Categories
Security

Google’s new Titan security key lineup won’t make you choose between USB-C and NFC

Google announced updates to its Titan security key lineup on Monday, simplifying it by removing a product and bringing NFC to all its keys. The company will now offer two options: one has a USB-A connector, one has USB-C, and both have NFC for connecting to “most mobile devices.” The USB-A key will cost $30, and the USB-C key will cost $35 when they go on sale on August 10th.

One of the biggest changes in Google’s new lineup is an updated USB-C key, which has added NFC support. Google’s previous USB-C option, made in collaboration with Yubico, didn’t support the wireless standard. Now, the choice between USB-C and A is easy, as there aren’t features that one has that the other doesn’t. It’s simply a matter of what ports your computer has. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Yubico was involved with the new key.

According to Google’s support document, its Titan security keys can be used to protect your Google account as well as with third-party apps and services that support FIDO standards, such as 1Password. They, and other security keys from companies like Yubico, can act as second factors to secure your account even if an attacker obtains your username and password. They also fight back against phishing since they won’t authenticate a login to a fake website that’s trying to steal your credentials. The Titan keys also work with Google’s Advanced Protection Program, which is designed to provide extra security to people whose accounts may be targeted.

Google’s current USB-A security key already includes NFC and sells for $25. The USB-A plus NFC key that Google lists in its blog post will sell for $30, but it comes with a USB-C adapter. The USB-A key currently listed on the store doesn’t include one, unless bought as part of a (sold-out) bundle, according to Google’s spec page.

Google’s NFC / Bluetooth / USB key, which was made available to the public in 2018, will no longer be sold as part of the updated lineup. It’s already listed as sold out on Google’s store page. Google’s blog post says that it’s discontinuing the Bluetooth model so it can focus on “easier and more widely available NFC capability.”

While the updated Titan Security Key lineup seems to lack a Bluetooth option, it’s nice to see that the USB-C key is getting NFC. If you’re living the MacBook / iPhone lifestyle, you’ll be able to use the updated USB-C plus NFC key without any dongles. Google says in its blog post that the Bluetooth / NFC / USB key will still work over Bluetooth and NFC “on most modern mobile devices.” Google’s Titan Security Key store page currently lists the old models, but Google’s post says the updated lineup will be available starting on August 10th.

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Categories
Computing

Home Printer Buying Guide: How to Choose a Printer That Best Fits Your Needs

Whatever you need to print, there’s a home printer that can do it. But knowing how to choose a printer isn’t always easy, given the sheer number of options on the market. To help, we’ve put together a quick-and-dirty buying guide for selecting a home printer, with simple explanations of some of the most common terms, plus recommendations that will serve the majority of buyers.

Inkjet or laser?

The first question all printer buyers must tackle comes down to a simple matter of what and how much you plan on printing. Inkjet printers use cartridges of ink that are applied wet to paper and rapidly dry, while laser printers use toner, a type of ink dust that bonds to paper for fast results and efficient resource use.

Color inkjet printers comprise the bulk of the market simply because they can print just about anything: Essays, pie charts, glossy photos, you name it. And today’s inkjet printers and all-in-ones are fast, often with print speeds that rival or surpass their laser counterparts.

Laser printers are still a good bet for office settings when most of the printing that you need to do is in monochrome. For the most part, monochrome laser printers can be purchased at affordable prices, offer good print speed, and provide prints at a lower cost per page than a color inkjet. But you have to decide whether to give up the flexibility that a color inkjet printer offers. Color laser printers are another option, but they generally have a higher cost per page printed than a color inkjet.

Laser printers tend to have excellent page yields; their long-lasting toner cartridges can last between 3,000 and 20,000 pages before they need to be replaced. Inkjet cartridges tend to last for up to 2,000 to 2,500 on average. That’s less important if you don’t print much or often, but for prolific printers or those buying for an office, it can make a real difference.

Multifunction printers

A multifunction printer is a printer that can also scan and fax as well as print. They come in both inkjet and laser varieties and are usually called “all-in-ones” or multifunction printers (MFPs).

For home use, a multifunction unit makes a lot of sense, not only because it’s cheaper than buying a printer and a standalone scanner, but also for the sake of saving room. Since all-in-ones are extremely common and manufacturers rarely charge much of a premium for them (you can often find some for as little as $50 to $60), we highly recommend them for home users.

MFPs make it easy to scan documents directly to your computer, while some even offer faxing. They’re more likely to be used in the office, but even then, faxing has largely faded out of the business world except in a few select industries, so the added value isn’t great.

Photo printers

If you’re more interested in preserving family photos on paper than printing off homework assignments and pie charts, consider a dedicated (single function) photo printer. Though they lack the flexibility of multitaskers and the quality of prints is typically better, often rivaling or exceeding the quality of what you would receive from a kiosk or mail-order service. The price you’ll pay for this kind of convenience comes out in the print cost, however.

Many of the printers sold only for dedicated photo or graphic use are small-size units capable of printing photos up to 4 by 6 inches in size or wide format models designed to print media up to 24 inches wide. Supplies for these specialty printers are also generally more expensive than those for the typical multifunction printer. Both Canon and Epson have models that print 8.5 by 11 inches and use five or six colors of ink to produce photos with greater color accuracy. And many all-in-one devices are capable of turning out photos up to 8.5 by 11 inches in size when you use the right paper.

Speed, resolution, and color claims

It used to be fairly easy for a printer manufacturer to make outrageous claims about how fast their printers were or what you could expect as far as page yield from an ink or toner cartridge. Today, nearly all vendors use a standardized set of tests developed and licensed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO test protocols provide a level playing field — all the claims and ratings are developed using the same document sets and the test procedures. Important specs include:

PPM: This means “pages per minute” and is a guide to how fast a printer can print pages. That seems simple enough, but PPM can quickly grow complex. For example, printers have very different PPMs for black and white versus color, so it’s common for many printers to provide two different PPMs if they are color-focused. PPM isn’t especially important for home printers unless you find yourself under time pressure for a print job or need to print a lot at once. Average black-and-white PPM is around 15 to 20 pages. Color tends to be less, at around 10 to 15 pages per minute.

DPI: This refers to “dots per inch” or how many dots of ink the printer can apply to a square inch of paper. This spec is useful in studying just how good a printer is at creating high-resolution, high-detail images. It’s also a little outdated, however: Newer printing methods and software can enhance the resolution of a printed image without changing the DPI, so don’t let it be the ultimate deciding spec.

Duty cycle: This number is how many pages per month a printer can reasonably be expected to print. You want your expected number of pages per month to be well below this number so your printer doesn’t experience as much wear and tear. It’s an important number for a busy office with lots of printing needs, but it’s less important for the typically less-intense home use.

Use these specs as a basis for comparing one device with another, but remember that they aren’t all-encompassing factors, especially if you’re looking for something specific.

Connectivity

Today, nearly every printing device offers multiple connectivity options. Basic Wi-Fi and cloud printing connectivity are now standard, but for particular projects, other types of connections may be more useful.

USB: USB connections are common on printers, with the USB-A standard being especially common. This allows you to hook up external hard drives and a variety of other devices, then use the printer’s menu screen to print files directly off of them. It’s useful if you don’t want to use your computer as a go-between. Cameras and other devices supporting the PictBridge standard can make this process even smoother, but it’s not as necessary as it was when introduced in 2003. Keep in mind that most home printers don’t support USB-C connections yet, although that’s changing.

Ethernet: Printers may also be equipped with Ethernet ports for wired connections to the internet. Printer data needs are fairly basic, however, and a wired Ethernet connection is rarely necessary for a home printer (it can be more useful in some office printer setups).

Wi-Fi: The majority of home printers are designed to connect directly to your Wi-Fi network. You will typically provide them with your Wi-Fi information during setup. Then you can download software on your computer, phone, or another device to send printing jobs directly to the printer, no cable necessary. It’s one of the most convenient options for home projects. Wi-Fi connections also allow for remote printing to an office, which can be very important in work-from-home situations.

Wi-Fi Direct: Wi-Fi Direct is a peer-to-peer connection not really related to your Wi-Fi network. Instead, it establishes a secure signal directly between a device and the printer. Apple’s AirPrint, for example, is a type of Wi-Fi Direct connection, and other platforms support similar technologies. It’s safe, quick, and great for on-the-spot printing needs.

NFC: NFC (Near-Field Communication) is also available on some models, letting you connect your printer to a smartphone or tablet by simply touching the device to a specified area on your printer.

Cloud printing: Many fully featured printers, particularly AIOs, now offer internet-based features that let you access photos stored on sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, and Google Drive, as well as remote printing and access to arts and crafts you can print out. Keep in mind that if your printer isn’t connected to the internet, you won’t be able to access said services or print to it remotely from devices such as a smartphone or tablet.

SD cards: Some printers may also have slots for SD cards, which you can then navigate through using the printer’s menu and choose select files to print. This may be especially useful for photographers who can transfer SD cards directly from cameras to printers.

Ink costs

EPSON WF 7520 Printer ink cartridges

If you regularly perform big print jobs — perhaps for a home-based business or a remote work situation that requires hard copies — then printing ink cost is a big factor to consider.

Ink cost can be measured per page, but efficiency depends on the printer model and how it’s designed. A powerful, expensive printer may only cost around 4 cents per black-and-white page and 8 cents per colored page. A more affordable printer (or cheaper cartridge) may increase these costs by a couple of cents, but it’s not an enormous difference unless you’re printing hundreds and hundreds of pages every month. Some printers will provide direct cost-per-print information you can look up to learn more, or you can divide the cost of toner cartridges versus the cartridge page yield from the cost per print yourself.

Subscription plans for a continued supply of printer ink can help cut costs for home businesses if necessary. Buying refilled cartridges or refilling them yourself is a tricky prospect: Many printers won’t recognize cartridges that aren’t new and purchased directly from the manufacturer.

Duplexing (two-sided printing or scanning)

One feature that’s becoming very common and that we consider a big plus is automatic duplexing. Duplexing refers to printing or scanning both sides of the page without requiring that you manually flip the page over. On a printer, duplexing is accomplished by printing the first side of the page, pulling the page back through the printer, flipping it over, and printing the other side.

Many all-in-one devices with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for the scanner also have duplexing, allowing you to scan both sides of the page as the document feeds through the ADF. An all-in-one without an automatic document feeder can’t duplex scan without you turning the page over on the scan glass.

Duplex scanning is a major convenience if you frequently scan two-sided pages, like those cut from a magazine.

Paper handling

Every printer will feed on a fat stack of 8.5 by 11 paper, but what about legal envelopes, index cards, and glossy stock? Thankfully, many printers now include dedicated feed trays for printing on specialty papers with unusual sizes or different weights, which make it easier to deal with those situations when they crop up. Consider the size of the input tray here: Smaller trays will require you to add paper all the time, while a 250-page hopper can make it a once-a-month affair.

Printers for the modern paperless home

Many printer buyers in the 2020s face a conundrum of a different sort: Their homes are largely paperless, and most of their work is digital. Yet, they still need a printer for the occasional photo art project or scanning and sending in a signature. To buyers like these, a big printer may not be worth it, especially when it comes to the space they take up and their ink cartridge maintenance.

A new type of printer has risen in popularity in response — compact, often-portable home printers that are made for the odd job here and there without taking up any space or effort. One example is the Canon Pixma iP110 wireless printer. Another choice is the highly portable HP Tango X. Printers like these are designed to work right from your phone or laptop and can fit nearly anywhere.

In the meantime, check out our guide to find the best 3D printer for your needs.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Game

Fortnite’s new Battle Star system explained: Choose your favorites

Epic overhauled its Battle Pass system for Chapter 2 – Season 7, which was released in the early morning hours today. Rather than players unlocking Battle Pass rewards linearly like in past seasons, the new system introduces Battle Stars and the ability to unlock any item you want regardless of where it falls on the list.

The Battle Pass system offers various rewards, including skins and other cosmetics. These items have been limited to Battle Pass tiers, meaning that even if you didn’t care about getting items 20 – 40, you’d have to pass through all those levels if you wanted the skin that unlocked at level 40. Epic has done away with that with the Battle Star system.

Instead, leveling up in the game gives the players Battle Stars, which can then be spent to redeem the particular Battle Pass item you want. The catch is that Battle Pass pages are unlocked until players continue to level up and redeem items, meaning you can’t immediately skip to the end of the Battle Pass to get the high-tier rewards.

As well, each Battle Pass page has a special locked item that is only unlocked once all of the other items on the page are claimed. You’ll need to reach Level 100 to get the Rick Sanchez skin from the Rick & Morty crossover, meaning the new system still requires a fair bit of grinding and completing challenges. This season also includes super-leveling to continue claiming rewards past Level 100.

You’ll get the same number of Battle Stars as everyone else even if you don’t get the Battle Pass, according to Epic. All players can claim some rewards from the Battle Pass page, though you’ll get more from the Battle Pass. Assuming you’re a Fortnite Crew subscriber, you’ll have already have received the Battle Pass for this new season as part of the plan.

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Categories
Computing

Apple MacBook Air Buying Guide: How To Choose What To Buy

These days, the MacBook Air can lay claim to being the best value-for-money laptop Apple has ever made. That is because it comes with Apple’s superb M1 chip, giving it virtually identical performance to the high-end MacBook Pro for under $1,000. It has come a huge distance in the past few years, when it often felt neglected and underpowered.

If you want to buy a MacBook Air, though, there are a few things you need to know first, particularly regarding the memory and GPU. We will cover these details and much more in this guide, giving you all the required knowledge to buy the perfect MacBook Air for your needs.

CPU and GPU options

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

There are two main models of MacBook Air to choose from, and both are powered by the Apple M1 chip. Although the chips in each version bear the same name and share most of the same features, there is one slight variance between them: The number of GPU cores.

The entry-level MacBook Air’s chip has a seven-core GPU, while the high-end alternative comes with an eight-core GPU. This will make a difference — an extra core of computing power is always welcome — but it is important to remember that this is still an integrated GPU, so it will not be able to match the power of a dedicated gaming laptop. But then, if you are buying a MacBook Air, then gaming probably isn’t too important to you anyway.

If you don’t intend to run any games or graphics-intensive apps at all, pick the seven-core option. If you want to engage in some light gaming or video rendering, go for the eight-core model.

The second thing to note about the M1 chip is that it is so efficient that the MacBook Air is completely fanless. That means you get a totally silent laptop, something that cannot be said of the MacBook Pro (although it is still extremely quiet).

Is 256GB of storage space enough?

MacBook Air
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Like the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air has SSD options with up to 2TB of storage space. The entry-level model starts at 256GB and has 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB options, while the high-end model offers 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB configurations.

How much storage space will you need? Well, that depends on what you do. If you use your laptop simply for web browsing, sending emails, and a little light gaming, 256GB or 512GB will be plenty. If you instead focus on photo editing or video rendering, you will likely need more space — but if these are your key activities, you should be looking at the MacBook Pro instead anyway.

You can probably stick with 8GB of RAM

MacBook Air M1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The MacBook Air comes with two RAM options: 8GB or 16GB. You might be tempted to think 16GB is the safer option, but things are not quite as straightforward as they seem, and 8GB could be more than enough for you.

That is because Apple’s M1 chip uses a unified memory architecture (UMA). Because the CPU and GPU are so close together on the chip, the UMA means they can use the same memory pool. This, in turn, reduces bottlenecks and improves performance.

The result is that you need less memory than you would in a traditional laptop. After running a whole series of tests on the M1 MacBook Air, YouTube channel Max Tech revealed the 8GB MacBook Air had outperformed an Intel MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM. That means an M1 MacBook Air with 8GB of memory is almost certainly enough for all but the most demanding of tasks.

Battery life and ports

MacBook Air 2020 ports
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

The MacBook Air is super thin and light, making it great for portability, and that is backed up by excellent battery life. Because the M1 chip is so efficient, it has a minimal impact on the device’s battery, meaning you will get many more hours out of it than the previous MacBook Air.

In our review of the M1 MacBook Air, it lasted 15.5 hours in our web browsing test and 18.5 hours in the video playback test. Compare that to the latest Intel MacBook Air from 2020, which only managed 9.5 and 10 hours in those tests, respectively. That is a massive difference.

What do you get in terms of ports and extras? Both models of the MacBook Air come with two Thunderbolt 3 ports that are compatible with USB 4, and both have a Touch ID button for verifying purchases and logging you in. Neither version comes with the Touch Bar, though.

Which MacBook Air should you buy?

MacBook Air M1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

If you have modest storage needs, the entry-level MacBook Air is a great option. It offers incredible performance (especially considering its $999 price), is completely silent, and has all the bells and whistles Apple is known for, like the excellent Magic Trackpad and a beautiful screen.

The high-end MacBook Air is mainly worth considering for its extra baseline storage and GPU core, although as we noted, it is still not a gaming machine.

Don’t bother upgrading to 16GB of RAM. Thanks to the UMA, the 8GB MacBook Air performs as well as (if not better than) an Intel MacBook Air with 16GB of memory, and it should be more than enough for most people’s needs. If you have more demanding requirements and want to upgrade to 16GB, you should start looking at the MacBook Pro, as its built-in fan will help it perform even better than the MacBook Air.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Computing

How to Choose a CPU

There are few components in your system as important as the central processing unit (CPU). From generating game logic to running demanding applications to handling seemingly mundane computing tasks, your CPU handles most of the actual computing your computer does. That’s why, if you’re in the market for an upgrade, knowing how to choose a CPU is important.

Buying the right CPU can be confusing, though. Cores, threads, clocks, and cache are all numbers that we have ready access to, but making sense of them needs a little know-how. By the end of this CPU buying guide, you’ll know how to choose a CPU, what to look for, and, just as crucially, why.

Further reading

AMD vs. Intel

Intel Newsroom/Intel Corporation

There are two main CPU manufacturers when it comes to desktop PCs and laptops: AMD and Intel. Until 2017, unless you were going ultra-budget, Intel was the only real choice, but today, whether you opt for an AMD or an Intel CPU, as long as you buy the right one for what you want to do with your new system, you’ll have a fantastic experience.

That’s not to say that there aren’t instances where we’d likely recommend one company’s products over the other, but the difference isn’t as important as it once was, and there are other factors that may be more important for you (read our dedicated AMD versus Intel guide for more).

One important note, however, is that if you are planning to build a computer (here are some helpful tips on how), you must buy compatible components. An Intel motherboard will not work with an AMD CPU, and vice versa.

You can use an Intel solid-state drive in an AMD motherboard or an AMD graphics card in an Intel PC, but when it comes to CPUs and motherboards, you need to buy what’s compatible.

CPU labels and generations

You can figure out a lot about a processor simply by knowing the generation it’s from and the tier it sits in within that generation. AMD and Intel have different naming schemes for their processors, and being able to decode them is important. Newer processors are usually better, and as we’ll explain throughout this guide, being able to discern processors on an individual basis will allow you to pick out what’s relevant and what isn’t.

The latest AMD processors are part of the Ryzen 5000 series. The first number notes the generation, while the second number notes where the processor sits in that generation. For example, the 5600X and 5800X both come from the Ryzen 5000 series, but the 5800X is a faster, more capable processor within that generation.

Unfortunately, the numbers themselves don’t mean much. You’d be forgiven, for example, for assuming that the Ryzen 5000 processors are the fifth generation of Ryzen processors. But that’s not the case (it’s actually the fourth generation of Ryzen processors and only the third architectural change). Similarly, the 5800X is labeled with the Ryzen 7 tag and the 5600X with the Ryzen 5 tag, while the 5900X has a more fitting Ryzen 9 tag.

The numbers themselves aren’t important. It’s how they compare to each other. A Ryzen 5900X comes from a more recent generation than a 3900X, and a 5800X and 5600X are from the same generation, but the 5800X is faster.

Intel’s naming scheme is similar, using the first number to note the generation and the second number to note the place within that generation. Like AMD, Intel also categorizes its processors into tiers (Core i7 and Core i9, for example). Knowing that, we can pick out the Intel 10900K as a 10th-generation processor that’s in the i9 tier. Again, higher is better here.

Nothing is simple when it comes to CPU naming, though. Like AMD, Intel also breaks from its naming convention. The 10400 and 10600K, for example, are both 10th-gen i5 processors. Higher is still better, though, so the 10400 will generally perform worse than the 10600K.

Intel also adds a suffix to most of its processors that notes certain functionality (or the lack of such functionality). There really isn’t any reasonable explanation for the suffix letters and what they mean, so we’ll just list them instead:

  • G1-G7: Graphics level
  • E: Embedded
  • F: Requires discrete graphics
  • G: Includes discrete graphics
  • H: High performance optimized for mobile
  • HK: High performance optimized for mobile, unlocked
  • HQ: High performance optimized for mobile, quad-core
  • K: Unlocked
  • S: Special edition
  • T: Power-optimized
  • U: Mobile power efficient
  • Y: Mobile extremely low power

Thankfully, you won’t encounter most of the suffixes when shopping for a processor. The important ones to remember are F and K for Intel desktop processors. For mobile, HK and U show up the most.

Cores and threads

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

If you want to know how to choose a CPU, you need to consider cores and threads. Cores are like individual processors of their own, all packed together on the same chip. Traditionally, they can perform one task each at a time, meaning that more cores make a processor better at multitasking. Modern software is far better at taking advantage of more cores at once to do the same job, so more cores can make some software run faster, too.

Threads are the number of tasks that a CPU can conduct at any one time. Many modern processors feature simultaneous multithreading (called hyperthreading on Intel CPUs), which lets processors leverage spare core performance for additional tasks. That’s why you’ll often see a CPU listed with four cores and eight threads or six cores and 12 threads. These additional threads aren’t as fast as the cores themselves — as they are effectively leveraging parts of the CPU that are underused — but they do typically improve performance by a noticeable margin.

Some software can leverage more cores and threads than others, making the number of cores and threads that your CPU has a big indicator of potential performance. Having more cores than you need doesn’t speed things up beyond the limits of what the software can handle, and it can lead to your individual cores not being as fast as those in chips with smaller numbers.

If you just want to answer emails, browse the internet, and watch Netflix, a dual-core will suffice, though you’ll find your experience quicker with four cores, especially if you like to multitask on your system. Budget six-core CPUs are worth considering, too — especially if they have simultaneous multithreading, like AMD’s low-end hexacore designs.

If you’re a gamer, you want at least a quad-core CPU and preferably one with support for eight threads. There are benefits to going with a six-core CPU, and some games can be made moderately faster by going for eight cores. Beyond that, you’ll see very diminishing returns. For example, the eight-core Ryzen 7 5800X performs as well as the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X in most games (and costs around half the price).

If you’re a video or audio editor, transcode video, or work with large databases, then the sky is almost the limit with how many cores you can leverage — though as you move beyond eight cores, you won’t see such great leaps in performance. Still, AMD’s 12- and 16-core Ryzen 5900X and 5950X CPUs are two of the best multithreaded CPUs in the world, showing that cores can really help if you’re looking to do a lot of work.

There are even CPUs with as many as 64 cores out there, but they are inordinately expensive and only worth considering for professionals.

Clocks and IPC

AMD CEO Dr Lisa Su details the Ryzen 3700X performance.

Another major consideration with CPUs is clock speed. This is the megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz) rating and represents how many collections of tasks a processor can perform each second. It’s a fair representation of the speed of individual cores, though it doesn’t tell the whole story. If two processors from the same generation have the same number of cores, but one has a higher clock speed, it will perform faster.

Since higher clock speeds mean individual cores run faster, that can make chips with higher clock speeds but fewer cores perform better in certain applications that can’t make use of higher core and thread counts. That’s why a 10-core processor like Intel’s i9-10900K is comparable with a 16-core processor like AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X in many benchmarks. The 5950X has more cores, but the 10900K has faster cores, which could be a good thing depending on what applications you’re using.

CPUs also have different instructions per clock (IPC) ratings. That’s the number of tasks it can perform in each clock cycle (each second, noted by the clock speed), and it’s dependent on the underlying architecture. Using the 5950X and 10900K again, the 5950X leverages AMD’s Zen 3 architecture, which has a higher IPC rating than Intel’s 10th-gen design. That means when a 10th-gen Intel core and a Zen 3 AMD core are running at the same speed, the Zen 3 AMD core will be faster. Given the same speed, it can complete more instructions per clock cycle.

While this might seem a little confusing, it highlights the importance of looking at individual reviews for processors. Head-to-heads, where two CPUs are pitted against each other in comparable tests, are also a great way to see how they perform in the real world.

If you want a good rule of thumb, CPUs with higher clock speeds and newer architectures are faster at just about everything, but for productivity tasks, a modern one with more cores will usually be quicker.

Integrated graphics

CPUs can also include integrated graphics chips on the same die, making them capable of operating independently of dedicated graphics cards. Intel CPUs with the F designation (such as the 9900KF) don’t have onboard graphics, but most others do in some form. They aren’t typically powerful, but an entry-level integrated graphics chip like the UHD 620 can do between 30 and 60 frames per second in older e-sports games like CS:GO. You’ll want to keep the settings low to avoid stuttering frame rates during intense action or when heavy smoke is deployed.

Intel’s 11th-generation graphics chips (found in 10th-generation Ice Lake processors) come in Iris Plus configurations and do offer reasonable gaming performance. In Anandtech’s testing, a 64 execution unit GPU, onboard the Core i7-1065G7 in a Dell XPS 13, managed over 43 fps in DotA 2 at enthusiast detail settings at 1080p. We found it more than capable of playing Fortnite at 720p and 1080p. This is a big improvement over what we’ve seen with Intel onboard GPUs in recent years.

However, an even larger improvement came with Intel’s 12th-gen Iris Xe graphics, first featured on 11th-gen Tiger Lake chips. Testing the top-of-the-line i7-1185G7, we were able to average 45 fps in Civilization VI and 51 fps in Battlefield V at 1080p with Medium settings. Fortnite struggled in our testing, however, managing just 34 fps at 1080p with Medium settings.

Still, Intel’s Iris Xe graphics remain the most compelling integrated graphics solution available today. It’s still a far cry from a dedicated GPU but a huge step up from previous generations of integrated graphics.

AMD’s processors typically don’t include onboard graphics on desktop, though there are some accelerated processing units (APU) that do. They’re more comparable to Intel’s 11th-generation graphics, offering reasonable performance in entry-level and e-sports gaming settings.

All of AMD’s mobile CPUs include onboard Vega graphics, and in some configurations, they can be decent for gaming. We found the RX Vega 10 on a Ryzen 7 3700U-equipped laptop to be more than capable of comfortable frame rates in Diablo 3 and Half-Life 2. You’ll need to check reviews of individual CPUs to see how capable they are, as there are other factors that can affect gaming performance, but know that a higher number of graphics cores typically leads to greater graphical performance.

Power and thermals

PC build-out guide
A Digital Trends staff member installing an all-in-one CPU watercooler. Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Performance is the most important factor for most CPU purchases — after all, if you can’t do what you want with your new chip faster than you could before, what’s the point in upgrading? If you’re looking to have a quiet PC, an efficient PC, or one that’s particularly compact, power and thermal demands are important considerations, too.

Unfortunately, neither AMD nor Intel give particularly clear data on the power and thermal demands of their processors, instead resorting to bundling the two together into a rating of Thermal Design Power (TDP). This is expressed in wattage, and it gives you a rough idea of how much power the CPU will require from the power supply and how capable a cooler you’ll need to keep it within safe operating temperatures.

Low-power laptop CPUs work within just a few watts and max out around 45W in the most robust gaming devices. On the other hand, desktop processors can stretch to a maximum of 125W in some circumstances, although they usually fall somewhere between 65W and 95W.

In certain situations, TDP can also be a slack guide to the status of a processor’s underlying silicon, where more proficient CPUs are ordered in the more leading TDP levels due to their capacity to manage extra power. This depends on each specific case, though, and there’s really no guarantee of a more high-grade chip. It’s also only especially suitable for overclocking.

You’ll want to examine individual processor reviews to determine how much power and cooling they actually need, but if you’re on the market for higher TDP CPUs that require almost 100W, larger and more proficient coolers would be a reasonable option if you want a quiet PC.

Editors’ Choice




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The best Dell XPS 13: How to choose among three great thin-and-lights

Update: We’ve recently updated our story to help you sort out 11th gen from10th gen and the newest XPS 13 2-in-1 vs. the newest XPS 13. You can read the update here.

You’ve set your sights on a Dell XPS 13. The only problem: Which one do you buy? The XPS 13 7390 clamshell or its 2-in-1 version, or the “new” XPS 13 9300? All three are great laptops—ignore the model numbers, which are confusingly non-sequential—but there are key differences.

We’ll walk you through the models and weight their strengths and weaknesses. What’s your priority? Versatility? Performance? Connectivity? Overall value? We’ll call a winner for each, and you can skip to the section that interests you most by clicking a link on the left. 

Note that this story is based primarily on the high-end XPS 13 models Dell sent us to test. We do have some advice for those looking at lower-cost XPS 13 versions—check out the “best value” section below.

dell xps 13 2 in 1 left xps 13 right Gordon Mah Ung

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 (left) is slightly heavier than the XPS 13 7390 (right.)

All the Dell XPS models explained

There are three Dell XPS 13 models to choose from at the moment:

XPS 13 2-in-1 7390: A fresh start

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 was a complete redesign. As a convertible, it can function as a laptop as well as a tablet, or in A-frame “tent” mode for presentations.

When the XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 debuted in the fall of 2019, it was the first laptop based on Intel’s most advanced 10th-gen, 10nm Ice Lake CPUs, and it was the poster child for the Intel’s lofty Project Athena aspirations too.

Besides the 360-degree design, it has pen support, a 16:10 aspect ratio screen, advanced copper vapor chamber cooling, and a new MagLev 2 keyboard. It also made a few hard choices to achieve its thin profile, such as soldered-in permanent SSD. The laptop has been one of the fastest Ice Lake laptops. Read our full XPS 13 7390 2-in-1 review.

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Two-factor authentication explained: How to choose the right level of security for every account

If you aren’t already protecting your most personal accounts with two-factor or two-step authentication, you should be. An extra line of defense that’s tougher than the strongest password, 2FA is extremely important to blocking hacks and attacks on your personal data. If you don’t quite understand what it is, we’ve broken it all down for you.

Two-factor-authentication: What it is

Two-factor authentication is basically a combination of two of the following factors:

  1. Something you know
  2. Something you have
  3. Something you are

Something you know is your password, so 2FA always starts there. Rather than let you into your account once your password is entered, however, two-factor authentication requires a second set of credentials, like when the DMV wants your license and a utility bill. So that’s where factors 2 and 3 come into play. Something you have is your phone or another device, while something you are is your face, irises, or fingerprint. If you can’t provide authentication beyond the password alone, you won’t be allowed into the service you’re trying to log into.

So there are several options for the second factor: SMS, authenticator apps, Bluetooth-, USB-, and NFC-based security keys, and biometrics. So let’s take a look at your options so you can decide which is best for you.

Two-factor-authentication: SMS

2fa smsMichael Simon/IDG

When you choose SMS-based 2FA, all you need is a mobile phone number.

What it is: The most common “something you have” second authentication method is SMS. A service will send a text to your phone with a numerical code, which then needs to be typed into the field provided. If the codes match, your identification is verified and access is granted.

How to set it up: Nearly every two-factor authentication system uses SMS by default, so there isn’t much to do beyond flipping the toggle or switch to turn on 2FA on the chosen account. Depending on the app or service, you’ll find it somewhere in settings, under Security if the tab exists. Once activated you’ll need to enter your password and a mobile phone number.

How it works: When you turn on SMS-based authentication, you’ll receive a code via text that you’ll need to enter after you type your password. That protects you against someone randomly logging into your account from somewhere else, since your password alone in useless without the code. While some apps and services solely rely on SMS-based 2FA, many of them offer numerous options, even if SMS is selected by default.

2fa sms setupIDG

With SMS-based authentication, you’ll get a code via text that will allow access to your account.

How secure it is: By definition, SMS authentication is the least secure method of two-factor authentication. Your phone can be cloned or just plain stolen, SMS messages can be intercepted, and by nature most default messaging apps aren’t encrypted. So the code that’s sent to you could possibly fall into someone’s hands other than yours. It’s unlikely to be an issue unless you’re a valuable target, however. 

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Samsung’s Galaxy S20 makes you choose between a high refresh rate and high resolution

There are plenty of new features in the Galaxy S20 to get excited about—the new cameras, the larger screens, the 5G modem—but the best has to be the high-refresh display. Samsung fans have watched from the sidelines as Google, OnePlus, and Razer all released phones with 90Hz or 120Hz screens. Even worse, those phones have actually used Samsung displays. But the S20 levels the playing field, bringing a 120Hz high-refresh display to Galaxyland for buttery smooth scrolling and crisp animations.

Samsung isn’t limiting the high refresh rate to the uber-expensive S20 Ultra either. Samsung offers its 120Hz display—which oddly doesn’t have a cute marketing name like the Pixel 4’s Smooth Display or the OnePlus 7T’s Liquid Display—on every version of the S20. And you don’t need to raise your brightness level to ensure it works properly. On paper, it seems like the best of both worlds: a glorious 1440p Infinity display and the fastest refresh rate around.

However, pixel purists looking to get their scroll on might be bummed when they turn on their new S20 for the first time. That’s because you can’t use the 120Hz setting at full resolution. At all. Not even if you agree to a battery hit.

galaxy s20 ultra vs Christopher Hebert/iDG

The Galaxy S20 has an awesome display with a 120Hz refresh rate—but you’ll need to keep it at 1080p to use it.

For starters, the 120Hz screen is off by default. So you’ll need to visit the display settings to turn it on. While it’s somewhat strange that Samsung would keep one of its best new features hidden, it’s not a total surprise. For years, Samsung has been shipping its Galaxy phones at a default Full HD 1080p resolution rather than full-res Quad HD 1440p in an effort to squeeze the most battery life out of them. Samsung devotees have known for years that they need to hit the display settings and switch the resolution to WQHD for the best possible text and image rendering.

However, when they go to switch on the 120Hz screen, S20 users are going to be in for a bit of a rude awakening: You can’t have it both ways. If you’ve already turned on the 120Hz screen and go to flip the display to Quad HD resolution, you’re going to get a message: High refresh rate isn’t supported in WQHD+. Your screen will change to a standard 60Hz refresh rate.

That means you have to make a difficult choice: either high resolution or high refresh rate. The same is true for the S20 Ultra, with its 5,000mAh battery and $1,400 price tag. For either performance or battery reasons, Samsung is tying the 120Hz option to Full HD, and that’s that.

It’s worth noting that the Pixel 4 XL and OnePlus 7T serve up their 90Hz refresh rate at 1440p. While the Razer Phone offers 120Hz refresh at 1440p, it uses an IGZO LCD rather than OLED.

Samsung could have been the first smartphone to deliver a Quad HD+ 120Hz refresh OLED display. But barring a software update, we’ll need to wait until the S30 for that.

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Choose between the Microsoft Surface Pro X and the Surface Laptop Go

Are you planning to buy a Microsoft Surface device, but struggling to decide between the Surface Laptop Go and Surface Pro X 2-in-1 laptop/tablet? This article will help you make the right choice.

The idea that the higher the specs, the better might be true, but what’s more important is to discover your own preferences.

Let’s go through it step by step and understand the key features of both devices.

Both are high-quality devices and by identifying your specific needs, you can determine which one is right for you.

Surface Laptop Go vs. Surface Pro X

Key features

The first thing that people tend to notice is the screen size. Both devices are equipped with screens big enough for important routine tasks. The Surface Laptop Go comes with a 12.4-inch screen, as opposed to the 13-inch screen on the Surface Pro X. In terms of display, there isn’t a big difference between the two as both devices are powered with PixelSense™ display.

When it comes to the Microsoft Surface devices, they are lighter than most other laptops/tablets on the market. The Surface Pro X weighs 1.7 lb, which is very light for a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet. On the other hand, weighing in at 2.45 lb, the Surface Laptop Go is the lightest Surface laptop.

Since the Surface Pro X is a tablet as well, it comes with a 10-megapixel camera on the back and a 5-megapixel camera on the front. The Surface Laptop Go has a 720p HD front-facing camera. The quality of cameras on both devices is top-notch.

Whether you want to watch videos, listen to music, or make phone calls and video chats, you won’t be disappointed with the quality of sound on either of these devices. Both devices are powered with Dolby® Audio™ Premium – the Surface Laptop Go with Omnisonic and the Surface Pro X with 2W stereo speakers.

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