25 best new phones 2017 | New Android phones, new iPhones, new Windows phones

Nokia Android phone UK release date: 27 February 2017, on sale Q2 2017

Nokia used to be the biggest and best-known mobile phone manufacturer, but in 2011 it made the fatal mistake of agreeing to produce only Windows phones. Fast-forward to 2014 and Nokia as we knew it was dead. But now Nokia is getting back into the mobile phone game, with the China-only Nokia 6 running Android announced in January. That phone is now coming to the UK, as well as two more Nokia Android phones: the Nokia 3 and Nokia 5.

Nokia Android phones are said to be different to rival Android phones in three main ways: through Nokia’s relentless focus on the everyday experience, whether that is seen in the display or the camera; through its premium design and build quality that is present no matter where in the line-up a model sits; and through its use of the purest version of Android you have seen, with monthly security updates, fast Android platform updates and the implementation of the Google Assistant across the range.

The Nokia 6 is a unibody Android Nougat phone crafted from a single block of Series 6000 aluminium. This is paired with a 5.5in full-HD laminated in-cell display with protective 2.5D Gorilla Glass. Inside HMD has fitted the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor, along with the Adreno 505 GPU, 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 64GB of storage and a 3,000mAh battery. 

The Nokia 5 is a more compact version with a 5.2in HD IPS display, 13Mp camera with autofocus and a dual-tone flash at the rear, and an 8Mp wide-angle selfie camera at the front. It also has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB). It supports both 4G connectivity and NFC, and has a Micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The battery is rated at 3000mAh.

The Nokia 3 is the cheapest of the trio, with a 5in HD screen but the same premium design. It has 8Mp cameras front and back, and pairs its 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6737 quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.

Read more about Nokia Android phones.

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Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Samsung stopped making Windows laptops back in 2014  but with these new Galaxy Book devices, you’ll be able to buy a Samsung ‘laptop’ once more. Here’s how the Galaxy Book stacks up against the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, reviewed.

First, note that there are two models in the new range, one with a 10in screen and one with a 12in screen. We’ve spent a limited amount of time with the Galaxy Book at MWC, and don’t yet know how much it will cost as Samsung hasn’t yet announced pricing, so this comparison is based on our hands-on time and specifications.

The fact Samsung has gone for Galaxy Book is interesting, since Microsoft already has its Surface Book, but the Galaxy book is much more similar to the Surface Pro tablets.

See also: Galaxy Book release date 

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4: Price and release date rumours

As with many products announced at MWC 2017, there is no word on price or availability from Samsung. This means we can compare the Galaxy Book with the Surface Pro 4 only on specs currently.

However, it’s relatively safe to assume that they’re not going to be more expensive than the equivalent model from Microsoft. And don’t forget that the Surface Pro 5 is expected shortly. Naturally, we’ll compare this with the Galaxy Book when it is officially announced.

The Surface Pro 4 is available in the following configurations:

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4: Specifications

Here’s how the Galaxy Book 12 compares to the Surface Pro 4 at a glance:

Samsung Galaxy Book

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Windows 10 (version not specified)

Windows 10 Pro

12in Super AMOLED display, 2160×1440, 216ppi

12.3in display, 2736×1824, 267ppi

7th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, 3.1GHz

Up to 6th Gen Intel Core i7

4GB / 8GB

Up to 16GB RAM

128GB / 256GB

Up to 512GB storage

2x USB-C

USB 3.0

Video output via USB-C

Mini-DisplayPort

MicroSD reader

MicroSD reader

802.11ac Wi-Fi

802.11ac Wi-Fi

LTE model available

No LTE

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth 4.0

5Mp front camera

5Mp front camera

13Mp rear camera

8Mp rear camera

Pogo Keyboard case included

TypeCover not included

S Pen included

Surface Pen included

291.3×199.8×7.4mm

292x201x8.45mm

754g (tablet only)

766g

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4: Design and features

Keyboard

Clearly, the Galaxy Book is aimed squarely at the Surface Pro, and Samsung is clever to have bundled both the S Pen and keyboard case in the box.

Few people buy a Surface Pro 4 just to use as a tablet, so rather than feeling relief at saving money on a peripheral you don’t need, the extra £109 cost of a TypeCover hurts as – in reality – it is an essential purchase.

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Samsung’s keyboard is improved over last year’s version – as included with the TabPro S – thanks to a 50 percent larger trackpad, individual keys (with decent travel) and backlighting.

Also, the stand allows you to alter the angle of the screen, although we still prefer the kickstand on the Surface Pro. (But it’s one advantage over the fixed-position iPad Pro keyboard.)

Screen

Both tablets have similar size screens, but the Samsung’s has a slightly lower resolution. This won’t be noticeable in general use, however, and the screen also supports HDR. 

The Surface Pro 4’s screen has an aspect ratio of 3:2, and Samsung has gone for the same, albeit using the same resolution as the Surface Pro 3 rather than the higher pixel count of the Pro 4.

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Processor and performance

Given that the Surface Pro 5 is due out very soon, it’s slightly unfair to criticise the Surface Pro 4 for not having the USB-C ports of the Galaxy Book, or the latest generation of Intel Core processor. We’re sure that Microsoft’s next 2-in-1 Windows device will be bang up to date.

Performance is another area where we’ll have to wait for benchmark results, but the fanless, low-voltage Core i5 in the Galaxy Book – combined with 8GB of RAM if you opt for the top model – should be powerful enough for most people. Samsung says it will run Photoshop, but we’ll reserve any judgements until we’ve tried it for ourselves.

We already know how the Surface Pro 4 performs, and you can read our full review of the Pro 4 to find out specifics. Of course, there are many different models, including the range-topping Core i7 version with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That’s sure to beat the 12in Galaxy Book, but then again, Samsung is sure to price the Galaxy Book appropriately.

The Galaxy Book has four speakers, but we’ve yet to have a chance to properly listen to these. 

Battery life

Samsung claims up to 10 hours of battery life, and we recorded 11 hours when testing the Surface Pro 4. Whether the Samsung’s 10 hour battery life figure is conservative or not, we don’t yet know, but we’ll have to factor in performance before we can say which device has the best performance-to-battery life ratio. 

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Google Abandons 'End-To-End' Email Encryption Project, Invites Community To Take It Over

Google announced that the “End-to-End” email browser extension project it started three years ago is no longer a “Google project,” and that the community is invited to take it over because the project “has left the nest.” The company also renamed the End-to-End project “E2EMail.”

“End-to-End” Project Abandoned

Back in 2014, Google announced the OpenPGP-based End-to-End project to bring easier to use end-to-end encryption to Gmail and other email services. Yahoo later joined the project as well, but eventually abandoned it, probably for different reasons.

Google started the project to win back the trust of Gmail users, after being accused of being part of the NSA PRISM program, and to show that it cares about its users’ privacy. End-to-end encryption would make email readable only to the users sending each other emails, but not to Google, as it is now the case.

The company developed the project for two years; last year, though, the code contributions seemed to have suddenly stopped. The project has remained untouched on the GitHub repository for almost a year. We’ve contacted Google before to ask if the project has been abandoned or not, but we haven’t gotten clear answers.

Google has now published a blog post in which it renamed “End-to-End” to “E2EMail” and said that it’s no longer a Google product, but a “fully community-driven open source project.”

Key Transparency

Google also mentioned that it recently announced a separate “Key Transparency” project, which could end up being a critical component of E2EMail in the future. One of the problems that appears when you try to make PGP easier to use is that you have to have everyone’s public keys so that the users don’t have to share those keys with each other. However, you also have to ensure that those keys aren’t changed by malicious actors, so you need a system that can be easily audited.

The Key Transparency project, which at least for now seems to be developed and maintained by Google, takes innovations from the Certificate Transparency project and from CONIKS, a new type of key management system developed by Princeton and Stanford researchers, to create a secure key server.

Despite already working on both projects, Google doesn’t seem to have integrated Key Transparency into the E2EMail project yet, and it’s leaving that up to the community. It’s possible the company didn’t integrate it because the Key Transparency project itself is quite new and unproven, or it could be because Google simply didn’t want to expend more resources working on E2EMail.

The company did mention in the blog post that it’s “looking forward to working alongside the community to integrate E2EMail with the Key Transparency server, and beyond.” However, it’s not clear what that means exactly, considering there haven’t been any serious code commits to the End-to-End project from the company in almost a year.

End-To-End Encrypted Emails

Although Google tries not to show it, it does seem that the company is not as focused on bringing end-to-end encryption to its services as it was immediately after the Snowden revelations.

Although the abandonment of the End-to-End tool was evident from the lack of contributions, it was confirmed when the company chose to adopt S/MIME for enterprise users over OpenPGP. Google turned even that end-to-end encryption technology into a centralized/hosted one where Google knows the private key of the users and therefore can read the contents of their emails.

Google seems to be removing itself from all end-to-end encryption projects, as it continues to focus on artificial intelligence and more advanced tracking and mining of user data. That means if you want end-to-end encrypted email, you may have to look elsewhere.

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Best external desktop and portable hard disk drives of 2017

Update: We’re constantly updating this buying guide to make sure the very latest – and best – external and portable hard drives are included in this list.

Even in a world graced with cloud storage, there’s still a place in this world for the best external hard drive. Also known as the hard disk drive or HDD, these spinning trays are the most affordable way to pack a massive amount of storage into your PC. Making them external only adds to the practicality of a hard drive, allowing transportation beyond your computer’s enclosure.

All things considered, you don’t need to shell out a monthly subscription fee for iCloud or OneDrive when you can simply purchase an external HDD. Not only is it more affordable in the long-run, but you can get more space for less than even a solid state drive. With hard drives growing more and more capacious every day, it’s only a matter of time before their portable counterparts follow suit.

The question remains, however: how do you know which external HDD fits your needs? Luckily, we’re here to help. In the following list, we’ll discuss external hard drives that are both powerful and premium, affordable yet functional and even a handful that play friendly with the cloud. Let’s begin, shall we?

best external hard drives

1. Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC

Wireless security

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0

NFC security
Rugged design
Not the fastest drive

An external hard drive you can buy without breaking the bank, Buffalo’s MiniStation Extreme NFC could be your match made in heaven.

With compatibility for both Mac and Windows machines, the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC is very flexible, and comes with a rugged case that’s dust and water resistant, along with a built-in USB 3.0 cable.

Not only is your data kept protected from knocks and drops with the rugged shell, but it’s also got 256-bit AES security features and NFC (Near Field Communication) features as well.

Essentially it allows you to unlock the drive to get to your files quickly and easily by tapping the supplied NFC card onto the drive’s body. Pretty neat!

Seagate 5TB

Western Digital My Passport 4TB

Fast speeds

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Large capacity
Good data transfer speeds
WD backup software is basic

The latest generation of the Western Digital My Passport range of external hard drives has landed, coming in sizes from 1TB to 4TB. It features cloud storage and 256-AES encryption, along with WD’s own backup software.

Best of all, it is a very good performer when it comes to data transfer speeds, beating many of its competitor. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t reach the top speeds of solid state external drives, but for external hard drives based on traditional HDDs, this is the drive to get.

Seagate 5TB

3. Seagate 5TB Expansion

Plenty of space

Capacity: 5TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Plenty of storage space
Fast hard drive
Blocky design

Though the Seagate 5TB expansion is older than the above, it also boasts more storage for the price you pay. In fact, you can expect to shell out just under £20 per TB if you’re in the UK or a little less than $24 in the US.

The Seagate 5TB Expansion has 64MB of cache and demands an external power supply unit to get it going.

Unlike many external hard drives, however, it has a 7200RPM unit inside, meaning that is, unless you opt for the more up to date version from Curry’s, which isn’t quite as fast. Great if you want to reduce its power consumption, not so much for everything else. Both drives bolster a two-year warranty.

This drive is ideal for gamers as it complements quite nicely the internal storage of gaming consoles like the Xbox One.

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4. WD My Book Duo 16TB

The most space you can get

Capacity: 16TB | Interface: USB 3.0 x 2

Huge amounts of space
RAID support
Need two USB 3.0 ports free

If you’re looking for the absolute largest capacity external hard drive, then the WD My Book Duo 16TB is the one to get, offering a huge 16TB of storage space over two hard drives.

If you don’t mind sacrificing some of the ample storage space you can set the drives up in a RAID array, so you have file backups of your files should one of the drives die.

This USB 3.0 drive has many of the features of a fully-fledged NAS device (including a high price), and if you have a router with a USB 3.0 port you could use this as a network attached storage device in its own right.

The device, which comes with two-year warranty, has 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro).

Worth noting that the enclosure used is fully serviceable and that WD ships the drive already pre-formatted for Windows users (NTFS).

5. OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini

Super-fast storage

Capacity: 1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB or empty enclosure | Interface: Thunderbolt 2 x 2

Great build quality
Very good speeds
No use to non-Thunderbolt devices
Free software is Mac-only

If you work with a lot of large files, such as videos, then the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini is an excellent external storage solution. It supports up to four 2.5-inch drives, and can be bought with SSDs already installed, or as an empty enclosure.

It comes with two Thunderbolt 2 ports for extremely quick read and write speeds, so you can edit files on the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini’s hard drives as quickly and smoothly as if they were located on your internal hard drives. You can also daisy chain a number of OWC ThunderBay 4 Minis together using Thunderbolt 2 cables for even more storage.

The price we show above is for the empty enclosure.

Read our full review: OWC ThunderBay 4.

6. Seagate Innov8 8TB

Combines capacity and portability

Capacity: 8TB | Interface: USB 3.0 and USB Type-C

High capacity
No need for power supply with USB-C
USB-C support still in infancy

The Seagate 8TB Innov8 range is worth a mention. It is a normal-size 3.5-inch desktop hard disk drive but doesn’t need an external power supply to run.

Instead, it needs to be powered via a USB Type-C connector without which it won’t work. It does pave the way for customers to move staggering amount of data around without being tethered.

What sets the Innov8 apart from the competition is the design. All metal with fins to keep the drive cool and a minimalist approach to the drive’s construction.

If absolute performance coupled with ease of use is what you are yearning for, then for a small business user or someone working in the creative industry, the Innov8 is a no-brainer.

Others will probably settle for far cheaper but less elegant options like the WD My Book mentioned previously.

Read our full review: Seagate Innov8 8TB external hard disk drive

7. Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB

Best performance

Capacity: 5TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Very fast data transfer speeds
You pay more for the Mac-formatted version

If you want to combine speed and capacity, then the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive 5TB is definitely worth considering. It comes in a range of sizes up to 8TB and it beats the competition when it comes to read and write speeds as well.

On top of this storage and speed, you get a decent amount of peace of mind thanks to Seagate’s lower than average failure rates, especially in bigger capacity hard drives.

You also get backup software, and the drive is compatible with both Windows and Macs, though it’s formatted for Windows out of the box unless you go for a Mac-specific hard drive – though these are more expensive.

8. Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro

Wireless wonder

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0 and Wi-Fi

Wireless AC
USB 3.0 support
Good battery life
Expensive due to Wi-Fi features

Though our feelings were lukewarm on the My Passport Wireless of yesteryear, the 2016 “Pro” variant of the HDD restores faith in the Western Digital name. The design, for instance, has been overhauled and no longer resembles the My Passport Ultra nor My Passport for Mac. Instead, there’s now a more premium feel to the My Passport Wireless Pro. It resembles an external DVD drive, but considering the onboard SD card slot (and a dedicated SD transfer button), don’t worry about getting it confused with anything else. For photographers, this is the Wireless Pro’s killer app.

For everyone else, there’s a massive 6,400mAh battery built into the device. This lets the drive be used completely free of wires over 2.4GHz or 5GHz channels. When it’s wired up, however, don’t expect cutting edge connection tech, as the My Passport Wireless Pro uses only USB Type-B to Type-A. Completely absent is the latest and greatest USB-C connection.

Where the My Passport Wireless Pro compromises on affordability, it’s able to benefit in just about every other area. Of course, not everyone needs a wireless hard drive or SD card support, but for those who do, it’s almost essential.

Read the full review: Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro
 

9. LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB

USB-C star

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB-C

Fast USB-C connection
Great design
You need USB-C ports to take advantage of speed

You may have stumbled upon the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive when perusing the Apple website for USB-C accessories. There’s a reason for that: the Porsche Design ships with both USB Type-C to Type-A and USB Type-C to Type-C connectors, making it a worthy candidate regardless of your setup.

It’s expensive for an external hard drive, don’t get us wrong, especially if you’re in the market for the top-end 4TB option. On the other hand, this is an HDD that could theoretically output speeds of up to 5Gbps, if it weren’t hindered by the limits of SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) technology.

Comprising five 800GB platters in a 15mm form factor, the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile is an excellent challenger to the Seagate M3, though it’s notably bigger in both weight and dimensions.

Sure, it packs an extra convenience factor in the form of USB-C, but it should be noted that the Porsche Design Mobile is still limited to USB 3.0 speeds. Plus, even an aluminum finish can’t prevent it from clashing with your Rose Gold MacBook. Nevertheless, LaCie’s offering is the best USB-C external HDD money can buy, at least for the time being.

Read our full review: LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive 4TB
 

10. iStorage diskAshur 2TB

Best for security

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Physical security
Rugged design

Typically, iStorage hard disks cater best to governments and multinational organizations around the world, for good reason too – they offer tight security like no other drives around.

If someone tries to tamper with your iStorage drive, you can configure it to self-desturct. What’s more, the data is encrypted by the 256-bit AES protocol, with multiple forms of protection in place to ensure the bad guys don’t get in no matter how persistent. When you consider all that extra security, the prices won’t scare you away either.

Sure, it’s still expensive, four times the price of an equivalent 2TB drive, and unlikely to be the most nimble performer. But, you’re paying for a product that’s virtually uncrackable. Bear in mind, though, you’ll get no help from the manufacturer if things go awry and you lose your password.

Read our full review: iStorage diskAshur DT

Gabe Carey and Matt Hanson also contributed to this article

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Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9 Oversized-ATX Motherboard Review

Featuring Four-Way SLI, Killer DoubleShot-X3 Pro networking, Creative Sound Blaster ZxRi audio, and an EKWB water block covering its 22-Phase CPU voltage regulator, can the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9 design and firmware live up to its lofty specs?

The Triple Quad Miracle?

There isn’t really anything astounding about a high-end motherboard, since it’s technically possible to continue adding features until you run out of ideas, rather than space. The ATX specification is large enough to throw just about any single CPU configuration into, and manufacturers are able to either spread out beyond the standard depth or add more layers of circuits when too many traces are packed too closely together. Gigabyte opts for the former in its Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9, extending the front edge an extra 0.5” (12.6mm) beyond ATX spec to a final 10.375” (263.5mm) depth.

The extra space means that we’re not even witnessing a packaging miracle.

Designed to fit most ATX cases and requiring only the ATX-standard nine standoffs, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9 is still endowed by Gigabyte with the E-ATX label. This deviation is sure to cause arguments among builders, which is why I’ve brought back my previously-discussed ATX+ label. The + is not an official form factor but instead indicates that this board is larger than ATX, and that builders should actually read the dimensions. Since it’s far closer to ATX than to E-ATX, it’s more accurate to say that it’s oversized ATX rather than undersized E-ATX.

The Triple part (from our section heading above) comes from the three Killer Network controllers that are able to work together as a team, intelligently placing the most demanding apps (usually game packets) on the lowest latency connection and using packet prioritization to assure that they’re first to be processed. In a configuration dubbed Killer DoubleShot-X3 Pro, the controllers include two Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet and one Killer 1535 802.11ac, all connected via PCIe. Other rear-panel connections include Thunderbolt 3 over Type-C, USB 3.1 over the same connector, USB 3.1 Type A, five USB 3.0 (aka USB 3.1 Gen1), DisplayPort, HDMI, Digital Optical audio, analog audio, and PS/2 serial.

Audio is provided by Creative’s Sound Blaster ZxRi chip, fed through three upgradable Op-Amps (OPA2134 front, NJM2114 left and right rear), using both Nichicon and WIMA capacitors. A pair of gain switches select 2.5x or 6x for front-panel and rear-panel headphones, and the circuit is Sound Blaster certified by Creative to produce at least a 120:1 decibel signal-to-noise ratio.

Opposite the audio section is the overclocking section, with a set of voltage detection points along the top edge, and a set of buttons along the front edge. The nondescript buttons are CLR_CMOS and Reset, and two digital panels display debug codes and programmable status readings such as CPU temperature. Another set of LEDs indicate initiation of the CPU, DRAM, graphics, and boot process. Also visible in the photo is one of two 2-pin jacks for included thermal sensor leads.

The Z270X-Gaming 9 is packed with M.2 slots, two U.2 ports, and eight SATA ports. Six of those SATA ports are even paired up to a PCIe 3.0 lane for SATA-Express. While all of that connectivity sounds fantastic by Z270 standards, it’s important to remember that all of the bandwidth is shared over a four-lane interface to the CPU. Furthermore, these can’t be filled simultaneously, as the upper M.2 slot steals resources from SATA ports 3 and 4, while the lower M.2 slot shares its SATA interface with SATA port 0. The lower M.2 slot also shares two PCIe lanes with the upper U.2 connector, dropping both to x2 mode. And there’s no free lunch on the two SATA ports added via ASMedia’s ASM1061, since both of those ports share the controller’s single PCIe 2.0 x1 interface.

Around the bottom corner from the U.2 ports, a pair of BIOS mode switches allow users to disable Gigabyte’s dreaded auto-reflash function and instead select manually between two firmware ROMs.

The Z270X-Gaming 9 uses a PEX8747 to repeat the CPU’s 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes to two slots, after which a set of automatic lane switches allows the board to support four cards in x8 mode across its four PCIe x16-length slots. The controller’s “Multicast” function repeats data to two or four cards without running into any bandwidth sharing concerns, since all of the cards in an SLI or CrossFire array require identical data. The same can’t be said for the board’s second PCIe switch, the ASM1184e, which splits one PCIe 2.0 lane across both PCIe x1 slots.

Since most graphics cards have double-slot brackets, four-way SLI configurations typically require eight-slot cases. Two-way SLI is an easier fit, and users benefit from the added space it provides for graphics coolers up to 3.1” (78mm) thick.

Layout concerns are few and minor, such as the front-panel HD Audio header being located in the bottom-rear corner, just barely beyond reach of the cables of certain poorly-configured cases. Placing a graphics card in the lower slot will conceal several switches and headers, but the cables that go to those headers can usually be smashed flat without breaking the connection. Fan cables often have longer plastic ends, but the two affected headers are pushed all the way to the front of the bottom edge. And since the wires of USB 3.0 cables can’t be bent over, those headers are both located above all the expansion cards.

The EKWB water block that covers the CPU voltage regulator and PEX8747 multicast PCIe switch is also designed to work with air-based cross-draft CPU coolers, just in case you don’t have an open loop yet.

The Z270X-Gaming 9 includes a lighted I/O shield, two RGBW case-LED extension cables, an Aorus case badge, a G-Connect front-panel cable clip, HDMI and DisplayPort dust plugs, an alternative LED cover for the motherboard’s forward edge, six SATA cables with braided sleeves, two cable straps, a CrossFire bridge, SLI bridges in HB, 4-way, and 3-way configurations, a Wi-Fi antenna, two temperature monitor cables with thermistor tips, a variety of cable stickers, a “keep out” doorknob card, and a full set of printed documentation.

MORE: Best Motherboards

MORE: How To Choose A Motherboard

MORE: All Motherboard Content

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OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini

The OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini is a professional-grade storage device that aims to make data transfer between you PC and the hard drives it contains extremely quick.

It achieves this through a number of ways. First of all, it’s built with solid state drives in mind and comes with four 240GB SSDs included. Because solid state drives have no moving parts, they can write and read data much faster than traditional hard drives.

The OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini comes with four easily-removable trays to install 2.5-inch drives in to take advantage of RAID. In certain configurations, such as RAID 0, you can use multiple disks at the same time, as if they were one drive. 

This can drastically speed up data transfers, and is useful for video and image processing. However, RAID 0 doesn’t offer data redundancy, so if one drive fails, you lose your data. 

Other forms of RAID, such as RAID 1, mirrors the data across drives, so if one drive fails, you have a backup of the file on three other drives. The disadvantage is that you cut down on storage space – instead of 960GB of space, we’d only have 240GB of space. 

What type of RAID array you choose will depend on what you want to use the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini for – as super-fast storage or for backing up your data. Thankfully, the included SoftRAID software makes it easy to set up the RAID solution – though it must be noted that it’s only compatible with Mac machines.

The 1TB version of the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini is priced at £350 (around $440, AU$570), though you can also buy it in larger capacities.

Thunderbolt

The OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini comes with two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which are much faster than USB 3.0 – four times faster in fact, with twice the throughput of USB 3.1. 

Our Thunderbolt 2 vs USB 3.0 vs eSATA guide goes into more detail over the benefits of Thunderbolt 2 (20Gbps vs 10Gbps). This increase in bandwidth means you can transfer large files, such as 4K video files, to the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini, while simultaneously playing the video file on a Thunderbolt-connected monitor.

If you have a recent Mac or MacBook (from around late 2013) such as the MacBook Air, 5K iMac or the 2013 MacBook Pro Retina, then you should have a Thunderbolt 2 (or even Thunderbolt 3 if your Mac is very recent) port included.

Earlier Macs from between 2011 – 2013 may have an original Thunderbolt port, which can still be used with the Thunderbolt 2 connection of the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini, but transfer speeds won’t be quite as fast.

Non-Mac PCs also sometimes come with Thunderbolt ports, though these are rarer. This means that the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini is probably of more interest to Apple owners than Windows users, though with its focus on fast speeds for storing large media files, this may not limit its target audience, as many creatives favor Apple devices.

The Thunderbolt 2 support also allows you to daisy-chain up to six ThunderBays together, allowing you to easily (though expensively) expand your storage

Features and specification

As well as Thunderbolt 2 and RAID support, the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini comes with a sturdy aluminum case that will keep the drives (and the files you store on them) secure. The case can also be locked (a key is provided), which will help protect your data against all but the most determined thieves.

The case of the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini has also been designed to keep the drives inside cool when under load, with a vented front that allows cool air to flow through the device. A 60mm fan also helps with air flow. The case also includes anti-vibration feet, which along with the design of the drive bays, helps eliminate noise when it’s in use.

Performance

So how does the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini perform? To test it we plugged it in to a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 2 ports, and configured the drives using the included SoftRAID software as RAID 0 – the fastest RAID array, though also the least secure as it doesn’t feature data redundancy.

In our disk speed benchmarks we saw write speeds of 845MB/s and read speeds of 1112.5MB/s. These are very good speeds, and show what a performance increase RAID 0 provides. With these sorts of speeds you’ll be able to move, open and edit large files on the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini pretty quickly, with the speed feeling like the drives were installed in your Mac, rather than in external housing.

We also ran the benchmark tests with the drives in RAID 5. This RAID setup is recommended for people who want to use the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini as a secure backup location for irreplaceable files, as it sacrifices speed and storage space for data security and redundancy. But how much of a sacrifice does it make? Quite a bit, as it turns out, at least when it comes to write speeds, dropping to 413MB/s (with read speeds dropping to 890MB/s).

Because of these results, we’d recommend the OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini as a way of expanding your Mac (or Windows PC equipped with Thunderbolt 2 ports) storage, rather than as a bullet-proof backup solution.

The SoftRAID software is decent enough, and makes setting up the drives in a RAID array easy, and the interface is straightforward and clear.

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