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Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom review roundup

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom isn’t going to be here until later this week, but reviews have started to go live today. The first title in the series, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, caught a lot of attention not just because of the fact that it was a solid JRPG, but also because of Studio Ghibli’s involvement in the title. Studio Ghibli isn’t returning for Ni no Kuni II, so can the game find success without the company that created films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro backing it up?

As it turns out, the answer that question seems to be a resounding “yes.” The reviews that have been published thus far seem to be mostly positive, with Ni no Kuni II currently holding down an aggregate rating of 86 out of 100 over on Metacritic. For the sake of comparison, it’s worth pointing out that the first Ni no Kuni game holds an 85 out of 100 rating on Metacritic, so both titles are near the same level of quality.

One of the biggest changes arriving in Ni no Kuni II is its new battle system. In his 9/10 review of the game, Polygon’s Cameron Kunzelman praises this new battle system, which ditches the turn-based, Pokemon-esque combat of the first game and replaces it with real-time action. “Ni no Kuni 2’s combat is surprisingly tight, and becoming familiar with artful dodge rolls and optimal skill usage allows you to take on many more enemies (or higher level enemies) than you would be able to in a more traditional or a turn-based JRPG,” Kunzelman writes.

While the first game was exclusive to the PlayStation 3, Bandai Namco decided to expand the launch platforms for Ni no Kuni II, releasing it on PC as well as PlayStation 4. Jason Schreier with Kotaku notes that the PC version runs well, saying that he never saw the game drop below 140fps while playing at 1440p resolution on a GTX 1080. It sounds like this release is definitely PC friendly, and if he’s seeing that kind of frame rate at 1440p, then those with less powerful graphics cards should still be able to enjoy a good looking game with a high framerate at 1080p.

This is excellent news, because PC versions of console games don’t always have this kind of optimization. Often times, the PC release of a multiplatform title can feel like something of an afterthought, but Ni no Kuni II on PC seems to run exceptionally well. Judging from some of these reviews, players shouldn’t have any reservations about picking up the PC version, assuming their rig meets Bandai Namco’s recommended specifications.

Of course, all of this praise doesn’t mean that the game isn’t without its flaws. Schreier in particular says that the game is a little too easy, and with no option to change the difficulty, players looking for a challenge might be disappointed. Just as well, Chris Carter with Destructoid says that Ni no Kuni II’s attempt to so many different things at once “can hold it back” at times.

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Apple Watch Series 5 Review Roundup: Always

After you read my re-review of the Apple Watch Series 3 at its new Fitbit-killing price, dig into the just-released early reviews of the brand new Apple Watch Series 5. This year’s hardware builds on the success of Apple Watch Series 4, touting a new always-on display and built-in compass. Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

Always-on display and battery life

The Verge jumps right in with the biggest new feature this year: always-on display. So how it is? Here’s Dieter Bohn’s take:

I love the always-on screen on the Series 5. Apple’s implementation is better than other smartwatches I’ve used for two reasons: it legitimately doesn’t hurt the battery life as much, and Apple keeps a little color visible in ambient mode.

For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get earlier Apple Watches to show their screens with subtle wrist movements. I’ve always had to cartoonishly raise my arm. An always-on screen means I am a little bit less of a jerk in conversations and meetings.

And in terms of battery life, Dieter says Apple Watch Series 5 lives up to its claim of maintaining enough to get through one day:

But the big question is battery life: Apple claims it still gets 18 hours with standard use, and I have gotten that. So, box checked — except that the Series 4 usually outperformed that estimate. I won’t go so far as to say that the Series 5 gets notably worse battery life than the Series 4, but at best, it’s on par. You’ll be charging it every day.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball likens the importance of the new always-on screen to the iPhone 4’s high-resolution display:

To me, the always-on display is the Apple Watch’s retina display moment — once you see it, you can’t go back. […]

I’d have placed an order for a Series 5 watch even if Apple had put up a slide that said “Just one new feature: Always-on display.”

And Brian Heater at TechCrunch puts numbers to the battery life test using the new always-on display:

While improved battery life would almost certainly be a welcomed feature in future updates, Apple’s made a bit of a compromise, offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predecessors. I found I was, indeed, able to get through a day no problem with standard use. My own usage had the product lasting closer to 20 hours without the need to recharge, but even so, the device needs to get charged once a day, regardless — otherwise you’ll almost certainly be out of juice the following day.

What about the battery life experience with always-on display turned off in Apple Watch Series 5? Nicole Nguyen at Buzzfeed has this to say:

Being able to glance at the Series 5 meant that I spent less time gesticulating my arms.

Another (positive) side effect of the always-on display is that, when the feature is turned off, there are significant battery gains. Apple claims its latest watch’s battery life is 18 hours, which my testing found to be true. With always-on disabled, the battery lasted over 21 hours (with sleep tracking!) and was still at 43% when I woke up the next day.

There’s even an excellent chart to show battery life with various activities like working out.

For the best look at how each watch face responds to the new always-on display modes, see Rene Ritchie’s iMore video review:

Built-in Compass

The less visible upgrade this year is inside with the newly built-in compass, and Patrick O’Rourke at Mobile Syrup summarizes the benefits:

Apple, interestingly, has added a compass to the Series 5, too. The app indicates the wearer’s incline, elevation, latitude and longitude. It’s worth noting the Compass can be added as a complication to specific Watch Faces as well. The Compass also makes the watch’s Apple Maps app more useful because it now indicates exactly what direction you’re facing.

Further, elevation data is utilized during workouts, which is particularly useful when hiking, running or riding a bike.

The new sensor will benefit other apps too, not just Maps, although TechCrunch explains that apps will need to be updated to adopt features (like this one shared at the keynote):

Improved walking directions alone should make the compass useful however.

Emergency Calling

Apple Watch Series 5 also touts the ability to make emergency calls in countries beyond where you bought your watch. For example, if you’re traveling abroad from the US, the watch can know to call the 911 equivalent, something that was limited on previous models.

That feature requires a trip to another country, however, but Lauren Goode at Wired does mention its inclusion:

Speaking of chips, the Apple Watch Series 5 has the same performance specs as the smartwatch before it. It technically has a new SIP—that’s system in a package—because Apple has added the sensors needed to power a digital compass on the watch, plus a modem that supports international emergency calling. But the processor speeds are the same as last year’s, a surprise from a company that boasts about its mobile chip innovation almost annually.

I wasn’t able to test the brand-new international emergency calling feature. My editors did not approve a last-minute trip to Mexico, if you can believe it. But I did use the smartwatch to make phone calls independent of my actual phone. I didn’t experience any glitches when I walked out of the office and initiated phone calls—a scenario that caused issues in the earliest days of cellular Apple watches because of the handoff from Wi-Fi networks to cellular—and calls sounded great, for a smartwatch. My mom, my main phone-call squeeze, agreed.


Apple Watch Series 5 is still a watch after all, and watches play a role in fashion. That’s why Apple has introduced two new titanium finishes and the return of ceramic this year.

Stephen Pulvirent at Hodinkee has his experience with the new case material to share:

For Series 5, Apple re-introduced a white ceramic Edition model (though space grey ceramic is still absent) as well as a pair of Edition models in titanium, one in a matte natural color and one in DLC space black. This is the first time we’ve seen a titanium Apple Watch and it’s an interesting move from Apple. It sits between the steel and ceramic models in terms of price and it offers a more luxurious option that’s still a great choice for people using their Watch as a fitness device. This fusion of function and indulgence fits in extremely well with Apple’s current thinking on the Apple Watch as simultaneously a wellness and fashion product.

His analysis goes on to ask the question about the role of premium case materials in smartwatches:

The big question still looms though: Do you really want or need premium materials and increased prices in a device that you’re most likely going to want to replace annually (at least for the next few year)? I think that’s still very much a personal decision and it’s hard to fault people for coming down on either side. Materials like ceramic and titanium, being both functional and still relatively affordable, make much more sense to me than solid gold at this point, but I’d be very surprised if we didn’t continue to see the Edition collection ebb and flow over the coming years.

Hodinkee’s video (below) also shows that the Apple Watch Edition has its own version of white as a unique color option.


Apple Watch Series 5 reviews generally reach the same conclusion so far: the always-on display is a big deal, and Apple Watch generally maintains promised 18-hour battery life. To quote Patrick at Mobile Syrup one more time: It finally feels like a regular watch.

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Honor Magicbook 14 (2023) Review: No Longer A No


Stylish design

Powerful components

Nice keyboard

Above average speakers


Minimal performance gain

Worse battery life

New display only on top model

Limited ports

Our Verdict

Putting new Intel chips inside the same laptop with a sizeable price hike makes for a hard sell, when the MagicBook 14 had previously nailed the mid-range value option.

The Honor MagicBook 14 has been one of the best-value laptops you could buy for the past couple of years, offering a brilliant all-round package of design, specs, performance and features. Its new model for 2023 makes the switch from AMD to Intel chips, and becomes a lot more expensive in the process.

Models vary by region but there are those with the Core i5 and Core i7. I’ve tested the latter which features the same CPU found in the Huawei MateBook X Pro (2023).

While the MagicBook was previously a mid-range laptop, the new top-end specs, and the accompanying price, mean it now has some stiff competition.

Design & Build

Externally, the new MagicBook 14 looks no different to the previous model we tested in late 2023 – and that was no different to the original. That’s perhaps not a surprise as 2023 is very much a year of laptops getting internal rather than cosmetic upgrades.

It’s also not a surprise because this is a good looking laptop, although I wouldn’t be complaining if Honor had managed to trim a little off here and there. Still, at 15.9mm and 1.38kg, it’s perfectly portable.

The aluminium chassis is robust and provides a high-end look and feel. I particularly like the bevelled edge around the lid that’s coloured blue to match the logo, which stands out as the light catches it. It comes in Space Grey and Mystic Silver.

It’s certainly more attractive than many mid-range laptops we’ve tested, with the plastic bezel around the screen the only real element that sets the MagicBook 14 apart from flagship models. That bezel is very thin (4.8mm) around three sides which results in a screen-to-body ratio of 84%.

One could argue that the part of the bezel at the top is too thin as, like all Honor and Huawei laptops, there’s no room there for a webcam. Instead, that lives in a pop-up key in the keyboard. It’s a neat solution for privacy but if you make lot of video calls then the angle is very awkward and unflattering.

There’s no SD card slot but the MagicBook 14 has a reasonable range of ports including HDMI, two full-size USB-A ports, a headphone jack and USB-C. The latter is used for charging but doesn’t support Thunderbolt.

It’s also worth noting that one of the USB-A ports (the one on the right side) is the old 2.0 version. That’s fine for a mouse, but the 3.2 Gen 1 USB-A port on the other side is around seven times faster for file transfers: it took just 20 seconds to move a 6GB folder from an external SSD compared to over two and a half minutes with the USB 2.0 port.

Honor doesn’t state the speed of the USB-C port, but you’ll want to use it primarily for power as it could only manage USB 2.0 speeds in my tests.

Keyboard & Trackpad

This is an area where laptop makers often save a bit of cash but the keyboard and trackpad on the MagicBook 14 are suitably decent.

Typing is a pleasant experience with the keys offering a speedy and responsive action. The keyboard is also backlit and offers two levels of brightness, plus a top row of ‘F’ and function keys making it quick to access various controls.

It’s not flawless as, like most laptops, has tiny half-size up and down arrow keys, unlike the layout on a full-size desktop keyboard. That’s about my only complaint, though.

Like the Huawei MateBook 14, there’s a power button with an embedded fingerprint scanner. It works well and provides a quick and easy way to log in as we’re all so accustomed to on smartphones.

Screen & Speakers

As mentioned earlier, the laptop has a plastic bezel around the display (Huawei’s MateBook versions have a glass front) but that doesn’t mean the screen quality is poor. In fact, this is a decent screen and is a classic area where you tend to see corners cut when not spending the big bucks.

As the name suggests, this is a 14in screen and offers a Full HD resolution (there’s also a MagicBook 15 if you want a larger display). It might look the same as its predecessor but offers better performance with better brightness and colour reproduction, according to Honor.

This checked out in testing. The trusty SpyderX colorimeter showed the screen can reach 354 nits, 99% of sRGB and 75% of both Adobe RGB and P3. The previous model topped out at just 220 nits and a mediocre 63% sRGB and 47% for Adobe/P3.

That all makes for a noticeable improvement and the lack of a glass front (as seen on the MateBook) means fewer reflections. Indeed, the matte finish combined with the good brightness levels means it’s suitable for use in a range of situations.

However, only one model in the range has this display: the one with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The others have a lower-grade display of unspecified quality.

If it’s of any use to you, the hinge allows the screen to fold flat against your desk. More important to note is that Honor doesn’t offer any touchscreen options in the range.

Like most laptops, the stereo speakers are underneath but unlike most of those, these sound very good. There’s a nice balance of tones and even a slight warmth of bass. They even sound good without having to pump the volume, with 60% plenty enough to make music loud, avoiding distortion.

Honor says the speakers offer virtual surround sound but I didn’t find they provided such an experience.

Specs & Performance

One of the major changes to the MagicBook 14 (and 15) this year is the switch to Intel chips. It’s interesting considering Huawei moved to AMD for the MateBook last year and the Ryzen processors have been excellent choices.

Nevertheless, Honor has gone with Intel’s latest 11th-gen Tiger Lake silicon here (just like like many rivals) and there’s a simple choice of a Core i5-1135G7 or a Core i7-1165G7.

This particular configuration, then, really isn’t a mid-range laptop anymore and matches the core specs of the flagship Huawei MateBook X Pro (2023).

Performance is great, tackling demanding tasks with ease, despite not having a separate GPU. Still, the integrated Intel Iris Xe Graphics is powerful enough to handle photo editing and some gaming as long as you don’t expect too much: this isn’t a gaming laptop.

As you can see below, the Honor MagicBook 14 benchmarked very well compared to its predecessor as well as rivals. Beating the XPS 13 and X Pro is impressive, however, it’s not a big jump with 300 extra points in Geekbench 5 compared to its predecessor and that’s not even against an equivalent Ryzen 7.

It put into question whether the price hike is worth it.

The MagicBook 14 has a dual heat pipe and 38% better air intake compared to the previous generation. I found the ‘Supersized’ fan kicked in for demanding tasks and sometimes when charging but it’s a fairly quiet fan.

In terms of wireless, you get the latest standards in Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 with 2X2 MIMO Dual Antenna.

Battery Life

There’s no improvement in battery life compared to the previous MagicBook 14 we tested. When playing a looped HD video with the brightness set at 120 nits – a result of 11 hours and 35 minutes is still solid, if unremarkable these days.

The late 2023 MagicBook 14 lasted over 13 hours so things have gone slightly backwards. Note that if you’re thinking about the MagicBook 15, this has a smaller battery at 42Wh compared to 56Wh and Honor claims it lasts for only 7.6 hours.

Charging remains speedy at 65W and there’s no in-line power brick, so the charger is more like a smartphone’s with a USB-C to USB-C cable. This makes it easier to carry around and can be used for other devices, too. Just note that the brick is a little wide so may impede adjacent sockets when plugged in.

Charging the MagicBook 14 from completely empty in our usual 30-minute test saw it reach 39%. That’s 5% off what Honor says and what we found on the previous model, but still a decent speed.


Windows 10 Home comes as standard here but Honor adds a couple of useful features on the software front starting with a PC Manger for controlling things like the power plan and drivers. This is also a pop-out bar with other handy bits like notifications, documents, clipboard and basic apps.

The main thing you’ll want to use is the Honor Magiclink which allows you to pair a smartphone with the laptop via an NFC chip – the sticker in the corner. Once connected you can transfer files easily, take calls on the MagicBook, create an instant hotspot and use the phone’s interface on the laptop.

The caveat is that you need an Honor or  Huawei phone running EMUI 9.0 or Magic UI 2.0 or later for compatibility.

I didn’t have a compatible phone to test this out but it’s effectively the same as Huawei Share on the MateBook 14 which I did find useful when reviewing that.

Even if you don’t have a compatible phone, you can use the My Phone app to connect any Android phone and get a similar experience.


At the time of writing, I’m still waiting for final confirmation of which models will be on sale in the UK and other markets. Things are relatively simple though, it seems, with a choice of Core i5/i7, either 8- or 16GB of RAM and either 256- or 512GB of storage.

I do know the Core i5 model costs £799 or €849 (with an assumed 8GB/256GB) and the Core i7 model with 16/512GB tested here is €1199 – UK price TBC, although we can guess at £1,149. They will be available from Amazon but have not appeared yet.

With the previous MagicBook 14 models priced at £549 then £669, Honor has not taken long to move out of that affordable mid-range price bracket and into the more premium space.

This means it has a different set of rivals including the Dell XPS 13, HP Envy 13, Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 to name but three.

See other rivals in our best laptop chart.


While the upgrades are welcome, it might not have been the best decision for Honor to move into the premium end of the laptop market.

The MagicBook 14 was one of the best – if not the best – value-for-money laptops you could buy, but now it competes with flagship models from the top names.

Don’t get me wrong, performance of the top-of-the-range model I tested is excellent and the display is a big improvement on the previous generation. And it still comes in a stylish and well-made chassis. But you’d expect these things given the corresponding increase in price.

However, the Core i5 model doesn’t get that improved display and even the Core i7 isn’t a big improvement compared to the Ryzen 5 in the last model and battery life has gone backwards.

At this price, things that were previously acceptable due to the much lower price are now more obviously downsides when compared to rivals.

The webcam – now a more important part of a laptop than ever – is awkwardly positioned and there’s only one fast USB port, which isn’t even the USB-C one. There’s no SD card reader and there are other signs of its mid-range past such as a plastic screen bezel and trackpad.

This is still a good laptop, but you should consider its rivals as well as the older AMD-powered models which you may well find at more tempting prices.

Specs Honor MagicBook 14 (2023): Specs

Windows 10 Home

14in FullView LCD display, Full HD (1920 x 1080)

100sRGB (available on 16/512 model)

Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7

Intel Iris Xe Graphics

8/16GB DDR4 Dual-Channel RAM

256/512GB PCIe NVMe SSD storage

1x USB-C

1x USB-A 2.0

1x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1

HDMI out

3.5mm headphone jack

Wi-Fi 6 2×2 MIMO

Bluetooth 5.1

Honor MagicLink 2.0

720p pop-up webcam (720p)

Fingerprint sensor

Stereo speakers

56Wh battery (10.5hr battery life)

65W Type-C fast charger

322.5 x 214.8 x 15.9mm


Space Grey or Mystic Silver

Ipad Pro, Retina Macbook Air, And Mac Mini Video Review Roundup

Over the past few days, reviews for Apple’s latest iPad Pros, MacBook Air, and Mac mini have started rolling in. While we’ve rounded up all of the written reviews for each of the new products, there are also a slew of video reviews available as well…

Retina MacBook Air Video Reviews:

Leading the way today is the new Retina MacBook Air. For CNET, Dan Ackerman takes a close look at the differences between the latest MacBook Air, its predecessor, the 12-inch MacBook, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. He also touches upon the third-generation Butterfly keyboard, which also includes Touch ID support despite the lack of a Touch Bar.

Meanwhile, iJustine walked through the unboxing experience of the new gold Retina MacBook Air. Like earlier unboxing videos showed, the MacBook Air includes color-matched Apple stickers, as well as a 30W power brick. iJustine also offers a neat look at how the new MacBook Air compares to the old 11-inch model.

Jason Snell’s look at the new MacBook Air is also worth a watch, as he offers a detailed look at the sizing differences between the new model and its predecessor.

Here are a handful of the early Retina MacBook Air video reviews to hit the web: 

iPad Pro Video Reviews:

Early iPad Pro reviews have also started hitting YouTube over the last few days. One of the more interesting videos comes from Ian Barnard, who unboxes the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and then takes a look at how the new devices work for an artist. For instance, he notes that the double-tap functionality on the Pencil to switch between brush functionality is useful in theory, but it’s not always reliable for in-the-moment use.

In his unboxing and setup look at the new iPad Pros, YouTuber Karl Conrad offers a close look at how the 12.9-inch and 11-inch models compare in size. Conrad also shows off the new 18W power brick included with the iPad Pro, as well as the lack of color-matched Apple stickers.

In CNET’s review, Scott Stein notes that the new iPad Pro “doubles down” on what it’s good at, but says it’s still not perfect, nor is it designed for everyone. Perhaps most notable is Stein’s comparison between the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the last-gen model. The difference between the two in terms of size and bezel is incredibly jarring.

Here are a handful of the early iPad Pro video reviews to hit the web: 

Mac mini Video Reviews:

Last but certainly not least is the brand new Mac mini. In his video review of the new Mac mini, Marco Arment does an excellent job of explaining how the Mac mini’s target market has shifted in recent years, further detailing the many different use cases for the machine.

Jason Snell offers a look at the wide-array of ports offered on the new Mac mini, which include Gigabit Ethernet, four Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, 2 USB-A, and a headphone jack. Snell also notes that the Mac mini is identical to its predecessor in terms of form factor, which is crucial to those who use the machine in modular setups.

Lastly, iJustine shows off editing using Final Cut Pro on the new Mac mini. She also offers a great look at how the Mac mini works paired with Apple’s space gray Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard, as well as LG’s 4K USB-C display.

Here are a handful of the early Mac mini video reviews to hit the web: 

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Sapphire Pulse Radeon Rx 7900 Xt Review: No


Quieter than reference model

Excellent 1440p and 4K gaming performance

Dual HDMI outputs to go with dual DisplayPorts

Simple, appealing design

20GB of GDDR6 memory

Better value than rival RTX 4070 Ti


7900 XT isn’t a great value compared to last-gen offerings still available

Larger than reference 7900 XT

Ray tracing performance is fine but lags far behind Nvidia GPUs

No extras like RGB, dual-BIOS switches, etc.

Our Verdict

The Sapphire Pulse costs the same or less than reference Radeon RX 7900 XT models while delivering superior acoustic results and a more desirable configuration of ports. It’s larger than the reference card, but more pleasant to have in your system.

Best Prices Today: Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT



While enthusiasts drool over the ultra-premium, no-compromises experience offered by Sapphire’s luxurious Nitro+ graphics cards, the company delivers the goods for PC gamers on a budget, too. Rather than loading up on nifty but cost-adding features like RGB and dual-BIOS switches, Sapphire’s Pulse series of GPUs instead focuses on giving a great, straightforward gaming experience without breaking the bank.

Case in point: The Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT we’re reviewing today. Ostensibly priced at the same $899 as AMD’s reference 7900 XT, we’ve seen it going for as low as $849 on the streets. In exchange for that lower price, the Pulse offers a mild factory overclock, quieter fan noise, and a more compelling display output configuration than the stock model—plus, through April 28, you can get a free copy of Sony’s The Last Of Us Part I for PC if you buy the card from an authorized seller.

That’s pretty rad. Let’s dig in.

Note: See our roundup of the best GPUs for gaming to learn about competing products, what to look for in a GPU, and buying recommendations.

Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT features, specs, and design

The Sapphire Pulse is built using the same basic configuration as the reference GPU. You can wade deeper into that in our original Radeon RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT review, but in a nutshell, this is a great graphics card for 1440p and 4K/60 gaming alike, loaded with 20GB of GDDR6 VRAM, AMD’s awesome Infinity Cache technology, AV1 encoding, DisplayPort 2.1 (unlike Nvidia), and support for game-enhancing Radeon features like Smart Access Memory, Radeon Super Resolution, and FSR 2. And the new RDNA 3 graphics architecture finally made Radeon useful for content creators!


Sapphire didn’t change much under the hood. The Pulse 7900 XT offers a mild overclock, hitting 2,075MHz rather than 2,025MHz, but that doesn’t practically change performance aside from sipping a bit more power (though the Pulse still only requires a pair of standard 8-pin power connectors to run).

But Sapphire revamped things over the hood completely, to welcome effect.

The Sapphire Pulse delivers a fast, pixel-packed gaming experience at noticeably lower noise levels than the reference RX 7900 XT.

Sapphire also graced the Pulse 7900 XT with beefed-up circuitry and internal parts, such as “ultra-high performance conductive polymer aluminum capacitors” to enable a 20-phase power delivery, a high-density PCB with copper mixed in, and fuse protection to safeguard your precious GPU if a component gives up the ghost. Sapphire even tosses a support bracket into the box to combat potential GPU sag while this beast lurks in your PC case.

The full-length metal backplate doubles as a heatsink.

Brad Chacos/IDG

You might need it. While the Sapphire Pulse’s 2.7-slot width looks downright reasonable next to the 3- and 4-slot behemoths so common today, it’s notably thicker than the svelte 2-slot AMD reference Radeon RX 7900 XT. The extra heft and ample cooling hardware make the Pulse run noticeably quieter than the reference card, however.

Nitro+ Radeon RX 7900 XTX Vapor-X

Read our review

Best Prices Today:

What you won’t find with the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT: extras. Look elsewhere if you’re an enthusiast that desires fancy features like RGB, GPU fan headers, and dual-BIOS switches. While certainly welcome, features like those add significant extra cost, and the Pulse line is laser-focused on solid, straightforward performance that beats what you normally get in budget-priced versions of a GPU. If you want enthusiast-focused extras, strongly consider Sapphire’s premium Nitro+ line instead. It’s always fantastic but especially impressive this generation.

Enough talk. Let’s dig into performance.

Our test system

We test graphics cards on an AMD Ryzen 5900X PC used exclusively for benchmarking GPUs. We now test with PCIe Resizable BAR (also known as Smart Access Memory on Ryzen systems) active, as most modern gaming PCs released in the last four years support the performance-boosting feature, either natively or via a motherboard firmware update. Nvidia also recommends turning on the optional “Hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling” option in Windows to let the RTX 40-series stretch its legs to the fullest, so we’ve made that tweak as well. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the storage ourselves.

AMD Ryzen 5900X, stock settings

AMD Wraith Max cooler

MSI Godlike X570 motherboard

32GB G.Skill Trident Z Neo DDR4 3800 memory, XMP active

Corsair HX1500i power supply (and optional $20 12VHPWR 600 cable for Nvidia GPUs)

1TB SK Hynix Gold S31 SSD x2

We usually test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, vendor sponsorships (Nvidia, AMD, and Intel), and graphics APIs (DirectX 9, 11, DX12, and Vulkan), to try to represent a full range of performance potential. Since the 7900 XT’s performance is already well established and the Sapphire Pulse doesn’t come with a fierce overclock, we spot-checked a smaller handful of titles spanning those various APIs to show the performance differences between the Pulse and the reference card.

Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark, sanity checked by Nvidia’s FrameView tool, at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX tools or Nvidia Reflex. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) when available.

We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test. Outside of esports, we’ve limited our benchmarks to 4K and 1440p resolutions, as those are the natural fits for these juggernaut GPUs.

Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT gaming performance

Brad Chacos/IDG

Brad Chacos/IDG

Brad Chacos/IDG

Brad Chacos/IDG

Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT power and thermals

Here’s where the key differences between the AMD reference design and the Sapphire Pulse will truly shine. AMD designed the reference Radeon RX 7900 XT to fit into a tiny two-slot design; Sapphire engineered the Pulse for better acoustic performance.

We test power draw by looping the F1 22 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else (to warm up the GPU) and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. 

This isn’t a worst-case test; this is a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. Consider yourself warned.

Brad Chacos/IDG

The Sapphire Pulse offers largely the same performance as the reference 7900 XT, so it’s no surprise to see it draw roughly similar levels of power as well. All of these high-end GPUs are relatively voracious, however. Power requires power.

We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 22 power-draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.

Brad Chacos/IDG

The Sapphire Pulse delivers slightly higher thermals than the reference 7900 XT, but temperatures remain excellent, and the reason those thermals are higher is because the Pulse’s extra heatsink bulk and slower-spinning angular velocity fans run much quieter than the reference card.

Should you buy the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT?

When AMD launched its new RNDA 3-powered Radeon 7000-series, the $899 Radeon RX 7900 XT didn’t provide compelling enough value to recommend. You’d be better off spending another $100 and grabbing the superior Radeon RX 7900 XTX instead.

Now that we’re starting to see discounts (and an awesome Last of Us PC game bundle) trickle in, the Radeon RX 7900 XT shines a bit brighter. We’ve seen the Sapphire Pulse available as low as $849, and other models for even less. That pits the 7900 XT directly against custom GeForce RTX 4070 Ti models, and the Radeon card wins that battle every time with its faster 1440p/4K performance and ample 20GB of memory. Nvidia wins on ray tracing and content creation, but for pure gaming, the Radeon RX 7900 XT delivers much more bang for your buck.

Brad Chacos/IDG

And if you’re looking for a solid, straightforward Radeon RX 7900 XT that won’t break the bank, strongly consider the Sapphire Pulse. The Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT delivers a fast, pixel-packed gaming experience at noticeably lower noise levels than the reference 7900 XT—exactly what Sapphire set out to do. Investing in Sapphire’s rock-solid custom cooling for the same or less than a reference model makes it a no-brainer. It’s a bit thicker in your case, sure, and you won’t get extra features like RGB or dual-BIOS switches, but the Sapphire Pulse is powerful, pleasantly quiet, and comes with a welcome dual-HDMI port configuration that you won’t find on most other graphics cards.

With modern graphics cards costing so much, however, you should be able to get a solid high refresh-rate 1440p and 4K/60 gaming for even less with a last-gen GPU like the Radeon RX 6800 XT, which can be found for as little as $579 these days. It’s definitely slower than AMD’s latest and greatest offerings but shop around if you can—while the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 7900 XT offers compelling value versus its direct modern competitors, in today’s GPU market, last-gen is where you’ll find the best deals.

David Vs. Goliath, Part Ii

(For small and mid-size businesses, choosing the right ISP has become more complicated amid all the hype, and now, hysteria over market consolidation. Today, in Part II, a look at the criteria companies should consider when selecting an ISP.)

Rather than basing decisions purely on price, companies should factor a number of other criteria into the mix. One of the most important measures in evaluating new ISP choices is what the average installation time will be. Typically, the stalwarts will win here every time. That’s because the RBOCs have reasonable control over local access, what’s commonly referred to as the “last mile.” Since they often own that local loop of service–unlike the DSLs and other smaller providers who essentially resell third-party services in this area–they can provide better guarantees on installation time as well as offer realistic assessments of mean-time-to-repair, a measurement used to gauge how long it takes for service outages to be restored. The average wait, for example, on DSL providers to install services is a whopping two to three months, whereas most of the large telco and RBOC players can get businesses up and running in a maximum of 30 days, according to Current Analysis’ Carlson.

Another thing to consider is how diversified the ISP is. If a potential partner is completely invested in one kind of technology–like DSL–or one type of service, they are more likely at risk. “It’s smart to look at ISPs not just doing Internet access, but which have a more diversified portfolio,” Carlson adds. In that vein, companies should stick with contenders that perform the basics well–things like Web access, hosting services, high-speed dedicated lines and virtual private networks (VPNs), says IDC’s Harris. It’s there that companies can generate enough margins to stay profitable, he explains. Some of the more glitzy value-added features like calendaring and messaging to cell phones are often a drain on ISPs because similar capabilities are being given away as free services from companies like Yahoo. Harris also cautions businesses to do their homework and research a company’s financial documents. “Don’t take whomever comes through the door with the lowest price,” he says. “You have to think about what you’re being charged and consider if the carrier can make money with those prices.”

Stability is Key

The renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), which conducts marine life and environmental research, learned this lesson. Although its research roots required it to be up and running on the Internet since the 1980s, the institute went looking for a secondary ISP three years ago mainly for redundancy purposes and as a lower cost option, according to Arthur Gaylord, director of computer information services for WHOI, in Woods Hole, Mass. Since providers had not invested much in building on-ramps to the Internet to service the Cape Cod region, WHOI was feeling taxed by pricey local access charges. Although WHOI evaluated some half-dozen other ISPs, Vitts Networks got the contract mainly because of its willingness to invest in the networking technology to establish points of presence on the Cape, a move that would greatly cut costs out of WHOI’s local access charges. WHOI still retained incumbent Genuity Inc. of Burlington, Mass., as a secondary provider, but two-thirds of its bandwidth needs were being fulfilled by Vitts, which warned investors and customers last January that it was closing its doors–only to rebound weeks later with a plan that would keep it in business at least through late February/early March.

“Being a startup, I knew there was some risk,” Gaylord says. “Part of the reason for going with them was to try to encourage growth of Internet services on the Cape. That still was a reasonable thing to do.”

Lessons Learned

–Take a serious look at an ISP’s past financial performance. If they’re too heavily invested in one of the newer technologies like Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services and not diversified, they’re more likely to be at risk.

–Consider enlisting a backup provider for some of your services as an insurance policy against total downtime in case your main provider goes belly up.

–Thoroughly check business references. Inquire about past performance on things like guaranteed installation time and mean time to repair in the event of a system failure.

While WHOI considered Vitts’ stability as part of its evaluation criteria, Gaylord admits it wasn’t the primary focus. Although Vitts is still operating, Gaylord spent three weeks gathering quotes and background information on new providers since he says it takes a good three months to get a new carrier in place. In the interim, Gaylord is examining WHOI’s needs to proactively prepare for a possible shortfall in bandwidth for the next few months.

The institute, which primarily uses the Internet for research and as a means to share information (often huge files of numeric research on things like ocean temperatures and currents, computer-generated models or digital photos of geographical formations) with its other facilities and scientists, is deciding whether to move some of the public parts of its Web site to a hosting service, Gaylord says. In addition, they’ve trimmed back newsgroup feeds and are putting restrictions in place for using the Web to do non-work related surfing.

Donna Bolte, controller with Modern Manufacturing Inc. of Worcester, Mass., has no real concerns about the long-term viability of their Internet access provider, Choice One Communications of Rochester, N.Y., which delivers both DSL and phone services to the commercial glass company. References were the key differentiators that won Choice One the manufacturer’s business. “We didn’t consider them a stranger because we knew people using them before they even gave us a list of references to call,” says Bolte. Modern Manufacturing is using the high-speed Internet access to communicate and share information more effectively with its large commercial customers.

SE Group’s Ruggles, on the other hand, says his experiences with failing ISPs makes him far more leery about taking another risk with a startup player. The ski industry consultant, which has offices in Utah, Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado and California, is too reliant on its Internet connection for project workgroup collaboration among its disparate offices to chance any interruption in service, he says. As distasteful as Ruggles finds it, his recommendation this time around is to go with a tried and true player, even if they’re more expensive and their service is not as responsive. Says Ruggles: “We’re all at the mercy at the large players now. As an IT manager, I don’t want to put my job on the line.”

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