How to make Windows 10 notifications last a little (or a lot) longer

One of the nicest features that Microsoft added to Windows 10 is the revamped Action Center and the new notifications system. Instead of just seeing a bunch of glowing icons on your taskbar, Windows 10 notifications pop out of the bottom-right side of the screen. For some people, however, these notifications might be coming and going too quickly.

By default, Microsoft sets Windows 10 notifications to pop out and stay visible for five seconds before disappearing into the Action Center. That’s a good amount of time for most people, but if you'd prefer that notifications stick around just a little bit longer, you can make that so.

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PC sales in reverse gear, slumping to lowest level in a decade

PC sales in reverse gear, slumping to lowest level in a decade

Another round of figures on PC shipments have been released, and following the strong trend of late, there's more bad news for computer manufacturers.

In fact, Gartner's figures for the first quarter of 2016 show a 9.6% drop compared to Q1 of 2015, with total shipments falling to 64.8 million units. That marks the sixth straight quarter in which the analyst firm has observed a decline.

Perhaps the most worrying point of all is the fact that the last time PC shipment numbers dropped below 65 million units was in 2007 – nearly a decade ago now. That's a hell of a long time in the fast-moving world of tech.

Scary slump

So why the major slump? Folks simply aren't replacing their PCs as fast as they used to, with the upgrade cycle lengthening, helped by the fact that hardware is more resilient against becoming obsolete these days. Smartphones have become the priority for people spending their cash on upgrades, too, rather than PCs.

In a broader sense, global economic turbulence has continued to prove problematic, as have unfavourable currency fluctuations.

Gartner also noted that when it comes to the business world, organisations are still testing the waters and formulating upgrade programs, and have not yet started the move to Windows 10. This is expected to happen towards the end of this year, and companies upgrading could also be refreshing their hardware which might help to drive sales.

Right now, though, Windows 10 isn't making much of an impact, and indeed as we've previously discussed it could be a drag factor – because those who have upgraded to Microsoft's newest OS are getting a 'new computer' experience, as it were, without actually having to buy a new PC.

Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, observed: "Vendors that had a strong consumer focus struggled to increase sell in shipments. There was no particular motivation for US consumers to purchase PCs in the first quarter of 2016. There have been increased sales of two-in-one PCs, but not enough to offset the decline in desktop and traditional notebook sales."

The theme of convertible PCs doing better is again a repeated one, and 2-in-1 devices are expected to make good progress over the course of 2016.

Some stability

When it came to the UK, there was some slightly more heartening news as Gartner said that "consumer demand remained stable" as it did in Germany, despite European PC shipments falling 10% year-on-year in total, with EMEA shipment numbers falling to 19.5 million units.

There were another couple of bright spots aside from convertible PCs, and once again one of them was Apple's Mac computers, which managed year-on-year growth of 1% to reach 4.6 million units shipped. Asus also grew 1.5% to hit 5.4 million units, and these two companies were in fourth and fifth place when it came to the top PC vendors.

Lenovo remains top dog with a 19.3% market share, despite its shipment numbers seeing a major drop of 7.2% compared to Q1 2015. HP and Dell are in second and third place respectively.

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Updated: The very best Nvidia GTX 950M, 960M, 965M, 970M and 980M laptops for gamers

Updated: The very best Nvidia GTX 950M, 960M, 965M, 970M and 980M laptops for gamers


Update: We've added the beefy Origin EON17-SLX to our list of 980M machines.

It's much easier to identify a gaming laptop that matches your requirements these days. Nvidia's GeForce 900 series of mobile GPUs now includes the GTX 950M at the lower end, followed by the GTX960M, GTX 965M, GTX 970M and GTX 980M. Which one you'll need depends on your budget, how modern the games are that you want to install and what resolution you want to play them in.

As a rule of thumb, anything up to a GTX 965M will be more than suitable for 1080p gaming, albeit with varying levels of graphical detail and inconsistent frame rates in texture-heavy titles such as Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. If you won't accept anything less than 60 fps with every graphics options ticked, expect to splash out on a 970M or 980M-equipped laptop - especially if you've set your sights beyond full HD.

Nvidia GTX970M

To help you find out which mobile GPU is for you, we've rounded up the best laptops to feature each chip. We're basically the aspirin to your gaming laptop headache.

GTX 980M

The GTX 980M is the current cream of the crop as far as Nvidia's mobile graphics chips go. (We'll take a look at Nvidia's laptop-bound GTX 980 another time.) The 980M is around 75% as powerful as a desktop GTX 980, which gives you some idea of how meaty it is. The 980M uses a 256-bit memory interface, packs 2,048 CUDA cores and can boost its clock speed up to 1,216MHz. Most laptops with a 980M inside are paired with a large amount of video memory, allowing you to play titles built on massive textures sans slowdown.

origin EON15-X 960M

Origin EON 15-X

The Origin EON 15-X chews through anything you throw at it thanks to its GTX 980M, which is backed up by a huge 8GB of video memory. Having that much vRAM onboard means you won't have to worry about the laptop coping with high-res texture-heavy titles like The Witcher 3, GTA V or Fallout 4. And yes: they all look stunning on the EON 15-X's 15.6-inch 1080p matte display.

MSI GT80 Titan 960M

Gigabyte P35X v5

If you're looking for a powerful gaming laptop that's also compact, the P35X v5 should be on your radar. Its GTX 980 GPU packs a punch thanks to its 8GB of video memory, which you can put to good use on its impressive 4K display. (A 1080p panel is also offered as a choice.) The P35X v5's solid benchmark scores beat those produced by more expensive 980M-equipped rival machines, so if you care more about what's under the hood than the hood itself, it's well worth a look-in.

MSI GT80 Titan 960M

MSI GT80 Titan

The MSI GT80 Titan lives up to its name. It houses not one, but two GTX 980M GPUs configured in SLI and more than delivers the horsepower required for intense gaming sessions. It's quite easily the heaviest GTX 980M-powered computer on the block, but you get a full-sized mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches under the keycaps to make up for that sprained back you'll get after lugging it around.


Origin EON17-SLX

A beast and no mistake, the Origin EON17-SLX combines a stunning display with blazingly-fast SSDs and muscular graphics courtesy of Nvidia's GTX 980M inside. It's all wrapped up in a chassis that's not particularly portable, but is actually nice to look at unlike other gaming tanks. It also features Nvidia G-Sync display tech, desk-quaking audio and an endless list of high-end components including Intel's sixth-generation Skylake processor.

MSI GT80 Titan 960M

Origin EON17-X

Like the MSI GT80 Titan, the Origin EON17-X is a true desktop replacement with a desktop processor inside. On the outside it's basically a larger EON15-X, featuring a 17.3-inch display (with G-Sync support) and a top-end sixth-generation Intel Skylake processor. Its 980M lends it some of the best performance stats we've seen from a laptop thanks to its massive 8GB video memory buffer, and if you're not keen on wearing a gaming headset, the EON17-X's speakers impress too.

Alienware 17 960M

Dell Alienware 17 (2015)

Angular, powerful and delivering attitude in spades, the Alienware 17 has everything fans of Dell's gaming systems want. Packing a large 17-inch display, its GTX 980M chip inside is backed up by an acceptable 4GB of video memory and 16GB of DDR3L RAM. If you're seeking even more power, Alienware's Amplifier lets you connect the laptop to an external GPU enclosure to draw power from a desktop-grade graphics card.

Alienware 17 960M

Acer Predator 15

A laptop that looks like it was built by gamers for gamers, the 980M-powered Acer Predator 15 has a chassis that would light up any LAN party. You probably won't want to bung its massive angular frame into a backpack, but if you do, it's one heck of a portable powerhouse. An Intel Core i7-6700HQ and 4GB of GDDR5 RAM paired with a whopping 32GB of DDR4 of main memory means you'll have no trouble running the latest games.

Acer Predator 17

Acer Predator 17

Trading portability for power, Acer's Predator 17 is the Predator 15, amplified. Featuring a display that measures 17.3 inches across the diagonal, this supersized gaming tank is the biggest, baddest and reddest in Acer's range. Packing Intel's sixth-generation Skylake processor clocked at 2.6GHz, the Predator 17's GTX 980M GPU (with 4GB of video memory) has enough power to churn through the latest games at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution for some time to come. A nifty cooling system keeps Acer's machine under heavy load, but it weighs a ton — so be prepared to hit the gym.

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GTX 970M

Like its desktop equivalent, the GTX 970, the 970M does a better job of balancing performance and cost than the flagship 980M above it. Most models still offer plenty of video memory, but the 970M is less capable of hitting the high notes once you venture beyond full HD. Still, it's the ultimate semi-affordable solution for 1080p/ultra gaming on the go. The 970M packs 1,280 CUDA cores, uses a 192-bit memory interface and features a base clock of 924MHz (plus boost).

Asus ROG G752

Asus ROG G752

A silver-styled laptop with the strength of a silverback gorilla, the ROG G752 packs power and style. While not the lightest of laptops, the GTX 970M inside ensures eye-popping visuals and smooth frame rates courtesy of its G-Sync screen. The G752's display tops out at 1080p, which helps it score points in the value department at the expense of crisper visuals on the desktop and in games.


Schenker XMG P506

The XMG P506 isn't the prettiest 970M-powered Nvidia notebook, but it packs a punch and doesn't cost the world compared to gaming laptops with similar specs. Its GPU is backed up by a beefy 6GB of video memory, which produces benchmark scores that aren't a million miles away from more powerful (and expensive) 980M models. Its 15.6-inch display is bright and attractive, but at 5.5 pounds (2.5kgs) the P506 isn't the most portable option around.

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 960M

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro

The MSI GS60 Ghost Pro is a stylish machine with a 1080p display. It pairs a 970M with an Intel Core i7 6700HQ Skylake processor making it one of the most capable full HD laptops we've ever tested. It's something of a multimedia all-rounder too thanks to its excellent screen and formidable speakers - plus it has one of the most comfortable keyboards doing the rounds on a gaming laptop.

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 970M

Aorus X7 Pro-Sync

This monster from Aorus features Nvidia's frame-smoothing G-Sync tech, which eliminates screen tearing to make gameplay super-smooth. On the inside there's a 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ processor and - wait for it - dual GTX 970M GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 video memory configured in SLI. Fashioned out of a futuristic lightweight alloy, the X7 Pro-Sync is a tempting blend of power and semi-portability.

Aorus X3 Plus V3 970M

Aorus X3 Plus V3

The slimmest of the lot, the Aorus X3 Plus V3 is a slimline computer that features a GTX 970M chip under the hood, one that's backed up by a whopping 6GB of GDDR5 memory. With that amount, 4K gaming is possible on some titles. Tune down the resolution down a notch or two and you can play any title out there. Just make sure you pack a gaming mouse because the Aorus X3 Plus V3's glass trackpad is a confusing and at times unusable pain point.

Razer Blade 2015 970M

Razer Blade 2015

Styled like a MacBook Pro but packing the power of a portable battlestation, the 2015 Razer Blade is primed for 3K gaming – though you'll want to lower the resolution down from its native 3,200 x 1,800 when playing recent titles if you want to hit 60 fps. Its GTX 970M is paired with 3GB of GDDR5 video memory, and Intel's older Core i7-4720HQ features as the processor. It's highly likely that Razer will update the Blade with Intel's sixth-generation Skylake processors in 2016, but if you can't wait that long then the company's inventive Blade Stealth laptop and docking station combination might prove a tempting alternative.

GTX 965M

The GTX 965M is the newest mobile graphics chip on the block from Nvidia. Lying one place below the 970M, laptops housing a 965M are often equally as affordable as the 960M while bagging you a handful more frames (or more, depending on the title), compared to the that chip. The 965M is configured with 1,024 CUDA cores and has a base clock of 944MHz (plus boost), with a 128-bit memory interface.

Aorus X5

Aorus X5

A thin-and-light 15-inch gaming laptop that's compact enough to slip into a backpack, the Aorus X5 brings the power. The machine somehow manages to squeeze in a pair of GTX 965M GPUs under its aluminium chassis, which measures under an inch thick. Packing a total of 8GB GDDR5 vRAM, the X5 is equipped to tear through games with large textures - and you can even go beyond Full HD thanks to its gorgeous 2,880 x 1,620 pixel-resolution WQHD+ display.

Gigabyte P55K V4

Gigabyte P55K V4

The Gigabyte P55K V4 isn't the prettiest gaming laptop out there, but it packs a punch. Intel's fifth-generation Core i7-5700HQ (quad-core, 2.7GHz up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost) Broadwell processor is paired with a GTX 965M (2GB GDDR5) and 8GB of main memory, which all helps games look terrific on the P55K V4's accurate IPS display.

Gigabyte P35K V3

Gigabyte P35K v3

The second Gigabyte entry our list of GTX 965M-powered laptops dials down performance in one or two areas to make it more attractive for budget buyers. The P35K v3 packs a slightly older (but still very capable) Intel Core i7-4270HQ, and its GeForce GTX 965M's 4GB of video memory is actually double that in the 2GB in the P55K V4.

GTX 960M

Lying bang in the middle of the mainstream and performance sector, the Nvidia GTX 960M suffers a significant dip in performance in some games compared to the 970M due to its considerably fewer CUDA cores (640 versus the 970M's 1,280). With a 128-bit memory interface and a base clock of 1,096MHz (plus boost), the 960M is a still a great option for 1080p gaming and models sporting the chip are often (but not always - see the HP Omen) a good deal more affordable than their 970M-equipped competitors.

Dell XPS 15

Dell XPS 15

It isn't a gaming laptop, but Dell's XPS 15 makes for a mean 1080p gaming machine thanks to its beefy Skylake processor, 960M and incredible 4K InfinityEdge display. The XPS 15 doesn't weigh a ton and is the most compact 15-inch laptop on the block due its display's thin bezels, making it a great choice if you're frequently carting your gaming machine around in a backpack.

HP Omen

HP Omen

Many gaming laptops with a 960M inside don't feel the need to be stylish, but not the HP Omen. Steeply tapered edges and lights embedded around the chassis make for one of the most eye-catching models out there, and with 4GB of GDDR4 RAM and 16GB of main memory, there's enough grunt under the hood to take on today's most demanding games. It's pricier than other 960M-equipped laptops out there, but style-conscious gamers might think it's worth it.

MSI GE72 Apache Pro

MSI GE72 Apache Pro

The MSI GE72 Apache Pro is an aggressively-styled machine with performance to match. It features plenty of storage for games and is a strong performer thanks to a sixth-generation Intel I7-6700HQ Skylake CPU under the hood paired with a GTX 960M (2GB vRAM) and up to 16GB of DRR4 RAM.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000

Dell Inspiron 15 7000

Affordable yet powerful, the Inspiron 15 7000 deploys Nvidia's GTX 960M to great effect. The mobile GPU's healthy 4GB of GDDR5 video memory means the Inspiron can chew through games packing large textures. If you can cope with its bulky chassis and slow hard drive, the Inspiron 15 7000's great display, speakers and battery life all add to its gaming credentials.

GTX 950M

Nvidia's GTX 950M is the lowest we would recommend you go if you're on the hunt for a gaming notebook. You're looking 1080p gaming squarely in the eye with this mobile chip, but be prepared to tune down some graphics settings (and the resolution) on more recent titles to hit 60 fps. The GTX 950M packs 640 CUDA cores and a base clock speed of 914 (plus boost), with a 128-bit memory interface.

HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook

HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook

One of the best value gaming laptops out there, the HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook is a mean green gaming machine. It features Intel's new Skylake i7-6700HQ processor which also resides in Acer's Predator 15, though the 950M makes for a comparatively modest gaming machine. 60Hz gaming isn't out of the question, but you're more likely to achieve it playing titles from one or two years back and with the graphics turned down a notch or two.

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Should the enterprise consider the Apple Mac again?

Should the enterprise consider the Apple Mac again?

Introduction and changes in enterprise computing

While Apple sells millions and millions of iPhones and iPads, the Mac is more of an oddity in business, especially as companies grow. What might start as a few people with MacBooks on a college campus eventually becomes business users all running Windows on a laptop.

Except for this: IBM recently announced that it is switching to the Mac. And so did SAP. And, as Uber and Buzzfeed have grown, they've stubbornly stayed with the Mac platform, despite having hundreds of users. In fact, the Mac is reappearing in the enterprise. One big reason is that the Mac now offers management software that is much easier to deploy than ever before.

Setup and support

Starting with the serial number for a new Mac, large companies are able to begin the management process before a new Mac is even shrink-wrapped and shipped out.

Another reason is that the user interface is still better. According to IBM, only 5% of tech support calls are related to Mac problems. That's spurred renewed interest in the OS, and a few analysts have told me they see an uptick in adoption.

Yet enterprise users can be still incredulous. PC laptops are still the most prevalent portables at airports, high-tech companies, and hotels. They're cheaper (usually by a few hundred dollars or pounds, possibly more), which makes them more common. Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system is a hit. It has already been installed on 270 million devices worldwide with the goal of landing on one billion in the next few years. Microsoft owns the business market, or so we've been told again and again.


An open door for Apple?

However, that's starting to change. Gartner analyst Michael Silver, who is the Research VP for Mobile and Endpoint Computing, says most businesses need Windows for about half of the apps they use, despite what you may have heard about the cloud taking over. Yet, as the shift to the cloud makes local enterprise apps less and less viable, the Mac could have an open door.

"We do see the enterprise changing, they are broadening who can have the Mac as an exception to the rule," says Silver. "And, we companies are more likely to choose the Mac."

For any enterprise considering the Mac again, there are three major reasons to choose the platform, but also three major reasons to avoid it. And we're going to detail those reasons on the next page…

Pros and cons

Reasons to switch

1. User-centred management

There's been a dramatic shift in IT to a more user-centred approach. More and more, IT is not 'on-high' dictating which computer and software you need to use. Because of this shift, there is a new trend in embracing the Mac as just another platform available to end users.

Thomas Saueressig, the SVP and Global Head of IT Services at SAP, says his company has deployed Macs "in a five digit number" of units recently, mostly due to the shift in IT.

"The Mac computer has dramatically changed the perception of IT at SAP. It doesn't matter whether our users start their work day using a mobile device while commuting to work and later on continue working at their desk by using a more powerful machine: it has to be a seamless experience," he says.

2. Cloud backup and restore

Code42 is based in the same US city as JAMF Software. The firm's big differentiator is that it is not a scheduled backup service – it operates in the background, with no intervention from the user, and archives local files automatically as you work without much user intervention.

Justine Bienkowski, the IT Team Lead at Buzzfeed, says one of the key benefits of using Code42 is that employees can travel without fear of losing their work, even if that work involves large video files or graphics files.

She says, if someone were to leave the office in New York and fly to London, but leave the laptop in an airport, it would be possible to have a notebook waiting for the employee with a restored cloud backup ready and installed. "We could set up that computer remotely and have it ready for the employee with everything they need," Bienkowski notes.

3. Low tech support costs

IBM insists that the tech support calls for the Mac are incredibly low. That proved accurate in a visit to the company WhenIWork recently, a software developer which makes a timesheet app. According to reps there, they barely have to do any tech support at all. The only issue they've had is related to the trackpad functions, but those questions are usually about how to make the most out of the swipe features and changing some of the settings.

In fact, the main IT support tech, Adele Gower, is the 'office coordinator' and handles issues like employee training and scheduling visits to the company. There are no IT admins. It's just one company that has decided to deploy only Macs, but it shows how small an IT staff is required with Apple's computers. Similarly, at Buzzfeed, even though the organisation has thousands of employees, there are only a handful of IT staff to support the Mac and another 30-35 users who still rely on Windows.

Not all of Apple's computer range is seen as up-to-date like the iMac

Reasons to avoid

1. Missing Mac skills

Gartner's Michael Silver says one big reason many large companies have not switched to the Mac or do not even consider deploying the platform is that the IT staff do not use the Mac, nor do they have the skills required for management. That's offset by the benefits of using the Mac, which is that JAMF Software and Apple itself make deployment easy, but it still changes the IT landscape. IT leaders view the Mac as yet another platform to support and yet another suite of management tools to purchase.

"Gartner's advice is to get out of the business of providing and managing devices and start providing and managing applications and data users need access to so they can consume them on a variety of devices as they like," says Silver, making the point for either platform.

2. High costs

Regardless of the support and management costs, there's still the nagging problem of acquisition costs. The Mac is more expensive than comparable PCs, although Silver argues that a high-end PC workstation costs about as much as a Mac these days. It's just that many Dell and Lenovo business laptops can costs about $500-$700 (or pretty much the same amount in pounds) and most Macs are twice that much.

3. Outdated hardware

For some IT leaders, the real issue with the Mac platform is that the hardware has become slightly outdated. Indeed, the latest MacBook models use a fifth-generation Intel processor even though Skylake, the sixth generation platform from Intel, is readily available.

Macs do not rely on graphics cards from Nvidia and others – they do not use discrete graphics, which makes them unusable for VR products (like the Oculus Rift) which have just started shipping recently. Only the iMac line has been updated recently to support 4K display resolution.

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Would you buy a MacBook with a touchscreen keyboard?

Would you buy a MacBook with a touchscreen keyboard?

Laptops that turn into tablets, tablets with detachable keyboards... the line between tablet, 2-in-1 and laptop is getting blurrier all the time, and a new patent recently filed by Apple suggests the trend for versatile devices is unlikely to go away any time soon.

We're not talking about a touchscreen display here - we're talking about a touchscreen keyboard underneath the display. Haptic feedback would be used to let you know when you've hit a key, though you'd just be hitting a flat surface with your fingers.

It's essentially an iPad-style on-screen keyboard for your laptop: something Apple is dubbing "zero travel" (because your fingers don't actually travel anywhere). No doubt the MacBook would be able to get even thinner as a result.

Keyboard evolution

Apple patent

While keyboard-lovers would be up-in-arms if the MacBooks adopted this new system, it would allow for flexible, custom keyboards just like those on iOS. The keyboard layout could change depending on the application being used.

Presumably battery life could be improved as well, which may help to sell the idea to MacBook buyers. Ultimately, Apple is unlikely to ditch the physical keyboard altogether - this is more likely to be an optional extra rather than something for its entire range.

As seasoned patent-watchers will know, these filings only show the ideas being thrown around behind the scenes, and there's no guarantee something like this will ever see the light of day - though it's fun to imagine a flat, touch-sensitive laptop keyboard.

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Updated: The 12 best shooters on PC and consoles

Updated: The 12 best shooters on PC and consoles


best shooters

Update: Prefer to play the Halo maps you've designed yourself? Located at number 12 on our list, our latest entry, Halo 5: Forge, accomplishes just that.

What's the best shooter on the PC or consoles ever? That's a good – but loaded – question, as there are a ton that we could address individually. Besides, we would inevitably get it wrong by someone's measure.

So, let's highlight what's out there now that best exemplifies what shooters are all about – with that, re-releases of seminal works are on the table as well.

Honestly, there are so many shooters out there now that you simply shouldn't miss. Here are several first-person shooter (FPS) games that you need to check out immediately on the desktop or a console.

1. Overwatch

Planetside 2

Contrary to popular belief, Overwatch isn't a MOBA. It is, however, a colorful, competitively focused first-person shooter from Blizzard featuring different classes incorporated across a variety of different heroes. Pitting two teams of six players against one another, Overwatch is all about teamwork and cooperation with their respective squads. That said, you'll want to make sure a healthy balance of offensive and defensive characters is secured if you ultimately seek survival.

After all, you wouldn't want to be demolished by the opposing team just because you have too many healers and not enough tanks or vice versa.

2. Battleborn

Planetside 2

Battleborn is the product of a recent influx of "hero shooter" games. Down to the basics, this means in the case of Borderlands developer Gearbox's latest hit, you get to choose between 25 characters each resonating with one of five factions. The heroes range from hulking giants like El Dragón, who body slam their way to victory, to long-range snipers like Marquis. Unlike Borderlands, Battleborn is all about its three competitive multiplayer modes, although there's a single-player/co-op-driven story mode to boot.

I mean who doesn't want to play a game where your character is quite literally referred to as a badass within the actual canon?

3. Planetside 2

Planetside 2

If you don't like throwing money away on games, Planetside 2 is a free-to-play MMO first-person shooter you can get probably get behind. Featuring battles with up to 2,000 players per server, Daybreak Studios certainly bolsters a challenge on its shoulders with this massive PC and PS4 title.

With six different character classes spread across five different continents and three factions, Planetside 2 is exactly what you want if you like shooting people in the face en masse… Virtually speaking.

4. Half-Life 2


Despite being 12 years old now, Half-Life 2 still holds up as an example of primetime video game storytelling, and if you put on your 2004-colored-glasses, some pretty advanced physics technology for its time.

The science-fiction shooter is out on a variety of platforms by now including Xbox 360, PS3, Mac and PC, but you're best off playing it where it feels most at home, on the good old mouse and keyboard-equipped rig. Even if your computer is a literal dinosaur, Gordon Freeman doesn't discriminate -- this frustration-inducing cliffhanger of a story has aged enough at this point where clock speeds are all but irrelevant.

5. Rainbow Six: Siege


Rainbow Six Siege isn't just a technical marvel, it's an ongoing tactical endeavor. Like a handful of other titles on this list, Siege is about teamwork. Without it, it's your standard deathmatch shooter, save some impressively realistic destructible environments. Acting on the goal of either defending or challenging objectives, the five-on-five online co-op game is certainly no Call of Duty. Instead of running around swiftly across maps, dodging bullets and taking headshots, characters are given abilities and limited resources, such as wall reinforcements, barbed wire, traps, and explosives, to overthrow and denounce victory over the opposing team.

6. Destiny


Even with The Taken King expansion pack, Destiny's story doesn't trump Halo's in terms of both quality and coherence. From the get go, however, the game has been a fantastic shooter. Compared to most games on the market, Destiny's shooting never feels unfair or unnatural.

It's simple, streamlined, and it feels damn good to pop some Fallen scum in the head, especially when coordinating a Fireteam Strike with friends.

7. Splatoon


As far as shooters go, Splatoon isn't the most tactical or complex or even that competitive. It's old school Nintendo fun adapted for the 21st century, and though the music can get eerily repetitive and single-player content is on the trim side, Splatoon is one of the few games that can justify a Wii U purchase.

It's bright and colorful, drawing its color palette from something like Sunset Overdrive, but it's also highly original and complete with enough heart and soul to provoke the internalized high-pitched screaming of your inner child.

8. Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide


Like Left 4 Dead with giant rats in place of zombies, Warhammer: Vermintide is an independently published online co-op game from Fatshark whose story is told through levels infested with toxic bomb-equipped rodents called Skaven. To keep each playthrough unique, Vermintide boasts a slew of randomly generated antagonistic furballs whose power only grows with your own. And, while all this takes place, you'll have to balance your four-person team consisting of five different hero types.

9. Halo 5: Guardians

best shooters

In terms of storytelling, Halo 5: Guardians may not have been the best game in the franchise, but it's obvious developer 343 Industries was trying to tackle multiplayer this time around rather than pinning the narrative techniques nearly perfected by Bungie years prior. As a result, Halo 5 is a beautifully rendered example of how Halo multiplayer should be done, and after the short-lived artifact that was Halo 4, the lack of commitment to a proper campaign mode could be seen as a blessing in disguise.

10. Counter-Strike Global Offensive

best shooters

Despite being nearly four years old at this point, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is consistently among the most-played Steam games week on week. Developed by Valve and taking advantage of the highly optimized Source engine, Global Offensive is a team shooter in which players take on a string of objectives in pursuit of in-game currency. The more money you make, the better the weapons and equipment you can buy. As simple a concept as it is, its long-standing community keeps its four online game modes refreshing and worthy of praise.

11. Doom

best shooters

Long gone are the days when Id Software wasn't merely a subsidiary of Bethesda. The famed creators of some of the most significant video games in pop culture history, John Carmack and John Romero, may not be affiliated with the company anymore, but that doesn't mean a great new Doom game wasn't possible. The 2016 reimagining of the Doom franchise, simply titled Doom is a lovely blend of new and old as indicated in our review.

By combining the 90s heavy metal over-the-top gore of the original Doom with the mechanics of modern first-person shooters like Halo, the end result will leave FPS fans grinning from ear to ear through a 14-hour wild ride. And, while the multiplayer component won't leave you breathless, the campaign is riveting enough to keep your attention.

12. Halo 5: Forge

best shooters

Unlike Halo 5: Guardians, Forge comprises building, playing and sharing Halo maps across both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. Notably, this is the first time a mainline Halo title has appeared on PC since the Halo 2 days. And, aside from matchmaking, the beloved Halo 5 multiplayer is pretty much all there – provided you can be the one to arrange the matches.

On top of that, however, you're entitled to a slew of custom-made content from the community as well. What's more, you can design your own levels, maps and experiences too, for players to download and enjoy regardless of platform. For those of us who've avoided Halo in recent years due to the definitive controls for a shooter (mouse and keyboard) being neglected, Halo 5: Forge marks a golden opportunity to jump back in.

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Explained: DirectX 12: what is it, and why it matters to PC gamers

Explained: DirectX 12: what is it, and why it matters to PC gamers

DirectX 12 Explained

For the average gamer, PC game development should appear a tricky business – because it is.

With consoles, developers have one hardware set for each brand (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo): one processor, one graphics chip, predetermined memory, input options and other standard hardware components.

For the PC, however, game developers face an infinite number of hardware configurations. Getting games to work correctly over a vast universe of graphics cards, motherboards and so on seems like pulling a rabbit out of a magician's hat.

This is why, based on what's been whispered over the last decade, developers have swarmed around the consoles: they have decent hardware on the cheap, piracy is low and developers virtually have direct access to the hardware components when programming their software.

This latter feature is key, as developers can squeeze every ounce of performance out of hardware as well as take advantage of built-in component features. This is why Microsoft's DirectX is so important for PC gaming.

directx 12

What in the world is DirectX?

DirectX, simply put, is software developed by Microsoft that talks to a PC's hardware components. Specifically, it's a collection of application programming interfaces, or APIs, designed to handle tasks related to rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics, rendering video and playing audio on the Windows platform.

It rivals OpenGL, another graphics-oriented API suite introduced in 1992, that's open source and in continuous development by the Khronos Group technology consortium. And, while OpenGL is a cross-platform API, it doesn't have the advantage of being native to the Windows platform.

DirectX first appeared in Windows 95. At the time, most PC games ran on the old DOS platform, which allowed developers to "talk" directly to PC components such as the audio card, video card, mouse and more.

Many veteran PC gamers should remember the old days of editing the Config.sys file and the Autoexec.bat file to set up the correct settings environment so that a specific game could work correctly (IRQs and DMAs were edited too, but that's another story).

Windows 95 didn't have this direct line of communication – until Microsoft developed its DirectX suite of APIs.

At first, DirectX didn't take off, as developers mostly relied on OpenGL at the time and programmed efficiently in the DOS environment. Microsoft's graphics API suite gained momentum over time once developers figured out it wouldn't ever go away.

Thus, DirectX seemingly pushed OpenGL out of the way by the time version 9 (aka DX9) hit the PC gaming scene in 2002. Windows XP likely accelerated DirectX's growth, as that particular platform was highly stable and is still in use across the globe. Windows 10 is slated to be just as popular, and with it arrives the latest in the DirectX series, DirectX 12.

directx 12

What DX12 can do for you (and your games)

The drawback with DirectX before this latest release is that it still didn't provide "low-level" access to hardware components as seen with the consoles. To address this, AMD released its Mantle API suite, so that developers could better optimize their software for AMD chips.

Essentially, graphics chips have become just as powerful as the main processor, taking on computing tasks other than graphics rendering.

AMD's Mantle allowed developers to utilize this power in compatible Radeon graphics chips. Mantle was seemingly well-received and performed spectacularly, but it was short lived, as Microsoft quickly released a version of DirectX that finally gave developers better access to hardware.

"DX12's focus is on enabling a dramatic increase in visual richness through a significant decrease in API-related CPU overhead," said Nvidia's Henry Moreton last year. "Historically, drivers and OS software have managed memory, state, and synchronization on behalf of developers. However, inefficiencies result from the imperfect understanding of an application's needs. DX12 gives the application the ability to directly manage resources and state, and perform necessary synchronization. As a result, developers of advanced applications can efficiently control the GPU, taking advantage of their intimate knowledge of the game's behavior."

By dumping more tasks onto the graphics chip, the main processor has less to do, thus the game isn't bogged down by what's going on in the operating system's background. The more cores the better, meaning a processor with two cores (aka two processors crammed into one package) isn't quite as perky as a processor with four cores.

The same is true with a graphics chip, and you can get a speed boost if you install two of the same graphics chip into a system (known as SLI via Nvidia and CrossFire via AMD). With DirectX 12, games will likely see better performance because the load is tossed between the multiple cores simultaneously instead of dumping loads onto one core at a time.

This is a big deal, as DirectX 11 doesn't take advantage of multiple cores in this fashion, thus a single core is doing all the work while the others remain idle. The days of having a single CPU core and a single GPU core went out in the early aughts, and Microsoft is finally getting up to speed with this latest DirectX release.

Look at it this way: computers have moved from a single-lane to an eight-lane superhighway, allowing the CPU to throw rendering and compute commands to the GPU faster than ever before. For the gamer, that means better framerates and a better image quality.

directx 12

Want DX12? Better get on Windows 10

The beauty of DirectX 12 is that it's a native API of Windows 10. In turn, Windows 10 is used on a multitude of devices from desktops, to laptops, to tablets, to phones and even on the Xbox One. DirectX 12 is also backwards-compatible to some degree, allowing PC gamers to play their favorite titles without having to rip out their graphics card for a new "compatible" model (in most cases).

If you want a more detailed explanation of DirectX 12's three key three areas, check out Microsoft's DirectX 12 blog here, written by Matt Sandy. In a nutshell, he outlines what's called a pipeline state representation, work submission, and resource access.

He also provides a chart revealing that DirectX 12 provides a 50% improvement in CPU utilization over DirectX 11, and a better distribution of work across multiple sequences of programmed instructions, or threads.

The good news here is that there are a number of PC games that are already taking advantage of DirectX 12. These include Ashes of the Singularity, The Elder Scrolls Online, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Hitman among others. Quantum Break is expected to support the new API as well as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Star Citizen, Forza Motorsport 6: Apex and several others.

Please keep in mind that this is a very simplified explanation of what DirectX 12 brings to the PC gaming table. Essentially, this API should provide better performance in games that support it, but that also means developers will likely have to shell out patches to bring their titles up to DirectX 12 speed, if possible.

GPU providers AMD and Nvidia are already knee-deep in support with their drivers, so it's just a matter of time before we really see the benefits of what DirectX 12 offers.

If you have yet to upgrade to Windows 10, DirectX 12 is as fine a reason as any to do so. We've also seen no reason for Microsoft to bring DX12 support to older versions of Windows. So, if you want to play the latest games at their best, you might not have a choice regardless.

Then again, given that it's free and is essentially a souped-up Windows 7, it shouldn't be all that tough of a transition – especially in the name of better games.

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Grab a 960GB SanDisk SSD for just £160 right now

Grab a 960GB SanDisk SSD for just £160 right now

Amazon has been introducing its new PC Gaming Store with a round of hardware deals this week and for today only you can pick up a SanDisk Ultra II 960GB SSD for just £159.99.

That's one of the best SSD deals we've seen in a long time, with a hefty saving of £40 compared to the cheapest price you can pick it up for at other PC hardware retailers.

SanDisk is a well-known name in solid state drives with a great reputation. And it's got good form on reliability and robustness too, with its Ultra Plus range containing the most consistent SSDs we've ever tested.

The Ultra II is a standard 2.5-inch SSD, running on the SATA 6Gbps interface. And with its rated 550MB read and 500MB write speeds that means it's capable of performing about as fast as the these sorts of drive are able to.

You need to stretch to an expensive PCIe drive if you really want to go much faster.

This 960GB version is running an eight-channel Marvell 88SS9189 controller so won't suffer the SandForce woes you might have experienced with old SSDs and their inability to cope with incompressible file formats like media content.

SanDisk Ultra II 960GB

And with a full 960GB of solid state storage there's a whole lot of space to pack in your favourite apps and games.

This great SSD deal runs out at midnight so get in quick to bag yourself a terabyte-class drive right now.

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In depth: 8 uses for your old Windows XP PC

In depth: 8 uses for your old Windows XP PC


Windows XP

It's been two years since Microsoft stopped releasing security updates for Windows XP, which first landed on PCs 15 years ago.

The anniversary serves as another annual reminder that you're swimming in dangerous waters if you're using Windows XP to access the internet. If a new strand of malware infects your machine, well, you're on your own.

You can, of course, continue using your PC running the creaky-at-the-knees operating system, but doing so ramps up the risk to your security and privacy.

Over time, support for your favorite apps will end too, so perhaps an alternative approach is called for. That approach obviously means moving on from Windows XP, either to a new version of Windows or even a completely different platform.

But what does the future hold for your trusty old PC? Read on to find out what to do with it should you decide to finally part ways with XP.

1. Upgrade it to Windows 7 or 8 (or Windows 10)


If you're still attached to your old PC – perhaps for financial reasons – then ask if you might be able to upgrade it to a later version of Windows. The obvious candidates are Windows 7 and 8, because both will be familiar to you, and don't have demanding system requirements.

If your PC has a 1GHz or faster processor, 1GB RAM, 20GB free hard drive space and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card or chip, it'll work with the newer version of Windows. Performance won't be as fast as in XP, but it should be acceptable, particularly if you don't run too many programs at once.

Before taking the plunge however, download and run either the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor or Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant to get a more detailed compatibility report – you may find the cost of upgrading or replacing different parts of your PC is more expensive than simply replacing it.

Of course, you could upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10, but bear in mind that there is no way to upgrade while keeping your existing files, programs and settings unless you manually back them up. If you're thinking of doing this, it's also worth bearing in mind that your ageing PC's hardware may not be up to the task of running Windows 10, and putting the cost of a license for Microsoft's latest operating system toward a new laptop, 2-in-1 or desktop PC may be a more cost-effective move in the long rum.

2. Replace it


A new desktop PC or tablet computer with Windows 10 pre-installed can be purchased for under £265 (around $300, AUS$500). If you decide the end has come for your old Windows XP PC, make sure you dispose of it carefully and responsibly.

Once your new PC is up and running, wait until you're happy you've transferred over all the documents, files and other data you need from your old PC before taking steps to securely shred all personal data from the drive.

If you're planning to pass the computer on to someone else, use a free tool like Eraser to wipe sensitive files from the drive, then restore it to its factory settings before using Eraser to securely wipe any free space for added security.

If you plan to dispose of the computer, use Darik's Boot and Nuke tool to create a bootable CD that will completely wipe the drive of all data, allowing you to then take it to your local recycling center or pass it on to a charity such as Computers 4 Africa.

3. Switch to Linux


If you're looking for a modern OS to replace XP that will run smoothly on your old PC, then Linux is the answer. We'd recommend that you choose Ubuntu as your Linux distribution of choice, and download the latest LTS version, currently 12.04, which will be supported until 2017.

It's relatively straightforward to install and you'll find our 25 Ubuntu tips for beginners piece a handy starting point. Look out for a switcher's guide in a future issue of Linux Format.

4. Your personal cloud


One way to keep your old PC working for a while longer is to convert it for use as a dedicated server of some kind. If it's a low-powered laptop, then a great use for it would be as your personal cloud device, allowing you to back up, archive and store documents and other files away from your new computer.

Check out our guide to building a low-powered Linux-based file server, or take a look at ClearOS.

5. Build a media server


Another possible use for your old PC could be as the focal hub for your videos, photos and music, collecting them together in one convenient central location and then piping them over the network (and wider internet) to other devices, including computers, tablets, phones and even smart TVs and set-top boxes. Check out our guide to building a Raspberry Pi server, substituting your old PC for the Pi. It's by no means a powerhouse, but the Raspberry Pi 3 is a more than capable computer if all you want to do is surf the web, stream video and even undertake some light image editing.

6. Convert it into a home security hub

Media hub

If you've got a big hard drive installed and are willing to shell out £40-50 ($65- $85) for a wireless security camera, you could convert your old PC into a dedicated CCTV system using Ubuntu Server and the free Zoneminder CCTV software following our guide.

It's designed to run headless, which means you won't need to connect a monitor or keyboard/mouse to use it; instead you'll access the system through a web browser on another device to remotely administer it as well as take a peek at what the cameras have recorded.

7. Host websites yourself

Media hub

If you're happy to leave your old PC on 24/7, you could turn it into a web server, letting you avoid the expense of paying for a web host and serving your website directly over your home internet connection. A tool like Turnkey Linux would allow you to do this without any software cost, but bear in mind you'll need a fast, unmetered broadband connection. You should also check your Internet Provider's T&Cs to make sure they allow this kind of use.

8. Gaming server


If you're into your network gaming, pressing your old PC into service as a dedicated gaming server will take the load off your main PC and let it concentrate on delivering the best possible performance. A gaming server doesn't require any meaty graphics or much RAM, but a fast processor will be helpful if you plan to play against lots of other users.

Depending on the age of your PC, you may find it's not capable of handling large numbers of players, while the speed of your broadband connection (as well as your ISP's T&Cs) may hobble any plans you have to play over the internet.

But for small-scale gaming parties during which three or four of you fancy shooting the heck out of each other using a classic game like Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament, your old PC may be just the ticket, particularly if the game in question runs on Linux, allowing you to ditch XP at the same time

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