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The best PCIe 4.0 SSD: If you have this cutting-edge interface, this drive is ready for it

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The best PCIe 4.0 SSD: If you have this cutting-edge interface, this drive is ready for it

There can be only one!

samsung 980 pro ssd

Samsung

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Most computers and storage drives still use the common SATA or PCIe 3.0 interfaces to sling your bits of data around, but if you’re lucky enough to own a relatively modern PC, you might be able to upgrade to a solid-state drive (SSD) built on the insanely fast PCIe 4.0 protocol. We’ve tested several PCIe 4.0 SSDs, and the best one to cross our labs thus far is the Samsung 980 Pro in a field of tough contenders.

“The Samsung 980 Pro is a great NVMe SSD—the fastest we’ve ever tested using the PCIe 4.0 bus,” we said in our review (though it has since been unseated by the far pricier Seagate FireCuda 530). “If you’re lucky or smart enough to own a late-gen Ryzen system, it’s the one you want.”

Best PCIe 4.0 SSD: Samsung 980 Pro

Enough said, really—though it’s worth noting that Intel’s new 11th-gen “Rocket Lake” Core processors also support PCIe 4.0 now, joining AMD’s Ryzen 3000 and Ryzen 5000 desktop chips. PCIe 4.0 support is becoming commonplace on the latest PC platforms. You’ll also need a compatible motherboard with PCIe 4.0 support. If you install a PCIe 4.0 SSD in a computer that lacks PCIe 4.0 support, the drive will operate over the slower PCIe 3.0 interface instead.

980 pro1tb2 IDG

Normally we don’t show CrystalDiskMark results as screen grabs, but this is so impressive we had to. Amazing.

PCIe 4.0 SSDs are more expensive than their PCIe 3.0-based rivals—the Samsung 980 Pro costs $90 for 250GB, $120 for 500GB, $181 for 1TB, or $342 for 2TB of capacity on Amazon—but the difference in performance can melt your face. Traditional SATA SSDs top out at around 600 megabytes transferred per second, while our favorite PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD, the SK Hynix Gold P31, ups that to 3.5GBps read and write speeds. The Samsung 980 blows both of those out of the water, exceeding 7GBps read and 5GBps write speeds in our synthetic tests. Truly remarkable.

Those fantastically fast speeds make the biggest difference during file transfers. If you move a lot of data around, you’ll love the Samsung 980 Pro, which can blaze through those tasks before you know it.

If you mostly stick to gaming and normal day-to-day tasks, however, you may be better off with a standard SATA or PCIe 3.0 drive. Upgrading from a pokey mechanical hard drive to any SSD can give you a big quality-of-life increase with faster boot speeds, game loading times, and application performance. Most of those crucial benefits don’t get tangibly faster if you opt for a PCIe 4.0 model over a slower (but still fast) SATA or PCIe 3.0 drive—though that could change when Microsoft’s radical, Xbox-inspired DirectStorage API rolls out for Windows games later this year.

Fear not: Modern PCIe 4.0 SSDs won’t die on you more quickly despite their blistering speeds. “The drives carry a five-year limited warranty,” we said in our 980 Pro review. “The limit is 150TBW per 256GB of capacity rating. TBW stands for TeraBytes Written over the life of the drive. That rating is a bit low for a premium-priced drive. Still, it represents 41GB written per day over 10 years—a lot more data than the average user will write (reads don’t count).”

The 980 Pro’s benefits don’t end there. Samsung’s “Magician” suite of tools and features remains one of the best SSD management applications around.

samsung980 pro front black Samsung

Samsung’s 980 Pro blows away every standard NVMe SSD we’ve tested when used in conjunction with PCIe 4.0.

While the Samsung 980 Pro is the best PCIe 4.0 you can buy, we’ve reviewed other exceptional options as well. The Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus NVMe SSD actually bests Samsung’s drive in some tests and comes in a gargantuan 4TB version. You can buy it for $180 for 1TB, $359 for 2TB, and an eye-watering $900 for 4TB. The WD Black SN850, on the other hand, compares pretty closely to the 980 Pro. Samsung’s SSD costs slightly less for some capacities however, and is “the better all-around performer, but by a rather slim margin.” That combination gives Samsung the edge.

The aforementioned Seagate FireCuda 530 actually outpaces all these options. “It not only bested the best of the rest in our real-world and synthetic benchmarks, it did so by a healthy margin in several tests,” we said it our review. You pay substantially more for that performance, however, at $132 for 500GB, $255 for 1TB, and $540 for 2TB models. You can also get a massive 4TB version for a just-as-massive $1,000 price tag. Most people don’t need this much speed, though, and thus shouldn’t spend that much even for the ultra-fast FireCuda.

Bottom line? The Samsung 980 Pro is the best PCIe 4.0 SSD for most people, if you can benefit from PCIe 4.0’s blisteringly fast speeds. Be sure to check out our guide to the best SSDs for a wider look at all types of solid-state drives, along with practical buying advice to keep in mind while you’re shopping on your own.

Editor’s note: Last updated to include information about the Seagate FireCuda 530.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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