Three tips for controlling cat hair

Even when fed the best cat food, cats still shed hair. It’s a natural and unavoidable process, and indoor cats tend to shed hair all year long. The Internet abounds with products that claim to reduce or control shedding and you could end up spending a lot of money trying one after the other. Here are three recommended methods for controlling cat hair.

Your cat may love to be vacuumed

This is worth a try even with a cat who runs the other way from the noise of your vacuum cleaner. As you can see from the video embedded below, my cat and I were both surprised at how good this felt to her. I use a little five-gallon shop vac with a paper bag designed to capture sheetrock dust — so it definitely captures cat hair. I find it worth buying the longer eight-foot hose (*Est. $22) that’s also extra flexible and ergonomic, with an air diffuser to reduce suction if need be. This hose also lets me place the shop vac across the room from the cat so the noise is less intense. The soft round brush seems to feel good to my cat: she even rolls over so I can do her tummy.

For a quieter solution, the Furminator really works

The Furminator de-shedding tools (*Est. $32) come in four models for cats: two blade lengths — one for short-haired cats, one for long-haired — and two widths (for small or large cats). Designed to pull out loose hair from the undercoat as well as the topcoat, the Furminator gives you a head start on minimizing hair ready to shed.

Since this tool is pricey compared with most cat grooming tools, I checked out reviews before buying it. Tests of a similar Furminator (for dogs) earned praise at KFVS 12 (Cape Girardeau, MO), where all the testers reported that grooming with it definitely reduced shedding. At Amazon.com, the vast majority of the over 200 user-written reviews are positive for the latest version of the Furminator grooming tools for cats. Reading these reviews also prepared me for the huge amount of cat hair I could expect to remove every time I use the tool. You can easily fill a small wastebasket with fur.

When the blade gets full of fur, which happens fast and often, you push a button to release it into the wastebasket — so you don’t get fur on your hands. Pretty soon static electricity starts sifting it into the air, though, so you do get cat hair all over your hands. I found a fine solution, though, that works with a small three-gallon wastebasket (typical bathroom size). Just drape an adult wet wipe inside the wastebasket to capture the loose cat hair. You can also use it to wipe loose hairs off the cat and your hand if need be.

This tool really works, so it’s worth the price. Be prepared for some long sessions, though, even if you use the Furminator regularly. The amount of cat hair that comes off can be amazing. The vacuum cleaner is faster, though.

If your cat likes to be vacuumed, you can fit the Furminator onto the end of the vacuum cleaner hose using an adapter, the FURminator FurVac Vacuum Accessory (*Est. $20). This earns mixed reviews from the handful of users rating it at Amazon.com. It’s important to use the newer version of the Furminator so you can keep releasing the fur into the vacuum hose; otherwise the tool just clogs.

You’ll still need a big roller for furniture

I’ve been happy with a giant-sized Evercare Large Surface Adhesive Roller (*Est. $11), which now comes with a handle that extends as long as three feet. The ten-inch width lets this roller speed over a bed or sofa, and the adhesive sheets pull off easily (starting with one triangular corner). Once you get used to this method of pulling one off, it makes switching to a clean sheet quick and easy.

The design of this larger roller is also handy for removing cat hair from pants; you can hold your hand in a more natural way. The 50-sheet Evercare roller refills are pricey if bought individually (*Est. $8), even at big-box stores. It’s not hard, though, to find bulk discounts or packages. (Be careful: some refills have only 25 sheets.) If you have at least one cat at home, this is a supply worth keeping on hand.

Reading reviews of the Evercare Large Surface Adhesive Roller and its refills, I find that most other users agree that it picks up pet hair well. At Drugstore.com, all 30 users reviewing it say they’d recommend it to a friend. The only complaint is that it can take several sheets to get the job done. This complaint is also noted in several of the dozen or so reviews at Amazon.com, but overall, users agree that the roller fulfills its purpose. 

‘Major’ Assassin’s Creed Announcement on the Way


Ubisoft has confirmed that a major Assassin’s Creed announcement is on the way.

According to the official Assassin’s Creed Facebook page, “a major announcement from Assassin’s Creed is only days away.”

Given that Assassin’s Creed III was announced earlier this month, the information will likely be related to that game, though AC3 isn’t mentioned specifically. Other previously-announced Assassin’s Creed projects include a release on Wii U and an Assassin’s Creed game for Vita, so info could potentially be coming on either of those projects as well.

For now, Ubisoft is keeping the exact announcement under wraps, but keep checking back to IGN for all the details.

New SimCity Possibly On the Way


SimCity is returning, if German magazine GameStar is to be believed. In a post on NeoGaf, images of alleged SimCity concept art have been posted, as well as a rough translation of GameStar’s article on the title.

The article highlights a few details, such as the ability to create winding roads as opposed to the standard parallel and perpendicular streets of previous SimCity titles. It will also be entirely 3D, allowing players to swivel their cameras at will, and zoom in to inspect their creations up close.

The article also outlines online leaderboards and interconnected cities for SimCity players who want a touch of multiplayer. And apparently even players who want to run their city entirely alone will still be affected by some of the multiplayer components – the prices of commodities will be determined online.

We’ve reached out to EA for confirmation as to whether GameStar’s article is true. We’ll let you know if and when we hear back. For now, think of this as a very plausible rumor.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Second Opinions


Last month, IGN’s Ryan Clements reviewed Final Fantasy XIII-2 and awarded it an 8.0. Editors at IGN and 1UP have had the opportunity to spend some time with the game since then and have a wide range of opinions. Here are their thoughts on Final Fantasy XIII-2′s positives, negatives and everything in between.

While I really like Final Fantasy XIII-2, I want to love it. I’ve spent plenty of time with the game — nearly 85 hours with 159/160 fragments collected (because Monster Professor is a pain in the ass) — and I especially appreciate everything about the battle system and visual style. That said, Final Fantasy XIII-2 never really reaches its full potential. While the Historia Crux is a great nonlinear way to present the main story, every side quest involves traveling back and forth through time to perform fetch quests, which gets unbelievably tedious. The monster system is a great way to mix up battle paradigms, but I ultimately stuck with the same three or four monsters for the entire game.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is easily among the shortest numbered Final Fantasy games, and the story is definitely lacking any kind of cohesive vision. There are some great story beats, but the game is all over the map; I often lost sight of exactly what my ultimate goal was, and felt very “meh” about the lack of closure in the end.

XIII-2 is far more accessible than XIII was, and I’ve enjoyed all of my time with it. Still, it’s frustrating that it could have been so much more.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 peaked for me when I got Cait Sith like an hour into the game. Once the novelty of that wore off I couldn’t get over how utterly terrible the writing was. “One more thing. Don’t just lie down… and wait to die!” What the hell are you talking about, dude? It’s a shame, too because I really like the battle system and Crystarium used for leveling up my characters. It’s one of those games I want to go back and finish, but know I’ll probably never actually get around to it.

I’ve said quite a bit about Final Fantasy XIII-2 already, and my feelings on the game haven’t changed much since I reviewed it for 1UP. On one hand, I think XIII-2 demonstrates an admirable willingness by the creators to respond to criticism and create something that’s more in line with what modern gamers want from Final Fantasy and games in general. On the other hand, the muddled overall design of the thing tells me that they need to work on their methods a little. XIII-2 feels like the developers went through a checklist of complaints about FFXIII and said, “OK, let’s do the opposite!” without much regard for how all those pieces fit together.

They’d be much better served by taking more of a step backward, looking at the things people are enjoying in other games, and considering ways to integrate those modern trends into their next game in a more cohesive and “Final Fantasy” way. XIII-2 is a step in the right direction… but it’s merely a leg of the journey, not the destination itself. Next leg? Taking some basic story composition lessons and learning how to construct a coherent narrative.

First thing’s first: Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in a long time. The character models and environments are simply stunning. And if you like Kaskade, Late Night Alumnai or Todd Edwards, you’ll dig the haunting techno beats of the soundtrack. More importantly however is that the gameplay is phenomenal. XIII’s Paradigm System returns, with the welcome addition of monsters that you collect on the battlefield and train to fight by your side. (These critters prove to be far more useful than the Eidolons in the original XIII.) The game is also much less linear, allowing you to freely jump through time and do things in almost any order you want (almost).

Yet for all these improvements, the game still has major issues. Namely, the script. It’s bad. Not laughably bad, just bad. It’s a real testament to voice actors Laura Bailey and Jason Marsden that they managed to turn what would have been CRINGINGLY bad dialogue into something likable.

Worse, the story ultimately makes no sense, with the added frustration of Serah and Noel miraculously understanding things and places they’ve never previously encountered anywhere at any time. Add to that unnecessary QTEs during Boss Fights, and you have to wonder what the team at S/E was thinking.

So do I hate Final Fantasy XIII-2? No, in fact I’m quite enjoying it. It’s much better than XIII or X-2. It’s just a shame that character development (of which there is almost none) and a sensible storyline got shoved out of the way in favor of QTEs and a weirdly convoluted attempt to avoid linearity.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a con; a gorgeous and oftentimes entertaining one, but an illusion nonetheless. The entertainment stems mostly from the impeccably tight battle system that Square Enix expanded upon from FFXIII with the inclusion of collectible creatures who serve as your third party member. The pacing, challenge, and cinematic blocking are genuinely outstanding, and they make each encounter something the player looks forward to.

Sadly, the thread begins to unravel the moment you leave the battlefield. The open-ended time travel conceit that the game is built upon presents itself with the promise of freedom, and yet too often treats the player as a pawn, forcing you to travel down the linear path that the game wants you to. Had FFXIII-2 treated the grandiose concept of time as the player’s personal toy, the game may have been something truly special. So when the curtain raised after the much discussed cliffhanger ending, I was left feeling nothing. The story I had just experienced was told with a lack of confidence that just never quite allowed me to engage with the world beyond a superficial level.

Final Fantasy Xiii-2 can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when it seems so squarely targeted at the Lightning cosplay demographic. But once you push through the abundance of pink, purple, and feathers, there’s a genuinely rewarding game to be had. XIII-2 fixes most of the gameplay flaws of its predecessor. Environments are much larger and less linear and the battle system is fully open from the beginning. Similarly, a more streamlined narrative leads to a stronger emotional climax. Say what you will about any time-travel inconsistencies, I much prefer this to all that fal’Cie/L’Cie nonsense.

What I found most enjoyable about XIII-2 is that, like the similarly minded X-2, it approaches series gameplay conventions with a sense of experimentation and whimsy. The Hystoria Crux interface provides a fun twist on traditional exploration with seamless jumps into the timeline and the ability to rewind time. Additions like monster raising, coliseum battles, and a variety of uses for your moogle provide plenty of content for those wishing to really dig in. Also, the CG cutscenes are still absolutely stunning. This is top class animation, whether talking movies or games. It’s a shame, then, that Final Fantasy XIII-2 never really comes together as a sum of these parts.

If you enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII even somewhat, you deserve to give XIII-2 a go. For those who left XIII with a bitter taste in their mouths, this could still be that much needed palate cleanser. However, for many like me who grew up with Final Fantasy in our blood, this will likely be another reminder that the series isn’t really geared towards us anymore. However, if it means that a new audience gets to discover the gameplay and fantasy that hooked us years ago, then maybe that’s okay.

What did you think of Final Fantasy XIII-2? Let us know in the comments below.

MW3 Content Collection #1 Drops on March 20


Let’s say you’re a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 fan that didn’t score a subscription to Elite Premium, thus affording you a year’s worth of downloadable content. No worries, however, as Activision has your back. The publisher announced today that the first bundles of Premium content will be packaged together and sold through Xbox LIVE as the Content Collection #1. The pack will include the four Elite Premium maps Liberation, Piazza, Overwatch, and Black Box as well as new Special Ops Missions Black Ice and Negotiator.




Content Collection #1 will drop on Xbox LIVE on March 20, while Black Box, Negotiator, and Black Ice will be launching as Elite Content Drops 4-6 for Premium subscribers on March 13. No pricing info was revealed for Content Collection #1, nor were dates for the content on PC and PS3.

Today’s Free Game


The Game: Command Conquer: Tiberian Sun

Genre: Campy FMV-Stuffed Realtime Strategy

Platform: PC




The Scoop: Along with the original Command Conquer, EA has made sequel Tiberian Sun available as a 100%-free download.

IGN described the sequel as “phenomenal” in its 1999 review, but did note that besides the requisite graphical improvements and new units, the game didn’t do much to innovate on its predecessor.

But as a free download, what more could gamers possibly ask for? Tiberian Sun its expansion Firestorm (which is also free) offer up well over a dozen hours of classic RTS action. Get back to your strategy roots and jump back into the GDI vs. NOD conflict!

Download Command Conquer: Tiberian Sun direct from Fileplanet!

Free Game of the Day is a column that spotlights a new 100%-free game, every day. Not demos, or shareware, or “freemium” games. Just pure, free gaming goodness. It’s that simple! Interested in previous Free Game of the Day posts? Check the archive, or follow @IGNFreeGames on Twitter!


Plextor PX-256M3 (256GB)

The solid-state drive (SSD) market may be dominated by major names: Intel, Samsung, OCZ, Crucial, and so on, but this doesn’t mean the dark horse doesn’t have a shot. Case in point: Plextor. Though the company is best known for its inexpensive, reliable, and ubiquitous optical drives, it makes SSDs as well, and its newest in the recently released M3 series are capable of racing right alongside the big boys. The 256GB 256M3 ($369.99 list) stands up quite nicely to the best performers we’ve seen in the field—with a price most are hard pressed to beat.

A prime source of that value is the controller, the Marvell 88SS9174-BKK2. This is the same one used in the previous series, the M2S (we reviewed the 128GB version, the PX-128M2S, last year), which promises sequential read speeds of up to 525MBps and sequential write speeds of up to 445MBps; the data interface is 6Gbps SATA III, so you’ll be able to get as close to those ideal speeds as possible. The storage chips are 24nm Toshiba Toggle MLC NAND flash, and they’re paired with a nice-sized 512MB cache to bolster performance still more.

On top of this, and a five-year warranty (which is about twice as long as you get with most SSDs, the recent Intel SSD 520 Series being a notable exception, with the same extended period), the controller’s firmware has also been updated to introduce Plextor’s new True Speed feature set. This contains a number of utilities that the company claims optimize performance, including Bad Block Management, Global Wear Leveling, and Instant Restore. Plextor says True Speed prevents drastic drops in speed that occur after SSDs are used for long periods of time, or under states of heavy fragmentation.

Does all this make a difference? Absolutely. The PX-256M3 more than held its own in our benchmark tests against both our current Editors’ Choice, the OCZ Vertex 3, and the Intel SSD 520 Series. It couldn’t keep up with the Vertex 3 in sequential reads in the AS SSD Benchmark (476.6MBps versus 515.3MBps), but it was the winner at sequential writes (315.5MBps versus 281.2MBps for the Intel and 277.7MBps for the OCZ), and at both 4KB 64-thread reads and writes (276MBps in the former, versus 234.6MBps for the Intel and 182.5MBps for the OCZ; and 236.5MBps in the latter, versus 233.7MBps for the Intel and 229.8 for the OCZ). It placed first in the ISO Speed and Program Speed sections of the same test’s Copy Benchmark, but both the Intel and the OCZ came out ahead in the Game Speed trial (194.2MBps and 189MBps respectively, versus 175.1MBps).

The PX-256M3 was a bit less steady on other tests. It took the top spot in the 0.5KB, 1KB, and 2KB runs in the ATTO Disk Benchmark, then it excelled only with reads up to 32KB, then it was third place straight through until 8MB. Its 333.5MBps result in the CrystalDiskMark 512KB write test was the fastest (the OCZ’s 302.4MBps was second place), and in the 4KB read and write tests at the same queue depth, it also was at the front (with 270.2MBps and 264MBps respectively). But it fell behind in all the Futuremark PCMark 7 tests, never eking out a single win. And in the AS SSD Compression Benchmark, the Plextor drive was more consistent across a wider range of compression percentages, but the OCZ was faster throughout at reads and writes alike.

Good as the Plextor PX-256M3’s performance was in many situations, this inconsistency is one reason we can’t quite give it the nod over the Editors’ Choice Vertex 3—which also lists for $20 less. But, to be clear, it’s an incredibly close match-up, and the PX-256M3’s terrific price definitely makes a compelling case for it (especially over the Intel 520 Series). Plextor has come a long way in a year, and if the PX-256M3 is any indication, it’s not remotely finished yet—something that should have OCZ, Intel, and the other big SSD manufacturers constantly looking over their shoulders.

More Storage Device reviews:
•   Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro (500GB)
•   Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adapter
•   CRU Dataport ToughTech Duo QR
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•   Western Digital My Passport Studio (1TB)
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Google Flights

Never turn down a free second opinion. Despite all the great travel searching and booking sites available these days, Google Flight (free) is one to add to your list of flight-search sites to check before typing in your credit card number. Two show-stoppers prevent the site from being actually useful: 1) it’s for round-trip, U.S. flights only and 2) you can’t actually make a purchase on the site.

Google Flight’s problems have nothing to do the abilities it does have, which are awesome, and everything to do with what it doesn’t have: a purchasing option, international flights, multi-city and one-way options, accommodations booking, vacation package deals, add-ons (car rental, insurance, sight-seeing trips). What it can do is filter a flight search by numerous options and deliver results in a flash, faster than any other site I’ve seen. It’s no surprise coming from a company that made its name from revolutionizing online search, but the results and the speed with which they hit the page are astounding. To book travel, we like Editors’ Choice Orbitz (free, 4 stars) best, but Google Flights still can be useful for doing some preliminary air travel research.

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Google Flights


Google Flights


Google Flights


Google Flights

Why Use Google Flights?
The primary reason to use Google Flights, despite lacking numerous features that we would consider basic in travel websites, is because it’s fast. Wicked fast.

When you land on the page, you can start typing the name of any U.S. city, and Google Flights will suggest ones that you probably mean. Fill in both departing and arriving cities, then watch a map show you the most direct flight line between the two locations. New York to Honolulu looks a lot farther than it sounds.

Connected TravelerBelow the map, enter the dates you want to travel. You can toggle a large monthly calendar to appear below the map to adjust your dates. A yellow spanner bar covers the dates you want to travel, and you can drag them around, in real time, to look for better dates for flights.

A second visual indicator shows up to the right of the calendar, with bar graphs indicating high and low prices for various dates. If you initially look for a seven-day trip to Hawaii, the bars will find an average price—let’s just say for argument’s sake it’s $804—and mark that in the middle of the display. A scroll bar to the side lets you slide up and down to move forward and backward on the calendar to look for lower prices for a seven-day Hawaiian getaway. Mouse over the bars to find the lowest price, which may or may not be $609 (!) if you hurry up and book this March 7 flight.

For finding the best time to fly based on price, Google Flights is awesome.

To the left of the calendar are more options, such as departing time, connections, and airlines and air alliances. Frequent travels will find the connections feature alone invaluable, as you can easily eliminate any flights that connect through New York’s JFK Airport, a leading source of delays worldwide.

Another superb filter for avid travelers is the ability to not just rule out airlines that you don’t want to fly, but rule in specific airline alliances, helping you maximize those frequent flier miles.

Add any filter to your search, and the results appear before you can blink. When you find a result you like, you can click to open it and see the details, like flight number and precise travel times, but you can’t “pin” it or save it to a space like you can with Kayak (free, 3 stars).

Check With Google, Book On Orbitz
Orbitz (free, 4 stars) still leads the pack for travel sites, and is our Editors’ Choice. If you have a lot of factors to take into consideration for your travel plans, start with Orbitz and run a quick-cross check on Google Flights, which is so fast it will only take you a moment to drill down your options and find exactly what you need. Then buy your ticket through Orbitz.

More Internet Site Reviews:
•   Google Flights
•   Apple Safari 5.1.2 for Windows
•   Google Chrome 17
•   Engagio (beta)
•   Click.to
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Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S

The Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S ($999 direct) is the latest desktop replacement laptop to come out of Sony, and it ticks all the boxes on the list of favorite features, like a slim chassis, speedy Core i5 processor, 1080p display, and backlit keyboard. A few features are unexpected, like a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for the security conscious, and a life-extending external battery slice. With such a feature set the Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S will prove to be a tempting alternative to our Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 15z (Microsoft) ($999 direct, 4 stars), even if the performance isn’t quite as fast as that of its peers.

Design
The VPC-SE23FX/S features the same full-flat design seen in last Sony VAIO VPC-SE16FX/S ($1,249.99 direct, 4 stars), with no sloping in the keyboard and even thickness from front to back when closed. The S tacked onto the end of the model number indicates the platinum silver color seen here on the aluminum lid and palmrest as well as the plastic covering the rest of the chassis. The VAIO VPC-SE23FX is also available in black.

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Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S: Front


Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S: Angle


Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S: Lid


Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S: Open

The VPC-SE23FX/S is under one inch thick, measuring 0.97 by 14.97 by 10.08 inches (HWD), and weighs only 4.4 pounds. It also comes with an external battery slice, which extends the battery life considerably, but also bumps up the total weight to 5.7 pounds. By comparison, the HP Envy 15 (2012) ($1,249.99 direct, 4 stars) weighs 5.7 pounds with no hardware.

The VPC-SE23FX/S’s 15.6-inch widescreen offers an eye-popping 1,920-by-1,080 resolution display, the same resolution seen on the HP Envy 15 (2012). It’s ideal for enjoying movies in full HD, except that you’ll need to find those movies somewhere other than a Blu-ray disc, because the VPC-SE23FX/S is equipped with a DVD drive. The drop-hinge design used on the VPC-SE23FX/S provides the illusion that the screen is actually separate from the rest of the laptop, which is a pretty cool effect. Accompanying the display is Dolby Home Theater v.4 simulated surround sound, which produced clear sound and decent bass when tested with some streaming music (some David Bowie and M83). For actual surround sound you’ll need a separate set of speakers.

The keyboard is full-sized, with an accompanying numeric pad, with chiclet-style keys and a glowing backlight. It also comes with a silicon keyboard cover, which covers the plastic keys with a silicone membrane that I actually preferred to the standard keyboard. The accompanying multitouch touchpad is responsive and smooth, and the right and left buttons clicked smoothly, if loudly.

Features
The VPC-SE23FX/S places all of its ports along the right hand side of the chassis, with the DVD optical drive on the left side. Two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port are joined by an HDMI-out port, a VGA monitor connection, and Gigabit Ethernet. There are two media card slots, one for SD and SDHC cards, and another for Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick cards (MS/Duo/Pro). On the front of the laptop is a physical switch to turn off all wireless connections, which includes 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, and WiDi 2.0—Intel’s wireless HD media streaming technology (which requires an adapter, such as the $99 Netgear Push2TV.)

Also inside you’ll find a 640GB 5,400rpm hard drive, which offers space enough for programs, photos, music and movies, but isn’t as large and fast as the 750GB, 7200rpm drive found in the Samsung Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03) ($1,299 list, 4 stars). It is, however, protected by Sony’s G-Sensor shock protection to guard against hard drive damage from shakes and bumps. The VPC-SE23FX/S also comes with enhanced security in the form of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and Symantec’s Validation and ID Protection service (VIP).

You will be subject to some bloatware, but nothing to egregious or difficult to remove. On the desktop are two website links for eBay and special offers from Sprint. The VPC-SE23FX/S also comes with Evernote, Skype, Microsoft Office Starter 2010, and a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security. Sony includes several VAIO branded utilities, such as VAIO Care and VAIO Messenger. Sony also covers the laptop with a one-year warranty.

Performance
Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S
Sony has outfitted the VPC-SE23FX/S with a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-2450M processor and 4GB of RAM, similar to the Core i5-2430M seen in the HP Envy 15 and the Core i5-2410M seen in the Dell XPS 15z (Microsoft). In PCMark 7 performance tests, the VPC-SE23FX/S scored 2,049 points, ahead of the Dell XPS 15z (2,012) but behind the Envy 15 (2,218 points). In CineBench R11.5 rendering tests, the VPC-SE23FX/S scored 2.78 points, ahead of both the HP Envy 15 and the Dell XPS 15z, but falling behind quad-core CPU equipped competitors like the Toshiba Satellite P755-S5269 ($979.99 list, 4 stars). The VPC-SE23FX/S fell behind in multimedia tests, but still completed Handbrake and Photoshop CS5 tests with enough speed (Handbrake 1:50, Photoshop 4:36) that it will satisfy the user who occasionally edits a clip for YouTube or touches up a photo.

Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S

The VPC-SE23FX/S offers both discrete and integrated graphics, with an AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor for high performance graphics and Intel’s integrated graphics available for better power efficiency. Switching between the two involves manually flipping a switch that resides just above the keyboard. Using the Radeon GPU, the VAIO had playable gaming performance at lower resolution. In Crysis, the VPC-SE23FX/S produced 62.9 frames per second (fps), while at full 1920 by 1080 resolution and higher detail settings, it managed only 7.2 fps. Similar performance was seen in Lost Planet 2, where the VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S pumped out 51 fps at medium settings, and 17.3 fps at native resolution. Compare this to the leading scores of the HP Envy 15 (Crysis 62.7fps at medium settings) and the Samsung Series 7 (Lost Planet 2 64.3fps at medium settings) and you’ll see that the Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S holds its own fairly well.

The VPC-SE23FX/S has a sealed in battery, preventing us from determining the battery’s exact size or watt-hour rating, but in our MobileMark 2007 battery life test, it lasted 6 hours 6 minutes, longer than both the HP Envy 15 (4:01) and Toshiba P755-S5269 (5:07), but falling behind the Samsung Series 7 (6:41) and the Dell XPS 15z (7:13). Nonetheless, it’s a respectable length of time, and Sony bolsters it with an external battery slice. Sony estimates that the extended battery will add up to 6 hours of battery-life, stretching it to nearly 12 hours total.

The Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S targets the buyer who wants the slim build and speedy performance offered by leading laptops, like the Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 15z, and wants to keep their expenses under $1000. While the VPC-SE23FX/S doesn’t have the performance to topple those top performers, it’s definitely worth looking at, with its long-lasting battery, decent Core i5 processing, and extra features like WiDi 2.0, TPM and VIP security, and a good looking design.

BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:

Check out the test scores for the Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S

COMPARISON TABLE
Compare the Sony VAIO VPC-SE23FX/S with several other laptops side by side.

More laptop reviews:
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Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W

The Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W ($799 list) is a solid tower business desktop for the SMB market. It’s powerful, with a quad-core processor that will make quick work of clerical and mid-level graphics tasks. It’s a bit utilitarian looking, but that’s fine considering the price. If you’re looking to grab a few systems for your new (or slowly expanding) office, then put this desktop near the top of your list.

Design and Features
Design-wise, the M4618G-Ui72601W is a staid tower business PC, similar in looks to the Acer Veriton M498G-UI5650C ($699 list, 4 stars) we looked at a while back. That’s actually a good thing, since you can roll out the M4618G-Ui72601W in your organization and people with the older Acer M498G systems won’t be any wiser at a glance. It has the expansion space that just about any power user will need: two free memory slots, a PCIe x16 graphics card slot, two PCIe x1 slots, a PCI slot, plus space for up to five additional hard drives. The included 300W power supply unit is sufficient for hard drive support (the motherboard can support up to three before you have to resort to an add-on SATA card), but you won’t be running an 180W or higher graphics card in this system. Thankfully, lower-end graphics cards made to drive multiple monitors work with as little as 18W of power.
The desktop has a plethora of external ports: ten USB 2.0 ports, DVI, VGA, DisplayPort, audio, serial, plus the usual Ethernet and audio jacks. Between the DVI, VGA, and DisplayPort (2 of 3 are in use), you can support two monitors for extra efficiency and screen space. The system even includes a pair of PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports in case your users have old keyboards and mice they can’t let go of. The system doesn’t have newer speedy USB 3.0 or eSATA ports, but you can easily add these with PCIe cards.


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Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W : Full Set


Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W : Features


Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W : Front


Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W : Drive

The M4618G-Ui72601W comes with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit pre-installed, but the restore utility will let you install a 32-bit version instead if your apps aren’t 64-bit compatible. Of course, be aware that resetting the OS may erase any data you’ve put on the system. Make sure to choose before you roll the system out to your users. Speaking of roll-out, the desktop comes relatively free of pre-installed software. The system instead asks you if you want utility and trial programs to be installed during the initial setup procedure. That way you can choose if you want stuff like Norton Online Backup or Acer’s ProShield security software on your users’ systems or not. While not as informative as looking up each program online, the setup utility gives you a short description of each program and a checkbox, so you will be informed on what you’re installing. This procedure is a great feature, and we hope it becomes common on all desktops with bloatware pre-loads.

Performance
Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W
The M4618G-Ui72601W has very good performance on our benchmark tests, thanks to its quad-core Intel Core i7-2600 processor. It helps the system gain one of the highest scores we’ve seen on PCMark 7 (2,851 points), outscoring the professional workstation Lenovo ThinkStation E30 ($1,019 direct, 3.5 stars) (2,770 points) and our previous business desktop speed champ, the Dell Optiplex 990 ($1,905 direct, 3.5 stars) (2,601 points). Likewise, the desktop takes very little time with the multimedia benchmark tests (1:14 Handbrake, 3:04 Photoshop CS5). Essentially, this system is fast now, and should serve you well for at least the next four to five years. This is plenty of time to amortize the system in your capital budget.

Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W

The Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W has a lot to offer the SMB owner: quad-core power, lots of expansion room, and that great setup utility where you can tell the system what bloatware is actually useful to you. The system’s design is kind of utilitarian, but that’s what you want in a business system. The desktop lies somewhere between SMB and enterprise level hardware, since it doesn’t have the disk image (long life ordering support) guarantees that you might get with the Editors’ Choice for SMB/midrange business systems HP Compaq 4000 Pro ($549 direct, 4.5 stars), but the Acer M4618G-Ui72601W certainly should appear on your short list if you only need a few units.

BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS

Check out the test scores for the Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W

COMPARISON TABLE
Compare the Acer Veriton M4618G-Ui72601W with several other desktops side by side.

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