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Update: We’ve overhauled this page with information on a series of new and updated tests that we run on laptops, desktops and other computing products going into 2017.

TechRadar believes evaluating laptops based on their value proposition. As such, we review computing devices, including laptops, convertibles and desktops of all sizes against their own price and other options available on the market. Our review process is also underpinned by rigorous tests to determine the quality, performance and battery life of each machine.

Build quality

We begin by examining a laptop’s design and build quality to see how solid it feels to the touch and whether it fulfils the role it was designed for.

The overall build quality is important, so we go to great lengths to test the overall strength and durability of each system. We also assess the functionality of all ports, switches and latches. The quality of the screen is considered, with checks for brightness, evenness of tone, as well as any dead pixels identified.

The final part of our initial tests deals with the weight of the machine and its relative portability. Next, we assess the overall usability of the machine, including the quality of the keyboard, touchpad and overall user interface.

Updating and optimizing

Before we begin testing every laptop by updating the system with the latest patches, firmware updates and drivers. No device stays frozen in time and while this means benchmarking numbers are a constantly moving – and often, rising – target, it’s a part of our technological progress.

To give every machine the benefit of the doubt, we also turn on “high performance mode” before testing. This ensures the integrated graphics as well as any other components inside the laptop are operating at their maximum performance. Similarly, we switch laptops to “balanced mode” in the power options before battery tests to ensure they don’t run out of juice prematurely in a setting that isn’t intended for use on battery.

Performance benchmarks explained

As every device is tested using the same suite of benchmark tests, its performance can easily be compared against rival products. Each review is accompanied by the test results for that machine, as well comparisons to its closest competitors.

Before the hands-on part of our testing has been dealt with, the laptop will spend up to 72 hours being run through a series of benchmarks to check overall performance. Each machine is set at the same high performance level for all tests save for battery life. This way, we can judge how effectively it will run at its maximum potential.

We use a number of synthetic tests to measure a laptop’s components. The first, PCMark 8 battery life, tests the device’s battery endurance. We then follow up with an anecdotal battery test further simulating real life usage: video playback. (Both of these are detailed in sections following this one.)

The PCMark 8 performance is conducted as well at the highest performance settings, testing its CPU and ability to multitask as well as render complex files and graphical elements. Meanwhile, 3DMark is specifically designed to test the strength of the laptop’s graphics processor(s) with various 3D modeling and game physics tests. Specifically, we run the Sky Diver (aimed at gaming laptops and low-power devices), Time Spy (DirectX 12-enabled) and Fire Strike (pushing the high-end) 3DMark tests on each gaming device.

We then evaluate the CPU’s multi-core performance through Cinebench., which measures various hyperthreading capabilities as well as CPU graphical performance. Geekbench 3 is also used to measure the CPU’s multi-core and single-core throughput. 

Finally, if we’re reviewing a gaming laptop or desktop, we use benchmark tools found within Grand Theft Auto V and The Division for PC, to truly tax those dedicated graphics chips. Both of those tests are run at their highest and lowest settings at 1080p resolution, to give an idea of where the device’s boundaries of power are at the most common pixel count.

Each of these performance tests are run at least twice to ensure an accurate result. If two results for a test vary by more than 100 points, then we run the test three times and record the average.

PCMark 8 battery life explained

This software tests mobile performance and battery life, simulating popular general tasks such as video chat, web browsing and document creation while the system is unplugged.

Firstly, all laptops are set to Balanced in the power options if possible. We also tweak some advanced settings, including telling the screen and hard drives to never sleep, we set the critical battery level to 5%. Most importantly, this test is conducted with the screen brightness and system volume set to 50%, with no radios active but Wi-Fi. Any additional lighting is disabled as well.

With the laptop’s battery fully charged, we disconnect the main power. PCMark 8 then simulates day-to-day use until the battery runs close to dry. Once it’s through, PCMark 8 provides an estimate of the battery’s total capacity in hours and minutes based on how quickly power drained during the test. Here is how we’ve come to interpret the scores based on past data:

  • 2 hours: This either isn’t a very power-efficient machine, or wasn’t designed for endurance.
  • 3 hours: Generally Ultrabooks come in at around the long end of this time, as well as high-resolution laptops.
  • 4 hours: Only the longest-lasting laptops can achieve this level of endurance or longer, though the trend is starting to near 5 hours in 2017.

Anecdotal battery life explained

In addition to using PCMark8 to create a synthetic measurement of battery life, we also test how long laptops can last through a regular day of use through a common task: video playback. In this real life test, we run a 1080p video on a continuous loop through VLC Player and measure the time until the battery is completely drained in hours and minutes.

We run the laptop from a full charge until the machine ultimately shuts down after the battery is fully exhausted.

This test is also conducted with the screen brightness and system volume set to 50%, with no radios active but Wi-Fi. Any additional lighting is disabled as well, and the power setting is set to Balanced if possible.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Update: Big, bold and aluminum, the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is essentially the antithesis to monsters like the Origin Millennium. It makes a few sacrifices in the process, but ultimately it sits among the best ways to do VR on the cheap and with top-notch customer service to boot. Read on to number 4 on our list to discover this GTX 1070-powered beauty!

Moving forward into 2017, PC gaming has continued to innovate and inspire, bridging the gap between the standards of today and those of tomorrow. Unlike with consoles, the best gaming PC allows you to reach new heights. In some cases, that means achieving frame rates of up to 240 fps … if your monitor is equipped for it.

Even as top-end powerhouses still maintain their place in the world, it’s no longer a necessity to don the most capable hardware. Windows 10, for instance, has managed to not only top Windows 7 adoption in the United States, but instate a performance-heady Game Mode that makes the latest games run faster and smoother even with a low-spec PC.

A gaming PC can either be a one-time purchase or a long-term investment depending on the amount of time, effort and funding you’re willing to invest. Even if you’re apathetic to the idea of upgrading parts as newer, more powerful components make their way to market, the temptation subsists all the same – especially as VR headsets and 4K screens get more exposure.

The best gaming PC might not come cheap, though. You’ll need to reach deep into your wallet for the utmost powerful GPU and high-speed processor accompanied by capacious storage options. If you prefer that your games run with the graphics and frame rates cranked all the way up to the top, however, the lofty upfront cost may very well be justified. 

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You can either build a PC that tailors to your specific needs or effortlessly purchase one that’s pre-built by one of many manufacturers. For the easy and straightforward option, consider one of the 7 stellar gaming PCs listed below.

Overclockers Asteroid

The latest Overclockers machine is one of the best-designed gaming PCs we’ve ever seen, with bespoke water-cooling, a great color scheme and keen attention to detail. It marries its great design with top-notch performance in games and applications. Luckily it never gets too hot or too loud either. It is, however expensive and niche, with limited potential for upgrading. If you’re looking for an attractive and unique LAN-friendly gaming PC that can handle anything from 4K gaming to VR, the Asteroid is an out-of-this-world machine with a price tag that will bring you back down to earth.

[Editor’s Note: This product is only available in the UK and other European territories.]

Read the full review: Overclockers 8Pack Asteroid

best gaming pc

One of the few PCs on this list to earn a perfect score, the Alienware Aurora R5 combines design elements traditional to Dell’s famed luxury gaming brand with a handful of contemporary twists. The nigh-mini ITX computer bears resemblance to, say, the Area 51, but with a case that feels strikingly more native to our home planet. Of course, it simultaneously boasts top-of-the-line specs; an overclockable K-series Intel Core i7 CPU, a GeForce GTX 1080 and a massively capable 850W power supply are just a few of the Aurora R5’s redeeming qualities. Plus, even with the small chassis, there’s plenty of room for an unparalleled SLI configuration.

Read the full review: Alienware Aurora R5

best gaming pc

Sure, for the price of an Origin Millennium PC, you could buy a halfway decent car. But why would you need to leave the house when you can play games in 4K at a buttery smooth 60 fps? That’s the question Origin hopes you’ll ask when you talk to your spouse about dropping six grand on a new gaming rig. Between its pair of EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition twins and the new Intel Broadwell-E Core i7-6950X processor, there is nothing the Origin Millennium can’t handle – and on the best of the best displays at that. Of course, it’s expensive; it’s like ten years worth of future-proof.

Read the full review: Origin Millennium

The Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is a reminder of just how convenient and affordable it can be to skip the laborious assembly process and simply buy your gaming PC from a prominent and well-liked manufacturer. By making a few concessions in the CPU, PSU and storage departments, Dell was able to leverage a reasonable price tag and sweeten the deal with a handful of enticing additives. These include discrete graphics, a whopping 9 total USB ports and, of course, access to Dell’s online support system. That way, if something goes wrong, you’re not leafing through manuals to find out why your computer suddenly stopped working. 

Read the full review: Dell XPS Tower Special Edition

best gaming pc

This gaming desktop might come wrapped in a designer case, but don’t be fooled – it’s significantly more accessible and easy to upgrade than your average pre-built system short of a boutique. The arrival of the Y900, among a few other machines on this very list, herald a eureka moment in the major vendors’ approach to PC gaming: give the people exactly what they want. A tool-less internal design will help soften the blow of sub-par cable management. Meanwhile, the device has plenty of room for expansions and upgrades. If you want the lowest friction possible getting into PC gaming, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 is a fine place to start.

Read the full review: Lenovo Ideacentre Y900

Cyberpower Trinity 300

Interested in Ultra HD gaming without spending a fortune? Enter the StormForce Tornado, a GTX 1070-equipped rig with the outward appearance of a spaceship and five drive bays for nearly limitless internal storage potential. If you don’t mind the extensive wait times of a hard drive (as opposed to a PCIe or M.2 SSD), the StormForce Tornado is a no-brainer. Starting at a mere £899 (about $1,180/AUS$1,540), the StormForce Tornado makes 1440p gaming (and even 4K, to an extent) affordable, and who doesn’t want that?

[Editor’s Note: This product is only available in the UK and other European territories.] 

Read the full review: StormForce Tornado

Overclockers UK Titan Riptide

While the Titan Virtual Force is neither tastefully designed nor particularly subtle, it’s glitzy and self-indulgent, illuminating a green ooze reminiscent of the Manhattan sewers (cowabunga!). At the same time, of course, Overclockers was less concerned about making a fashion statement and more obsessed with crafting one of the most capable pre-built computers money can buy. Complete with a 4K-capable GTX 980 Ti, an overclockable Intel 6600K and 8GB of RAM at the entry level, the Titan Virtual Force serves as an excellent shortcut to buttery smooth VR, or UltraHD, gaming on the high end.

[Editor’s Note: This product is only available in the UK and other European territories.]  

Read the full review: Overclockers Titan Virtual Force

Though you might mistake it for a Rubik’s Cube at first glance, the HP Omen X’s quirky design is all part of its charm. Don’t confuse eccentric casing with limited upgradeability, however, as the HP Omen X is more than just a pretty face. Complete with three chambers for components, including one with four hard drive bays, this desktop leaves plenty of room for expansion later down the line. Upgrades can be performed nearly without tools altogether, requiring not much more than a basic Allen wrench to lift up the panel. Perhaps the most practical aspect of the Omen X, though, is its ability to change the color of its lighting based on which components are sweating the most.

Read the full review: HP Omen X Desktop

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

No matter how much hard drive space you have, it never seems to be enough – all those applications, iTunes movies and photos have to go somewhere – but Seagate might have the answer to storage shortage woes with a new 16TB hard disk that it’s planning to launch next year.

The company revealed its plans during an earnings conference call, saying that it intends to aggressively increase the sizes of its traditional mechanical 3.5-inch SATA disk drives in 2018 and beyond.

That means a 16TB drive before the end of next year, which should give you enough room for all those 4K GoPro movies you’ve been shooting. The biggest hard drive Seagate makes at the moment tops out at 10GB and there’s a 12GB version currently in testing.

Size does matter

While many laptops now come with solid-state drives (SSDs) at lower capacities, Seagate CEO Steve Luczo says there’s still a healthy demand for the old-fashioned spinning variety of disk, especially with users keen to get more storage space inside their PCs.

There’s no word yet on how much these drives will cost – probably quite a lot – but disk prices are continuing to drop across the board and if you can’t stretch to a 16GB model then Seagate will happily sell you a 12TB or 14TB version instead.

While Seagate’s unit sales actually dropped by 10 percent last year, Luczo says the company sees potential for growth in making fewer drives at higher capacities. “It’s probably going to be a growing market, because we see growth in all those applications that require high capacity,” he said.

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If you’re looking to protect your company PCs from malware then you could just equip each one with your preferred free antivirus package. You’ll get a reasonable level of protection, and it might well seem like you’re keeping costs to a minimum.

Of course you’ll have to manually install each copy. And train every user in its operation. And rely on them to let you know if there are any problems. And hope they won’t turn off particular functions – or remove the whole package if they think it’s getting in their way. The software may be free, but it could still have some major costs attached.

If you have plenty of systems to protect – 10 or more, let’s say – it could make more sense to choose a business security solution. These can often be remotely installed over the network, and offer a central management console to monitor devices, and create fine-tuned security policies to enforce your preferred settings.

Best of all, the price per installation can sometimes be cheaper than even our recommended best home antivirus packages. So, what’s on offer? We’ve checked out eight of the best business antivirus tools around in order to find out.

Most offer discounts if you buy a two or three-year package, so where possible we ordered them by their 10 PC, two-year package prices to maximise your savings. You can, of course, choose whichever package suits your needs best when buying.

All prices below are for one-year and five end points. You can of course customise these on the vendor’s website.

If Avast Endpoint Protection looks cheap, that’s because it’s the most basic business product the company offers – there’s core antivirus, browsing protection and remote management for PCs only. That may well be enough, though, and even if it isn’t, moving up to the Endpoint Plus edition will get you a firewall, spam filter and server protection while still remaining good value.

The web-based management console covers the basics only: remote installations, updates, plus there’s a scheduler for automatic scanning, real-time security alerts, and so on.

The antivirus protection you get is generally rated as good by independent testing, with Avast’s engine blocking 99.7% of threats in AV-Comparative’s September 2016 Real-World Protection report. If value for money and simplicity are key factors, Avast Endpoint Protection could be a sensible choice.

Symantec Endpoint Protection’s first benefit is the company’s Insight file reputation technology, an effective way to detect and block even the very latest undiscovered threats.

Other layers of protection include antivirus, behaviour monitoring, intrusion protection, a firewall, and the ‘Power Eraser’ to remove stubborn threats and repair your system.

Symantec’s security policy options are a real highlight. You can set application blacklists or whitelists, control file and Registry access, restrict and control access to external media, and more, then monitor systems and enforce policies from a central console.

While there’s no bundled protection for mobile devices, the package runs just about everywhere else: PCs, Macs, and a host of virtual environments and Linux distros.

Symantec Endpoint Protection isn’t cheap, but if you need its high-end features and policy control options then it still looks like a good deal to us.

If reliable protection is a top priority, Bitdefender GravityZone Business Security needs to be on your shortlist. Bitdefender products are loved by the independent testing labs, highly rated for malware detection, removal, performance and usability.

Most of the features work automatically – antimalware, firewall, web advisor, URL filtering – but you can also customise the product to control user actions. You’re able to restrict access to certain websites and applications, block the transmission of sensitive information, remotely deploy the product to unprotected systems, and allow or deny users the ability to modify their security settings.

All this is managed from a central console where you can control and monitor remote users, create and apply custom security policies by user, location (the product adapts when users are outside the company), and more.

Avira Antivirus for Endpoint is the company’s main small business product. It takes all the core features you’d expect – antivirus, baseline network protection, web filtering – and extends them with file server protection and optimisation, along with application whitelisting and blacklisting.

Avira’s Online Essentials web console lets you manage your devices. This is simpler than some of the high-end competition, but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage, and there’s some useful functionality here: drive partition reports, licence management, remote deployment, and assorted mobile phone tools (antitheft, phone finder, and more).

Avira Antivirus for Endpoint doesn’t have the longest of feature lists, but it’s easy to use, and offers excellent protection, regularly matching competitors like Bitdefender and Kaspersky in AV-Comparative’s Real World tests.

Endpoint Security Cloud is Kaspersky’s latest small business product, which comes ready to protect Windows PCs, file servers, Android and iOS devices.

The desktop side of the package has all the usual quality Kaspersky modules – antivirus, antispam, a firewall, more – but the mobile security technologies are even more impressive. There are tools to detect insecure devices, control password rules, manage camera use, filter unwanted calls and texts, and remotely lock or wipe data from lost devices.

That’s topped off with an easy-to-use web console managing network and Bluetooth configuration, internet access policies, device settings and more.

There’s impressive levels of protection, too. Kaspersky Endpoint Security Cloud came first out of four contenders in AV-Comparatives’ October 2016 Business Security Test, detecting and blocking 100% of known malware and exploits. The package also produced an above-average five false positives, so overall, it put in some impressive results.

Only available through value added resellers and specialist online retailers

Webroot SecureAnywhere products stand out immediately for being incredibly lightweight: they’re tiny (2MB disk space), install so quickly you’ll barely notice (from 5 seconds), and consume the absolute minimum of system resources.

Scans are fast, too, and because just about everything is done in the cloud, there are no bulky updates or definitions to download – you’re always up-to-date.

Other features include behaviour monitoring, an outbound firewall, along with identity and privacy protection. These don’t always have the power and options of other tools, but they’re implemented with real intelligence, and generally cope well with day-to-day tasks.

A cloud-based console enables tracking all your installations, and the package runs on just about any Windows or macOS system.

Factor in the price and Webroot looks very appealing to us, but it really is a product you need to try for yourself to understand the benefits. If you’re interested, grab a copy of the trial and see what it can do for you.

F-Secure Client Security Standard is a popular endpoint protection tool, highly rated by the independent testing labs.

Antivirus is just the start. There’s also a firewall, intrusion detection, web filtering, online banking protection and device control.

If you need more, the Premium edition adds a software updater to scan for missing patches, and an option to restrict a user’s web access by category. Whatever version you buy may be deployed and managed from a central console.

There are some issues here, in particular the fact that F-Secure’s engine is more likely than most to flag legitimate software as malicious. But overall F-Secure Client Security Standard offers good protection for a reasonable price, and it’s certainly a product worth thinking about.

Only available through value added resellers and specialist online retailers

Sophos Endpoint Protection Advanced is a powerful tool which uses many technologies to keep you safe. It blocks dangerous URLs, and is capable of detecting and removing exploit code, analysing behaviour to uncover even the very newest threats, and identifying endpoint connections with malicious servers to find compromised systems.

The results can be impressive, with the core engine doing an above-average job of blocking zero day threats, yet raising almost no false alerts at all.

There’s a price to pay for this kind of safety, though: Sophos Endpoint Protection’s background activities can noticeably impact your PC’s performance.

There are some business-friendly features to compensate, including DLP along with device and application control, although other packages give you more at a much lower cost.

Only available through value added resellers and specialist online retailers

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Overclockers UK wanted to do something special in terms of a super-powerful PC, and the company has certainly managed that with the new 8Pack OrionX, which is actually two PCs in one case with a price tag that you (and your bank manager) will find terrifying: £24,000.

Yes, that’s enough to buy a new BMW. But as you would hope, the vendor has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this rig – and while the sink might not be there, there’s more than enough plumbing for an entire kitchen with three custom-made water-cooling loops snaking their way around the inside of the case in a cleverly optimized design.

That case is a Phanteks Enthoo Elite which, as mentioned, contains two separate systems within it – and both PCs can be used simultaneously, so you can game away on one, while the other crunches through some heavy-duty video editing or similar.

So, onwards to the specs. The first and primary PC has an Intel Core i7-6950X processor overclocked to 4.4GHz minimum – they’ll push it further if it will go – sat in an Asus Rampage V Edition 10 Intel X99 motherboard.

You also get 64GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum RAM (2666MHz) in eight sticks, and for the graphics cards there are three Nvidia Titan X (Pascal – i.e. the latest generation) in Tri-SLI (and naturally, these are overclocked to 2000MHz plus). Optionally you can have four of these monster GPUs if a mere trio isn’t enough .

Storage? There’s a 1.2TB Intel 750 PCIe NVMe SSD (which is water-cooled), alongside a pair of 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSDs in RAID 0 configuration, plus a 10TB spinning disk for all your media and other bits and pieces.

Terrific twosome

The ‘secondary’ PC is a bit of a beast in itself, running with an Intel Core i7-7700K (Kaby Lake) CPU overclocked to at least 5.1GHz in an Asus ROG Strix Z270I Gaming motherboard.

There’s 16GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum system RAM (3200MHz) along with an Nvidia Titan X (Pascal) graphics card.

Storage comes in the form of a pair of Samsung 960 Polaris 512GB NVMe SSDs configured in RAID 0, again running alongside a 10TB traditional hard disk.

You’d think that Overclockers would need to put in a pretty beefy power supply to give these two systems sufficient juice, and you’d be right. There is nothing less than a Super Flower Leadex ‘8Pack Edition’ 2000W PSU tucked away in the bottom of the case handling power duties.

Both individual CPUs/chipsets have their own water-cooling loop, and the GPUs are cooled on their own separate loop, too.

Yep, in short, this is one mind-boggling machine. If you want to buy one, well, we’re not in the slightest bit jealous – of course. Not a bit of it. But this rig will only cause you problems, you know: problems like what super-high-end monitors can you buy to do this thing justice? Did you think of that, eh?

Still definitely not jealous, by the way.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

January is just about wrapping up – a month, some would agree, loathed by both parents and kids alike for the same reason: the new school year is about to start.

These days it’s not enough to just get a shiny new calculator if you want your child to get ahead in class. Even as early as primary school, your child may need some pretty advanced tech just to keep up with the ever-changing academic focus and teaching method.

With the new term just around the corner, there’s a couple of days left to tick off all the items on your back-to-school shopping list, and we’re here to help, bringing together all the best deals on classroom tech to give your kid the upper edge.

Best back-to-school laptops and 2-in-1s

  • Acer Aspire R3 131T: This slim 11.6-inch laptop is perfect for slipping into a shoulder bag. Weighing in at just 1.5kg, the Aspire R3 is convertible, with a touchscreen that folds back a full 360 degrees to create a Windows 10 tablet. It comes in two variants, but the model with 4GB RAM and 32GB eMMC SSD is currently available at Bing Lee for $299, as opposed to its usual $399 RRP, saving you $100.
  • Acer Aspire E5-523G: The Acer Aspire E5-523G may be larger than some of the other back-to-school options, but the extra space houses a rare DVD drive. This laptop features an AMD A9-910 dual-core CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and 1TB mechanical HDD. It also has a 2GB Radeon R5 M430, which is in par with the better built-in Intel graphics. While this normally retails at $799, you can save $105 by buying this at Harvey Norman for just $694. This deal ends on 30 January.
  • Dell Inspiron 15 3000: This 15.6-inch laptop features an efficient but slightly older Intel Core i3-5005U processor, 4GB RAM and a 1TB mechanical HDD. The keyboard and trackpad are quite good, and there’s even a numpad! This Dell Inspiron is currently on sale at JB Hi Fi for $423.30, giving you a saving of $74.70.
  • Microsoft Surface devices: These little powerhouses are Microsoft’s premium range of 2-in-1s and the company is currently offering up 15% off on select models if one is bought using a student email address. That’s a saving up up to $742 for the Surface Book with an Intel Core i7 processor.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad E560 (Core i5): With nearly eight hours of battery life and a comfortable keypad, this 15.6-inch laptop is hard to ignore. Sporting an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD, this ThankPad is now available for $799, saving you a neat $200. This deal is only available until 9pm, 3 February.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 460 (Core i7): Lenovo is offering a whopper $909 off as Student Savings on the higher-specced model of this 14-inch, 1.8kg laptop-cum-tablet — this one runs an Intel Core i7 processor, with 8GB memory and 256GB SSD. This means you pay only $1,490. This offer ends Friday, 3 February at 9pm AEST.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad E560 (Core i7 with 2GB graphics)There’s a $400 saving to be had on this Lenovo ThinkPad running the Intel Core i7 processor and featuring 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, along with a 2GB Radeon R7 M370 graphics card. That means you pay only $1,049 as opposed to the original price of $1,449.
  • MacBook Air (13”, 2016)Apple’s 2016 MacBook Air is familiar, reliable and more than up for the task of keeping up with a growing mind. By shopping at Officeworks, you can save $163 on the 13-inch MacBook Air, meaning you pay $1,386. It featuring an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, Thunderbolt 2 and up to 12 hours of battery life, remaining a solid all-rounder for the desk-bound or for getting those assignments done while on the move.

Best back-to-school tablets

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 (16GB): With a compact 8-inch screen size, this is the perfect middle-ground for comfortably browsing and studying without having to lug around too much bulk or fussing with a tiny screen. While retailing for $299, you can get a neat $50 off by shopping at Bing Lee which makes the already affordable Galaxy Tab A 8.0 even more appealing at $249.
  • Apple iPad Mini 3 (16GB, refurbished): Although Apple are no longer manufacturing or selling the iPad Mini 3, you can still pick up a refurbished unit for some serious savings. A snazzy 7.9-inch Retina display and a 10-hour battery life will give you at least a school-day’s worth of crisp viewing, and it only weighs a third of a kilogram. While stock may vary, at only $359, this refurbished iPad Mini 3 is $10 cheaper than the iPad Mini 2, and a whopping $210 than a brand new iPad Mini 4.
  • Lenovo Tab 3 A10 Premium 10.1 inch (32GB): If you’re after a slightly bigger screen, the Android-powered Lenovo Tab 3 A10 has a lovely 10.1-inch screen and still only weighs 500g. You can save a bit over $100 if you buy the Tab 3 at Good Guys for $297, but you’ll have to hurry because the sale ends 31 January.

Best back-to-school smartphones

  • Motorola G4 Play: The G4 Play may have the lowest specs among it’s G4 range, but for the price, you’re getting an incredibly capable phone – a bright Full HD display, all-day battery and water resistance help make it a reliable pocket companion. You can save $50 on the Moto G4 Play when you shop at Good Guys, bringing it down to a ridiculous $229, but you’ll need to jump in before the sale expires on 29 January.
  • Huawei GR5: The GR5 boasts an impressive 5” screen and other top-tier features like a fingerprint scanner and 13MP camera, but doesn’t come close to the price of certain top-brand phones. If you grab the GR5 from JB Hi-Fi, you can save $50 on the already cheap handset and take it home for an incredible $298.
  • Sony Xperia XA (16GB): With a crisp 5-inch HD display, a powerful 64-bit Octacore processor and a curved glass screen, Sony’s Xperia XA is a stylish and simple handset for an incredible price. Bing Lee is currently taking $50 off the phone, bringing it down to $249, and if you order it before 31 January, you get 12 free movie downloads as a bonus.
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 16GB: If you’re not so fussed about having the very latest phone, you can still get the luxury of owning a Samsung Galaxy S5 but at almost a third of the cost of the current models. If you go through JB Hi-Fi, you can grab a 16GB Galaxy S5 for only $367, which is a saving of around $40 compared with most other stores, but a massive $332 lower than the official Samsung Store… yikes.
  • Apple iPhone 6s (16GB): There really aren’t that many options when it comes to a cheap iPhone, but if you can’t do without that Apple feel, by far the most bang-for-buck option would have to be going for a refurbished iPhone 6s, which saves you a neat $80 and weighs in at only $449. Just remember to keep checking Apple’s Refurbished Store for availability.

Best back-to-school accessories

  • Jabra Move wireless headphones: Designed by one of the world’s leading audio companies, these wireless headphones have flawless Bluetooth connectivity, long battery life and surprisingly great sound quality for a budget price. But instead of paying the usual $159.99, you can nab these headphones online for just $78 from MSY.
  • Samsung Portable SSD T3: Save assignments and back up the entire year’s academic progress by getting the 250GB portable external hard drive from Mwave for $179, saving you $20 on the RRP. The Samsung T3 portable SSD is appealing to look at with great performance and a very neat price to boot.
  • Belkin MIXITUP Power Pack: This portable battery pack from Belkin is able to charge two devices at once and, with it’s 6600mAh charge, has more than enough juice to top up your devices on the go. The device itself charges quickly via a micro-USB port, and a handy LED light indicator lets you know how much charge is left in the Pack. Kogan currently has $20 off on the Pack, bringing it down to a reasonable $59.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Super Bowl LI is almost upon us. We’ve already written about how to watch the Super Bowl online for free, but we’ve yet to answer the question of what, exactly, you should be watching it on. 

But every buying guide should have its constraints so let’s make this one’s the cost of a Super Bowl ticket. Sure, you won’t be able to attend the big game in person but the cash you would’ve used for a ticket could hugely upgrade your home theater setup to deliver a stellar experience come game time.

Not only is this more practical than figuring out plane flights and hotel stays ahead of the biggest sporting event of year, but those home theater updates will last a helluva lot longer than the three hours you’d spend sitting in the stands at NRG Stadium in Houston.

So, just what could you buy for the cost of one measly Super Bowl ticket?

Considering that ticket prices on TicketMaster.com start at $2,875 for a seat in the nosebleed section and jump up to $11,750 for something nice, the short answer is quite a lot.

What you could buy for half the cost of a ticket

But let’s start with something reasonable. Realistically most of us aren’t flying out to Houston on Super Sunday is because we honestly can’t afford it. 

That being said, let’s start with a more reasonable amount: $1,450, or roughly half the cost of a ticket to the Super Bowl before you factor in the plane flights, hotel fees, beers and snacks at the game.

That’s not exactly chump change, but it’s way more than enough to get your new home theater setup up and running. For now, let’s focus on the three essentials: a TV, a sound system and a streaming video player. 

Vizio M-Series

Samsung UN55KS8000 4K HDR TV ($1,000): It’s not hard to find a good TV for under $1,000. I could pick them out in my sleep. What is tricky however is picking out a great TV for under $1,000. If you’re looking for a senior-level screen at a freshman-level price, your best bet is the 55-inch version of the Samsung KS8000. It’s 4K, supports HDR10 and has an input lag of about 20.9ms, perfect for when it’s time to break out Madden after the game ends. 

ZVOX SoundBase 670

Samsung HW-J355 Sound Bar ($130): OK, with the biggest purchase out of the way, now we can start thinking about sound. As much as I love the KS8000, it doesn’t have the best sound quality in the world. For that, you’re going to need a soundbar. Samsung’s HW-J355 is one of the best-selling soundbars, and for good reason. Not only does it offer good sound quality from its four combined-120W tweeters, but also comes with a wired subwoofer to add some meat to the sound. 

Nvidia Shield

Nvidia Shield Android TV ($199): There are a ton of streaming video players for under $200 – Apple TV, Roku 4, Amazon Fire TV … the list goes on and on. But as great as those other streaming players are, only the NVIDIA Shield can do both 4K HDR video streaming AND play PC-quality games. Talk about a win-win.

What you could buy for the cost of a single ticket

Let’s up our game here. Say you had the money to spend on a Super Bowl ticket and didn’t want to shell out last minute to go down to Texas. 

If you actually had the $2,875 you would’ve spent on a ticket there are plenty of ways to spend it on a home theater system, from an awesome new TV to a great game system, even adding on a full surround sound package into the mix. 

If I were in your cleats, here’s how I’d spend it. 

Samsung JS9500

Sony BRAVIA XBR-55X930D ($1,299): Sony’s XBR-X930D series are probably some of the best non-OLED TVs you can buy. I love them because they have an astounding picture quality and great contrast ratio. A huge part of this is thanks to Sony’s Slim Backlight Drive technology. You’ll hear more about it in a minute (spoiler: Sony’s Z-Series is my top draft pick) but it does amazing things for this TV. On top of everything else, you’ll get Android TV built right in, meaning you’ve got a smart TV that’s bound to get even smarter as the years go on.

Onkyo HT-s7700

Samsung HW-K950 Soundbar with Dolby Atmos ($1,299): If you have the money, the best place to spend it in audio is on a Dolby Atmos soundbar. I’ve written about Atmos extensively for awhile now and while I could go on a John Madden-esque exposition of why it’s so good, I’ll just say that it’s a complete game-changer for sound quality. Instead of a tradition 7.1 system that can only process sound on a flat plane, an Atmos soundbar utilizes upfiring speakers to bounce sound off the ceiling to create a 360-degree sphere of sound.

PS4

Xbox One S – 500GB System ($259): But a truly sweet sound system and television need truly sweet content. Enter the Xbox One S, the first and only game console to support Dolby Atmos sound, HDR10 and 4K Blu-rays. With a massive online community and a strong catalog of titles, this is the system to beat in 2017. 

What you could buy for the cost of two tickets

One last scenario: Let’s say you had two tickets to one of the most memorable, influential sporting events of our era, and you thought, “You know what? I’m going to sell these online at the going rate, so I can buy tons of electronics that will probably last another 7 to 8 years before they go obsolete and I either put them in a guest room – [because you own one of those] – or donate them, just like I did my CRT TV 10 years ago.”

Now, to some, that might sound like crazy talk, but, to a true A/V enthusiast, nothing sounds more sane. Here’s how to spend your ludicrous sums of money before someone you love has you thrown into the insane asylum for giving up a chance of a lifetime.

LG EG9600

LG 65-inch E6 OLED ($3,195): If you want to one-up the neighbor that always buys the latest and greatest gadgets ahead of you, look no further than LG’s line of OLED TVs that display tone-perfect blacks, bright whites and over 1 billion colors in between. These TVs are downright gorgeous and thanks to some incredible upscaling technology make darn near anything look beautiful. 

Klipsch Reference Speakers

Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-280FA floorstanding speaker ($959, $3,836 for four): You know what you need? Four really big, really loud speakers. At nearly $1,000 apiece, the powerful, crisp RP-280FAs with ceiling-firing Dolby Atmos speakers will do the trick.

Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-450CA center channel speaker ($679): Looking for the extra point for those gigantic floor speakers? Check out the RP-450CA center channel speaker. But the audio package isn’t complete just yet.

Denon AVR-X7200WA

Denon AVR-X7200WA 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD A/V Receiver ($3,000): At this point, I realize I took us way over the budget. But, let’s be honest, if you can afford to drop $5,500 on two tickets to the big game, you can probably afford this, too.

Oculus Rift VR Headset ($599): Thus far I’ve only been able to get you as close as I can to the 2D version of the gridiron. Now it’s time to start thinking in 3D. If you have any money leftover after this epic home entertainment binge, you should spend it on an Oculus Rift – a virtual reality headset that promises to one day revolutionize entertainment. It may not be the way the world prefers to watch this year’s Super Bowl but, give it a few years, and you can bet this is how we’ll be watching Super Bowls 60 and beyond.

How would you spend two Super Bowl tickets worth of money? Let us know in the comments below! 

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

HP is likely to be feeling hot under the collar after it’s had to announce a recall on the batteries of select laptop models. 

HP is asking the owners of HP, Compaq, HP ProBook, HP ENVY, Compaq Presario and HP Pavilion laptops purchased between March 2013 and October 2016 to send their batteries back to the company for a free replacement just in case they catch fire. 

To remove any sources of doubt, if your laptop battery’s bar code starts with 6BZLU, 6CGFK, 6CGFQ, 6CZMB, 6DEMA, 6DEMH, 6DGAL or 6EBVA, the company says the safest thing to do is pull it out immediately and claim your free replacement.

Safety first

A notice of the recall has been issued by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission in conjunction with Mexican and Canadian authorities, who state that the recall affects around 101,000 computers.

This is actually an expansion on a previous HP battery recall which took place in June 2016. The original recall was for 41,000 batteries but now that HP has received “one additional report of the battery overheating, melting and charring and causing about $1,000 in property damage“ it’s being forced to start another round of recalls. Considering there’s only been a single report, it’s nice to see HP erring on the side of safety. 

It should be noted that if your battery was one of those deemed not affected in the June 2016 recall, that might have changed so you should double check. 

We’ve contacted HP to request comment on the matter and will update with any reply. 

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

Hot on the heels of Apple’s battery bug-squashing update, the tech giant released a beta for the next installment of macOS Sierra, which includes a popular feature from its mobile cousin, iOS.

Night Shift – which changes the color temperature of your device’s display at night in order to reduce sleeplessness from staring at screens past your bedtime – is coming to macOS, according to 9to5Mac.

Released for iPhone and iPad last year as part of iOS 9.3, Night Shift reduces blue light shown after sundown, giving the display a reddish-orange tint. 

According to researchers from Harvard Health Publications, blue or ‘cool’ light from sources like the sun or LEDs may cause alertness in the brain and disrupt the viewer’s sleep.

Given their proclivity for bedtime reading, Amazon’s Fire tablets jumped on the tinting game early by introducing Blue Shade back in late 2015. Additionally, third party plug-ins like f.lux have also been around quite a while to help add color-correcting features for both Mac and Windows machines.

Seeing as Apple just released a new version of macOS Sierra this week, it may be a while before Night Shift makes its way to Macs and MacBooks. That said, eager beavers (or those getting eyestrain from burning the midnight oil) can opt to try out the feature via Apple’s Beta Software Program.

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By Kirk / News / 0 Comments

The best free Photoshop alternatives

There are dozens of free photo editors designed to enhance your pictures with a couple of clicks, but far fewer could be called a genuine alternative to the industry standard editor Adobe Photoshop.

Simple photo-enhancing software has its place, but a genuine Photoshop alternative needs more than just red-eye correction and a handful of retro filters; it has to offer layers and masks, batch-editing, and a wide assortment of automatic and manual editing tools. It also needs plugins to fill any gaps in its feature-set, and enable you to work as efficiently as possible.

Some of Photoshop’s unique features (like asset-linking) mean it will always remain the professional’s tool of choice, but the rest of us have an excellent choice of free alternatives.

Have we missed your favorite Photoshop alternative? Let us know in the comments below.

It’s tough to find free software that can stand toe-to-toe with Photoshop, but GIMP is a genuine alternative thanks to the work of its huge community of contributors

1. GIMP

GIMP is the best free Photoshop alternative – powerful and almost infinitely expandable

Powerful and adaptable, GIMP is the best free Photoshop alternative. With layers, masks, advanced filters, color adjustment and transformations – all of which are fully customizable – its feature set it unbeatable.

One of GIMP’s best features is its wealth of user-created plugins and scripts – many of which come pre-installed and ready to use. Some of these replicate popular Photoshop tools (such as Liquify), and there’s even a package of animation tools for bringing your photos to live via blending and morphing.

If that all sounds a little intimidating, don’t worry – GIMP’s excellent user manual includes step-by-step tutorials and troubleshooting guides to get you started.

The latest version of GIMP offers a new interface that puts all of its toolboxes, palettes and menus together in one window. This gives it a smart, Photoshop-like appearance, though its extensive patchwork of user-created tools means you’ll have to spend a little time experimenting and perusing the documentation to learn how to get the best results from each one.

Download here: GIMP

Photo Pos Pro is a superb Photoshop alternative, with only the export size restriction holding it back from the top spot

2. Photo Pos Pro

Another remarkable free Photoshop alternative. Well designed, with just a few restrictions

If you haven’t heard of Photo Pos Pro, you’re in for a treat. This free Photoshop alternative aims to give the best of both worlds, offering interfaces for both novice and advanced users. The novice option puts one-click filters and automatic adjustments at the fore, while the latter closely resembles Photoshop. Both are well designed, and more intuitive than GIMP’s endless lists and menus.

Photo Pos Pro offers both layers and layer masks, as well as superb clone and healing brushes. All the expected color-refining tools are present and correct. There’s support for batch-editing and scripts to save time on routine tasks, you can import images directly from a scanner or camera.

Photo Pos Pro offers plugins in the form of extra frames and templates, and you can create and save your own filters for future use.

Its main drawback is the limit on the size of saved files (1,024 x 2,014 pixels), but if you like the basic version and want to upgrade, Photo Pos Pro Premium is currently discounted to £17.67 (US$19.90, AU$29.78) – a very reasonable price for a top-rate Photoshop alternative.

Download here: Photo Pos Pro

Like GIMP, Paint.NET is open source, so users are free to develop their own plugins

3. Paint.NET

A free Photoshop alternative that’s a little light on features, but easy for newcomers to master

Open source Photoshop alternative Paint.NET started life as a substitute for Microsoft Paint, but over the years it’s grown into a powerful photo editor in its own right.

Like GIMP and Photo Pos Pro, Paint.NET offers an excellent selection of automatic filters, plus manual editing tools for fine adjustments. It also supports layers, though you’ll need to install a plugin for masks. Batch editing is included by default, and its clone stamp makes it easy to erase blemishes and distractions.

Paint.NET isn’t quite as feature-filled as GIMP, but its smaller community of volunteer coders means its interface is more consistent and easier to use overall (though not as slick as Photo Pos Pro). Paint.NET is a particularly good choice for working with multiple photos thanks to quick-access tabs that use thumbnails to represent each open image at a glance.

Paint.NET is also very fast, and runs well even on low-powered PCs. There’s no limit on the size of saved images, but it takes third place due to its smaller range of options and customizable tools.

Download here: Paint.NET

Flash-based web app Pixlr Editor is a fully-featured Photoshop alternative for your browser

4. Pixlr Editor

A browser-based free Photoshop alternative that’s more robust than many desktop applications

Pixlr is no ordinary free Photoshop alternative – it’s the work of AutoDesk, one of the biggest names in computer-aided design and 3D modelling software, and is as impressive as its pedigree implies. 

There are several versions available, including web, desktop and mobile apps. Here we’re looking at the Pixlr Editor web app, which is the only one to support layers.

Pixlr Editor features a prominent ad on the right-hand side that limits the size of your working space but that’s its main drawback. You get all the expected image-refining tools (including sharpen, unsharp mask, blur, noise, levels and curves to name just a few), as well as artistic filters and automatic optimization options. Nothing is hidden behind a paywall. 

Pixlr Editor also gives you a toolbox very much like GIMP’s, with brushes, fills, selection, healing and clone stamp tools – all customizable via a ribbon above the workspace. There’s support for both layers and masks, and although Pixlr Editor doesn’t offer batch editing, it can cheerfully handle multiple images at once.

Sounds too good to be true? It might soon be. In 2015, Autodesk announced that it was working on an HTML5 version of its lightweight photo editor Pixlr Express, claiming that Flash “deserves everyone’s heartfelt salutation as it sails off into the sunset”. Pixlr Editor is also built in Flash, but no HTML5 replacement has been announced, so we suspect that it might not be long for this world.

For now, though, it’s a truly excellent Photoshop alternative – particularly if you don’t have the time or permission to download a desktop application.

Try it online: Pixlr Editor

If you just want Photoshop’s most popular photo-enhancing tools, try Photoshop Express. It delivers excellent results and doesn’t cost a penny

5. Adobe Photoshop Express

A trimmed-down app that bundles Photoshop’s best features in a mobile-friendly package

Adobe Photoshop Express is a lightweight version of the industry-standard photo editor available free for your browser, and as a downloadable app for Windows, iOS, and Android.

Photoshop Express is the simplest of the tools here, but Adobe’s expertise in photo editing means it’s far superior to other quick-fix software. It packages Photoshop’s most useful picture-enhancing  sleek, minimalist interface that’s particularly well suited to touchscreens. Sliders enable you to adjust contrast, exposure and white balance of your photo dynamically, and there are automatic options for one-click adjustments. Once you’re satisfied with the results, you can either save the edited photo to your PC or share it via Facebook.

The main appeal of Photoshop Express is its simplicity, but this is also its biggest drawback. There are no layers, plugins, or brush tools, and you can’t crop or resize your pictures.

If you’re looking for a powerful image editor for your smartphone or tablet, Photoshop Fix (for restoring and correcting images) and Photoshop Mix (for combining and blending images) are also well worth investigating. Photoshop Mix even supports layers, and both apps integrate with Adobe’s Creative Cloud software, making it an excellent counterpart to the desktop version of Photoshop, as well as a superb tool in its own right.

Download here: Adobe Photoshop Express

See all the free Photoshop alternatives available to download from TechRadar

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