Game sizes are getting out of hand. Call of Duty Warzone is hovering around 250GB, MS themselves managed to shrink the size of Flight Simulator from 173GB to “just” 83GB. And of course MS’s other storage hog Halo The Master Chief Collection has varied between 50GB and 100GB as 343 has added features and improved the games over the years. That is why when the new consoles came out with internal storage of 1TB, many were skeptical about whether these consoles would be up to the task. MS and Sony, of course, anticipated this and happily revealed that their consoles would support super-fast expansion storage, albeit very different implementations.
Microsoft’s approach to this issue is to go back to the 32-bit era. They announced that they would with storage manufacturers to create expansion cards that are, effectively, the memory cards of old. Except more robust as they are based on modern storage technology and not just the pieces of cardboard that would fail if you looked at them wrong that was used in the past.
Basically this card is an external SSD, a PCI-E Gen 4 SSD that is certified by MS as compatible with their Velocity Architecture. This is the secret sauce that enables games on the Series X/S to launch in seconds and minimize to near zero any and all load times. Plugging one of these cards into the back of your console will have zero impact on load times when compared to games installed on the internal storage. The form factor is tiny measuring at 7.8mm x 31.6mm x 53mms. So it is slightly larger than your old PS2 memory card and just as easily lost, so be sure to keep an eye on it.
While the card itself is tiny, the packaging is not. Now I am sure there is a good reason for the packaging this card ships in (protection, not so easy to drop into a bag by a shoplifter, etc.), but in these days of eco friendly design it is a bit curious. Measuring at 51mm x 76mm x 140mms, the box is relatively huge and unnecessary as all that is inside is the card and some warranty and product pamphlets. If it sounds like I am reaching for a negative, I probably am. There is not much to not like about this card.
This is the secret sauce that enables games on the Series X/S to launch in seconds and minimize to near zero any and all load times.
In terms of performance this card is exactly as advertised. Your games will load as fast as they do when installed internally. Quick Resume games resume quickly and nearly instantaneously even if your console loses power. It is easy to use, plug and play and it is portable.
The plug and play bit is not quite as simple as plugging it in and the console just expands your storage ala a RAID array on PC, but it is not that difficult to figure out. You must go into the console settings and tell the console that you want to install all your games to either internal storage or the expansion card and if you have games installed internally you will then have to manually transfer them to the card. However, if you do not bother with that as soon as your console’s internal storage is full, it will automatically install new games to the external card. Transferring games between the console and the card is insanely fast. I transferred all my Series X optimized games to the card, about 150GB or more, and that took less than five minutes. These are speeds I have never experienced even on my PC when transferring files between a SATA SSD and an M.2 drive.
The obvious question, especially at this point in time, is what the use case for the card is. Even the most diehard of Xbox fans will admit that there are no true “next gen” games to take advantage of the Series X/S console. However with Game Pass and the extensive back catalogue of original Xbox and 360 games to play, you can easily fill up both the internal and external storage and while the older games do not need to be on this type of storage, it is great having them on it so that they load as fast as the “next gen” games will.
I transferred all my Series X optimized games to the card, about 150GB or more, and that took less than five minutes.
The other use for this card is an old one – taking your games to your friend’s house. With the rise of digital games as well as the huge day one and later patches, just taking a disc to a friend is no longer possible. With this card you can take your games with you and be up and running in a few minutes. This also helps anyone who does not have fast internet access at home, they can now ask friends to download the games for them.
Sadly, the card is only compatible with the Xbox Series X/S. You cannot simply plug it into your PC to backup your game files. This is something that MS and Sony should be considering. Because I get to review a number of laptops, I am able to store my games that I use to test them on my NAS. It makes life much easier as I do not have to download the games each and every time. Of course, I can simply buy an external HDD for this type of cold storage, but being able to store something on my network and NAS is much more convenient.
That brings us to the biggest drawback – the price. Currently the card is retailing for about R4,500 which is about R1,000 more than a PCI-E Gen 4.0 m.2 drive for the PC. The fears that MS was treading the same horrible path Sony did with the Vita memory cards seems to be coming true. However this proprietary card is not quite the same as Sony’s. Firstly the card is manufactured by Seagate and is branded as such. Secondly MS has assured fans that there are competing cards coming from Western Digital and other interested manufacturers. Finally the cards are based mostly, as far as we can tell, on normal SSDs so as more manufacturers come on board and the cost of manufacturing these chips falls and the price will drop, we just have to be patient.
MS’ solution to the storage problem is certainly more proprietary than Sony’s approach of simply having an m.2 slot in the PS5. However, you can expand the Series X/S storage, Sony is waiting for m.2 manufacturers to catch up to their proprietary storage architecture solution and produce drives that are compatible. Right now the slot is disabled and will be enabled at some point via a firmware update.
The expansion card is nice to have, but it is not a necessity just yet. I have yet to install so many games to need it. For almost the price of a Series S, I would rather purchase MS’ rather good headset and have some cash left over that I can put away in some savings. However if you do have friends or family with one of these consoles, this is a great way to share games and simply a great way to future proof your console for when the storage wars come our way.
Cooler Master’s SK620 is a low profile, wired 60% layout keyboard. So “What exactly is a 60% layout keyboard?” is something you might be asking yourself. To put it quite simply, it’s a keyboard that’s been to the butcher and has had its Numpad sawed off. Graphic descriptions aside, while that’s pretty much what you have here, it is slightly more complicated than that.
60% keyboards are keyboards that have been designed to take up less space. This is a point of contention for a lot of people but for the benefit of the doubt, we’re going to go with the explanation that 60% keyboards are simply easier to lug around. A travel keyboard if you will. For example, If you’re a university student going into campus, or if you’re travelling between an office and home and you’re using a laptop, you may want an actual mechanical keyboard to type with. A 60% layout keyboard solves the problem of lugging around a full-sized - and probably possibly heavy - keyboard around. So ultimately it’s all about minimising the size and weight while retaining functionality.
Cooler Master’s SK620 fits the bill perfectly since this keyboard is incredibly compact and really lightweight. Coming in at 377 grams without the cable (which adds about another 100 grams or so) and measuring a paltry 293 (L) x 103 (B) x 30.28 (H) mm, consumers can easily see why this is a massive space saver.
The rest of the keyboard’s technical specs can be seen below:
Keyboard Switch Type - Low Profile Mechanical Switch (Red/Blue/Brown)
Keyboard Keycaps - Ergonomic keycap
Keyboard Material - Aluminum, Plastic
Keyboard Color - Gunmetal Black, Silver White
Keyboard LED Color - RGB
Keyboard Polling Rate - 1000Hz
On-the-fly System - Yes
Keyboard Multimedia Key - Through Function Key (FN)
Compatible OS - macOS/Windows 8 and above
Software Support - Cooler Master MasterPlus+
Keyboard Connector Cable - USB Type-C (Keyboard Side), USB 2.0 Type A (Computer Side)
Keyboard Cable Length - 1.8 m, Braided & Removable
Keyboard Dimensions (L x W x H) - Standard: 293 x 103 x 30.28 mm, Feet Open: 293 X 103 X 43.03 mm
Keyboard Weight - 377g / 0.83lbs (Without cable)
Warranty - 2 years
Product - Keyboard
Serie - SK Series
Keyboard Type - Mechanical
With that out the way, let’s dive into the keyboard’s actual details. Unboxing the SK620, users will find the light weight to be quite surprising in contrast to conventional 104-key keyboards. The keyboard comes with a rather lengthy 1.8 m braided and removable USB Type-C cable. This is a massive plus, since you can easily unplug this cable and roll it up to save even more packaging space when transporting the keyboard.
After plugging the keyboard into a laptop or PC, the downright gorgeous RGB lighting will kick in and you’ll immediately be tempted to play around with the lighting effects. The keyboard is breathtaking when the lights are set to full brightness and Cooler Master’s overall aesthetic with the keyboard is certainly on-point. It just oozes a certain premium look and feels this way too.
The SK620 can either have low-profile mechanical Red, Blue or Brown switches and the one we tested contained Reds.
In fact, the keycaps used on the SK620 have been redesigned to both look and feel premium. Thankfully, the keycaps are no longer completely flat and are now far more ergonomically pleasing. The SK620 can either have low-profile mechanical Red, Blue or Brown switches and the one we tested contained Reds. Being a low-profile keyboard, some users might need to get used to the keyboard’s orientation but after a couple of minutes of using it, you’ll be typing at regular speed with no problems at all. There are adjustable feet on the bottom of the keyboard too which does add an additional 13 mm of height to the board when fully extended. This is a great feature of the keyboard since it brings it more in line with more traditional keyboard heights.
The SK620 features a 1000hz polling rate with N-key rollover so even if you’re typing like a beast during an intense work session, or coding like your life depends on it, you can rest assured that it will register your every keypress without any issues.
The trickiest part of the SK620 lies with the fact that being a 60% layout keyboard, users will have to learn where everything is. There isn’t a separate row of F keys and the Numpad is non-existent so if you’re an accountant or a fan of using a Numpad, you may not like the idea of a keyboard with this layout. If however, you’re a gamer and don’t really mind having less keyboard space and keys available to you, the SK620 still delivers excellent performance.
Cooler Master have opted to include a 32-bit ARM Cortex processor into the keyboard to assist with keystroke registration and to work with the “On-The-Fly” system which allows users to change keyboard settings by simply combining button presses. This is incredibly useful if you plan to use the keyboard with multiple devices since you can simply change your settings without even downloading any software. You can still make use of Cooler Master’s software suite should you want to though, and the SK620 can be further customized using Cooler Master’s MasterPlus+ program.
Cooler Master have opted to include a 32-bit ARM Cortex processor into the keyboard to assist with keystroke registration...
The build quality of the keyboard is great and it certainly feels as if it could easily survive being thrown around in a bag quite a bit. Of course this doesn’t mean you should but the aluminium top plate combined with the hard plastic bottom does instill a sense of confidence that the keyboard can survive some hard knocks and bumps.
As discussed above, a 60% keyboard is a point of contention since you’re effectively getting less keyboard, however you are also often paying far less for it. After using the keyboard for a while, users will acclimatize to the size and layout quite quickly. The biggest problem we personally found was that the right-hand side “Shift” key is small and that “Delete” is in a very odd place next to the “Up” arrow key. This means that there’ll be a few mishaps with typing until you get used to the keys sizing and positioning. Using the SK 620 for gaming was a pleasure since the Red switches and the newly designed keycaps felt great in use.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a 60% keyboard, don’t want to break the bank, and you’re looking for solid build quality, the Cooler Master SK620 is for you. We’re still not entirely sold on the idea of getting less keyboard since we’re avid Numpad users but if you’re not an accountant and don’t mind this, the SK620 is a great purchase and one that we can highly recommend. Local pricing may vary but coming in at around $90, the SK620 is a well-rounded, affordable 60% keyboard.
Asus’ line-up of gaming laptops is a great option for any gamer on the go who also has the budget. These days about the only way to get a modern graphics card is to buy a laptop, an expensive option, but given the prices for the scarcer than hen’s teeth desktop GPUs, this may work out cheaper than building a system these days. Maybe even cheaper than just buying a discrete GPU.
The G733 is a laptop covered in gaming aesthetics. From the RGB logo on the lid, to the RGB light bar along the bottom front and half of the side of the deck. A nice new customisation feature is the nameplate on the top right corner of deck right above the rear exhaust vent. In the box you will get a replacement plate, but you can 3D print your own plates with whatever you want on them to place on the laptop. I can see this being a popular vanity feature for streamers and other influencer types.
A nice new customisation feature is the nameplate on the top right corner of deck right above the rear exhaust vent.
Opening the laptop shows, in some ways, a disappointing keyboard. I say disappointing because it is just a normal keyboard and touchpad below a normal screen. Given the outer chassis aesthetics I was expecting something more bespoke or designed. It is the tiniest of nits to pick based on my outsized expectations, but it is one that I choose to pick at.
The keyboard is a full one in the chiclet design but is a particularly good implementation of that venerable technology. The typing experience is excellent, and each key has good travel and a satisfying actuation point. The rollover is excellent, making for very few errors when typing or gaming. The deck itself hardly flexes and when it does you have to be putting significant pressure on the keyboard. This leads into the excellent track pad input recognition as pressing down on the deck near the pad does not result in mistaken activation of the touchpad clicks.
While the panel is thin, this flex too requires a fair amount of force. The top and sides are nearly bezel-less, meaning that if you want to use this laptop for streaming or work from home meetings you will have to buy a separate webcam because there is no space for one. Well, there is space in the chin, but thank goodness Asus did not place a camera in just the right spot to look up your nose as some laptops have done in the past. The panel itself is a 17.3 inch 1080p IPS. The party trick of this panel is that it has a 360Hz refresh rate. Given that you can spec this laptop with up an RTX 3080, the addition of such a high refresh rate panel is welcome and a great addition to the laptop. Of course, if you are more budget conscious or prefer higher resolutions, you can spec the laptop with a 1440P panel and 165Hz refresh rate.
As stated, the laptop can be specced with an RTX 3080, but if you have a more reasonable budget you can choose a 3060 or 3070 GPU. The laptop I tested was the full spec version with the 3080 and while the mobile 3080 is more akin to a desktop 3070, it is still insanely powerful. Testing the laptop with Doom, Control and Modern Warfare I did not experience any performance issues or a framerate average below 100 FPS. In Control with Raytracing and DLSS 2.0 on the average FPS dropped slightly to around 90 FPS. Impressive to say the least.
The laptop I tested was the full spec version with the 3080 and while the mobile 3080 is more akin to a desktop 3070, it is still insanely powerful.
Equally impressive was the laptops performance in more CPU intensive games. Playing a Total Warhammer 2 custom battle with the largest armies I could manage to create did not phase the Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU. The machine just ran through that test with no problems and zero chugging.
As a content creation laptop the G733 is impressive. With 100% sRGB and 75% Adobe RGB accuracy, this will enable any user to edit videos and photos with confidence and make you look like one of the best photographers in the world.
As a gaming laptop with content creation capabilities, you will need to be able to store all your files on high-speed storage. Luckily, the laptop comes with a 1TB PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD with the option of adding a second 1TB model and setting it up in Raid 0. Of course, the size of modern games plus the size of photos and videos will use up that storage in no time. Luckily, the laptop has three USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type A ports as well as one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C port enabling you plug in any number of external drives to store data. If you have a capable monitor, you can use that Type C port to output your display or the full-sized HDMI 2.0b port.
The ASUS ROG Strix Scar G733 is a great gaming laptop that will enable you to play any game without taking away from the experience. The smooth gameplay is complemented by a good keyboard and enough ports in which to plug in whatever peripherals you choose. The relatively low weight will not break your back as you carry your gaming station with you wherever you go. The only downside is the price of around R70,000.
MSI have announced via an “MSIOLOGY Tech meets Aesthethic” livestream event that they have a new range of laptops available for both creators and gamers. You can watch the livestream below:
“The great evolution is all built upon the craftsmanship of humanistic and science. #MSI always aims to inspire users across all fields with our uplifting technology.”
If you would prefer to avoiding sitting through a long video and just get a summary instead, we’ve got you. In the livestream, MSI announced that there are two new creator Z16 models. These both come with 120Hz 16:10 golden ratio inspired touch displays with QHD+ resolution support and 100 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage. Both Z16 models have an Nvidia RTX 3060 and 32GB of RAM with a selection of processor and SSD being the key difference between them. Either a 1TB ssd or 2TB ssd and Core i7-11800H or a Core i9-11900H.
MSI even got Linus Sebastian from Linus Tech Tips to weigh in on the livestream via a pre-recorded video. “From performance, color accuracy, connectivity, and battery life, you name it, the Z16 aims to provide it all… in a laptop that weighs just 2.2-kilogams!” said Linus.
"The simplicity also comes with the sophisticated reliable high performance. The Creator Z16 sports the latest 11th gen Intel processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU. Together with MSI’s exclusive Cooler Boost Trinity+ cooling solution, the Creator Z16 renders 3D animation 40% faster than what the previous gen product does. Users can also enjoy high mobility and connections. WI-FI 6E is three times faster than WIFI 5, unleashing the power of high speed internet."
Next up was the Creator M16 and Creator 17 models. The Creator M16 is an even lighter weight version of the Z16 model but this one only features an RTX 3050 TI and an Intel Core i7. A budget friendlier alternative if you will.
The Creator 17 model is “geared with a premium Mini LED display” and “provides the ultimate vivid and true-to-life panel. The Creator 17 is the thinnest and most powerful laptop in its class. For creators who are looking for monstrous power and a bigger screen for 4K editing, the Creator 17 is a great choice.” according to MSI.
MSI then revealed refreshes to it’s existing GE76 and GE66 laptops which will now pack 11th Gen Intel processors up to a Core i9 and be paired with RTX 3080 GPUs. The lower specced GP76 and GP66 Leopard laptops as well as the GL76 and Gl66 Pulse laptops (A redesign of the Leopard range) will also feature Intel’s new processors up to a Core i7. Fairly standard fare here to update their older models with newer chips. This provides users with more longevity for their devices should they decide to purchase one in the near future.
Lastly, MSI revealed two new art inspired laptop models: The Katana and Sword models.
“MSI worked with Tsuyoshi Nagano, a highly-praised visual artist who is famous for his awesome artworks for the epic tactical RPG “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and "Nobunaga's Ambition". The body design of Katana GF76 and GF66 was inspired by the craftsmanship of the artisans. It combines the concept of both blade and armor, allowing users to game like a real samurai."
Additionally, the Gaming-Red backlit keyboard represents gamers’ pursuit of power. To deliver even more immersive experience, MSI also created the MSI Sword 17 and Sword 15 in a brand new Clear-White color is the symbols of refined masterpiece, which aims to sharpen users’ gaming experience and with a well-calibrated Tech-Blue backlit keyboard, enabling gamers to choose according to their unique styles.
The Katana model models are black while the Sword models are white. The Sword model can only be configured with 8GB of RAM while all Katana models ship with 16GB of RAM within.
Following the warriors, here comes the future fighter: The Pulse GL series shows the power from the pulse of the universe. MSI cooperated with Maarten Verhoeven, an acclaimed digital concept artist and Zbrush World Champion, on the visual identity of the whole new MSI Pulse GL76 and GL66.”
MSI rounded off the event by talking about their changes to power output in the laptops with the GPUs now being able to utilise a full 165watts of power. The GE76 Raider in particular can take full advantage of this thanks to it using the latest processor and the GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU.
Local South African pricing for the laptops is yet to be confirmed so gamers are advised to keep an eye out on their local stockists and retailers for additional information. You can find all the above information mentioned above in the MSI livestream or at their website here.