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Friday, 20 April 2018

MSI B360M Mortar Review

MSI B360M Mortar - Small in Size, Big in Performance

Last Year in 2017 Intel dropped their latest consumer grade CPU lineup by the name of Coffee Lake which happened to be their first ever six core processors for the consumer lineup which was earlier restricted to only four cores. Being an answer to the AMD Ryzen CPUs which are processing juggernauts in their own rights the Coffee Lake CPUs suffered from one major flaw, they only support the newer chipset motherboards with no backward compatibility to the last generation LGA1151 motherboards restricting users to the then and now expensive Z370 PCH motherboards making Coffee Lake sensible for those who wish to buy the upper segment K series processors.
Now since the AMD Ryzen G series APUs are out Intel wisely released two new chipsets for their current Coffee Lake lineup namely as the B360 and H370 giving the budget CPUs of the lineup a new lease on life!

While the difference between the H370 and B360 chipset is nominal the with just a few USB ports more in the H370 than the B360 the main difference is in terms of the PCIe lanes which are 24 in Z370, 20 in H370 and only 12 in B360 making the B360 the ultimate choice for gamers on budget who desire a basic gaming PC with one graphics card only.

Alright so that was some insight into the past and present of Coffee Lake for you now moving ahead, today thanks to MSI India I have with me their latest offering in the B360 chipset lineup in form of the MSI B360M Mortar motherboard which happens to be our second B360 under the lens so far and our first ever mITX motherboard across every possible platform till date! Priced in at $99 or Rs 9,700 in India the B360M Mortar is pretty sleek and feature rich for the price featuring dual M.2 ports, extended heatsink for better cooling, Military Class IV components and Mystic LED support to go well with all that.

Packing and Accessories

MSI brings the B360M Mortar in a solid and slim grey cardboard box which looks like a armored briefcase to go with the theme of the product. The product name, MSI logo and an abstract Mortar is neatly printed on top and the Arsenal Gaming logo is at the center of the bottom end.

At the back we have all the features nicely printed in their graphical format along with a product image and labeled diagram of the IO panel and its ports. Overall the packing is to the point and informative enough with enough protection to the contents inside.

Inside the box under a tray we find all the accessories which are generous in number, we have the installation manual for the CPU, instruction manual for the motherboard, driver DVD, a Thank You note, stand offs and M.2 SSD screws, two non-braided SATA cables, IO shield and a MSI decal. For a motherboard of this stature these accessories are sufficient and enough to get you started immediately.

A Closer Look

The MSI B360M Mortar obviously being a mITX is smaller than what we are used to here but I must admit that MSI did a great job at how they've designed it through making it perfect for the name it comes with and the Arsenal branding to which it belongs.

The motherboard is primarily black with military themed grey laced all over the heatsinks, both the VRM and PCH ones. The heatsinks are massive especially the extended one on the IO panel side with a Mortar brnading on top while the PCH heatsink is atrociously small! The PCB has abstract markings and decorations to give it a feel of a military motif which is quite interesting. As a whole this motherboard is true to its branding atleast in terms of outer appearance which is great.

At the back of the motherboard we don't have anything special and even on the logos and branding end we just have the AMD CrossFire Logo which the motherboard ofcourse supports.

For the IO panel we have four USB 2.0 and one USB 3.1 ports, one USB Type-C port, LAN port, gold plated 7.1 channel audio ports, one PS2 port, a DVI port, display port and an HDMI port.
Resolutions up to 1920×1200 at 60Hz are supported on the single-link DVI-D port, while HDMI offers 4K at a low refresh rate or lower resolutions (such as 1080P) at 60Hz.

The CPU are is quite clean even though the motherboard is a mITX but due to the low profile of the heatsinks used beefy air coolers can be used here including those of Noctua which I don't expect anyone to use here as they'll hide half of the motherboard easily but still juts in case one wants to.
Socket over here is obviously the LGA1151 which supports all the Coffee Lake CPUs till date including the locked and unlocked K series. The motherboard doesn't support overclocking so sticking to a locked CPU is what you should be doing here even though it supports K series CPUs since you can't overclock them.

The MSI B360M Mortar comes with four DIMM slots that are non reinforced and support RAM upto a maximum capacity of 64GB working at 2667Mhz which is the norm from Intel on these motherboards so if you plug in a memory rated higher than that it would still be locked at 2667Mhz which is hurting but then its Intel's guidelines and no motherboard manufacturer can do anything about it. Along side the 24-pin ATX power connector are the EZ Debug LED lights to help with troubleshooting and stuff.

Four SATA III ports are provided here out of which two are vertical and two are horizontal which is great fro cable management. None of them support RAID which is fine with me for this category and all these can work when all four are populated which is a good thing as multiple SATA devices is common these days.

Turn your gaze towards the PCIe slot areas now and we see that the motherboard has two full size PCIex16 slots, two smaller PCIex1 slots and two M.2 ports all of which are rated Gen 3.0. The top PCIe 3.0x16 slot is reinforced, wired directly to the CPU  and can support a full sized graphics card working at x16 while the bottom full sizes PCIe 3.0 slot is x4 only and shares its bandwidth with the second M.2 PCIex4 slot which is PCIe drive exclusive hence if populated the bottom PCIe slot would be disabled. The top M.2 port is PCIe 3.0x4 and can support SATA drives to but when using a SATA drive here you'll compromise one SATA port so be sure to check the manual first  to avoid any confusion or hassle.
Overall the PCIe lanes are well implemented here without any major drawbacks that I see one can face while using this motherbord if build a fast gaming system using one graphics card and a bunch of SATA and a NVMe storage. My only gripe is that the top M.2 slot doesn't come with a M.2 shield which could've been added in this price tag adding both functionality and aesthetics.

Since the B360M Mortar is quite feature rich but also a near $100 motherboard a few cost cutting features are bound to brought into effect, the most prominent being the use of the Realtek ALC892 audio codec over the more conventional ALC1220 which is not that good when powering larger speakers over the latter but works flawlessly if not better when paired with gaming headsets.

The power delivery system here is a 4+2 phase both for the CPU vCore and the iGPU rails which are channeled through a Richtek RT3607C chip that allocated four channels to the CPU power delivery while two channels for the iGPU inside. An arrangement such as this when cooled by ceramic heatsinks is enough for a motherboard which doesn't support overclocking and will ensure stable performance using CPUs as such.

Among all the chips present on the motherboard a few are noticeable such as the Intel i219v for the LAN functionalities, the use of two ASMedia ASM1480 to switch the PCIe 3.0x4 lanes between the bottom full sized PCIe slot and the second M.2 slot.

BIOS and Bundled Software

BIOS Overview

UEFI BIOS is getting more and more common with each manufacturer opting for it due to its simple and flexible interface along with the option to navigate via a mouse rather than a keyboard exclusive BIOS. MSI is no different and has offered not one but two versions of BIOS, EZ and Advanced versions, with the MSI B360M Mortar so as to suit every customer's needs.
On boot up by default you'll be greeted with a more comprehensive and detailed EZ BIOS screen. This is a crammed up screen that has the details about all the components installed on the board along with options laid out neatly under clear tabs on the left side. If you want to change fan speeds, maybe boot devices, or use its automated overclocking function, you can do so quickly and easily.

This is a much preferred version for the beginners and though it comes with a Game Boost Knob on the top left its useless since the Gaming Plus doesn't support this feature. The "Memory Try It" feature is present but won't be helpful since its a B360 PCH motherboard the restriction of 2667Mhz is applicable in every way possible.
On pressing the F7 key you'll be teleported into the Advanced BIOS version or the traditional MSI UEFI BIOS version. This is a version that all the overclockers will love since the settings are broadly laid out with tab heading like Over Clocking Settings itself but sadly these won't work here as its a no overclocking motherboard. A plethora of features are there out of which I'm showing you a selective few.
However there is a bit of an issue with the MSI current BIOS as of now which is related to RAM frequencies about which we'll talk in the next section.

Bundled Software 

This is the era when manufacturers provide customers with not just a motherboard and utility softwares that act more like blotwares if nothing else. Gigabyte App center is already what I've reviewed a lot of time & it has never failed to impress but MSI is no less rather  a bit more refined in their approach.
The heart of the software set is the MSI command set which gives you general features and information regarding the CPU, GPU, Fan Speed, IGP and the Game Boost knob...again!

Also one beautiful graphical window is there that provides you with temperature readings of each component & even tell you where they are located on the board.
The gaming app section is something that you'll  be familiar to if you are a MSI graphic card owner. It give you all the information and tweaking options related to your GPU and you can select which vital stat you want to see on your screen. Also you can adjust mouse sensitivity and assign hot keys to your gaming mouse from here making it a one stop solution for gaming.

Another added feature this time is the support of wireless control over the MSI Command Center which can be achieved via an App for your cell phone that allows full control over the features of the motherboard including adjusting voltages and frequencies aswell!
Some extra software include the SteelSeries Engine 3 for Steelseries gaming accessories, MSI version of CPUZ, XSplit Gamecaster with one year free subscription etc

Benchmarks and Overclocking  

Putting all the components together and booting up into Windows was a breeze with the MSI B360M Mortar. Everything worked properly out of the box which is a very good sign and since MSI had released no new BIOS by the date of review I'll be using the BIOS the motherboard came out of the box. Even though the motherboard features almost no RGB or non-RGB LED with the audio isolation strip being illuminated it looks quite impressive by its sheer looks.
For the benchmarks we used the following test setup configuration --

CPU: Intel Core i5 8600K
Motherboard: MSI B360M Mortar
RAM: Kingston HyperX Predator 16GB DDR4 3000Mhz
Cooler: Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 280
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GTX 1050 G1 Gaming OC
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480 480GB
Secondary Storage: ADATA XPG SX8000 256GB M.2 SSD
Power Supply: Cooler Master MasterWatt Lite 700
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
GPU Driver: ForceWare 375.70
BIOS: 1.0F

Now even though Intel has put a strap of 2667Mhz on the B360 chipset which means no matter how high frequency kit you pair with this platform it would come down to work at 2667Mhz only even with higher frequency XMP profile enabled. Sadly in my case the HyperX Predator kit which comes with two XMP profiles of 2666Mhz and 3000Mhz couldn't work on either and I had to settle for the default 2133Mhz here. This is an issue with the initial BIOS and even MSI had the same issue with its Z370 platform when it first came out with stock factory BIOS but that was fixed with the second BIOS that rolled out so I expect the same for the B360 platform aswell in the days to come but for now we'll settle for the 2133Mhz only along with the Intel i5 8600K working at stock frequency and boost enabled.

AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a great tool to bench your CPU and RAM in terms of their read-write-copy abilities. Our i5 8600K showed an impressive score along with the HyperX Predator kit.
Bear in mind that the MSI B360M Mortar couldn't go past the 2133Mhz mark on the available BIOS at the time of testing so the results are accordingly.


The reason for including this benchmark was to simply observe the AES and Hash Test which is a determent of how easily your CPU or GPU can crunch complex calculations and higher score is always regarded better. We've compared the CPU score over here since I had homogeneous data of the CPU for all four motherboards.

Cinebench R15

Cinebench uses Maxon's Cinema 4D engine to render a photo-realistic scene of some shiny balls and weird things (we miss the motorbike). The scene is highly complex, with reflections, ambient occlusion and procedural shaders so it gives a CPU a tough workout.
As Cinema 4D is a real-world application - used on films such as Spider-Man and Star Wars - Cinebench can be viewed as a real-world benchmark.

wPrime v2.10

wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions.

SuperPi Mod 1.5

SuperPi is a simple program that utilizes the processing power and memory speed of the system to calculate the value of Pi upto 1 Million or 32 Million decimal point depending upon what you choose. The time is calculated in minutes and seconds, we'll take them both in seconds, so lower the score faster is your computer.

3DMark Fire Strike & Time Spy

Fire Strike by 3D Mark is a test suit that plays a cinematic scene to determine the FPS, GPU temperature and CPU temperature scaling everything via a cumulative score. It is a great tool to benchmark your GPU since the render is GPU dependent.

PCMark 10

The latest offering from PCMark is the PCMark 10 and unlike its predecessor the new suite evaluates the entire system performance through just one long test, though you can always opt for the quicker and smaller ones, but the test for modern offices and home is the perfect replica of what one professional would do in their daily lives.
The performance is evaluated through basic tests like video conferencing and web browsing to complex tasks such as graphic and video editing or even rendering through POV Ray!

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The latest installation of Lara Croft in the spectacular Rise of the Tomb Raider 2016 with stunning graphics and rich location makes it a great game to benchmark with while enjoying in the due course! We used DX12 and settings were at Very High on full HD resolution.

Battlefield 1

The latest installation to the Battlefield franchise and mind it the grandest one of them all aswell, Battlefield 1 is a prequel to the infamous Battlefield 1942 placing the players right in the middle of World War 1. Based on the latest Frostbite Engine by EA-DICE, Battlefield 1 takes advantage of DirectX 12 with asynchronous compute to weave together richly detailed worlds. It is heavily taxing on current-generation hardware, and you're handsomely rewarded for investing more into your graphics setup. Settings are at High preset with full HD resolution.

CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that analyses different types of hard drive. Giving sequential benchmark write and read statistics in MB/s. A simple program that is very useful here, the above benchmark is for the ADATA SX8000 M.2 SSD and we see the desired speeds using the MSI B360M Mortar.

My Verdict 

The general perception about mITX motherboards has always been a smaller motherboard with cut down features but all that has lately changed and the MSI B360M Mortar is one leading the pack when it comes to the B360 division here. The motherboard is well perceived and designed with unique aesthetics that catches ones eye even when the motherboard is not connected or powered on and the best part is that some of those aesthetics are actually functional such as the extended heatsink on the IO panel side effectively keeping the power delivery system cool even under full load.
The lack of onboard RGB lights on this board is a double edged sword which might please a few while disappoint another few but that's a subjective topic and better left untouched. Implementation of the PCIe lanes on the motherboard is well thought of with two M.2 ports, one PCIe slot and four(three) SATA ports all working at the same time which is more than enough for any gaming PC or HTPC build that one can expect building in this price range. About performance there are no complaints whatsoever as the motherboard performs as expected in every synthetic and real life benchmark placing the B360M Mortar right next to more competition.
BIOS is an issue right now but I'm sure by the time you'll buy this motherboard new BIOS will roll out which will address the memory compatibility issue for sure. One gripe that I have here is that none of the M.2 ports are shielded which should've been an addition here as its inexpensive but adds both looks and functionality.
"The MSI B360M Mortar is physically small and technically strong, offering a great balance of attractive looks, solid performance and to the point pricing making it a force to reckon with. A must have on every gamer's shopping list for building a fast and powerful gaming PC on a budget."
Pros -
  • Distinct Looks
  • Solid build quality
  • Good Performance 
  • Aptly priced
Cons - 
  • No M.2 shield
I give it a 8/10 earning our Gold Award!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Cooler Master’s latest all-in-one liquid coolers crank up the light show

These are the first coolers from Cooler Master to have addressable RGB LEDs.

RGB lighting is practically everywhere these days, but until now, you couldn't purchase a liquid cooler from Cooler Master that had individually addressable RGB LEDs. That changes with the introduction of the MasterLiquid ML240R RGB and ML120R RGB, both of which are all-in-one liquid coolers.

Both coolers have a newly designed pump with 12 addressable RGB LEDs on the water block and eight more on each fan. Cooler Master intends to release a new software utility called MasterPlus+ that will give users complete control over the lighting. Alternatively, the LEDs are compatible with addressable software offered for select ASRock, Asus, and MSI motherboards.

Cooler Master said it designed both coolers in-house, meaning these aren't rebranded coolers. Part of that custom design includes a low profile dual chamber pump that separates incoming coolant from the radiator-bound coolant.

"Cooler Master’s unique pump design maximizes CPU cooling results and assists in maintaining ideal system temperatures. In addition, both the MasterLiquid ML240R RGB and ML120R RGB feature a precision machined microchannel cold plate to quickly dissipate heat, FEP tubing on the interior and sleeved tubing on the exterior for a premium look and extended durability," Cooler Master says.

The only real difference between the two is the size—as the model names suggest, the ML240R RGB is a 240mm cooler with two cooling fans, and the ML120R is a smaller 120mm version with a single fan.
Disclaimer - Originally reported by PCGamer

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

ASUS Announces their new AREZ Brand for AMD Radeon Graphcs Cards

Introducing a bold new brand identity for AMD Radeon RX graphics cards

  • AREZ-branded AMD RadeonRX graphics cards will be available from May 2018
  • AREZ graphics cards boastcutting-edge hardware features includingAuto-Extreme Technology, Super Alloy Power II, MaxContact and FanConnect II
  • AMD and ASUS have teamed to up provide an advanced software ecosystem with ASUS GPU Tweak IIand AMD Radeon Adrenalin Edition Software
Mumbai, India, April 18, 2018— ASUS today announced AREZ, anew brandidentity for ASUS Radeon™RX graphics cards. Derived from Ares, the Greek god of war, AREZ-branded graphics cards are built using industry-leading automated manufacturing to provide AMD gamers and enthusiasts with superior cooling technology and a robust software ecosystem.
The new AREZ brand underlines the strong working partnership between ASUS and AMD that spans decades. Gamers and enthusiasts will enjoy a combination of exclusive ASUS innovations and technologies and AMD’s Radeon graphics processors and software.
"Gamers around the world rally behind AMD Radeon because of what the Radeon name stands for: a dedication to open innovation such as our contributions to the DirectX and Vulkan APIs, a commitment to true transparency through industry standards like Radeon FreeSync™ technology, and a desire to expand the PC gaming ecosystem by enabling developers to take advantage of all graphics hardware, including AMD Radeon graphics. We invite gamers everywhere who believe in these values and the value of the exceptional gaming experience Radeon graphics delivers to join the Red team,” said Scott Herkelman, Vice President and General Manager, AMD Radeon Technologies Group.

Extreme durability: Auto-Extreme technology and Super Alloy Power II components
AREZgraphics cards are produced using Auto-Extreme technology, an industry-exclusive, 100%-automated production process that incorporates premium materials to set a new standard of quality, performance and longevity. Since the introduction of Auto-Extreme technology in ASUS graphics cards, reliability has improved by 30%. This manufacturing process is also environmentally friendly, eliminating harsh chemicals and reducing power consumption by 50%.
Super Alloy Power II components deliver enhanced efficiency, reduce power loss, reduce component buzzing by 50% under full load and achieve thermal levels that are approximately 50% cooler than previous designs for enhanced quality and reliability.

Hi-tech cooling: MaxContact, patented Wing-Blade IP5X-certified fans and FanConnect II
MaxContact is an industry-first GPU cooling technology featuring an enhanced copper heat-spreader that directly contacts the GPU. MaxContact utilizes precision machining to provide a 10X-flatter surface for up to 2X more contact area with the GPU than traditional heat spreaders, resulting in improved thermal transfer. Select AREZ graphics cards are also constructed with up to 40% more heatsink surface area than previous dual-slot designs, further improving heat dissipation for dramatically cooler and quieter performance.
A patented Wing-Blade fan design delivers 105%-greater static pressure over the heatsink for more efficient cooling and up to 3X-quieter operation compared to other fan designs. The fans are certified under the International Protection Marking (IP code) as IP5X dust resistant for improved reliability and a longer lifespan. This stringent certification process ensures AREZ graphics cards provide optimal fan performance, even under severe operating conditions. Additionally, 0dB technology stops the fan completely when the GPU temperature is below a set level, letting players enjoy light gaming sessions in complete silence.
ASUS FanConnect II features two four-pin hybrid-controlled headers that can be connected to both PWM and DC system fans for optimal system cooling. The connected fans reference both the GPU and CPU, and operate automatically based on the one with the higher temperature. A comprehensive set of tuning options allow gamers to tune fan speeds for efficient cooling.

Software ecosystem: GPU Tweak II, plus Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition
Redesigned with an intuitive user interface, GPU Tweak II makes gaming and overclocking easier than ever, while retaining advanced options for seasoned overclockers. With one click, the Gaming Booster function maximizes system performance by removing redundant processes and allocating all available resources automatically.
AREZ graphics cards also support the latest AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition drivers for comprehensive control over AMD GPUs. Core features include power-saving Radeon Chill technology; Radeon WattMan for profile-based custom control of voltages, engine clocks and fan speeds ; and Radeon ReLive for easy capture and sharing of in-game action.

ASUS AREZ-branded graphics cards will be available from May 2018 in selected markets. Please contact your local ASUS representative for further information.