[Daily Deal] Up to 90% off on a selection of games on GamesPlanet

GamesPlanet is holding its annual spring sale. Games will be on sale every day between march 27th and April 2nd. Enjoy discount of up to 90% with flash deals. Today’s deals include Duke Nukem Forever for just £2.99 instead of £14.99.

Also, today you can save 56% and discover the open world of Farcry 4. Get this Ubisoft bestseller for just £10.99. The game is available in multiple languages only on PC and with a Uplay key.

Finally, Star Wars and Lego fans can get the LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Deluxe Edition on PC with a Steam Key. The game is on offer with a 70% discount only today. Get it for just £9.99 and may the Force be with you.

You may also be interested in the following offers

43% off the Netgear N300

The Netgear N300 is a 2.4GHz wireless router that provides WiFi connectivity throughout your home for all your Internet-enabled devices. With Advanced QoS, it’s optimized to reduce interference for HD streaming and gaming. easy to use, this router comes with the Netgear genie app to monitor and control your home network. You also get parental controls and a separate secure access for guests. Save 43% and get the Netgear N300 for just £19.99.

Save 71% and get the Rampow MFI Lightning Cable for £6.29.

Charge and sync your Apple devices with this Rampow MFI (Made For iPhone) Lightning Cable. It’s compatible with all 8 Pin Apple devices including the iPhone 5, 5C, 6, and later, but also iPod Nano 7, iPad mini 2, mini 3, mini 4, iPad Air, iPad Pro and later. The nylon cable provides additional protection against bent damage and the USB and Lightning casings are protected by an aluminium shell.

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How to remove write protection from USB drives and memory cards

With your USB drive or memory card attached to your computer, launch a command prompt. You can do this by searching for cmd.exe or ‘Command Prompt’ in the Start menu.

NOTE: you may need to run Cmd.exe with administrator privileges if you see an “access is denied” message. To do this, right-click on Command Prompt in the Start menu and choose ‘Run as administrator’ from the menu that appears. If you have Windows 10, simply right-click on the Start button (bottom left of the screen) and choose Command prompt (admin).

Now, at the prompt, type the following and press Enter after each command:

diskpart

list disk

select disk x (where x is the number of your non-working drive – use the capacity to work out which one it is)

attributes disk clear readonly

clean

create partition primary

format fs=fat32  (you can swap fat32 for ntfs if you only need to use the drive with Windows computers)

exit

That’s it. Your drive should now work as normal in File Explorer. If it doesn’t, it’s bad news and there’s nothing more to be done. Your stick or memory card is scrap and fit only for the bin. But the good news is that storage is cheap, and you can get a great microSD card for next to nothing. 

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SaferVPN

We’ve learned that you shouldn’t judge a VPN from its website, but SaferVPN’s well-designed and professional offering still gave us a very positive first impression.

This isn’t about the glossy visuals and the unlikely headline, the ‘fastest and simplest VPN’. But the site does look like some thought has gone into it, and scrolling down the front page quickly highlights some very appealing features: 400+ servers in 30 countries. Native apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Chrome. Automatic protection whenever you connect to insecure Wi-Fi, and 24/7 customer support via live chat or email if anything goes wrong.

Drill down and there’s also some real detail to explore. SaferVPN doesn’t just state that it supports IKEv2, OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP, for instance – there’s also a detailed web page explaining each protocol, when you should use it and when you really shouldn’t.

This level of functionality normally comes at a high price, but that’s not the case here. SaferVPN’s one-month plan is a little high at $8.99 per month (£7.20, AU$11.75), but this drops to $5.99 (£4.80, AU$7.85) with the one-year plan, and only $3.49 (£2.80, AU$4.55) a month if you sign up for two years. There’s also a free 24 hour trial to sample the service, with no restrictions on speed or server access.

Privacy

SaferVPN’s website clearly displays the company’s no logging policy: “We never log or monitor your VPN network traffic. What you do online is your business and we aim to keep it that way!” Sounds great, but it’s not the whole story.

The service may not log your traffic, but it does record a great deal of session data: connect and disconnect times, bandwidth used, your incoming IP address and the IP address of the server allocated to you. That doesn’t tell anyone what you’re doing, but it’s more information than many other services collect.

SaferVPN’s other privacy policies are relatively ordinary. The company normally holds little personally-identifiable data, just your email address and some kind of payment ID (not your full bank or card details). And it uses Google Analytics and cookies on the website, but that’s extremely common and doesn’t affect VPN privacy.

The terms of service page is more interesting, especially the acceptable use policy. This explains that the service is for personal, non-commercial use only. Notably, torrents are not supported, at all, on any server. And beware, a very restrictive ‘obscenity’ clause says you must not “upload, post, or otherwise transmit any content which is obscene, indecent, or pornographic, or which is otherwise objectionable.” Of course, we’re 100% in favour of rules about illegal content, such as child pornography, but extending the rules so far that they could catch almost anyone is more of a problem.

Performance

Getting started with SaferVPN is exceptionally easy. Signing up requires just an email address, a link quickly arrived, clicking this verified our address and pointed us at the Windows client (Mac, Android, iOS and Chrome apps are also available), and it was installed within seconds. It’s all very smooth and straightforward, with none of the manual setup hassles you’ll often get elsewhere.

The Windows client is equally professional. A simple ‘select a location, click connect’ interface means even total novices will be up and running right away, but there are also lots of plusses for more experienced users. These include a Favourites system, and a quick search (type NE to see only Netherlands and New Zealand). There are also status details including IP address and connected time, protocol selection, automatic connections when you access an insecure network, and a VPN kill switch.

The package wasn’t quite as impressive in real-world usage. You’re only able to select a country, for instance, not a specific server. There’s no indication of latency or status on the server list. By default Windows displays a UAC prompt every time you click Connect (you can run the program as an administrator to avoid this, but must sort this out yourself), and we found it took a few seconds longer to connect than with most other services.

Once we were online, in our tests* performance was generally very good. UK-UK download speeds were a little low at 20Mbps (overloaded servers?), but nearby European servers gave us 30Mbps as a minimum, and US speeds ranged from 30Mbps on the East Coast to 15-20Mbps on the West. Even Australia and Singapore connections gave us 12-20Mbps, and the only server which averaged below 10Mbps was Thailand (a lethargic 5Mbps, but we’d prefer that to no Thai server at all).

We rounded off our tests with a privacy check, and weren’t surprised to see SaferVPN passed here, too, with DNS and WebRTC leaks safely plugged at all times.

Final verdict

The ‘no torrents’ ban is a definite downside, but otherwise SaferVPN is an appealing service: speedy, supremely easy-to-use, with lots of quality clients and a free access-all-areas 24-hour trial to check it out.

*Our testing included evaluating general performance (browsing, streaming video). We also used speedtest.net to measure latency, upload and download speeds, and then tested immediately again with the VPN turned off, to check for any difference (over several rounds of testing). We then compared these results to other VPN services we’ve reviewed. Of course, do note that VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables.

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AMD Ryzen's First Game Optimization: 'Ashes Of The Singularity: Escalation,' Tested

Stardock and Oxide Games gave us access to a beta build of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation ahead of its official launch. The update is our first example of a game optimized for AMD’s Ryzen CPUs, which should improve their performance.

Ryzen chips proved to be impressive in heavily threaded workloads, but surprisingly, they suffer from lower frame rates than competing Intel processors in many popular games (for more on this, check out Ryzen versus Core i7 In 11 Popular Games). Ryzen is competitive in some titles. But in Ashes of the Singularity and Rise of the Tomb Raider, for example, they trailed by quite a bit.

AMD confirmed our findings and promised that future updates from game developers should address them. The company sent us notification of the new Ashes update with little time for in-depth testing, but we used our existing platforms to crank out some quick benchmarks.

We’ve been using the original Ashes of the Singularity for our test suite, so this is our first look at Escalation. We are using the same platforms found in our AMD Ryzen 7 1700X review. We tested with stock configurations due to time limitations, but you can expect us to circle back with overclocked performance data soon. These first measurements are collected under DX12, but we also have plans to test with DX11.

First, a word from AMD on the performance gains we should expect:

In testing with a Ryzen 7 1800X paired with DDR4-2933 memory at 1920×1080 resolution and “High Preset” image quality setting, the updated game and its in-game benchmark show a minimum increase of 26 percent in “Average FPS Large Batches,” to a maximum uplift of 33 percent in “Average FPS Normal Batches,” and 31 percent in “Average FPS All Batches” compared to testing with the previous version of Ashes. Although Ryzen 1800X will still be a bit behind the 7700K and 6900K in testing, after a fairly compact optimization effort we now see much closer FPS.

AMD tested with the High preset, but we’re using the Crazy setting since it matches our previous efforts with the original version of the game. Installing the patch took only a few seconds to download and install, implying that the optimizations are merely tweaks to the existing code.

1920×1080

We tested both AMD and Intel processors before and after applying the patch, recording an impressive increase in CPU performance at 1920×1080. The Ryzen 7 1800X trailed Intel’s Core i7-7700K before the update, but swapped positions after we activated the new code. The 1800X notched a 16.36% increase, which falls short of AMD’s projections, but again, we’re using a different preset as AMD.

The 1800X also provided smoother gameplay after the update, as demonstrated in the frame time variance and unevenness results. The Core i7-6900K leads in convincing fashion, and it also appears to benefit from the update with a comparatively small 2.5% speed-up. 

We shifted gears to the GPU test, which reveals little post-update variation for the Intel line-up. The 1800X enjoys a 7% performance boost from the update and jumps up several positions.

Our preliminary test results reveal a solid performance gain for the Ryzen 7 1800X after the Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation update. We’re digging deeper into CPU utilization metrics to quantify the nature of the performance increase, which could stem from several factors, including spawning more threads or better cache utilization. We will follow up as we learn more about the update.

AMD’s first update is in the books, and Creative Assembly has also come forward and stated its intentions to update its game engine. However, two developers hardly account for an entire industry that stands to benefit from Ryzen-specific optimizations, and only time will tell how well the ecosystem adapts to the new Zen architecture. Much of the success will likely hinge on how much market share AMD gains, as developers have far more incentive to optimize for widely-used platforms. Older games may never receive patches, and the fact that Stardock (Oxide) has updated only its latest product is telling. However, the company hasn’t indicated if we can expect an update for the original Ashes of the Singularity in the future, so it remains a possibility.

In either case, the update is a welcome one for Ryzen users, as it might be a sign of more to come.

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'The Invisible Hours': A VR Murder Mystery

Tequila Works and Gametrust are bringing the classic murder mystery story to virtual reality in The Invisible Hours.

The Invisible Hours is a virtual reality murder mystery set in the sprawling mansion of famed inventor Nikola Tesla. Seven strangers with completely different backgrounds were invited to Tesla’s mansion for “a chance to make amends for their greatest wrongdoings.” When the last guest arrived, instead of being greeted by the brilliant inventor, the guests found the lifeless body of their host. But who could have killed him?

In The Invisible Hours, you aren’t part of the cast of characters within the mystery. You don’t play a detective or another guest. You play from the perspective of a fly on the wall–or an invisible ghost. You have the freedom to roam around wherever you want and whenever you want within the mansion, but you must be strategic about who you listen to and where you go.

Tequila Works said that The Invisible Hours offers “high replayability” because you’ll have to play the game more than once to uncover each character. The stories of all seven characters continue in real-time (during game play sessions), whether you’re paying attention are not. If you chose to follow the wrong person, you might miss out on a crucial detail or two.

Tequila Works and GameTrust (publisher) plan to release The Invisible Hours in 2017 on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. No release date has been announced.

The Invisible Hours

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Venom BlackBook Zero 14

Some of the biggest breakthroughs in the ultraportable laptop category over the last year have taken the form of more compact cooling architecture – something that’s allowed full-spec Intel Core i5 and i7 laptop CPUs to squeeze into sub 1.5cm (⅝ inch) laptop chassis’. As a result, many of our recommended slim-and-light laptops often feature powerful components that professional customers won’t mind paying a premium for. 

With Intel’s power-saving Core M CPU family now into it’s third generation, however, the chip giant has been making steady gains in overall performance when compared to the ‘real’ Core i5 and i7 mobile CPUs. In fact, it’s now at the point where the latest Kaby Lake Core M chips can meet the minimum specs for demanding applications like Photoshop, and for many professional users that’ll be all they really require. Intel’s so confident that it’s even rebranded Core M processors to use the same Core i3, i5 and i7 naming scheme – the giveaway is that the contain a Y in the model identifier number, such as Core i5-7Y75.

When you factor in that Core M also offers better power efficiency and removes the need for active fan-based cooling – and all the breakable and dust-gathering moving parts that come with it – then there’s arguably never been a better time to make an Ultrabook with a Core M processor. Venom’s new BlackBook Zero 14 is hoping to appeal to the creatives or professionals who’d prefer to spend a little less on a system but still get a system that has enough power to do everything they want. 

Price and availability

The Venom BlackBook Zero 14 range is currently available through Venom’s online global store (or www.mln.com.au in Australia) with prices starting at $999 (£829.86 and AU$1,499) for the Intel Core i5, 128GB model. A unit with the same Core i5 processor and a larger 240GB SSD goes for $1,099 (£912.93 and AU$1,699), while the largest 500GB SSD variant comes in at $1,199 (£996  AU$1,899). The BlackBook Zero 14s with faster Intel Core i7 CPUs start with a 240GB SSD model for $1,249 (£1,037.54 and AU$1,949), with a larger capacity 500GB  Core i7 model landing at $1,349 (£1,120.61 and AU$2,149) and the largest capacity 1TB SSD Core i7 model costing $1,549 (£1,286.75 and AU$2,549).  

Design

With a body honed from a black sandblasted metal alloy composite, this 1.4kg (3 pound) clamshell is around 15% heavier than the lighter 2-in-1s and Ultrabooks that you’d generally pit it against. It might seem counter-intuitive for an ultraportable unit to intentionally pack on the pounds, but when you consider that its extra weight is mostly due to the sturdy metal chassis and its fractionally bigger 14.1-inch screen, it’s a trade-off we think many people will be willing to take.  

Balancing the two halves of this black metal laptop is a sturdy hinge that has a soft resistance, allowing the screen to be tilted without having to hold onto the base. We hope that the hinge, like the rest of the laptop, has been built for longevity, as the one on our test unit did sit on the looser end of the spectrum already.  

At a total folded thickness of 14mm (0.55in), the BlackBook Zero 14 slips nicely into carry cases, briefcases and backpacks and the accompanying diminutive charger and cable makes it an exceptionally portable package on the whole.  

Keyboard and trackpad

Continuing the matte-black theme is a black-coloured chiclet keyboard that has powdery soft-to-touch keys. The key travel distance feels generous for a device this thin and we were happy with the responsiveness and strong feedback for a membrane keyboard.  

The only grievance we had was that the Home, ‘Page Up’, ‘Page Down’ and End keys sit at the far right edge of the unit, making the Backspace, Enter and Shift keys slightly out of a regular alignment. This has been done in a way that makes sense for any power users who are willing to tweak their keyboard techniques and use their pinky for fast scrolling, but it will likely create problems for new users. That’s mainly because the Home button sits just outside the Backspace key, so it was common for us to nudge it rather than delete a mistake, meaning the tail end of a sentence was regularly spliced into the beginning of a paragraph.  

The trackpads on Windows PCs have, on the whole, gotten significantly better in the past few years, and though we have no complaints with the temperament and performance of the BlackBook Zero 14’s powdery-finished trackpad, it’s still a little shy of a MacBook or even ASUS ZenBook experience. That said, it’s notably better when it comes to responsiveness than many PC laptops and it was easy enough to become accustomed to in our testing.   

(Image: © Joel Burgess)

CPU  

Venom’s Managing Director and Chief Designer Jan Turon said that the decision for an Intel Core M CPU in the BlackBook Zero 14 was driven by the long term thermal benefits and prolonged physical integrity of computers that don’t require fans. “We were getting a lot of feedback from customers saying that the heat of laptops on their laps was a big problem,” he told us, “and fans, when they are this small, have a tendency to make a lot of noise and collect dust over time, which will eventually cause issues in performance.

“Our engineers did a lot of work restructuring the internals of the BlackBook Zero 14 to accommodate a CPU that didn’t need fans, so we could pass on those longer term benefits to our customers.”  

We haven’t had the BlackBook 14 for quite long enough to verify whether the unit is more robust than Ultrabooks requiring fans, but the internal thermals are quite moderate (considering the performance) and the chassis definitely has less intense hotspots than many thin-and-light laptops we’ve tested. This reduction in heat stems from the Intel Core i5-7Y75 CPU’s lower base operating frequency of 1.2GHz, which generally sits at around 80ºC (176ºF) in intensive work or home usage conditions in ambient temperatures of 20 to 25ºC (68-77ºF), although when pushed to the extreme it can reach up to 86ºC (186ºF) at times. Under a similar load, the SOC draws 14.66W which is about 17.5% less than a Skylake Core i5-6200U. When running PCMark 8’s general home usage and work benchmarks, the BlackBook Zero 14 hits 3,088 and 4,210 respectively — scores that are almost identical to the ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360UA’s more powerful Core i5-6200U chip. For an Ultrabook aimed at professionals, this is exactly the level of performance you generally want, and it’s encouraging that Venom’s managed to get this result using a more-efficient but less powerful chip.   

The Core M chips don’t hold up so well in the multimedia-oriented tasks that are tested by Cinebench’s multi-threaded and single-core CPU rendering benchmarks, where the ASUS UX360UA’s older Core i5 came off better, with respective scores of 268 and and 112, against the BlackBook Zero 14’s  scores of 174 in multi-threaded and 71 in single-core CPU. That’s a considerable difference and though this specific category of Ultrabook arguably isn’t aimed at users looking to do that kind of intense rendering work, this is likely to be the area where you will see the biggest difference in performance from Intel’s Core M chips. That said, in subjective testing we found that the BlackBook Zero 14 had more than enough grunt to complete the few simple image editing tasks we threw at it, without having to close web browsers or other background applications.

  Graphics

When it came to GPU heavy tasks, the ASUS ZenBook Flip UX360UA’s integrated GPU (an Intel HD Graphics 520) netted 38fps in Cinebench’s OpenGL graphics benchmark, notably more than the Zero 14’s Intel HD Graphics 615, which only managed 25fps. This result was further corroborated by 3DMark’s Cloud Gate benchmark, where the former managed a score of 4,690 while the Zero 14 only mustered 3,497. So, the BlackBook Zero 14 isn’t quite as well-rounded when it comes to performance, and you shouldn’t expect it to do wonders when it comes to gaming – this is for light and casual titles only – but then, at least manages to keep up in the most important work-related areas.

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Ryzen Giveaway And 'Owlboy': Community Roundup

The Tom’s Hardware Community is constantly busy. Whether our members are discussing the site’s latest articles and reviews, providing tech support and building advice, or playing the latest PC Games, we have so much great stuff going on that it could make your head spin! Not to worry — Community Roundup is here to let you know the best of what’s going on in the Tom’s Hardware forums on a regular basis

  • Itching to upgrade to Ryzen, but not ready to make the plunge? Well, now’s your chance with the Tom’s Hardware Ryzen Motherboard Giveaway, courtesy of our fine friends from ASRock. We’ve teamed up with ASRock to bring you two back-to-back giveaways for its all-new X370 Taichi AM4 Motherboard. This motherboard is well suited for overclockers and Ryzen builders looking for long term performance. We reviewed the ASRock X370 Taichi AM4 motherboard earlier this month and found the board to be “perfect for those wanting to jump into the deep end of Zen for a long-term system build. This board is meant to be used with LEDs, windows, swagger, and posted to YouTube for the world to see”. To enter, simply head to the forums and join the raffle. We’ll be throwing two giveaways, each lasting a week long. With eight ways to enter, the more entries you complete, the more likely you are to win!

  • Everyone in the community knows the benefits of upgrading to an SSD. Faster read and write times mean a real-world and noticeable difference when loading the OS or a game, but can an old drive be the source of major performance issues in games? User JimB00 has had some recent stutter problems in a range of games, including The Witcher 3, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and League of Legends. Although the specs on his PC are pretty decent, he’s running on an ancient 8-year-old HDD. We all know JimB00 is due for an upgrade, but is the old SATA II drive causing these issues? Give us your expert opinion in the Storage Forums.
  • There’s a week left in our latest Steam Giveaway. Up for grabs this time are three copies of Owlboy. Owlboy is the critically acclaimed platformer from upstart indie developer D-Pad Studio. After a long nine years of development, the game is finally out in the wild. If you’re a fan of classic SNES and Sega Genesis Metroidvania-style games, you’ll certainly love this gem. You know the drill: head to the forums, enter the raffle, and answer the discussion prompt for your chance to win. The Steam Giveaway will run until 12pm EDT on Friday, April 7.

Know of something awesome going on in the Tom’s Hardware community? Brag about it in the comments!

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