 SATA ports (5 at 6Gb/s and 4 at 3Gb/s) and packs built-in audio and video. It's definitely a high-end board for a system builder who needs the features or isn't concerned about the budget. If you don't need all of that, you could save a few bucks and drop down to the $139.99 GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD3H, or the $134.99 ASRock Z77 Extreme4, just do your homework first.
Intel's Core processors are still the clear market leaders in power and performance. After all, this is the same processor that Tom's Hardware put in their $1000 gaming PC, and our friends at Logical Incriments think this?not the i7?is the best processor for high-end performance, especially in gaming. We think it'll handle whatever you throw at it pretty handily, and besides: The only difference between the i5 and the i7 is the hyperthreading, which you'd only miss if you're doing high-end video encoding, 3D rendering, or video editing. For gaming and everyday use, you won't notice it's missing at all. Want to overclock and get a little more for your money? Grab the $219 i5-3570k instead. If you'd rather have an i7 instead, the Sandy Bridge i7-3770 is a little more expensive at $289.99 or its overclockable cousin, the i7-3770K for $316.17. If you do 3D rendering, video editing and encoding, or regularly run applications that can make use of the hyperthreading, then by all means, spring for the i7. We tried to cram an i7 into this build, doing so would have bumped us over budget.
Let's be clear, 4GB of RAM is probably sufficient for most systems, but this is an enthusiast's PC. Double the RAM from the previous build and your computing experience will overall feel faster and snappier. Depending on what you use the system for, you could scale back to 4GB, but if you're going to do serious gaming, you'll want the extra RAM. To that point, more memory is better than faster memory, so don't feel bad for picking DDR3 1333 over something technically faster. Buy with caution, and keep in mind what you're going to be doing with the system. If you have the budget to go wild, you could just load up the board and call it a day.
Some of our old favorite SSDs are no longer available, but there are others that perform just as well. Both of these drives are solid entries, and are both super fast. We've said several times that a Solid State Drive (SSD) is one of the best upgrades you can buy for your computer, but if you're building one from scratch with performance in mind, consider buying an SSD for your OS and applications, and a traditional hard drive for files and data. Still not sold? Let us help: we can assure you SSDs are worth the money. The only trick is picking one that's large enough for your OS and applications. If you don't like this model, there are plenty of others to choose from?smaller and larger. I've had good experiences with Crucial, OCZ (even though rumor is they're leaving the business), and Intel SSDs, but you can always read our complete guide to SSDs to learn what to check for before you buy.
We really didn't have to pack such high-end cards into this system, and you don't either frankly, if you're not looking for gaming performance. Plus, since the major titles that have come out since our last update haven't put a strain on last year's graphics cards, we wouldn't blame you if you opted to scale back to a more affordable model. Even so, Anandtech's latest GPU Benchmark tests put these guys ahead of the middle of the pack, with respectable benchmarks. If you're a PC gamer and you love turning up all of the settings on your games, or you have to play all of the latest releases as soon as they're out, pick your brand allegiance (or better yet, check how each of these two cards performs when benchmarked in your favorite games) and go with one of these. If you need even more power and have the money to buy it (really?), consider the AMD Radeon HD 7970 ($399.99) or the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 ($399.99) for some gorgeous-but-wallet-busting graphical goodness. While we're shooting the moon, how about that $1000 GeForce GTX Titan?
Surprised? We meant it when we said in the budget section that the optical drive that you buy doesn't really matter. Again, if you're planning to watch Blu-ray video on your enthusiast PC, you'll want to spring for the appropriate drive, but if you're not, we can't find a better optical drive and disc burner for the money. Hey, just because there are more expensive ones out there doesn't mean they're better. Just because you're on an enthusiast's budget doesn't mean you have to throw your money away.
If you're on a budget?
Sometimes building an enthusiast's PC is more difficult than building a budget one because you have room in the budget to buy high-end components, but you don't want to go overboard or make decisions that waste your money. We hope this sub $1200 build walks the line between spending good money on components that matter without spending too much on the ones that don't.
If this is too much though, some of the biggest money sinks here are clearly the video card and the processor. While you could bump down a more affordable motherboard and save about $30, the real savings is in choosing a less powerful and high-end video card, especially since you can upgrade a video card more easily than a processor. Consider the AMD Radeon HD 7770 ($129.99) we mentioned earlier. If you're an NVIDIA fan, consider the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti ($174.99) on for size. All three will play the latest titles on high (albeit not absolute ultra) settings without trouble, and with solid framerates.
You're undoubtedly noticing that we haven't included the cost of an OS license in this roundup. The reason for that is because we don't want to assume what operating system you'll install on your build. If you want to go Linux, then your cost is basically nothing. If you'd rather install Microsoft Windows-and we assume most of you would-Windows 8 is where it's at right now (unless you plan to downgrade) at an array of different prices depending on the version you want and where you get it.
Newegg has OEM versions of Windows 8 64-bit for $99.99, which is likely what most of you would buy Enthusiasts can grab the $139 Windows 8 Professional x64 if needed, but odds are you won't need the added features. At the same time, you can probably score a cheaper copy with an educational discount if you have one, or through an employee purchase program if your workplace has a enterprise licensing agreement with Microsoft.
Don't take our word for these builds. We're sure you have your own opinions on what should have made it in and what should have been excluded. We also stuck with Newegg for pricing and component information, which you certainly don't have to do-especially if you can find the same components you want elsewhere for less (or better ones for the same price!)
One reference that-at least for now-is constantly updated and invaluable for determining exactly how enthusiast you're being when it comes to the components you're buying and how much you should be spending on them is the Logical Increments PC Buying Guide. We used it as a reference extensively here, and the site's recently been redesigned so it's super user friendly. It's a big help, and can serve as a good sanity check if your build is getting out of hand.
Also, make sure to read up on your most critical components before you buy. Anandtech's GPU benchmarks and the Tom's Hardware forums are invaluable when looking for benchmarks and opinions on some of the components you may buy before you add them to your cart. The Reddit Build-A-PC subreddit is also a great place to ask for opinions and guidance if you're having issues or just want the thoughts of people who have been where you are now.
We'll come back to this system builder's guide regularly to make sure it's updated with current pricing information and the best components for each of our builds. Remember though, take our builds as guidelines for your own research and your own PC-building project.
Few people enjoy being alone, or at least feel somewhat socially rejected if they do. Nevertheless, solitude can make you more self-sufficient, add to your confidence, and help you get to know yourself a lot better. If being alone scares you, bores you, or just isn?t your favorite thing, here?s how you can fix that and make your time more productive.
You, like many people, might get stuck on the idea that being alone is like having some sort of disease?even if you?re the kind of person that prefers being alone. You might skip movies in the theater if you have to attend in solitude. Or maybe you criticize yourself for eating lunch at your desks instead of with coworkers or friends. Perhaps you spend too much of our time out with others because you just don?t know what to do when you?re by yourself. With a little work, however, you can make your alone time much more productive. With the help of Roger S. Gil, a clinician specializing in marriage and family therapy, and Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of Going Solo, we?ll to look at the benefits of solitude and how you can use them to your advantage.
The parts of being alone that frighten us can actually help us. When nobody else distracts us, we have the opportunity to become introspective. You, like many others, may not look forward to moments of introspection. The idiom ?you are your own worst enemy? exists because we tend to criticize ourselves more harshly than anyone else. Nevertheless, if you engage in introspection productively, you can wind up feeling better rather than worse. Roger explains:
By taking the time to understand what our core beliefs are about ourselves, others, and the world at large, we can gain greater insights into our own thought processes and how our minds work. "Alone time" helps us shut out the noise introduced by others and get to inspecting our emotional baggage.
Instead of criticizing recent behaviors or worrying about the future, use introspection to think about what you believe and what matters to you. Spend a little time considering the positive actions you took in a given day or week. When analyzing personal weaknesses, think about how you may improve. Negative thoughts tend to find their way to the forefront of our minds when we have no other distractions, and that?s okay. Just approach them productively. See your alone time as an opportunity to solve problems through introspection and get to know yourself better rather than a time to dwell on the downsides of your life.
Some people don?t hate being alone so much as they find it boring. When you?re with others, you have the advantage of multiple minds thinking of an enjoyable activity. When you?re alone, you?re left with the job entirely. While sometimes daunting, when you only have to please yourself you can try anything and you won?t find yourself making many decisions if you keep an open mind.
Personally, when I have little to do I like to pick a place I haven?t been and wander around. When I have no agenda, I can pay closer attention to my surroundings and I almost always find something interesting happening nearby. This allows me to not only try something new but also experience it unencumbered by the opinions of others. While you might think you form unique opinions regardless of who you are with, that?s not really the case. Roger explains:
The influence of others' opinions plays a huge role in the establishment of trends and what the mainstream feels is good or bad. Being by ourselves removes the biases that others may introduce into our opinions. Forming our beliefs about something before bringing others into the mix helps us get a clearer picture of what it is that we actually like and want. A great example of how others' opinions can sway our own often happens when a person is determining whether or not someone is a potential mate. If you constantly consult friends and rely on their opinions to form your own then you may allow their own preferences and biases to overshadow your own feelings. The danger in this is that you may ignore someone who is more your type and focusing on people that are more acceptable to your social circle.
The same issues occur with most anything you do. If you?re like most people, you won?t see a movie alone even though you might enjoy it less with friends. Whether you like it or not, the opinions of others in your social circle affect yours and you may leave liking a movie less if your friends didn?t care for it. Seeing it on your own, however, allows you to think about it without outside influence. Not only does this increase the likelihood of enjoyment, but it also helps you develop a more accurate picture of what you enjoy and what matters to you.
Increased solitude equals increased self-reliance. If you can?t count on others for everything you do, you have to learn to do quite a bit more yourself. Of course, you should rely on others sometimes, but alone time helps you create a balance between getting help from others and relying on yourself. If you have trouble getting things done without the encouragement and help of others, Roger suggests solitude as a potential solution:
Depending on others too much can lead to people who do not learn the life skills necessary to function effectively on their own. Being alone and forcing yourself to get something done is a great way to start breaking free from enmeshment (?a relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear?). Even if the outcome of your new undertaking isn't ideal, the fact that you tried on your own can go a long way toward helping you feel more comfortable with doing something unfamiliar the next time around.
You have many options if you want to try and get something done on your own. You don?t have to start big and, say, learn to code, but rather can start a small DIY project or even start a journal. The more you learn to do on your own the more self-sufficient you become, making it easier to handle tasks on your own when you can?t rely on friends. In addition to becoming more capable and productive, you?ll have fun finding new ways to spend your time.
Although this post advocates spending time alone, you need balance. You can?t live a life without engaging with others, wherever those interactions fall on the scale of superficial to intimate. That balance falls in a unique place for each of us, as Eric explains:
We do know that social isolation is dangerous, so the trick is to balance solitude with social activity in a way that suits you. Remember that for Emerson and Thoreau, the point of having solitude was not to retreat from the world altogether, but to prepare for a more productive return.
Spending time alone doesn?t make you bereft of human connection. You can interact with others when you explore, and even technology can help you avoid isolation. Eric notes, however, that technology can hurt the benefits of solitude:
Technology helps to connect us but it makes being alone difficult. Today you can be home alone and intensely involved in social activity. That's both a challenge and an opportunity, and we don't yet know how it will change us.
You?ll need to figure out the right balance of social activity for you, and you can only do that by attempting to make your time alone more productive and figure out how much of it suits your needs. You don?t want to become a loner, but you don?t want to become enmeshed with others either. Nevertheless, if you embrace both your social activity as well as your solitude you can look forward to everything you do.
A very special thanks goes out to Roger S. Gil and Eric Klinenberg for their contributions to this post. You can follow Roger on Twitter and check out his podcast. For more from Eric, check out his book Going Solo.
No human on earth escapes the plague of procrastination. We're all wired to put things off but we also have the capacity to override that tendency. This weekend, pick one of the many ways to purge yourself of procrastination and start getting things done.
Procrastination is brought to you by distraction. While you can put something off without alternatives like Facebook, Twitter, video games, and any number of other things you'd rather do, they certainly make it a lot easier. While you should get into the habit of choosing to put off distractions rather than the task at hand, a few tools can help you do that when your willpower could stand to be a bit stronger.
Chrome users can turn to StayFocusd, and extension that blocks distracting sites. LeechBlock will get the job done on Firefox. Of course, there are several other options, some of which will even modify your hosts file so you can't get to sites in any browser. But before you can start blocking anything, you need to figure out what's distracting you the most. Set up RescueTime to track your activity and figure it out. Then you can use that information to eliminate distractions as much as possible.
Everyone's a little bit different, so some anti-procrastination plans work better for some than others. Personally, Seinfeld's productivity trick fixed my procrastination problem, but it you have to be a little neurotic to actually enjoy it. A lot of people love the Pomodoro Technique (it's our reader favorite), which uses a cyclical timer to help you focus on short bursts of work while providing frequent breaks as well. If a specific method just feels like too much, simply structuring and planning for procrastination can help you avoid it when you need to. Just don't trust your instincts. Beating procrastination is often counter-intuitive.
Regardless of what tools or tricks might be able to help you, nothing will change if you don't put in the effort to change. You can't just flip a switch, wait, and stop wasting time. You have to wean yourself off of it. Set an allowance for how often you can engage in certain leisure activities and reward yourself if you succeed. There are lots of ways you can incentivize creating good habits, so just pick a reward that you'll appreciate and if you meet your goals you get it. If not, you don't. You need to have willpower, but incentives provide a little bit of encouragement.
Leisure activities, themselves, can be the reward. You may prefer to reward yourself with something like a cupcake or a new game you've wanted to by. As you go along, however, the rewards should decrease. Doing your work and feeling accomplished needs to be a reward in itself, or your entire system can fall apart the moment you accidentally drop your prized cupcake on the sidewalk. Implementing a reward system can help in the beginning, but eventually hard work needs to be its own reward.
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